Sirius Central Square.
Dozens of spiritual power testing machines shone under the sunlight, energetic youths jostled about in their excitement, lining up in long processions in front of each machine, waiting for the proctors from the Solaris Military Academy to call each of them forward.
The light of summer was brilliant and stiflingly hot, Astra closed his eyes. The white light shone through his closed lids, his throat was as dry as sandpaper.
“The Journey”, a book with an intergalactic setting. The whole story was about BG romance, with beauties appearing as often as clouds.
The book’s protagonist, or as Astra liked to think of him – ‘the venus fly trap’ – was about to appear.
Astra was actually a little excited.
[The corner of Wen’s lips curved upwards.
“Thank you.” He knew how to make himself look good. In an instant, a hint of masculine maturity arose in the youthful energy emanating from Wen. The two extremely different temperaments merged into a potent aura, bewitching like honeydew, stirring up the hearts of the girls who flocked around him like butterflies.
The lady leading him was flushed pink, the tinge of a maiden’s first love. “You’re welcome. Best wishes on passing the Solaris Military Academy’s tests.”]
Nearby, a teacher called out, “Next! Astra.”
Astra’s tongue darted out to lick his dry lips. He crossed the distance with big strides, flashing a quick grin to the teacher from Solaris Military Academy. “Here.”
His smile had become muscle memory, warmer and more radiant than the summer sun that shone above.
The Solaris Military Academy’s proctor paused, surprised at Astra’s silly and sweet countenance. The proctor laughed almost helplessly at his sunny attitude. “Come on over, you can start testing your spiritual energy when you’re ready. The passing score for entering our academy is 1200.”
The number on the machines went from 0 to 3000. Of all the spiritual energy testing machines owned by the government, only some of the machines could be borrowed by the military and hospitals, and the information from every test would arrive at the government’s offices forthwith upon completion of the testing.
“Alright.” Astra nodded. Just as his raised hand was about to come in contact with the machine, the proctor on his right suddenly called out, “Wen-”
Wen. The name of the male lead.
Astra’s hand paused in midair as he turned to look.
From the crowd, a single youth came forth and walked unhurriedly to the testing station. He was tall, tall enough to easily obscure the proctor from the sunlight. Despite the unfathomable depths of his eyes, his gaze was bright as he smiled. “Teacher, I’m here.”
To protect the underage cadet’s mental health and to ensure equal treatment from educators, the Empire forbade spiritual energy testing for them. Because of this, all the youths gathered here had yet to know the level of spiritual power they possessed.
Without any specialized training, the amount of spiritual energy that a person had depended entirely on talent. But Wen was very confident, the nervousness of the crowd didn’t even touch him as he stood there, calm as a waveless ocean.
Astra knew exactly where this confidence came from. Not because Wen was the book’s protagonist, but because the Wen right now was older than he looked. By this point in the story, Wen had just consumed a mysterious elixir that reverted his body back to his 20 year old state, and also had increased his spiritual energy considerably.
This man-eating, top-grade flower was covered with poison. Beautiful and deadly, entirely untouchable.
Astra shifted his gaze and pressed his hand to the sensor.
Wen began his test almost at the same time as Astra did.
Just as Wen pressed his hand to the sensor, the testing machine’s number began to shift violently, breaking past level after level, soaring straight through 1000 with no signs of slowing down.
The people nearby were startled by the commotion. Turning to see the source of the noise, they were quickly astonished yet again by the speed at which the numbers were increasing.
Astra could hear the murmurs of the crowd from all directions. The original scene was just as brusque, only the male lead got to shine on the stage of everyone’s attention.
The proctor took a deep breath and attempted to steady his trembling hand. Under the proctor’s burning gaze, the number on the machine steadily climbed past 2000. “C’mon c’mon c’mon, just a little bit more…” The proctor could barely contain his excitement, he couldn’t wait to report this to the school.
A flash of determination lit up Wen’s eyes, the spiritual energy score rose according to his will, right up until the threshold of 2300.
Noises of excitement mixed with amazed gasps. The teachers had all hurried to the center of the commotion, red-faced in excitement as they watched the numbers on the screen.
Everyone was waiting for the miracle to occur.
But in the next moment, the number began to fall as fast as a dive off of a cliff. Under the incredulous gazes, the test result had risen and dropped the way a Queen of the Night blossomed: swelling up to a dazzling degree, but shrinking in an instant, so that the brief glimpse of wonder disappeared regrettably fast. As they watched, the falling number slowed to a halt, stopping unwaveringly at 1200, a score that was neither too high nor too low.
