“Serial no. 01AE86. Full name: Shi Shanyan. Height: 189cm. Weight: 82kg. Passed the Black Panther test and joined the Special Forces in 2160. Expelled from the unit and detained at the Guangtong Prison in 2162. Described in the Special Forces’ mission appraisal as having poor self-control, lacking empathy, and possessing a strong tendency to dominate. Broke the rules repeatedly during missions. Danger level has been specially set as S-Rank.”
Yan Junxun picked up the cold beer. Instead of pulling the tab open, he took advantage of the chill and stuck it to the side of his neck to cool himself down. His black hair was messy, and his skin was rather fair. At the same time he listened to Jiang Lian’s speech, he gently tossed aside his sweat-drenched hair before his forehead to reveal his eyes.
He did not look imposing with those thin eyelids of his drooping down. Instead, he looked somewhat absent-minded, as if he had just woken up.
Yan Junxun looked at the road with swirling dust in the distance and answered Jiang Lian’s words in this manner.
Jiang Lian found this a pain to deal with. He pulled on the trouser legs of his suit and squatted down before he continued, “We received Fu Chenghui’s support in the operation to capture ‘Mites’, and serial no. 01AE86 is the quid pro quo. Now the ‘Mites’ operation has come to a close, Fu Chenghui wants you both to team up and work together on the Tingbo District cases. Have you ever heard of him while you were in the Special Forces?”
Yan Junxun said, “Never.”
The beer quickly lost its iciness, and the water droplets trickled along Yan Junxun’s neck into his collar. He did not seem to feel it. All his eyes could see was the setting sun on the horizon that was about to sink.
“Serial no. 01,” Yan Junxun said slowly, “This person has either a mental problem or a psychological one.”
Zone 01 of the Guangtong Prison was a re-assessment area for those with severe issues, and the danger level for the detainees had to meet a certain standard. According to the Special Forces’ mission appraisal for serial no. 01AE86, his performance in the destructive power test had been exemplary.
“He excels in camouflage and likes to act alone.” Yan Junxun removed the beer can from his neck. “It’s possible that he’s a sniper.”
Serial no. 01AE86’s ability to empathize and tendency to dominate all had to be detected by his squad mates. That he could stay in the Black Panther Special Forces for two years before being kicked out showed how independent he was. Only the combat team formation of snipers could be reduced to the smallest. They could be deployed with just a spotter and a witness for the hit, and they could also work alone.
“His reconnaissance, tracking, intelligence gathering, and survival ability are all outstanding.” Yan Junxun’s thumb had gone damp from holding the beer can. “How long did it take Fu Chenghui to catch him?”
Jiang Lian raised a finger and said, “One day. He was waiting in the dormitory for Fu Chenghui to open the door.”
“Then, he has done pretty well in Black Panther. He knows he’s valuable, and that Fu Chenghui would not bear to kill him. Zone 01 of Guangtong Prison is a constant monitoring area. The fact that he can still come out now is proof that his performance in the Black Panther re-evaluation is normal. He knows how to adjust to psychological pressure, and he’s patient. His stay in Zone 01 is pleasant, with no more sleep issues after he no longer needs to carry out dangerous missions. He is highly focused. The Black Panther re-evaluation is way too easy to him.” Yan Junxun put down the beer can and said sullenly, “I don’t want to team up with him.”
This kind of person would easily disrupt Yan Junxun’s pace and jumble up his train of thoughts into a ball of twine. He did not like his mind to be in a mess.
Jiang Lian chose his words carefully. “Serial no. 01AE86 has already been sent to the prison in the Tingbo District last night. When the time comes, you still have to come with me to pick him up.”
Yan Junxun thought for a moment and asked, “Do I need to bring a gift along to meet him?”
Jiang Lian sighed and said, “… You may consider yourself the gift.”
The sun had already disappeared in the distance. The swirling dust obscured the evening clouds, making them look like balls of oil-stained rags. The jolt of the Tingbo District’s distinctive transportation light rail as it passed by a short distance away numbed his soles. The stench of coal burning and steel making permeated the air, and the buildings within sight were all blanketed in a layer of coal ashes.
“Welcome him to Tingbo District,” Yan Junxun pulled open the tab on the beer can and took a sip. “He will soon find out that Guangtong is heaven.”
◈ ◈ ◈
Three days later, the sky was overcast, with rain and wind intermingling with one another.
