It was already early morning when Luo Lan awoke, her head still spinning. She absent-mindedly lay there for a moment before the events of the previous night came crashing down.
She’d actually fainted again! And under the eyes of so many people, no less! Just when she’d won a bit of dignity back, she’d gone and lost it all again!
Zi Yan, that absolute piece of shit!
Nevertheless, when she thought about last night’s successful “breaking of the ice,” her mood improved.
Her head still aching, she gingerly climbed out of bed and was about to wash up before she suddenly realized something wasn’t quite right. She looked around and finally registered that she wasn’t in her own room.
“Qing Yue!” Luo Lan shouted.
Qing Yue hurried in, and Luo Lan perplexedly asked, “Where am I?”
“This is Duke Chen Sha’s house. I told them to wait until you woke up for you to move, but Duke Feng Lin and Official An Da insisted that newlyweds must live together.”
Luo Lan hurriedly asked, “Last night, Chen Sha…he…did he…”
Qing Yue’s eyes had begun to redden; she looked as if she were about to burst into tears.
He couldn’t have! Luo Lan herself wanted to cry. Did he actually take advantage of her while she’d been in that state?
“How dare the duke treat you this way! Refusing to sleep in the same room as you…it should be you rejecting him! On what basis does he dare reject our princess?” Qing Yue’s voice trembled with anger and indignity.
Luo Lan patted her chest and loosed a breath of crushing relief. Yes, she thought. Rejection is good. The more rejection, the better.
She smiled and easily said, “Perhaps we shouldn’t think of this as rejection—maybe he wants to cultivate some real feelings first. After all, our circumstances are special; we suddenly married despite not knowing each other at all. A slow progression would be better suited to this situation.”
Qing Yue saw how happy and relieved Luo Lan was and thus could only drop the subject. “Princess, Duke Feng Lin informed us that she’ll send someone over to escort you to her lab for a visit.”
Feng Lin was truly a Dr. Frankenstein! Nevertheless, this was the perfect opportunity to determine just what they wanted from her. After all, what they wanted would determine what she got.
Feng Lin’s research facility was in a large military base.
For the sake of Luo Lan’s convenience, Feng Lin specifically prepared a hover vehicle that they could ride in as she introduced the sights.
Luo Lan curiously looked at the soldiers walking this way and that. Aside from the occasional sign of bodily mutation, they looked almost the same as the Aerdes troops she’d seen before.
Yet, in a short couple hundred years, they’d managed to establish themselves in the galaxy as a force not to be underestimated.
The vehicle stopped before a three-story building shaped much like an open book. Feng Lin confirmed her identity on the scanner, and the heavy metal doors opened. She gestured for Luo Lan to enter: “Welcome to Odin’s biology research center.”
Luo Lan smiled as she walked in, curiously glancing around her.
Inside, researchers milled about in white lab coats, speaking in jargon she couldn’t understand.
Feng Lin escorted her to the third floor. “There are three subterranean floors that aren’t open to the public, so let’s just work our way down, then…”
Suddenly, Feng Lin’s communicator beeped. She glanced down at the notification and apologetically excused herself before picking up the call. “…what? There’s an anomaly in the data? Why?”
Her words were harried; it seemed that a problem had just arisen in an important test. Luo Lan tactfully said, “Please go take care it. You don’t need to worry about me—I’ll just watch and observe.”
Feng Lin looked around; there was no one else around. She hastily said: “Follow the walkway and you’ll reach a resting room. Make yourself comfortable, I’ll send an assistant to pick you up later.”
After she left, Luo Lan slowly ventured forward. Once she reached the room, she decided to wander a bit more before returning.
She made a turn and suddenly found herself in a walkway with no end in sight. On both sides were locked rooms; not one other person was there.
She wasn’t sure if it was because the air conditioning or the deathly silence of her surroundings, but Luo Lan felt her entire body break out into shivers. Her heart quaked, and she inwardly laughed at herself. Was this truly the reaction worthy of a spy? Aerdes had clearly wrongly accused her!
