Chapter 8: Blacklands
Translated by Vivian of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
Starting from the next day, A-Ka temporarily accepted this job. Shahuang’s shop repaired equipment for merchants in the old city subdivision, as well as resold firearms. Most of the time, they were black guns of unknown origins. A-Ka’s job was to refurbish them and then examine and test them before selling them.
Using what he had learned in Mechanical City, A-Ka refitted some electromagnetic weapons, making Shahuang very satisfied. When the three of them sat together to eat in the morning, Shahuang was wearing dirty, white clothes. He rolled up his sleeves and prepared three servings of tomato soup and put a large basket of bread on the table. Paixi and A-Ka, who were both starving, gobbled them up.
“You didn’t look like you could maintain firearms,” said Shahuang.
“I’ve learned some things before in Father’s nation,” said A-Ka. “But unless it is necessary, I rarely touch them.”
Shahuang said, “You didn’t steal one from Steel City to protect yourself?”
A-Ka shook his head. He had a vivid memory of the weapons in Steel City. The mechs used the weapons that humans created to, in turn, massacre humans, which made him have a natural dislike of firearms since he was young. But since he was staying in Shahuang’s shop, it was for a job, so he couldn’t not do it well, or else he and Paixi wouldn’t have anything to eat.
Ever since the night on the boat, A-Ka was astonished to discover that his ability to perceive the world seemed to have improved by leaps and bounds. Before, during his job with no distractions, his focus was concentrated solely on mechanical devices. Yet now, once he entered the work mode of being oblivious to even himself, his perception abilities seemed to consciously increase.
It was a type of feeling that was hard to describe. There was a machine gun in his hands that consisted of a scope, handle, barrel, and other components. In an instant, they were broken down by his thoughts, becoming crystal clear. Just like when the lightning had flashed in the vast ocean, the world’s principles appeared clearly to him. The foundations that were the constitution of motion seemed to reveal their mysterious inner workings to him.
A-Ka was absent-minded as he pushed the barrel onto the gun and placed it on the counter.
“Is it fixed, just like that?” The merchant said, “Even the shop of precision instruments in the east district couldn’t fix this Storm Eagle 1!”
“It’s fixed,” nodded A-Ka. “There was just something wrong with the positioning trigger…”
The merchant said, “Have you seen blueprints of it before?”
A-Ka said impatiently, “No, I haven’t. Don’t you just want the gun fixed? I’ve already fixed it, so what else is there?!”
The merchant tried it out and found out that it indeed was as good as new, it just didn’t have any bullets loaded in it at the moment. He was astonished and said to Shahuang, “Hey man, this kid…”
“Storm Eagle?” Shahuang, who had been sitting to the side smoking and playing cards, got up, walked over, and took the firearm, saying, “Well, the factory that produced this has already been closed down. How can you still fix it?”
“I…” A-Ka was a bit uneasy. He looked at Shahuang and said, “The structure. After finding the problem in the structure, it was easy to do.”
“This kid is really smart.” Shahuang laughed and returned the gun to the merchant, patting his shoulder.
The merchant practically didn’t believe it. The gun had already been discarded for many years, and since there was no way of fixing it nor returning it to the factory, he had, at first, merely wanted to exchange some money for the scrap piece of metal, or maybe even bluff his way past Shahuang’s new apprentice. He hadn’t expected that the apprentice would repair the gun in a matter of seconds!
“Twenty-five gold,” said A-ka.
The merchant hastened to fish out his money to pay.
A-Ka glanced at Shahuang, who had been sitting in the corner. Shahuang was smiling to himself, and A-Ka wasn’t sure if Shahuang could tell how capable he was. But whether he had or not, A-Ka felt that he shouldn’t talk about it too much. And as for Paixi’s dream, A-Ka had tried to talk to him about it a few times, but he never got a clear answer, so he could only put it aside for now.
Over time, A-Ka and Paixi had worked in Shahuang’s shop for nearly a week. At first, the shop’s customers were merchants that all looked ugly and ferocious, and when they saw A-Ka and Paixi they were a bit surprised. Their attitude towards A-Ka wasn’t very good, but they were extremely polite towards Paixi, and before they left, they would even give Paixi some tips.