There was no track for fly-by-light vehicles to travel along in Tingbo District. In this densely populated place, people still relied on automobiles to travel, so traffic congestion was one of the problems in the Tingbo District, especially on rainy days. Looking down at the traffic situation in the entire district at this moment was like looking at a puddle of overturned eight treasures congee;1 there was no way to drive through it at all.
The rain pelted the glass, blurring the reflection of Yan Junxun’s silhouette cast upon it. The car was stuck on the road, and he was stuck in the car. The ID communication-navigator kept ringing, and the driving system in the car prompted him amicably, “Mr. Yan, there is a call request from the prison.”
Yan Junxun did not make a sound.
The driving system guessed that he was in a bad mood. At the same time it sounded the horn, it lit up the car interior for Yan Junxun. The projection was a small, charmingly naïve orange dragon.
“Mr. Yan.” The little orange dragon flashed. “There’s a call request from the prison.”
“Yan Junxun.” Yan Junxun jabbed the screen open and peeled off the lollipop wrapper. “I’ll be there in one hour—”
The quality of communications in the Tingbo District was terrible on overcast days; there was only static on the screen. The other party repeated himself a few times, but he did not get a response, so he could only shout at the top of his voice, “Hello? Hello! I’m the special agent from Guangtong Prison. When will you be here?”
Yan Junxun turned his head away from the screen and dragged out his voice: “I—am—on—the—way.”
“On what?” Unable to hear him clearly, the other party said in irritation, “Wherever you are, dammit, you must be here in twenty minutes!”
Yan Junxun popped the lollipop into his mouth and said politely, “Sure, boss.”
The other party had already cut off the call.
The little orange dragon that was the driving system went silent for a moment before saying in a childish voice, “The system’s calculation is completed. The traffic conditions are bad during rainy days. There is no way to arrive on time in twenty minutes.
Yan Junxun raised his hand to turn off the autopilot system and asked it curiously, “Why did you switch your voice?”
“I’m scared.” The driving system paused for a moment, then shrieked, “Mr. Yan, please don’t exceed the speed limit!”
Before it could finish its words, Yan Junxun had already turned the car around. The old sports car squeezed its way out of the traffic lane. Like a raging bull, it scraped past a garbage bin and charged its way into an uninhibited alley. The roads here were in a state of disrepair all year round, with the most backward drainage ditches exposed at the edges. There were even manhole lids piled up on certain segments of the road. The driving system issued an “ARGHHHH” sound as the sound of warning siren surrounded Yan Junxun.
“Mr. Yan!” The driving system said in a sobbing tone. “I’m going to report you to the Special Inspection Bureau!”
Yan Junxun went at full throttle, jolting the sports car until it almost flew up. The hanging accessory inside the car bounced excitedly. Buildings of different heights on both sides of the road projected a riot of colorful lights amidst the rainstorm. Like a runaway horse, the car raced past the abandoned road with savage-looking reinforced steel bars, sending up splashes of dirty, muddy water all over and dizzying the driving system.
As the sports car charged out of the alley, it came to a screeching halt. Its wheels scraped out skid marks half-a-meter-long on the asphalt road. He let an old freight truck with its light on at the other end pass, but that truck moved very slowly. Yan Junxun saw an advertisement sticker on the truck that said, “On-time Cleaning.” The heavy rain washed over the ad until it curled. Its colors had already faded a little, making it look worn-out.
“I feel like puking,” The driving system made a show of it. “I’ll really puke. I can. I’m going to barf right now—”
Yan Junxun crushed the lollipop with his teeth and rapped the driving system into silence. Right at the moment, the ID communication-navigator started ringing again. The name displayed was Jiang Lian.
“Coming…” Yan Junxun connected the call.
The window of the truck was not rolled up. The woman in the driver’s seat was hurling abuse at others while driving. He could not hear her through the rain. All he could do was to look on as she pounded on the steering wheel. She did not even bother to wipe away the flecks of spittle that spewed out of her mouth.
“I’ll be there in five minutes.” Yan Junxun turned the steering wheel and brushed past the freight truck.
◈ ◈ ◈
Jiang Lian was sitting and drinking tea at the prison’s sentry checkpoint. When he heard a car outside, he immediately went out to greet him. Holding up an umbrella, he shouted at the car, “Why are you still driving on a rainy day? It’s too inconvenient!”
Yan Junxun got out of the car to enter the facial recognition point at the sentry checkpoint.
