Edited by: Cyndy
The worse case scenario Zhou Rong imagined had happened. He stood on the roof of the factory, put down the military binoculars, and gazed into the skyline, deep in thought.
Before him the autumnal scenery faded into the clear, blue sky, stretching ahead as far as the eye could see.
In the distance, B City lay in ruins, like a huge cemetery.
“The shortwave radio signal has been disrupted throughout the entire country. We have no communications with the base, and no one is responding to our location signal. It’s been a week already. B Military Zone must have fallen, and there’s no nuclear bomb to wipe the city out…”
Zhou Rong muttered, “What kind of situation is this?”
He heard someone climbing up the metal ladder behind him, and a voice spoke calmly, “Maybe all military zones with the capability of dropping a nuclear bomb have fallen. No matter how well a fortress is guarded, it will never withstand an attack from within — you should understand this.”
“Yan Hao,” Zhou Rong said solemnly. “If you continue copying Si Nan’s way of speaking, I’ll beat you up. I’m serious.”
Yan Hao laughed and passed him a cigarette.
“Yo,” Zhou Rong was a little surprised. “You still have some left?”
“The civilians gave them to me.”
“As a member of the People’s Liberation Army, we can’t accept anything from the civilians…”
“The People’s Liberation Army has been keeping guard and helping the civilians transport the gas tanks. We won’t be punished for a cigarette. Just smoke yours.”
Under the bleak autumn sky Zhou Rong and Yan Hao puffed on their cigarettes while facing each other. In the front yard below them, the men were gathered and were installing a wire mesh fence. The place buzzed with activity; the women were feeding the chickens, planting vegetables, and engaging in occasional chit-chat.
Zhou Rong flicked the ashes of his cigarette away. “In two days when our defense perimeter is set up, I’ll go to B Military Zone alone to check on the situation there. You will all wait here for my updates.”
Yan Hao immediately frowned. “Are you crazy? Do you know how big B City is? Are you going to make a helicopter appear out of thin air?”
“If B Military Zone has fallen, it means that hundreds of thousands of zombies are trapped in there. Do you feel like you’ve lived too long or something?”
Stroking his chin with one hand and a cigarette in the other, Zhou Rong spoke up after a long while. “I feel there’s something strange going on. How did this virus come about? How would it progress from here on out? B Military Zone is so tightly guarded, how did it fall? If you tell me that stringent checks were not performed on everyone who entered the military zone, I won’t believe it. However, if all survivors who entered had been inspected, then how did the virus spread from within?”
“Unless,” Zhou Rong said lowly. “The virus has mutated, and is now undetectable with our current methods of inspection. Just like how those nurses in T City were infected without any bites.”
A cold shiver ran through Yan Hao’s body.
Zhou Rong continued, “Speaking generally, we’re the best and toughest squad with the highest security clearance out of the entire Northern China. We’re also the squad closest to B City right now. If we hesitate and refuse to go then, no one will know what’s going on in B Military Zone.”
“But not only that, if we don’t know how the virus has mutated, then our little shelter here also won’t last long — we’ll have to face the situation sooner or later. We’re so close to B City, how can we only just take care of ourselves?”
“…” Yan Hao did not speak for a long time before finally admitting, “What you said makes sense.”
Zhou Rong just shrugged his shoulders in a gentlemanly fashion, then stubbed out his cigarette.
Yan Hao pondered over it a bit more, then shook his head. “But you can’t go alone, it’s too dangerous. We should have a plan of action…”
“We?” Zhou Rong laughed. “What, all of us should go? Then what would happen to this group of thirty-odd people plus a pregnant woman? Who would protect them?”
Yan Hao opened his mouth to say something before a man with a box suddenly appeared nearby, crossed the backyard, and chanced a look up at the roof of the factory.
— It was Si Nan.
From the lab in the fertiliser plant, Si Nan found a lab coat. He wore the coat along with a pair of safety glasses and gloves, the sleeves of the coat rolled up to his elbows to reveal his slender yet powerful arms.
He balanced a box of reagents on his shoulder. Standing in the open space, he saw Zhou Rong and Yan Hao, then gave a small smile after a few seconds.
Without saying anything, he turned and walked off.
“…” Zhou Rong poked Yan Hao, astounded. “Did you notice that he’s been avoiding us the past few days?”
He did not get a response.
Zhou Rong turned around to look, only to see Yan Hao making his way down the roof. He landed agilely on the ground, and ran after Si Nan.
Zhou Rong placed the cigarette back in his mouth, slowly mulling over it, then smiled self-mockingly.
Squatting by the eaves, he was in a trance for a while. He scratched his head, and suddenly called out, projecting his voice, “Cao’er—!”
Chun Cao’s voice rang out from where the chicken coop was. “What do you want—!”
“What are you doing—!”
“I’m feeding the chickens—!”
“Papa will help you feed them!” Zhou Rong was reinvigorated. He bounced down from the roof, patted his hands, then headed towards Chun Cao.
“What is this, nitrocellulose?” Yan Hao frowned as he stood on the ground.
Si Nan had a cloth spread out on the empty space at the back of the factory. Using tweezers, he picked out the dripping, wet cotton from the box of reagents and carefully laid it on the cloth. He replied smoothly, “Dispersoid.”