Wen’s lips curled into the faintest outline of a smile. It was pretty funny to prank everyone by pulling a stunt like this.
What a show-off.
Astra harrumphed, the noise was lost in the commotion. The instructor in charge of the line that Astra was standing in sighed. It was a long and drawn-out sound as the instructor attempted to regain his composure after the commotion. “What’s wrong with the machine this year….” Just as he spoke, the instructor caught a glimpse of the final score for Astra’s test result. For the second time today, the instructor lost his composure in shock. “1890! Very well done! Astra, is it? You’ve been accepted into the Academy! Hurry, hurry! Go over there and wait!”
The figure at the center of the crowd next to Astra looked over nonchalantly, his attention captured by the sound of the instructor’s exclamation. Wen’s eyes met Astra’s head-on.
Wen’s gaze was piercing, an intoxicating mix of clarity and magnetism emanated from the depths of his eyes. The expression in those eyes was pure and innocent, yet something darker lurked beneath the glimmering surface.
In response to Wen’s gaze, Astra raised a brow and grinned.
Astra was the handsome and sunny type. The very air around him seemed to be charged with youthful energy, and his grin only made him seem more likeable.
Wen held Astra’s gaze for a few seconds, before applying pressure to the machine under his hands. The previously stable score of 1200 began to rise again, passing straight through 1800 and finally stopped at 1850.
Only 40 less than Astra’s score.
The teacher scratched his head in confusion. After repeatedly making sure that the machine was in working order, he looked up and spoke with a hint of disappointment in his voice, “Gu WenCheng, 1850, accepted into Solaris Academy.”
There were already ten or so youths seated in the waiting area. Solaris Academy was the unanimously recognized no.1 when it came to military academy rankings, so the number of accepted youths was a little small. However, there were still thousands of people waiting outside. Plus, this was only Sirius’s testing site — the Academy had dozens more of these at different locations all over the galaxy.
Astra pushed back his sweat-slicked hair.
The sound of footsteps signaled another person coming near. The male lead’s beautiful voice spoke inquiringly, “Astra?”
“Yeah, that’s me.” Astra turned to look at him. From this angle, the bright rays of the sun shone into Astra’s eyes, so he squinted them. “Hi.”
[From Wen’s perspective, these brats were all too young and wet behind the years. He didn’t like to mingle with children, so it was natural that he wouldn’t insert himself into their petty jealousies or their inconstant friendships.
Naia had never seen Wen with another person of the same age, but this time she actually saw him smiling and chatting with another youth. Wen saw her looking over, so he greeted her, introducing the smiling youth beside him, “Naia, long time no see, this is Astra.”
Naia regarded Astra curiously. Wow, this boy was so cheerful that it was impossible not to smile when looking at him. Like the cloudless sky in summer, the boy’s entire countenance radiated a sense of calm and comfort.]
As if impervious to the heat, Wen found a seat next to Astra and settled into it. “You’re pretty gifted.”
Astra found it a little strange that he would say that. “But aren’t you the same as me?”
“Well, a difference of 40 isn’t really that much number-wise,” Wen spoke slowly, as if mulling his words over, “but this score isn’t just a simple number. It represents talent. So in terms of talent, I’m 40 less than you. As we train, this gap between us will only grow larger and larger.”
“Really?” Astra laughed. “It’s not set in stone, though. Talent can’t decide everything.”
Wen paused and looked at Astra, his thoughts unreadable as they shifted in the depths of his eyes. “You’re right.”
After a brief wait, someone came by and brought the group to a residential building near the central square. “The testing process for Sirius will end by the day after tomorrow. In the meantime, accepted cadets can return home to see their family before leaving for the Academy. Cadets who have no other issues to take care of can wait here, any sort of common everyday items will be provided by the school, and will shortly be sent to your rooms. Two cadets per room — the AI downstairs will inform you of your assigned roommate. Are there any other questions?”
After receiving a reply from the cadets, the supervising teacher left. As the only two of the group with spiritual energies higher than 1800, Astra and Wen were put together.
Astra’s throat stung from thirst. As soon as he entered the room, he opened the fridge and took out a bottle of water before gulping it down.
Now that he was inside, away from the burning rays of the sun and in an air-conditioned environment, Astra felt a lot better. A brisk knock signalled the arrival of the daily necessities prepared by the Academy. Two identical black suitcases were left side by side in the corridor.
Astra chose a suitcase at random and opened it to reveal the Solaris Academy uniform, folded neatly inside the luggage. Underneath it, there were several sets of casual wear. The other compartment of the suitcase held some toiletries and a bag of underwear.
