“Please keep it, I don’t need the money.” The old woman was cheerful. “Are you from the Navi Military Command?”
Clearly, she could recognize the uniforms of the two guards. But she could not recognize Zhong Yan’s face for some reason, so she just took him as one of their companions.
Zhong Yan felt a little awkward and denied it. “No, I’m not.”
“Then you must be a guest.”
An uninvited guest. Perhaps enemy would be a more appropriate term.
Zhong Yan was just thinking about how he could somehow hint at his unwelcome identity, but the old woman was already muttering away by herself.
“Take it, I’m not short of money, I just have too much time on my hands so I make these, and I brought them out to sell since my house is starting to get a little full. Ah, young people are rare on our planet. The ones who could manage to leave had all left.
“But something happened two years ago. So many young ladies and lads have come running back. Did you hear about how our planet was relabelled as a resource planet just a few years back?”
Indeed he did. He had yet to be elected as a representative council member at that time, but his position was still very high. He was responsible for drafting the bill between the two star systems. The one in charge of the Lebor System, the councilor who kicked off the project sat right next to his office cubicle.
“I heard the issue really blew up. They’re also talking about it all over the virtual communities. I’m sure young people like you have heard about it. I used to love looking through the forums when I was young, but the signal here isn’t very good, so I could only use the no-image mode. Otherwise, it wouldn’t turn on easily—Ah, don’t say it, things are much better now that we’re closer to the Navi System’s virtual community. But I’ve gotten old. My eyes start to hurt if I keep looking at my terminal, so I might as well work on some crafts and set up a stall.”
Zhong Yan finally understood why the other person did not recognize him. He was not a very good listener, but he really liked the pair of cufflinks. Even though the old woman didn’t have any want for money, it still was not proper for him to just take it. So, having a chat with her was still a good idea. Thus, he sat down.
“Even though many places on this planet are not very good, the people here are wonderful,” The granny began slowly, “That was a tough year. Wave after wave of proposals were sent to us…ah, we call them proposals, but they were actually orders. Major fines like those aren’t anything a small planet like ours can afford. The Lebor System’s council was also lost on what to do. I heard they were under a lot of pressure, but they fought for us many times. That’s how it managed to drag on for so long.
“Everyone felt very uneasy on this planet, but nobody was willing to leave. Later, many young people gradually returned. They heard about what happened in their hometown and rushed back to help. Several of them returned from the Navi System. They said it went through a drastic change, and the army had taken over the council…I don’t understand it very well either, but I’m sure you know, the leader of the Navi System is anti-AI. The young people who came back discussed it with the local council, and in the end, we sought out the Navi System for help.
“We thought it would be hopeless, but they actually agreed to help. I heard the one in charge of Navi is a young man, and he’s only in his twenties.”
“Twenty-seven.” Zhong Yan told her.
“Oh, yes. He would have been a little younger then. Ah, he really is a brave one. He’s going directly against the Capital, isn’t he?”
In Zhong Yan’s opinion, it was indeed a bold decision for Adrian to protect White Aegis, but it was also a wonderful move he had to take to show the world his might. By far, White Aegis Star was the center of the Navi System and the Capital’s first open conflict with each other. Though the smokes of war could not be seen in this conflict, there was no doubt that Navi had won. This result stirred up all the human autonomy supporters throughout the entirety of the Federation because this was the very first time that Navi had displayed its complete lack of fear against the Capital.
But of course, Zhong Yan knew that Adrian definitely did not think the same. Perhaps there were many people around him who thought this way. This was also the reason why the higher-ups of Navi could so quickly reach an agreement to send their troops over to protect White Aegis Star. However, Adrian definitely did not do it for that purpose. Even if he would not have received any benefits from saving White Aegis Star at the time, he would have still happily did it; this was also the reason why many people were happy to be under his leadership.
Zhong Yan asked, “So, where is the original base station of ‘Butterfly’ here?”
“That thing? They demolished him a long time ago.” The old woman shook her head. “It was taken down as soon as we received Navi’s authorization letter. Sigh, AI had actually managed Lebor System for less than forty years, but we’ve heard it’s been way longer than that in the capital. Forty years ago, before ‘Butterfly’ came, there was propaganda everywhere, and everyone was praising him like he was God. They said the people in the capital had long ushered in a life of comfort, and it was all thanks to that. But if you ask me, that’s just normal, it had nothing to do with whether he was God or not. Sometimes, even I don’t know what the ‘right’ choice is. You can say that since we’ve discovered the mines underneath the ground, it would definitely be better if we sold it compared to just leaving it there, and naturally, it would be better the earlier we start on it. But…”
The woman’s teary eyes looked towards the streets that did not look too prosperous; behind them were lush and green ancient mountains.
“But that’s how humans are, sometimes the ‘right’ thing is hard for us to accept. At the end of it all, machines are still machines. They would not be able to understand humans.”
Zhong Yan lowered his gaze and sat quietly beside the old lady.
That’s not it. An old person from a remote planet understands AI as a high-level machine, but anyone who received their complete compulsory education would know that he is more than just that. The one currently there on that pedestal has a complete and perfected personality. It was not that “Butterfly” did not understand humans, he just…didn’t care.