A-Ka kept all of the money, and every day, Shahuang would pay A-Ka a small salary depending on the turnover of the day. A-Ka would hand that money to Paixi and let him manage it.
The two of them didn’t really have anything to spend money on. As A-Ka repaired firearms for Shahuang, he couldn’t help but remember his treasure from before——the mech, K. At that time, he had spent a lot of effort on collecting spare components every day, but in the end, they were all gone at once. From there, A-Ka associated it with that day that he and Heishi had escaped from Steel City and had suddenly seen the mech in front of him.
A-Ka thought, Who had been controlling K? As he thought, he was also dealing with the burst-fire machine gun in his hands. After a few moments, he finished repairing it, and then thought about Heishi, whom he had escaped with. Right now, he didn’t know how Heishi was doing. Was he in danger?
He planned to tell Paixi to contact Feiluo in the night and ask him about how Heishi was doing.
That day, it was very cold outside, with heavy snowfall. The snow in Phoenix City had the pungent smell of sulfur, the snowflakes that fell to the ground were gray, and polluted snow lay in heaps in front of their door. A-Ka assembled a small automatic mech that would sweep snow and put it outside the door to clear out the accumulated snow.
In Phoenix City, privately studying mechs was banned. However, the boundaries were very fuzzy, as the lives of humans and androids couldn’t not have mechanical devices in them. Most of the time, the rebel army patrols would turn a blind eye to any mechs that could be operated by a normal citizen.
Nothing interesting was happening to A-Ka, so he used the abandoned spare parts in Shahuang’s shop to randomly assemble something. If it was possible, he wanted to make another K. This time, it wasn’t for escaping, nor did he need to fight using it. On the contrary, there was some internal yearning he was born with towards steel and towards mechs, which made him unable to stop thinking about them. Creating mechs was like playing with toy bricks. They were ever-changing and filled with delight, especially that moment in which his devices started to move; there was the happiness and joy of having created something.
As he was thinking these, the bells outside the front door jingled.
“We’re closed,” said A-Ka. “You can come back tomorrow.”
The door was pushed open, and a tall man walked in. He was like a mountain and he wore the military hat of the rebel army. He towered over A-Ka and looked downwards at him.
“Where’s Shahuang?” When he spoke, the entire shop shook. Paixi, who was peeling some potatoes in the kitchen, was startled, and cups and plates crashed to the floor.
“He’s…” A-Ka was unsettled as he looked at the man, and he felt that it was like talking with a giant bear. He pointed to the room in the back and continued, “in there.”
“Oh, Huixiong.” Shahuang was holding a cup of whiskey and leaned against the doorframe, a cigarette in his mouth. “Welcome. I thought that you already died in Steel City.”
A-Ka frowned slightly. Upon hearing that place’s name after not hearing it for so long, he couldn’t help but take another look at the man called Huixiong. Huixiong said, “This hellish winter day is never-ending. I’ve really had enough of it!”
Huixiong took off his military coat and casually threw it under the stairs, landing on Paixi’s bed. His firm muscles were prominent, so bulging that they nearly burst his shirt open. This was the first time A-Ka had seen such a burly and fit man, and he was 190 centimeters tall. Standing in front of him, even the robust Heishi would look out of shape. One Huixiong was as burly as two full-grown men.
Huixiong took a big gulp of whiskey, and it was so strong his face flushed. “An outsider joined our secret operations team. You won’t believe what they discovered at the Ancient Core! Although the revolution failed, according to the information that man provided, Father’s rule is about to collapse! That man… They call him the ‘Savior’, and they think that he was left behind by the ancient gods, and that he is the key to ending Father. In the ancient core, he…”
A-Ka couldn’t help but stretch his neck towards them, curiously listening to the conversation between Huixiong and Shahuang. The room’s door was open, and Shahuang glanced outside, just happening to see A-Ka’s expression.
“Shahuang, can I use your magnetic welding coil?” asked A-Ka, a little embarrassed.
“Help yourself,” said Shahuang lazily, “but don’t try out your new weapon in my shop. If you’re going to use it, then go to the river behind the alley.”
