Liu Cixin, The Angel Era (translation)
This is a translation of The Angel Era, a short story by Liu Cixin, the Hugo Award winner in 2015. In his Three-Body trilogy, Liu repeatedly invokes ‘human life’ as the highest ethical principle, or the foundation of morality, in debates over the strategies. However, the ‘human life’ as Liu refers to means little more than its mere survival. ‘The foundation of human civilization is to have things to eat!’ proclaims the hero of The Angel Era who could pass for a Chinese government’s mouthpiece routinely defending the country’s human rights record by resorting to the emphasis of the right to survival as the most fundamental human right. Liu’s views are cynical, characteristically so in the totalitarian society that he comes from. Although Liu, as a popular writer, has never been sophisticated or skillful in disguising his views, they are more bluntly expressed in The Angel Era than in his later Three-Body trilogy. So I decided to translate the story here, for those who wish to take Liu’s views as a more serious matter.
天使时代 The Angel Era
刘慈欣 Liu Cixin
The strike against Saambia was about to begin.
Three carrier battle groups deployed in Operation First Ethics had arrived at the African coast more than ten days ago. With the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier battle group at its center, the Fleet spread on the surface of the sea, like pieces of a grand chess game played on the Atlantic Ocean.
It was dark already. Searchlights of the whole Fleet were focusing on the flight deck of Lincoln, where stood thousands of marines and naval aviators. In front of the troops stood the commander-in-chief of Operation First Ethics, General Felix, tall and slim, with an air of a scholar, and the commander of the USS Abraham Lincoln, Rear Admiral Blair, who is stout and tough-looking, a typical old sailor. At one end of a steam catapult, stood a chaplain in black robe, with the Bible in his hand, saying a prayer composed for this expedition ‘LORD Almighty, we are from the civilized world. On our way here, we saw your governance of the land, the sky, the sea, and all creatures in the world. Every cell that our bodies consist of is abundant with Your Dignity. Now, there are devils appearing on this remote continent, attempting to usurp Your supreme authority, plucking the string of life with its filthy hands. Bring us the sword of justice to remove the devil, and guard Your Dignity and Glory, Amen.’
His voice reverberated in the sea breeze mixed with the earthy smell of the African continent. Everyone is submerged in a sense of solemnity and holiness deeper than the sea below their feet. Beneath the bolide-like light of flying cruise missiles, they kneeled down, and responded out of piety in their heart and soul, ‘Amen.’
Ever since the completion of the human genome sequence, people knew that crises arising from the rapid development of molecular biology would appear sooner or later. The UN Biosecurity Council was established for the purpose of preventing such crises. The Biosecurity Council has the same level of authority as the UN Security Council. It reviews all major research projects in life sciences throughout the world, determines the legitimacy of each case, and votes on whether they should proceed.
The 119th regular meeting of the Biosecurity Council was scheduled today to receive an application from Saambia, and to review the genetic engineering results that they submitted. By convention, the applicant country does not mention the content of their results during the process of their application, which are only publicized after the meeting. This leads to a problem: many submissions from small countries turn out to fail to meet the criteria of the review at the outset of the meeting. However, delegates from each member state could not afford to overlook the submission by the most impoverished country in Africa, because the research was carried out by the Nobel Laureate and the founder of Genetic Software Engineering, Dr. Ita.
Dr. Ita, an African in his fifties, entered, clad in the national costume of Saambia, a thick blanket cloak. His bag of bones, like a bent old tree branch, seemed barely able to hold the weight of this blanket. His back bent, he bowed slowly in all directions of the round table. His eyes were fixed on the ground. His movement was intolerably slow, which made the whole process last for a long time. An Indian delegate whispered to a US delegate sitting next to him, asking ‘Who do you think he looks like?’ ‘An old servant,’ said the US delegate. The Indian delegate shook his head. The US delegate looked at him, then at Ita, ‘You mean, …, Gandhi? Oh, yes, indeed.’
The current President of the Biosecurity Council rose to announce the opening of the meeting. After inviting Ita to be seated next to him, he said, ‘Dr Ita is familiar to us all. Although he has been living like a hermit in recent years, the scientific community have not forgotten him. By convention, we still need to briefly introduce him. Dr. Ita is Saambian. He received his doctorate in Computer Science from MIT 32 years ago, and continued software research in his home country. Ten years later, he suddenly turned to molecular biology, a field in which his achievements are well known .’ He turned to Ita, and asked, ‘Doctor, I have a question purely out of curiosity. You left software science and turned to molecular biology. Was there any reason, apart from the fact that you foresaw a wonderful partnership would take place between software engineering and genetic engineering? Were you disappointed by the progress that computer technology brought to your country?’
‘Computers are the false god of the poor.’ Ita said slowly. This was the first time he spoke since his entrance.
‘It is understandable. Although the Saambian government promoted information technology in big cities such as its capital, a large part of the country was still still has no electricity.’
When the capability of molecular biology to manipulate and to resolve large molecules reached a certain level, the discipline would face its ultimate goal: to modify the traits of organisms and even create new organisms, through rearrangement of genes. By that time, this science would experience a profound change from the manipulation of large molecules to the manipulation of large amount of information. This was extremely difficult through traditional approaches to molecular biology, which were far from mathematical. Coding the genes by directly manipulating four nucleobases in order to generate desired organisms was just unthinkable as programing the Windows XP operating system directly from 0s and 1s. Ita was the first to have acutely realized this. He unveiled the essence shared by genetic engineering and software engineering, and applied highly developed methods in software engineering to molecular biology. He was the first to invent the assembly language macros for genetic programing, then a process-oriented high-level genetic language, known as ‘Life BASIC’. When the object-oriented high-level genetic language ‘Eden++’ appeared, human beings truly obtained the hands of God.
People then were surprised to discover that the creation of life is, in fact, programming, and God is a programmer. At the same time, programmers became God. Those who used to hang around the Silicon Valley or Who-Knows-What Technology Parks now found themselves in the biotech industry. These usually underdressed kids with messy hair could stay awake working for days before going on a sleep for two straight days. Many of them couldn’t even tell the organic from inorganic substances, but they were all well-functioning programming machines. One day, a project manager handed a CD to such a ‘god’ hired on a temporary assignment, told him there were two uncompiled genetic program modules, and asked him to write an interface between these two modules. After negotiating over a price, the ‘god’ brought the CD with him back to his stuffy garret. He sat down in front of his computer, and began the work of seven-day creation. There was nothing in common between God and him during the work — he rather resembled a slave. A week later, he stood up wobbly to retrieve a burnt CD from the drive, and, through the knee-high inundation of cigarette butts and instant coffee packages, he went to the biotech company to hand the CD back to the project manager. The project manager inserted the CD into the genetic compiler: at the center of a transparent spherical vessel, invisible molecular probes fiddled the chromosomes from some plant cells with high precision. These cells were then cultured in a tube with culture solution, until it grew into a small plant. It was later placed in a soilless cultivation greenhouse. When it grew into a sapling, it was planted in a tropical garden to grow into a banana tree. Chop off its first bunch of fruits , and peel one banana, you would only discover a huge segment of mandarin orange in it …
Of course this is just a fanciful example. In reality, the development of genetic software is always a large-scale project beyond individual efforts. For example, the amount of codes to program a genetic software for retinal photoreceptor cells is in the same order of the latest Windows operating system. Therefore, lives created solely from genetic programing are at most in the same rank of virus. Scientists prefer to separate functional modules and functions from natural genes of organisms, and to obtain new organisms with new features by referencing and assembling these modules and functions. For this purpose, object-oriented genetic programing language ‘Eden++’ is a particularly powerful tool.
