Chapter 5: The Ridge of the World
Translated by Vivian of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
It was the sixth day of A-Ka’s and Heishi’s journey through the snowlands. Their surroundings were desolate and uninhabited. They first walked through a small forest. Then, they walked out of the forest and were currently entering a huge mountain range.
A-Ka’s shoulder bag had already been transferred over to Heishi’s hands, but even so, A-Ka was panting hard and couldn’t bear walking much more during the daytime. When they walked to the start of the mountain range, it got so bad that A-Ka wanted to lay on Heishi’s back and make Heishi carry him as they hiked over the mountains.
“This ridge spans across all of Astrolabe,” said A-Ka, “Jingchuan.”
Heishi still wore an indifferent expression as he listened. They sat in front of their campfire as A-Ka finished eating the wild fox they had caught. It tasted foul and bitter, and it didn’t have salt, either, so when he ate it, he nearly spit it back out.
“Astrolabe is the world we’re in,” A-Ka explained to Heishi. “It’s a large astrolabe 1 that has seventeen smaller astrolabes following it. Every mainland is a separate island, and, just like gear wheels, they fit together with each other.”
Heishi made an absent “mn” sound and asked, “Are you done resting?”
“No,” said A-Ka helplessly. “I’m dragging you behind, so I’m really sorry about that.”
That apology was indeed from A-Ka’s heart——Heishi was too robust; he didn’t fear the cold, and his physical strength was superhuman, for he didn’t need to rest even after walking for an entire day. Of course, to supplement that, he also needed to eat a lot. After all, he was a human from three thousand years ago, and at that time, human genes were of the highest quality, so it was known as the Golden Age. Contrary to people like A-Ka who lived during the Dark Iron Age who struggled under the regime of the mechs and were extremely fragile.
Along the way, A-Ka had been observing Heishi constantly, wanting to know what he really was. In the end, a direct piece of evidence made A-Ka convinced that Heishi was a human: excretion.
A person needed to eat, so of course they would need to excrete, too. Heishi would sweat and would also want to take a bath. His method of taking a bath was to take off his clothes and stand in the snow, naked, and directly wipe snow onto his body. He would also occasionally use the restroom, but most of the time, he would avoid A-Ka when doing so. That type of shame seemed to come when one was born.
One day, A-Ka watched Heishi from afar. Heishi had just finished wiping his body and after a simple bath, he kneeled down in the snow, unmoving, and his bronze skin under the shining sun was like a perfect, ancient statue of a male deity. A-Ka had only seen someone squat or sit while doing it, so this was his first time seeing someone pee while kneeling. After waiting for him to walk away, A-Ka went over to take a look but was dragged away by Heishi, who threw him down at the snowy ground.
Even A-Ka himself felt that he was like a pervert, so he could only make a run for it.
In the end, A-Ka thought that besides the fact that Heishi was ill-tempered and was a bit violent, all in all, he was still a very good companion.
“Have you seen people from the Bronze Age?” asked A-Ka.
Heishi’s eyebrow twitched, and A-Ka realized that he might have made him mad, so he stammered out an explanation. “I didn’t mean to ask you about your… your past. I’m just curious.”
“I have not,” said Heishi. “I do not know what that is.”
“The Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Dark Iron Age,” said A-Ka, “are the four ages of the human race. I’ve heard that before the Golden Age, there were even more ancient humans that they originated from.”
Heishi listened silently. These days, A-Ka would, from time to time, tell him some things, and Heishi appeared to not react at all, but A-Ka knew that he had probably absorbed all of the information.
“The original humans created everything in this mainland,” said A-Ka, “including android technology, computers, and artificial intelligence. Fourteen thousand years later, their bodies evolved to be stronger and stronger.”
Heishi said, “So future generations called that the Golden Age.”
A-Ka nodded. “That was the most glorious age of humankind. I don’t know if there are still other humans from the Golden Age like you. Maybe, the Ideal Nation or the western Kelan alliance of the people has humans from the Golden Age.”
Heishi said indifferently, “Even if there was, so what?”
