Yan Junxun’s eyelids twitched as his gaze collided with Serial no. 01AE86’s. He sensed this “hello” creeping up along his ankle, like the probing tail of an indoor giant, bringing with it an unpleasant whiff of danger.
Holding his gun, Jiang Lian muted the warning alarm. “Suspend the transfer mission of Serial no. 01AE86 immediately!”
“Suspension overruled.” Serial no. 01AE86 could not make sense of Jiang Lian’s request. “Come on, did you get scared to death by me? I’m just a…” He looked as though he was thinking of the right term to describe himself. “A pitiful, unarmed prisoner.”
Fu Yun’s gasps had yet to subside. He was too close to Serial no. 01AE86. As Serial no. 01AE86 spoke, he hastily responded with profanity.
“How spirited of you to be still thinking about fucking other people’s daddy.” As Serial no. 01AE86 looked at Yan Junxun, a subtle change gradually came over his facial expression. “I have a hunch that I’m going to be making new friends.”
The sweat on Fu Yun’s temples trickled down and dampened the collar of his shirt. He said, “Contact Director Fu. This lunatic mustn’t be let out!”
The system remained stationary for two seconds before it turned the surveillance camera around and continued to speak in a mechanical voice, “Connection failed. Director Fu declined to take the call. Please proceed with the transfer mission.”
“Your uncle finds you a nuisance.” Serial no. 01AE86 loosened his grip on Fu Yun and jeered at him through the door. “Fu Yun, it’s time for you to grow up and learn how to stand on your own two feet.”
Fu Yun cut a sorry sight as he retreated with a livid expression. “The dog chain has yet to be taken off. Shi Shanyan, don’t get too smug.”
“Okaaaay—” Serial no.01AE86 lay prone on the door and said patiently, “So, have you brought the key?”
◈ ◈ ◈
It was already dark outside the prison. The rain was still falling.
Jiang Lian could not help lighting up a cigarette. He faced the drill ground and looked at the solitary street lamp on it. With his usual opening remarks, he said, “What a pain to deal with… This dude is too dangerous. He doesn’t seem like someone who would cooperate.”
“Not only was his reaction quick when he grabbed Fu Yun.” Yan Junxun’s eyes drooped as if he was about to fall asleep. “But he also used only one hand. This shows that he did not forgo finger strength training during his incarceration. Did you see his index and middle fingers?”
Jiang Lian stroked his chin embarrassedly to indicate that he had not gotten a clear look.
Yan Junxun opened his own palm and looked at it for a moment. “Those two fingers of his are extremely agile. I’d advise you not to give him an opportunity to steal a gun, otherwise it’ll be very troublesome.”
Jiang Lian had a headache just by hearing this. He stubbed out his cigarette and wondered, “What game is Fu Chenghui playing?”
Yan Junxun dreaded the cold, so he zipped up his overcoat and hid his chin in it.He stared at the puddle bubbling with dirty mud at the foot of the steps and sidestepped the question. “There aren’t many people locked up in the prison in Tingbo. It’s so run-down that its various circuit installations are already very old.”
Jiang Lian did not get what he was saying. “It’s worn-out in the first place on our side. You don’t live here anyway, so why are you caring about the electric circuits?”
The street lamp in the distance suddenly flickered a few times and went out in the heavy rain.
“An aging circuit is prone to leakage and tripping,” Yan Junxun’s voice was somewhat muffled. “All of which are potential safety hazards.”
Jiang Lian figured out what he was trying to say. “Tingbo isn’t like Guangtong. There’s no defense system that’s as tight. If he were to seize the opportunity to make his escape…”
If Serial no. 01AE86 wanted to escape, then Tingbo District could only request Fu Yun to take him back to Guangtong Prison. They would not even need to make an immediate report to Fu Chenghui.
Before the transfer, they still needed to review the situation again. Jiang Lian looked at Yan Junxun.
◈ ◈ ◈
Tingbo Prison’s conversation room was ancient, with graffiti from decades ago still on the wall. There were no windows on its four walls, and only a system-monitoring surveillance camera faced the chairs. Because it was a sealed room, there was even an outmoded fire alarm in the corner.
Serial no. 01AE86 was wearing a restraint lock as he sat on a chair. His legs were ridiculously long, as if he could overstep one’s personal boundary anytime. His hair had not been cut for quite a while, and there was a messy little tail at the back of his head which he had tied on his own. His hair looked fluffy and disheveled, like the mane of a lion that was just done rolling about.
“You’re so serious,” Serial no. 01AE86 pushed up the corners of his own lips with his fingers. “Can’t you smile a little?”
“No.” Yan Junxun had not brought anything with him. He sat down opposite him and said callously, “There’s no such rule.”
Serial no. 01AE86 was particularly understanding towards children. “Then what would you like to chat about with me? I’m fine with anything.”
