Chapter 31:

The Young Master III - "A Question of Humanity"

Destiny Marine

Humans and cultivators. Were they one and the same? As the days and nights of training went on, Isaac found his thoughts returning to the question every time he cultivated. He certainly considered himself human, yet the world didn’t seem to share his thoughts.

The impoverished and the revolutionaries answered that question with a resounding no. Cultivators were former humans who had since lost their humanity once they began their psychic-powered journey. They had become less than human. The wealthy families like the Reeds and Cartwrights also seemed to give that same answer, except with the opposite reasoning - cultivation allowed them to be something more than human. Cultivators were the betters of humans.

Which was it? Superior, inferior, or the same? Isaac certainly felt human, and had a life like any other. He lost loved ones, enjoyed the companionship of his friends, and had dreams and aspirations. He could get annoyed, he loved movies, he could feel frustrated and homesick. He could smile and enjoy the fresh air. And yet - he could light up with red energy and throw superpowered fists. The vast majority of the world couldn’t do that.

Was the answer biological? The science said cultivation was made possible by a mutation that appeared in certain humans following the Unleashing. To be able to cultivate, a person had to have that mutation. So wouldn’t they be mutants from birth? Why did the stigma against cultivators only arise once a person had unlocked it? As long as a person didn’t cultivate, he would still be considered human.

Each night, Isaac furthered the channel stretching from his meridian to the palm of his right hand. The process was slow-going, with every ethical dilemma throwing a roadblock up against his progress. Each night, the channel only moved incrementally, which only increased the frustration and Isaac’s struggle with his answer.

Fortunately, his progress in making friends with his fellow midshipmen had only picked up in the past few days. They trained together, ate lunch together, and now that their wages came in, they could do something with their money together.

After a light day of Saturday training and lunch at the mess hall, the group of cadets set off for the depot where they could purchase cultivation supplies. Babs walked with her hands behind her head, her steps punctuated by the regular popping of her bubblegum. A particular big pop indicated she had reached an answer to Isaac’s dilemma.

“No doubt I’m human,” she confirmed. “But we’re our own group of humans. Not because we can sling fireballs at each other, but because cultivation lets us think clearer and gives us access to paths other people don’t usually have. We’re like…philosophers, except with kung fu powers.”

Isaac nodded along, since he had only moved beyond a third-grade level of education thanks to being a cultivator and the educational resources it gave him. And, looking at some of the northerners and westerners here, most of them didn’t even have that level of education upon their arrival.

“That’s why we need to use our cultivation for good,” Babs surmised, raising a finger. “Because we know more than others, we can’t just rest on our laurels. We have to go out there and accomplish change ourselves.”

The usual three - Demetrius, Lynn, and Oksana - also walked alongside them. The big man’s voice boomed as they passed by rows of warehouses. “You fight for change? I fight for the fight itself. I read cultivation dime novels - in those fantasy worlds, men are able to fight cultivation beasts. A shame our world doesn’t have that.”

He pointed a meaty finger at Isaac. “And as for your question, my friend, I am most certainly human.” With a grunt, he flexed his shirt off; his companions stared dumbfounded as cloth tatters fell to the ground and he bared his wide chest. “Have you ever met a man as built as myself? A man of brick shithouse quality? I did not develop this physique overnight, nor did it arise from cultivation. Self-improvement is the most difficult journey of progress man can undertake, for man is both marble and the sculptor. Being well on my way in that process, I know that I am a man. I cannot speak for everybody, but I am certainly a man.”

“...okay,” Isaac answered.

Everybody looked expectantly at Lynn; she wiped the bit of drool off her mouth and collected herself. “Ahaha…I’m human?”

She phrased it more of a question, waiting for the others to answer for her. “That’s something you gotta answer yourself,” Babs reminded her with a wag of her finger.

Lynn brought her own fingers together and twiddled them. She reminded Isaac of a skittish deer. “Well…I’m not sure. I’ll be honest with everyone - I’m kind of just trying to survive right now. I was a maid with the Cartwright family, as well as a companion for Mackenzie. She practiced cultivation so much, and she sort of let me in as well. Before I could say no, I was kind of practicing with her, and my family really pushed me to become a cultivator so we wouldn’t have to be servants anymore. But I’m a soldier now, which is kind of cool, maybe, and…I don’t know. I don’t really want to be here, I’m pretty sure I’m going to die in our first mission out, and I’m running low on blue hair dye…”

Babs patted her on the back. “Well, maybe all those worries are what makes you human.”

Lynn coughed from the sudden contact, but then nodded. “Yeah…maybe worrying is the most human thing of all.”

The four then looked expectantly at their remaining companion. Oksana kept her vacant eyes on the power lines running over the warehouses. “I’m human.” Her snake hissed in confirmation.

They decided to take her word on it. The timing worked out as well, since they arrived at the depot. The setup reminded Isaac of a street stall selling food, with the quartermaster acting like the chef sitting behind his counter, except there was also an entire warehouse behind him as well. As Isaac looked over a list of products for ideas, the rest of the group already seemed to know what they wanted.

“One June Meadow pill,” Oksana ordered.

“One shirt,” Demetrius ordered.

“Ahaha…my family wants me to send my money back to them, so I can’t really afford anything…”

“One May Flower for me, and one for Lynn!” Babs ordered.

That just left Isaac. According to the product list, June Meadow pills were good for overall recovery and advancing to the next stage of cultivation. May Flower pills were ideal for creating meridian channels and cultivating Arts.

“Babs, aren’t you trying to reach 1C?” he asked. “Why’d you get a May Flower, then?”