A-Ka said enthusiastically, “So, maybe they can help you figure out your mission?” He picked up a branch and drew a map on the ground. “After hiking through Jingchuan and then getting over this plateau, we’ll arrive at Aijia Strait. Maybe, we can catch a ship that’s going to Kelan.”
Heishi said offhandedly, “Or, we will be captured by the mechs and get shot and killed. This is already the sixth time I’ve heard your plan.”
A-Ka shrugged helplessly. Suddenly, Heishi’s expression changed subtly, as if he had heard something.
“Stay here,” ordered Heishi. Then, with his large sword on his back, he slid down the mountain slope, raising up snow dust in his wake.
The sounds gradually became clearer so that even A-Ka could hear them. There was the banging of flying engines, sounds of machine guns letting off volleys, and the screams of women and the panicked shouts of men.
The mechs had caught up! A-Ka felt panicked and followed the path forward. In the valley that was covered entirely by layers of snow, a group of humans were desperately running and hiding. Two mech patrollers were hovering in the air, chasing the humans as they shot bullets at them.
On the cliff, a person’s figure had leaped forward; it was Heishi.
Heishi spread out his arms, one hand holding his huge sword, and plummeted headfirst from the high place.
“Be careful!” A-Ka roared.
Heishi didn’t respond in the slightest. He landed on a mech patroller, and the killing machine that was hovering in midair turned around, its bullets changing directions. A-Ka decisively turned his bag upside down, and with a clatter, everything inside was dumped out. With his head looking up, his hands flew as he quickly assembled a magnetic field generator.
The escaped humans were rushing towards the mountain slope, and Heishi was on top of a mech patroller as if he was controlling a hard-to-tame flamingo. The mech patroller crashed into the mountain. The second mech patroller turned around and flew towards Heishi, lifted its machine gun, aimed it at Heishi, and was about to shoot.
A-Ka used a screwdriver, and with a click, he shut the cover on the magnetic field generator, fastened a length of rope to it, and quickly knotted it. Pulling the end of the rope, he quickly swung it in a few circles above him before throwing it out.
The grey metallic light of the mechanical box shone as it buzzed high up in the air. Then, it sensed metal and flew towards the mech patroller. The box emitted a soft sound as it stuck onto the mech’s body.
Immediately after, the magnetic field flashed with a blue electric light. Heishi turned around and jumped towards the cliff. The second mech patroller’s anti-gravity engine failed, and it crashed onto the cliff, causing a catastrophic sound. A piece of the mountain collapsed, causing an avalanche.
“Quick, run!” A-Ka roared.
Heishi was propelled down by the falling snow, and the people rushed towards higher grounds. Lights on the two mech patrollers flashed and they exploded, instigating another chain reaction, and they were buried under the overwhelming snow. The mountains stood tall underneath the splendid sunlight. After what sounded like the heavens were collapsing and the ground was cracking, the world was still.
A-Ka coughed and sputtered as he crawled out, with great difficulty, from the snow. Heishi quickly crawled over and grabbed A-Ka’s collar, dragging him out of the snow. The runaways all emerged from the snow. They had escaped from death, so there was still some fear lingering in them. A-Ka nodded towards them and saw that there were seven people who had crawled out of the snow: two women, four men, and a young girl.
Everyone sat on the snowy ground under the sunlight, utterly exhausted.
“When did you two escape?” a woman asked A-Ka.
“Seven days ago,” said A-Ka. “I’m A-Ka, and he’s Heishi.”
“Thank you both,” said a man gratefully. “We were chased by those two guys the entire way…”
Heishi said indifferently, “I was only protecting myself.”
A-Ka was a bit embarrassed and smiled. “Don’t say that. We’re all people here, so we should help each other out.”
Everyone smiled, and Heishi walked off to the side. In the distance, a few men were digging in the snow.
“Fellows! Help us out!” shouted a man from afar. “There’s still someone here, get him out!”
A-Ka went over and bent down, helping them pull out the person inside. After getting him out, A-Ka was stunned.
It was an android. There were bits of ice on the android’s face and he got up with difficulty but was punched in the face by a human near him.
“You deceived us!” said a man angrily.
