Time-Limited Hunt

Time-Limited Hunt – Chapter 15 : Deterioration

December 23, 2020

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WARNING

FOR FIRST CASE: NEMESIS’S BREAKFAST
Domestic abuse, rape/sexual assault, cannibalism, suicide.
(Mostly mentions and allusions; not so much graphic details.)
If this is a trigger/landmine for you, please stop reading now.

Liu Chen’s real-time news feed stopped updating, as did his homepage. However, he had been such a vocal voice on the various societal trending topics in the past that this halt in updates seemed particularly strange. Many people speculated that the swiftly-deleted video in which he called the Inspection Bureau into question to be the main reason for it. Subsequently, that video became the focus of online discussions.  

[Instead of shutting Liu Chen up, shouldn’t they tell the Inspection Bureau to do some self-reflection? Come on, a profiler without any authorized certification… I don’t even want to call him a profiler. Ain’t that just a conman?!]

[Who can shut Liu Chen up? Although he has quite the foul mouth. But who? So powerful.]

[Black Panther of course. The Inspection Bureau is also known as Black Dog. Who in the world doesn’t know that hahaha.] 

[Black Panther really calls the shot in this world.]

[Black Panther is dope—] 

[Fuck. Then this psychological profiler is also a member of the Black Panther Special Forces? Holy crap, they sure are gutsy. To think they stuffed warfare fanatics into the Regional Inspection Bureaus. Anyone still remember the news from last year’s Guanggui District? The one about the Black Panther test.]

[I remember. Who knows if the leaked test topics are real or fake. In any case, the topics are pretty anti-human. This psychological profiler is something. Those who can pass such tests are not your normal humans.]

[When the war just ended, some said that it was best to disband the Black Panther Special Forces, but no one gave any damn at that time. Now you know. A bunch of crazies who advocate war and even come up with a system that partakes in war—as if that isn’t fucking terrifying enough? The scariest thing is that they have already infiltrated the Regional Inspection Bureaus.]

[Reject system management. Reject system weapons! The development of the times is not to pave the way for systems. If this continues, we might as well simply let the systems rule the world. When the light rail first emerged, they said letting the vehicle-mounted systems travel on the human’s behalf could reduce car accidents. But look at what happened? The crash frequency in Guanggui District rose to an all-time high, enough for it to take the top spot among all in the Alliance. Did all those like Fu Chenghui who advocated this apologized? And those indoor systems. Those so-called teachers don’t understand feelings at all; as such the students they produced are all morally-deficient imbeciles! A system is a system. No matter how high tech it is, it cannot be a person. Fuck. The Black Panther should disband ASAP! How in the world are they the Special Forces? They are the public enemy of mankind—one who makes a fortune off war!]

The real-time news feed on the screen in the Inspection Bureau’s lounge was being broadcasted on a loop. Jiang Lian could even hear it from where he sat in his office. He slid his fingers, reading the trending discussions until the coffee he had set aside had gone cold.  

Although the war took place in the south, it caused the Alliance to split into the southern and northern fronts. Even until now, the atmosphere between both parties hung in a delicate balance. Tingbo District, which lay in the northern border zone, got caught up in the explosion of powers. The for-military-use rail’s occupation of the district and encroachment into the residential zones had already evoked the ire of the Tingbo District’s residents. This, coupled with the popularization of new energy resources after the war, which forced the traditional industries in Tingbo District out of business and caused countless factories to close down in just a few years, turned Tingbo District into a crippled old man.

Fu Chenghui had always advocated the universalization of systems, and he openly supported the legalization of system families. A so-called system family was a family unit formed between two systems. He wanted to give these intelligence systems human rights, so that they could completely become an integral part of human society and share the obligation of driving society forward along with the human beings.

But this kind of thinking was too insane. It caused his reputation to plummet over the past few years and gave him the honor of being ranked as the number one “most hated figure of the times” for three consecutive years among the various zones pending development. 

That “black dog” label dealt Jiang Lian a heavy blow. He took a sip of coffee to soothe his fragile heart; he even had the urge to send Fu Chenghui a text message. He wanted to say there are 10,000 better ways to solve the problem, why the hell do you always choose the worst option? But he understood Fu Chenghui; this guy always stood by his own words.    

Jiang Lian did not want to be deep in the storm of public opinions. What he cared more about was the extent in which Yan Junxun’s details had been exposed. He thought about it for a moment, then went ahead and made a call to Black Panther.  

“When will the review period for serial no. 7-0001 end?”