‘Dr. Ita, before I call the meeting to order, I just want to remind you that you look very weak.’ The president told Ita, concerned..
A Saambian official stood up, and said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Dr Ita eats little everyday. Saambia is experiencing severe drought, you know, and Doctor is fasting in solidarity with his people.’
A French delegate said, ‘Last month I was on a UNDP team visiting Saambia and neighboring affected countries. The drought was indeed horrible. If relief cannot reach there on time, by the end of this year there would be a lot of deaths by starvation.’
‘Nevertheless, Dr. Ita,’ the US delegate said, ‘as a scientist in basic research, an excessive sense of duty will interfere with your research, and consequently affect the discharge of your duty.’
Ita nodded his head, half-stood up, bowed to him slightly, and said ‘you are quite right. Ah, this has been my problem since I was a child, too hard to change. … Oh, does everyone want to hear about a story from my childhood?’
He apparently digressed. Out of respect, no one made a noise. Ita started to tell a story, in a low, slow voice, as if reminiscing to himself .
‘It was also a year of heavy drought. Earth was like a cracked stove. Snakes died of thirst, and lay on the ground. They were scorched by the sun, and crumbled into dust when you step on them. … Saambia was in the middle of a civil war that lasted for years. It was the war that overthrew the Bousano regime with the Eastern Faction pulling strings. Our village was deserted. There was nothing to eat. Yala had only hay and tree leaves to eat. Oh, Yala was my younger sister, who barely understood anything yet. Shehad big eyes … She ate hay and tree leaves … ’ Ita’s voice was slow and monotonous, like an early voice simulation software reading a text file, ‘her body swollen, her bowel blocked … that night, there was something in her mouth, rattling her teeth. I asked her what’s in her mouth. She told me, she was having a candy. She had had candy only once, from a Soviet advisor who was recruiting guerrilla fighters the year before. I saw blood oozing from her mouth, so I opened it. What inside was not a candy, but an arrowhead, smeared with cobra venom to shoot jackals. She told me at the end: “Yala feels sad, Yala doesn’t want to live any more. After Yala dies, Brother, eat Yala. Then Brother will have the strength to go to the town. I heard there are something to eat there …”
‘… I still remember the moon that night, rising from dry horizon, red and dim … I didn’t eat my sister. But that year in the village, people indeed ate people. There were old people making wills allowing children to eat them after their deaths …’
There was a long silence in the room.
The President said, ‘Doctor, we do now appreciate your effort to improve the crops using genetic software technology in the past ten years.’
‘Nothing was achieved, nothing was achieved … ’ Ita sighed shaking his head, ‘when Saambia first got her independence, we wanted to built paradise on our ancestral land. But we realized only later, that in this land of deep misery, we cannot expect too much from life. We kept retreating from the bottom line of our ideal. We gave up industrialization; we gave up democracy; we could even give up our national and personal dignities, but no way to give up Saambians’ basic needs of life. We cannot give up food. Two-thirds of the country is starving. We must find out a solution.’
Ita’s words evoked strong reactions in the room. Delegates were whispering to each other.
The US delegate said, ‘Africa is undoubtedly a continent abandoned by the process of civilization , Doctor, but this is a problem that has to do with socio-political, historical, and geographical conditions along with other complicated factors, which cannot be resolved only by scientists using their science.’
Shaking his head, Ita said, ‘No, science may actually solve the problem of hunger. The key is that we have to change the way we think.’
Delegates looked at each other, confused. The President seemed to have realized something, and said, ‘If I made no mistake, Dr. Ita has already begun with the item on our agenda.’
Ita said seriously, ‘Yes, Mr. President, before presenting the results of our research, with your permission, I would like to introduce to you a child, a Saambian child who has enough to eat.’
He waved his hands. A black boy entered the room. His top bare, his muscles bulky, his skin glowing, his eyes under his thick curly hair shining, his steps steady and light, he injected a exuberant vitality into the meeting room.
‘Wow, what a little Othello!’ someone gasped.
Ita began with the introduction, ‘This is Cardo, 12 years old, born and raised in Saambia. Of course, the life expectancy is only 40 in Saambia. By this age he is not considered a child any more, but Cardo is a child, and a small child indeed, because he will outlive us all.’
‘Unsurprisingly. We can see that this boy is well nourished,’ said a medical expert among the delegates.
Ita rested his hands on Cardo’s shoulders, his eyes sweeping around the room, and said, ‘He must be very different from Saambian children in your previous impression. Those starving children have big heads supported by thin necks. Their skinny limbs are like withered twigs. Their abdomens are swollen because of ascites. Flies land on their faces. Sores cover their skins. … Now we can see that, as long as they can have enough food, every child can become as dignified as an angel, regardless of his nationality .’
Cardo greeted everyone with a nod, and said something loudly that no one could understand.
‘He’s just greeted everyone,’ Ita said, ‘Cardo can only speak Saambian.’
‘Did you just mention that this child was born and raised in Saambia?’
‘Yes, and he grew up in the poorest region in Saambia, and had never left that place before. Many died of starvation in his hometown during this drought.’
Everyone was staring at this strong black boy. No one managed to say anything.
For the first time, Ita hinted with a faint smile, ‘Naturally your next question is, “What did he eat there?” Now then, let me invite you to watch Cardo having his lunch.’
Then he beckoned at the door. Three people entered the room. Two of them were Saambian officials attending the meeting, but the third surprised everyone. He was an NYPD officer, with a gun, a straightstick, a walky-talky awkwardly hanging on his belt, carrying a big plastic bag. Hesitantly, he stopped after entering the room.
‘We invited this officer here,’ Ita said to the President. The President gave a sign permitting the police officer to come up.
The police officer walked up to the round table. Two delegates made way for him. He poured out everything from the bag onto the table. First a large bunch of grass, then some tree leaves, and in the end, heaps of dark green pine needles. Pointing at the grass and the leaves, then at the two Saambian officers who came in with him, the police officer said, ‘These two gentlemen were pulling up the grass from the lawn in the courtyard. I stopped them, and they took me here.’
