“I’m squatting!” Su Heting put his hands behind his head—a standard posture. “Move your gun away and talk.”
The faucet was still on. The patrol officer’s life monitor was blaring its head off, but no one paid it any attention.
“Shut up!” With his gun held up, the Monk brushed aside the fragments of shattered glass on the ground with his foot and closed in towards Su Heting. “Stop wagging that big tail of yours!”
“I can’t help it.” Su Heting dropped his tail. A second later, it stuck up again. “I really can’t fucking help it—”
The Monk smashed Su Heting’s face hard with the butt of his gun.
Su Heting licked away the blood in his mouth as the Monk handcuffed him with a sensor lock.
This kind of sensor lock consisted of only two slender rings around his wrists, but they were specifically designed for the Hybrids. Not only could it instantly electrocute a captured target if he resisted, but it could also send positioning data of the captured target to the Armed Squad.
“Get up!” The Monk yanked Su Heting up and reported into his in-ear communicator, “The Hybrid involved in the incident in Apartment #189 has already been arrested. I’ll have him sent to the penitentiary in five minutes.”
Fuck your penitentiary.
Su Heting passed by the half-dead patrol officer and kicked him. The patrol officer’s life monitor fell out, and Su Heting stomped on it with one foot, crushing it.
“Don’t you people retrieve trash?” Su Heting kicked away the now-worthless life monitor. “These few—”
The sensor lock suddenly electrocuted him, knocking him out even before he could finish his sentence.
◈ ◈ ◈
Su Heting woke up in his chair with a sore neck.
“Hey.” His overly long black hair obscured his eyes. “Stinky old man.”
It was pitch black all around—this was a sealed room.
“Stinky old man.” Su Heting repeated it, more clearly this time.
“How rude.” A lighter clicked in a corner of the room. A silver-haired female chief,1 who had one leg over the other, began to smoke a cigarette. “There’s no stinky old man here.”
Su Heting leaned forward and asked across the chasm of darkness between them. “Who are you?”
“Who do you care who I am?” The Chief flicked her cigarette ash to the ground, revealing four or five silver bracelets on her wrist. “You can even treat me as your mother.”
Su Heting raised his head. There were still traces of having been hit with the butt of a gun on his face. He still looked like a juvenile delinquent of eighteen or nineteen of age, distrustful of everything and everyone in the world.
“You…” The Chief smoked very fast, as if she was in a rush for time. “… assaulted the patrol officer, didn’t you? According to the Punisher of Heaven’s rules, you’ll have to be locked up in the penitentiary for a full three months.”
“Cut that crap.” Su Heting said. “I wasn’t the one who made the first move.”
“Who cares?” The Chief looked at Su Heting as if she was looking at her silly son. “Who cares if a few patrol officers lost a bet on the match and took it out on the player? Who cares if you were held down on the billiard table and beaten up? Brat, no one gives a damn.”
Such were the lowly circumstances of the Hybrids.
“You still have a match next week. If you can’t play, you have to shell out hundreds of thousands as damages for breach of contract, but you only have a few thousand dollars in your account balance. How very pitiful.” The Chief stubbed out her cigarette. “So, I’m giving you two choices. Either you behave yourself and stay in the penitentiary, or you can do us a little favor.”
The virtual display screen lit up with Su Heting’s data on it.
[Name: Su Heting.]
[A member of the Old World’s military, “Black Panther”; code-named “7-006”. Participated in the biochip experiment in the Old World’s Guanggui District. Was controlled by the Supreme God System on Doomsday. Subsequently detained in the Punishment Zone. Made his escape from the Punishment Zone during the Great Explosion in the Year 04 of the New World.]
“I’ve seen your matches. Your combat style is literally that of a ‘Black Panther’. The Great Explosion destroyed your right eye and vestibular system, but it was a blessing in disguise, and the implant modification surgery allowed you to evolve. You know we have been at war with the Supreme God System. Those motherfucking systems are still continuing to conduct biochips experiments in Guanggui District. We are worried they will develop a new breed of humans as weapons. Thus, we decided to kill off the Supreme God System first.” The Chief dropped the cigarette butt at her feet and clasped her hands together as she stared at Su Heting. “This is an easy favor to fulfill, right? Sonny?”
“Yeah, as easy as one plus one.” Su Heting leaned back in his chair. “I chose to go to the penitentiary.”
“What penitentiary?” The Chief said. “There’s no such option.”
“This isn’t assassination of a human being.” One of Su Heting’s cat ears drooped. “The other party is an intelligent system, and there are more than one. They do not have a sphere of activity in reality, and they like to keep to certain chips or data boxes from which they issue commands. I probably won’t even be able to find them, let alone blow them up.”
“I won’t permit you to belittle yourself.” The Chief comforted him emotionlessly. “Nor will I allow you to underestimate us.”
The virtual display screen folded to turn into a miniature stereoscopic projection of the city.
“Familiar with it?” The Chief said. “The so-called Punishment Zone is actually cyberspace controlled by the Supreme God System. It’s like mental opium that is forcibly injected into the brains of those prisoners from Guanggui District through the brain-computer interfaces and biochips. It’s one of the ways the Supreme God System domesticates human beings. I need you to go back to the Punishment Zone and kill them there.”
“I can’t do it.” Su Heting rejected bluntly, showing no interest in the mission. “They are objects I can’t kill.”
“Who says so?” The Chief suddenly smiles. “Of course an intelligent system will die. We’re just short of a delete button. Stop acting already, lad. You think I don’t know about the ‘Goddess of the Hunt’?”
Su Heting felt his hair stand on end when he saw the Chief ’s smile.
“The various gods all obey the commands of Zeus; only Artemis, the Goddess of the Hunt, was particularly rebellious. It was the first evolved intelligent system in this world, one that assisted the Old World’s military, ‘Black Panther’, in activating a Time-Limited Hunt experiment.”
Su Heting began to feel dizzy.
“Immediately after that, the Goddess of the Hunt was written off. To the systems, it was a death of sorts. But it left behind a more perfect evolutionary system, ‘Jue’.” The Chief’s figure swirled in Su Heting’s eyes. “According to my latest information, Jue’s degree of perfection far exceeds that of the Supreme God System. And it is still hidden in the Punishment Zone.”
The room also began to spin in Su Heting’s eyes. The Chief’s voice grew more and more distant.
“We have to get our hands on Jue. It’s that delete key.”
Su Heting started to struggle in his chair. “Fuck—!”
It was then he realized he was in cyberspace—he had never woken up in reality after getting electrocuted and knocked out by the sensor lock.
The sealed room was like a gift box that had been unwrapped as its four walls collapsed during the spinning. In an instant, the surrounding noise engulfed Su Heting, and the stench of the sewage ditch on rainy days overwhelmed his nasal cavity. Chinese, English, Japanese… Countless languages were simultaneously broadcasted and translated in his mind.
“Welcome to the Punishment Zone.”
“Please fill in your identification number.”
“The length of the trial experience is five hours. Please pay attention to the status of your physical health at all times to avoid sudden death by excitement.”
“Welcome to the Punishment Zone.”
◈ ◈ ◈
- Same worldview as Time-Limited Hunt.
- Okay to read this novel as a standalone.
- Setting: Cyberspace in the New World. Explanations will come later.
- Not multiverse-crossing.
- Read as you will and if it pleases you to. If it’s not your cup of tea and you find it hard to continue, then don’t force yourself to. Follow the updates at your own risk.
Thank you for reading. ＝w＝
Credit: Thank you Gress for spotting the typos! <333333