For preview purposes only; final product may differ
Translators: Xiao, Mu
Editor: Slept Ar. Mei
“Everyone, if you would please look this way, this is where the Eden Service Agreement was initially signed.” The Eden Museum’s docent was a willowy woman with chestnut curls falling to her bosom, and when she spoke, her eyes contained a warm smile–if not for the electronic voice she spoke with, nobody would have been able to tell that “she” was an AI. “The establishment of Eden can be said to be our New Star Age civilisation’s demarcation line. From then onwards, people’s lives have undergone tremendous changes.”
The visitors were a group of children around ten years old, wearing matching uniforms and walking around in neat and orderly lines.
A boy dutifully raised his hand, and only after receiving a nod from the docent did he politely say, “Like basic education, right?”
“Yes, my dear, just like basic education.” The docent lifted her hand, and the exhibit behind the glass window disappeared before the children’s eyes. Distinctive lights came down, and realistic 3D projections surrounded them. “It was not until the Earth Era’s final years that humankind developed a standardised basic education. Children enrolled in school at six or seven years old were taught together in schools and only finished after approximately ten or more years. However, after entering the Great Seafaring Era, due to the technological explosion, the average amount of time needed for basic education increased to as much as twenty-five years. Based on vast amounts of historical audiovisual materials, we learned that except for an exceptionally gifted few, the vast majority of people suffered pain that would be unfathomable to us today. Some of them were left with lifelong psychological trauma from school, and given the healthcare capabilities of that time, there were no cures. In extreme cases, some people would even attempt suicide.”
The children made sounds of shocked surprise, and they watched the looping historical materials with solemn expressions on their faces while imagining exactly what sort of adversities primitive humans lived through.
This batch of children, all nine years and four months old, had already completed their basic education.
The goal of contemporary basic education was to let citizens acquire any necessary general knowledge and grasp the fundamentals of various disciplines in order to lay the groundwork for further study. Long gone were the days when it was necessary to shut students up in a classroom and force them to read textbooks and listen to lectures. When children reached the age of six, on the first day of every month, “Eden” would spend an hour directly transmitting recorded knowledge to them. The transmitted contents would not be forgotten, nor would there be any need to spend vast amounts of time and effort to “understand” and “reinforce memories”, and children would never again be deprived of a happy childhood.
The entirety of the basic education required forty transmissions. Once those transmissions were completed, the children would come to the Eden Museum for one last class and receive their diplomas.
The docent asked, “What else?”
A girl raised her hand. “Medical health, mainly mental health. With Eden’s help, we’ve conquered our brains.”
“Correct.” The docent smiled. “The human brain is very wondrous, but at the same time, evolution has also left it with quite a lot of issues. Humans procrastinated, became depressed, and felt anxious–historical records show that, during the final years of the Earth Era, humans might have preliminarily started to control pandemics, but plagues of the spirit were unavoidable. The proportion of the populace who suffered from various mental crises was extremely high, and as a result, many crazy subcultures came about. Some historians call that era the ‘Brain Terror’ era when humans were enslaved to and ruled by their own brain.”
As the docent spoke, the surrounding projections changed once more. The young museum visitors found themselves in a drab street, the walls on either side so restrictive and constraining it was like they were about to tumble down on them, garbage lying in heaps all over the ground, and the buildings on either side in utter disrepair. The walls were even covered with graffiti whining about goodness-knows-what. Realistic-looking wastewater gurgled its way to a girl’s feet, and the girl unconsciously turned to the smart garbage bin at the side of the road. “Please clean up!”
The garbage bin made a clumsy effort, but some error occurred with the program, and it lazily rolled back and forth over the garbage heap, refusing to sweep the ground.
The docent’s empathetic voice sounded in their ears. “This is the world without Eden: cramped, isolated, and unimaginative. You cannot even establish effective communications with public service equipment, just like people who are deaf and mute. Unfortunately, to this day, we still have hundreds of millions of compatriots who live in such environments.”
A few children asked quietly, “Is it the Eighth Galaxy?”
“Correct.” The AI docent’s face adopted a well-timed expression of all-encompassing concern. Then, her gaze swept over the rapt children, and her resin eyes lit up again. “The future is you, my dear children. I hope that after receiving your basic education diplomas today, all of you will soon find your future aspirations and make our world more beautiful–anyone with questions can stay and ask me individually, while those without questions, please line up and leave in an orderly fashion. You may collect your graduation medals at the exhibition hall exit. Congratulations on graduating!”
