Potential triggers for THIS CHAPTER:
Suicide, (Mention of) Sexual assault and Cannibalism
T97 mentions this is an experimental work. Read @ your own risk.
If any of the above are landmines for you, please stop reading now.
The barrage of comments on Liu Chen’s live broadcast channel kept refreshing, with various question marks and exclamation marks appearing in turns. They popped up like mushrooms on the network platform, falling over themselves to break through the screen and squeeze their way onto Chen Xiulian.
[Is this for real?]
[Liu Chen will really stoop to new lows to grab attention!]
[Should be a gimmick.]
[Four people??? Didn’t the news say three?]
“Enlarge the screen.” Yan Junxun said to Jiang Lian.
Jiang Lian dragged the screen bigger. Behind him, Piao Lin watched for a moment and said before Chen Xiulian spoke up again, “She’s on the rooftop of a building near the old water tower in the old district.” He pointed to a blurred vertical shadow behind Chen Xiulian. “The Inspection Bureau has been thinking of tearing down this tower after the war. I saw it in a report before. It’s about twenty minutes drive away from us.”
“Drive over.” Jiang Lian made a new call. “Attention, all! Approach the water tower in the old district.”
Chen Xiulian did not look to be in good shape mentally. Yan Junxun thought. She was thinking of doing something she would not regret.
Chen Xiulian raised her hand to the camera, pointed to the distance, and said, “My hometown is in a small rural district near Tingbo District. Before the war, the Inspection Bureau said my hometown would be incorporated into Tingbo District, but it hasn’t happened yet.” Her bangs stuck to her wound. Looking as if she was going to tell everyone something that made her proud, she continued, “My daughter, Qinqin, attended the school affiliated with the steel plant. She did well in school, and the teacher would praise her every day. She scored full marks quite a few times.”
[Told you it’s a gimmick by Liu Chen! It’s not the first time he’s done something like this.]
Damn, I thought there would be a breakthrough, but that’s all there is to it? What the heck?!]
[Liu Chen, you are so dead.]
Chen Xiulian’s voice turned small, having been drowned out by the rain. No one heard her pride. People did not spend their precious minutes coming in here to hear her talk about her daughter. Her built-up happiness died with the topic. She looked like she was going to cry, but she didn’t.
“The first person I killed was called He Zhiguo, a rapist. Before the war, he came to work in our factory. He wanted to date me, but I refused, so he raped me.” Chen Xiulian raised her voice and tilted her head up some so that everyone could get a clear look at her appearance. “I ended up marrying him.”
[??? What’s with this melodramatic turn of events?]
[Sick, sick, sick!]
[He raped you, and you still married him? You that cheap?!]
“I’m not sick.” Chen Xiulian forced a smile and tried her best to organize her words for the camera. “I’m not sick. I’m very normal. Really.”
Chen Xiulian did not think she was mentally ill. She wasn’t. The one who was sick was He Zhiguo. She killed He Zhiguo because she had already hit the end of her forbearance. She held out no more hope. But she felt very clear-headed from start to end. Her desire to kill He Zhiguo had stretched far longer than a mere few days. She simply did what she wanted to do.
“It wasn’t by choice that I married him, just like it wasn’t my choice to be raped by him. I told…” Chen Xiulian thought about all those faces in the past, but she could not remember who they were—there were simply too many of them. “I told many people before that I hope He Zhiguo will be punished by the Alliance. I wrote letters to the Inspection Bureau, and I also made calls to them, but each time, He Zhiguo put a stop to it.”
Chen Xiulian stopped at this point. She raised her hands to unbutton her coat. There was a body-hugging tank-top underneath. She took off her jacket, her pants, even her shoes and socks, and stood before countless people wearing just that top.
