Potential triggers for the entire novel:
Domestic abuse, sexual assault, suicide, nonconsensual sex (main cp).
T97 mentions this is an experimental work. Read @ your own risk.
If any of the above are landmines for you, please stop reading now.
Restlessness and anxiety pervaded among the crowd. Public transports that were managed by on-board systems had all come to a stop, and students who were stuck on the platforms unable to get home were all grumbling. Many people on the streets were holding up their communicator in an attempt to get a signal amidst the chaos.
It was a windless night. Everyone all had their vehicles’ windows opened. Drivers who were caught in a jam en route kept sounding their honks. A short-tempered person leaned out of his vehicle’s window and yelled ahead, “Is everyone dead in front? Move it!”
A driver in front squeezed out of his window and yelled back, “Are you blind? The green light isn’t on!”
Both of them were preparing to fight it out across the distance when a sports car suddenly emerged from the other end. Before the drivers could retract their bodies, that car zoomed past like an arrow. A strong gust of wind trailed in its path, blowing dust onto everyone’s faces. By the time the drivers realized what was happening and could cuss at it, there were already no traces left of the car.
The speedometer in the car was spinning, and the landscapes flying past on both sides were reduced to a mere blur of shadows. Yan Junxun often challenged the limits of this car, but he had never been in the passenger seat before!
“Warning, speeding in progress. Warning, speeding—”
Yan Junxun had a bad feeling and reached out to grab the seat belt. The next second, the car drifted, and the hanging car accessory struck the windshield. Yan Junxun felt like he was also about to slam into the car door. He looked out of the window after they rounded the corner—the scene was still a blur.
Shi Shanyan drove steadily on the straight road that followed the bend. He even had the leisure to ask Yan Junxun, “Have you watched the anime, Initial D?”
This fellow really likes to chat regardless of the occasion!
“Yeah.” Yan Junxun clenched his seat belt and said through gritted teeth. “The manga!”
Shi Shanyan whistled in celebration. There was only one way in which he would express his mood, especially when it came to delight.
The exhaust system roared noisily from the speed, while headlights streaked past like shooting stars in the night. The timer on the communicator ticked down, its slight beeping sound urging Yan Junxun on at the same time it made his heart race.
The car entered a dangerous section of the road. The surrounding sirens, shrieks, and sounds of arguments all came assailing towards them, deafening Yan Junxun’s ears. The street light went on and off, making the vehicles on the road look like roving fishes hiding among the black reefs eyeing their prey.
Yan Junxun clenched on tight to his seat belt and watched as a cab brushed past them.
Shi Shanyan’s turning of the steering wheel was timely, with a kind of effortless precision in his predictive judgment. It was in this long-awaited freedom that he smiled, not feeling the danger at all.
The systems had all gone down at present, and “closed to traffic” signs had already gone up on the roads. After a few minutes of chaos, the private vehicles all tried their best to move to both sides of the roads in order to avoid starting a traffic accident.
“My signal is pretty bad now.” An uncle yelled back at his wife over the communicator. “It’s really the signal that’s bad!”
Before he could finish his sentence, he saw a sports car hurtling past from the side. He immediately shrank his neck back. Following right after, he heard a massive “bang” as the other party crashed through the “closed to traffic” sign and continued on its way amidst the dust it kicked up in its path.
Twenty minutes was long enough for an adrenaline rush to kick in. Shi Shanyan shifted gears and sped up, as if he was going to take Yan Junxun and crashed their way out of this perplexing dream. If he so much made a misstep at this moment, the game would immediately end for both of them, and they would perish together.
The position marker for the lunatic suddenly moved.
“He went down to the parking lot.” Su Heting was not paying close attention to what both of them were doing. He only wanted to be an emotionless broadcast machine. “You’d best stop him at the entrance.”
The rat flashed on the map. Its movements were swift, and it didn’t take it long to get downstairs. This area was full of commercial buildings, and the parking lot tunnels were all circular in design. Shi Shanyan decisively drove the car into the tunnel and charged right for the underground parking lot under the successive shrieks of skidding tires.
Yan Junxun had the feeling that it was a wall in front of the windshield. He had to grasp on tight to the seat belt so that he would not have the illusion of being flung out. The body of the car just had to tilt a little, and it would scrape against the surface of this wall.