Astra opened the package and took out a set of underwear, and then grabbed himself a set of clothes. He turned to Wen and asked, “Are you going to use the bathroom? I want to take a shower.”
Wen signaled for Astra to go ahead with a wave of his hand.
Soon after Astra entered the bathroom, the splashing of water rang out and echoed in the silent room. Wen walked to the fridge. All types of alcoholic beverages were laid out in a neat array. Wen selected a bottle of rum. It was only when the bottle was in his hands that Wen realized where he was. He wasn’t the same as he had been in the past, furthermore, this place wasn’t his home base. So he placed the bottle back with a smile and a shake of his head, and replaced his initial choice with another drink that had a lower alcohol content.
The two suitcases sat silently by the door. Wen took a sip of his drink and tipped the two suitcases up into a standing position. It was only then that Wen saw the names written onto the back of the suitcases. Unfortunately, the suitcase that Astra had opened just now had Wen’s name written on it.
Wen raised a brow. He adjusted the suitcases so that the names faced the interior of the room, that way Astra could easily see the names when he came out of the bathroom.
Wen was a little interested in how the boy would react.
The school uniform had a one size fits all design. Astra took a quick shower and came out refreshed.
As soon as he came out, he saw Wen perched on the sofa.
A pair of long legs were propped up. The air was vibrant with the aura of youth.
Those boyish features and young body were those of a young man coming on the cusp of adulthood. But that gaze and the brooding atmosphere had a certain amount of maturity that was entirely out of sorts with his youthful looks.
Men were creatures of conflicting preferences. Not only did they like their partners to be sinful, but men also loved it when their partners were innocent.
Wen was the perfect mix of both. No one else could mix and showcase these conflicting qualities as well as he did.
But unfortunately, no one in the book could really appreciate this type of perfection.
Wen spoke first, “I put the suitcases over there.”
Astra’s face lighted up with a smile, bright and warm like a mini sun. “Thanks.”
“It’s alright.” Wen took another sip of his drink and put his feet down. “What’s a little help between friends.”
This development was entirely unexpected.
Wen was the type of person that didn’t have anything in common with the rest of the boys. In other words, Wen was just too lazy to associate himself with brainless and rash youths.
But his attitude towards Astra was so accommodating that one could even mistake him for Wen’s attendant.
All of a sudden, Astra recalled one of the conversations he had with the author of The Journey:
[“This world is very dangerous. As compensation, I can try my best to give you a life-saving gift — that is, on the premise that this gift doesn’t change the plot too much.
How about this. In the book, so long as they are an antagonist — no matter if it’s the final boss or an evil underling — all of them will immediately find you very likeable upon meeting you.
The higher the calibre of the antagonist, the more they will feel comfortable in your presence.”]
T/N: For those of you who are interested, the names Li ZouXing (李奏星) and Gu WenCheng (顾问成) have been simplified to Astra and Wen respectively. Also, I’ve taken some liberties with the academy’s name – ChengYang (承阳) has been changed to ‘Solaris’. The author used a lot of English-sounding names in the book, which I assume to be an effort to make the novel sound not-Asian. This is typical for Chinese authors when writing interstellar settings – they often take English names/ words and ‘sound it out’ in Chinese, or they would name the characters and places after the stars and the planets. In any case, I’m not a fan of ‘sounding out’ Chinese names into English for these types of books, because I find it a little awkward to mimic the Chinese sound for a Chinese word that mimics the sound of an English word. So yeah, I’ve taken a lot of liberties with translating the names of things in this book.
As for how I chose the names: the name Li ZouXing (李奏星), is comprised of 3 Chinese characters. The first, Li, is a common Chinese last name. The second, Zou (奏), has the meaning ‘to perform’ in the sense of performing a musical instrument. The third character, Xing (星), means ‘star’. Placed together, his name can be interpreted as ‘a choir of stars’ which I think is a beautiful name. Also, I think it’ll be a waste to translate it as ‘ZouXing’, because then it loses its reference to the stars. That is why I chose ‘Astra’ as the name has something to do with those twinkling lights in the sky. As for Wen’s name – Gu WenCheng – the name is (at least I think) a bit inconvenient to remember and use, plus it doesn’t go along too well with the author’s efforts to make this book sound non-Asian. So ‘Wen’ it is. And finally, the name of the academy: Cheng(承) means ‘to raise up’ and Yang (阳) means ‘sun’. I didn’t want to lose that reference to the sun in my translation, so I chose the name ‘Solaris’ because it has the word ‘solar’ in the name. Plus it sounds pretty cool.