Chapter 28:

The Ebb Tide IX - "With a Capital W"

Destiny Marine

“Atomic weaponry,” General Stockham repeated at the end of the next day. After an overnighter in the Fore River marine barracks, Isaac and Reed took a train back up to Narragansett and arrived at the Elizabeth Pond naval cultivator base the next afternoon. Stockham saw them at once, with Babs joining the meeting as well.

In the hospital yesterday, Reed gave Isaac a crash course on said atomic weaponry. Isaac already had the basic knowledge everyone possessed - after the Unleashing sundered the earth five hundred years ago, man himself sundered it further by unleashing their atomic arsenals. As far as Isaac knew, that meant super-duper big bombs. Reed explained some of the science behind it, but without any of her usual cockiness - atomic bombs were serious business. According to her, everything in the world was made up of these tiny things called atoms. If an atom gets split, it unleashes a huge amount of energy, enough to flatten entire cities. In the five hundred year history of cultivation, only the powerful trio of cultivators known as The Three Hurricanes were powerful enough to match these weapons, and only one was still alive today. Before the Unleashing, the nations of the world possessed thousands of these atomic weapons.

A single bomb being able to do something like that felt unrealistic to Isaac, but considering he lived in a world of psychic powers, he supposed it might actually be true.

“Unfortunately, the art of atomic warfare was lost to man following the Unleashing,” Stockham informed the trio. “The nations of today have thrown their resources into cultivation development, but considering how slow the progress has been, it doesn’t surprise me that research into the atom has begun again.”

“So…the Zhanghai were smuggling one of these atomic bombs into Arcadia?” Babs asked, trying to follow along.

Cigar smoke drifted above Stockham. “We’re on the right track here, but let’s look at the facts. Our original theory was correct - the Melusine was docked in Tanja, loaded with grain, then stopped in the Zhanghai treaty port to pick up the smuggled pills. There, the crate bearing the atomic symbol was also loaded onto the ship. That would explain why an entire team of trained cultivators was also on board that ship to serve as its crew - that’s too much money and force to spend on a simple shipment of illegal cultivation pills. There had been something more - the atomic crate. However…”

Stockham leaned back in his chair. “I don’t believe an atomic bomb was inside that crate. I suspect no country has achieved the ability to build atomic bombs yet, otherwise we would’ve seen them flung around already. And if it was a bomb, then I suspect there would’ve been even more security on board - entire armed battalions, perhaps, rather than a mere band of cultivators.”

Based on the theatricality of Stockham’s explanation, Isaac had his own suspicion - that Stockham enjoyed being the smartest one in the room. He seemingly loved explaining matters that seemed trivial to him to people like Isaac, who had only learned long division the other day.

Another ring of smoke drifted upwards. “Here’s my theory. Rather than an atomic bomb, atomic material was on board that ship. The only people in Zhanghai who would have access to atomic material would be their government and the qiyejituans - the megacorporations closely allied to the government. Either working or tandem, or as a renegade faction, someone related to Zhanghai directed atomic material to be pulled away from their bomb program and smuggled into Arcadia. For what purpose, I’m not sure. But I doubt this is the first time, nor the last.”

“Panama and Jackson were working with the Restorationists,” Isaac recalled. “Could the Zhanghai be giving the Restorationists the material needed to build a bomb?”

“Building a bomb is too time-consuming and resource-intensive for a mere revolutionary group,” Stockham answered. “But you’re onto something with this link. The origins and leadership of the Restorationists are still shrouded in mystery. Perhaps, rather than building a bomb, they are using the atomic material for a cultivation-related purpose.”

Isaac didn’t understand. Babs nudged Reed awake.

Stockham continued. “The common explanation for the Unleashing is that a solar flare struck the surface of our planet - close to us, right in eastern Elysia, actually - that flipped our magnetic poles and caused all sorts of mayhem, including the genetic mutation that produced the Rddhi and enabled some to cultivate it. But for the actual wars that followed the Unleashing - when all those weapons were launched and dropped, sending our species back to the age where we relied on stone tools - we have lost all our knowledge of it beyond a vague understanding that it happened. But since then, we’ve clawed our way back, but who’s to say cultivation isn’t, in some part, related to the energy unleashed by the atomic warfare fought by our ancestors?”

Isaac frowned. He was growing tired over all the discussion of whether or not cultivators still retained their humanity, if they were even considered human in the first place.

Babs had to nudge Reed awake again.

The snubbing of the cigar indicated the conversation had neared its end. “In any case,” the Generals said, “Questions like that are for my own sources to answer. You three have done both the Navy and myself a huge service. And something like that entails a reward.”

Dollar signs flashed in Reed’s eyes, but Stockham looked at Isaac and Babs first. “Starting tomorrow, you two will both have access to the Navy’s archives. With the knowledge there, you’ll be able to train new techniques and further progress your cultivation.”

The two grinned at each other and high-fived. Stockham’s eyes then settled on Reed. “Since you already have an archive pass, I decided on a reward that suits your interests.”

Reed’s eyes widened as Stockham handed over several slips of paper. Excitement steadily rose in her voice as she read through them. “Fifteen percent off at Calvin’s Corner Sub Shop…fifteen percent off at Hajsinki’s Diner…twenty percent off at the Reuben Emporium and a weekend pass to the downtown movie hall!”

“They’re only for a limited time, so don’t dawdle with them,” Stockham suggested kindly.

Reed gave a crisp salute. Isaac and Babs matched her.