Ita bowed to the policeman, ‘Sir, I apologize for our rudeness, and we are willing to pay the fine. We just want you here to testify that these grass and leaves are genuine.’
With his eyes wide open, the police officer said, ‘Of course they are! I myself gathered them into this bag and carried them here.’
Ita nodded, ‘Alright, it’s time for Cardo’s luncheon.’
The Saambian boy grabbed a handful of grass, rolled it into a rope, bit it as if it was sausage, and chewed with relish. One could clearly hear the squeaky noise of grass stems being chewed . … He was eating quickly. Having finished that chunky bunch of grass in no time, he started gobbling the tree leaves. …
There were two kinds of reactions from the audience: some were trying their best to suppress an urge to vomit, while others couldn’t help swallow saliva, a natural conditioned reflex when one sees others enjoying delicacies to their tastes, whatever those delicacies may be.
Cardo rolled another handful of grass, and began with pine needles. The sound of chewing changed. Dark green sap dribbled from the corner of his mouth. With his mouth full of pine needles and grass, he said something to Ita cheerfully.
‘Cardo was saying that the grass and leaves here tasted better than in Saambia,’ Ita explained, ‘because of the rash introduction of highly polluting industries, Saambia has become the dumping ground of the West. Environmental pollution there is much more severe than here.’
Under everybody’s watchful eyes , Cardo finished all the grass, leaves and pine needles. He wiped the green fluid by his mouth, and nodded to Ita with smile, apparently thanking him for this delicious lunch.
Using the words from a journalist’s account later, the meeting room descended into ‘a hellish silence.’ No one knew how long it took for the President to break this silence with his trembling voice.
‘Dr Ita, is this the results of the research, so to speak, that you submit to the Biosecurity Council for review on behalf of Saambia?’
Ita nodded calmly, ‘Yes, this is what I meant when I said “to change the way we think”. Since we can modify crops by genetic engineering, why can’t we modify the human being itself? For example, this Saambian boy’s digestive system has been reprogramed such that the range of food he can have is greatly expanded. For these new humans, crops can be substituted by fast growing or drought tolerant plants. Weeds growing out of control used to be our headache, but for them, they make a fertile field. Even with traditional crops, they are able to obtain ten times more food from the land than we can. Take wheat for example, they can eat its straws and roots. For them food, just like air or sunshine, is available everywhere.’
Delegates all stood frozen like sculptures by the round table, their gloomy gaze focusing upon Ita. Ita, who is at ease and ready to receive their gaze, said calmly, ‘Gentlemen, I will convey the message from President Luvicar to the UN, that Saambia is prepared to take any consequences for this.’
The President recovered from astonishment, and warily sat down with one hand supported by the table, as if he was too weak to stand. His looked forward flatly , and said, ‘you said this boy is twelve?’
‘Which means you started reprograming human genes twelve years ago?’
‘Fifteen years ago to be precise. First programs were written in the genetic assembly language. Half a year later, programing tools were upgraded to process-oriented high-level language BASIC. As for Cardo, he was programed using Eden++, which was three years later. We obtained a large number of functions and modules from the digestive systems of herbivore animals. We removed their rumination parts, and transplanted them into the genetic code of human embryos after some optimization and reintegration. Many programs, such as the composition of gastric juice, the strength of stomach wall, the intestinal peristalsis, etc., were purely our own implementation, without borrowing any natural codes.’
‘Lastly, Dr. Ita, we’d like to know how many Saambians have been reprogramed?’
‘In Cardo’s batch there were fewer than 100, because we were not very sure about object-oriented programing. Reprogrammed Saambians are mainly from the two batches fifteen years ago. 21043 embryos were programed using assembly macros and Life BASIC, of which 20816 survived and were delivered normally.’
With a bang, last year’s laureate of the Nobel Prize for Physiology , French biologist Madame Francis fainted. Next to her, another Nobel laureate , German physiologist and the Vice-President on duty of the Biosecurity Council Dr Staufinger was searching for nitroglycerin tablets in his pocket, with his eyes closed and his face purple from short breath . Only the US delegate remained calm. Pointing at Ita, he turned to the astonished police officer, ‘Arrest him.’
He said it so calmly, as if he was asking for a light. Seeing the police officer at a loss, the facade of his calmness instantly broke down. He erupted as a volcano, ‘Did you hear me? Arrest him! Never mind about any immunity. That’s for humans only, not for devils!’
The President stood up, attempting to calm down the US delegate. He then turned to Ita, and said with sad and indignant tears in his eyes, ‘Doctor, you and your country can violate the utmost injunction of the UN Biosecurity Convention and reprogram the human genes. But you cannot be so impertinent as to desecrate this place and splash waste in the face of humanity! You have violated the First Ethics! You did away with the foundation of human civilization!’
‘The foundation of human civilization is to have things to eat. Saambians just want to have enough food.’ Ita bowed to the President, and said it slowly in his characteristic slow voice.
‘All right, let’s move to adjourn.’ The US delegate waved his hand to the President. He had calmed down. ‘In fact everyone knew this would happen one day. The sooner the better. I think we know what we are going to do. At least the US knows, and we have to hurry up.’ He left in haste.
People left the room one after another. Only Ita and Cardo were left in the room, along with the police officer. Ita walked towards the exit, holding Cardo by his shoulders. The police officer stared at the back of the boy. With one hand touching the revolver on his hip, he murmured, ‘I really should have shot this little monster.’
The news broke out and shocked the world.
The next day, photos and images of Ita and Cardo appeared in all mainstream media outlets. Ita was holding Cardo close to his deadwood-like body with his deadwood-like arms, his eyes fixed on the ground, while the black boy was strong and fierce, his eyes radiating, in sharp contrast with Ita. The two were blurred into one, forming an irregular dark composition of a picture. What a pair of devils!
In the following two days of Saambian delegation’s stay in the US, the demand to arrest them from all over the world grew day by day. Everyday in front of the UN Secretariat Building, there were large crowds of protesters. Threats of violence against the Saambian delegation, especially against Ita and Cardo, emerged constantly. The response from the US government was very restrained, only an announcement to expel the delegation.
During these two days, Ita held young Cardo close to him day and night. When in public, his eyes were always on the ground. However, as described by some journalist, he had ‘the sensitivity of a devil.’ As soon as there was any slightest sign of disturbance, he would immediately hide the boy behind himself, raise his head, and gaze fixedly in the direction of the disturbance. His eye sockets were so deeply sunken that his eyes were wholly covered in darkness. What a devil!
The Saambian government proposed to send a plane to get the delegation back home, but the US government shut its airspace to any Saambian flight. No planes from any country was available for charter. The only option was to board a European airliner. For reasons of safety, the Saambian government booked all first class seats .
