The car hurtled past the virtual figure of the commercial celebrity like a cannonball. It knocked off another railing with a “bang” and slid into a garden, marking its landing with a deafening crash.
Su Heting tugged at the seat belt as his head bumped into the roof of the car from violent jolts. If he had not been fast in letting his ears droop, he would have been seriously injured.
The car stalled when it slid into the rose bushes.
With his chest heaving, Su Heting exchanged glances with Xie Zhenshu.
After a while, he asked, “Are we there already?”
“Almost.” Xie Zhenshu pulled the door open. “I’d recommend walking for the rest of the way.”
◈ ◈ ◈
The biker on the viaduct got off his bike and stood by the railing to look down.
It was already dark now, and the buildings below were all cast with a blanket of commercial projections. The light pollution in the black market was particularly bad, and the night scene seemed to be like a children’s playground crowded with all kinds of three-dimensional projections, like a dazzling forest. It was as if the sports car had fallen into a kaleidoscope as it sped into this bustling area and instantly disappeared without a trace.
The vehicles on the viaduct were all stuck in a jam on the congested road, and a cacophony of voices rose at the back. The Armed Squad’s aircraft made a smooth landing, and several members leaped off to maintain order under the blaring of the sirens.
A member of the Armed Squad, with a gas mask, spotted the biker and sprinted towards him as he shouted, “Armed Squad. You there, squat down!”
The biker took off his helmet. However, he did not squat down. Instead, he walked over towards the Armed Squad with his hands raised as though he was surrendering without a fight.
“Don’t move!” The member of the Armed Squad was a young lad who did not dare to open fire arbitrarily. He merely issued a threat. “Stop right here! Or I’ll shoot—”
The biker slammed the helmet into the head of the lad from the Armed Squad. “Bleeding son of a bitch, really be getting in my way.”1
He spat at his feet, then picked up the dazed lad and thrust his face into the lad’s face. “Go on, shoot!” His eyes were red—it was a pair of modified eyes. He glared fixedly at the Armed Squad lad with these eyes, which resembled those of a venomous snake. “Call the Monk over right now and tell him that Viper is here waiting for him!”
◈ ◈ ◈
The garden was a fake.
All the gardens in the Anti-System Survival Zones were fake. Vegetables could not even be grown now, let alone flowers and plants. These were all phantom images the Black Market used to beautify the night scene.
Su Heting covered his head with the hood, jabbed his hands into the pocket of his sweatshirt, and followed after Xie Zhenshu.
They passed through the projections of roses and somersaulted over the railings to make their way onto the street to the right.
The street grounds were filthy, with pools of water everywhere. The buildings on both sides were very old, its age apparent even with the numerous light signs hanging around. Windows facing the street were all fully retrofitted with steel bars, as if they were sealed coffins.
“Puss.” A few Hybrids who were gathered in the distance smoking e-cigarettes shouted at Su Heting, “Spend the night with us?”
Su Heting tilted his head up slightly, revealing his face under the hood.
His nose was slightly red, and his face was still bruised from where the Monk had smashed him that day with the butt of his gun. With displeasure in his eyes, he said, “Shout again, and I’ll bash your head in.”
The color of his modified eye was pretty. It looked quite new.
So new it made one afraid.
Implants cost a bomb, and in the Black Market, there were only two kinds of rich Hybrids—the first one served the big bosses, and the second one was regulars in the coliseum. In order not to be regarded as garbage and eliminated by the New World, they had to earn money with their lives.
The men cowered back.
Xie Zhenshu suddenly turned the corner and entered a narrow alley that was even more dimly lit.
There were no lights here, and the ground was full of potholes filled with accumulated rainwater, making it hard to navigate.
“Friend,” Su Heting said, “You can only hand me the data when we arrived at the destination?”
Xie Zhenshu tossed the memory stick he had been holding in his hand to Su Heting.
“Thanks.” Su Heting caught hold of it and stopped in his tracks. He looked at Xie Zhenshu’s back. “We are merely chance acquaintances. Where are you sending me to?”
Xie Zhenshu came to a stop too, although he was in no hurry to turn around. Instead, he reached out to grab the broken handle at the side and yanked it hard.
Surprisingly enough, there was a door hidden here.