“He was always hitting me.” Chen Xiulian pointed to her thigh, which had a scar that would never fade. And then there were her arms too, which were decorated with burn marks all over. “For each letter I wrote, he would beat me once. He said he didn’t break the law; the Alliance allowed him to do so. I watched Liu Chen’s news. He said rape is against the law, and so is domestic violence. Then why didn’t the Inspection Bureau arrest him?”
Chen Xiulian looked at the camera without a trace of shyness, as if this exposed body was someone else’s. She wiped the rainwater from her face and said, “I called the Inspection Bureau during the war. They were busy participating in the war and told me to wait.” Her throat was dry and hoarse, and her expression grew increasingly indignant. “Do you know how long I waited? I waited year after year! Who’s coming to arrest He Zhiguo? Who? No one!” There was nowhere to put her arms midair, so she waved them around as though she were trying to shake off the shackles. “He Zhiguo, that bastard! Garbage! Piece of shit! He crashed the car with my daughter in it and killed her. Why isn’t he dead yet? Scums deserve to die!”
Torrential rain poured down upon Chen Xiulian, like clubs raining blows on her, battering her until she bent over and lowered her head, brutalizing her until she was beyond recognition. She pointed at the camera, at Jiang Lian and everyone else behind the camera, and vented it all out.
Jiang Lian’s communicator suddenly started ringing. The operation team approaching the residential building near the water tower said, “The target is holding a hostage on the rooftop. The spotter said that the hostage is tied to the railing. There is a possibility of falling any time.”
“The target is emotionally unstable. Do not charge over rashly.” Jiang Lian said. “First, disperse the residents near the old building and activate the equipment to break falls. Pay close attention to the direction in which the target moves.”
[She’s quite pitiful. The Inspection Bureau is useless, both before and after the war.]
[She’s so worked up it feels a little like an act.]
[Inspection Bureau, Jiang Lian, come out and say a word. Has the profiler arrived yet? They didn’t even deduce this? Is Black Panther trash too?]
[Told you everyone in Black Panther is all war maniacs. They won’t empathize with the common people.]
[What exactly is she planning?]
Shi Shanyan passed the stage in his game. He looked at Jiang Lian’s screen amidst the commotion with an ambivalent expression. He had always been calm in this case, so calm that it was as if he was merely a spectator watching a battle. Other than his interest in Yan Junxun, he displayed no other emotional fluctuations. He rarely thought about the whys, because most of the time, “why” merely questioned established facts.
Chen Xiulian was not erupting. She had already detonated a long time ago.
“I killed four people, and I did it on purpose.” Chen Xiulian held her arms high, her dazed eyes seemingly devoid of life as she described her thought process, “After I killed He Zhiguo, he was still talking, and that scared me. You guys understand, right? A dead man speaking in your ears again… that’s how horror shows go. He was still cursing me, clamoring to kill me. I was frightened to death, so I took him apart and put him into the pot. And ate him.”
The stiff corners of her lips drooped. She began to look perplexed.
“But it was of no use. He’s still around. He would cuss at me until I woke up. He’s really in my ear all the time. I actually regret it very much. In the past, there was no way he could bother me when I was working, but now, he’s always in my ears. He’s probably spying on me.” Chen Xiulian’s gaze shifted and drifted away for a moment. “He is spying on me. He even showed me his collection of news, which was all written by Liu Chen. They were rather well-written. I could understand it. Those people he wrote about were all rapists. But I couldn’t figure out why these rapists were released after being caught and imprisoned?” Having memorized those news, she could recite them with familiarity. “Li Jianhua raped his colleague, and the woman jumped off a building, yet he bought a house in the district. They were just the same as He Zhiguo. They didn’t think they did anything wrong. And then there’s that Liu Xincheng too. He wrote screwed her good on the wall at the entrance of his house. So many of those coming and going saw it, but no one cared to do a thing about it.”
At this point, Chen Xiulian’s mood became irritable again. She spat at the ground.
