The more she thought about it, the more concerned Chou Yue became about what Ren Tao had said.
In spite of his unassuming appearance, Ren Tao had been a reliable big brother to her. After both of their parents passed away, he has been the rock she relied on. She knew that he was always on the lookout for their best interest and she was greatly comforted by that.
Of course, she would not in a million years admit any of that openly.
So, despite her mortification, she kept a cavalier appearance as she ruffled her brother's hair, whispering, "Why do you say that? Do you think we're heading into danger?"
"I suppose that depends on these three factors…" Ren Tao whispered in return. "First, our value; second, our possible liability; and third, the authority's conscience… I'm banking on the third since the Hope is still quite small and the major has shown himself to be a trustworthy leader. At least I believe he won't consciously bring us harm…"
"…That's optimistic of you… But, Ren Tao… Tell me, if they do decide to harm me, what would you do?" Chou Yue asked in an uncharacteristically soft voice.
"I suppose I could use your dead body to inspire a riot… Use it as evidence to expose the government's sinister nature. Your body could be the foundation of a successful rebellion…" teased Ren Tao.
With a swift punch, Chou Yue added another black eye to Ren Tao's face to complete the symmetry.
The pair's banter helped lessen the anxiety as they were led to their uncertain future. But even that quieted down when they arrived before a lab where ten plus people, twenty soldiers, and ten black-star close guards stood waiting.
The solemn atmosphere had Chou Yue frozen, and the hand that held on to Ren Tao started shaking. In contrast, Ren Tao's expression remained unchanged while his alert eyes scanned their surroundings.
Right then, a European man came out of the lab. Swearing under his breath, he kept rubbing his neck. A minute later, an Asian teen walked out of the lab. Spotting the grumpy European, he started chatting with him. Soon, they both began laughing.
Beside Chou Yue, Ren Tao gave a breath of relief and whispered, "It seems like we have nothing to worry about. Try to memorize everything that happens in there so that later we can compare our notes."
Chou Yue felt greatly reassured by her brother's words, but instead of letting that show, she chose to gloat, "Don't worry about me; I could memorize the details just fine, but… literal numbskull, could you?"
"Err… I'll try…"
The two men who came out of the lab were known figures around the Hope. The European was Jay, who recently made a name for himself as the Hope's hero, and the Asian was the Black Star Unit's youngest member, Zhang Heng.
Having saved humanity from the treacherous Planet Sahara, the duo, plus their major, were fresh conversation topics on the Hope.
(It looks like survivors of fever were afforded a special importance. This means that we are needed, and thus won't be harmed. Now I just have to figure what this special importance is…)
Ren Tao thought to himself. When he came to, he was perplexed to find himself sitting in an air vent entrance…
"Ren Tao, where are you? I swear to God if I find you in an air vent again…"
On the other end of the floor, Jay and Zhang Heng were walking towards the fifth floor. "Why the long face? Did you fail today's test again?" asked Zhang Heng concernedly.
Still rubbing his neck, Jay roared, "Do you know what those crazy scientists did today? They tossed me into a giant, flushing toilet and spun me around! Do they seriously think that could help understand the superhuman state in any way? They must have lost their minds!"
"That's probably not a toilet but a centrifuge…" offered Zhang Heng kindly. "Although, who am I to complain? My power is passive, so no weird trigger mechanism experiments for me. However, more tests await you, Ying, and all those new recruits. After all, according to the scientists, these powers still possess way too many unknowns. It might be incredibly dangerous if overused or misused."
"What do they know? You were there yesterday when Yao Yuan demonstrated a rudimentary grasp of his power. It completely debunked their theory that the trigger mechanism includes the presence of danger. I say these scientists are all frauds, and believe me, because it takes one to know one!" said Jay snidely.
Zhang Heng couldn't help but laugh at Jay's self-deprecating humor. After their adventure on Planet Sahara, the two men had become close friends. It also helped that Jay was promoted to join the Barracks after his glorious return from Planet Sahara. He was automatically scripted into the Hope's army and although without a proper title, was given treatment equivalent to that of a lieutenant.
However, there was one thing that had dampened his meteoric rise in the administrative ladder. It was Feng Xiao Chen. When an excited Jay went to invite her to share the spare room in his residence, she flat out refused to talk to him. Gone was the fiery girl with an oftentimes suffocating behavior.
"…liar, I don't ever want to see your face again."
That single sentence was all Xiao Chen would grant him. Later that night, Jay went through a whole month's worth of alcohol ration. The next day, suffering from a massive hang over, he was gloomy and confrontational.
Zhang Heng was at a loss for words on how to comfort his friend, so he skipped tentatively around the taboo subject as they walked towards the fifth floor Barracks. Suddenly, Jay asked, "You lucky dog though, you have a pick of three gorgeous ladies. Tell me, which one is your choice?"
"Three ladies?" Zhang Heng echoed before laughing awkwardly as he pieced together his answer. "Do you mean Mao Miao, Ning Xue, and Bo Li? What choice do I have? We're good friends who were there for each other, there is no choosing involved… Furthermore, they know of my good-for-nothing past, so if asked, I don't think they would choose me."
"Don't sell yourself short! Based on my years of experience being a professional conman, I can confidently say that Mao Miao and Ning Xue are into you. Though that girl, Bo Li, is a mystery. Perverse s.e.xual fantasies aside, if you could use a little charm, I'm sure they would be willing to listen to what you have in mind…" Jay chuckled mischievously.
Suddenly, they heard a scream. "Help! Mayday! Mayday!"
Before anyone could make sense of what was happening, a violent tremor shook the Hope. As it settled, a sharp siren rang through the ship, throwing all twelve million people into panic.
Ten seconds ago…
In a sealed lab somewhere around the Academy, a moderately-sized team of scientists was busy at work. They were tasked with inducing a reversal in Planet Sahara's plant crystallization process. The plan was to use the plant to undo the energy crystal Yao Yuan had brought back to its original energy form to refill the Hope's drying reserves.
After his identification as one of the Whisperers, Ivan's station in the Academy had taken an impressive hike. Granted it was not as grand as other committee leaders, at least now he had the power to lead his own unit. And his group was already showing promising progress. Using a chemical potion he developed, his group had managed to goad the plant to break down the crystal. The next step was to encourage it to release its absorbed energy.
Ivan's group stood around one of their first successes, a plant growth the size of a grown man's palm that had been induced to absorb 0.5 cubic millimeters of crystal. Streaks of electricity could be seen surging through the plant's surface, a sign of impending success.
Beside Ivan, a scientist from another unit said, "Professor Ivan, congratulations on the success with your chemical potion. Would you care to share its formula with the rest of the room?"
Ivan nodded before shaking his head. "I won't call this a success. But in any case, the formula is quite complicated. It utilizes the acidic bodily fluid of the creatures from Planet Sahara. Since they were able to keep the plant spores active to supply the host with energy while subjugating the spores' growth, I had a feeling maybe they could be used to our advantage…"
Unexpectedly, the plant started to glow. Within a few seconds, its glow had gotten so blinding that people in the room had to shield their eyes. Some of the senior scientists who instinctively knew something was wrong yelled for everyone to get back from the growth. Before their advice could be heeded, the plant blew up in a plasmatic explosion, melting half of the lab. Residual static could be seen coursing through the room…
While everyone else scurried for cover, Ivan leaped at a computer next to him. Cradling the machine as he fell, he knew he had no choice but to shield the computer with his body, because a voice in his head kept telling him…
Save the chemical formula!
Because it works!