When the Saambian delegation embarked on the flight, Ita first entered the empty First Class cabin, holding Cardo’s hand. He breathed a sigh of relief, and relaxed his hands holding Cardo. Upon their boarding, the flight attendants showed the natural reaction when they see devils: fear on their face, they were trying to keep themselves away from them as far as possible. Only one flight attendant bravely led them into the cabin. This blonde, blue-eyed girl was stunningly beautiful, with sincere smile on her face. The frozen hearts of the Saambians thawed. Before stepping out of the cabin, she put her palms together blessing the boy in some oriental manner she had learnt from somewhere, which made the Saambians’ eyes water.
Then she pulled out a pistol, pressing it against the head of the boy, and shot twice.
Contrary to what was rumored afterwards, Dallis was by no means an assassin sent by the US or any other government. The murder was a purely personal act. In fact, during the Saambian delegation’s stay in the US, the US government took tight security measures to protect them. What the civilized world wanted to deal with was the entire Saambia, and did not want to have any premature and unnecessary complications. This last blow was unexpected. The flight attendants on board were equipped with anti-hijack guns with cork bullets that do not cause any damage to the fuselage, nor are they lethal normally. Dallis shot the boy with the gun pressed against his eyes.
‘I didn’t kill any human. Haha, I didn’t kill any human! Ha ha ha!’ Dallis waved her hands full of blood after shooting, and cheered hysterically.
Ita was still holding Cardo’s body, and his eyes were still fixed on the ground, until Dallis calmed down. She was sucking her blood on her fingers, and looking at Ita with a fanatical gaze. In the cabin was dead silence. Only the gush of blood from the boy’s head could be heard.
‘Miss, he was a human, he was my grandson, a boy who can have enough to eat.’
Dallis was acquitted by the court, and was soon hyped as the hero defending the human dignity.
The next day the Saambian delegation returned home, the UN delivered an ultimatum to the Saambian government, demanding the handover of all bio-scientists and any related technicians in the country; the handover of all individuals that have been reprogrammed; the destruction of all genetic engineering facilities; and the trial of the head of state at a special tribunal along with all other culprits and accomplices.
Now, the whole world was carefully referring to those genetically reprogrammed Saambians as ‘Individuals.’
Saambia rejected the ultimatum. To defend the sacred First Ethics of humanity, the civilized world launched a crusade in the 21st century.
‘Can’t you just stop there for a while? It wears me out just watching you. You’ve been walking back and forth for more than one hour.’ said Captain Blair.
General Felix was still marching back and forth in military steps as a soldier: ‘At West Point, making cadets march in the corner of a drill ground for hours was a way that instructors used to punish them. Overtime, I became fond of this punishment. I can only think effectively when I’m doing this.’
‘It means you were not popular at West Point. I was quite popular at Annapolis. There was a punishment like this too. I personally have never experienced it, but I have used it to discipline freshmen in my senior year.’
‘No military academy in the world likes thinkers. Annapolis doesn’t like them; West Point doesn’t like them; nor does St. Cyr or Voronezh.’
‘Indeed. Thinking, especially the way you think, is very tiresome to me. However, I don’t think there’s anything in this war worth thinking.’
The ‘surgical’ operation on Saambia had sustained for more than twenty days. More than a thousand sorties were deployed to bombing everyday. Under the attacks of laser-guided smart bombs from carrier-based aircrafts, the carpet bombings by large bombers from Ascension Island, and the bombardments from large-caliber guns on the cruisers and destroyers, there was nothing much left in this poor African country. Their air force equipped with twenty or so obsolete Mig aircrafts and a navy fleet of a few Russian-made patrol boats were destroyed in the first half an hour twenty days ago by the cruise missiles. The two hundred outdated tanks and armored vehicles of the Saambian army were finished off by air strikes in the next two or three days.
Then the attack turned to all the vehicles, roads, and bridges within Saambian borders. It didn’t take long to destroy all these.
Now, Saambia was back in the stone age.
Two of the three carrier battle groups withdrew. Only the USS Abraham Lincoln Battle Group stayed on to complete the last mission of the Operation First Ethics. Apart from Lincoln, the group included a Belknap-class cruiser, two Spruance-class destroyers, a Coontz-class destroyer, two Knox-class frigate, two Perry-class frigate, a Witchita-class oiler, and three invisible ‘Herring’ submarines.
General Felix stopped in a sudden, and looked at captain Blair. The captain thought uncomfortably: this man is indeed a scholar, and of the neurotic type.
‘I still think we are too close to the coast.’ said Felix.
‘So that we can show our presence to the Saambians more powerfully. I don’t understand your concern.’ the captain said, brandishing his cigar.
The Fleet, Lincoln in particular, can indeed display its presence. It is the fifth Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, commissioned in 1989. With a displacement of more than 100 thousand tons, it was more than 300m long, and twenty-story high. It was a city of steel on the sea, that brought about death.
Felix continued pacing again. ‘Captain, you are familiar with my views. I have always doubted the capability of aircraft carriers to survive on the sea during modern wars. My feeling is that, a carrier is just as fragile as a thin-shelled egg floating on the sea.’
‘You know too, that I have always supported you on Joint Chiefs of Staff meetings and congressional hearings on armament. But now, the weapons with the largest fire range that the Saambian army may still have are 55mm mortars. Even if they do have them, these mortars can only be stored underground, and will be smashed in ten minutes if they turn up.… As a matter of fact, I too feel this is a boring war. The spirit of the military is declining, mainly because there are no heroes of our own. Wars in the second half of the 20th century didn’t make heroes like George Patton, MacArthur, or Eisenhower, because the enemies were too weak. Same this time.’
At the same time, a staff officer handed in a message to Felix. He looked cheerful after reading it. This was the first time he smiled since the offensive began.
‘It seems that things are going to finish soon. The Saambian government is going to accept all conditions. They will hand over all bioscientists and genetic engineers within their borders, along with all genetically reprogrammed individuals. After all this, the head of state will surrender himself.’
Blair threw the message on the chart desk without even having a look at it. ‘I told you it’s a boring war.’
Through the wide glass window of the captain’s cabin in the carrier’s island, the general and the admiral saw a marine helicopter arriving from the coast. It landed on the deck of Lincoln. Ita, along with a few others stepped down from the helicopter, and walked towards the island under the guns of marines surrounding them. Ita was walking in the front, still in his national costume, like a old tree branch covered by a large piece of blanket.
After a while, the group entered the island and reached the captain’s cabin. Except Ita, who kept his eyes on the ground, everyone was looking around, up and down. What surrounded them were like a luxurious dining hall in a European estate: scarlet carpets, reliefs carved on the timber veneer wall panels, and a large modernist oil painting reflecting the captain’s taste. Overhead, one could see the ceiling consisting of crisscross pipes, in a strange contrast with the environment. Outside its tall French windows, carrier-based aircrafts constantly landed and took off.
Dr. Ita didn’t raise his head, but only bowed slightly in Felix’s direction. He said slowly, in a weak voice , ‘General, I came with sincere respect from Saambia. The heavenly power of your Fleet has made us shiver. We submit and surrender.’
