Ah, moist, fresh, full of life. It’s a place very suitable for a master of the Water element! Were Hua Li here for his cultivation, he’d definitely get more out of it. Lan Jue quietly considered the surroundings as he thought back to his friend. Taihua was, as promised, a beautiful place.
This assertation only increased as he left the confines of the space ship. His eyes filled with greens of every shade imaginable. Scores of vegetation both known and unknown surrounded them on all sides. The air was thick with fresh oxygen, so much that it took a moment to acclimate. It certainly would have a restorative effect on the body. 1
He took a deep breath, and indeed felt his injured meridians relaxing as the energies of the world around him flowed through them.
Wu Junyi clapped his hands, demanding the attention of the gathered employees. “Alright. We’ve arrived at our destination, Planet Taihua. Keep in mind that the oxygen concentration here is one hundred and twenty percent of our own back on Skyfire. If you’re finding it difficult to get used to, there are oxygen masks available. Try to avoid getting punch-drunk from the excess oxygen. In a moment we’ll be heading for the encampment. Starting tomorrow, you all will have some free time to wander around at your leisure. We’ve come today with forty teachers, half of whom are mecha instructors. After we arrive at the encampment, we’ll be separating you in to groups of eight. Stay within your ‘team’ as you wander, enjoy each others’ company, take pictures and so on.”
Eight people per team? Hearing this, Lan Jue felt an inexplicable sense of foreboding fill him 2
These ‘encampments’ were in fact so crude as to make the more prudish among them want to spit. It was a single, simple log cabin. As they arrived, the various materials they would need for their stay were handed out.
“So what are the guidelines for tourism here, Professor Jin?” Lan Jue gathered up his offered materials as he asked the woman, as ever close to his side.
Jin Yan huffed. “I thought you’d never ask. Because the authorities wish to protect the environment on Taihua, the East has created a special set of ‘cautions’ here. As a result things here are a little different, for tourism. The most common thing to do is go on a hike. You must rely entirely on your own feet to do so. We’ll be passing through dense, old-growth forests. You also don’t need to go too far – just enough to appreciate where we are. Take it easy, Professor Lan, everywhere we’ll be going has been checked and surveyed. There is no danger.”
Now Lan Jue understood. Originally he thought they’d be staying in a hotel. However, looking again at the goods in his arms, a hotel was not what was in store for them.
A single-person tent, a sleeping bag, a kettle, knife, telescope and MRE. Among a few other things, this was his basic survival kit. A walkabout. This certainly caught his interest.
A soldier in camouflage attire had been the one to give them their gear. He wore a squad leader badge on his shoulder. He looked to be in his thirties. He addressed this with a loud voice. “You have all now arrived at Planet Taihua. Please ensure you adhere to the planet’s laws and regulations. In your kits, you’ve been given a heating unit. However, it does not employ an open fire. ANY use of fire in these forests is strictly prohibited. Also, teachers from the National Eastern University, please do not stray too far from the campsite. In a moment, we ask you to come and register your personal communicators with us. In this way, if you are in any danger we will be able to get to you promptly. We will also input our campsite’s coordinates. So long as you ensure you are back here within five days, everything will go smoothly.”
“If you’re able, you are permitted to hunt and consume any wild animals you come across on Taihua. But do refrain from indiscriminate killing. Only kill what you’re going to eat.”
Hunting, too? Interesting indeed. Must be a special characteristic of Taihua.
Wu Junyi lent his own voice to the announcement. “Ok. Next, groups. When we’re done, the groups are free to go their own way. The MREs you’re carrying are enough to sustain you for five days, but if you’re looking for wilder fare you’ll have to rely on your own abilities. There are no toxic critters in the tour zone, so feel free to munch on whatever you can catch. However, they aren’t going to lay down for you. Some animals are aggressive. When you’re out there, keep an eye out and be careful. If any of you feel like the things that were given to you aren’t enough, you’re free to head to the lodge window and buy some more. Alright, let’s split you all up.”
Lan Jue looked at the window the teaching director had indicated. He wandered over for a look. The woman manning the place looked like any normal young girl. Spying the tall and handsome Lan Jue approaching, she smiled sweetly.
“What are you looking for?”
“Do you have flavoring?”
“Yup, we offer all sorts. It looks like this isn’t your first foray in to the wilds. You’ve got some experience!” She smiled pleasantly, praising her newest customer.
Lan Jue looked over the inventory. Inwardly he was pleasantly surprised with the stock. As she said, they had pretty much anything he could want. But the prices… at least five times what you’d find on Skyfire. And as he just learned, Taihua didn’t allow any food from the outside. The rations they were given weren’t cheap either, about all the university could afford.
He stuffed his purchases in to his back and headed back. Returning to the fray, he came across Jin Yan, an odd look in her eyes.
“What is it, Professor Jin? Are the groups set?”
She nodded, and replied in quiet tones. “Professor Tan was chosen as our group leader.”
