Edited by Isalee
By right, training the soldiers should be done progressively, but Xu Chuang had completely implemented what he said by “different” at the start of their training. After completing basic training in the first two weeks, they started going into various strength and stamina training. Their daily cross-country runs had turned from three kilometres every morning to five kilometres, and gradually, another five-kilometre run was added to the schedule, just before dinner. The recruits heard that a month later, the frequency would be increased to three times a day, and they would even have to run with a loaded backpack.
It took Bai Xinyu great effort to get used to the training schedule. Now that the intensity had increased so quickly, he was again unable to catch up. Among those punished for straggling in the cross-country runs, he was always one of them, and the punishments varied wildly from push-ups, squats, frog jumps to stretches. Each one of them left the soldiers feeling tormented, and Bai Xinyu was so exhausted every day that he wanted to wail for his parents, the feeling that he would die in this process again rising up inside him.
He wasn’t the only one who couldn’t keep up with the pace. Many new recruits started grumbling in secret. They were dog-tired every day, and the moment they lay on their bed, they instantly fell asleep. During this period, the gap between good and bad ones started to become obvious. Although Bai Xinyu held all sorts of resentment towards Yu Fengcheng, Yu Fengcheng’s performance in various programs was at the top of the list among the new recruits, and he was the sort of soldier that would make Xu Chuang, a sort of maniac, so happy that he would deign to give him a smile. Whereas for Bai Xinyu, he was clearly the one who would be severely punished when he got caught making a mistake. Men all wanted their dignity, and to be punished all the time, Bai Xinyu felt a blow to his dignity. However, he still did not change his attitude of just muddling along, and he still felt that participating in training was to answer to his superiors, and not himself. As such, his training results only grew worse, and it was a vicious cycle, making every single day of his a torture.
Tonight, Bai Xinyu was deeply asleep on his bed, only to be suddenly awakened by a piercing whistle in his ear.
Chen Jing leapt up from bed, shouting, “It’s an emergency assembly! Get up, hurry up and gather!”
Wails and groans were heard throughout the dormitory, followed by sounds of people plodding about and pulling on their clothes.
Nights in Xinjiang were extremely cold. To drag a person out from deep sleep in a warm bed for training, and even having to gather within five minutes, one could imagine the suffering.
Bai Xinyu was so sleepy that he could not even open his eyes. Hugging his blanket, he moaned, “Just kill me—”
Yu Fengcheng yanked his blanket away, dragging him up from his bed. “If you dare be late, the camp commander will definitely kill you.”
The moment Bai Xinyu heard the words “camp commander”, goosebumps instantly crept up his flesh. He swiftly put on his clothes and boots, finally following the rest of the crowd swarming downstairs.
Wearing an army coat, Xu Chuang sneered at them, clicking his tongue. “Just look at yourself, and then the others around you. Did you wear the wrong pants?”
Most people looked very miserable, and some did not have time to wear their socks. Others wore their belts wrongly, while there were also people who did not do up their buttons properly. A couple of laughs spread through the crowd.
Xu Chuang snorted. “Laughing?”
Instantly, silence descended on the crowd.
“The first emergency assembly, as expected, has left me disappointed.” Xu Chuang started picking at them. “Just look at how sleepy you all look. If what sounded just now wasn’t the bugle, but the enemies’ artillery, don’t even talk about fighting them. How many of you would be able to run out of the building? I said it long ago. Once you’re in my hands, don’t treat yourself like new recruits, hold yourselves like soldiers! However, with how crappy you look, you’re still far from being an acceptable soldier.” He glanced at his watch. “Now, a five kilometres cross-country run within thirty minutes. Those who don’t complete it will do it again. As a squad, if a quarter of the recruits don’t complete it, the entire squad will run again.”
Silence rang throughout the sportsground.
Xu Chuang shouted, “Go, run!”
The leader of Squad One led in shouting the slogans, leading his squad and heading into the poplar woods. The others squads all followed consecutively, bearing the hunger, cold and sleepiness as they ran for their lives.
Xu Chuang had never taken back his words. No one wanted to suffer another five kilometres, and so they all were extremely determined.
Daxiong shouted, “Squad Leader, it’s too cold.”
Chen Jing shouted back, “Run for a little while more and it won’t be cold anymore.”
“Squad Leader, how about we sing?”
“Sure, you start.”
Daxiong thought for a moment, then yelled, “The winds howl, the horses neigh, the Yellow River roars1…”
“Hahahaha—” Everyone burst out laughing.
Daxiong was angry. “Why the hell are you laughing?! Singing this song in times like these, that’s how we stay awake!” He lifted his head again, “Get ready, let’s sing!”
From the pitch-black, tranquil poplar woods suddenly came a powerful rendition of the Yellow River Cantata. It wasn’t sung, but yelled. There was no tune, no pitch, but what it had was the heroic spirit and exuberance of this group of youths. Momentarily, the entire woods was jolting from the energy.
After shouting along for about two lines, just as Daxiong said, Bai Xinyu found himself a lot more awake. However, after running about three kilometres, he started to lag behind. Thinking about how stragglers would have to run the five kilometres again, he put all his effort into moving ahead, but he gradually fell to the back of the pack.
Chen Jing slowed down his speed, running to the back. He shouted, “Everyone, if you see a comrade lagging behind, help them. Let’s try to get the entire squad through this.”
Every squad had twenty people, and a quarter of that was five. Now, looking at the situation, there were definitely more than five people who would not be able to complete the run within thirty minutes. Among the obvious stragglers, there were Bai Xinyu, Qian Liang, and a few others.
Feng Dongyuan ran over, encouraging them, “Maintain your breathing, keep it regular. Don’t be nervous. I’ve calculated it already. We normally make the run in slightly over thirty minutes. We just have to increase our speed a little, it’ll be fine.”
