Tingbo District was originally a strategic resource region that used the natural resources of coal as its core to construct a comprehensive economic supply chain. This, however, was later phased out due to low utilization efficiency and untimely optimization of its industrial structure. At present, it was a remote, arc-shaped border zone of the Guanggui-Liaofa Coalition. There was not even a fly-by-light track in the area for the citizens’ use yet. It was part of the zone pending development on the northern front.
“These are all the introductions in writing.” As Jiang Lian drove the car, he cast a glance at Shi Shanyan in the back through the side-view mirror. “The actual situation is a little bad.”
Shi Shanyan had just woken up, and his expression was so excessively sluggish and lazy that Jiang Lian had the surreal impression that he was a specially designated chauffeur. Shi Shanyan looked out of the window and said, “I doubt it’s just ‘a little’.”
The coke1 industrial plants in Tingbo District were all concentrated in the low-temperature mountain ranges on the fringe of the suburbs, and the coke had to be pulled by the coke transportation vehicles into the steel plants near the high-speed light rail every day. Even the air quality in the urban districts was extremely bad, let alone the suburbs, and the only greenbelt left was covered in dust all year round. The only high-speed rail they had operated services for the military’s large cargo ships transporting natural resources. It ran through the entire district, letting off a thunderous chugging noise every six hours.
“The commercial properties along the railway are basically unmarketable and abandoned,” Jiang Lian leaned over the steering wheel as he waited for the traffic lights to change and pointed to an empty building on one side. “At first, everyone thought it was to be a public rail for civilian use, and that a route to Guanggui could be started with the Guangtong District. So everyone came here to speculate in real estate like a bunch of crazies. In the end, a battle broke out on the southern front, and the military took over use of the rail. Those people ended up losing money on those buildings.”
At this point, Jiang Lian looked at Shi Shanyan again.
“You had just joined Black Panther at that time, right?”
“More or less.” Shi Shanyan paused for a moment before asking, “Does it still snow here in winter?”
“Yeah.” Jiang Lian drove past the traffic light. “But they look like slag covered in soot when you look at them after waking up in the morning. Dirty as heck. However, winter is still better than spring. It’s very windy in spring. Just head outdoors, and your hair will get all dirty and your face, all covered in dust. The environment in Guangtong is good, isn’t it? I noticed that the sky there is still blue while video-conferencing with Fu Yun. After I retire in the future, I want to move to Guangtong District. I heard that the cost of housing is still reasonable. Not as high as the Guanggui District, and the transportation is convenient too. When the time comes, I’ll sell this car, raise a little more money, and change to a B6 model fly-by-light car. Then, I’ll take my wife…”
Jiang Lian spoke so much because he was nervous. Every time he said a word, he attempted to read Shi Shanyan’s expression through the rear-view mirror. Although Shi Shanyan was wearing shackles, no one could guarantee that he would not suddenly fly into a rage and raise the shackles to assault Jiang Lian.
Jiang Lian was in charge of the serial homicides case in Tingbo District, and he was very wary of those with antisocial personality disorder. One could not use normal patterns of thoughts to predict the behaviors of such people. In Jiang Lian’s view, their mindsets were fundamentally different from the common man.
A pity Shi Shanyan was not interested in Jiang Lian. He leaned back against his seat and nodded off with squinted eyes under the sunlight as though he had already fallen back asleep.
◈ ◈ ◈
At ten o’clock, the alarm clock went off and Yan Junxun got up right on time. He had slept until his hair was all tousled with the ends sticking up. Stepping on his slippers, he entered the bathroom and saw that the tortoise reared by the indoor system had climbed its way into the bathtub.
“Heeey—” Yan Junxun’s voice when he had just woken up was a little weak. He scratched his head. “Get it out of here quick.”
The indoor system was a cyber panda half the height of a human. It ran in from outside and fished up the tortoise with some difficulty. Gasping with exhaustion, it said, “Mr. Yan, I’ve been giving it weight-loss lessons lately. It has gotten so fat I can hardly carry it anymore.”
Yan Junxun squeezed the toothpaste. “You are rearing the wrong breed.”
“That can’t be helped.” The panda stood beside Yan Junxun’s legs and put the tortoise back into the terrarium. “I’ve already reared it to this size.”
Yan Junxun faced the mirror to brush his teeth. The rail passed by right then, and the entire house began to shake noisily. He simulated using an electric toothbrush and brushed his teeth at high speed to the sound of the rail.
The panda stepped on a stool to lean over the edge of the desk and said, “I’ve prepared toast and eggs for Mr. Yan today. Please finish up the milk too.”
Yan Junxun took his seat and pushed the milk away. He said, “Don’t buy any more milk.”
“We can’t afford it already? Oh, my god.” The panda covered its mouth with its paws worriedly. “Can we still live here? Oh, that reminds me. You haven’t gone out to work for half a month.”
Yan Junxun’s house was tiny. There was no room for a dining table between the living room and the kitchen. In order to save space, he made the bedroom into a tatami room.2 All his daily activities were centered on this desk near the window. The room was full of books as far as the eyes could see, and the most striking of them were the comics, which were stacked up against the corner of the wall as though they were made to stand there as punishment.
“I’ve been counting every cent and making every cent count.” The panda rested its chin in his hand. “We can’t sleep on the streets, because you have arrested too many people in the past on behalf of the Special Inspection Bureau. Just any one of them could hack us to death.”
Yan Junxun bit down on the omelet and jabbed his screen open to broadcast Monday’s news.