“Hey! Wait! Let him talk first!” A-Ka was startled upon seeing the android get hit back down right after getting up.
The men all gathered around. One of them held a gun and held it against the android’s head. He said coldly, “Why did you send out a signal to the mech army?”
“I didn’t!” said the android angrily.
The man that was their leader roared angrily, “You were communicating with the army and wanted us to be taken back!”
The android said, “I only wanted to listen to the news from headquarters…”
A-Ka said, “Don’t be so… First, let’s listen to what he has to say.”
“This has nothing to do with you, buddy.” The leader held out an arm to block A-Ka, wanting him to go away. A-Ka stumbled and retreated a few steps. Heishi had originally been standing to the side and was observing the girl that had been with them. At this time, he was acutely aware of a conflict, so he turned around and walked towards them.
“What is it?” said Heishi coldly.
Everyone looked at Heishi, their gazes then landing onto the broadsword in his hand. No one dared to speak.
The leader said, “My name is Tapu.”
Heishi nodded and A-Ka motioned to release the android, asking everyone, “What did he do wrong?”
Tapu said to Heishi, “We kindly took him in the entire way, yet, while he was in our team, he secretly sent signals to the mech army…”
The android said angrily, “I didn’t! It was me who was kind and rescued them from Mechanical City. Along the way, I only wanted to listen to the news from headquarters! The transceiver was destroyed by them, and they’re even ungrateful and want to kill me! You ungrateful humans…”
The android’s emotions were momentarily agitated, and he wanted to fight with Tapu but was stopped by the group of men.
“What did he use to communicate with the mech army?” A-Ka asked Tapu.
Tapu turned around and gestured. Another person took out a telecommunication device.
A-Ka glanced at it and explained to them, “This can only receive. It can’t send out messages. He didn’t deceive you guys.”
“But he still led the mech patrollers to us,” said a man, unconvinced. “He was sending and receiving messages, and was traced to us.”
A-Ka said patiently, “If it can’t send out signals, then the mech patrollers can’t discover the source of the signals, so he couldn’t have led them here.”
The android watched them, and everyone was extremely embarrassed. After a brief silence, Tapu said, “Bringing him along is too dangerous, let’s kill him.”
“You guys!” The android practically couldn’t believe it. A-Ka said, “Slow down! Why would you want to kill him?”
Tapu said, “Androids aren’t in the same group as us, so who knows what type of tricks he has up his sleeve?”
A-Ka said angrily, “You can’t kill him!”
A-Ka looked at Heishi, but Heishi declined to comment. Tapu and the others seemed to be a bit scared of the two of them. A-Ka finally said, “Hand him over to me. I have some things I want to ask him about.”
A-Ka reached out his hand and the android grabbed it, using it to pull himself up. A-Ka brought the android and walked away with Heishi.
“Wait!” called Tapu from behind them.
“Do you have something else to say?” asked A-Ka, turning around.
Tapu sized the three of them up and seemed to assess Heishi’s and A-Ka’s fighting prowess. In the end, he gave up on whatever plan he had and said, “It’s best for you to be careful with that guy.”
“Thank you for your reminder,” replied A-Ka.
Night befell them as A-Ka, Heishi, and the android sat in a cave. They started a campfire, and the rest of the humans remained in the valley, temporarily resting on the leeward side.
“General Libre died,” said the android. “The revolution failed, and Father is currently rebuilding Mechanical City, as well as sending out mech patrollers to search for the humans and my fellow androids that have escaped.”
This really was the worst news possible. A-Ka asked, “What news does headquarters have?”
“You seem to be very clear about our operations,” said the android absently. “There aren’t more than ten humans who participated in the plan to kill Father, so how do you know about it?”
A-Ka said, “It was just by chance. So everything has failed now?”
“Not yet.” The android glanced at Heishi. “Headquarters told the remaining soldiers to flee past Aijia Strait and go to Andoria, form an alliance with the Kelan people, and then think of a way to counterattack.”
A-Ka nodded contemplatively.
Heishi said, “Are all the people in Mechanical City dead?”
