“The shelter within the military zone was built in the middle of the last century, and was originally an enormous bomb shelter. At the beginning of this disaster, the military had paid to re-use this shelter with the lives of countless of people, and within a few days, they had turned it into a shelter that could hold more than a million people.”
Zhou Rong turned on the tablet, zooming into the complicated map on the screen.
“The shelter has 11 floors underground, the total shape tapering down like an upside down pyramid, and it’s divided into 5 zones. A Zone in the east is mostly for the resettlement of the disaster-stricken civilians. B Zone in the west is where the management, communications and electricity sources are found. You’ll find the garrison and the armoury in C Zone in the south, and D Zone in the center is the transport hub as well as the sewage system.”
“E Zone in the north is the most important, and has the highest security clearance. It’s where the medical quarantine area and the research into the virus is located.”
“As Unit 118 with the highest security clearance, our ID tag allows us to enter A, B, C and D Zones, and we’re allowed to enter E Zone under specific circumstances. We now suspect that there has been an outbreak of the virus in the research lab.”
Zhou Rong drew a line on the map.
“Our initial plan is to enter the center of the shelter through the sewage system, then we’ll split into two groups. One will follow the light rail tracks to the armoury in B Zone —” He marked the location on the map. “We’ll transport the rations found there as well as refill our ammunition supply. It’ll be best if we can get another armoured vehicle there. This team will be led by Yan Hao. Xiangzi and Dingshi will follow.”
“The other team will follow me into C Zone to investigate the situation. Our objective will to be to use the satellite communication system in the shelter to try and get in contact with other military shelters. If there is a need to do so, we’ll enter E Zone and retrieve the latest information about the virus in the research lab for other institutions to do further research in the future to prevent such situations from happening again.”
Zhou Rong surveyed the group. “This team will be led by me. Chun Cao and Yingjie will follow. Does anyone has any questions?”
In the rear compartment of the armoured vehicle, the special force soldiers were huddling together, crouching.
Outside the window the last rays of the sun slowly sunk below the horizon. Birds covered the sky, and night was descending. The collapsed buildings within the military zone were gradually shadowed.
Si Nan raised his hand. Zhou Rong pointed at him with a pen. “Comrade Xiao-Si, please speak.”
Comrade Xiao-Si asked, “Which team am I following?”
“Which team do you want to follow?”
Si Nan stared at the map on the screen of the tablet without a sound. Next, Yan Hao coughed and spoke to Zhou Rong, “The risk of going into the armoury is lower, there’s no need for four people. I’ll give you Da-Ding, and Si Nan can follow us.”
Zhou Rong did not agree to it, nor did he state his thoughts. He only asked Si Nan, “What do you think? Decide it yourself.”
Si Nan was silent, and the only thing that could be heard was everyone’s breathing. After an unknown period of time had passed, or maybe it was just a few seconds, they finally heard his hoarse and curt reply. “I’ll follow you.”
He did not look at anyone when he replied, but Yan Hao instantly knew he meant Zhou Rong.
“Very good, team allocation is done!” Zhou Rong tucked the military-issued tablet away, suddenly standing up. “Next, everyone, please stay vigilant. Prepare your gear, let’s go!”
Boom! The floodgate to the underground sewage system was blast open. A pungent stench wafted up from beneath.
Everyone simultaneously tugged their gas masks on. Zhou Rong choked on the smell, coughing a few times. Pointing forward firmly with his index finger, he motioned the rest of them to follow closely, and took the first jump into the calf-high waters.
The tunnel extended straight down, the angle becoming steeper, and the dirty water gradually rose up to their thighs. It was so dark that they could not see anything in front of them, and only the searchlight on their helmets provided a light source for them to view their surroundings.
The seven people pressed forward through the waters in a row. The tunnel became wider, and the sounds they made as they waded through the waters echoed through the empty space.
“Say,” The second member in the row, Chun Cao, could tolerate it no longer, and she broke the silence. “Our mission this time is so dangerous. Before we separate, let’s have a good chat.”
The moans of the zombies were heard in the distance, responding with perfect timing.
Behind Chun Cao, Si Nan was solemnly wading through the waters, and behind him, Zhang Yingjie laughed. “When was it never dangerous?”
“But it’s extra dangerous this time.”
“So what should we talk about?
Chun Cao thought about it. “Let’s talk about why we joined Unit 118. I joined because I thought it was very cool after getting the enlistment letter. Rong-ge, what about you?”
Zhou Rong led the way in front of her. He did not turn his head. “The high salary.”
Ding Shi answered honestly, “Same as Rong-ge.”
Guo Weixiang, “To prove myself!”
Yan Hao, “… Career advancement in the special force is faster.”