With that, the three departed the general's office and arrived on the main road of the base under the night sky. The air was starting to get colder, but Squad 3 paid it no mind. Babs noticed the content looks on both Reed’s and Isaac’s faces.

“Oh? What’s this?” she asked, egging both of them on. “Did something happen while you two were left alone at the marine barracks yesterday?”

That just brought forth two smiles.


Yesterday, when the two were left alone at the marine barracks.

Derry had given both Isaac and Reed cultivator pills labeled June Meadow. Unfortunately, these were Navy-approved and didn’t come with the fun side effects of the Saint Grass pills, but they were also more effective. Within moments of taking it, Isaac felt Rddhi course through his body, and he got to work on cultivating it. As he cultivated, he could feel the little scrapes and bruises and wounds start to heal themselves. Isaac had his work cut out for him; Reed, on the other hand, would need around two weeks to fully recover her missing organs and fingers.

She didn’t seem too concerned over it. Well, she did look deep in thought, but it turned out to be about something else entirely.

“Say, Isaac,” Reed began. “Remember how Panama was talking about wants and dreams and all that jazz?” When Isaac nodded, she continued. “What do you want? What’s your dream?”

After keeping the knowledge all to himself, after entering a brand new world, after surviving life-and-death struggles with someone, Isaac finally felt comfortable enough to finally speak the truth. He told her about his brother’s death, the forced disappearance of Kassandra, the State Police involvement, and most crucially, the surviving page from his brother's journal.

“I guess it’s two-fold,” Isaac concluded. “I want to follow the trail he left behind, and hopefully it’ll lead me somewhere that would help change this country for the better. No secret police and no dictatorship. A country where evil actions can be dealt with without needing to use these fists. It's funny, though - before this mission, even though I knew both the foot soldiers of the Restorationists and I fought for own senses of justice, I thought mine was stronger. Just because it was mine.”

He tightened his fist. "But after listening to Panama, I understand now. Panama smuggled drugs. I fight for the military. We're both doing what needs to be done to achieve our goals. But because I chose this path, I met some nice people along the way who I don't want to lose. That's why I'll keep fighting, even if my opponents are people who also think they're on the side of justice."

Isaac expected Reed to make fun of him, but she just nodded thoughtfully. “That sounds like you. I always took you for a dreamer. But as for me…I’ve mentioned this before. I have individual wants, you know - I want to eat sandwiches, I want to hang out with you and Babs, I want to make movies - but I don’t have a big want. A Want, if you will, with an uppercase W. Maybe I don’t need a Want, but I feel like I just drift through life and pretend to be this cool character when, at the end of the day, I’m just me. Maybe a Want would help find out who I really am.”

Her eyes lit up and she used her good hand to tap on her temple. “That’s it. I do have a Want. There is some big thing I’m striving for.” Reed looked at him earnestly. He never realized her eyes were gray.

“I want to want.”

The room went quiet. That was the most genuine moment Isaac had ever shared with Reed. No big gestures or exaggerated arrogance - she was just a young woman trying to figure things out.

Isaac gave her a thumbs up. “Well, Squad 3 will be around to help you along the way.”

Reed smiled appreciatively. “That’d be real kick-ass, you know that?”


“Yes, we will be around to help you!” Babs declared the next day. After leaving Stockham’s office, the three ended up in Babs’ room where they caught her up to speed with their emotional developments. Babs placed her arms around both of their shoulders; Isaac didn’t mind and even though she hissed, Reed didn’t squirm away this time.

“Let’s keep working together and getting stronger!” Babs cheered. She withdrew her arms and opened her jacket. “And, to help with that-”

The interior of her coat was filled with a dozen Saint Grass pills. Isaac and Reed tilted their heads while she laughed. “I swiped them from the ship during our fight with Jackson! We need a little reward, don’t we?”

“Saint Grass pills,” Reed recognized. “I haven’t had one of these since grade school!”

A half hour later after they all took a few of them, Reed frowned. “These ain’t shit. Let’s just take all of them.”

After another twenty minutes, what felt like a freight train passed through the room, and all three remained immobile for the next four hours.


Isaac felt a spring in his step the next day. The three did do a little cultivation last night thanks to all the Saint Grass pills, though most of the time was spent laughing as Reed struggled to tell the same story for several hours. In the meantime, his wounds had mostly healed, he felt more confident about his path, and he felt like he had gone through the fire and emerged out the other side.

Stockham gave Squad 3 the day off to rest and recover, so after taking a long walk around the base with Babs and catching lunch with Reed, Isaac had the day to himself. He decided on checking out the archives tomorrow - he had something different in mind today.

The day of fighting had accelerated his progress to the next stage. Physically, he felt stronger in his movements, and mentally, his mind felt clearer. All the way back in that first day of class, Shokahu had a point about learning how to learn - all the different success, whether it be on the battlefield, in class, or on the training grounds - had culminated in a man ready to take his next steps.

For most of the day, Isaac was inside his room cultivating. The lessons and discoveries and new knowledge soaked into his body as inhales, while synthesizing that knowledge into the forward path came out as exhales. He explained it all to Reed, and visiting the archives tomorrow would start the next phase of his journey toward his goals. The fact that he could clearly articulate his thoughts to someone else indicated the level of reflection necessary to move to the next substage of cultivation.

In a flash, Isaac felt his dantian push against its boundaries. He saw a glimpse of the gears and pipes below the world’s surface that kept it all working together, but the vision disappeared from his memory as soon as it came. Ooze expunged itself from his body, pooling around his sitting position.

Despite the mess he would need to clean, Isaac grinned and stretched his back as the process completed.

Circuit 1C. The only way to go from here was up.