His friend put an arm around Lynn, who yelped in surprise. “I got money, and Lynn doesn’t have money, so is it right for me to do nothing? I’m telling you, Isaac - when you’re in a better position than somebody, you can’t just sit idly and do nothing. You gotta help ‘em.”

Lynn waved her trembling hands. “It’s alright. I’m just happy to be here…except not really, you know…”

“Then I’ll get you next time,” Isaac offered.

Demetrius beat his chest. “Same here.”

Oksana’s snake licked Lynn’s face.

As for Isaac himself, he turned and faced the counter. “Two May Flower pills.”


With two May Flower pills, Isaac could simply use both of them for his meridian, or hopefully open it with just one and save the second one for when he learned the |Fists of Anji| Art. In an even more perfect world, Isaac would be able to open his meridian on his own accord and save both pills for the Fists. To get a leg up, Isaac went to the Archives after buying the pills to do more research. His friends went off on their own paths, with Babs in particular noting she would try and reach 1C by the end of the day.

Isaac didn’t mind being by himself. When it came to reading, he found that being by himself made it easier. Turns out the current season of autumn only existed because the planet had tilted away from the sun. That didn’t make any sense to Isaac, but right now, the Arcadian part of Empyrea had begun to angle away from the sun. Before he could get further entrapped by natural science, he brought himself back to his mission.

First thing - search for Jasiel Abderrahmane Njord. He pulled out a list of common ciphers from one of the library's shelves and got to work with a spare sheet of paper provided by the librarian. The most simple cipher was known as the caesar cipher (as to why it was named that, Isaac had no idea). It was simple enough - the general idea was shifting letters to the right by three. A became D, B became E, and so on. Therefore, Jasiel Abderrahmane Njord turned into Qhzpls Hiklyyhothul Uqvyk.

That wasn't very helpful. But the shift could be done by three or four or even fifteen. In fact, Isaac got up to fifteen before realizing his efforts were going nowhere. Whenever Greg sent him secret messages back in Patuxet (which was not very often, and just generally consisted of something he found attractive about Kassandra that day), he used a simple caesar cipher. Either the caesar cipher for this journal page wasn't simple, or it wasn't a caesar cipher at all. Lacking any clues, and with his brain starting to overheat, Isaac decided to work on his other theory - that he was dealing with a name, and an odd one at that.

Rather than aimlessly look for a name in the shelves, Isaac had the librarian bring up a list of cultivation authors that could be found in the archives for him. When the librarian returned, Isaac held the thick stack of papers in his hand and started flipping through. He started with Njord; Njord returned nothing. Same with Jasiel, same with Abderrahmane. He resisted the urge to ask the librarian - the phrase might've meant something worth reporting to the Naval Police. Instead, after looking through it again, he flipped the list closed and handed it back to the librarian with a mumbled ‘thanks’.

As he moved back toward the cultivation section, three possibilities entered his mind. Either, the Navy doesn’t have any books by him, the Navy does have books but are keeping them suppressed, or Greg left a further clue inside that name that I’m just not seeing.

With a heavy head, he picked out a guidebook for cultivation meridians. When he tried to read it, he found himself in a phase where, while he could read each line, his mind was somewhere else, making the words fall on deaf ears. Just when he was about to call it quits, a particular line stood out to him and shocked him back to his senses.

“Cultivating meridians,” it read, “Is very much like building a road. Oftentimes, the road comes across fields of obstacles, such as mountains and hills. The builder can choose to either blast his way through them, or divert the road until it finds a more suitable spot. The cultivation of meridians works in the same manner. However, be wary of the dangers of either option - the man who blasts might find himself ignoring other possibilities, while the man who diverts might find himself trying to always divert, even when the situation calls for blasting.”

Very much like Silk Road Jujitsu. Isaac put the book back, having found his answer.


As the night ended, Isaac sat in his room cross-legged. The two May Flower pills rested on his desk; he had other reason not to use them than pride. Since he started the process without them, he wanted to finish building the meridian channel without them as well.

He took a deep breath and took up the usual work, feeling the channel burrow closer and closer to his palm. The most difficult part had arrived - the channel now stretched up to his shoulder in an upward direction from the dantian, and now he had change course and send it downwards through the shoulder and into the arm. He could feel the progress stall, and that brought the dilemma back to his mind.

Am I human, or I am cultivator? I’m both. My answer is that cultivators are humans. I’m human. Mutation or no mutation, no matter how society views it, my answer is that I’m human. I have interests like Reed, goals like Babs, worries like Lynn, and I want to improve myself like Demetrius, and I…

It took him a few tries to come up with something for his last cultivator companion. I walk with my friends like Oksana.

Because I can feel and do all those things, I’m human. So are all my friends, so are Kieran and Mackenzie, so are Panama and Jackson. We’re all humans, physic powers or otherwise.

That got him through digging the meridian through most of the shoulder. However, he only arrived in the arm once the corollary to that revelation passed through his mind.

But that’s not the answer to that question. It’s just my answer. Everybody has their own answers. As long as different people exist, people will come up with different answers. The only way to really change this country is to understand why people are proposing those different answers. And perhaps that’ll help me find the answer, if this question even has none.

I only learned what a predicate was the other day. There’s no pressure on me to find the answer now. In fact, I know so little that believing I can know the answer would be irresponsible. All I can do now is to keep learning and growing.

The channel pushed down into his upper arm. Though he only got a half hour of sleep before morning reveille, he managed to reach the meridian of right hand palm. He sighed in relief once he could finally put the metaphysical shovel down.