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    Chapter 74

    074

    The Afterglow of Sunset

    Under Jing Baiyuan's support, Chu Li climbed into the narrow cockpit of the mecha. Inside, there was no visible control panel.

    Curious, he asked, "How do you... operate it?"

    Jing Baiyuan followed him up the ladder and stood outside. From behind Chu Li, he pulled out several wires. "With this."

    Chu Li turned his head and saw that the wires were connected to some uniquely designed chips. He picked up one of the chips and discovered that its inner surface had an adhesive quality.

    Jing Baiyuan explained, "Humans created the Psionic Network, which allows direct connection through these chips. In mecha exams, psionic power is considered a crucial factor."

    "Ahh..." Chu Li held the chip and said, "I never knew about this."

    Jing Baiyuan whispered, "That's quite normal. Mechas have not yet been made available for civilian use; they're all under military control. You wouldn't have been exposed to this kind of technology during your school years."

    "Except for military academies, they're part of the military reserve force. They should have mecha courses, right? You've seen them before, haven't you?"

    Chu Li nodded. He had indeed seen them before. Though usually, when the military academies called upon them, it was to clean up after some mess.

    Over time, he had formed a fixed impression of the place: a group of troublemaking fools... Now it seemed he had underestimated those Alpha hounds.

    Jing Baiyuanting said, "Give it a try."

    Chu Li held the two metal plates, flustered. "Me? Try it?"

    Jing Baiyuanting didn't waste words and simply did it himself, attaching the plates behind Chu Li's ears.

    A deep voice sounded behind Chu Li. "Don't worry, without the power system attached, you won't be able to operate it. You'll only be borrowing the mecha's vision."

    As soon as the words were spoken, Chu Li's perspective shifted. It was still the same warehouse, but his field of view became higher and wider. Things that were previously unclear now appeared vividly before his eyes.

    This... This feeling was so surreal, as if he had grown several meters taller out of nowhere.

    Jing Baiyuanting explained, "This is the mecha's perspective when connected. All its movements rely on mental energy. That enhancer we used earlier serves this purpose, increasing the pilot's focus and synchronization with the mecha."

    This was the high technology of the interstellar era, something Chu Li had never encountered before.

    He turned his head out of curiosity, hearing the faint sound of machinery as if the mecha had 'synced' with him, turning its head in unison.

    Jing Baiyuan had placed a patch behind his ear and whispered, "Try walking forward."

    Chu Li was even more flustered, but he still followed Jing Baiyuan's suggestion and took a step forward.

    The mecha emitted a subtle vibration, and he actually moved forward!

    How miraculous!

    After playing with Chu Li for a while longer, Jing Baiyuan removed the patch.

    During the excitement, Chu Li hadn't noticed anything, but now that he was off the mecha, he felt drained, as if all his energy had been sapped.

    Jing Baiyuan carried him out of the mecha, allowing them both to catch their breath. Chu Li then complained, "I'm so useless."

    But Jing Baiyuan replied, "You're already very talented. Many people can't operate a mecha on their first try."

    "Oh? Is that so?" Chu Li murmured, lowering his head. He had thought that the mobility of their designed armor was somehow related to one's gender.

    Jing Baiyuan, however, remarked, "Actually, mechas can effectively minimize the physical disparities between Alphas and Omegas. As long as their mental strength meets the requirements, even Omegas can join the military. It's just unfortunate that the Empire has never been very supportive and refuses to allow Omegas to enlist... In the Alliance, there are specialized schools dedicated to nurturing Omega talents."

    Chu Li blinked, he had long heard Lin Chengming mention this matter.

    Yet, hearing Jing Baiyuan mention it again, the impact was still profound.

    Despite his relentless resistance against this detested world, over time, some thoughts and perceptions inevitably became assimilated.

    Jing Baiyuanting returned the mecha to its original position and turned to Chu Li, saying, "If we succeed, we can also follow the Alliance's example and reopen those professions that the Empire prohibits Omegas from joining."

    Chu Li understood the magnitude of this task, knowing it was currently just a beautiful fantasy between the two of them.