“He’s driving this way.” Su Heting raised his voice. “You are about to see him soon. Are you happy?!”
Yan Junxun could not hear what Su Heting was saying at all. The sports car broke through the darkness, and the rear of the car arced across the spacious ground, causing him to slam hard into the back of the seat as the brakes were applied. Only then did this exciting journey in a race against time come to a temporary halt.
Shi Shanyan looked ahead. The headlights of the car opposite them were shining upon their windshield. He lit up the headlights as well and aimed it at the other party too. Now that everyone was dazzling each other with the glare of the light, no one could get a clear look at each other.
The sports car came to a stop, but the engine was not turned off, thereby reducing the aggressive roar into the low hum of an engine on standby. The “beep beep” sound of the timer was particularly conspicuous at this moment, like a high-heeled shoe hidden among the stampede of horses stomping sharply on everyone’s eardrums.
The lunatic’s car was an Obsidian third-generation car. It was a relatively new model in Tingbo District. The onboard system of this car model was pretty accommodating, and it could be set up with a higher degree of freedom compared to certain indoor systems in Tingbo District. The lunatic must have valued this car very much; he had wiped it so clean that the front of the car was polished enough to reflect light.
Both parties faced off each other from inside their cars. The shadow of the sports cars trailed behind, like cheetahs poised to strike.
“Hello—” The lunatic used the oldest voice amplifier model to greet Yan Junxun and Shi Shanyan. He drummed his fingers on the top of the steering wheel and tapped his toes intermittently on the open ground. He said, “You guys are really fast.”
Yan Junxun turned his head a little and attempted in vain to get a full look at the lunatic’s face through the blinding headlights.
The voice amplifier was probably recycled from waste materials. It worked on and off, causing the lunatic’s voice to break up into strange, intermittent sounds as though it had been ripped apart.
“Yan Junxun, you saw it too. These people don’t care about us at all, and yet you still fucking want to work for them.” The lunatic’s behavior was different from how he behaved over the call. He was no longer as irascible; instead, he possessed some intriguing kind of composure.
Yan Junxun relaxed his breathing.
“You must be thinking, ‘not us’.” The lunatic bit down on the tip of his tongue lightly and let loose another one of those laughs of his. “Don’t be silly. Don’t get your hopes up. In Fu Chenghui’s eyes, you are just like us. He has a hacker hiding in your indoor system to monitor you in silence, yet it seems as though you have been tamed to the point you don’t even resist.” At this point, the lunatic did not forget to greet Su Heting. He said in what sounded like a discussion tone, “Hello, hacker. Is your ability to override the Inspection Bureau’s master system to turn off area surveillance because of your outstanding capabilities, or because of Black Panther’s privileges? There’s no need to answer me; we all have the answer in our hearts.”
The number on the timer jumped to “11”. The leaping of the seconds was like a small steel ball that could not be caught. In the blink of an eye, it would bounce its way into oblivion.
The lunatic gripped the steering wheel with his hands. He said exaggeratedly, “You want to catch me, then try it.”
Shi Shanyan stepped on the clutch. The throttle burst into life, and the engine promptly revved into action. The sports car lay close to the ground and roared. In the very instant he put the car into gear, he charged forth.
The distance between the two sports cars narrowed rapidly. The lunatic immediately reversed the car and was slammed askew when he made a U-turn. The body of the car scraped against the pillar of the parking lot and broke off the parking fee system. The device automatically sounded the alarm. The red light was on for only a few seconds before it erupted into sparks.
The lunatic roared with laughter in his car as he slanted his car to make his way out, rolling over the speed bumps as he drove towards the other end of the tunnel. Shi Shanyan licked his canine tooth and chased after him.
The underground parking lot was wide and had an overall “回” design with many right-angle turns. The lunatic was not proficient in street racing and often scraped against the walls as he rounded the bends, causing a layer of paint on the door to come off.
“80 seconds to emerge from the tunnel.” Su Heting said. “Watch out for cars and pedestrians aboveground.”
As the lunatic came out of the tunnel, Shi Shanyan slammed into him. Once again, the battered door of his car scraped against the wall. But it was as if he was drunk-driving as he continued to drive with his car scraping against the wall. He forcibly squeezed his way out of the tunnel, crashing through the horizontal bar in front as he drove right towards the public square where the crowd was gathering.