She was about to turn back when she heard a ding dong from somewhere. The sound was jarring in the deathly silence, scaring Luo Lan half out of her mind and rendering her knees weak in fear.
She calmed down and told herself that the sudden sound seemed to be of an object falling onto the floor, nothing worth being frightened of.
Luo Lan hesitated for a moment before she began to tiptoe in the direction of the sound. She stopped at an unlocked door and peered into the dark and quiet room. Inside, a man lay on the ground, surrounded by scattered bottles and containers, as if he’d fallen while trying to grab something.
Luo Lan immediately pushed opened the door. She saw him trying with all his might to crawl forward, trying to grasp a small medicine bottle, but failing due to his uncontrollable convulsions of pain.
Luo Lan hurriedly walked over and picked up the bottle. “Was it this one?”
“Leave!” His words were hoarse and low, and sounded almost like a sob squeezed forcefully from his chest.
Luo Lan’s heart filled with empathy. She knew only too well how it felt to be seen by strangers at her lowest. She gently set the medicine bottle next to his hand and backed out of the room.
Luo Lan leaned back against the wall of the hallway. She worriedly said, “If you need anything, just call me.”
She heard some rustling, and after a long while, she heard a weak voice: “Please come in.”
Luo Lan carefully pushed open the door. The room had already been cleaned and arranged, with each bottle and container put back in its proper place. A curtain blocked any sunlight from entering the room. The only source of light was a lamp.
The man sat on a sofa in the room, enveloped in the orange light, his legs covered by a camel hair blanket.
Sweat had stuck his soft black hair against his forehead. His face was ashen, yet he sat with his back straight, his eyes clear, and his lips curled into a slight smile. He looked calm and peaceful, as if he hadn’t just been in the throes of unbearable pain.
Luo Lan was suddenly reminded of the extinct edelweiss flower, which legend claimed grew on icy mountain peaks. It bloomed even in the harsh snows, a paradox of toughness and fragile beauty. Luo Lan felt that if she even breathed too hard, he would disappear. “May I…may I come in?” she stammered out.
“Of course, you may. Thank you for your help just now.” His voice was gentle and deep like the sweet sound of a cello.
(tofu: no, I didn’t make this description up. I kind of dig it though)
Luo Lan suddenly felt a prickle in her eyes. For a moment, she couldn’t speak.
The man immediately sensed the change: “What is it?”
“It’s nothing, just…” Luo Lan awkwardly shook her head. “I suddenly realized that you’re the first person to tell me ‘thank you.’”
From the moment she opened her eyes until now, she’d thanked Dr. Mu, she’d thanked Zi Yan, she’d thanked Feng Lin, and she’d even thanked An Da. Yet not one person had thanked her, as if she’d left no impression at all on the people around her, as if she were truly useless.
The man started in surprise, and then he smiled. “I’m honored.”
Luo Lan shrugged off her fragile feelings and grinned at him. “I’m honored to have bestowed on you this honor.”
“I’ve never seen you here before,” he said.
“This is my first time coming here,” Luo Lan said. She couldn’t help curiously asking, “and you’re this place’s…”
“Test subject.” He seemed to fear that Luo Lan would assume the worst, and warmly added, “By my own choice.”
Luo Lan’s eyes brightened. Without a doubt, she, too, would soon be a “willing test subject.” She didn’t think she’d meet someone in a similar boat. She excitedly asked, “What’s your name?”
(tofu: his name is rather poetic—it means “a thousand rising suns.”)
Her first friend! Luo Lan silently committed his name to memory, joy welling in her heart.
“What about you? What’s your name?” Qian Xu asked.
“My name is Luo…” She suddenly couldn’t say the word already on the tip of her tongue. In this moment, she didn’t want to be Princess Luo Lan’s fake—she only wanted to be herself. Yet who was she?
She could only look at Qian Xu, at a loss as to what to say.
“What is it?” Qian Xu gently asked. “You don’t have to tell if you don’t want to.”
Luo Kan shook her head, her gaze falling on Qian Xu’s camel hair blanket. “Luo, Luo…Luo Xun.”