As the docent finished speaking, the projections turned into specks of light and vanished. The children were back in the bright and clean museum hall, and they filed out in accordance with the instructions.
The boy who had answered the question at the very beginning waved goodbye to his companions, fell to the very back, and went up to the docent. The docent kindly bent down so that her gaze was level with his. “What other questions do you have, my dear?”
The audio-recording notebook in the personal terminal on the boy’s wrist was open as he asked very earnestly, “Ma’am, I heard that after enlistment, a portion of the Space Corps block Eden. For example, the Silver Fortress has such a requirement, right?”
“Correct. In order to protect us, the Space Special Forces sometimes need to perform missions under extremely adverse conditions, such as beyond the borders of our galaxies, where there is no Eden service network coverage, so soldiers must adapt. This is part of their harsh training, just like zero-gravity training and attack resistance training.” The docent smiled. “Do you also want to join the Silver Fortress in the future?”
The boy puffed up his chest. “Yes, my father is a Space Corps veteran. He said that the Silver Ten of the Silver Fortress are the strongest soldiers and that General Lin is our ultimate shield.”
“That actually isn’t quite accurate. We are now in an era of peace, and our ultimate shield ought to be Eden.” The docent patted his head as she gently corrected him, and then her tone shifted. “But General Lin and his Silver Fortress ought to be our armour, and it is precisely because of these soldiers that we can live blissfully in a peaceful world. However, the Space Corps’ ranks have been thinning in recent years, and the Silver Fortress is far from easy to enter. May your dreams come true.”
A flush crept over the boy’s face, and he hastily nodded at the docent, clenched his small fists, and bolted out as though he were in a rush to rendezvous with his dream–which youth didn’t aspire to become a hero?
But the grown-up “heroes” were not always saving the world. Much of the time, their primary activities were competing for power, operating in secrecy, slinging mud at each other… and laying traps.
NS Year 270, March 6th.
The Interstellar Federation urgently summoned General Lin Jingheng of the Silver Fortress back to the capital planet of Votto to undergo questioning regarding charges such as flagrant disobedience, illegal smuggling of military supplies, and multiple counts of issuing anti-humankind statements.
Lin Jingheng blatantly disobeyed.
The next day, emblazoned on the front page of the Votto Daily was an aggressive cry–“Lin Jingheng, are you rebelling?”
In late March, the Silver Fortress was completely sealed off, a mechanical unit of five hundred hyperspace heavy mechas parked outside its artificial atmosphere. The elites inside the Silver Fortress pointed their guns at their fellow officers, and both sides refused to give way. As of the 26th, the tense stalemate had lasted for almost forty-eight hours.
Rhodes, the Captain of the Guard, placed rum and ice on General Lin’s table, then softly clicked his heels.
General Lin, whose name was reviled throughout all eight major galaxies, was very tall and put together from the strands of his hair to the buckle of his belt, and an icy chill radiated from his entire being. He picked up his rum glass and offhandedly tossed in a few ice cubes, a shadow over his left ear–the general was on a call with someone.
The person on the other end said something, but in any case, Rhodes could not discern a single clue from General Lin’s expressionless face.
Present-day society encouraged forthrightness, openness and showing one’s true emotions, making General Lin’s old-fashioned guardedness and caginess extremely out of place for the times. The media and his political opponents seized this point, writing articles every day that berated him for being scheming and contemptuous.
The scheming General Lin simply hmmed, then ended the call and turned to look at Rhodes. He nonchalantly said, “It was the marshal, telling me to make a strategic compromise and return to Votto for now.”
Rhodes was stunned.
“Strategic… compromise,” General Lin repeated with great interest, and the corners of his mouth curled into a smile that did not reach his eyes.
All the major Votto news outlets had their eyes firmly trained on the tense situation at the Silver Fortress.
In front of the Parliament building on Votto, the newly appointed Secretary-General Gordon, surrounded by reporters, gave a brief speech. “General Lin and I are classmates, friends, and family. I swear on my job, my honour, my everything that General Lin’s loyalty to Votto is unassailable. He would never betray Votto, never betray the Federation. All those lies are nothing but malicious slander!”
Inside the Silver Fortress, General Lin listened to the Secretary-General’s passionate speech and crunched an ice cube.