“Tell Jiang Lian to disperse the crowd.” Yan Junxun yelled into the communicator. “He’s really a fucking lunatic!”
Yan Junxun had only just said that when the Inspection Bureau’s sirens to the side of the public square started blaring. Jiang Lian held up an old-fashioned loudspeaker he dug out from who-knows-where and shouted towards the square, “War-preparedness drill in progress. Everyone, please evacuate—!”
Tingbo District would conduct drills during the war. This was a mandatory course for residents a few years ago, and they would be tested on it as an admission test for higher education. The square was now surrounded by police sirens, and the electronic loudspeaker was so loud it was jarring on the ears. Members of the Inspection Bureau maintained order as the pedestrians evacuated.
The lunatic stepped on the accelerator. As he passed the peace statue in the center of the square, he stuck a hand out of the car window and shot at dove-shaped light in the palms of the peace statue.
The dove-shaped light promptly shattered all over. The pedestrians underneath could not dodge in time as the fragments rained down on them. Screams erupted all at once. After hearing the gunshot and explosion, the initially orderly crowd instantly plunged into confusion and panic.
The lunatic shouted and yelled into his voice amplifier like a maniac on a joyride in the car as he swerved around wildly. “This is a declaration of war. Tell Black Panther and Fu Chenghui to go to hell! The systems will eventually rule the world!”
The timer ticked down to “8”
Su Heting commented, “This dude—”
Before he could finish, the call was suddenly cut off. All the lights in the square were instantly turned on. It was not yet midnight, yet the fountain appeared along with the lights and splashed water all over the crowd that was already thrown into disarray. In an instant, panic engulfed all those present at the scene.
Jiang Lian, who was standing beside the car, was not spared either. Even his spectacles had been ripped away from him by the forceful spray of fountain water. He stood, half-drenched, unable to see ahead. There were screams everywhere around him. He said something, only to realize that the loudspeaker was spoiled.
The advertising screens all around the public square came on. The female star had not even come on camera when the scene cut over to a blurry basement.
“I was wronged—” Huo Qingjun’s voice reverberated among the clusters of buildings. The despair lodged in his throat caused the timbre of his voice to change, making him sound like a trapped beast staking everything on this one last-ditch attempt for his life. He smacked at the camera lens with his hand. The spectacles on his face had fallen off, and his hair was disheveled. Under the sound of the saw, he cried out, “I didn’t—”
The scene abruptly switched to a children’s cartoon.
“Fucker!” Su Heting called back in a towering rage. “He has outside help. Someone is attacking…”
The call cut off once again. The cartoon showing on the screen at the square lagged and flashed Huo Qingjun’s face every now and then.
“Activate Wartime Shield Mode.” Jue suddenly returned to normal and piped up beside Piao Lin’s ear. “Repeat. Request to activate the Wartime Shield Mode.” After a few seconds, Jue said, “Shield mode failed. Unable to keep out foreign intrusion. Re-requesting cooperation with 7-006 to deal with the emergency!”
The situation in the square had already descended into pandemonium. The lunatic was not just going around on a rampage with a gun; there was also something mentally wrong with him. Shi Shanyan had already caught up to the lunatic and was exerting pressure as he drove side by side with the latter to force him into a blind alley where no one was. All the scrapings and banging had dented the doors of both cars.
Yan Junxun unbuckled his seat belt and grabbed hold of the car door handle at the side.
“Bring it on.” The lunatic challenged Shi Shanyan. “Bang—”
He was midway through his words when Shi Shanyan slammed into him. There was a “bang” as the side-view mirror was wrecked. The lunatic lost control of the steering wheel, and the impact of the collision caused the front of the car to veer towards the flowerbed at the side. All its headlights shattered. He managed with some difficulty to brake the car, sending the trash can flying as the rear of the car swung around.
Shi Shanyan adjusted his direction and slammed into the side of the lunatic’s car before the lunatic could stabilize it. This time, the lunatic’s hat went flying out of the window. The doors of his car were so dented it seemed as though a steamroller had run over it. The system warnings blaring inside the car had already gone silent.