A-Ka nodded and began to assemble a mechanical arm. He still wanted to eavesdrop some more, but Shahuang walked to the doorway and closed the door. A-Ka couldn’t hear any more of the conversation.
A-Ka kept having a feeling that things weren’t quite right recently. Shahuang didn’t go outdoors anymore, and the interrogations and examinations outside gradually became stricter. One early morning, a merchant came by and said, “Hey, kid. Is the child from lane sixteen your little brother? He’s been detained by a guard.”
A-Ka immediately put aside his task at hand and went outside, and discovered that there were several sentries on the street. Paixi was holding an electronic crutch for blind people in one hand and lifted his head in a daze, his other hand clutching a bag of bread.
A-Ka said, “He’s my little brother!”
“Don’t walk around outside.” The android sentry glanced at him and returned the bread to Paixi. He was holding an epaulet, and asked, “Who gave you this?”
“My dad,” answered Paixi.
He had tucked away the epaulet Feiluo had given him in his shoulder bag the entire time. The android sentry laughed, “Interesting. You’re the son of an android?”
“Let’s go.” A-Ka was alert as he watched the sentry and grabbed Paixi’s hand to go back. The sentry said, “General MacKasey is going to come here to perform an inspection in a few days. If you don’t want to cause trouble, then stay obediently in your house, and don’t go anywhere.”
“What’s happening outside?” A-Ka asked Shahuang after they returned.
Shahuang was laying on a chair, his feet that were wearing boots were propped on the round table, and his hat was covering his face. His voice came from under his hat. “MacKasey is coming. He’s going to cruise around, give speeches, mobilize…”
“Is he the person in power around here?” said A-Ka.
“He’s one of the three people in power.” Shahuang said lazily, “The android regime wants to counterattack, so he’s going to mobilize everyone and attack Mechanical City.”
A-Ka said, “They’ve just lost once already.”
Shahuang said, “People in Phoenix City are panicked. In times like these, they’ve got to find something to do.”
A-Ka didn’t ask any further. At night, Shahuang hummed the rebel army’s military song, “Blacklands” 2. A-Ka had heard Feiluo sing that song several times before. There was a curfew on the entire city, and the lights went out very early. The room was dark, and after A-Ka drifted off to sleep, he heard someone knocking on the door. He got up blearily, yet Paixi felt around, going to open the door first.
“Who is it?” said A-Ka.
Shahuang seemed to have been waiting the entire time, and said, “Come in.”
The person put something onto the counter in the dark, and he went directly into Shahuang’s guest room and closed the door. A-Ka turned on the light and saw that the thing he had placed onto the counter was a long-range shotgun.
He began to repair it for the guest, thinking that he was most likely a friend of Shahuang’s. He curiously craned his head to look around, wanting to know if the guest had brought news from the other mainland. However, Shahuang shut the door tightly, and A-ka couldn’t hear anything. That night, A-Ka didn’t sleep well, and along with the night before, during which Huixiong’s visit had disturbed him, A-Ka had already gone through two consecutive nights of fitful sleeping. The next day at sunrise, he was woken up by the noise coming from outside.
People were walking on the street in large numbers and cheering thunderously, only because the leader of the rebel army was about to come. A-Ka pushed open the window and looked outside. The streets, whether it was the main roads or small alleys, were all packed with people, who were walking towards the square. Some people had brought fresh flowers, some people had brought food, and they were all scrambling to swarm into the square, awaiting the person in the legends to arrive at Phoenix City.
Phoenix City had never had as many people as there were today, and it was as if they were celebrating a grand holiday.
The fireworks were deafening, so A-Ka closed his window. The first thing he did was to go see the guest from last night.
The guest wasn’t there, and Shahuang was still fast asleep. Paixi said, “Are you looking for the person that came last night? He brought food for us.”
A box of fresh fruits sat on the table, and there were even water droplets on them. Paixi said, “When he woke up today morning, he finished washing the fruits and said that we can eat it, before going to the rooftop.”
A-Ka walked up the stairs to go see him, yet the door to the rooftop had been locked from the outside. A-Ka knocked it and said, “Are you outside?”
