Age of Cosmic Exploration – Chapter 22

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STABILIZATION AND… THE LANDING PARTY!

 

Yao Yuan’s physical exam ended quickly, but it would still be some time before he could get the results. In the meantime, the full-ship broadcast that he requested had been prepared.

 

After a few repeated rehearsals of his main points, he leaned forward towards the communication device they had given him and said, in clear English, “Good afternoon, this is Major Yao Yuan, the captain of this ship.

 

I’m so sorry, but everyone must have been incredibly worried for the past two days. I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude, yes, gratitude, not an apology. To be clear, an emergency incident occurred in the past two days: a sudden outbreak of fever and fainting. We suspected a biohazard attack and hence acting captain Wong issued martial law.

 

It might have been too harsh or rash, but it’s our responsibility as captains to keep everyone on board safe. Without quarantine and martial law, the virus could have easily spread and befallen even more people. And hence, I do not feel that Lieutenant Wong or myself owe anyone an apology for that.

 

What we do owe everyone though is a thank you because the emergency quarantine and martial law couldn’t have been so successfully implemented without cooperation from everyone. This inhibition must have obstructed personal conveniences, and for everyone’s willingness to bear with that, I would like to once again express my immense gratitude.”

 

Yao Yuan took some pause to review his thoughts and continued, “Indeed, you have not heard wrongly; the martial law was issued by the acting captain because I am also one of the people that have been diagnosed with the symptoms, so I am currently in quarantine. Therefore, if you have a friend or family member that has showcased the relevant symptoms, for his safety and ours, please contact the nearest standing officers. This is a matter of life and death, and he or she needs immediate medical attention. Even I am in quarantine, so do not worry, this will be not a death panel.

 

It is easy to say not to worry but hard to practice; I know because I too need to convince myself of that every single day. Every time I pass by the window, I run into complete darkness instead of the trees, clouds, sky, mountains, or sea that I expect to greet me, and then I feel the claw of anxiety slowly reaching towards me…

 

However!” and Yao Yuan rallied in tone, “do not surrender to despair! Even if there are only twelve million of us left, even if everywhere we turn is an empty space, do not lose hope and do not give in! Because we are the only hope left to light the pathway for the future of humanity!

 

Everyone on this ship, no matter whether you’re a scientist, a technician, a soldier, or a normal office worker, even if you’re a felon or conman, it doesn’t matter! Because that’s the past. Ever since you stepped onto this ship, there’s only one way left and that’s forward! So do not lose hope and soldier on! For our future, we shall unite, persevere, and survive!

 

And so, starting tomorrow, the martial law will be rescinded, so do adhere back to your everyday schedule. Within the next month, we plan to launch by stages public emporiums and piazzas. There will be simple entertainment amenities, computer centers where everyone will be given daily access to one hour of internet service, as well as public baths where the shower limit will be increased from the current once per three days to once per two days. Everyone will also be given the opportunity to enjoy a relaxing bath once per week. Within the next three to six months, we will roll out rudimentary systems of civility. Things like trading posts with currency, a better merit system that rewards hard work with better entertainment and relaxation quotas, promotions, and also the chance to visit the sixth floor biomes to gain contact with nature…”

 

After Yao Yuan charted out his plans for the future, he concluded it with, “I would like our future to be full of hope with achievable targets and goals. So do not lose hope; keep it alive not just for yourself but for the next generation. Of the twelve million people, there are about a million children, and they need us to not give in! Think of them because they are our future!

 

Within the next six months, we will also roll out an employment plan that will be bracketed according to expertise and specialization. There will be occupations like teachers, artists, and social workers. And also, within the next month, the government will recruit an additional one thousand and five hundred military units. Of those one thousand and five hundred spots, one thousand and two hundred will be limited to males from the ages of eighteen to twenty eight while the remaining three hundred spots will be for specialists like nurses and doctors. The point is to not be worried about unemployment. This is a spaceship; the government is self-serving and the people are free to select the job they prefer. Salary will be stratified according to contribution and workload. Commitment and dedication will lead to promotion and eventual migration into residential districts where there will be no more camping but actual home units with individual rooms, bathrooms, and kitchen.

 

Therefore, do not lose sight of your future! Let’s work together and we will face every coming challenge head on!”

 

Yao Yuan ceased communications. After going over his speech, he confirmed that he had expressed both of the points he wanted to. One was to provide explanation for the declaration of martial law and two was to elaborate his future plans for life on the Noah Two. Without any political experience, he believed he had done the best he could.

 

“Hmm, hopefully this crisis we’re having will be successfully overcome. Nevertheless, it has been said that people unite in the face of crisis. Hopefully, by rallying through this ordeal, the lingering feeling of xenophobia and anxiety within the people could be extinguished. Hope, to not lose sight of hope is indeed what we need…” Yao Yuan murmured silently to himself, before finally noticing the pathologists beside him. Addressing them, he said, “Then I will leave this in your hands. Please finish my analysis report as soon as possible and be firm about quarantine procedure. Even if the report comes back with nothing worrying, inject my blood into other animals. If they come out healthy, the quarantine may be lifted in a month.