“Jingheng, if you can see this, please listen to me,” the Secretary-General said worriedly as he faced the camera. “Don’t let those baseless accusations cloud your judgement. Don’t let this misunderstanding grow into something that causes your loved ones grief while your enemies rejoice. Please come home. Jingshu and I are waiting for you on Votto. Jingheng, you still have family on Votto!”
The camera immediately panned to the woman standing by his side. She wore a long black dress and no makeup; her skin was so white it was practically translucent. Only her brows added a splash of inky black to her face. Together, they gave her a mesmerising kind of beauty.
Lin Jingshu was the general’s sister. A year ago, she had married the Federation’s most promising man–the young and handsome Secretary-General Gordon.
Madame Gordon said nothing as guards surrounded her. There was no light in her eyes; she was nothing more than an exquisitely crafted doll.
At this point in the news, General Lin turned around to ask his captain of the guard, “What do you think of the Secretary-General?”
Rhodes chose his words with care, replying cautiously, “He’s destined for something.”
“Hmm, that he is. There’s nothing wrong with him except that listening to him gives me goosebumps. People listening would think that I was having an affair with my brother-in-law,” Lin Jingheng chuckled. He raised his hand and turned off the news, downed the drink in his glass, and exhaled a cold and alcohol-laced breath. “Too sappy.”
Rhodes accepted the empty glass and hesitated briefly but did not leave. Instead, he took a sudden step forward and promised in a low voice, “General, don’t listen to those stupid words. The Silver Ten is on standby, and we can go into battle at any time. All we need is your word, sir.”
“And do what? Revolt?” Lin Jingheng gave him a disinterested look but then asked out of the blue, “Rhodes, did you graduate from the First Military Academy?”
“Yes, sir. I graduated with honours from Ulan Academy, Class 260!”
“What does your family do? Do you have siblings?”
Rhodes was slightly confused. Although he did not know why the General was asking him about his family at such a critical juncture, he answered truthfully, “My father runs a medical treatment centre, and my mother teaches at Ulan Academy. I have an older brother and a younger sister back home.”
Lin Jingheng smiled.
Ready to fight at any time… these silly young fools. They make it sound so easy. With family around, who are they going to fight? Would you abandon your family by aiming your cannons at the capital, at Votto? Are you throwing away your parents and your siblings?
The First Military Academy they had just spoken of was also called Ulan Academy. It was the cradle of the Federation’s military elite officials. Though that was its reputation, the truth was that very few of those who graduated from the First Military Academy would be able to join the Silver Fortress directly. In addition to having extremely high standards when it came to grades, the political machinations of those in power also tied the location of the graduates’ assignments to their family residences. They gave it a grandiose reason–“out of humanitarian considerations”–and put soldiers close to their homes.
As one of the First Galaxy’s important military bases, the Silver Fortress only took graduates who had First Galaxy citizenship. Most of the graduates were born to very good families; their parents were rich businesspeople, intellectuals, part of the upper echelons of society, or even government officials and politicians. That made the political ecosystem inside the Silver Fortress a complicated thing, mainly divided into two factions:
A part of them, those who had hunted the interstellar pirates alongside General Lin, became part of his personal team and were known as the Silver Ten. They numbered about 10% of the total military forces at the fortress. The Silver Ten was just as infamous as their leader, a bunch of universally notorious bastards. Not a week went by without them producing some kind of scandal to entertain the general population at mealtime. People said that sending them to fight the interstellar pirates back in the day had been akin to fighting fire with fire.
The remaining 90% were young heirs who graduated from Ulan Academy. Every one of them came with a complicated network of family ties and personal connections, those strands weaving a giant web that secured their loyalty and ensured that the Silver Fortress was an impregnable entity that would never revolt.
Lin Jingheng instructed his captain of the guard, “Find me a suit and send a missive to the checkpoints along the way. Inform them of our itinerary. I’ll be leaving for Votto tomorrow.”
Rhodes stuttered in surprise, “Sir…”
“Even the Marshal has told me to strategically compromise; what else do you want to do? Everyone in the Silver Fortress–” Lin Jingheng paused and looked out the window. Tens of thousands of heavy mechas were pointed at the uninvited guests right outside their atmosphere. Their brilliant lights reflected in the general’s grey eyes, reminiscent of schools of silver fishes in the deep ocean. Lin Jingheng took off his gloves and cast them aside, then commanded, “Disarm.”