Qian Liang was gasping for air. “Dong- Dongyuan, you… you look even skinnier than me, why are you so good at running?”
Feng Dongyuan laughed. “I trained in long distance running when I was in school.”
Bai Xinyu’s eyes were about to roll to the back of his head because of the run. He felt that he would definitely be the slowest to return to the sportsground, and the price of being the slowest one would be that he would have to run another five kilometres. Was Xu Chuang trying to kill them?!
Feng Dongyuan tugged on Bai Xinyu’s arm. “Xinyu, you have to hold on, otherwise the camp commander will really make you run it one more time.”
Bai Xinyu could not catch his breath. “I… can’t make it… in thirty minutes.” Each time he finished running five kilometres, he would be nearly dead from exhaustion, and he would always be the last one in the entire squad, or even the entire camp. Normally, the punishment would be some push-ups, and although they were pretty tiring as well, it was a different level compared to another five kilometre run. In his heart, he wanted nothing more than to punch Xu Chuang to death.
Chen Jing said, “Even if you can’t, you have to do it. It’s fine if you can’t complete it yourself, but you might end up dragging the entire squad to run along with you.” He clasped onto Bai Xinyu’s arm. “Bai Xinyu, at the very least, you’ve already been a soldier for a month, have some spine.”
Bai Xinyu shook his head, drops of his sweat even landing on Chen Jing’s face. “Squad Leader, I really can’t. Half an hour… I really cannot finish it. Why not just knock me unconscious? Xu Chuang might let me off like that.”
Chen Jing said sternly, “Nonsense. You acting like this is equivalent to pretending to be dead on the battlefield. Is this something a soldier should do?”
Bai Xinyu gasped. “If I fucking… have to run another five kilometres, I’ll be dead… what soldier…”
Chen Jing smacked the back of his head. “Bai Xinyu, regarding your attitude problem, I’ll talk to you properly again when we get back. Now, even if you die, you must finish the run. As long as you try your best, if you can’t finish in thirty minutes, I’ll run the five kilometres for you! If you give up right now, I’ll look down on you for the rest of my life!”
At some unknown point in time, Yu Fengcheng had also run over to his side, looking at him silently.
Bai Xinyu gritted his teeth, feeling as though something was gripping his heart. Now, he was struggling between the decision whether to run or not. If he were to just fall down now and pretend to be dead, he would be able to avoid everything, but…
I’ll look down on you for the rest of my life!
That sentence was just like a humongous bell, knocking into him hard, reverberating a string within him that was called his self-esteem. He wanted to just drop to the ground and get it over and done with, but in the end, he was unable to make himself do it.
Feng Dongyuan pushed him. “Xinyu, run. You won’t die from running, and for all we know, you’ll be able to complete it in thirty minutes!”
Chen Jing said, “Dongyuan, go help Qian Liang. You, the ones with good stamina, go help the others. Don’t let anyone fall behind. Once there’s more than five people straggling, that means it affects our entire squad.”
Feng Dongyuan nodded and went to clasp Qian Liang’s arm, dragging him as they ran. The others also hurried over to help the ones lagging behind. If there had been no time limit, after a month’s training, they were all able to complete the run. However, with the thirty-minute restriction, they had no choice but to increase their speed. The demand on their stamina doubled, and the entire squad started supporting each other to run, the passing of time like a blade hanging above their necks.
Clenching his jaw, Bai Xinyu continued running forward. He looked as though he had just taken a shower, droplets of sweat rolled down everywhere. Yu Fengcheng went over to his other side; he picked up his arm and said in a low voice, “Don’t end up dragging the entire squad back with you. Lift your feet and run.”
Bai Xinyu unconsciously leant his weight onto Yu Fengcheng. Actually, he wanted nothing more than to hang off the other man. He could hear Yu Fengcheng panting, but it was very controlled. Dragging him along like this, there was definitely an increase in the expenditure of his energy, but Yu Fengcheng’s breathing was still very regular. The arm grabbing hold of him was very strong, and Bai Xinyu could not even stop if he wanted to. Tilting his head up slightly, Bai Xinyu looked at the drops of sweat clinging onto Yu Fengcheng’s sharp jawline. Like a river, they rolled down his neck into his clothes. They were both running, but Bai Xinyu felt like a dying fish while Yu Fengcheng could be described so well.
They were both young men with their limbs intact. Was the gap between them really that big? Bai Xinyu did not want to be a burden to the squad, forcing them to end up doing a second run with him, and he also did not want to let others run on his behalf. He only wanted to be an ordinary, dutiful soldier, just like everybody else. He just wanted to complete his tasks normally and not receive any punishment. Such a simple wish, was he not able to fulfil it? He, Bai Xinyu… was he really that incompetent?
Ever since he came to the army, without the backing of his money, he was instantly nothing at all. His results were always the worst, he received the most punishments, and no one would address him as “Young Master Bai”. No one would flatter him or appease him, and no one was even willing to get close to him. Many of them looked down on him, and Yu Fengcheng even directly called him a “good-for-nothing”. He originally thought that he could remain unaffected by all this, that he could continue using the way he handled his parents to handle all these matters and ignore them. As long as his days were spent comfortably, everything would be fine. However, he discovered that he was truly unable to do that anymore. When he saw a new recruit six years younger than him doing better than him, he felt horrible, and he felt ashamed. He did not have any lofty dreams of protecting the country, and he did not have any desire to compete and stand out. All he wanted was to be an ordinary soldier that did not lag behind!
The lights from the sportsground glimmered like stars in the distance. Bai Xinyu did not know how far he had run already, and he also did not know how much time he had left. He only tried his hardest to move his feet, making his way towards the light.
He didn’t want to be looked down on by anyone…