The android sighed and said, “It can’t be considered a total failure. At least, this way, Father will take at least ten years to repair itself. We’ve acquired quite a bit of time for the general mobilization.”
“What is Andoria?” asked Heishi indifferently.
“The country of androids,” replied the android. “Three of our original android ancestors are there. Originally, the androids had four earliest ancestors, but a long time ago, one of them participated in some plan. After the plan failed, he was imprisoned by Father. It was he who stayed in Mechanical City and instigated all of the androids to rebel, starting this battle.”
A-Ka sighed. The android’s words had revealed a very important piece of information——for now, they were still in danger.
The android fiddled with the small mechanical device repeatedly and said exhaustedly, “I can’t get through to headquarters. The receiver was broken by those foolish humans.” After saying that, he realized that A-Ka and Heishi were also humans. “Sorry, I didn’t mean you two.”
A-Ka nodded and asked, “Why don’t you have your number plate?”
“At the beginning of the revolution, all of the clones didn’t acknowledge the number plates given to us by the mech regime, and we gave ourselves unique names,” said the android. “My name is Feiluo.” 2
“I’m A-Ka.” A-Ka nodded towards him.
“Heishi,” said Heishi.”
With the addition of Feiluo, it finally allowed A-Ka to not have to face Heishi everyday, who was like a metal board. After they woke up the next day, the people from the other camp came over to ask them whether or not A-Ka would go along with them. And so, A-Ka’s squad of three people joined in with the humans’ group of runaways.
They crossed rivers hills, heading towards Aijia Strait, looking forwards to the faraway opposite shore of the ocean and going to a new mainland.
Compared to the androids A-Ka had met, Feiluo had a relatively good temper. He was extremely polite towards Heishi, and Heishi never treated him like he did A-Ka.
“Thank you both for saving me,” Feiluo suddenly said one day as they were walking.
“Your welcome.” The entire time, A-Ka felt quite partial towards androids. After all, when he and Heishi escaped from the prison, it was the androids who had saved them. If it weren’t for them as allies, then he would have died in Mechanical City for sure.
“I’m finding out,” lamented Feiluo, “that in order to change this world, we still have to depend on humans the entire time.”
A-Ka mumbled, “Humans, huh?”
The fact that the android revolution had actually been started by humans was somewhat beyond A-Ka’s expectations, but after he thought about it carefully, it was pretty reasonable. Humans had abundant and complicated emotions, as well as resourcefulness. Those were things that steel life forms had no way of reaching. However, because of those emotions and resourcefulness, humans hindered each other and oppressed other species. When the Creators endowed light upon the human race, they also mercilessly left behind several flaws.
Changes occurred in the entire world because of humans. Thus, it was likely that when the Creators created this world, they had already placed the center of the Compass 3 into the human race. As for the rest of the Compass, it was cast into the vast and unknown world.
Among humans, they were all drastically different, and every person in the world was a unique form. In the end, even androids were pursuing that ideal. Just like Feiluo, they would give themselves a name, wear their coats backward, or stick a straw onto their hat to show that they were different from everyone else.
“I heard a fellow android say that this is the awakening of the realization of ‘I’,” Feiluo said to A-Ka. “Every one of you humans has the realization of ‘I’, but we don’t. So, the prophet awakened our realization of oneself, thus starting the revolution.”
“Then what kind of concept do you think ‘I’ is now?” asked A-Ka curiously.
Feiluo shook his head. “I can’t say it clearly. But at least, I understand one thing, which is that I’m not the same as before.”
A-Ka instinctively felt that this topic was very profound and complicated. Every person was aware of themself and that they were all independent of one another, and they were aware of this when they were an adult as well as when they were a child… He gazed at the team of humans and saw the only child. She was walking beside Heishi and curiously asking random questions. Every single time, Heishi either nodded or shook his head. Most of the time, he was silent and simply observed the young girl.
“Children are magical creatures,” evaluated Feiluo. “When we’re born, we already have the form of an adult human, and we haven’t experienced childhood. The phase of a human’s childhood seems to always be happy.”
A-Ka said, “I can’t remember my childhood clearly anymore, so it feels that it can’t have been that happy.”