General Felix said, ‘Doctor, I hope you really understand what you are doing.’
‘We understand. We kneel down in front of the God of the civilized world. We acknowledge our guilt. But, General, people no longer have any shame when they are too hungry.’ said Ita with a deep bow.
The young staff officers around them looked at the deadwood-like old man with disdain. ‘Doctor?’ Blair who so far had kept silent yelled. Ita raised his head a little. The captain spat on his face. He still stood unmoved as a stone sculpture, despite the foamy spit running down to his messy beard along the deep wrinkles.
Felix shook his head feeling sorry, ‘You could have avoided hunger, and remained in the civilized world. You may get another Nobel Prize. But you went on to work for an autocratic government which doesn’t care about basic human morality.’
‘I work for the Saambian people.’ Ita bowed again.
‘What you brought to the Saambian people is a disaster.’ said Felix.
‘No matter who brought about this disaster, General, President Luvicar is keen to end it sooner. To express this peaceful wish, the President has sent a small gift to the General.’
A wooden cage about the same size of a bird cage was passed to Ita from behind. Ita put the cage on the carpet, and opened its door. A small snow-white animal ran out . Every soldier in the captain’s cabin marveled. It was a pony, only of the size of a little cat, but running steadily and with great agility. Its hair was flapping; its sharp eyes looked at this world with wonder, and it made a neigh clear and sharp. Even more strangely, the pony had a pair of white wings!
They had just seen an elfin from the fairy tales.
‘Ah! It’s beautiful! Is it the masterpiece of your genetic software?’ Felix asked in amazement.
Ita answered with a slight bow, ‘It’s a combination of the horse’s and the dove’s genes.’
‘Can it fly?’
‘No, the wings are not strong enough.’
Felix said, ‘Doctor, I must thank you on behalf of Bena, my twelve-year-old granddaughter. She must be thrilled by this gift.’
‘I wish her happiness and beauty, and wish that future Saambian children can be one-tenth as lucky as she is. Only one-tenth of her luck will be enough, General.’
In the next three days, a large number of transport helicopters shuttled between the inland Saambia and its coast, moving from inland the genetically reprogrammed ‘individuals’ handed over by the Saambian government. They were all fifteen-year-old Africans, mostly male. They were loaded into transport ships and landing crafts standby at the coast. Once full, each headed for the high seas.
Because of an urgent message from the CIA, Felix decided to send for Ita again. After entering the captain’s cabin, he stared fixedly outside the window. Over the water not far away, a few large Chinook transport helicopters were hovering above a transport ship. Black ‘individuals’ coming out of the fuselage were descending onto the deck through rope ladders, and were pushed by soldiers in arms into the hold.
Felix came next to Ita, and watched the scene with him. ‘These are the last few ships. We have transported twenty thousand individuals in the last three days.’
‘Where will they be sent?’ Ita asked.
‘Doctor, this question is not our concern.’ Felix responded coldly.
‘The big ship which we are on board is called the USS Abraham Lincoln, isn’t it?’ Ita suddenly asked. Felix nodded, puzzled. ‘Why would they use this name? Two centuries ago, African slaves were transported in the same way. However, their genes were not reprogrammed.’
Felix shook his head with a smile, ‘That’s a different matter, doctor. I can promise you that, as long as these individuals are still in my charge, they will receive as humane treatment as possible. Even wild animals deserve protection, but that’s all. Their lot afterwards has nothing to do with me, nor anything with you.’
Seeing Ita in silence, Felix continued, ‘So, let’s talk about business. Doctor, I know that those individuals are much healthier than normal people, but sometimes they may get diseases that normal people don’t. For example, recently, a skin disease has been spreading among these individuals. Although not fatal, it is very agonizing. To stop the spread of the disease, you developed a vaccine, and authorized a European pharmaceutical company to produce it. As far as I’m aware, the vaccines that have been delivered are enough for forty thousand individuals.’
Felix saw Ita’s hand twitched under the blanket, which was hardly noticeable. Ita’s voice was still low and slow, ‘only twenty thousand individuals, General.’
Felix nodded, ‘I wish to believe it, Doctor. Just a small request, could you please let us have a look of the remaining twenty thousand vaccines? Just a quick look. We won’t take them away. They are of no use to normal humans.’
Ita was silent.
‘Do you want to say that they were destroyed during the air strikes?’
Ita shook his head slowly, ‘No, these vaccines were all used. General, I think you’ve already known everything.’
‘Yes, doctor, you lied. The number of the reprogrammed embryos fifteen years ago was not twenty thousand. Hand them over immediately!’
Ita turned his emaciated body towards Felix, with his eyes still lowered, which made him look blind. He said, ‘General, my feeling is that, you are a sensible person.’
Felix raised his eyebrows, and asked, ‘Oh! In what respect?’
‘Many, for example, are you really leading this war with the zeal of a crusader?’
Felix shook his head, ‘No, I treat my mission with a rational attitude. Overreaction to the international affairs is a bit too sentimental.’
Ita was indifferent, while Captain Blair nearby turned his eyes from Ita to Felix, and stared at him in a surprise, ‘General … ’
‘With the development of the genetic engineering in the first two decades of this century, religious zeal also increased . On the face of it, the zeal was to respect and uphold ethics of life. In fact, it manifested an attempt of people, having been lost in a technological society, searching for a spiritual support.’
Blair burst out, ‘How can you say that, General? You should know that reprogramming human genes reduces human beings to machines that can be manufactured at will. This destroyed the entire legal and ethical foundation of modern civilization!’
‘You are quite familiar with the talking points on the TV,’ Felix smiled, unimpressed, ‘but the belief and the system of morals that you are talking about are based on the Western Christian culture, which may not be accepted by other cultures. In Dr Ita’s African culture, there is no clear concept of a creator god . For example, according to the Maasais, when God set about creating the world, He found there was a Dorobo (a hunting tribesman), an elephant, and a snake, which means that human beings and other life forms are self-created. There are fewer taboos when it comes to the human intervention in the evolution of life, as there are in the Western Christian culture. For the western culture itself, its institutions and ethics will not collapse because of the reprograming of human genes. As a matter of fact, we have already violated the First Ethics for lesser reasons, for example, when the human clones appeared in this century, the IVF in the last century, and even earlier when our distinguished ladies didn’t hesitate to terminate pregnancy in order to avoid troubles and responsibilities. In face of these facts, our legal and ethical systems did not collapse, but rather adapted themselves. The West overreacted to what happened in Africa only because we have no need to eat grass and tree leaves to satiate our hunger.’
This stunned Blair for a while. Then he shook his head, bewildered.
Felix smiled at Ita, and said, ‘Never mind, Doctor, apparently Captain Blair hasn’t given much thought about these questions.’
‘My mission is not to think.’ The captain was annoyed.
‘General Felix is a sensible person.’ Ita said it sincerely.