    But he didn't shatter this illusion; instead, he smiled and nodded. "Definitely."

    Their outing today wasn't solely for viewing mechas; Jing Baiyuanting primarily wanted to take Chu Li on a tour of space. It was something he had mentioned before, but alas, their busy schedules had prevented them from finding the right moment until now.

    Before the negotiation, both parties declared a temporary ceasefire. Jing BaiyuanYuanting rarely had leisure time amidst his busy schedule. Dual-pilot mechas were challenging to control, but dual-pilot warships had an autopilot mode, allowing them to take Chu Li out for a tour.

    Warships differed from spaceships; they didn't have as much space and resembled fighter jets from Chu Li's previous life, only larger in size. The cockpit was just spacious enough for one to stand upright.

    After Chu Li entered, he was placed in the co-pilot's seat. He asked Jing Baiyuan what he was supposed to do, to which Jing Baiyuan replied, "Nothing, just sit there."

    The warship was manual and didn't require any neural interface patches. After flying out of the aircraft carrier, Jing Baiyuan sped off in a particular direction.

    About twenty minutes later, the surroundings brightened abruptly, and the warship came to a halt, hovering in mid-air.

    Jing Baiyuan adjusted the exterior to transparent mode, saying, "This is the renowned Rose Nebula, the only place where Duskglow still exists. You've been conducting experiments for so long; I assume you haven't seen a real Duskglow, right?"

    Chu Li turned his head to look around. It was pitch dark, and he couldn't discern any signs of a Duskglow... Nevertheless, the sensation of being surrounded by boundless darkness was surreal. Despite not being able to see far, he could sense the vast expanse around him.

    Chu Li responded, "I haven't seen one... Cultivating Duskglow in the laboratory is incredibly difficult, and they seldom emit light. I always felt that their lives ended the moment they were captured by humans."

    These creatures rumored to be immortal seemed to possess a more fragile existence.

    After searching for a while without finding any Duskglow, Chu Li couldn't help turning to Jing Baiyuan, asking, "Where are they?"

    Jing Baiyuan Yuanting summoned his personal terminal's clock and said, "Just a moment more..."

    Chu Li watched the countdown on his screen. When the seconds reached zero, the surroundings suddenly illuminated.

    Startled, he turned to see countless star-like flames ignite in the darkness. They swam freely in the inky void, their orange-yellow glow connecting into a seamless tapestry. As they moved, trails of light stretched behind them, lazily undulating in the black expanse of space.

    It was only today that Chu Li learned the origin of the sunset glow. They seemed like the living tails of sunlight, now wandering through the cosmos.

    A couple of these celestial beings noticed the human intruders and approached curiously, peering through the spaceship's glass window. So close that Chu Li couldn't resist reaching out, but as soon as they touched the cold metal hull, they swiftly darted away.

    The colossal steel behemoth, carrying two humans, had descended into the domain exclusive to these ethereal creatures.

    The warm glow of the sunset glow enveloped the pair. Jing Baiyuan Yuanting turned his head slightly, observing Chu Li's awe-filled expression. Time seemed to stretch in that instant, isolating everything else from the two of them. He suddenly felt that the path ahead was no longer bleak, and his heart was no longer lost.

    He was healed.

    In that very moment.

    The day to embark on the journey to Mu Jiji's planet arrived swiftly.

    Jing Baiyuan planned to drop Chu Li off first before leaving for another destination.

    In recent days, although Chu Li appeared calm on the surface, he was actually very nervous. One noon while they were having lunch, Jing Baiyuan served him a plate of shrimp. As Chu Li ate, he threw the shrimp meat into the trash and put the shrimp shells in his mouth.

    Jing Baiyuan found the scene both amusing and worrying, so he quickly reached out to help remove the shrimp shells from Chu Li's mouth.

    On the day of departure, they left early in the morning. In space, there were no distinctions between day and night or months and years. After about two hours of travel, their spacecraft arrived at an artificial harbor situated outside the atmosphere.

    Jing Baiyuan didn't accompany Chu Li for the transfer. As Chu Li and his group disembarked, Jing Baiyuan watched from the side.