“…” Yan Hao asked, “Are you trying to say dispersant?”
Si Nan, “?”
The two of them stared at each other for a few seconds before Si Nan asked in reply, “Didn’t I say dispersant just now?”
“You said Dispersoid.”
Confusion flashed in Si Nan’s eyes, but he quickly reacted and glossed over it. “You heard wrong.”
He turned to a corner of the plastic cloth and continued to spread the cotton on it.
Dispersoid was not a commonly used English term, and if a person could say it so smoothly, it usually meant that this person’s English wasn’t too bad, or he had some knowledge in chemical engineering — Yan Hao was a little sceptical, but didn’t show it, only smiling and asking, “Are you thinking of making a nitroglycerin bomb?”
“Yes.” Si Nan did not look up. “I’m trying. Currently, I can’t find anything with high levels of nitric acid, so I’m afraid that without enough nitrogen content in the nitrocellulose, the bomb won’t explode. However, it’s enough to make incendiary bombs.”
Yan Hao’s mouth opened silently. He nodded his head, and finally could not help but ask, “What was your job before this?”
“What do you think?” Si Nan asked instead.
Yan Hao took some time to contemplate it, then admitted, “I don’t know. You’ve definitely undergone professional training for your combat skills, so maybe an elite bodyguard or working in public security? If it’s public security, then you may have came in contact with chemical explosives. But that also requires a high-level specialisation, and with your age…”
Yan Hao studied Si Nan, and felt that he looked quite young. It was possible that he was twenty-five or twenty-six; even if he said he was in his early twenties, it was still believable.
At this age, to be able to handle a gun, have good driving skills, and even manufacture bombs, he could only think of a certain group of people —
Yan Hao’s eyelid started twitching madly. He probed, “… Are you religious?”
Si Nan was baffled. “What religion?”
Si Nan carefully spread out the last piece of cotton, and allowed them to dry under natural conditions without direct sunlight. Then, he returned to the back of the factory where he had personally created a confined lab.
Yan Hao wanted to follow after him, but after taking only one step, Si Nan instructed him to stop, as though there were eyes at the back of his head.
Yan Hao could only stop.
A few minutes later, Si Nan pushed open the door and came back out. In his arms was a cardboard box, and in it contained a pipette, a piece of white paper, a hammer, as well as the leather jacket and bike helmet he brought from T City. Yan Hao did not have the time to ask him about it before Si Nan waved at him, signalling him to stand a distance away.
Si Nan removed the lab coat and safety glasses, put on the leather jacket and helmet, then pulled the zipper up all the way to his chin. After covering himself up tightly, he used the pipette to pick up the liquid from a test tube, and carefully placed a drop on the piece of white paper.
He then put down the piece of paper, picked up the hammer, and took a deep breath.
At this very moment, at the chicken coop, a rooster seemed to have been stimulated and flew out, crowing. It rushed towards Si Nan —
Zhou Rong shot after it, shouting furiously, “Stop running!”
Si Nan’s hammer landed on the paper. The nitroglycerin reacted strongly. In an instant, a shocking explosion occurred!
The velocity of the explosion reached 7500 metres per second, creating a blazing light. Yan Hao did not have the time to react before he felt the shockwave rushing towards him, and suddenly fell a few steps back!
Bang! The rooster’s blood sprayed everywhere, dropping from mid-air.
Si Nan fell on his butt, and Yan Hao ran towards him to help him up. The piece of white paper had already turned into ashes. A small crater the size of a bowl appeared at their feet, sand and dirt scattered everywhere.
Throughout his entire life, Yan Hao had never seen someone so willing to sacrifice himself for science. He pointed at the crater, unable to say a word. Si Nan removed the now cracked-open helmet, and exhaled slowly. “You were asking which religion I follow?”
“…” Yan Hao said, “No, it’s nothing.”
“Comrades,” Zhou Rong spoke sadly from behind them.
Both of them turned their heads around at the same time. Chicken feathers flew everywhere; Zhou Rong’s hand was full of blood, holding a big rooster with a broken neck. It was unmistakably dead.
“I have no opinions about your science experiments, but in consideration of the fact that this is the only rooster in the chicken coop…” He waved the dead rooster in front of Si Nan and Yan Hao, saying coldly, “Congratulations, the plan of increasing our chicken count has officially come to an end.”
Si Nan pinched his nose. “Can we have fried chicken tonight?”
There was no fried chicken that night, but instead stir-fried pickled cabbage with shredded chicken. Everyone received a small serving each.
“There wouldn’t be enough fried chicken to go around,” Zhou Rong explained to Si Nan, then warned him solemnly. “I hope you won’t be testing your nitroglycerin explosives outside the chicken coop everyday for your personal interests. We still need the eggs.”
He scooped the small serving of shredded chicken from his bowl into Si Nan’s. On the other side of the round table, Guo Weixiang was pushing around the chicken bone in his bowl. He suddenly gave a long, emotional sigh. “If only I could be a rooster in my next life.”
Chun Cao was curious. “Xiangzi, did you take the wrong medication today?”