“Welcome.” The prison’s automatic screening doors opened to both sides and said in a gentle tone. “A warm welcome to you. Tingbo Prison is willing to provide you with the warmth of a family.”
“Thank you.” Yan Junxun said seriously. “But I have no plans to live here for the time being.”
Jiang Lian’s rain-soaked leather shoes left wet footprints behind in the corridor. He wiped his glasses with a handkerchief and said as he walked, “The special agent of the Special Forces, Fu Yun, is Fu Chenghui’s nephew. He holds the post of Prison Superintendent in Guangtong Prison and is in charge of transferring serial no. 01AE86. This man has a quick temper and is a blunt speaker. “
Yan Junxun had already seen the man at the end of the corridor. Jiang Lian put his glasses back on and smiled apologetically as he shook hands with the other party. “Mr. Fu, I’m sorry to have kept you waiting for so long.”
Fu Yun shook hands with Jiang Lian somewhat hesitantly. He swept his eyes quickly behind Yan Junxun but did not see anyone else. He nodded his head to excuse their lateness, then frowned and commented, “Mr. Yan is really young.”
“That’s right,” Jiang Lian took the chance to say. “If Director Fu had not asked for him specifically, I wouldn’t have dared hand him over.”
“To tell you the truth, I don’t approve of letting serial no. 01AE86 out to work on the cases, but Old Fu is determined, and there’s nothing I can do about it.” Fu Yun walked ahead and looked back at Yan Junxun again as he went through the layers of identification. “Have you ever had any experience with the Black Panther test?”
As he anticipated, Yan Junxun replied ashamedly, “No.”
“I guess that’s to be expected.” Fu Yun had not held out any hope at all; he was merely asking in passing.
Layer upon layer of prison doors opened with a “swoosh”. The warning system set up in the passageway began to flash red lights. It repeated in a mechanical voice, “Serial no. 01AE86 has been sent over. Please remain on high alert. I repeat, serial no. 01AE86 has been sent over. Please remain on high alert.”
After the final three verifications by the access control system, the tightly clenched gears opened soundlessly. The light inside was dim. With his back to the light, Yan Junxun could only see the old cell door of Tingbo Prison.
“This detention facility of yours here is so last century. It’s too unsafe.” Fu Yun raised his hand and pounded on the sensor roughly. He shouted, “Serial no. 01AE86!”
It was silent inside.
“Serial no. 01AE86.” Without looking at Yan Junxun, Fu Yun spoke into the sensor through the warning, “Serial no. 01AE86, don’t you fucking play dead with me!”
The electric current of the prison’s lock surged, emitting the sound of fingernails scraping against the wall. However, no one inside showed up.
Fu Yun did not need to have close contact with serial no. 01AE86 back at Guangtong Prison. But now that he could not see the situation inside from the Tingbo District Prison’s screen, he could only stride in and move towards the door while holding on to the baton behind his waist.
“Serial no. 01AE86!” Instead of making a hasty approach, Fu Yun continued to peek inside with his eyes. If it weren’t for the heat display on the sensor, he would have almost suspected that serial no. 01AE86 had escaped.
“Damn it. Don’t play games with me.” Fu Yun pressed down on the door and shouted inside, “Shi Shanyan—”
A face suddenly appeared at the door. Fu Yun’s hair instantly stood on end as he subconsciously leaned back. He did not expect the Tingbo Prison’s transfer entrance to open so wide that it caught his leather belt. The instant he wanted to step back, his entire person had already crashed into the cell door.
The system immediately went crazy and sounded the alarm loudly, “Warning! Keep away from serial no. 01AE86! Warning! Please move away quickly from serial no. 01AE86!”
“Be on alert!” Jiang Lian immediately drew his gun.
“Just a greeting.”
Serial no. 01AE86 had a deep voice. It was as if he was a beast patrolling his territory. His jet-black eyes were fixed on Fu Yun as if he was staring at a panicked prey. He leaned a little closer to the cell door and let out a murky, obscure laugh.
“Don’t get all flustered.” Serial no. 01AE86’s eyes looked all over before they finally landed on Yan Junxun with precision. Yet, his mouth was still speaking to Fu Yun. “Listen. The sound of gurgling… You’re pissing your pants.”
Fu Yun panicked and lowered his head, only to realize that he hadn’t. He lost his temper out of humiliation. “Fuck!”
Amidst the noisy blaring alarm of the system, serial no. 01AE86 whistled carefreely at Yan Junxun and cheerfully said, “Hello.”