Age of Cosmic Exploration
Translators: EndlessFantasy Translation , Lonelytree, _Dark_Angel_
Editors: EndlessFantasy Translation , Lucas
Chapter 124: Forward!
Both shuttles were suspended in the infinite cosmos, uncertain of whether to move forward or back.
"Something’s heading towards the Hope?"
That was the first question asked after Yao Yuan came over to the transport shuttle and had everyone gathered. Many were initially surprised by Yao Yuan’s sudden appearance, but the gravity of the situation immediately dawned with a look at Yao Yuan’s fretful mannerism.
A racket erupted the moment Yao Yuan shared his and Xiao Niao’s hypothesis.
The Hope’s first space troopers agreed to the mission with the understanding that they would probably not return.
The Hope was the entity that harbored their future. The spaceship had given them and their families a safe place to thrive after the nightmare on Earth. They were ready and willing to lay down their lives to protect humanity’s last bastion of hope.
The Hope was a self-contained environment. Cornered on all sides by the cosmos’ impenetrable darkness, humanity had no one but itself. Albeit initially meant to be temporary, the Hope had become a veritable symbol of home for its 120,000 citizens.
The Hope became the collective that the soldiers would voluntarily defend with their lives. The Hope was the final bulwark of humanity’s future, and hope was more important than their individual lives. This pseudo-nationalistic sentiment had been fostering among the space troopers during the 6-month-long training, so it was only natural that they would not let the Hope be harmed. Furthermore, practically speaking, the space troopers would only end up starving to their deaths if the Hope were to fall!
Therefore, many urged Yao Yuan to return the Hope. The troop was technically the Hope’s only legitimate force of defense, so they had to save the Hope from the alien monstrosity’s assault.
"We can’t go back!"
Before Yao Yuan could get a word in, Xiao Niao interjected, "We won’t be of any use even if we return. First, we’re not even sure such a threat exists, and even if it does, what can we do if we can’t even pinpoint its presence. The Hope had its radar aimed at the junkyard 24/7, but such a threat didn’t even once appear on our system!
"This elusive entity, if it does exist, is armed with a technology that evades our detection. We’ll be of no use to the Hope even if we choose to return!"
A soldier stood up to protest. "But we can’t possibly sit here and watch the Hope go up in flames! The least we can do is to inform the main ship to warp. We’ll be abandoned here, but at least the majority will be safe. Isn’t that the right thing to do?"
"What about the null zone?"
It was finally Yao Yuan’s turn to speak. "All our communicative and electrical signals are neutralized by the null zone… Even the multi-frequency communicator couldn’t hack through it! So should we try going back through it instead? Know that in the time we spent doing that, the enemy should have taken several laps in and out of the junkyard, that’s how fast they move, so tell me, are there any other bright ideas?!"
The cantankerous crowd was immediately silenced. They knew they couldn’t possibly outrun the invisible threat. The combination of the null zone and the floating debris populating the junkyard conspired to slow them down.
After further contemplation, Yao Yuan added, "There was no sign of tampering on the positioning of the debris and husks on the junkyard’s outer perimeter, so the enemy intended to lure us in with a false sense of security. They knew that we couldn’t possibly untangle ourselves from within the junkyard in a short amount of time!"
"Then what shall we do?"
A new Homo Evolutis broke down and cried, lamenting, "I still have a 1-year-old son on the Hope… I’d die before I would let anything happen to him and his mother!"
That outburst lowered everyone’s spirits. Helpless, they opted to shoot the messenger, whom in this case was Xiao Niao, because no one dared to train their ire at Yao Yuan. Yao Yuan also turned to Xiao Niao. "I too agree we shouldn’t return. Since the Hope is out of our reach, what should we do now?"
Xiao Niao once more submerged into his Thinker state. If one was to measure his temperature then, it would appear like he was suffering from high fever.
"We press on deeper into the junkyard!"
Xiao Niao replied, "As we can see from the pathway taken by the enemy, only this warship husk and a few other’s positions have shifted. This meant that there is a direct pathway going from here to the main battleship!"