“Ah? That savage lady?” Lan Jue was taken aback, and his volume was a smidge higher than he’d have liked. A few of the nearby teachers looked his way.
“Am I savage, or are you just garbage?” That hateful, familiar voice called out to him.
Lan Jue looked helplessly towards Tan Lingyun as she approached. Lan Jue attempted to recover. “What I meant –“
She cut him off with a disdainful sniff. “A waste of height and space. I hope you don’t hold us up.”
Lan Jue had nothing to say, and could only shrug his shoulders. The ghost of a smile cracked on Jin Yan’s face.
Tan Lingyun moved to the side and began to organize her things. She smacked in to her shoulder in her passage.
Wu Junyi beamed a smile. “What is it, Professor Lan? Do you agree with your group assignment? Professor Tan is quite the looker, eh? 3”
Lan Jue smiled as well, but his was a forced one. “Deliberate, I suspect?”
Wu Junyi chuckled knowingly. “In fact she’s a good woman. It’s just that temper of hers. That little matter from before was really unfortunate. So, I decided to put you two together. I’m hoping this trip will help you two reconcile your differences. I’ve got a lot of faith in you, Professor! Every class of yours has more students than the one before. You’re developing a very good reputation. I’m working in your corner at the university, and if you keep up these numbers you’ll be a syndicated teacher in no time.”
“Thank you very much.” Once more, there wasn’t anything Lan Jue could say. Things were as they were, and complaining about it wasn’t going to do any good. Anyway, it was vacation. So long as he didn’t provoke that psychotic woman, everything would be fine.
His group was more than just he and Professor Tan, of course. It also boasted Jin Yan, Wu Hongyuan, and four others. Two men and two women. The two other gentlemen were also, like them, electives teachers. The two women were mecha instructors. Four each, men and women. But, considering the addition of Professor Tan, the group was decidedly tilted in the ladies’ favor. Judging by looks alone, it certainly didn’t appear that the two male electives teachers were powerhouses.
It wasn’t long after they finished orientating their communicators that Tan Lingyun started showing her leadership prowess. She shouted for her team to gather together.
Lan Jue was already there, beside Jin Yan. Still, he was trying his best to remain on the outskirts of their little expeditionary team.
“It’s still early, and I’m sure you all had a good rest on the ship. Our goal is to get ten ‘k’ in to the forest and pitch camp. We’ll rest for a bit afterward, then start looking for food. Any questions?” Her words entreated dialogue, but her tone didn’t. Her sharp eyes pierced the gathered men specifically.
In trepidation of the Savage Goddess’ reputation, the men of the group nearly tripped over each other to express their agreement with her plan. Lan Jue also nodded his approval. The other ladies were just as quick to acquiesce. It appeared as though the women as the mecha department were on good terms with Professor Tan. They’ve been at her side the whole time.
“Alright, then let’s get going!” Tan Lingyun waved them onward, walking at the head of the pack. She made a direct line for the edge of the forest.
Jin Yan and Lan Jue took up the rear. As they followed, Lan Jue leaned in and spoke quietly to his fellow teacher. “Is this really supposed to be a vacation? It seems more like a military expedition!”
Jin Yan’s laugh was low and constrained. “Professor Tan teaches mecha combat. She’d reputed to be an Emperor-Class pilot herself. She treats all her students like soldiers, so I guess it’s a habit.”
As expected, there were no paths or trails in the ancient forest. It was no problem, however, as the one who led them used her machete to make quick and violent work of any limb or vine that dared impede her path. Their forward progress wasn’t hindered in the least. She was loud, coarse, and violent, but she’d chosen the most grueling task for herself.
Lan Jue followed along at a leisurely pace – after all, how fast could they go through a forest as dense as this?
This forest was considerably different from other indigenous forests Lan Jue had visited. For a start, there were far fewer insects than he’d expected. In large forests there were sure to be clouds of flying insects, but not here. The air was clean, fresh. The surrounding flora were enormous, towering towards the canopy, even the bushes. They did need to cut a path to follow, but in the end it wasn’t too much trouble to do so.
The deeper they traveled in to the forests, the heavier the air became with fresh oxygen. With each breath Lan Jue was recovering from his injuries. He felt pretty good, all things considered.
After about two kilometers in to their trek, the discrepancies in the different teachers began to show. Professor Tan remained in front, full of vigor and vivaciousness. Behind her, the two other mecha instructors continued in similar fashion. The lack in physical preparedness of the electives teachers was becoming quite clear.
Jin Yan was already out of breath, while Lan Jue and Wang Hongyun were in better shape. The two other teachers in their department were already drenched in sweat, their breaths ragged. Were it not for that overriding fear of their group leader, the fellas would have cried for a rest long ago.
Fresh air is becoming a very large criteria for a nice place, considering the poor air quality they suffer in China. ↩
He read the chapter title. ↩