A man wearing a trench coat propped the sniper rifle onto the rack, wiped the lens, and looked back to glance at the tightly shut rooftop door. There was no reply.
A-Ka said, “Thank you for your fruits. You can come down to eat breakfast now.”
The person on the rooftop was still silent. A-Ka waited for a while longer but didn’t receive any response. He thought to himself that the people that came to Shahuang’s place were all strange, and didn’t pay any more attention to him.
A-Ka and Paixi ate breakfast and heard a song sound from outside that merged into a torrent.
“Unyielding souls, we will eventually return to our homelands…”
“The fated hero will lead us forward…”
“The future is right beneath our feet…”
The city was ignited by fervor, and although A-Ka wasn’t very interested in the rebel army’s business, it couldn’t be avoided that he was also affected by that type of mood. Paixi said, “Can I go outside and look?”
“No,” replied A-Ka without even thinking about it.
A moment later, someone knocked on the door, and Huixiong appeared in the doorway.
“MacKasey came,” said Huixiong. “Aren’t you guys going to go outside and look?”
Shahuang said lazily, “Oh, I can’t. I have two kids in my home. You can bring them there, though.”
Huixiong smiled and asked, “Do you two want to go?”
Paixi looked at A-Ka. A-Ka didn’t really want to go, as he hadn’t finished assembling his mechanical arm yet. Shahuang said, “Paixi, you can go with Huixiong. He’ll protect you.”
A-Ka sized up Huixiong, and in the end, he said, “Go on. Come back early.”
Huixiong came over to hold Paixi’s hand and led him outside. Shahuang said, “Huixiong has bare-handedly destroyed a military base before. You don’t need to worry about your little brother.”
“I’m not worried about whether or not he can protect Paixi,” said A-Ka. “I’m more worried about if he’ll do something to Paixi.”
Shahuang laughed and said, “He doesn’t like kids, you can rest assured. Now, your bodyguard has come, so no one needs to be afraid.”
“What?” said A-Ka, baffled.
Shahuang ate his breakfast, not replying to A-Ka, and then went back to his room to sit down. He was still lying on his chair, using his hat to cover his face. He turned on the receiver, and the news it broadcasted were all about General MacKasey’s touring.
A-Ka stood behind the counter, adjusting his mechanical arm. He had used the scraps in Shahuang’s shop to assemble the mech arm. He gripped it in his hand, and when it moved, it made a clicking noise. He added a laser gun to it.
What was the guest doing on the roof? He had gone up there in the morning, and hadn’t come down since.
A-Ka pushed open the window and looked outside, and saw that the dense mase standing in the square were all people. The crowd of people went on as far as the eye could see, and A-Ka had never seen this many people before. They swarmed in from all directions as if they wanted to witness some historic moment for themselves. There was a train station at the center of the square that shuttled to the north and back, and train tracks were set up to here, and as if they were about to enter the world’s badlands, they didn’t advance an inch further.
The large clock pointed to nine-fifteen, and a train arrived in the city. When the train’s doors hissed open, the crowd of people went wild.
“MacKasey, you came!”
Countless people were chanting MacKasey’s name, and some rebel army officers got off the train. Immediately after, a short middle-aged man came out.
A-Ka couldn’t help but go outside and climb up the ladder to the rooftop. He saw the man’s black, long trench coat, and he had his hands stuffed into his pockets. He was silent at the corner of the rooftop, gazing into the distance.
“Hey!” A-Ka shouted towards him.
The man was around the same height as Heishi. He was wearing earplugs, but A-Ka was willing to bet that he had heard him, yet the man didn’t turn to look towards him. A-Ka tiptoed across the roof and looked at the square. He knew that a lot of people in Phoenix City had been looking forward to MacKasey’s arrival, as his deeds were widely known across the rebel army. The news from the receiver had said that he participated in that battle, and had single-handedly destroyed two large annihilators 3.
He had gone bearing the orders of General Libre, who had died in battle. They were to rally the rebel army’s troops and lead them to present a united front, and now, he had returned to Phoenix City. The humans were about to set off a revolution and take back their homes.
