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Chapter 768: Lan Qing’s Shop?

    Chapter 768: Lan Qing's Shop?

    Kang Hui nodded. "How about this, I remain here. Your Majesty, you could bring the information back and disseminate it among my people. Once Commander Lan Jue returns and we finalize our plans, I'll return."

    The Terminator nodded. "That's fine. Then I'll return to Tyrannosaurus. Admiral Lan, I may not be proficient in military matters, but I must say I admire your skill. You are worthy of the titles people have given you."

    Lan Qing bowed his head. "You're too kind, your Majesty. We won't know how effective our plan is until the fight is over. It's a little early to be praising my abilities."

    Hua Li turned to Mo Xiao. "You return to the ship, I'm going to wait for Lan Jue to return as well. When we know everything I'll go back."

    Mo Xiao shook her head. "You should go back. I should stay, I'm more -"

    Hua Li impatiently cut her off. "You're trying to say you have more ability in this than I do? Don't forget, I've been learning all of this since I was a child. You can go back to Poseidon."

    Mo Xiao struggled with herself, eventually fighting back the urge to argue. She took up the pile of papers and left.

    Lan Qing watched her go. "Is she going to be a problem?"

    But Hua Li shook his head. "It's fine, that's just how she is. The interests to the family are her only concern. Don't be upset with her, brother."

    Lan Qing shook his head. "Of course not, she didn't do anything wrong."

    "How long before A-Jue and the others return?" Hua Li asked.

    Lan Qing leaned back in his chair. "A day or so. We've moved in pretty close to the outer ring planets already."

    Hua Li smiled. "We might walk away from this heroes to our whole species, eh?"

    "None of that is important," Lan Qing chastised. "What's important is that our people aren't wiped out."

    The others left to rest and make their plans. Lan Qing took Hua Li to Middle Heaven's command center.

    "A-Li, I sensed something between you and Mo Xiao. If it isn't dealt with a problem could affect our plans. You should return to Poseidon and assume personal command." Lan Qing mused openly.

    Hua Li tried to assure him. "It's a personal thing she has with me, and Mo Xiao is good about keeping her personal life separate from her duty. There won't be a problem. Once A-Jue comes back and we hear what he's learned I'll go back. You should worry about yourself, I was amazed by how comprehensive your plan was but have you included yourself in all that?"

    The Eastern Admiral was dismissive. "This battle is important, and we have little in the way of luck on our side. We can't know what will happen, so I can only prepare by doing everything I can."

    This earned a sigh from his friend. "You have a tiring life."

    "I'm used to it," he answered.

    "Brother," Hua Li began, "what do you plan to do if we survive this? Continue with the army? It seems like all your life you've never lived for yourself."

    "Me?" Lan Qing thought for a moment. "I'm not sure. Perhaps I'll find a place to life out a quiet life. Years of being busy should be rewarded with silence."

    Hua Li looked at him wonderment, like he couldn't believe what he was hearing. "Wait, am I talking to the right person? You aren't Lan Jue, are you? I'd expect something like that out of his mouth."

    Lan Qing's response was tepid. "He and I are brothers after all, fundamentally the same. We've just chosen different paths."

    Hua Li laughed. "I prefer this candid part of you - it makes you feel more like a real person and not some legendary soldier. You're always so aloof, no one ever has a chance to get close to you."

    Lan Qing shot him a look. "I don't need anyone to 'get close to me.' Everyone has different goals in life."

    Hua Li paused for a moment, struck by his words. A frown touched his lips. "Yeah. Different goals."

    Lan Qing watched him for a second. "Why are you acting so strange again?"

    "I'm fine," Hua Li answered. "Again?"

    Lan Qing explained. "You've been very different since breaking through to Paragon."

    Hua Li shook his head. "It's nothing - I'm me, same Hua Li as always. Ever since the aliens have showed up I've had no interest in the rock star lifestyle. Like you I just want to live a quiet life - we should look together, what do you think? A mid-sized planet somewhere."

    "I've always liked Skyfire Avenue, but I don't need anything that fancy. We can find some ordinary street, set up a couple shops, start families. We can have A-Cheng come over, too, and all our shops can border each other's. A-Jue's got his own store, no need to push him for anything, so he could just open a small place and sell low-cost trinkets. A-Cheng can open a booze and cigar place, he likes that stuff. What sort of stuff would you sell?"