Yan Junxun did not expect the Serial no. 01AE86 to be so cooperative. He had only prepared himself for the scenario of dealing with a tough nut.
“Don’t be nervous,” Serial no. 01AE86 clasped his fingers and looked at Yan Junxun. The eyes hidden behind his black hair were sincere and harmless. “I know your district is under pressure to accept me. Fu Chenghui just likes to put others on the spot. But I assure you that I’m not as bad as they write in the evaluation. I’m a good guy, really. What’s your name?”
“Yan Junxun.” Yan Junxun pulled the zipper down a little to make it easier to talk.
“Junxun, Jun—xun,” Serial no. 01AE86 sounded envious. “Your parents really know how to choose a name. This is the most sentimental name I’ve ever heard.”
When the word “sentimental” left Serial no. 01AE86’s mouth, it soundlessly dissolved away Yan Junxun’s wariness of him like sugar that had been steeped into a cup of water. Serial no. 01AE86’s gaze, expression, and tone all laid the groundwork for his words, making every word of his appear sincere.
“My name is Shi Shanyan,” Serial no. 01AE86’s spread his palm open and wrote it out to show Yan Junxun. “Time, mountain, continuation…1 are all words I like. This name isn’t too bad, right?”
There was only one light lit in the conversation room. It hung between them, making both their shadows appear dormant. Yan Junxun did not like it to be too bright, so he leaned back a little. His slim back stuck to the back of the chair, leaving only his chin exposed under the light.
“There is no mention of your hometown in your dossier.”
“Those who joined Black Panther have no need of their hometowns.” Shi Shanyan stopped looking at Yan Junxun and began to size up the conversation room. “This place is quite run-down. Do they really pay you a salary?”
“I don’t have a salary.”
Shi Shanyan turned his eyes back to Yan Junxun. “If I may be so bold as to ask, do I have one?”
“I don’t know,” Yan Junxun said without hesitation. “You can ask Jiang Lian about this kind of matter.”
“I don’t know anyone here,” Shi Shanyan slowly leaned his body over and propped himself with his arms. He was now a head shorter than Yan Junxun. “The only one I know at present is you, Junxun.”
There was some hair covering his forehead, which made his penetrating eyes lose their aggressiveness as he calmly sent out a signal for help to Yan Junxun.
“Can you help me out a little? Just a little. It won’t violate any rules. As you know, I spent four years in Guangtong prison, and the system’s minute-by-minute monitoring made me feel so suffocated. The people doing the Black Panther re-assessment are all a bunch of bastards. They can’t give me the warmth of a family at all. I feel so wronged and tired. So I cherish this opportunity very much. I just… “Shi Shanyan extended his index finger and middle finger and pleaded in a soft voice. “…want to have a smoke.”
Yan Junxun’s gaze stopped upon his fingers for a second. Then, he frowned, “A smoke?”
“You’re in the midst of quitting smoking, huh?” Shi Shanyan’s eyes immersed in the dim light. “There’s a sweet scent of lollipop on you. I can help you dispose of those few cigarettes you have left. There’s nothing in the regulations to forbid you from giving me a cigarette to smoke. I believe they will understand.”
Yan Junxun loosened up a little. “I didn’t bring a lighter.”
“I have one.” Shi Shanyan raised his chin and motioned to Yan Junxun to extend his hand. “In the pocket of my pants. It’s the only treasure I have left.”
The hanging lamp tilted slightly, causing Shi Shanyan’s shadow to creep silently out of his chair. But he took the initiative to raise his arms and expose all his vital points, looking as though he was entrusting all of himself to Yan Junxun.
Yan Junxun found a crumpled cigarette case from his trouser pocket and pulled out a cigarette to hand it to Shi Shanyan. Instead of using his hands, Shi Shanyan opened his mouth to bite down on it. Yan Junxun noticed that there was still a broken cigarette left in the case. Without hesitating, he shook it out and held it between his own lips.
As he carried out this action, he could feel Shi Shanyan’s gaze on him. .
“Don’t tell Jiang Lian,” Yan Junxun reached his palm out to search along the side of Shi Shanyan’s thigh. “He’s really naggy.”
“Yes, sir,” Shi Shanyan reminded him. “On the left.”
Yan Junxun stuck his fingers in and pulled the lighter out with his fingers. He lit up his cigarette first before tossing it back to Shi Shanyan.
“You have a tear mole2 huh?,” Shi Shanyan lit his cigarette, took a few greedy drags, and licked his lips after exhaling. “Did you draw it in yourself?”
Yan Junxun shook his head truthfully and looked at the cigarette in his hand, as if he was calculating how many puffs he could take with it.
Shi Shanyan looked carefully at Yan Junxun and said, “It’s pretty. I want one too.”