They sang the song “Blacklands”, their voices loud, bright, and deafening. Soon, they gradually quieted as MacKasey began to speak.
“Today is a historic moment,” said MacKasey.
MacKasey’s voice was vigorous, and he took off his hat, saying, “We have encountered the most bitter blow since the beginning of history. In order to weaken Father’s majesty, we paid with the price of the lives of countless soldiers. But that is, by far, not enough! We will join together…”
The rays of sunlight looked pale and thin as the sun fell behind every building of Phoenix City. On the rooftop of the mechanical repair shop, Heishi bit the bullet and propped up the sniper rifle, aiming it towards the center of the square, at the podium MacKasey was standing at.
He looked through the infrared sight on the rifle, watching MacKasey, who was four hundred meters away, waving his hands in excitement and waving around a marshal hat to muster the people’s enthusiasm.
A few seconds later, the assassin pulled the trigger.
As if a giant had fiercely smashed down a hammer onto the ground, the entire world shook.
At that moment, time seemed to slow down indefinitely, and MacKasey’s mighty head was blown up, and blood splattered everywhere. The bits of MacKasey’s brains glinted in the sunlight.
Everyone in the square was shocked, and the shock was so big that for nearly five seconds, no one was able to say anything, their eyes wide open as they saw the headless corpse of MacKasey fall to the ground and roll off the platform.
The sound of the single gunshot that killed someone and shocked the entire city also woke someone up.
Inside the repair shop, Shahuang was startled awake in an instant by the gunshot and abruptly sat up.
Outside the shop, A-Ka was horrified at once and hurriedly jumped down, rushing into the shop. He just happened to crash into the arms of Shahuang, who was rushing out!
“What did that bastard do!” Shahuang roared, pulling A-Ka’s shirt collar.
“I don’t know!” A-Ka pushed Shahuang aside and said loudly, “I’ve also just heard the sound of the gunshot!”
“Shit!” Shahuang rushed up the stairs and kicked the door angrily, roaring, “Open the door for me! Damn you! What did you do!”
However, the iron door was shut tightly, and although Shahuang did his utmost, he couldn’t get it open. At this time, A-Ka pulled him away, pushed him to the side, held up the mechanical arm, and shot once at the door.
With a loud boom, the shot made the entire door to the rooftop fly out. Shahuang and A-Ka rushed to the rooftop and saw the fluttering corner of a windbreaker, as well as the figure of the sniper jump over the railing and leap into the alleyway. He lifted his hand, and his index and middle finger were raised and together as he waved lightly to A-Ka.
At that moment, A-Ka’s blood froze.
“Heishi——” A-Ka roared as he flung himself onto the railing.
He was just in time to see Heishi jump into the alley behind the repair shop, and when he landed, he looked back and glanced at A-Ka before running forward, disappearing at the end of the alley.
A-Ka followed him in jumping down. He fell onto an oil bucket and then to the ground, rolling around dizzily, and got up to chase after Heishi, shouting, “Wait!”
MacKasey’s death caused chaos that was hard to get under control. After the people in the square, nearly a hundred thousand of them came back to their senses, they all let out wordless shouts and screams that were mixed with anger, sorrow, and even despair. Quite a few people wanted to rush up to the platform to see his corpse, but the guards fired a warning shot, making the people riot. A hundred thousand people trampled one another, knocking over the stand.
A-Ka had not, in a million years, expected that something like this would happen. He chased after him, exiting the alley, and saw Heishi’s figure. It was chaos everywhere, and Heishi was running too fast. Patrol aircrafts were all over the sky, and they finally found Heishi. Android policemen began to outflank and cut off the escaping Heishi.
A-Ka got a positioning monocle from his pocket and placed it over his left eye as he dragged the mechanical arm, rushing quickly through the long streets. There were soldiers chasing Heishi and evacuating the public. Phoenix City was full of riots, and the rebel army began to suppress them.
What was going on? As A-Kan ran, he saw that quite a few people were in a gunfight with the rebel army, and most of them were merchants!