The other side seemed to be verifying something. The sound of clicking on the screen sounded like the special effects of a game. He gave a perfunctory reply, “Fu Chenghui did not say.” 

“Oh.” Jiang Lian swallowed his emotions back into his tummy. After enduring it for a moment, he said, “Are you playing a game?” 

“Yeah.” The rapidly-moving fingers of the Black Panther member on the other end never stopped. “I’m injured. This is a rehabilitation exercise. You curious? Serial no. 01AE86 played this in his incarceration cell before too.”

Jiang Lian wanted to cut the call. 

“But please remind serial no. 7-001 to mind his own business and not to collude with serial no. 01AE86.” Finally clearing his stage, this person turned his chair around and swapped his form of address. “Although Yan Junxun is sick in the head too, it’s far more severe in Shi Shanyan’s case. Understand? If they were to come to an unanimous agreement again, then the most pitiful one will be you. How can an ordinary person deal with two perverts?” 

“Was this method of warning Liu Chen your decision or Fu Chenghui’s?” 

“Mine.” This person started another round of game and replied absent-mindedly. 

Jiang Lian’s emotions surged, and he said, Then how are you going to settle—” 

“Figure it out yourself.” This person said. “Tingbo District does not fall under our jurisdiction. Oh, by the way, just to be on the safe side, tell Shi Shanyan that I wasn’t the one who attacked Yan Junxun’s indoor system last night.”  

“Of course it wasn’t you.” Jiang Lian said, puzzled. “What has it got to do with you?” 

“Don’t underestimate the safeguard data Artemis left behind. Even if it was rescinded, Yan Junxun’s personal information is still stored in an impregnable fortress. There is no hacker in a god-forsaken place like Tingbo District who is that formidable. The invasion last night directly opened Yan Junxun’s screen. This means that the other party has broken down Artemis’s arithmetic computations.” Serial no. 7-006 Su Heting paused for a moment, as if he was stuck in-game, before he continued, “If, and I mean if. If the other party’s interest in Yan Junxun has not abated by this point, then it’s very likely that he will do it again. He has already discovered that Yan Junxun’s indoor system has been replaced. That panda, that is, Panda,1 does not have the ability to repair, so the system vulnerability that was attacked cannot be patched. It’d be even easier for the other party to hack into the system again the next round.”

This was all Greek to Jiang Lian. He said, “Can’t you patch it?” 

Su Heting asked, perplexed, “Why would I want to help him patch? It’s not like he’s paying me money.” 

Stumped with no way to refute, Jiang Lian continued, “If something were to happen to Yan Junxun, then Fu Chenghui’s plan will go down the drain.” 

“Then let it go down the drain.” Su Heting pinpointed the perfect timing to open the cup of instant noodles before his screen. “It doesn’t matter if it’s Yan Junxun or Shi Shanyan; they are all dangerous elements. The earlier they are disposed of, the earlier you will be set free. Remember to tell Shi Shanyan that I wasn’t the culprit last night, okay? Else I’d be worried he would blow up my head from some corner when I’m not paying attention.” He sucked in two mouthfuls of noodles. “I’m gonna eat. Bye.” 

The communicator-navigator was thus hung up. 

Jiang Lian lifted the communicator-navigator, then set it down again. He turned around to see that the news on the screen in the lounge was still being broadcasted. Liu Jincheng, Li Jianhua, and Huo Qingjun’s homicide cases were still unsolved, and various interview requests had already maxed out his official mailbox. He had to make sure that they could still proceed with the cases, because Yan Junxun said that the murderer would still continue, just at somewhat longer intervals.

◈     ◈     ◈

Chen Xiulian did not drive her vehicle on rainy days. She leaned in a corner of the canteen – with her communicator-navigator that had been affixed back –   and stared blankly at the indoor screen. Yang Yu carried the lunch box over to sit down beside her, thinking she was on call with He Zhiguo again when she saw her odd expression. 

Yang Yu raised her hand to point at her ear and mouthed, still talking? 

“Tell her to get lost!” He Zhiguo hollered again. 

“Nope.” Chen Xiulian loosened her grip on the chopsticks a little and looked at Yang Yu with her usual expression. “Not on call.” 

Relieved, Yang Yu opened the lunch box and said, “It’s really unpleasant of him to make you wear this everyday. Just the monthly telecommunication fee alone is going to cost you a lot, isn’t it?” 

“It can’t be helped.” Chen Xiulian squeezed out a smile. “He likes to yell at others and kick up a big fuss. He gets very lonely when I’m not at home.” 