The engine of the lunatic’s car went dead for a brief moment. In the process of restarting it, he heard the door to the sports car open. He kicked the car hard, and the side door in the rear opened. The lunatic started up the car again. The rear door swung in the air, and Yan Junxun nearly got knocked over as the car accelerated. The lunatic let loose a torrent of abuse, “The hell…”
Yan Junxun reached out an arm from behind and clutched the lunatic by the throat, pinning him to the driver’s seat. The lunatic could not breathe freely. The car crashed backward towards Shi Shanyan, bending the car door that had not been closed all out of shape. The windows of both parties’ cars instantly shattered, and the spray of glass fragments cut Yan Junxun on the arms.
The lunatic drove with one hand and grabbed the gun with his other hand. He fired a shot toward the windshield. The Obsidian III windshield was purported to be bulletproof, and it did not break in this one shot; instead, the bullet ricocheted back in the car and struck the seat next to Yan Junxun’s shoulder. The door on the left side of the car was already damaged. The lunatic wanted to throw Yan Junxun out. The tires stayed close to the edge of the narrow road as he suddenly turned the car around and slammed on the brakes. Yan Junxun’s entire body was tossed to the left from the force of inertia.
The lunatic car swerved wildly. He could not move away the arm Yan Junxun was choking him with. He hissed out a laugh, “Yan Junxun… Yan Junxun!” He exclaimed, “I’m not the first, nor am I the last!”
The side of Yan Junxun’s face pressed up against the backrest of the driver’s seat. He finally got a clear look at the lunatic’s face in the rearview mirror inside the car. The lunatic had clown makeup done on his face, the contours of which resembled Yan Junxun’s.
“Hello.” The lunatic widened his eyes and greeted him excitedly. “Nice—to—meet—you—Yan—Jun—Xun!” He lifted his gun and tapped the muzzle at the underside of his right eye. “A pity I don’t have a tear mole. How I envy you. Artemis bestowed upon you an extraordinary brain, yet you used it to tumble around in the mud with the beasts. You are so boring, but it’s okay. I’m here to save you.”
The lunatic resembled Yan Junxun a lot. It was as if he had molded his own appearance in Yan Junxun’s likeness. His black hair hung over his eyes, covering them as they looked towards Shi Shanyan, who was driving side by side with him. He bared his teeth in a smile.
“He’s really so pretty!” The lunatic said, deranged. “A pretty baby who is severalfold luckier than the others. Don’t you think so?”
The Obsidian III had already gotten out of control. The lunatic let it swerve haphazardly all over like a headless chicken. He laughed out loud and released his grip on the steering wheel to grab hold of Yan Junxun.
There were only a little more than ten seconds left in the countdown.
“Look at yourself.” The lunatic raised the muzzle of his gun and pressed it against the center of his own brows as he said to Yan Junxun in the rearview mirror of the car. “This is your fate to come.”
Yan Junxun heard himself say.
The lunatic opened fire.
Yan Junxun could not see ahead clearly. That splatter of blood practically wetted his eyes. He heard the sound of the timer change into the ticking sound of a stopwatch before it eventually turned into the sound of pouring rain. He felt the heat on his face. He did not know if it was the paint on the lunatic’s face or the lunatic’s blood. The orderly train of thoughts in his mind derailed. It was as if he was back at that once empty square of his.
The timer emitted a “beep—” sound to signify the end of the countdown. The car crashed through the obstacles amid the jolts and bumps towards the imminent finale. Under the sounds of chaos and terror, the light screen on the commercial building suddenly erupted into an entire screen of virtual fireworks, bathing everyone in brilliant light as if a long-planned celebration had just concluded.
With the direction of the car unspecified, the car scraped against the low curb as it hurtled towards the shade awning at the corner. There were tables and chairs under the awning, as well as beer bottles arranged like bowling pins.
“Jump off the car!” Shi Shanyan’s shout snapped Yan Junxun back to his senses.
At the same time Yan Junxun retracted his arm, he took away the lunatic’s gun. At the moment right before the car crashed into the awning, he leaped off and rolled on the ground. The next second, the beer bottles under the awning shattered and splashed amber-colored beer all around. The car tires steamrolled over the broken glass bottles with some difficulty and continued plowing on ahead, taking tables and chairs along with it. There were still people on the sidewalk as well as in the cars parked to the side in front. Shi Shanyan turned the steering wheel and pushed the car towards the building wall at the side, holding it down as it crashed into the power line pole on the street corner.