Heishi carried the girl on his back as they walked forward, and A-Ka walked next to him, teasing the girl.
“What’s your name?”
“Ann,” 4 the girl said timidly.
A-Ka smiled and said seriously, “Ann, keep it up. We’re going to find hope.”
The girl nodded.
Day after day, through sunsets and sunrises, it was a long, endless road. Walking through the snowy mountains was very arduous. They couldn’t find much food, and everyone was in despair and irritable. Only A-Ka still persisted to use his magnetic field generator to set magnetic field traps. Occasionally, he could catch one or two birds or roe deer.
He gave the food to the girl and the women first. At first, Heishi thought that that was extremely strange, but later, he gradually grew used to A-Ka’s way of doing things.
When everyone could barely hold out any longer, under Feiluo’s lead, they exited the snowlands and entered a vast grassland. After walking forward some more, they would arrive at the shore of the western part of the inland sea.
They had walked for an entire half-year. When everyone was worn out, they finally saw dawn. At this time, all of their clothes were worn and tattered. Heishi’s shirt was the most damaged, for the entire way, as they overcame obstacles, it was him who had scouted the way and created a path for the others. Heishi simply went shirtless and tied his shirt, which was like a strip of cloth, around his waist.
In order to save the girl, Feiluo was bitten by a venomous snake. Fortunately, he was an android, so he wasn’t affected by the toxins.
A-Ka was extremely embarrassed, as his shirt was torn and tattered, and the strap of his shoulder bag had also broken. He was forced to borrow two strips of cloth from Heishi, knot them together, and fasten them onto himself.
Along the way, two people had died of illnesses. A-Ka was powerless about that and could only bring the remaining people to continue onwards. Even worse, one of the deceased had been a woman, and she was the girl’s, Ann’s, mother.
The entire way, Ann had kept asking them where her mother was. Feiluo would answer that her mother was already in front of them, scouting out the way. Ann didn’t cry nor make too much noise. She broke away from the people’s camp and joined A-Ka’s small squad.
They were in a vast plain, and it was the oldest place on Astrolabe’s core. The plain, along with the snowy mountains and the forest, formed a border that separated Mechanical City and the area of the western shores. It was called the “ancient core”. In ancient times, this place was known as the “Creators’ laboratory”, only because there were a lot of different species in the grassland. Back then, when tyrannosauruses wreaked havoc on the grasslands, even the mech army couldn’t do anything about them.
The supply line was too long and too difficult, so humans that got away from Mechanical City many years ago and had come to the edge of the western shore could only construct their habitats sporadically across the area, as well as name themselves the ‘alliance of rebels.’
However, all of that was only temporary. Everyone knew that one day, sooner or later, Father’s mech army would come here and invade the entire western shore. Only when they left this mainland and drifted to the faraway nation on the other side of the ocean could they survive.
The humans living at the edge of the ancient core had to be alert to the attacks of the ancient animals there at the time, as well as the mech army that came from the east. They lived in a constant state of fear and anxiety.
A-Ka had heard these legends before at Ant Nest. At the time, he had thought that it was impossible for him to arrive here, much less proceed from here to another mainland in the east. After experiencing so much, he gradually realized just how ridiculous his initial wishful thinking of driving K and crossing the large ocean to search from the Ideal Nation that existed in legends was.
Feiluo said, “After crossing the cordon of the plains, we’ll arrive at Masha Town.”
The group were travel-worn and weary. As they stood on a hillside in the plains and gazed downwards, everyone was silent for a long time.
The zone at the edge of the plain took up hundreds of square kilometers. It was a boundless expanse as far as the eye could see, and it was packed with humans. The humans were either sitting, lying down, or gathered in front of the barbed wire fence, waiting to be accepted by Masha Town. The barbed wire fence was like a blocking territory line that surrounded a nation; at the edge of their last hope, it mercilessly rejected anyone’s approach.
A-Ka hadn’t expected that there would actually be this many people. As far as he could tell, there were at least a few hundred thousand.