(tofu: the Luo of “Luo Lan” and the Luo of “Luo Xun” are different characters in Chinese, though they sound the same.)
She looked about her but couldn’t find anything suitable, so she hastily asked, “Can I borrow your hand for a moment?”
Qian Xu was puzzled, but he still smiled and stretched out his hand.
Luo Lan bent and used her index finger to trace the words, “Luo Xun.”
She didn’t know what had happened that resulted in her losing everything and becoming all alone, and she didn’t know what kind of future lay in her fake identity as princess. But if her life was an endless desert, she only hoped that she could persevere like a camel, step by step, slowly searching for an oasis she could call her own.
(tofu: “Luo” of “Luo Xun” means camel. “Xun” means to search. This legend really just named herself after a camel.)
“Luo, as in camel, Xun, as in search. That’s my name, Luo Xun!” Luo Lan explained in a serious voice, as if she hoped the gods of fate would hear, or simply hoped that the man in front of her would remember.
Qian Xu’s palm was ice-cold, while Luo Lan’s face was slightly flushed. “My friend is waiting for me, so I’ll see you next time.”
She didn’t wait for his reply before she abruptly turned and fled the room.
Luo Lan followed the hallway back to the resting area. She turned and saw a middle-aged woman dressed in a white lab coat. The woman was clearly looking for something, or someone.
Luo Lan quickly walked up to her. “Are you Feng Lin’s assistant? Sorry—I got a bit bored, so I looked around for a bit.”
“No worries. I’m Anna. The chief has to take care of some other things that came up, so she told me to give you a tour.”
Luo Lan unconsciously looked back once at the empty hallway. Then she turned to follow Anna.
The two women chatted as they walked. Luo Lan feigned nonchalance and said, “I just saw another person. He seemed rather weak and unlike an employee.”
“He’s likely a willing test subject for medicine.”
“A test subject? Testing for what?”
Anna patiently explained, “Many of Odin’s subjects are carriers of mutant genes, hence, the likelihood of sudden genetic diseases emerging can be very high. Although we do our best, there are still some who don’t get the opportunity to receive treatment. Rare diseases especially can be very expensive to treat, so in order to receive any kind of treatment, many people will volunteer to become test subjects.”
Luo Lan felt her heart prick with distress. “Then he…they…are the hopes of recovery high?”
“It depends.” Anna fell silent for a moment before she said, “Our research center is not only Odin’s best, it’s also one of the best in the galaxy, so we will definitely work hard!”
Luo Lan forced a smile, inwardly praying that Qian Xu would recover smoothly.
Only after Anna gave Luo Lan a tour did Feng Lin return.
“I’m so sorry for making you wait.” She looked at her watch. “I’ll take you to lunch.”
It hadn’t even been an hour since she’d seen Luo Lan last, but her face was weary and her eyes downcast. Luo Lan asked, “Did something go wrong at work?”
“The test failed,” Feng Lin bitterly said.
Luo Lan didn’t know what kind of test she was running, and she certainly didn’t know how to offer any comfort, so she could only vaguely say, “Success is only borne out of countless failures.”
Feng Lin perked up. “Yeah, we’ll definitely find success!”
Feng Lin brought Luo Lan to the employee cafeteria. She explained, “There’s many cafeterias in the base. If you’re an employee, the nutritional meals are free, although the drinks are for sale.”
She opened the screen to select drinks for Luo Lan. Luo Lan saw the blue and green drink Zi Yan had swindled her into drinking the night before. She said a bit fearfully, “What kind of drink is this? Last night I drank a sip and then fainted.”
“It’s called ‘Deep blue green.’ It contains a calming agent and is popular amongst the soldiers of B level physical ability and above. When one is nervous or tired, a cup will allow them to relax and sleep.” Feng Lin looked rather puzzled. “Don’t you know that it’s best not to consume drinks that are too strong for your physical ability level?”
Luo Lan forced a laugh. “Zi Yan recommended it, so I didn’t think much of it.” Why could she recognize some things with a glance, yet be completely clueless about something else?