The next day, Lin Jingheng boarded his unarmed starship, the Jingyuan, and left the Silver Fortress. The mecha army, positioned threateningly just outside the atmosphere, parted to form a narrow passage and silently watched as this military tyrant exited stage left.
The capital remained on high alert against the dangerous Lin Jingheng and demanded that the starship he travelled in deactivate its jump catalyzer, so the Jingyuan had no choice but to slowly fly through the vast universe. Flying from the Silver Fortress back to the capital, Votto, meant that the Jingyuan had to pass through six security checkpoints over a total of ten days.
On the fourth day of its trip, the Jingyuan passed by the planet Xima and unexpectedly ran into a small meteor shower. The ship originally intended to stop temporarily and let it pass, but the capital viewed Lin Jingheng as its number one threat, so when the second security checkpoint did not see the Jingyuan according to the planned itinerary, it fearfully reported the incident to Votto. Within a single day, Votto sent out a dozen warnings of the highest priority, demanding that the Jingyuan stop stalling.
The Jingyuan was forced to detour to the Roseheart–the one and only forbidden area in the First Galaxy that remained unexplored.
On April 1st of year 270 in the New Star Age, the Jingyuan was attacked by a crew of interstellar pirates lying in wait outside the Roseheart. General Lin was assassinated, and neither his ship nor his person survived.
Public discourse boiled over when news of the incident reached the capital. The Silver Ten rebelled, and the Silver Fortress fell into chaos. Having lost a favourite subordinate, the Marshal tossed his resignation letter onto the round table of the Federation’s Parliament in a burst of fury. And when it rained, it poured. The interstellar pirates, which had been chased out of the Federation’s borders by General Lin just ten years ago, followed the scent and came back with a vengeance. After their victory at the Roseheart, they turned around and attacked the civilian flight paths on the Sixth Galaxy. The Military Commission, caught up in the chaos, failed to respond in time, which resulted in massive civilian casualties.
This series of incidents became known as the “Silver Crisis”.
Starting from the Sixth Galaxy, large-scale grassroots protests spread like a pandemic along each and every jump point until they reached the capital. In response to the pressure, Votto had to change its tune. They first reassured the Military Commission, then refused to speak another word about how Lin Jingheng had been compelled to come back. All government officials seemed to have lost their memories overnight; however many words they had once used to denounce Lin Jingheng, they now used to eulogise him.
The “scheming” General Lin magically transformed into humanity's treasure and enjoyed honour and praise that nobody else in all of history had prior to him.
A magnificent funeral was held for him on Votto. General Lin–since his physical body had turned to dust and could not be recovered from the vast universe–had to be represented by a suit he had never worn as he was solemnly welcomed into Votto’s memorial for martyrs. The tickets to his funeral sold for sky-high prices. In the Guinness Book of Records, General Lin now held the record for “most expensive funeral ticket” and could practically be said to have been made famous by his death.
On the day of the funeral, Lin Jingshu, draped in black gauze, politely responded to every rich and famous person who came to pay their respects. Votto’s famous beauty remained refined and elegant even at a time like this, keeping up her perfect public image.
She really was beautiful–those who met her could not help but sigh–but also really heartless.
Secretary-General Gordon walked over, and Lin Jingshu immediately wrapped herself around him like a helpless and delicate flower. She tucked her arm around his and demurely accepted his assistance, then sat down quietly, her eyes naturally filling with worship for and reliance on the man. As she listened to Gordon putting on a show of sorrow on stage, she took out her silk handkerchief every once in a while to dab symbolically at the corners of her eyes.
The reporters took a few more pictures of her and then left in boredom–because Madam Gordon sat exactly the same way as she had when she attended the charity auction protesting the dumping of deceased pets into space. She was elegant but lacklusterly so. They could absolutely use their previous photos of her, with none being the wiser.
Even as the reporters around her scattered to the four winds, Lin Jingshu remained unmoved. She was like an exquisite flower that bloomed for nobody but herself, unfurling her petals to the wind whether anyone was watching or not.
The delicate “flower” held her tears in check and smiled through it all. Her features, which belonged on paintings, seemed to glow with the light of human civilisation. She looked at Gordon, who was sobbing and choking on his words on stage and thought to herself, I’ll make you pay with your life.
Ever since humanity entered the New Star Age, they had enjoyed peace and quiet for over two hundred years. Now, a hideous crack splintered the mirage-like peace–