The windshield of the Obsidian III was fine, but the front hood was badly dented. The entire car emitted a shriek of pain and came to a stop with smoke billowing out of it. Following right after, the sports car brushed past and hit the emergency brakes to come to a halt at the corner.
The virtual fireworks in the public square were still going off. Yan Junxun lay on the ground covered in glass fragments and gasped for breath. That last expression in the eyes of the lunatic lingered in his mind, haunting him. After a few moments, Yan Junxun propped himself up and pulled at this t-shirt to wipe away the blood on his face. He buried his face – covered in an indistinguishable mix of blood and sweat – in his t-shirt and cursed, “Bloody hell.”
◈ ◈ ◈
Two hours later, Yan Junxun sat down in the investigation room.
“The identity of the deceased is unknown.” Jue, knowing the severity of the problem, said, “We can’t find his personal data, and there are no records of his entry either. However, I will contact the other regional investigation systems to do a search.”
“You were too fast in your pursuit of him.” Piao Lin looked at Yan Junxun with an observant gaze. “You should have discussed it with us first.”
His tone was not quite reproachful, but it did not sound like he was making a suggestion either.
Jiang Lian’s communicator kept ringing. Even as he was dealing with the never-ending torrents of “greetings”, he still had to write a report for Fu Chenghui. In the end, he smashed the communicator in vexation.
“Can we find the murderer tonight? The video was played on the screen. Huo Qingjun cried injustice right before the eyes of a few thousand people.” Jiang Lian spread his hands out at them. “Look at how it turned out. We haven’t even found a trace of the murderer.”
Yan Junxun had just washed his head in the bathroom earlier, and he was now sitting in the chair covered with a towel from the Inspection Bureau. His clothes were filthy, and there was blood smeared everywhere.
“The case doesn’t look like an ordinary homicide now.” Piao Lin looked at his own notebook. “You can continue to ask the profiler. Maybe he will get a flash of insight that will enable him to close the case outright.”
“Piao Lin.” Jue dissuaded him in a gentle tone. “Don’t do this.”
“Did I say something I shouldn’t have?” Piao Lin looked up, “Sorry if I have offended you.”
“You can ask Cheng Lixin.” It had been a long time since Yan Junxun slept. He was well aware of Piao Lin’s feelings of resentment towards him. But he could not lose his temper; he was already in enough of a mess tonight.
“Ask him who the murderer is?” Piao Lin looked at Yan Junxun. “We have asked him a long time ago.”
“And his mother.” The water dripped off the tips of Yan Junxun’s hair onto his pants. “The victims’ information was all leaked on Yang Yu’s end. The murderer is the same as Cheng Lixin—they are both people his mum has frequent contact with. Her relative, friends…”
Yan Junxun did not feel like continuing. He could sense Piao Lin’s discontent.
“Jue is already looking into it.” Piao Lin withdrew his gaze. “We aren’t fools.”
The others weren’t fools. Was there a need for Yan Junxun to remind them time and again?
Yan Junxun kept silent until Piao Lin and the others left the investigation room. This room was fully visible from the outside. He knew that the members who were passing through back and forth were all looking at him. He was the rare specimen locked up in the glass jar.
Yan Junxun pulled down the towel, using the motions of wiping the water away to shield his face from view. He did not want himself to be so clear about what was going on outside the door.
“You unlocked Shi Shanyan’s restraints.” Jiang Lian tapped away on the keyboard. He was in a terrible fix as he worked out how to frame his report. “Junxun, I told you before never to unlock his restraints.”
Yan Junxun did not answer.
“You have to give me a clear and concise report. Tell me, tell Fu Chenghui, what happened here and what’s with that lunatic? There was a stampede tonight. Many people were injured, and the reactions of the masses are intensely heated. I still have to deal with the media. 7-006 have to be punished too. He overstepped his authority and messed up our procedures. If, and I mean, if. If he didn’t turn off—”
“Huo Qingjun wouldn’t have appeared?” Yan Junxun yanked off the towel. “You would put your trust in a sociopathic lunatic, but you want 7-006 to be punished?” He looked at Jiang Lian with deep, quiet eyes. “The plan 7-006 executed was the most optimal. Even if he did not shut down the regional systems, the lunatic would still beam Huo Qingjun onto the public screen. This was precisely the reason he came. He made a call to expose himself, all to set the stage for all of these. Do you truly feel that the master systems in Tingbo District can ward off the intrusion this time? Don’t be ridiculous. Even if the master system of Tingbo District is the third generation system developed from Artemis’s remaining data, it is still not Artemis, after all.”