Yan Junxun did not raise his eyes to look at him. He smoked his cigarette seriously and said, “Has Fu Chenghui told you about the situation in the Tingbo District? This place is different from the Guanggui District. “
“Fu Chenghui is so busy dealing with a myriad of important affairs every day that he can’t even be bothered to see his nephew, let alone respond to me.” Shi Shanyan set the cigarette upright and accumulated its ashes to play with. “I know that Tingbo District is now a hub for large ships transporting natural resources. Previously, this place used to produce steel. I heard that there are quite a number of abandoned factories? It looks especially like a wasteland from photos. The greening of this place is pretty bad.”
“Tingbo is a warm, cozy home.” Yan Junxun looked at Shi Shanyan and recited the slogan of Tingbo District. “You and I will build it together.”
Shi Shanyan let out a “wow” and played along from the bottom of his heart. “How nice.”
The cigarette was almost finished when the overhead light suddenly flashed twice.
“Thank you for the cigarette.” Shi Shanyan said meaningfully. He breathed out thin smoke and smiled at Yan Junxun. “Nice to meet you.”
The fire alarm in the corner finally detected the smoke and shrieked at the top of its voice. Following right after, the light above their head went out with a “pop”. The sudden trip caused the system-monitoring surveillance camera to droop its head down in dejection.
But surprisingly, neither men in the conversation room moved.
Shi Shanyan’s cigarette flickered in the darkness with a slight glow. He seemed to be in the know as he calmly took his last drag of the cigarette. “I know why Fu Chenghui looked for you. Ooh… interesting. How truly interesting.”
Yan Junxun flicked away the ashes and asked with an expressionless face. “Don’t you want to go out and have a look?”
“Yeah.” Shi Shanyan snubbed out the spark, plunging them both into complete darkness. “But I’m not in a hurry. I’m happy to remain in prison too. Eat, sleep, watch animation. If I have spare time I can even work on the re-assessment topics. It’s just that Fu Yun and those bunch of voice recorders on replay are too noisy and stupid. You will take me out, won’t you? You will. Let me guess… the Black Panther test is too easy for you, right? Your observation skills are awesome. You are the kind of little panther Fu Chenghui favors. He will definitely recruit you. After all, you look so well-behaved.”
He enunciated the last word.
“You observed my fingers carefully to ascertain whether or not I am a sniper.” Shi Shanyan said ostentatiously. “Well, I am.”
The light flashed a few more times before it came on again.
Yan Junxun stood up and pulled the zipper back to where his chin was. Just before he stepped out of the door, he turned his head back and smiled bashfully at Shi Shanyan, “Is that so? But bro, you mean ex-sniper, don’t you? You have to be clear with your wordings.”
Without waiting for Shi Shanyan to answer, he shut the door with a “thud”.
Jiang Lian was in the corridor. He spread out his hands to Yan Junxun and showed him a helpless expression. They had already dismissed everyone, but Serial no. 01AE86 just would not move.
Yan Junxun gripped the cigarette case in his pocket. It was as if he was just done acting in a farce with extraordinary results. He almost wanted to laugh at his own foolishness. Jiang Lian said something to Fu Yun. Yan Junxun waited for them to move away into the distance before he went to the restroom to wash his hands. After he came out, he waited for another half hour., but he did not see Jiang Lian coming out, so he used the ID communication-navigator to send a message that he was going home.
When Yan Junxun sat back in his car, he realized that the T-shirt on his back was drenched through.
The Special Forces’ mission appraisal was right. Shi Shanyan had a tendency to dominate. The moment he sat down, he had controlled the mood out of habit. Even Yan Junxun was led along by him. He was even well acquainted with the essence of disguises. Every one of the expressions in his eyes were on-point. Before the lights went out, Yan Junxun was almost sure that he would seize the opportunity to escape.
The little orange dragon lit up with a “ding”. It wagged its tail and said, “The driving system is in place. I’ll take Mr. Yan home right away.” It stood up and held up an LED display board. “Mr. Yan was detected smoking forty minutes ago. Mr. Yan, please conscientiously abide by your oath to quit smoking.”
“Send a message to the Special Inspection Bureau.” Yan Junxun ignored it. “Don’t look for me if there are no recent cases.”
The little orange dragon put down the LED display board, and Yan Junxun’s voice recording suddenly rang out on the stereo system inside the car.
“I swear not to smoke again in the future. If I light up in secret…”
Yan Junxun turned his car around and stubbornly defended himself. “I didn’t smoke in secret.”
Snipers have to train the strength in their index finger. This is mainly to improve the sensitivity of the index finger in pulling the trigger. This level of sensitivity is obtained from specialized techniques training and requires frequent, vigorous dexterity exercises with the index finger alone. — 《The Sniper’s Operational Guide》
Thank you for reading.
As usual, updates for this novel will be slow for the time being since it’s still ongoing. ︎ _(:3 」∠)