The audience in the entire venue held their breath. Only the barrage of comments was still refreshing, wave after wave. Two seconds later, Su Heting automatically disconnected his brain-computer interface.
The world turned back into place, and cheers followed closely after.
“It’s over.” The emcee snapped back to his senses and gnawed his astonishment to pieces as he used a seasoned, professional tone to cheer for Su Heting. “The winner is king! Ladies and gentlemen, let us cheer Meowzai’s name. He is the champion tonight!”
The atmosphere at the venue was at a fever pitch. The camera chased after Su Heting, but he simply stood there without interacting with the audience, like a rock in a pot of boiling water, not even deigning to give a smile.
“Meowzai’s ranking is soaring. He’s number one on this month’s cumulative points scoreboard! Let’s take another look at his overall points ranking…”
The spotlight flashed in Su Heting’s eyes.
Look, my ass.
He pulled the hood of his sweater tight, so much that his face was about to be buried in it.
“He won, and yet he still looks like a sourpuss.” The Hermit was still immersed in the battle, so nervous was he that his heart was pounding hard. He let go of the sleeve he had been clenching and realized that his palms were wet. “I thought he was a goner.”
“Weren’t you pretty excited?” Jiali straightened up her body that the Hermit had yanked askew and scrutinized the close-up on the screen. “Why is he hiding his face?” Jiali rapped on her own display screen. “Brat, show your face. This is such a good publicity opportunity.”
Su Heting could not hear Jiali’s exasperated shouts outside the arena. His gaze wandered across the noisy arena before he caught sight of King Shen.
King Shen leaned back in his recliner, his heavy head lolling. The connecting wire at the back of his neck had yet to be unplugged, and he was still in the same sitting position as he had been before entering the match. He looked as if he had fallen asleep. The referee squatted down to check King Shen’s life monitor. A minute later, he officially announced King Shen’s death.
“Congratulations!” The manager squeezed his way out of the crowd and offered water to Su Heting as if he was presenting a treasure. He was beside himself with joy. “You won again! Beautiful win! You can relax and rest this month. All that’s left is to see where you’re placed in the overall points ranking.”
Su Heting’s interactions with the manager were limited to the matches. He was not concerned about the overall points ranking. Instead, he asked, “Does King Shen change his legs often?”
“He changes everything.” The manager was only all too eager to talk more to Su Heting at the moment, so he took the initiative to explain, “King Shen has solid financial backing, so he can modify his implants on a monthly basis. He changed his arms in the last match, and in the last, last match, he changed…”
“All of them implants?” Su Heting asked.
“Of course, they are implants.” The manager was puzzled. “Oh, do you mean to ask what modifications he has made to his body?”
What Su Heting wanted to ask about was that pair of legs.
Modification surgery started out as a service for people with disabilities.
As long as there was no problem with the human brain, it could transmit control commands to the limbs. That was the workings of a normal person. However, in the unfortunate event of a limb injury or damage to the nervous system that rendered one immobile, an implant was required. The implant would replace the injured part and communicate with the brain through a brain-machine interface, working together to return the person to normal. So a traditional implant could also be seen as a prosthetic limb of sorts.
Later, due to the involvement of artificial intelligence, the modification surgery of the New World veered towards an extreme, going from “making people normal” to “making limbs stronger”. It was, however, still a synchronization between the brain-computer interface and implant.
The bizarre thing about King Shen’s legs was that they were a pair of unmodified legs in the flesh. It was not an implant that could be reused as he pleased. It was not the same as a Hybrid.
“You told me to watch his legs.” Su Heting looked steadily at the manager. “Were you hinting to me that those legs are not his?”
The manager was dumbstruck. He hurriedly waved his hands. “I was trying to remind you that his lower body is very steady and not easy to attack. How can those legs not be his? At most, he’s just imitating Titan’s tattoos, right?”
Su Heting stuffed his hands into his pockets. The light in his eyes dimmed slightly.
Tattoos could be faked, but not the others. He was a hundred percent sure that those legs were Titan’s.
