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.
Yan Junxun hoped that Shi Shanyan could sniff out crucial scents as the police dogs could, but Shi Shanyan showed no interest in cooperating. He scrutinized those photos as if he were at a photography exhibition, ready to do an impromptu valuation any time now.
Most of the photos taken by Liu Xincheng were photos of his sexual assault victim in 2156. Unlike the photos cut out from newspapers on the urinal wall, these photos were clearer. They documented the suffering of his victim from various angles. In the corner, there were also some blurry photos of the victim taken from the back, which should have been secretly snapped by Liu Xincheng after he was released from prison.
Yan Junxun noticed that the transparent adhesive tapes used to stick the photos had already yellowed. There was dust accumulated in the crevices and even spider webs in the corners.
“He was pleased with himself over this matter.” Shi Shanyan pushed aside the window curtains with his fingers. “He showed off this badge of his to everyone who entered his territory.”
Yan Junxun bent over and stared at these photos.
Shi Shanyan leaned down as well and asked, “What comes to your mind?”
“The murderer has been here.” Yan Junxun spoke very slowly when he was thinking. He broke down all the information he had acquired as if he was doing problems. “The murderer’s presence is strong here.”
What felt the most off in this room was that it did not seem like the place Liu Xincheng lived in at all. He seemed to possess only this window and toilet in the entire room. The floor was spotless, as was the stove. Even the trash bag in the trash can had been taken away. This showed that the murderer had been very careful in removing his traces, and yet he did not touch the bathroom and windows.
Yan Junxun straightened up and said, “I want to see all the rooms.”
◈ ◈ ◈
The environment of the Puli neighborhood was much better than the Huihe neighborhood. Although the buildings were equally outmoded, it was not as rundown on the whole. The arrangement of the buildings was neat and orderly. In order to look more futuristic, they decided to use glass to embellish the external walls during its construction. So the residential property cost in this neighborhood was relatively high. At the entrance of the neighborhood were rows of commodity shops. There were no parking lots specially designated for the neighborhood, so it was not appropriate for Yan Junxun to park his car there. It was only after he circled an entire street that he finally found a parking space.
“I thought you would observe the photos.” Shi Shanyan said before getting out of the car.
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“What I need is the atmosphere,” Yan Junxun looked at him. “Coexisting in the same room with a pervert helps me think.”
“Impressive.” Shi Shanyan opened the door and smiled suddenly at Yan Junxun. “I’m talking about a pervert like me.”
Yan Junxun and the pervert entered the neighborhood. The living environment here was even better than Yan Junxun’s. There were brightly-colored tree lawns on both sides of the sidewalk, although they were all digital projections.
Victim no. 2 Li Jianhua lived at building no. 8. Even the floor he chose to live on was the eighth.1
The elevator was a little old, and it let out a slight rattling noise when it rose. When the doors opened, the first thing that came into view was a brand-new mountain bike leaning beside the door. There was also a pair of washed old sneakers hanging from its horizontal crossbar. On the left was the exit passageway. When Shi Shanyan stepped out of the elevator, he saw that the exit passageway door was open.
Yan Junxun input the door password and saw the state of the interior under the gentle sound of “welcome home”.
Li Jianhua was 45 years old this year. In the year 2151, he was a train conductor of the old railway in the Tingbo District. He was sentenced to seven years in prison for repeatedly sexually assaulting a female conductress on the same railway route. After he was released from prison, he moved to Puli neighborhood and insisted on living off his parents. In the past few years, he even had bad records of stalking and committing indecent acts.
“Daddy.” The voice of the indoor system was very young. “The indoor thermostat has been turned on for you. I hope you have a pleasant time back home.”
Li Jianhua’s indoor system was a previous generation system used by the Tingbo Penitentiary. It was good at detecting humans’ moods, but the extent to which it could self-adjust was limited. Only its voice and tone could be changed, and it had no virtual projection function. The core function of it was to completely obey its master’s orders.
The curtains in Li Jianhua’s home were drawn too, but the windows were open. There was the scent of freshener indoors. A lucky cat was displayed on the coffee table in front of the sofa, and the corners of the tablecloth were all neatly aligned. The bedroom door was open, and the bed was neatly made as well. All the storage boxes were in their proper place.
Fifteen years ago, news of the sexual assault reported that Li Jianhua had a sexual addiction. His parents had attempted to help him correct this problem as early as his teenage years. However, at that time, Tingbo District was pushing for treatments with anti-hormone drugs, such as using a large amount of diethylstilbestrol2 to reduce libido. Prolonged use would result in the inability to ejaculate. This kind of method was now known as chemical castration. As such, his parents chose to seek help from a psychologist, hoping to resolve Li Jianhua’s issue through psychological treatments. However, it did not produce the desired effect.
Before that sexual assault case fifteen years ago, Li Jianhua had repeatedly molested the passengers on the old railway and masturbated to sexually harass his sexual assault victim. He seemed unable to control his behavior. When he was not living alone, he even had to rely on his parents to wash his feet.
“Daddy.” The indoor system automatically lit up the screen. “The video update has been completed, and the stereo is being prepared for you…”
“Call off the system automation.” Yan Junxun looked back from the bedroom door. “Shut down the illegal videos.”
The indoor system went silent for two seconds, then switched to a female voice, “Alright, Daddy.”