    Lan Qing was quiet for a time. "I don't know."

    "Well, what do you like?" Hua Li pressed.

    But Lan Qing shook his head. He couldn't think of any hobbies or interests.

    Helplessly Hua Li continued. "You're so rigid. You should sell traditional business suits. You're goods can be like you; stiff and austere."

    Lan Qing couldn't stop himself from snorting a laugh. "So I'd be a tailor?"

    "You would do incredible at whatever job you chose to do," Hua Li said. "If you wanted to be a tailor you'd be the best damn tailor there was."

    Lan Qing turned it on him. "What about you, then? What sort of store would you open, a music shop?"

    Hua Li looked like he'd been struck. "Ah, fine, I see. You think that's all I'm good for. Nah, not music. I'd open a bridal shop. I'd make 'em myself, you and I could work together. When you get married I'd make one special for you, whaddaya say?"

    Lan Qing was understandably surprised. "I didn't realize you had such a hobby."

    Hua Li spoke wistfully. "I've always loved wedding dresses, even when I was small. Elegant, pure white, lacy... All kinds. I've always believed they were the most beautiful clothing we've ever created. They may not outline the curves like your Eastern qipaos, but the bearing it brings is impeccable. I want to be a wedding dress stylist. What do you think?"

    Lan Qing was supportive. "Why not, if the day ever came? But can your family go without Poseidon?"

    Hua Li shook his head. "I told A-Jue the same thing, Mo Xiao and I have already arranged for a genetically designed child. Soon the family will have their next successor, and that will me my responsibilities are finished. My father was about my age when he cast aside everything. The family runs on autopilot, practically. Once there's a successor my work is done, and I can give up my role. Mo Xiao can handle the business end of things better than I can. I've always had an independent heart, I don't want to be tied down."

    Lan Qing frowned. "If you were one of my people I'd have you court martialed. You know how bad you are for morale?"

    Hua Li chuckled. "You wouldn't be Prometheus otherwise. Ah, but now you're the Peerless Light emperor of Middle Heaven. Please, brother, enlighten me."

    Lan Qing's tone grew strangely threatening. "I'll make sure to come and find you once this is all over."

    "Uh... I've gotta piss. I'll see you later."

    Lan Qing's face softened as he watched Hua Li race away. He gently shook his head, but his mind lingered on the picture his friend had painted.

    A small city, somewhere simple with a small shop on a quiet street. Would a tailor shop really suit him? He'd never even worn a suit. Skyfire Avenue had a tailor, perhaps he could give it a look.

    He shook his head again and looked at the screens arrayed throughout the control room. The gentleness was gone from them almost immediately, replaced with a pensive wisdom.

    If he wanted a peaceful life, there first had to be peace!

    ζ

    Seventeen hours later Zeus-1 quietly returned to Middle Heaven's hangar bay. Lan Jue had recovered without incident, so his first order of business was to deliver the information they'd recovered. He went immediately to the control center to find his brother.

    Lan Qing said nothing, only took the data that was presented. He put it in his computer and waited for the it to show up. Lan Jue didn't need to explain anything, Lan Qing's dour face said he understood.

    "The Wine Master has already gone to find the Keeper with a copy of the data and the infected humans. He's going to ask the Keeper to see what he can discover about their condition. From the little we could gather we suspect up to half of the population is still alive, and based on what I know of the aliens these humans are more 'valuable' to them. Living specimens have more complete DNA. All things considered the likelihood that the aliens have begun their evolution is high. Otherwise I suspect they'd have done to these planets what they did to the ones in the North. They'd simply have killed everyone."

    Lan Jue continued. "I then traveled to the far side of the planet and discovered that artery stretching off into the distance. I can't imagine where they would be going except for the alien home worlds. It offers even more evidence to support the idea that they've begun. Or that they're already finished."

    Lan Qing scowled and scoured the information on screen. After a long time he finally spoke. "You've brought us both good news and bad news. The good news is we can confirm that the enemy's preoccupied with their evolution. The bad news is conditions on the human planets."
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