“What do you know? If I’m a rooster, I can have at least 20 chickens to myself, and watch them fight over me everyday. However, if I’m unlucky enough to be born an Alpha?”
Guo Weixiang picked up a chicken rib, and looked at it with refinement. “With the current ratio of ABOs, I’ll have to fight till I’m bruised and battered with at least 20 Alphas over 1 Omega. If I’m a Beta, it’s even worse. Finding a Beta girl to marry and having a kid will be difficult, and I can completely forget about finding an Omega. If that’s the case, it’s more practical to turn gay…”
Chun Cao said, “Your way of thinking is a little dangerous. Comrade, don’t give up on your life so easily, ok?”
“It’s not like being gay is a huge disaster or anything. If the virus continues spreading, being gay will be in our future. But back to the topic, if I have to become gay, I will definitely not choose our captain…”
Zhou Rong, “?”
“Yan Hao’s a good choice.” Guo Weixiang thought, then rejected it. “But he’s too muscular. If he continues like this, he will one day become a macho pretty boy. If…”
Yan Hao heard his name, and from another round table, he turned his head towards them. “What are you talking about?”
Chun Cao laughed, “Xiangzi is talking about the possibility of topping you.”
Yan Hao was greatly amused by that, pointing at himself then pointing at Gao Weixiang. “— Who’s the top? You want to try it out tonight?”
Guo Weixiang hurriedly raised his hands and pled for mercy. Then seeing Si Nan on the other side of the table, he quickly said, “Right, I can do it with Si Nan!”
Si Nan looked up from his bowl, staring coldly at Guo Weixiang.
Comrade Xiangzi burst out laughing and went up to hook his arm around Si Nan’s shoulder. Unfortunately, not many people at the table entertained him. Only Zhou Rong butted in with interest, “Xiangzi, stop it, our Comrade Xiaosi won’t like you.”
Guo Weixiong was surprised. “Really?”
Si Nan’s response was to inch Guo Weixiong’s arm away from his shoulder. His movement was leisurely, but the force he used was undeniable. He commented, “It’s good to be a Beta. It’s better than being an Alpha. Don’t look down on yourself.”
Guo Weixiang laughed, about to say something, only to hear Si Nan continue casually.
“It was very risky rescuing you guys in T City the other time. If you guys weren’t Betas, I might’ve regretted doing so.”
Guo Weixiang’s “but we’re not Betas” stuck in his throat, feeling as though he had swallowed an entire chicken egg.
The entire table of special force soldiers stared at each other. Si Nan picked up some shredded potato, and suddenly registered that the atmosphere was too quiet. “What’s wrong?”
“…” Zhou Rong spoke slowly. “Comrade Xiaosi, what were you saying just now? I always thought you advocated for gender equality…”
Si Nan laughed, “Who’s advocating for gender equality? I’ve never done that. I’ve always looked down on Alphas.”
A silence that caused one’s heart to palpitate fell upon the table. Finally, Yan Hao questioned in a dignified manner, “Why?”
“Probably because I’m afraid of trouble.” Si Nan thought about it, and replied calmly, “Many Alphas are very weak right now. If we meet any danger, I still need to spare some effort to protect them. Also, that ingrained chauvinistic attitude of Alphas… They might be the ones with the most outstanding genes, but in reality, they’re just barely evolved animals.”
Si Nan finished up the last mouthful of rice in his bowl. Putting down his chopsticks, he was surprised. “I’m done, you guys aren’t eating anymore?”
Under his suspicious gaze, everyone at the table was silent. They did not speak nor move.
After a moment, Zhou Rong finally coughed, explaining, “Our appetite today… isn’t very good.”
Their dinner ended in a dead silence that was unable to be explained in only a few words. Even Chun Cao did not finish her third bowl of rice.
Ever since they set up camp in the fertiliser plant, there would be two special force soldiers leading ten men to patrol the area every night. The rest of them would be in the front yard exercising, training, learning how to fight, and inspecting the wire mesh fence surrounding them along with their other defense measures.
However, Captain Zhou and Vice Captain Yan, who were in charge of teaching everyone how to fight, were not very focused tonight. At 9.30pm, they ended the practice early, and let everyone head back to wash up and rest. The civilians in the front yard gathered in small groups, and headed to the dormitory at the back of the factory. A few youths even wanted to linger around Zhou Rong to ask him something, but suddenly they heard the loud squeal of tyres.
Zhou Rong swung his head towards the sound.
An inconspicuous danger was drawing closer to the industrial zone under the curtain of the night, bringing along with it restlessness and anxiety.
The door at the back of the factory was slammed open. Si Nan removed his safety goggles, his lab coat flapping behind him, his voice fixed. “The north entrance to the industrial area, 1 o’clock direction, 800m away.”
Zhou Rong remained steady and focused, perceiving everything around him. Suddenly, his pupils contracted slightly —
“Rong-ge!” Chun Cao slid down from a tree, sprinting over like an arrow. “A container truck on the road by the north has been flipped over! There are ten-odd survivors, and they’re attracting zombies towards them!”
“There’s roughly over 100 zombies nearby, and they’re following the survivors heading in our direction!”