“Zi Yan, that little prankster,” Feng Lin muttered to herself. “How could a normal person drink this?”
Luo Lan’s heart began to pound. Was Odin’s spymaster truly just a simple prankster?
If the true Princess Luo Lan’s physical ability level was B-level or higher, she was well and truly screwed!
Her mind raced, and her back broke out in a cold sweat.
Stay calm, stay calm…
Luo Lan carefully reviewed what she remembered, gathering that Dr. Mu had never once mentioned Luo Lan’s strength level. Given his detailed nature, he wouldn’t have forgotten to mention this. Then, there were only two possibilities: 1. the princess had never tested her physical ability, or 2. the princess had tested her physical ability, but the results were never released to the public.
Luo Lan slowly let out a breath, feeling her heart calm by a fraction. Zi Yan was probably trying to sniff out just how strong the princess physically was.
Feng Lin noticed her staring in a daze at the option for “Deep blue green” on the screen. She comfortingly said, “Don’t worry, a sip here and there won’t hurt you, though you may get put in an embarrassing situation.”
Luo Lan laughed and selected a safe beverage that she could drink. “Once, I thought I would never have to leave my home, so I never bothered to test my ability level. Later once I get the chance, I’ll test my strength.”
Feng Lin seemed to be pondering something, though before she could say a word, the cafeteria’s automatic doors opened and a group walked in.
The room immediately fell silent and sober.
Luo Lan turned her head and saw that Chen Sha, Zi Yan, and Chu Mo were leading the group. The three were dressed in starched uniforms, their backs stick-straight and their bearings regal.
The troops trailing behind them looked like a mess, their faces blue and bruised, their gait more like a stumble, yet the entirety of the room stared at them with envious eyes, as if they were thinking, “why can’t that be me?”
“Did those soldiers get beat up by someone?” Luo Lan curiously asked.
Feng Lin chuckled. “They’re always like this! They call it ‘training,’ but it’s really just abuse. Though only the elite get the chance to be ‘abused.’”
Ah. No wonder the soldiers looked as proud as could be, despite their swollen purple faces. Feng Lin blinked and shrewdly asked, “Do you want to greet Chen Sha?”
“No! It would be embarrassing in front of all these people.” Luo Lan lifted her tray and immediately turned to leave.
Feng Lin trailed alongside, saying, “Chen Sha’s strength is incomparable. If you can properly tame him, he’ll certainly be a good husband.”
Jie Jie, do you really think every girl can be like you? Luo Lan inwardly cursed. I think little ol’ me will just stay in the comfortable shade.
Luo Lan saw an area overlooking a good view. She asked Feng Lin, “Can we sit there?”
“I don’t mind. Pick wherever you want to sit.”
Luo Lan found a corner and sat.
Not long after, Chen Sha, Zi Yan, and Chu Mo came over and sat close to Luo Lan and Feng Lin.
Luo Lan was thanking her lucky stars that they hadn’t noticed them when the grinning Zi Yan lifted his drink in a toast to her. The drink, naturally, was Deep blue green.
Luo Lan inwardly cursed the little shit, but didn’t dare vocalize her fury, so she merely bent her head, pretending not to have seen.
Feng Lin jokingly said, “Though there’s no designated seats in the cafeteria, it’s become custom to leave the seats with the best views empty. I guess you could say only the strongest and most powerful can sit here.”
Luo Lan tasted a mouthful of her nutritional meal. “Then I, too, can become strong and powerful through your association.”
“What’s your impression of the base?” Feng Lin asked.
“Very good.” If this food had just a bit of flavor, my impression would be even better.
Feng Lin sipped her own drink and pensively stared at Luo Lan.
Luo Lan could guess what she wanted to say.