‘I’ve been frank enough. I have a question for you, Doctor, how did you see me through at the first sight?’
‘Not at the first sight. We first met more than ten years ago, which was at a cocktail party at MIT. By that time, you were still a Brigadier General, in charge of the training of new recruits in South Carolina. You said that among the young people in America, you can find soldiers like scientists, soldiers like engineers, soldiers like artists, but soldiers like soldiers were harder and harder to find. Then you continued, that genetic engineering may create qualified soldiers for the US. It was the first time a military officer making such comments at a Biologists’ conference, which made me remembering you.’
‘That’s a very good idea.’ Captain Blair nodded approvingly.
‘Therefore, captain, whenever there’s a need, ethics will always be the second in importance after all.’ Felix told Blair, trying to hide his contempt.
‘Then, General, you must have understood my request. Please let off those twenty thousand Saambians.’ Ita bowed to the Commander of Operation First Ethics nonstop, as an old beggar.
Felix firmly shook his head, ‘Doctor, I’m a soldier, and I’m carrying out a mission, which has nothing to do with my personal views on genetic engineering. To repeat, hand over those twenty thousand individuals, even if you think they are the future of Saambia.’
‘General, they are the future of the entire human race.’
‘This is irrelevant. Not only do we know the existence of those twenty thousand individuals, we can even find out the exact locations of their hiding places. If you refuse to hand them over, we can only bombard that jungle.’ Felix said, striking his hand.
‘Do you know anything about air striking?’ Blair said with his face close to Ita’s, ‘Not with the aircrafts on Lincoln — they are too small for it — but with the heavy bombers flying in from the Ascension Island base, filled with fire bombs. They will be dropped along the diagonals of those jungles, making perfect fire scenes no matter which direction the wind is blowing. The heat can melt bridges. Even bacteria will not survive.’
Felix continued, ‘How is it, Doctor? You should hand over those individuals for their own sake.’
Ita sighed, muttered in his local language, and his body almost lost balance. ‘Give me a telephone, I will communicate your message to the government.’
‘Very good. We have to indicate that the handover cannot be carried out in the same manner as before. Moving twenty thousand people using transport helicopters is too cumbersome, and vulnerable to attacks by guerillas when they are landed or on their way. We request to transport the twenty thousand individuals to the designated beach within the range of fire of the Fleet. This will have to be accomplished on your side. And we are to receive them using landing crafts in one go.’
‘I will communicate this.’ Ita nodded weakly.
When Ita reached the door of the captain’s cabin following the marine escorting him, suddenly he turned around. To the surprise of the Americans, his back was no longer bent, and he stood straight. Only now did he appear to be such a towering figure. His eyes, hidden in the shadows of his eye sockets, emitted two rays of cold light from an unfathomable depth, making everyone present shiver.
‘Leave Africa.’ Ita said.
‘What did you say?’ Captain Blair asked.
Ita didn’t pay any attention to him, and walked out in long strides, so powerful that he seemed to be totally a different person.
‘What did he say?’ Blair turned around and asked others.
‘He asked us to leave Africa.’ Felix said, looking pensively in the direction of Ita’s way out.
‘He … haha! … he’s so funny!’ Blair burst into laughter.
In the evening, in the captain’s cabin, General Felix was absorbed in watching the pony presented by the Saambians, which was standing on the large chart desk, eating cabbages delivered by the orderly. He then got up and walked to the bridge, gazing at the African coast afar off. Hot breeze blew on his face, mixed with smoke. The distant land was dazzling with red flames. It was a Saambian city ablaze. The flare set half of the sky alight, and its reflection in the water makes a false twilight.
‘General, I can see that you feel anxious.’ said Captain Blair who silently arrived on the bridge behind Felix.
‘What we are facing is a cornered nation.’ said Felix, watching the continent on fire.
‘So what? In this world, egg shells are only egg shells, and a brick wall is a brick wall. I believe that everything will go smoothly.’
‘I hope so. I remember clearly that day more than forty years ago. I was with a few other marines defending the rooftop on the Saigon Embassy. A helicopter was evacuating the last group of people. Viet Cong troops led by General Van Tien Dung was only a few hundred yards away. The hundred square feet on the Embassy’s rooftop was the last area that remained under the US control. A shell blasted, and a marine’s body was torn apart. I still remember his name. He was the last US soldier to die in Vietnam… The moment left me with indelible memory. Since then I have realized that war is something unfathomable. No one can see through it easily.’
It was early dawn when Felix was wakened up by a staff lieutenant-colonel. The staff officer told him that about twenty thousand Saambians had gathered at the designated beach, presumably the twenty individuals handed over by the Saambian Government.
‘It’s impossible to be so quick!’ Felix yelled at the officer. ‘How did they get there? Most roads and railways are now impassable. Even with adequate vehicles and unblocked roads, it’s not possible to gather twenty thousand people so quickly.’
Felix grabbed a pair of binoculars, and rushed to the bridge. The morning sea breeze gave him a shudder. The bridge was full of Navy officers watching the coast through binoculars, captain Blair among them.
What appeared ashore in the binoculars was the vast plain extended from the coast. Smokes arising from the blazing cities were like a huge dark backdrop behind the plain. Felix saw a few black dots at the horizon on the plain. These dark dots formed black lines, and soon gathered together forming a black rim to the horizon. General Felix made out immediately that these were not just twenty thousand ‘individuals’ awaiting the handover, but an army ready to attack. Their formation progressed in good order. Felix put down his binoculars. He could see with naked eyes that the Saambian army was covering the plain like a black blanket.
Again he raised the binoculars, and saw the movement of the front speeded up. Soon the entire square started to run in full speed. The black soldiers raised their assault rifles, roaring, rushing to the sea like a tide.
‘The Saambians want to kill themselves in the sea?’ Everyone on board in the Fleet who saw this were puzzled by the spectacle. On Lincoln, General Felix first discovered something. His face instantly turned pale. He dropped his binocular, and started yelling at the top of his voice.
‘Battle alarm! Guns on board open fire! Attack aircrafts take off immediately!’
Sirens wailing, something white suddenly appeared among the front of Saambian infantry reaching the coastline. The white color started to shake rapidly, stirring up the dust. People on the board could not believe their eyes at that moment.
All Saambian soldiers had a pair of white wings. There were twenty thousand men who could fly!
Flying men raised themselves above the dust. A black front line leapt in the air and blocked the sun that had just risen. The troops in the air were throwing themselves seaward against the Fleet.
At this moment, the Aegis system had already responded to the coming attack of the flying men. First surface-to-air missiles from cruisers surrounding Lincoln were fired at them. About fifty traces of white smoke dashed into the flying throng. They all hit their targets. Blasts crackled in the air. Dark clouds of smoke appeared among the flying men following a few flashes. Their bodies were blown to pieces. White feathers on their wings dropped like snowflakes. People watching on the carrier burst into cheers, but General Felix and Captain Blair were carefully observing the effectiveness of their strikes with the power of their reason. They could feel their heart dropped. A simple but harsh mathematical problem was facing them.