Silence reigned in the investigation room. Awkwardness hung in the atmosphere between them.
“I can unlock Shi Shanyan’s restraints anytime, anywhere.” Yan Junxun clenched the towel and stood up, “We are partners.”
◈ ◈ ◈
Shi Shanyan sat in his chair, about to fall asleep. The light opposite shone on him. He said, “Turn it off. Don’t make me repeat myself twice.”
The inspector from Guangtong Prison turned off the light and sat opposite Shi Shanyan. He was just a projection of the inspector who had been called late at night to examine if Shi Shanyan was still normal or not.
“I was wondering what you did here.” The inspector yawned. “But it turns out you just took your new friend out for a street race.”
“Tell them I’m normal.” Shi Shanyan leaned against the back of the chair. “Let me out.”
“We have to go through procedures.” The inspector gestured for him to be patient, then rapped a bent finger on the report on the table and asked him as per customary, “Did you kill him?”
“No.” Shi Shanyan looked at him. “The wound assessment can prove that he committed suicide.”
“Well… yes.” The inspector skimmed through the report. “You were only in charge of driving.”
Shi Shanyan wanted to end this retarded interrogation as soon as possible. He was irritated, but his expression did not betray his feelings; he could even smile. “I just drive. My partner 7-001 is in charge of dealing with the main trouble. I’m just an underling here.” He twirled his lighter. “We were tracking down the murderer, not absconding from a crime.”
“Your mood is pretty average.” The inspector’s name was Xie Zhenshu. There was nothing special about him except for his looks. He was a long-term employee of the Guangtong Prison, chiefly serving as an inspector while concurrently holding the post of a prison warden. He cast a glance at Shi Shanyan and said, “Seems like 7-001 is not a bad partner; he put you on tenterhooks.”
“Our love is stronger than gold.” Shi Shanyan stopped twirling the lighter. “Tell Fu Chenghui that I feel a strong sense of fraternal love, and therefore I’m no longer a pervert.”
“I will report it as it is.” Xie Zhenshu took a pen and drew a few circles on the report. “How is your health lately?”
“Healthy.” Shi Shanyan turned his head aside and listened to the sound of footsteps in the corridor. He suddenly said, “… Can’t sleep well. The room they provided me is as crappy as the one in prison.”
“Is that so?” Xie Zhenshu continued to draw circles. He wasn’t too fond of smiling. “Still watching anime?”
“Yup.” Shi Shanyan propped his head up. “But lately, I feel like reading manga more.”
“If conditions permit, you may read.” Xie Zhenshu cast a casual glance at the time. One minute left. He paused for a moment, then said, “Need me to give you a few suggestions?”
Shi Shanyan said, “Nope.”
“Try to sleep early.” Xie Zhenshu answered himself. “You’re overtraining your index finger. Sleeping early will help you to regain your normalcy. Also, interact more with your partner.” As Xie Zhenshu spoke, he jabbed the pen back into position. Then he looked ahead and said in a businesslike manner, “Inspection time is over. Goodbye.”
The timing was precise—not a second more, not a second less. Without saying another word, and without needing Shi Shanyan to answer, Xie Zhenshu switched off the projection and disappeared from sight.
◈ ◈ ◈
Yan Junxun sat on a bench and drank beer, but he stopped after two sips. The beer reminded him of his experience tonight, especially the lunatic’s face.
“Excessive drinking is detrimental to health.” Shi Shanyan reached out from the back to pick up the beer in Yan Junxun’s hand and brought it to his nose for a sniff.
Without turning back, Yan Junxun said, “You can get Jiang Lian to change your dormitory.”
“What’s the difference?” Shi Shanyan sat down beside Yan Junxun and tossed the beer into the trash can. “All the rooms in the partitioned zone go to me. I still have to sleep with the system night after night.”