“Beasts. Those who would do this are all He Zhiguo. I understand them. I know what they are thinking. If I don’t do anything, they will keep coming for me.” She stormed on the ground. “They will come for me! When He Zhiguo was in the pot, he told me he wanted revenge. I know he has a clone somewhere. Liu Xincheng, Li Jianhua is all him! They are still coming to rape me and beat me up. I have to kill them first!”
Chen Xiulian’s chest heaved. At this point, she suddenly bowed down. But that did not seem to be enough, as she kept pressing her body even lower.
“But Huo Qingjun. Mr. Huo.” Chen Xiulian choked with sobs as she looked at the camera with bloodshot eyes. “I’m sorry, Mr. Huo. I deserve death for my sins. I’m willing to accept punishment from the Alliance. I killed Mr. Huo. I killed Mr. Huo!” She raised her hand and slapped her own cheek hard. “I’m so sorry, Mr. Huo!” The rainwater on her face was like trickling tears dripping off her chin. Her words were incoherent. “I originally meant to kill He Zhiguo. Mr. Huo told me he didn’t commit sexual assault. I didn’t believe him.” She pulled at her hair in agony. Her voice turned shrill, as if it was clogged up in her throat. “Why didn’t I believe him… He Zhiguo also told me he didn’t commit sexual assault. I heard this phrase so many times that I couldn’t tell the difference!”
The rain blurred Chen Xiulian’s eyes. She gasped for breath.
Right. That was right. She could not tell the difference. In this man-eating jungle, just a few words from the others, and she would be duped. All those terms Liu Chen used instigated her. The very moment she saw Huo Qingjun, she had already declared him guilty. She had placed too much trust in those reports.
Chen Xiulian did not dare to think about it. She did not want to. But she always ended up thinking about it. If Huo Qingjun did not die and managed to reverse his verdict, would he have been able to return to his wife’s side? What despaired Chen Xiulian was the fact that she could not remember Huo Qingjun’s expression before his death. All she could remember was Huo Qingjun’s expression when he handed her that family photo of his.
Chen Xiulian tried to cover her mouth, but the wail still escaped. She gained courage from the act of killing He Zhiguo, but in the end, it all shattered to pieces because of Huo Qingjun. She lifted Liu Chen by his collar and pressed him towards the railing, losing control as she shouted in the rain, “Apologize! Apologize to Mr. Huo!”
Liu Chen slammed into the railing, knocking his head bloody. He shrieked, “Sorry, sorry! Mr. Huo… Please let me off!”
The rust on the railing rubbed against both of their wounds. Liu Chen heard a “crack”, and the railing shook. He could not get a clear look ahead, but he knew falling down meant certain death.
“Stop pressing. Don’t!” Liu Chen wailed. “I apologize!”
“The equipment to break falls has already been activated. The team to charge the rooftop is in position.” The operation squad announced loudly into the communicator.
“Move.” Jiang Lian answered.
“I won’t hit you, and I won’t hurt you either.” Chen Xiulian smelled blood and heard the sounds of footsteps as the metal door broke open. She wiped away the rainwater on her face with her unclean hand and bent over to whisper in Liu Chen’s ear, “I don’t want to… I don’t want to hurt the innocent. Your sins don’t deserve death. I’m the one who deserves to die.”
“Don’t jump.” He Zhiguo materialized in Chen Xiulian’s mind again and said in a panic, “Don’t fucking jump! I don’t want to die.”
Chen Xiulian’s face was drenched in rainwater as she faced the front and burst out laughing. “You bastard! I couldn’t run away before, and then I gave up. But now, you and I can forget about running. Since Heaven wants to bind us together, then I’ll perish together with you. I’ve been wanting to die with you for a fucking long time.”
Then, she crashed through the railing and jumped, staking everything on this one move. The rain poured. Liu Chen was so frightened that he burst out crying. Chen Xiulian could not be bothered with anything else. In the last moment, she thought,
Violence is my worst fear.
Yan Junxun closed his eyes and heard a “thud”.