This destruction spread throughout the crowd of people, and some people began to smash glass windows and buildings. In that short half an hour, A-Ka had witnessed how history changed in crucial moments, as well as how fate firmly changed the paths of ten of thousands, hundreds of thousands, and even millions of people’s lives.
With a boom, two androids controlled security mechas to chase Heishi, and the spinning defense installation in the sky issued a warning.
“Evacuate immediately. Ten seconds later, area six will be sealed off…”
Heishi was running on a road in front, but when he sensed danger, he whirled around. With a loud boom, two annihilator mechas blocked off the path ahead of him. He swung the sniper rifle that was in his hand, and in a short moment, the rifle automatically disassembled and assembled itself again, becoming a magnetic cannon, which he used to shoot at the mechas.
In the flash, the mechas lost their mobility, and in those few seconds of delay, A-Ka had already caught up to him from behind. At this time, the encirclement of the entire area was sealed, and over a thousand android soldiers who were holding firearms rushed towards Heishi.
Heishi turned around and swept his gaze around in a circle. The defense satellite above him had already finished counting backward to “one”, and immediately after, a laser was shot towards him. Before he knew it, A-Ka had already run to the crossroads. He bent over, knelt with one knee on the ground. His left hand lifted the mechanical arm and he reached his right hand behind him, drawing out a rocket from behind his heel. He pushed it into the device and propelled himself upwards with a kick to the ground.
In a short instant, A-Ka flew towards Heishi as the mechanical arm was using full power, and it cleared out a path! Heishi immediately reached out his hand, and the two of them hooked arms. Heishi jumped up from the flat ground, and with a beautiful flip in midair, he hugged A-Ka as the two of them shot into a building like a cannonball!
Gunshots sounded, and A-Ka and Heishi embraced each other tightly. A-Ka used the mechanical arm to protect their heads as they shot into the glass building, crashing over countless small objects before shooting back out of the other side, and A-Ka was so dizzy he couldn’t differentiate which direction was which. Heishi carried A-Ka and charged into a basement.
“I can walk by myself…” said A-Ka.
Heishi grabbed A-Ka’s hand, and the two of them sprinted across the underground parking lot, found the next passageway, and dove in.
Half an hour later, they finally shook off all of the soldiers that were chasing them. A-Ka laid in the sewer, panting uncontrollably. He could feel that he had been shot in the side of his abdomen. He had to get the bullet out as soon as possible.
He reached out a hand to feel under his ribs, and his hand came back wet and covered in blood. However, Heishi still didn’t know about his injury so he pulled his coat over it, covering his injury.
Heishi got up, standing at the convergence of the sewage pipes, and frowned deeply.
“How much longer are you going to rest for?” said Heishi impatiently.
“Can’t you have a conscience!” A-Ka said furiously.
Heishi looked at A-Ka, and A-Ka said, baffled, “What is it? Am I really strange?”
“Why did you follow me out?” asked Heishi.
A-Ka said angrily, “I was worried about you. How could you come back and not even say hi to me? Yesterday, you were the one who gave the fruits to me and Paixi? I was confused as to who would give us some good food.”
Heishi made an absent “mn” sound, and there seemed to be some anxiety in his expression. A-Ka stood up with great difficulty, leaning against the sewer’s walls as he walked along the uneven path. Heishi was immediately alert. “Where are you going?”
“You can go by yourself.” A-Ka bit back his anger and sadness as he said, “Leave me alone.”
“It is dangerous out there!” Heishi caught up.
A-Ka finally exploded. He whirled around and poked Heishi in the chest with the mechanical arm, roaring angrily, “Why did you stay there! Why did you come back! Why don’t you tell me anything! I really considered you as my friend, which was why I risked my life to follow you out and save you! What am I to you!”
Heishi was stunned. A-Ka was like a cockfighting chicken that only knew anger as he glared at Heishi, breathing heavily.
“That is it?” Heishi seemed to think it was extremely funny. “Are you angry?”
“Stop using some human emotions that you don’t understand to bluff your way past me!” A-Ka said angrily, “Get lost!”
“Wait.” Heishi walked behind A-Ka, thought for a long time, and said, “I did not want to drag you into this.”
A-Ka said, “Get lost! Get lost! I don’t want to hear it!”