Starting from the day of the revolution in Mechanical City, it was presumable that quite a few humans would escape from the prison that was Steel Country and each go their own ways, scattering in all directions across the mainland. A-Ka thought that they, having crossed the plateau as a shortcut, would have been relatively fast, so he hadn’t expected that there would be this many people without a home and nowhere to settle.
“Let us in!” shouted the humans gathered at the barbed wire fence.
Behind the fence, an armed rebel army with their weapons in their hands headed towards the runaways on the plain.
A-Ka watched from afar, dazed.
“What do we do?” asked A-Ka.
Heishi shrugged and looked absent-minded as he swept an eye across the plain.
Feiluo said, “Don’t worry. I’ll go and see if I can negotiate with them.”
The humans on the plain had gathered into a crowd. It would be nighttime soon, and in winter, the days were short and the nights long, during which there would be frigid wind and biting cold. Feiluo led the girl, A-Ka, and the others before the barbed wire fence. Behind the fence, the rebel army immediately used their firearms to point at them, asking alertly, “Who are you?”
The lantern light shone at them, landing on everyone’s faces. Feiluo used his finger to comb away his unkempt hair, revealing his two indigo eyes.
“I’m one of you,” said Feiluo. “I’m from the seventh troop.”
“The seventh troop has already been disbanded!” said the person across from him. “Our brothers in Mechanical City have all died!”
Feiluo was silent for a while. Quite a few armed soldiers inched closer around them and pushed their helmets up. All of them had indigo eyes; they were all androids.
“Are there any humans?” asked A-Ka. “I have some things to say. We escaped from Mechanical City.”
An android soldier replied, “Everyone here are refugees from Mechanical City. That is not unusual. Stay outside.” Then, he used the muzzle of his gun to point at Feiluo. “You, you’re one of us, so you can come in.”
Feiluo said to A-Ka and Heishi, “Wait here for me. Ann, come on, let’s go in first.”
The small door in the fence opened a crack, and Feiluo let Ann go in first. Ann was a bit scared and she turned around to look at them. Heishi said, “Go on, you’ll be safe.”
The act made quite a few people discontented so they all started shouting. Feiluo slipped through the door and nodded to A-Ka to signal for him to relax, and brought Ann with him as he walked into the night. A-Ka was being squeezed by the people behind him so much he couldn’t bear it anymore so he turned around, wanting to find an empty spot to sit down. However, he couldn’t even step anywhere. In the end, Heishi pulled his collar and lifted him out.
The group sat down on an empty area, and the xenon lights on the barbed wire fence shone brightly, making the night seem like daytime. Tapu and the others were still with A-Ka.
Tapu said disdainfully, “That android isn’t going to let us in.”
“I believe that he will.” A-Ka had more to say, but he didn’t say it out loud. He thought that Feiluo would save him and Heishi, but he might not save these temporary human companions. After all, Tapu and the others had wanted to kill Feiluo at the beginning.
The roars of ancient wild beasts came from afar, and in the depths of the plain in the night, it was as if there were hidden dangers unbeknownst to people.
The long night closed in, and as the sky shined with the bright galaxy, the plain fell into deep sleep.
A-Ka was woken up from his dreams and he looked around.
“Come with me,” an android said to him in a low voice. “Don’t disturb anyone else.”
“What about Heishi?” asked A-Ka.
The android asked dazedly, “Who?”
“Heishi!” A-Ka discovered that Heishi wasn’t next to him. Since leaving Mechanical City, this was the first time that Heishi was separated from him. A-Ka panicked at once and shouted, “Heishi!”
“Shh…” The android covered A-Ka’s mouth immediately and whispered, “Don’t disturb anyone else. Come with me!”
“These are the orders of Lieutenant Colonel Feiluo! If you have something to say, then wait until you see Feiluo and then say them to him!”
A-Ka stopped struggling and was in a daze as he was brought to the barbed wire fence. The door in the fence opened a crack and the android guard nodded, saying, “It’s him.”
The android brought A-Ka to a warehouse, and A-Ka couldn’t help but be alert. The android said, “Later, Feiluo will be waiting for you outside. You can go in.”