Light from within seeped through the door and shone on Xie Zhenshu’s hand. He turned to the side to cast a glance at Su Heting with an expression that clearly said, “enter or not, your choice.”
“What are you standing there for?” The upper half body of a person suddenly popped out from behind the door—It was the Hermit, who was holding up his wide-sleeved robe. “Come on in, man.” He turned to Su Heting and patted the back of his own head. “I was just piecing my head back together in the Safe Zone.”
The Safe Zone was the cyberspace of the Hybrids that fell under the surveillance of the Punisher of Heaven, and this place was where the Hermit had his head blown up. The Safe Zone was different from the Punishment Zone. Here, any injuries sustained would not affect the person offline, and they would remain fine even if they died a few times.
Xie Zhenshu had already bent over to enter.
Only then did Su Heting notice how tall Xie Zhenshu was; the latter had surpassed him in height. He followed closely behind, wanting to bend over too, only to realize that it was not necessary.
“It’s good that you came.” The Hermit carefully pushed the door shut. “I was so afraid you’d get caught.”
It was sweltering inside. This was a small, cramped wine bar filled to the brim with sitting Hybrids. There was a display screen playing commercials.
“Let me introduce everyone.” The Hermit led Su Heting to his seat. “This is my buddy, Meowzai. Lad, these are all my friends.”
Su Heting did not remove his hood and merely gave a slight nod of his head as a greeting.
He did not like to make friends, especially friends with rude gazes. He could hide his ears, but he could not hide his tail. This tail was exposed on the outside, telling everyone that he was an animalized Hybrid.
Hybrids with distinctive animal features often remained put at the last two floors of the Trading Center. They rarely appeared in the Coliseum.
“I get all my information here.” The Hermit sat down opposite Su Heting. This table was rather narrow too; it could only accommodate two glasses of water. The Hermit continued in a small voice, “Have you gotten the info?”
Xie Zhenshu sat behind Su Heting. There were no gaps between the stools, and both men could be said to be sitting back to back.
Su Heting held up the memory stick and lowered his voice too, as if to prevent Xie Zhenshu from hearing him, “What’s this?”
“Information.” The Hermit’s eyes widened in a glare. “You haven’t seen it yet?”
“No time.” Su Heting said. “I’ll look at it now.”
He flicked his tail, and the tip of his tail turned into a port that connected to the memory stick.
The data upload took only one second,
There was no text in the memory stick, just a very short video that was grainy and blurred. Apparently, this had been taken under abnormal circumstances.
[Several people were carrying a stretcher under the midnight rainstorm. The stretcher was covered with white fabric, but the contours under the white cloth were not that of a complete corpse, but amputated limbs. There was a flash in one of the surveillance cameras somewhere, and someone looked towards the camera.]
The scene began to shake. The person who had secretly filmed the scene had started to run at the realization that he had been exposed.
[The gasps taken while running lasted for only a few seconds before the person was knocked over to the ground.]
The frame did not end here.
[The person was dragged towards the stretcher, and in the midst of struggling, he overturned the stretcher. The objects under the white cloth fell out. Two legs. The blood at the base of the legs had yet to be cleaned. These were newly severed legs. One leg had “The Giants” tattooed on it, and the other had “Safe Voyage” tattooed on it.]
The image in the memory stick sucked away all of Su Heting’s attention. He had seen this pair of legs before.
“Sichuan mahjong awaits you! Battle it out to the end!”
An advertisement thundered in his ears.
Like a cat frightened by a cucumber, a startled Su Heting hit the table with his thigh, promptly overturning the glass of water on it. He swiftly drew back his legs, and his stool slammed into the one behind him.
Xie Zhenshu had only just risen to his feet, so he was not hit, but Su Heting started to fall over backward.
“Hey!” The Hermit reached out, but grabbed at empty air.
Su Heting felt his hood grow light as Xie Zhenshu caught hold of him by the hood.
“Whoa—” The Hermit was about to praise Xie Zhenshu when he saw the expression in Su Heting’s eyes. After a moment of awkwardness, he shouted dryly, “Bravo!”
With this bravo, the water on the table spilled all over Su Heting’s pants.
Sichuan dialect advisers this time are still Xiaoluo and Xiaoyu.
Kneeling on the keyboard now because I’m late. Thank you for reading.