This was truly baffling.
So why in the world did Wei Zhixin give King Shen a pair of flesh legs? For intimidation?
◈ ◈ ◈
Su Heting would meet up with Jiali after every match and exchange information with her under the pretext of eating mushrooms. But it was inconvenient today, because the moment he walked out of the venue, he saw the Monk, all geared up and ready for him.
“Huh?” Su Heting flicked his tail unhappily. “Why are you still here?”
“I have to protect you.” Seeing as it was already dark, the Monk earnestly advised, as if he was a dean, “Maybe you should go home? Don’t play outside. You’re likely to end up in the incarceration facility if you wander around at night.”
Su Heting, “…”
“I’m going to have a meal,” he said.
“No need to go to that trouble.” The Monk got up and motioned for Su Heting to look toward the street.
An armored car for night patrol was parked there, along with a team of Armed Squad members.
The Monk’s words were laced with meaning. “The meal is all ready at home. We’re just waiting for you.”
On seeing the guns, Su Heting behaved himself and yielded, even taking the initiative to get into the car with an excellent attitude.
◈ ◈ ◈
The match was over, and so was the betting. Wei Zhixin’s name seemed to stand still as it was covered by a “KO”, which not only announced King Shen’s defeat, but also his own. But Wei Zhixin was not at all furious. On the contrary, he was satisfied with this result.
“This move is unusable in reality.” Wei Zhixin pressed pause and leaned forward to observe Su Heting carefully in the projection. “So it’s a firebolt.”
Su Heting in the picture just so happened to raise his hand and take aim at King Shen. The “X” in his right eye had just surfaced, and flames enveloped his finger.
Wei Zhixin subconsciously paid close attention. After a while, he smiled. “What a little rascal.”
This move was the same as King Shen’s physical enlargement. They could only be used in the virtual world and not in reality. Not unless Su Heting’s right hand was also an implant that concealed a gun barrel within.
In order to figure out the purpose of Su Heting’s modified eye, Wei Zhixin sacrificed King Shen. The outcome was passable; at the very least, he now knew that modified eye had a lock-on function.
He pressed play and let the projection roll again.
The wave of fire on the screen swept out, and Su Heting’s ears moved in the wind. The “X” in his right eye faded swiftly after the shot, as though it only existed for a few seconds.
Because of the constant replay, the “BOOM—” sound effect overran the living room. Wei Zhixin sat alone on the sofa, his figure enveloped by the projection. Every now and then, he would pause and say something, but no one in the living room answered.
The man with the steel blade sat cross-legged at the entrance, so quiet was he that he seemed as if he did not exist.
◈ ◈ ◈
Su Heting put on the sensor lock and sat back in this familiar place. As the lights ahead lit up, he raised his hand and asked, “Excuse me, but where’s my meal?”
The window swooshed open, and the Monk carried out a plate of sweet corn with fried mushrooms along with a bowl of soya bean rice and set them all before Su Heting.
“It was a big plate of chicken the last time,” Su Heting said.
“Last time was last time.” The Monk was solemn. “You didn’t say that you wanted to eat big plates of chicken every meal.”
Su Heting spooned out a scoop of soya bean rice onto the sweet corn with fried mushrooms and stirred them into a mess. The Monk thought he was protesting, but Su Heting said nothing.
“Here so early?” The door opened, and the Chief walked in with a tray in hand. She sat down opposite Su Heting and greeted the Monk, “Let’s eat together.”
“Is that all you guys eat?” Su Heting took big bites of his food. “I heard the Armed Squad has food allowance.”
“It’s only about ten bucks or so a day. You’d be lucky to be able to add even a piece of artificial meat.” The Chief said. “That was quite the impressive fight you put up in the match today. This modified eye sure is something.”
“For specific use in matches,” Su Heting finished up the rest of his meal in a few mouthfuls. “It can’t be used in reality.”
The power of that firebolt was fear-inspiring. The Chief suspected that Su Heting was not telling the truth. This lad was very cunning. All this time, he had never shown his trump card.