 

And in a month… we will have almost reached that planet… I guess we’ll see how things go from there. Until then…” Yao Yuan let a yawn escape. Lowering himself down into a more comfortable position, Yao Yuan, tired from all the tests and the speech, slipped into a slumber before he could continue.

 

The ambience within the Noah Two noticeably lightened after Yao Yuan’s speech. In fact, it was quite possibly the best it had ever been since they took flight. During the period of martial law, the people had found the restrictions to be comforting as a counterbalancing salve to the months of suffering under chaos. Even though it was quite restrictive to their freedom, it was done in the name of their safety, and since their greatest worry was having anarchy replicated on Noah Two, it had a palliative effect on their overall feeling of anxiety. As the inner workings of the Noah Two slowly reverted to normal, so did their well-being.

 

Furthermore, it was indeed as Yao Yuan had predicted; a sense of hope was often more important than anything else. What Yao Yuan had promised them was a hopeful future, and that had smoothed over most wounds.

 

And time rolled by in the continuing period of normalcy…

 

After the initial scare of heightened fever, the Black Stars woke up one by one. This was followed by Zhang Heng and another eighty plus civilians. Of the total five hundred plus that had fallen to the fevered delirium, only one hundred and two survived, and this included every member of the Black Star Unit with the exception of Guang Zhen. The mortality rate was over eighty percent. What was curious though was that there were no traces of virus residue from the patients’ bodies and the survivors had neither lingering symptoms nor contractive properties.

 

The virus came and left without notice, carrying with it over four hundred lives and leaving behind only one message… the cosmos was much more dangerous and mysterious than man could ever fathom.

 

There were speculations of galactic radiation, side effects of space warp, and even a new species of atom-sized virus, but without actual proof, these theories went nowhere. Furthermore, none of the surviving hundred and two people had relapsed.

 

In Noah Two’s electronic flight log, this period was marked under the incident of Virus X, a virus whose effect will remain latent until much later. Until then, what Virus X had brought was the awareness of the backwardness of mankind’s medical science that it would allow a more than eighty percent fatality rate.

 

As Zhang Heng exited the sterilization area, he took a deep breath. Even though every area within the Noah Two was connected by its air filters, Zhang Heng couldn’t help but feel that the air outside was much fresher compared to the air in the quarantine chamber. To have to spend his every waking hour within that small enclosure for one whole month was a real torture for him… a torture one hundred, no, one thousand times worse than his rehab. At least during rehab, he had a target to work towards, but this past month had been him staring blankly at the wall. The boredom was mind-shattering.

 

As he turned around, before him stood a few members of the Black Star Unit. They were all looking at Zhang Heng with machiavellian grins. Zhang Heng shrugged off the feeling of being scrutinized before realizing that beside them stood three gorgeous ladies. There were the mousy Mao Miao, the voluptuous Ning Xue, and Bo Li, who was striding towards him with her eyes glued to the pages of her book.

 

Isolated from human contact for so long, Zhang Heng was flustered as he tried to think of an appropriate greeting. Scratching his head, he uttered, “Sorry for leaving you guys waiting. I was acting a bit stupid there because the quarantine was so long…”

 

Before he could continue though, Bo Li stopped before him, saying, “…Okay, then goodbye. I’m going back.” Without taking her eyes off her book, she made a turn to leave.

 

Before she could get away though, Ning Xue grabbed hold of her and swiveled her back to face Zhang Heng. Demurely smiling, Ning Xue then said, “I’m sorry, she has always been like this. Some days ago, she even locked herself in her room for five days straight. God knows when she went to the canteen for food. She’s probably addicted to those books of hers… Anyway, Zhang Heng, we’re here to thank you in person for taking such good care of us. It’s because of your intervention that we were allowed the rooms on the fifth floor. We later found out that civilians are limited to tents in the lower three floors, so… thank you very much.”

 

Mao Miao, who was cowering beside her, also added, “Zhang… Zhang Heng, thank you…” After that, the red-faced Mao Miao went back into hiding behind Ning Xue.

 

Unsure of his required response, Zhang Heng continued scratching his head. Ebon sidled over and clapped his gigantic hand on Zhang Heng’s shoulder. In a roaring laugh, he said, “Still a player, I see! Your reputation does serve you justice!”

 

That made Zhang Heng even more awkward, but what Ebon said next caused his heart to skip a beat and the smile on his face freeze.

 

“Captain’s orders: Zhang Heng will be promoted to the rank of lieutenant and will be officially joining the Black Star Unit as a computer technician. Effective immediately!”

 

Subconsciously, Zhang Heng stood at ready and yelled, “Sir, yes, sir!”

 

Ebon though started laughing again. “Okay, okay, there’s no need for that. Ol’ Cap’n’s not here anyway… In any case, Zhang Heng, you have to undergo intensive firearms training. You have five days to at least master how to handle a pistol.”

 

Zhang Heng curiously asked, “Why? Why is there a five day limit?”

 

“Because Cap’n has decided to dispatch the first landing party in five days. We, the Black Stars, will be leading man’s first expeditionary platoon onto an alien planet!”

 

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