A-Ka braced himself as he walked into the warehouse, yet he discovered that the warehouse had been remodeled into a shower room. He became clear-headed at that, and realized that they were letting him take a shower. After running around for so long, his entire body was itchy, as well as covered in mud, so at least he could finally take a proper shower now.
A-Ka turned on the hot water, and with a splash, the shower room was filled with steam. As the hot water drenched him, A-Ka trembled from head to toe. In the foggy shower room, he saw a person’s figure.
“Heishi?” said A-Ka happily.
Heishi was standing to the side. He took off his clothes and began to shower. He turned his head around to size up A-Ka, and A-Ka felt uneasy under his stare, so he moved away to give Heishi more space. He had seen Heishi’s body several times, so it wasn’t strange for him anymore, but this was the first time his entire body had been sized up by Heishi.
A-Ka’s hair was wet, and water trickled down him. He smiled at Heishi, saying, “Awesome, I thought that you…”
Heishi faced A-Ka, gazing at him silently.
“Thank you for looking after me along the way,” Heishi suddenly said.
A-Ka hadn’t expected to hear that, but he smiled and said, “It was you who protected me…”
Suddenly, Heishi reached out a hand and hugged A-Ka tightly.
In an instant, A-Ka’s heartbeat abruptly started jumping fiercely. Enshrouded by the steam in the shower room, he was nestled up against Heishi’s strong, bare chest, feeling his warm body. Underneath Heishi’s chest, A-Ka could feel his steady heartbeat.
“You…” A-Ka suddenly had an inexplicable feeling.
Heishi merely hugged him briefly before detaching. He covered A-Ka’s ear with his hand and looked into his eyes.
“Thank you.” Heishi’s eyes were abstruse, as if they were obsidian that had been buried underground for millions of years, flashing with an enchanting light. “Later on, take good care of yourself.”
“Heishi?” asked A-Ka.
Heishi wiped the water off of his face, turned around to dry himself off, put on his clothes, and left.
“Heishi!” A-Ka put on his clothes in a hurry and chased after him. Heishi had already put on the androids’ uniform and was walking away at a brisk pace. At that moment, A-Ka faintly realized something.
“Wait!” A-Ka anxiously chased Heishi, who was walking towards where there were a lot of people. Feiluo was standing there.
“Quick! Board the ship!” Feiluo was waiting on the other side of the pier, and there were quite a few people lining up on the pier. Everyone was silent under the blinding white light of the pier. Several people turned around to look at them, for their conversation was especially clear in the silence of the night.
“Are you done saying goodbye? A-Ka?” asked Feiluo.
Heishi nodded towards Feiluo. The tacit understanding between the two of them confirmed A-Ka’s guesses. He said, “You’re staying here?”
Feiluo explained, “He still has things to do so he told me to send you off first. Come here… Don’t talk…”
“What is he going to do?” asked A-Ka disbelievingly.
Feiluo didn’t reply as he led A-Ka through the crowd of people. Feiluo’s expression was clearly complicated and uneasy. A-ka asked, “Is it because only one person can be sent away, so he wanted me to…”
“No! No!” Feiluo hastily replied. “A-Ka, don’t ask anymore. Trust me, Heishi is only…”
A-Ka couldn’t calm down no matter what, and he said, “I rescued him from the ocean, so how can I leave him behind here? I have to go with him, or else I won’t go, either!”
As they were talking, Heishi finally couldn’t stand it any longer. He asked, “Why do you care about me so much?”
A-Ka sighed and felt angry at once. Just then, he had been moved by Heishi’s actions, but now, hearing that, he didn’t want to bother with him at all.
“Have it your way,” A-Ka said angrily.
Feiluo smiled, and Heishi said to A-Ka, “I have some business to take care of. Farewell.”
A-Ka’s heart jumped again and he looked at Heishi, trying to tell from his expression whether or not he was lying. The horns of the ferry in the distance sounded, breaking the awkwardness between the three of them. Feiluo said hastily, “Board the ship. Come, Paixi!”
Feiluo brought a boy over. In the night, A-Ka couldn’t see his appearance clearly, and he only knew that he was a bit younger than himself.