As soon as the words were uttered, the screen vanished. The entire room dimmed, and the air conditioner and various electrical appliances were switched off.
“The sexual assault news in Tingbo District is committed when it comes to divulging both parties’ personal information,” Shi Shanyan tapped on the fish tank at the side of the bar counter with a bent finger. That spot would light up at the slightest touch. “There are photos of the sexual assault victim in Li Jianhua’s video library.”
The screen had lit up for all of three seconds. Li Jianhua’s video library was jam-packed with news photos of the sexual assault victim. Her name had practically flashed across, but Shi Shanyan still saw it. Such visual memory and information capture and retention ability were extremely rare in Black Panther.
“There is a reporter who has a good nose for this kind of news and likes to fill pages with many photos.” Yan Junxun sniffed the smell in the bedroom. “He has recently turned his attention to the murder cases.”
“Have you ever been photographed?”
“No,” Yan Junxun found the indoor temperature a little high. It was so hot that he unscrewed the bottle cap again. “The nameless detective doesn’t have a face.” Before drinking the water, he looked at Shi Shanyan. “Please protect yourself.”
“I like to be in the news.” The colored light of the fish tank deepened the shadows on the bridge of Shi Shanyan’s nose. He looked at the goldfishes swimming around. “Being targeted by snipers makes me even happier.”
Yan Junxun drank a mouthful of water and said, “Oh.”
◈ ◈ ◈
The circumstances surrounding Li Jianhua’s disappearance was similar to Liu Xincheng. From the evening of April 17th, his gang of disreputable friends had been unable to contact him. It was not until a week later when the property management found the drainage ditch in Puli neighborhood blocked that they found several pieces of him. His house was now in the ownership of his father living in a nursing home.
Li Jianhua was unemployed. After his release from prison, he lived on his parents’ pension. He was unable to take care of himself in his daily living. Like Liu Xincheng, he would never take the initiative to clean up the house. Men were all animals with a personality. As long as he lived here every day, he would leave behind plenty of his personal traces. But Yan Junxun could not find any individual traces belonging to Li Jianhua in this room. This place was so clean it was like a model room. Even the floor was so bright that it reflected light.
It was as if “Li Jianhua” had been erased clean.
Yan Junxun felt that the murderer had been to this room too. But unlike Liu Xincheng, he did not miss any corner in Li Jianhua’s room. The murderer liked the environment here and even fixed it up according to his own preferences.
“The murderer wasn’t afraid at all.” Yan Junxun looked at the fish tank. “He came to feed the fish before.”
“Man will always have a few friends,” Shi Shanyan stopped playing with the fish tank lights and said. “Even grown-up babies.”3
“If your buddies can remember your fishes,” Yan Junxiu said mercilessly, “… they won’t let you get stuck in the gutter for a week.”
Yan Junxun was very bothered about the door locks. Whether it was at Liu Xincheng’s or Li Jianhua’s houses, their door locks were all intact.
Yan Junxun pushed aside the curtains and looked out from the window to come face to face with the glass of another building on the opposite. The afterglow of dusk reflected on it gave off a brilliant light. The neighborhood property management had done a good job of trying their best to maintain the vibrancy of the old blocks of buildings. Even the dust on the glass had been promptly cleaned. They looked even brighter and clearer than the screens on the street. The floors of each building were lined up in a straight line. There were even street lights at night. No one would be able to come in through the window.
“The murderer walked in.” Dazzled by the lights, Yan Junxun frowned and said. “He has the key and password.”
◈ ◈ ◈
When both men came out of Li Jianhua’s house, they happened to come across the married couple next door who had just returned home from work. The couple swept a glance over, then nodded politely to Yan Junxun.
The man asked, “Going down?”
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“Thanks.” Yan Junxun was carrying the empty bottle in his hand. “To the car park.”
The man helped Yan Junxun press the button for the elevator. His eyes involuntarily moved towards Shi Shanyan’s restraint locks.
Shi Shanyan raised both hands, and the restraint locks slid down to his sturdy forearms. He said to the man, “It’s a toy. Pretty realistic, right?”
“Oh.” The man did not know how to respond and merely smiled in embarrassment as he nodded his head.
Shi Shanyan pulled his arms apart, and the magnetic stripes between the restraint locks sounded the alarm. Electric currents immediately jolted him a few times to forbid him from continuing pulling. He said regretfully, “I wouldn’t recommend you guys to play with this.”
Yan Junxun had already strode into the elevator. He held on to the black hair hanging before his forehead with one hand to block part of his eyes, and grabbed Shi Shanyan’s forearm with the other hand to drag him into the elevator.
“Sharing is happiness,” Shi Shanyan stood beside Yan Junxun and waved his hand at the man. “Bye.”
The elevator doors shut with a chime, and the elevator began its descent.
Shi Shanyan tilted his body towards Yan Junxun and sincerely asked, “Do you have any fetish?”
- 8 is an auspicious number in Chinese culture. The pronunciation for 八 is ba, which sounds similar to the word 发 or fa, which is to prosper.
- 乙烯雌酚 Diethylstilbestrol. The first reported hormonal manipulation attempt to reduce pathological sexual behavior occurred in 1944, when diethylstilbestrol was prescribed to lower testosterone levels. The use of hormonal drugs to reduce sexual violence recidivism is known as chemical castration.
- 巨婴 giant baby or grown-up baby, i.e., physically grown up but mentally immature people.