“But in spite of his bad temper, he’s still willing to work, at the very least.” After taking two mouthfuls of food, Yang Yu sighed, “The day when my son will go out and work is the day I’ll burn incense to thank the heavens.” 

“Find him a job.” Chen Xiulian pointed to the window from which they served food as she listened to the news. “They have been looking for someone to do odd jobs lately. He can just come over to move goods.” 

Yang Yu said nothing. She had to lower her head when she ate her food, exposing the back of her neck from her collar. There were still bruises on it. Chen Xiulian was the most familiar with bruises; she knew how they came about.

”He’s just gluttonous and lazy…” Yang Yu started speaking again. 

Chen Xiulian could not hear her too well, because He Zhiguo would pop up from time to time to interrupt her thoughts. She found He Zhiguo to be even noisier lately. The news was discussing the murder case at present. They mentioned the mysterious profiler from the Inspection Bureau again, but with his surname withheld. 

Chen Xiulian watched, fascinated. She knew that the other party was very formidable.

I’m running out of time. What if he catches me before I kill He Zhiguo?

Chen Xiulian suddenly felt the urgency of it. That unknown pressure urged her on. She wondered if He Zhiguo had been so noisy lately because he also thought that she would be caught. She was not afraid of being caught. She was afraid of He Zhiguo not being dead. 

“… so brutal when he hit his wife. And he still wanted to go out and meet up with his online gaming friends. He said the other party, who lived in the Diba neighborhood close by, could find him a good job…” 

Chen Xiulian was well-acquainted with the Diba neighborhood. She remembered that there were still three trees opposite the Diba neighborhood sentry box. Huo Qingjun had said that he was the one who planted them. 

“… There are still doubts in Huo’s sexual assault case. His former lawyer believed Huo’s sexual assault to be untenable… His students also showed up with flowers at his former address…”

“You killed the wrong person.” He Zhiguo cackled in Chen Xiulian’s ears. “You don’t fucking dare to admit that you killed the wrong person.” 

“He was on the news and in the papers.” Chen Xiulian suddenly said to Yang Yu. “His student also stepped out to testify at that time that he was the rapist.” 

Having been interrupted, Yang Yu looked at the news in bafflement. “Oh. This teacher.” 

“He was not wrongly accused.” Chen Xiulian’s grip on the chopsticks tightened and loosened alternatively. She repeated to Yangyu a little anxiously and compulsively, “I know he was the rapist. Do you believe me?” 

“That’s of course…” Yang Yu found the expression in Chen Xiulian’s eyes terrifying. She wanted to move back some, but Chen Xiulian suddenly grabbed hold of her hand. 

“You have to believe me. I know about it all.” Chen Xiulian said like a woman possessed. “They all pretend to be decent people, but in truth, they are all beasts. He Zhiguo is a beast. He’s also a beast. These were all written in the papers before.” 

Yang Yu’s hand hurt. She struggled to free it, but to no avail. 

“He Zhiguo still worships them. He discussed these people’s cases before.” Chen Xiulian loosened her grip, as if she felt reassured. 

That was right. He Zhiguo spoke of these cases before. He liked this kind of news, and he applauded and cheered at news like this. He said he was as decisive as Liu Jincheng; he struck when it was time to strike and raped himself a wife. He said if his family circumstance had been the same as Li Jianhua, he would also be able to do as he pleased; he could still come out after going to jail, and even then, he would still have a house and his parents. 

When he spoke, he would jab at Chen Xiulian’s head. 

“The fuck I would even want you had it not been for the fact that rape was punishable by jail.”  

He also said that he should have studied hard in the past and become a teacher. Look at how wonderful it was to be a teacher—girls as dainty as flowers all around he could coax and deceive. 

You can’t fucking not want me. 

Chen Xiulian looked at the news and said inwardly to He Zhiguo,

So what if there’s no escape for me, you’ll still have to die together with me. 

She was not afraid even if this beast was superhuman—she had long since held no fear of him! He Zhiguo was the rice in her bowl. She wanted to tear him apart, bite him into pieces, then swallow him alive! 

She wanted to die together with all these He Zhiguo. 

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Thank you Alex for the help!  

Footnotes

  1. 胖达 Panda or Pangda. His name is 胖达, the word 胖 can be read pang (typical reading which means fat or plump) or pan (less common reading which means healthy or at ease). 达 da is to achieve. I’m actually more inclined to call it Panda (coz… panda, aka. Panda the panda lmfao). Note that the novel is still not marked as completed. Names and terms might be edited in the future if there are any changes.