There were not many people on this floor. They had their backs to the screen in the hall, and they could see the glass windows before the corridor. The night sky outside the window was still and silent, with only a lone moon as a decoration.
“Have you ever slept with anyone?” Yan Junxun looked at Shi Shanyan, as if he was asking, “Are you hungry now?”
Shi Shanyan looked at him and threw another question back at him. “What do you think?”
Both of them reeked of sweat all over, and they seemed to be fellow sufferers in the same boat when they sat together, with no one disdaining the other. But Shi Shayan was strange. It seemed to be very rare for him to let others sense how much of a dire strait he was in—not unless he was willing; otherwise, he could be wearing tattered rags, and he could still make others think that he was merely “experiencing real life”.
“You have.” Yan Junxun said.
Shi Shanyan slightly turned his body sideways so that he could get a better look at Yan Junxun. He scratched his cheek with his index finger and asked, “Are you envious, or are you interested in giving it a try?”
Yan Junxun observed Shi Shanyan and said after a long while, “Yeah, right. You haven’t.”
“It’s too dangerous to discuss this matter with an adult.” The expression in Shi Shanyan’s eyes was non-aggressive. It was as if he had turned over a new leaf and was focused on being a good guy. “You need a hug more than you need to make love.”
Artemis would not hug Yan Junxun; only Panda would. But more often than not, Yan Junxun needed to be alone. When he crossed a certain age, he was the only one left in his world. Everyone else lived on the outside.
Shi Shanyan lifted his hand and placed it on top of Yan Junxun’s head, covering it. He moved closer and said, “You may desire another person’s warmth, but don’t get your hopes up too high, because the majority of the people are cold and callous, and they can ruin your fantasy.”
Shi Shanyan’s hand pressed down on Yan Junxun, making him shorter. Yan Junxun frowned and stared at Shi Shanyan.
“You look like a sheep walking around like this.” Shi Shanyan’s hand slid down. He gently nudged the corners of Yan Junxun’s mouth with both of his index fingers and said under his breath, “Making love is not as simple as it sounds.”
Shi Shanyan’s fingers forced a stiff smile out of Yan Junxun’s face. Yan Junxun turned his head to move his face away and to avoid Shi Shanyan’s touch. Shi Shanyan was just like the devil who was always carrying delicious candies around with him, trying to lead him astray.
Yan Junxun was unwilling to show his ignorance and make a fool of himself. He swept a glare over Shi Shanyan’s face and said, “I know.”
Shi Shanyan retracted his hand and asked, “So can we go now?”
“No.” Yan Junxun looked towards the stairway. “No one can explain why the deceased resembles me so much.”
Shi Shanyan answered, “He complimented you, said you’re pretty.”
Yan Junxun said, “To hell with pretty.”
“To hell with pretty huh…” Shi Shanyan laughed and put up his arm on the bench. He asked, “Is it okay to smoke around here?”
“No.” Yan Junxun swept a glance at the “smoking prohibited” sign a short distance away.
“Then give me a lollipop.” Shi Shanyan did not know how far he was pushing his luck. After getting the lollipop, he peeled the wrapper. “Tell me your thoughts.” He popped the lollipop into his mouth. “My guess is that they aren’t keen to communicate with you for the time being.”
“The ‘lunatic’ who died tonight was not that ‘lunatic’ in the recording.” Yan Junxun caught a whiff of the sweet aroma of lychee. He felt around his pants pocket, but came up empty. He could not help but look at Shi Shanyan. The one in Shi Shanyan’s mouth was the last stick.
Shi Shanyan took out the lollipop and asked in all seriousness, “Give back to you?”
“Nah.” Yan Junxun answered.
Shi Shanyan popped the lollipop back into his mouth and asked while biting down on it, “How did you find out that he wasn’t the ‘lunatic’ in the recording?”
“When he spoke to me over the communicator.” Yan Junxun leaned back and tilted his head up a little. The light above him was so bright that it made him dizzy. “He sounded edgier than the voice on the recording, and his choice of wordings was different too… and, he was very calm and at ease when he saw us in the parking lot.”
“Then you discovered he was not wearing a ring.” Shi Shanyan concluded. “How boring can that fool be?”