    Feeling anxious, Chu Li couldn't resist glancing back. He saw Jing Baiyuan standing tall and straight beside him with an unperturbed expression that seemed like a natural anchor calming the sea. After a brief look, Chu Li suddenly felt less anxious.

    He could guess what Jing Baiyuan was going to do – represent him in negotiations while he was the true support behind the scenes.

    With Jing Baiyuan around, the negotiations would definitely go smoothly.

    Waving at Jing Baiyuan, Chu Li turned his head and continued walking forward.

    It took approximately thirty minutes to descend from the artificial harbor. Mu Jiji's planet was a natural one but devoid of indigenous inhabitants. Most of its surface was covered by oceans, with only a tiny sliver of land transformed into a tourist city.

    Unlike the half-finished tourist planet owned by the hot spring shop owner, this place was a popular destination for visitors.

    Not only was it visually appealing, but its strategic location also played a significant role.

    The Empire's space territory was roughly the same size as the Alliance's, with Blue Stripe Star situated at the core and Deer Port at the periphery. Mu Jiji's planet lay right between them, making it the undoubted center point.

    This was precisely why it had been chosen as the negotiation site.

    The entire planet had already been secured and cleared, with only the three negotiating parties and the personnel from the Interstellar Court present.

    In the harbor terminal, the representatives from the Interstellar Court had been waiting for quite some time.

    The Chief Justice of the Interstellar Court was not a human but an enigmatic Cosmic Tree Spirit, renowned for their wisdom.

    Chu Li had finally gotten the chance to witness this mythical race in person.

    They stood almost two meters tall, equipped with four limbs and five senses. However, their skin appeared rough, resembling tree bark in a tawny brown hue. Green leaves could even be seen sprouting from behind their ears and on their shoulders.

    Indeed... As expected of someone named Tree Spirit, he has become one himself.

    Chu Li looked up, trying his best to suppress his expression and appear less awestruck.

    However, the amazement in his eyes was still evident.

    The leader of the tree spirits plucked a small green leaf from his body and presented it to Chu Li.

    Chu Li was taken aback. "This... is for me?"

    The tree spirit nodded. "Hello, my name is Takan."

    "Hello... I'm Chu Li." Chu Li reached out to accept the leaf.

    The tree spirit said, "I'll lead you to your resting place."

    With that, he turned and started walking forward.

    Chu Li was still reeling from the shock of receiving a leaf.

    Ya Lan walked behind him, whispering, "This is how the Treefolk express friendship; he likes you a lot..."

    Chu Li murmured, "Likes... so he sends leaves?"

    Ya Lan chuckled. "They only give flowers to their mates. You already have a general, so don't be coveting other people's flowers."

    Chu Li had previously heard various discussions about 'flowers being the reproductive organs of plants.' With Ya Lan teasing him, his face flushed, and he hastily stowed away the leaf.

    Just then, the hovering vehicle that was to pick them up arrived.

    The accommodation arranged by the Treefolk was situated right next to the harbor... After all, there wasn't much distance to go on this planet; the area where one could set foot was limited.

    To Chu Li's surprise, he encountered someone he knew – or rather, someone he sort of knew – at the entrance of the hotel.

    It was Huai Chuan, who had conspired with space pirates to hijack the training ship previously. Well, it would be more accurate to call him Huai Wei now.

    "Hey, pretty boy, we meet again."

    This person actually dared to approach. Chu Li didn't have a good impression of him, so he shot him a cold glance before walking in the opposite direction.

    Huai Wei, undeterred by the rejection, shamelessly intercepted Chu Li again, saying, "Pretty boy, don't be angry. Last time, I didn't know you were Jing Baiyuan's person. If I had known, I wouldn't have sold you to the interstellar pirates."

    Chu Li was amused despite himself. "What relationship do I have with Jing Baiyuan, and how does that concern whether I sell us or not?"

    Of course, it didn't matter. Huai Wei might speak eloquently, but he found it amusing how the charming youth refused to yield. As such, he leaned in even closer.

