Adrian sat up from his bed with a splitting headache.
He had dreamt of Zhong Yan again. Standing high on that platform, he spoke, with that usual expression on his face, “I accept”, shattering all the ridiculous fantasies of he who stood beneath that stage.
Adrian sat in the dark, taking a while off to recover from his emotions before he called for his personal terminal to check the time. Several fluorescent numbers floated above his wrist—it was only five in the morning.
The culprit of his nightmares was scattered on the small platform above his headboard; an opened letter—not a virtual letter, it was written on real paper.
This sort of thing was practically extinct these days. You may be able to find it in a museum, but the Federation’s Supreme Institution had always flaunted their “old traditions”, so this was not his first performance art experience from them.
Such a well-crafted envelope had been violently torn open by someone without a care in the world. Half of the words printed out in artificial ink were revealed:
“To your Excellency, General Commander of the Navi Military Command, Adrian Yate:
“In the blink of an eye, it has been seven years since we last met. As our dear graduate of the 91st batch of our Supreme Institution, we hope everything has been going smoothly for you since leaving your alma mater.
“The stars are ever-changing, and knowledge is eternal. For a century, the name of the Supreme Institution has been kept high, and we have always been delivering the highest talents of our institute to every corner of the Federation. Today, the oldest and most traditional institute in the Federation ushers in her 100th birthday. We sincerely invite you, our most valued alumni, to return home this December to visit us and to attend the 100th anniversary of your alma mater, as well as our 98th graduation ceremony.
“Please approach us following the detailed guide below…”
Indeed, it had been many years since Adrian had last visited his alma mater. Frankly, his three years in the Supreme Institution could be considered the happiest three years in all his twenty-seven years of living; but no matter how happy those three years had been, the final full stop given to him by Zhong Yan was the most hurtful moment of his student days.
He and Zhong Yan were practically inseparable in school. Everyone knew this, so even the footage of their final graduation ceremony were spread across the Federation. Since his first years of entering the Navi System, people have constantly been trying to inquire about his relationship with Zhong Yan. Until—everyone who had been making jokes about him and Zhong Yan were thrown into the intensive care unit. Everyone now understood how deep this ever-smiling young master’s hatred was for this friend he had in his student days.
Later, Adrian rose up through the ranks, and right now, nobody dared to bring up the kryptonite of the General Commander of the Navi Military Command in front of him any longer, for fear of not being able to withstand the retaliation of this man who always seemed so unreserved.
The sun was rising soon. Adrian was in a bad mood and couldn’t sleep anymore, so he decided to just get up from bed.
Thinking about it, he must have piled up a lot of pending work in his personal terminal during his nightmare. Adrian grabbed himself a refreshing drink and connected his terminal to the large virtual screen in front of his desk before taking a sip.
“Today’s headlines: Councilor Zhong Yan’s attendance to the 100th anniversary of the Supreme Institute has been confirmed!”
“Read more: Behind the legendary Councilor Zhong Yan, the youngest of the 12 Members of the Supreme Council: …”
Adrian stared at the exaggerated headline title, and his eyes fell on that recurring name. He had already gone past that age where he would resort to dealing with all his problems with his fists and had also long been accustomed to seeing how that person’s name was frequently reported on the news just like his own. But what was rare, was the name Zhong Yan appearing once more with his alma mater right behind it, and he still could not help but feel his anger rising.
Anger burst forth from the depths of his chest like repressed magma that had been brewing for ages. Slowly but steadily, it was drowning out his reason.
Adrian put down his cup and dialed the number of his deputy, Fayn.
Clearly, Fayn’s mind was still in dreamland; he asked in an incoherent mutter, “Who?”
“Boss?!” Fayn’s mind cleared up in an instant, and he asked nervously, “What happened? Did something happen at this hour?”
“Yes, there’s something. Contact the school right now and tell them that I’ll be accepting their invitation. And not just me, all of us in the Navi Military Command who have received the invitation are accepting.”
Fayn could not believe what he had just heard. Everyone knew that within the Navi Military Command, any words relating to “Supreme Institution” or “school” were taboo because it would inevitably be associated with him. And just because of that, none of his old school buddies dared to even mention the Supreme Institution’s hundred year anniversary. After receiving it, all of them pretended they never even saw it. But now, at five in the morning, his immediate superior had called him personally, asking him to contact the school…
“Um…” Fayn cautiously confirmed, “Which school am I contacting?”
“Which do you think?”
The voice transmitting through his terminal sounded very calm. But the more it sounded so, the more astonishing it was for Fayn. After being colleagues for so many years, he understood this old schoolmate of his way too much; the calmer Adrian appeared on the outside, the more earth-shattering the outburst would be in the end.
“Calm down, I just saw the news earlier—I don’t think it’s a good idea to pick a fight with a member of the Supreme Council during the celebration.”
“This is an order, Mr. Deputy,” Adrian spoke in a chilly voice and hung up.