“My wife and children can enjoy the military benefits.” Zhang Yingjie was embarrassed. “My original unit was only allowed to take leave once a year. Rong-ge said that if I transferred to 118 they can arrange for my wife to take on a confidential job, and my children can be sent to the school in the military zone…”
“Sister-in-law isn’t in this shelter, right?!” Guo Weixiang was alarmed.
“No, when the outbreak happened she had returned to the old family home in Dongbei.” Zhang Yingjie sighed, “It should be already winter there. The weather is extremely cold, the zombies will be weaker, and every household should have enough vegetables in their cellar to survive through winter… I hope they’re still safe.”
They fell silent. Zhang Yingjie seemed to be a little regretful for dragging the mood down further, and took the initiative in changing the subject. “What about Si Nan? I’ve never really heard you talk about yourself before. Your family background is pretty good, right?”
Hidden behind the gas mask, Si Nan replied after a moment, “I don’t remember anymore.”
This response made the eager audience all imagine various scenarios immediately. It ranged from a broken family to a child’s rebellion and then to a problematic education as a youth… As their thoughts bounced around, they finally heard Si Nan’s voice again, adding, “I really can’t remember anything.”
“What about your parents?” Yan Hao asked from all the way at the back.
“I’ve forgotten,” Si Nan answered indifferently.
The atmosphere turned even weirder than before.
They were now wading through the waist-high waters. Under their feet, the tunnel elevated sharply, and they could vaguely feel a slight change in the air current flowing from the front. Zhou Rong looked down at the tablet, studying the dense lines of the sewage system in the map, then his voice rang out, ebullient, “Don’t worry, Comrade Xiao-Si! Now that you’re in Squad 6 of Unit 118, you’re a member of our friendly and loving family! When we go back, remember to remind me to give you an official position. Do you have any special requirements or needs? Like arranging for military benefits for your girlfriend, a kindergarten for your child or anything like that? Do you have any emergency contacts?”
“…” Si Nan responded, “No.”
“Then you have to have one.” Zhou Rong said regretfully. His foot landed on a step in the water.
They had reached the end of the tunnel. In front of them was a stone wall covered in moss, and a cool wind was blowing from another tunnel above them.
Using a military knife, Zhou Rong pried open the cover of the tunnel. With his hands grabbing onto the edge of the tunnel above him, he pulled himself up with a grunt, water spraying everywhere.
“The terminal station of the Blue Line on the underground light rail system in the central zone.” Zhou Rong surveyed the surroundings, speaking softly, “It’s safe, come on up.”
The six members took turns pulling themselves up. Everyone was soaked, and the smell coming off them was unbearable.
“If something happens to you, the organisation will send your pension to your emergency contact…” Chun Cao quietly explained to Si Nan. “If there’s a need, they’ll help them arrange for work as well, providing for the older ones etc…”
Zhou Rong turned on the tactical flashlight, observing their surroundings.
This was the back of the control station in the terminal station of the light rail system. The place was not big, and there were piles of cables all over the place. It was sealed from the outside by an iron fence. As the rail system had not been used for a long time, the power supply and the ventilation system were no longer working. Even with the flashlight, it was difficult to see what was beyond the iron fence.
“There’s something I never understood,” Si Nan finally asked Chun Cao about what had been bothering him. “What does Unit 118 refer to?”
This question was not exactly complicated, but it was not that simple either. Just as Chun Cao was about to answer, her words got stuck. “Uh… You can think of it as a very impressive special force unit, and it’s exclusively in charge of the country’s confidential matters. It’s something like the special force unit amongst all special force units.”
Si Nan slowly nodded to show his comprehension. In the next moment, he asked cautiously and politely, “It must have been difficult for Betas to be selected, right?”
The entire team was silent.
“You guys haven’t injected yourself with any medication right? Didn’t they say that only Alphas are allowed in the special force?”
In the suffocating silence, Zhou Rong finally replied slowly, “… Where did you hear this from?”
Si Nan sold out his source without any hesitation. “Feng Wentai’s bodyguards.”
Zhou Rong immediately refuted him forcefully. “That’s completely made up, they created rumours because of their jealousy! — Are we the same as those idiot Alphas?!”
His tone was resolute and decisive, every word powerful. The jaws of everyone in the team fell open. In the end, Guo Weixiang spoke up, trembling, “I… I’ve never admired Rong-ge as much as I currently am…”
Chun Cao covered her face. “You’re admiring the thickness of his skin?”
On the other side, Si Nan considered it, and was actually convinced. “I certainly don’t believe them.”