That was right. The “lunatic” tonight was not wearing a ring. When he grabbed Yan Junxun’s arm with his hand, Yan Junxun realized that there were no traces that he had ever worn a ring on his finger. He did not seem to be the mastermind; rather, he seemed more like a bomb that was thrown out to muddy the water, which he did successfully.
When the lunatic called, he had just taken his dinner. That should have been his last meal. He did not live in the commercial district at all. He made threatening gestures over the phone just so his location could be discovered. It had all came full circle, from the carefully selected murder victims to the chaos tonight.
“A public outcry will erupt tomorrow morning.” Yan Junxun felt fatigued amid this dizziness, “He mentioned Black Panther and Fu Chenghui in the public square, and he even said that the systems would rule the world.”
These were all triggers in Tingbo District. The crux was that he had even replicated Yan Junxun’s looks. This reminded Yan Junxun of the recent data exposure.
If Su Heting had not turned off the system monitoring in time tonight, the lunatic might have let that face show up on camera, and Yan Junxun would no longer be able to shake off the public’s accusations of him. Because once the three words – Black Panther, sociopath, and systems – were linked together, then even if Fu Chenghui and the Inspection Bureau could verify that the lunatic had nothing to do with Yan Junxun, it would still be treated as an excuse to fob off the masses. The fear of Black Panther and Fu Chenghui in the Alliance’s pending development zones was not something that could be changed in the short term, and the political image Fu Chenghui had always presented was not amicable and approachable enough. Yan Junxun was already aware that this case was beyond his jurisdiction at this stage.
Compared to Fu Chenghui, Yan Junxun was more bothered by those words the lunatic had shouted. He said, “I’m not the first, nor am I the last”. What did this mean? There might be a second, third, and more demented fellow like this one.
“He knows something about Artemis.” Yan Junxun closed his eyes and replayed the way the lunatic looked before he committed suicide. “He also knows something about me.”
Fakes. Sewage ditch. Display of histrionics.
The sound of rain echoed in Yan Junxun’s ears. These raining sounds had been appearing way too often lately, as if hinting him that he was losing control. He attempted to cover the sound of rain with the sound of writing on the blackboard, but the information in his brain was in such a jumble that they crushed Yan Junxun, making him incapable of dealing with his own emotions.
This is your fate to come.
The lunatic pressed the gun against his forehead and repeated it like a nightmare.
Yan Junxun, this is your fate to come.
A glass suddenly fell and shattered in the hall. Yan Junxun was initially in a bit of a mental fog, but the explosive sound in Yan Junxun’s ears instantly jolted him awake. The sudden shock stimulated him, causing his heart to pound hard and fast.
Shi Shanyan crunched down on the lollipop and looked towards the hall.
“What’s happened?” Jiang Lian walked out of the door and asked.
The video on the central screen amplified, and a familiar basement materialized.
“Why did you lie?” A hand wearing a rubber glove held down Liu Chen’s head so that he was facing the camera. It was a woman’s voice. “How can you lie on the news?”
“Ten minutes ago, this video spread out from Liu Chen’s chat room and was reposted by various accounts.” Jue said to Jiang Lian. “We need to take immediate action and stop the video from circulating further. We also have to find Liu Chen before she kills him.”
The scene was blurry; the effect was similar to Huo Qingjun’s video. Liu Cheng’s face was pressed up against the camera. He was just beginning to come to, and he was still in a daze.
“You people killed Huo Qingjun.” The woman lifted Liu Chen’s head high and aimed it at the camera. “You’re the worst. You. You and He Zhiguo.” Her inexplicable fury gushed forth in torrents. “You people ganged up to kill me, my daughter, and Huo Qingjun! You people are inhuman!”
The camera shook and fell to the ground, and the video came to an abrupt stop as if it had been trampled on.
Yan Junxun saw the shoes when the scene went still. The sneakers were old, not resistant to dirt, and pretty much unwashed. The size of the shoes exceeded the shoe size of the average woman; it looked more like a pair of shoes worn by men.
The steel balls in Yan Junxun’s mind tumbled all over the ground, colliding into one another, then linking up together to form a clear line of thinking.
He had been totally correct in his conjectures. It was this woman!
“Wake Cheng Lixin up.” Yan Junxun stood up. “He definitely knows this woman.”