    Before he could speak, Ya Lan stepped forward and intercepted him, "General Huai, please refrain from disturbing our negotiator."

    Huai Wei: "Alright, alright, I get it. It's someone Jing Baiyuan is concerned about, so they're being closely watched."

    Looking at Chu Li again, he said, "My dear beauty, do you know who the Empire has sent for this negotiation?"

    Chu Li inquired, "Who is it?"

    Huai Wei chuckled. "It's Lancelot. To deal with him, you'll still need the Alliance's assistance. I don't have many hobbies, but I do enjoy admiring beautiful people. Smile at me more often when you have the chance; perhaps I might be swayed to help you."

    Chu Li indeed gave him a smile and replied, "Then we don't need your aid, and you may leave."

    Huai Wei: "..."

    Chu Li's smile was radiant as he gazed at him quietly, seemingly waiting for him to leave on the spot.

    Well, now Huai Wei had no way out of this predicament.

    Their collaboration was the result of lengthy negotiations; it wouldn't be canceled just because one or two individuals held objections.

    Huai Wei rubbed his nose and said, "No wonder Jing Baiyuan is interested in you. You're just as stubborn as he is... Forget it, find a room to stay in quickly! I'm leaving."

    With that, he slunk away embarrassedly.

    Watching his retreating figure, Ya Lan raised an eyebrow. "In all these years, this is the first time I've seen him get bested."

    Chu Li said nonchalantly, "People like him love to put on a show. Ignoring him is enough."

    He silently added an assessment in his heart: childish.

    The negotiations were scheduled to begin at eight in the morning the next day. However, the Empire's representatives didn't arrive until around nine in the evening.

    Their arrival was much grander than Chu Li's. The entire street was sealed off, and apart from the guiding tree spirits, all others were replaced by their own guards.

    As Chu Li checked into the hotel, he stood by the window watching car headlights illuminating the road as they approached from afar.

    Ya Lan was still in his room, preparing for the next day's negotiation. Hearing the commotion, he also walked to the window and looked down, sneering coldly. "He pretended online to be deeply mourning, saying that his father had just passed away, and he couldn't pull himself together. He requested a temporary delay of his ascension to the throne and wished to continue governing the country as a prince... But looking at him now, there's not a hint of sorrow."

    Instead, he seemed to be strutting about provocatively.

    Chu Li slowly shook his head and left the window, saying, "Ignore him. Get some rest early."

    ---

    The next morning, representatives from the Interstellar Court came to fetch Chu Li downstairs.

    It was not appropriate for the three negotiating parties to meet beforehand, so the Interstellar Court members arrived at different times. Chu Li knew that Lancelot had already left when they set out. As he stepped out of the hotel, he turned around and, as expected, saw Huai Wei watching him from a second-story window.

    Spotting Chu Li's glance, Huai Wei enthusiastically waved at him, making sure everyone knew they were on the same side.

    Chu Li gave him a brief look before getting into the car.

    In his room, Huai Wei pouted in disappointment. His aide whispered beside him, "We'll depart in half an hour. The Chief specifically instructed me to keep a close eye on you and make sure you don't cause any trouble."

    Huai Wei raised an eyebrow. "How could someone as obedient as me cause trouble?"

    The adjutant smiled bitterly. Obedient?

    Those two words wouldn't even associate with their marshal after beating him with eight sticks.

    The negotiation was set in the central civic hall on Mu Jiji planet. As the car drove through, Chu Li gazed at the scenery outside and realized it was indeed a beautiful planet. Every structure was intricately crafted, exuding elegance and unique charm.

    Upon arriving at the central hall, Chu Li found Lancelot and his team still waiting outside. When the two groups met, there was an awkward atmosphere between them.

    Representative Mu Jiji, dispatched from their planet for negotiations, hastily emerged from within and approached Chu Li, whispering, "There's been an issue in the conference room. We'll have to ask everyone to wait here for a while. I apologize; this is a major oversight on our part."

    Chu Li remained unperturbed, not uttering a word. Ya Lan frowned and asked, "How do you two go about your work?"

    Grumbling a bit, but realizing that the deed was done and there was no turning back, he simply waved them off, urging them to attend to the matter promptly.