Zhou Rong was very satisfied with Si Nan’s apology. He spoke in all earnestness, “In our team…”
He moved the cables that were obstructing their path aside, then unscrewed the nails with the screwdriver in the handle of the military knife. “We lay great emphasis on our characters and teamwork, do you understand? That means, you not only have to obey the organisation unquestioningly, you also have to have outstanding combat skills and a tough spirit to endure hardships. We believe that every gender is born the same, as long as you’re willing to challenge your own limits, you’ll be able to get over the difference between the genes of an Alpha and a Beta…”
He unscrewed the last nail, jiggling the heavy iron fence. The clanging of the metal travelled a long distance.
“For example, your Rong-ge, me, has never felt that there’s anything superior about an Alpha. Rong-ge only respects people who strive for the best. Other than Omegas, all genders are equal in my eyes…”
Zhou Rong turned and gave a lightning-fast kick. It cut through the air, heavy and harsh, and the iron fence that weighed over a hundred kilograms flew out!
The sound from the landing of the iron fence reverberated through the place, and filled up the entire tunnel!”
“That’s it.” Zhou Rong pulled his leg back, speaking courteously to Si Nan.
Si Nan responded to him with a completely blank face.
Taking the lead, Zhou Rong crawled through the door. Just as he stepped on the tracks, he suddenly felt that something was not right, and so looked downwards.
The next second, he flew back like a crazy man, staggering and hugging Si Nan, yelling, “Fuck! So many cockroaches—!!”
Si Nan snatched the tactical flashlight from his hand. “Whatever happened to gender equality?”
Si Nan did not have a trace of fear. Carrying his tactical bag with and his assault rifle, he held the flashlight with his teeth and nimbly made his way to the tracks. With the same exact motion as Zhou Rong, he looked down onto the ground.
He looked up, and the audience only saw the tactical flashlight in his mouth turned left and right along with his actions. His movements were fast, but something seemed wrong, and next he took up his rifle, and fired at the ground rapidly!
Simultaneously, everyone went, “Ah ah ah—”
Bullets were flying within the narrow space, the shells scattering everywhere, and sparks lit the area. A few seconds later, the deafening gunfire finally stopped, the gunpowder smoke dispersing into the air. The pervasive stench caused everyone to be unable to breath, and dry heaves could be heard from everyone.
Si Nan turned around, his face pale. “The underground bugs are a little bigger…”
Zhou Rong roared, “Don’t say anymore!”
An underground world without sunlight, a putrid sewage tunnel entrance, a space filled with rubbish, germs and mud, the environment had turned into a terrifying ecosystem.
Three minutes later, the group crossed the track, starting to progress towards the transport hub in the central zone.
“I was only unprepared for the moment…”
“Don’t say anymore, Rong-ge, it’s fine.”
Zhou Rong led the way with an ashen face, and Chun Cao periodically gave him a few words of consolation. Behind, Zhang Yingjie laughed, “Rong-ge has a phobia of bugs, it’s a trauma left by a past mission. Although he can control it most of the time, occasionally seeing it it’s a little hahaha—”
Si Nan spoke coldly, “I want know what is `other than Omegas, all genders are equal`. I think that even an Omega wouldn’t have acted the way Zhou Rong did just now. Right, can you give me another magazine? …”
The row of seven successfully made their way through the checkpoint. Following the tracks for half an hour, the tunnel ahead suddenly got brighter.
The design of this bomb shelter was such that even if the shelter was flooded and the main power supply was cut off, the back up generator would be enough to maintain the basic ventilation and light source for the main zones.
Ahead was a place that looked very much like a train station. On the left was gloomy, dim lighting, and the zombies’ moans and footsteps could be heard indistinctly. On the right was a track stretching out towards darkness. Zhou Rong turned his head, throwing a gesture at Yan Hao who was all the way at the back of the group.
The track led to C Zone in the south, where the armoury was.
While Zhou Rong’s little team would have to get onto the platform, head into the B Zone in the west, and search for the satellite communication system.
— Here, they had to split from their friends.
Yan Hao nodded, crossing the track with Ding Shi and Guo Weixiang, walking into the deep tunnel with a flashlight.
Zhou Rong remained standing where he was, motioning at Chun Cao, Si Nan and Zhang Yingjie to gather close. Just as he was about to relay his instructions, they suddenly saw Yan Hao who had not travelled far turn back and headed towards Si Nan.
Si Nan’s brow knitted slightly, but before he could ask anything, Yan Hao suddenly reached out and gave him a tight and intimate hug.
Under everyone’s eyes, this hug was very long, and it stunned Si Nan.
No one spoke, nor did they move. Zhou Rong silently lowered his eyes.
After ten whole seconds, Yan Hao let go and took half a step back, smiling at Si Nan.
That smile was a little sorrowful, but Yan Hao’s expression was gentle, his eyes bright, his lips kind. He looked like a very well-bred and close neighbourly elder brother.
Next, he waved, raised the tactical flashlight, turned and walked into the deep tunnel.