In the entirety of Odin, Feng Lin had been friendliest to Luo Lan. Though Feng Lin did harbor other motives, in the world of adults, this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Luo Lan spoke first: “There’s an apple tree in Aerdes, a pure, original apple tree of Ancient Earth. The scholars who study its genes offer it sunlight, air, water, and soil. They protect it to the fullest and will occasionally pluck a few of its leaves to study in the labs. However, all of this occurs in a safe environment for the apple tree. After all, research comes slowly, but without proper care and protection, the apple tree will die.” Luo Lan stopped before carefully asking, “Do you think I’m right?”
“You’re definitely right!” Feng Lin said without hesitation.
Luo Lan silently released a sigh of relief. She named her condition: “As long as you don’t harm my body, I agree to be your test subject.”
Feng Lin’s hand twitched, spilling her drink. She didn’t bother to wipe the mess, and merely stared, thunderstruck, at Luo Lan.
Luo Lan, startled, awkwardly asked, “Did I guess wrong? Is that not what you wanted to say?”
“I just wanted to ask if I could test your physical ability.”
Oh. Why did she keep embarrassing herself, day after day? Luo Lan buried her face in her hands. She asked through her fingers, “Can you just pretend you didn’t hear anything? Let’s just finish eating.”
“My physical ability level is A-level, so my hearing is excellent. I heard everything you just said,” Feng Lin airily said, completely ignoring Luo Lan’s request.
Luo Lan felt aggrieved. Fine, though she didn’t know what her level of physical ability was, she at least knew her idiocy level was 3A!
(tofu: 3A is the highest ability level.)
Feng Lin suddenly grabbed Luo Lan’s hand. “Luo Lan, I love you!”
Luo Lan hadn’t yet responded before Feng Lin nimbly jumped over and lifted Luo Lan up in her embrace. She laughed as she excitedly jumped around in circles, Luo Lan in tow.
Luo Lan’s head was spinning.
Dr. Mu’s profile on Feng Lin went something like this: Feng Lin of the Odin Federation had peerless academic ability and outstanding talent in scientific research, and was elegant and intellectual, a goddess among men.
So how did one explain this image?
Luo Lan wasn’t the only one confused; the entire cafeteria was staring in shock. When Feng Lin finally set her down, Luo Lan was dizzy from being whirled about in circles. She could only silently marvel, Jie jie, are you sure you’re not part bear?
Feng Lin clutched Luo Lan’s shoulders as she fervently asked, “Are you truly willing? I promise I will never hurt you!”
Luo Lan nodded, her head still spinning.
Feng Lin enthusiastically kissed Luo Lan’s cheek. With one hand she grasped Luo Lan’s shoulder, and with the other she waved to everyone in the cafeteria. “Bring out all the drinks! I’m treating you all today!” she cried.
In a moment the room filled with the sound of applause and whistles.
Luo Lan held her cheek, giving Feng Lin an aggrieved look.
A soldier loudly laughed and asked, “Are you inviting us to your wedding feast?” The room burst into laughter.
Luo Lan’s face immediately soured, as did Feng Lin’s. They looked at each other, unsure of how to explain the situation. Everyone laughed even louder.
A cold voice resonated throughout the room: “Attention!”
The entire room stood and spoke in unison: “Yes!”
“You lot have two more minutes to eat,” Chen Sha ordered.
Every soldier began to hurriedly shovel food into their mouths, and even Feng Lin hastily returned to her seat and began to swallow her food whole.
Two minutes later, the entire cafeteria had emptied.
Luo Lan could only look on, dumbstruck.
Chen Sha stood, Zi Yan and Chu Mo at his side. The three walked out of the room.
Luo Lan was still in a daze. Feng Lin waved her hand in front of Luo Lan’s face. “Hey! Stop staring; they’ve already left. Don’t tell me your hormones have gotten the better of you and you’ve suddenly fallen for Chen Sha?”
Luo Lan placed her hand over her heart and regretfully said, “More like my fear hormones have gotten the better of me.”
Feng Lin burst into laughter. “Princess, you’re so funny that I’ll actually fall in love with you.”
“Chen Sha won’t look for any trouble on my end, will he?” Luo Lan despondently said. She and Feng Lin must’ve looked mentally deranged. Even if Luo Lan had been on the receiving end of the antics, Chen Sha might still blame her.