    The supervisor, drenched in sweat, hurriedly departed.

    With his departure, an awkward tension returned to the hall. Chu Li, representing Deerport, and Lancelot, representing Bluemoon Star, now stood on opposing sides... As the saying goes, enemies meeting each other evokes intense animosity. Even before their leaders spoke, the subordinates had already begun to clash.

    Silence reigned, though tension crackled in the air like gunpowder.

    As the seconds ticked by, Lancelot, surrounded by others, finally cast a glance in Chu Li's direction. Upon realizing that the representative from Deer Harbor was none other than Chu Li, he wore a cryptic smile and took two steps toward him. "I didn't expect to run into you here."

    Chu Li lifted his gaze, gazing at Lancelot calmly.

    Lancelot twirled his gloved hands and chuckled. "Your classmates and teachers have been missing you ever since you left the Comprehensive Academy."

    Ya Lan's expression shifted.

    Both Jing Baiyuan and Chu Li had once been part of the Empire but now stood against it. Many within the Empire accused them of betraying their homeland, using harsh words.

    By bringing up these matters at this moment, Lancelot intended to remind Chu Li of his imperial roots.

    "Thank you for letting me know that they still think of me," Chu Li said coolly. "During New Year's, I visited a small planet called Winton. It has excellent hot springs, perfect for relaxing one's muscles. Unfortunately, my teachers and classmates still remember me, but His Majesty has already forgotten the innkeeper..."

    He smiled slightly. "Or perhaps, Your Majesty has also forgotten your promise to help them live better, more prosperous lives."

    The teacher remembered the student, while the emperor forgot his own subjects.

    Chu Li nonchalantly regained the upper hand, causing Lancelot's expression to freeze. After a moment, he sneered coldly, "I underestimated you. As an Omega Academy student, to have come this far, you must possess some remarkable abilities."

    No sooner had he finished speaking than his chamberlain approached with a grim look, whispering, "Your Majesty... here... there are... cameras."

    Only then did Lancelot recall that to ensure transparency and fairness in the negotiations, the entire hall was equipped with live-streaming devices, broadcasting the event to the entire galaxy.

    Angered by Chu Li earlier, he had unconsciously revealed some of his inner thoughts.

    These thoughts were clearly not going to be well-received by the public.

    There were no live-chat comments during the stream, but discussions had already started elsewhere.

    "What is the king talking about? I don't understand..."

    "He probably thinks the delegate from Deerport climbed to the top through underhanded means, given his humble origins..."

    "This is your empire's emperor? He certainly seems detached and lofty."

    "..."

    In the central hall, Chu Li chuckled at Lancelot. "Your Majesty, you are quite arrogant."

    With that, Chu Li turned away and didn't speak to Lancelot any further.

    After a while, Huai Wei arrived.

    As soon as he entered, the atmosphere in the hall became peculiar. Fortunately, this state didn't last long. The supervisor of the central hall, wiping his sweat, hurried over. "Apologies, I'm truly sorry. It's really embarrassing, but the unexpected situation has been resolved. You may proceed now."

    The Mu Jiji planet had initially intended to separate the three parties, but an accident ensured that no one avoided each other.

    Huai Wei was the last to arrive. Standing in the hall, he couldn't understand the strange ambiance. As he walked in, he leaned toward Chu Li and whispered, "What happened? Did you guys have a fight here?"

    Chu Li couldn't help but laugh. "Nothing, just a brief conversation."

    Huai Wei stared wide-eyed at the Omega before him.

    In truth, he had been 'threatened' by Jing Baiyuan Yuanting many times before coming over. Although the man hadn't explicitly said it, his words implied that Huai Wei should treat Chu Li with respect.

    This 'Admiral's Wife' was supposedly still a student who had run away with Jing Baiyuan Yuanting to Deerport.

    Recalling the last time they hijacked the spaceship, he seemed like an innocent little rabbit, ignorant of the world.

    But now it appeared that this little rabbit might indeed be a little rabbit, with a soft exterior that could potentially conceal a set of steel teeth.

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