"And… What about it?" Yao Yuan already had a rough idea after Xiao Niao laid down his plan, but he enquired regardless.
Xiao Niao shrugged. "Our next course of action depends on the accuracy of Ren Tao’s hypothesis. If he’s correct and there’s no more life-forms existing within this junkyard, the true entity of that enemy that swept past us towards the Hope can only be the AI residing within the main battleship.
We’re going to bet on how evolved this AI is."
Xiao Niao raised his voice. "First, I want everyone to step into this AI’s shoes. Imagine that you’re forever stuck inside this un-operational broken spaceship. You’ve resigned yourself to this fate, but one day, another spaceship appears not far away from you using a space-warping technology so advanced that you’ve not seen it before. Now, if the spaceship has such advanced technology, is it not fair to conclude that its occupants will be powerful enough to crush you with the flick of a finger? So what would you do if you’re this AI?"
The question was greeted with silence until Yao Yuan answered, "Go into in hiding. Since there’s no other living organism inside the junkyard, my presence within it will probably go unnoticed. I shall hope that the powerful adversary will leave on its own before my existence is discovered."
"Indeed," Xiao Niao explained, "and I would like to believe that this AI did exactly that. We’ve been in this area for almost 1 year, and we’ve no clue of its existence, do we? While we’re examining the robot remains, it’s only fair to speculate that the AI is also examining us in return… And then a thought crossed its mind… Why are the occupants of such a powerful spaceship so… weak? Now, what will you do next if you’re the AI?"
"…Conduct a test." Yao Yuan offered.
"True, the truth can only be revealed through a test! It needed to know the actual technological level of this spaceship, and only then would he decide what to do with it. The AI probably couldn’t parse the Hope’s drastic difference in technological level, so if I’m not mistaken, it’ll be cautious enough to not send its actual server to the Hope but send a robot fleet or a broken-off segment of the battleship that could carry the robot fleet to attack the Hope!" Xiao Niao concluded.
Yao Yuan found Xiao Niao’s inference to be logical and reliable. At the end of the day, mankind’s technology on the Hope was too weak to defend against this invading AI.
So the only chance of survival fell on his retinue of space troopers!
"If that’s the case, we shall follow this opened path and speed towards the heart of the junkyard. I believe it’ll only take us 10 minutes to get there. After the location of this AI has been located…
"We shall let him have a taste of mankind’s ultimate weapon!"
At the same time, Ren Tao was sitting in his room reading the newspaper while Chou Yue was busy setting up the table in preparation for lunch. Chou Yue glanced at Ren Tao and sighed. "I know you wanted to follow them, so why didn’t you? I would've gladly gone with you."
Ren Tao shrugged. "Who said I wanted to join them? I’m not dumb enough to go on a suicide mission."
"…Then why have you been reading the papers upside-down for the whole morning?" Chou Yue sighed again as she plopped herself down beside Ren Tao.
"…I wanted to improve my upside-down reading skill, obviously," Ren Tao answered, without hesitation, fully dedicated to his ludicrous façade.
Chou Yue wasn’t going to let him off so easily, but at that moment, an acute sense of danger surged through her heart. She yelled, "This is bad! Danger incoming!"
Just as she finished, the lights in their room went off, and a moment later, the Hope was submerged into darkness. Then they started to float off the ground.
Ren Tao intuited the cause in an instant. "We’re under siege! The enemy, no, that AI must have slipped through the troops when they crossed the null zone! The Hope has been incapacitated!"
"Quick! Chou Yue, follow me!"
Ren Tao stretched out his hand towards where he thought Chou Yue was and the pair of them floated towards their room door. Lost in the darkness, Ren Tao slammed heavily into the wall.
"Damn! Chou Yue, we have to get to the Barracks’ military warehouse and put on spacesuits, or else…
"We’ll die within 30 minutes after the life support system goes down! The AI needn’t even use the robot fleet, the entirety of the Hope will die of asphyxiation!"