When each missile hit its target, the lethality of the explosion could only reach two or three flying men around. The Fleet’s surface-to-air missiles designed to destroy targets like aircrafts made few high-speed shrapnel when they explode. The range of its lethality was limited, while flying men could disperse rapidly when under attack. Therefore, a surface-to-air missile soon could hit only one flying man at a time. Surface-to-surface and cruiser missiles with a wider range of lethality were useless against targets in such directions and distances.
There was yet another fatal weakness: only fewer than half of the surface-to-air missiles of the Fleet were infrared-, radar-, or laser-guided, most of them were ‘Sea Dart’, ‘Sea Sparrow’, and ‘Javelin’ that had been equipped since the last century.
This powerful Fleet had been boasting of its pixel-guided surface-to-air missiles in recent years, which had been the dream pursued by missile designers since the last century. Under this guidance system, the targets sensed by the missile are no longer their point positions as in traditional systems, but rather their 3D images. Identifying targets using advanced pattern recognition technology was to give missiles a pair of sharp eyes, making them aim at the most vulnerable parts on the target, so that the warheads on the pixel-guided missiles could be minimized. Now in the eyes of such a system, these flying men were not even close to resembling air targets, but rather looked like some big birds. The rational choice made by these smart missiles was to bypass them. Again, artificial intelligence became artificial stupidity, and it was too late to update the pattern database in each missile.
The Fleet carried about 3000 surface-to-air missiles in total, which was more than twice the usual amount. With the guidance of the Aegis System, such an amount was enough to deal with an attack from the entire air force of any major power, which may deploy about 2000 aircrafts in such an attack. But now, the Fleet was facing the flying men ten times of this number. Although the attack capability of a flying man could not be compared with a fighting jet, to shoot one down would still cost one missile. The reasoning was similar if carrier-based fighters were used to fight the flying men, though these jets were yet to take off. Two commanders, leading the strongest Fleet on this planet, had to face this fact: the majority of weapons on board the carrier battle group had no advantage over the flying men. Their quality was unable to prevail over their enemy’s quantity.
Around Lincoln, missiles were being launched one batch after another. Traces of the missiles formed an enormous disheveled mess in the air.
No one was cheering anymore. Even ordinary sailors had solved that mathematical problem. What they used to be proud of was of no help now.
When all surface-to-air missiles were finished off, only fewer than two thousand flying men were hit. Their vanguards from the coast had already passed the cruisers and destroyers at the fringe of the group, and were dashing towards Lincoln.
Now, the Fleet could only rely on the mounted artillery and the machine guns. Almost all guns opened fire in full capacity. The most effective weapons to hit flying men was the Phalanx CIWS, originally designed to shoot down anti-ship missiles within 1500m that break through the defense system, consisting of six 20mm guns, able to fire 3000 rounds per minute. Every strafe of Phalanx guns drew a curve of death in the air, hitting a row of flying men with its highly dense flow of bullets. However, the Phalanx guns were not able to fire continuously for long before their high firing rate and speed started to heat and fatigue their barrels. They have to be replaced frequently. Due to a limited supply, finally they were unable to defend effectively the attack from a large number of flying men. In the meantime, large caliber mounted guns were too slow, while the trajectories of flying men were waving sinusoid curves. Shooting them with these guns was like shooting butterflies with rifles. There was little success. Hence the only reliable weapons now were machine guns.
A Chinese saying concerning the cold-weapon warfare came into Felix’ mind ‘three shots before the enemy,’ meaning that an archer could shoot at most three arrows before an enemy’s horse reach them. This perfectly encapsulates Lincoln’s current situation.
Now, the flying men were charging against Lincoln. They approached the carrier at various heights, from the altitude of a thousand meter or close to the sea level. About twenty thousand of them shrouded Lincoln in a dark cloud of death. People on board the carrier could hear the scalp-cracking howling of them from all directions. Thick crowds of flying men blocking the sunlight hovered above their head just as in a nightmare. They woke up to the cruel reality that after slumbering in the high-tech hotbed for a few decades that they now had a chance to become real warriors: they were about to fight hand-to-hand with enemies.
Realizing this, Felix became much calmer instead. He picked up the speaker, and issued his orders composedly. ‘Issue firearms to all crew. Defense focus on the island, the elevator hatch, the magazine, the oil tanks, and the nuclear reactor. This is from the commander-in-chief. All crew members, prepare for close combat.’
Captain Blair looked at General Felix, baffled. It took a while for him to comprehend his words. He silently walked to the chart desk, and picked up his handgun from a drawer. Looking at it, he pondered with no words. Suddenly, he heard the neigh from the winged pony. The captain shot the pony three times. The beautiful elfin fell in blood.
Another unexpected and embarrassing problem arose. In early aircraft carriers, small arms were kept separately by each battle station. Since the Second World War there had been few situations that would require the crew to use these weapons. It’s not clear since when, all small arms became kept together in a centralized armory on modern carriers. Lincoln had a crew of about six thousand. Except those unable to leave their duty, nearly four thousand rushed to the armory at the intermediate deck to get firearms, jamming the narrow aisles. The scene at the entrance to the armory was even more chaotic. The officer in charge of distributing guns could only throw them into the crowd. Those who got their guns were unable to get out, only to pass the guns backwards, as in a city riot from the recent history. The vast flight deck on Lincoln now could only be guarded by a few marines.
The first flying man landed on the flight deck. His white wings flipping lightly, his feet touched the deck without a sound. At that moment, no one could see him as a devil, but as a figure that only existed in Greek mythology, a reincarnation of a god, a beautiful phantasm descending from an ancient dream to the ugly human world of steels. The marines on the deck were stunned by his beauty, unable to move, and forgot to shoot. Before long, this flying warrior was shot down by bullets from all directions. He fell on the deck, white feathers on his wings tainted red by his blood. Another three landed on the carrier. Only one of them survived, who hid behind the optical landing system on the portside, and exchanged fire with the marines.
After another few flying men was shot dead upon landing, they realized it was too risky to land at this stage, and started to drop hand-grenades on the carrier. Those on the carrier got the taste of being bombed, when a large brigade flying men roared past the air above flight deck dropping hand-grenades like hails. In a series of explosions, the Tomcats and Hornets still on the deck were blown up into pieces.
Hand-grenades from the air successfully contained fire from the carrier. Flying men’s second round of forced landings was successful. Soon there were more than a hundred of them descended on Lincoln. Based in the pits on both sides of the carrier and behind the remains of the aircrafts, they engaged in gunfights with the marines and sailors, covering the landing of more flying men.