But he should have cared. Since the beginning of his birth, he should have been the most empathetic and all-encompassing existence in the world.
When Adrian arrived by the small square, he saw Zhong Yan sitting right beside an old lady next to a stall.
Adrian had not seen Zhong Yan so relaxed in a very long time. His alabaster face looked peaceful beneath the sun, fading away his usual sharpness and distance. The track jacket was a little too big for him, so it hung loosely on his body. For a moment, it felt to Adrian like he was just a normal young man in the city, not a high-ranking council member.
Adrian swept away the trace of softness in his heart and walked over.
The instant Zhong Yan saw Adrian’s silver eyes, he closed his fists instinctively and stuffed what he held into his pocket.
Unfortunately, his actions were seen by Adrian. But with outsiders around, he let it go temporarily, and went instead with, “Done playing around? Let’s go.”
“Okay.” Zhong Yan stood up and turned to the old woman. “I’m going now, thank you for your…gift.”
“Don’t worry about it.” The woman looked over amiably at Adrian who was standing at the side, wearing a t-shirt that was a little too thin for the season. Even though her eyesight was slowly going, and the fact that Adrian was too tall, especially with her sitting down, and also the fact that her eyes were not as good as the man’s eyes that were the same color as the cufflinks she had just given away, she still had sharper eyes than most young people. In a cheerful mood, she jested, “Did your friend come to get you? That jacket belongs to him, doesn’t it?”
The word ‘friend’ rang the alarms in Zhong Yan’s mind; he was afraid that if he was recognized as Adrian’s friend, that he would get mad. Thus, he quickly denied. “No, we’re not friends. We’re…school…schoolmates.”
Adrian’s face darkened.
“Are you going to get down to business or not? How long are you going to muck about here for?”
Sure enough, he got angry. Zhong Yan quickly said his farewell to the old woman and left for the council house behind Adrian.
“What did she give you?” Adrian asked.
Zhong Yan squeezed his pocket. “It’s nothing, just a bauble. Don’t walk so fast, I can’t catch up.”
Adrian could not be bothered to force an answer out of him, so he beckoned one of the guards instead.
“What did he receive from that stall owner?”
“A pair of cufflinks, Commander.” The guard responded honestly.
Zhong Yan paused in place, fearing for whether he would ask his guards what the cufflinks looked like, so he quickly cut them off, “I told you it was just a bauble. Why? Are you worried I’d get cheated? Let’s not talk about this. Are my men safe? Are they on White Aegis as well?”
“Correct. But don’t even think about seeing them, I’m sending them out of Navi by tonight.”
“That’s fine, I’m the only one needed here for what I want to talk about anyway. However, there’s one particular person you don’t have to be in such a hurry to send away.”
While they were talking, they had already made their way towards the entrance of the council house. The doors were open now. Perhaps Adrian had already contacted them. Adrian told the two guards to stay at the door and went in with Zhong Yan.
“Who shouldn’t I send off?” Adrian asked.
“My right-hand man, Bayer. You know him, right?”
Adrian snorted. “Know him? I’ve known him for ages. He often tells me to study hard while I was still doing my compulsory education so I could take over my grandfather’s position when I grew up. Never thought you’d be the one receiving the baton. Unfortunately, the last person I want to see besides you is him. Do you think I’ll keep him around just because you say so?”
“You’re not fully understanding me.” Zhong Yan spoke calmly. “I didn’t tell you not to send him off just so I could see him, or that I want to go back with him. What I mean is…it is quite unfortunate that Mr. Bayer had gotten injured during the space pirate attack, and requires time to recuperate. White Aegis looks good. The scenery is good, and the water is clear, it will do him good to have a peaceful moment here. And since he will be resting, you won’t have to give him his terminal for the time being. The signal here is poor anyway, it’s not like he could handle any documents.”
Adrian stopped in his steps. Zhong Yan had only realized he had left him behind after going a few steps without him. He turned around and asked, “What’s wrong? Which room are we heading to?”
“Do you know what you’re saying?” Adrian asked.
Zhong Yan’s expression was as usual, and his tone was calm. “Of course.”
“You are suggesting that I put him under house arrest.”
“You’re overthinking it. He’s hurt, and as my guardian, he has merit to me. Naturally, I must…show compassion to my subordinates. I will explain this matter clearly to the capital, so do not worry.”
Both of them were clear that nobody was hurt at all during the entire ordeal. However, cutting off Bayer’s connection to the capital would undoubtedly cut off Stalvern’s important right hand; and this matter was completely of no harm to Navi.
Adrian met Zhong Yan’s gaze for a moment, and asked him straightforwardly, “What do you mean? What did you come here for?”
“Let us speak inside the meeting room. What kind of people did you bring here?”
“Only me, there is no meeting room. I chose to speak with you in the council house just so you can make your report look a little more formal. Otherwise, you can’t tell the Capital that you negotiated with Navi while walking on the streets.”
“Oh, there is actually no need for that.” Zhong Yan said, “I have no intentions of reporting our negotiations to the Capital.”