“So why didn’t you,” the Chief mimed a finger gun, “use this move to kill the Inspector the last time you were in the Punishment Zone?”
“To ease your burden.” Su Heting did not answer properly. “You can’t afford to pay $200,000 too, right? Big Sis.”
“Then I thank you for your consideration, sonny.” The Chief stared at Su Heting. “I still have yet to celebrate your making it to Wei Zhixin’s hit list.”
“How should I put it… I’m not afraid of Wei Zhixin.” Su Heting cleared away the bowls and chopsticks and locked eyes with the Chief. The wound at the corner of his lips was almost healed. He looked a little displeased as he smiled, “You people are the ones who are afraid of him.”
Only the interests of Punisher of Heaven had taken a hit due to this incident.
“If I die, no one can go into the Punishment Zone for you. If he dies, Wei Da will settle the scores with you,” Su Heting said. “Have you been tossing and turning at night these few days, thinking of a way to negotiate for peace?”
“We have a queue of Hybrids willing to enter the Punishment Zone for us.” The Chief’s expression remained unchanged as she said gently, “Don’t get too cocky.”
Su Heting inclined his head and indicated for the Chief to speak louder, “Huh—? Say what again?”
If there were really someone who could replace Su Heting, the Chief would never have gone to such lengths to get the Monk to protect him. Now that their secret was out, they were at the losing end facing up against Su Heting.
The Chief propped her chin with both hands, unmoved by Su Heting’s provocation. Today, she had tied up her hair in silver waves, and the sides of both cheeks were clean, highlighting the valiant spirit in her features. She was calm, as if she had been through countless provocations; her eyebrows did not even twitch once.
“We can talk it over,” she said. “One Wei Zhixin isn’t worth us fighting over. Look, I had the Monk follow you to keep you safe at all times. If you think that isn’t enough, I can assign more people. Son, the great undertaking of human liberation is counting on you. Why keep playing with silly kids like Wei Zhixin? Stay here and give me three days. I will make him stay away from you.”
The Chief looked attentively at Su Heting the whole time she was speaking. Her words were earnest, her tone was calm, and the expression in her eyes was steadfast. She was a master at hoodwinking people.
“Three days?” Su Heting asked.
“Three days.” The Chief answered in the affirmative.
“If he still keeps pestering me after three days,” Su Heting narrowed his modified eyes, “you can’t interfere with whatever I do.”
The Monk heard his murderous intent and made to say a word, but swallowed it back down.
He could not contradict the Chief’s words right on the spot; that would lower the intimidation effect the Chief had on Su Heting. However, he was well-acquainted with Wei Zhixin’s temperament.
This was a challenging task.
“Then what am I going to do these three days?” Su Heting straightened up and fantasized. “Sleep?”
“Do some post-meal exercises.” The Chief did not give him time to rest and directed his gaze to the bottom of the chair. “You can go to the Punishment Zone.”
Su Heting did not even need to move when the connection port at the bottom of the chair automatically revealed itself. Feeling like a tool, he expressionlessly let loose a “yay” and stuck his tail into the port.
“No text bombing,” he warned. “Don’t bother me.”
The scene before his eyes immediately blurred, and the damp sensation of rainy days came assaulting from his soles. Su Heting heard the sound of rain, of the never-ending rainstorm—
“Welcome to the Punishment Zone.”
“The length of this experience lasts twenty-four hours. Please pay attention to your physical health condition at all times to avoid sudden death by excitement.”
Su Heting reopened his eyes and found himself sitting on the bench at the intersection again. The rainstorm obscured some of his vision. Moving his neck, he gazed across him.
A man across the street was holding up an umbrella, revealing the icy arch of a chin. Su Heting did not make a sound, but the other man seemed to have sensed his online presence. Slowly, he raised the edge of the umbrella.
His cross stud earring glinted.
Su Heting thought.
Do I fucking need to say hello before I run?
◈ ◈ ◈