The situation that embarrassed Lincoln’s defenders the most became reality. To begin with, they were the underdog when it came to the physical conditions. Having been subjected to genetic optimization and having grown up in African jungles, the flying men were born soldiers. In traditional close combats, they were fierce, agile, and invincible. Lincoln’s crew, except for a few marines, were mostly engineers and technicians rather than soldiers who had little training in land battles. They were no match for the flying men. The most unfortunate were the air pilots, who used to be the most fearsome killers in the air, and the cutting edge of the carrier battle group, but now they were nothing. Through his window, sadly, Blair saw a lieutenant colonel recoiling in his F14 cockpit, shooting randomly with his handgun even after he ran out of bullets, until a flying man with face painted in red and black stripes climbed into the jet, and decapitated him with a knife…
What was more intolerable to those who took part in Operation First Ethics was the disadvantage even in terms of their weaponry! In such close combat, their M16 rifles did not fare much better Saambians’ old AK47. Furthermore, there were fewer than two thousand rifles in Lincoln’s armory. Most on board could only fight with their handguns. Six thousand officers and soldiers on Lincoln were nothing more than heaps of flesh stuck between steel walls.
On the flight deck that is three times the size of a football field, flying men were still landing rapidly. Now, there were more than a thousand of them aboard. Although Lincoln still had the number on her side, most of the crew were stuck in their cabins by the hand-grenades dropped from air earlier. The flight deck was gradually taken over by the flying warriors. By then their main target was the elevator hatch, which was the widest entrance to the inside, and the island, which was the nerve center of the carrier.
A swarm of flying men glided over the captain’s cabin. The noise of hand-grenades hitting the cabin’s wall could be heard clearly. One grenade penetrated the window, and fell on the chart desk. Looking at it smoking and spinning, General Felix felt like entering the time-tunnel taking him back to his youthful years. It was in a tropical storm in Vietnam’s jungle. He was 18 years old, and saw a hand-grenade smoking and spinning, in the same shape as the one now in front of his eyes, made in former Warsaw Pact countries. Their bodies and handles were both green. The feelings between past and present condensed into this moment of life and death. The general fixated on it, until a staff officer pushed him down.
In about ten minutes, more than two thousand flying men landed, taking full control of the flight deck. They had successfully blocked the relief from surrounding cruisers and destroyers. Looking from outside, Lincoln was now full of the flying men. Coarse gunshots from AKs were overwhelming, only occasionally echoed by the M16s.
Suddenly, captain Blair heard a blast in the direction of the elevator. Unlike hand-grenade explosions everywhere, that sound was muffled and faint. His heart sank to the bottom. As an experienced soldier, he could not be mistaken. It was the flying warriors trying to blast open the watertight doors using plastic explosives. They had already entered the inside of Lincoln. Felix realized this too. He knew that the inner structure of an enormous modern aircraft carrier is extremely complex. Even a crew member would get lost without a map. For the flying warriors, however, this might have not been a big problem, as what they were looking for was the major structures clearly marked. There were three most fatal spots on Lincoln: the magazine, the oil tank (8000 tons jet fuel for the aircrafts aboard), and two pressurized water reactors driving the whole carrier. As long as the flying warriors found any one of them, Lincoln would be dead. Meanwhile, a nuclear carrier is a highly complex system. Any sabotage from inside may also become fatal.
The ominous sounds of explosions started again, each one more muffled than the one before, like the steps of a monster walking into Lincoln deeper and deeper.
Now, the end was just a question of time.
More than five thousand flying men had landed. Combat on the deck was almost over. The communication between the island and the rest of the ship and with the rest of the world had almost been cut off. Although the island had not yet fallen, Lincoln had lost its brain.
In the following hour, it began to quiet down on Lincoln. Only faint explosions from the inside of the carrier could be heard, which spread in all directions. The flying warriors were like countless ants entering the Lincoln’s monstrous body, devouring its organs. At the same time, they intensified their attacks on the island. In addition to the assaults from below, they jumped directly to the upper levels of the island from the air.
Suddenly, Lincoln quivered a bit. Blair rushed to the window, seeing a big cloud of white steam rising from both sides of the carrier, and hearing the rumbling of boiled sea water from below the ship. The captain knew that the flying warriors had found one of the fatal spots: the nuclear reactors. Although the reactors were located at the bottom, the passageway to reach them was the easiest to find.
Apparently the flying warriors had blown up the cooling system of the reactor. Blair could imagine the outflow of lava-like material within the reactor, which was many times hotter than lava. When it reached the bottom of the hull, it would quickly burn the hull through, just like a piece of red charcoal on a cardboard.
Another hail of hand-grenades landed around the captain’s cabin. After a deafening explosion, AK assault rifles’ sound intensified, like the outburst of a wild laughter. Marines guarding the captain’s cabin fell one after another by its door and windows. A group of flying warriors rushed in. Their wings folded behind their body like a white cloak. Blair attempted to reach his handgun on the chart, but was shot by the quick-handed flying warriors in a hail of bullets along with a few young staff officers. General Felix did not raise the gun that he was holding. The flying warriors were staring at the Four Stars on his shoulder, and did not open fire. The standoff went on.
The group of flying men suddenly split into two. Dr. Ita entered. He was still wearing the same blanket, in sharp contrast with the flying warriors in uniform. One flying man asked Felix to surrender his weapon in broken English.
With one hand still gripping the pistol, Felix straightened up his uniform with the other hand. ‘Shoot me, you n****r!’
Dr. Ita raised his head. Again Felix saw his deep sunken eyes.
‘General, our blood is red too.’
‘You may sink Lincoln, but no one will be able to escape.’
Ita smiled. It was the second time that Felix saw his smile. ‘Of course they can escape. They can fly across the border. Radars cannot distinguish them from birds, and they can find food everywhere. It would be difficult to exterminate these people even in modern societies. More importantly, they will soon become human legally, and enjoy all the rights of a human being.’
‘I don’t understand this.’
‘You are a clever person. Just as you once said, even in a so-called civilized world, as long as there is a need, ethics will be the second in importance.
‘These people will have no need to eat grass or tree leaves, but for sure, they will still have the need to fly. This is the oldest dream of the human kind, and no one can stop it. You will see that the devils in your imagination don’t exist, and the era of angels will arrive. In that beautiful era, humans will fly above the cities and fields. The blue sky and white clouds will be the garden for them to stroll in. Humans will dive into the depths of the sea like fish, and will enjoy a lifespan of more than a thousand years . General, you have already witnessed the dawn of this era.’
After saying these words, Dr Ita turned around and walked away. He said something in the Saambian language. Then the flying warriors left too. No one gave Felix even one more look.
The USS Abraham Lincoln didn’t sink completely until the dusk. When the island of the carrier last went under the water, the air squeezed out of it made a thundering blare, as a shrill coastal African horn. General Felix was standing on the bridge of a cruiser, looking at the ancient land afar at a loss.
On the land where human beings were born millions years ago, the crowd of flying men were hovering in the twilight.