“This murderer likes to commit crimes on Fridays.” The Tingbo reporter Yan Junxun hated the most told the camera. “At present, we’ve already known that the victims are all men. A certain Mr. Huo, who was murdered last week, had been living alone. The remains of his body were found in the gutter of the Diba3 neighborhood last night…”
The doorbell suddenly rang.
Yan Junxun stuffed the toast into his mouth and motioned for the panda to open the door.
“It must be Jiang Lian.” The panda jumped off the stool in understanding. “He wants you to work the case.”
Yan Junxun waited for the panda to stand up, then grabbed the milk and poured it down the kitchen sink. As soon as he was done doing this, the panda let out a happy shout from the doorway, “Mr. Yan, we have a guest as well today!”
Yan Junxun had an ill sense of foreboding and poked his head out of the kitchen. Sure enough, he saw Shi Shanyan.
◈ ◈ ◈
Shi Shanyan sat on a single-seater sofa and swept a cursory glance around Yan Junxun’s home.
The owner possibly liked warm tones. Whether it was the door curtain or table mat, he had chosen floral-patterned fabrics rimmed with lace. The living room was covered with a light brown rug—a diamond-patterned rug from the Western front. Several small bookcases laden with books huddled in the corner, and the sofa and tea table were all littered with books. The kitchen was so narrow that the sight of the panda squeezing in it to make tea was a little comical. But the bowls and chopsticks were all tidily stored. It was clear that the panda was taking good care of its master.
What a surprise.
To think he could see an indoor system in Tingbo District that provided full household services and took on all the household chores. It even kept its own pet.
Jiang Lian sat cross-legged on the rug. Shi Shanyan noticed that he was careful not to touch the furnishings in the room. He rolled up the sleeves of his shirt and lit up his own screen, then said to the panda in the kitchen, “Pangda,4 please dim the room.”
With a “swoosh”, the curtains were drawn, and the room could be begrudgingly said to have been dimmed.
“Both of you should have been given some time to break the ice and get along with each other. But the timing of the case is just this coincidental.” Jiang Lian called up a photo. “Look at this. I just got the news this morning.”
Yan Junxun held up the iced water, and his hair that was sticking up bobbed along as he drank the water. His silent eyes went back and forth the photo several times as though he was finally fully awake and was now captivated by that vividly colored photograph.
“This is the remains of the dead body found in the gutter of Huihe neighborhood three months ago. There are abrasive and contused wounds in varying directions on the surface of the remains, and the edges are serrated. The victim has been identified as Liu Xincheng, a resident of the above-mentioned neighborhood.” Jiang Lian swiped the photo to the next one. “This is the remains of the body found in the gutter of Puli neighborhood two months ago. On the surface of the remains are still the same abrasive and contused wounds in different directions with serrated edges, just like Liu Xincheng. We suspect that a blunt weapon was used to cut them. The victim was also a resident of the neighborhood. The last one is the one discovered in the gutter of the Dida neighborhood last night…”
Jiang Lian displayed an indescribable expression.
“… The wounds on the body parts and body remains all appeared to be ripped apart. The damage is severe. From the observation of footprints at the scene, it is likely that the body was torn apart by wild dogs after it had been disposed of.”
“Uh-huh.” Shi Shanyan fitted in naturally as though he had cooperated with these two men countless times before. “Was he also a resident of the neighborhood where his corpse was found?”
“Not really.” Jiang Lian continued to swipe at the photos. “The last victim is Huo Qingjun. He is different from the first two victims. He was a gate sentry security guard for the Dida neighborhood and lived alone in the basement of Feitong building two kilometers away from the Dida neighborhood.”
“Excuse me, Pangda.” Shi Shanyan said politely. “Please give me a cup of hot milk.”
The panda poked its head out and said enthusiastically, “Please don’t stand on ceremony, Mr. Shi!”
Yan Junxun squeezed his cup out of habit. He was afraid of heat, and the icy cold water made him comfortable. It was only when he was comfortable that a clean blackboard would materialize in his mind. He did not hear Shi Shanyan’s conversation with the panda. He was immersed in his own world; even his senses had turned dull.
“In all three cases, the disposal of the bodies are identical, and the way the bodies are dismembered are the same,” Jiang Lian gave way to the panda. “Even the victims’ experiences are strikingly similar.”
Jiang Lian displayed the three victims’ data side by side and said, “These three men have been in the news for sexual assault.”
“Leave the information behind.” Yan Junxun took a sip of water, took a tiny ice cube into his mouth, and crushed it between his teeth. The stimulating iciness surged past his oral cavity and swept through his body. “I want to take a look.”
We are currently in Book 01: Nemesis’s Breakfast
As usual, this novel is still ongoing so updates for this will be slooow for the time being. _(:3 」∠) There might also be a change in certain terms once the novel is completed, depending on the situation. I’ll do a re-edit of existing translated chapters once the novel itself is completed for accuracy’s sake. (In case, ya know, the author throws in surprises or reveals at the end). In the meantime, please bear with me, thank you!
Credits: Thank you to chanz (@Chanz_diri) and kotoni for the grammar advice!
- 焦炭 coke; processed coal used in blast furnaces
- Traditional Japanese-style rooms come with a unique interior design that includes tatami mats as flooring. Consequently, they are also known as tatami rooms.
- 堤坝 diba can also be translated as dam.
- 胖达 Pangda or Panda. 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) but JJWXC audio reads it as Pangda. Note that the novel is still ongoing. Names and terms might be edit in the future if there are any changes.