No, of course he’s not going there to fight. He’s just…
Adrian sat down and closed the news window.
Once again, he had miscalculated the upper limits of Zhong Yan’s heartlessness. After three years of friendship, Zhong Yan could say “I accept” in front of the whole school without any hesitation. And now, how could he accept the invitation of his alma mater so calmly? Perhaps, in the heart of the person, that incident had long been pushed to the back of his mind. That was why he was so calm, so at peace, and not at all afraid of touching back to that moment.
In that case, it was only natural that he must not show weakness.
This was an era without secrets.
The second-generation AI “Butterfly” kept a thorough watch over every aspect of human life. Patrol cameras patrolled any area with any present signs of civilization all year round, and there was no need to mention the virtual world; it was completely covered with Butterfly’s feelers. This was an era that was safe, convenient, efficient, and…
Perhaps only one corner was different. In the most remote corners of space, the primary star of the Navi System, Navi Star, is the only autonomous human, non-AI region in the civilized world today. Ten years ago, the Navi System was synonymous with the words danger, chaos, and archaic; today, more and more young people are calling it the last pure land left for mankind.
And right now, the Navi System’s name was also closely linked with the name of Adrian Yate.
The entire Federation knew how the youngest member of the Yate family graduated from the military division of the Supreme Institution with a record-breaking high score, and his high-profile rejection of “Butterfly’s” proposal, resolutely bringing himself towards the Navi Military Command. In addition to Adrian himself, there was more than one military graduate who followed in his footsteps in that batch; and for a period of time, the mainstream media outlets were criticizing Adrian for the damages caused by his actions.
On the contrary, Zhong Yan, who had entered the Supreme council in a low-profile manner and was loyal to “Butterfly”, became the media’s darling. With a handsome face, poise, and the background of a parentless orphan, he was rewarded a good reputation with the people, and he was also much loved within the Supreme Council. He went up the ranks in amazing speed; in just seven years, he had already climbed up to the rank of one of the twelve elected members, becoming one of the twelve most powerful people in the Federation.
In direct proportion to his promotion speed, the winds of public trend changed just as quickly—throughout the years, all sorts of scandals have constantly been exposed from an anonymous account. The AI stopped purging them, and instead called for discussion towards the conspiracy theories about the collusion of several high-ranking humans holding rights and power.
The concept of “anonymity” was quite inconceivable in this era, and it was guaranteed that anyone who could achieve it would not be your average citizen. With that, it added even more to the credibility of these rumors. In any case, the new generation of youngsters were not as devoutly convinced about AIs. Quite a lot amongst them wanted to focus on personal privacy and the restoration of human autonomy. And for that, Navi System that was not subject to the AI seemed to be the ideal place to be.
Adrian’s popularity was rising, and many people who were against AI regarded him as their idol. And with the knowledge of him and Zhong Yan’s association and falling out known throughout the world, it caused the fans of both parties to be particularly sensitive whenever they met one another. When it came to this time when both of them have already climbed their ways up to the peak, the virtual community was growing even more turbulent.
It was not hard to imagine how the entire Federation had boiled over with commotion. In an instant, the topic of the school’s celebration that had originally received even less attention than the “Discovery of Wild Giant Space Rabbits in Glory System” became the hottest topic in an instant.
After a lapse of seven years, Zhong Yan once again stood on the soils of Institution Star.
The Supreme Institution was not only a school, it was also one of the few artificial planets in the world. Now, this little planet could be described as being covered in stars and resplendence, and today, in a sight that was hard to come by, people from all walks of life gathered together in one large hall. Before Zhong Yan had even entered through the gates of the institution, a crowd of “senior brothers and sisters” had already gathered around him.
From those who graduated from batches later than his, only a few held positions high enough that the school would specifically make an invitation to them themselves. Even if there were a few outstanding juniors in the mix…following the current trend of the public, most of such youngsters would not even wish to make any contact with a councilor like him.
But no matter the opinions of these young people, it was still an indisputable fact that he played a vital role in the Capital; the group of middle-aged people making utmost efforts to exchange pleasantries with him was solid proof of that.
Zhong Yan averted his eyes and socialized with them uneasily. From what the others could see, he was only holding up his identity, unwilling to speak much; but only he knew…
It had been seven years, seven years since he made that run after the graduation ceremony, only to return himself into an empty dormitory room; seven years have passed.
He thought he had been able to adjust his own emotions, and would not be affected by coming back to this place.
Suddenly, a clamor began not far away. Zhong Yan looked up and saw a few young officers in black military uniforms lined with gold accents coming over to him. In the middle of them stood a tall, black-haired man with silver eyes, dressed in a military uniform reserved for the one who stood in the highest position, enhancing his looks of frosty reservation; But he was a man who kept a smile on his lips at all times. With his head faced towards his side, he was speaking with the officer standing to his right, appearing to be in quite a good mood.
The entrance to the school that had just been bustling with sound was now dead silent—the men of the Navi Military Command have arrived.