“This is Paixi. Paixi, this is A-Ka,” said Feiluo, introducing the two of them. He explained, “A-Ka, please, take Paixi with you. When you arrive at Phoenix Town, please send him to a human orphanage so he can be adopted.”
A-Ka was baffled, but since Feiluo had entrusted the child to him, he held the human child’s hand. Feiluo said, “Quick.”
Feiluo brought them to a remote location to board the ship. A-Ka gazed out from the side of the ship, and saw Heishi standing alone under the streetlights on the pier.
“Will we meet again?” A-Ka suddenly asked.
Heishi lifted his head, glanced at A-Ka, and silently turned around, leaving.
That guy… A-Ka had mixed feelings about him, yet he didn’t know what he should say. After a brief silence, he fished out a chip from his shirt pocket. It was the one that the confined doctor had given to A-Ka when he had escaped from Mechanical City with Heishi. He had charged A-Ka with bringing the chip to the rebel army’s camp and to give it to General Libre then.
However, the revolution had already failed, and even now, A-ka didn’t know who to give the chip to. Perhaps, the chip itself could be given to Heishi as a memento, or perhaps Heishi could interpret the chip’s contents and give it to whomever it should go to.
“Help me give this to Heishi,” said A-Ka, “as a memento.”
Feiluo took it and tucked it away before saying to A-Ka, “Take good care of yourself.”
A-Ka held the boy’s hand as they were brought belowdecks. Here, there were quite a few human refugees, all of them packed together. Feiluo brought them behind a pile of boxes, let them settle themselves down, and knelt with one knee on the floor, saying, “Paixi, 5 Dad is leaving now.”
A-Ka was speechless.
Paixi reached out his hand, hugging Feiluo’s neck; he seemed quite clingy to Feiluo. After a long while, Feiluo sighed and pried off Paixi’s hand. He told him, “Listen and do what Brother 6 A-Ka says to you. Right as I’m done doing what I need to do, Dad will go to Phoenix Town and find you.”
Upon hearing that, A-Ka felt slightly more relieved and asked Feiluo, “Will Heishi also come?”
Feiluo said, “He will. Bon voyage.”
Feiluo left the ship, his footsteps receding into the distance. The large ship had already set sail, bringing the shipful of human immigrants far away from the central mainland, proceeding to an unknown island overseas.
Underneath the moonlight, A-Ka was still worrying about Heishi. Since the first day he had appeared in front of A-Ka, he seemed to be hiding some unknown secret. Outside the ship, there was only the sound of the lapping waves, and the calm moonlight spilled over the surface of the ocean, as far as the eye could see, as well as shine on A-Ka and the lonely Paixi. Everyone was fast asleep. At this time, Paixi lightly gripped A-ka’s hand and shook him.
“Is Heishi a good friend of yours?” whispered Paixi.
“Comrade in arms.” A-Ka explained to Paixi, “We’ve fought shoulder to shoulder before and escaped together from Mechanical City.”
Paixi nodded and used both of his hands to fumble around in his shoulder bag. A-Ka said, “Let me help. What are you looking for?”
A-Ka helped Paixi search through his shoulder bag. He found a small dagger, a piece of chocolate, a portable water purifier, as well as a transmitter. There was also a photo of Paixi and Feiluo: the two of them were standing shoulder to shoulder underneath the sunlight with a barren plain in the background.
- 1. An astrolabe is an instrument formerly used to make astronomical measurements, typically of the altitudes of celestial bodies, and in navigation for calculating latitude, before the development of the sextant. In its basic form (known from classical times), it consists of a disk with the edge marked in degrees and a pivoted pointer (dictionary.com).
- 2. His name translates literally to “fly and land”.
- 3. Compass refers to a mythical object called the Creation Compass that was used by the Creators to create Astrolabe, and it was mentioned briefly at the beginning of the novel.
- 4. Her name in pinyin is actually “An”, but I have translated it to “Ann” to make it look more normal. Her name translates literally to “safety”.
- When Feiluo says “dad”, he is referring to himself. Basically, he’s Paixi’s adoptive dad.
- They are not actually brothers, but in China, it is common to refer to someone a bit older than you as “brother” or “sister”.