Feng Lin looked perplexed. “Don’t you know that Chen Sha was helping us just now?”
Help us? Luo Lan didn’t understand.
“Chen Sha’s ability level is 3A; he could hear what we were saying.”
Luo Lan looked at her spot in the room, then looked to where Chen Sha had sat, and finally realized why Aerdesians spoke of “carriers of mutant genes” with such trepidation.
“Relax! He knew full well why we were acting so crazy.” Feng Lin looked at Luo Lan and sincerely said, “I didn’t think you were so generous. Thank you!”
Faced with such intense gratitude, Luo Lan felt rather awkward and quickly changed the subject. “Why did you follow Chen Sha’s order just now? Aren’t you both dukes on equal footing?”
“I am technically also a federation soldier, while Chen Sha is the army commander. If he calls us to attention, I must obey.” Feng Lin shrugged. “There’s no way around it; orders are orders. But if they want to enter my domain, they must obey my rules.”
Luo Lan suddenly understand why Aerdes’ military might couldn’t compare with Odin’s. It wasn’t just because of mutant genes, or at least, that wasn’t the only reason.
That night, Luo Lan searched some information up on her communicator.
She originally thought that because she could recognize ancient apples and tarot cards, perhaps some information about ancient history would spark some memory. Yet even after many searches, she still could remember nothing.
What had the past her been like?
Why did she suddenly appear, all alone, in Aerdes’ research base?
Luo Lan sat there in a daze. Unconsciously, she’d written two words on her screen: Luo Xun.
Any clues about her past lay in Aerdes, not Odin. But searching for the future and searching for the past posed two different roads. Since Aerdes had already sentenced her to death, she could only continue walking forward.
Luo Lan softly sighed. She could only hope that she would one day recover her memories.
“Princess, you agreed to cooperate with Duke Feng Lin’s research?” Qing Yue didn’t even knock before bursting into the room.
“That’s right.” Luo Lan slowly closed her communicator.
Qing Yue could hold it in no longer. “Princess, are you crazy?” she bellowed. “Do you not understand…”
Under Qing Yue’s furious rambling, Luo Lan came to realize that her promise was truly something out of the ordinary. No wonder Feng Lin’s reaction had been so drastic.
Genes were the priceless carrier of life. Mankind had flourished due to its genes; it had also suffered due to its genes. Indeed, there was a pact throughout the galaxy that one’s ownership over their own genes was an unshakeable privilege. It was taboo to forcefully try to examine someone’s genes without their express consent.
The nations of the galaxy released only the most basic level of genetic information to allow for genetic identification. All the rest was stored in the most secure databases, and only those with special clearance could access this information.
Luo Lan recalled that indeed, even when she’d been locked up in prison, the judge still needed to request her permission to use her genes for the identification test.
“Don’t you understand the serious consequences of this, princess?” Qing Yue bitterly asked. “They now have the power to clone you…”
It seemed like Qing Yue was also rather clueless about matters of science and technology. Luo Lan waved her hand in dismissal. “I’ve played simulation games; clones can’t compare to a naturally born person. If clones could so easily replace natural humans, mankind would’ve solved their fertility and procreation issues long ago.”
“Princess, you should be more tough. Don’t just let them trample all over you,” Qing Yue huffed.
Luo Lan silently smiled.
The one who needed to grow a backbone wasn’t her, but Aerdes itself.
They’d given up Princess Luo Lan. As soon as the princess boarded the ship, the end had already been decided.
How much binding power did the so-called gene protection pact truly hold? She didn’t believe for a second that every instance of genetic testing followed the law.
Odin had traded a resource planet for Princess Luo Lan—no, they’d sacrificed Commander Chen Sha’s marriage, as well. With this large of a price having been paid, there would be no changing what lay in store for her.
The fates of too many Odin residents rested upon this transaction. Even if Feng Lin refused to take such drastic measures, there would no doubt be others, so why force them to take forceful or violent action?
Genes were certainly important. But she wanted to live!