The underground waterway was filled with a deathly stillness. Only the sound of dripping water could be heard, echoing softly through the tunnels.
Si Nan turned his head away slightly.
Separating them was distance of over ten metres. Zhou Rong could see the shadows further carving out his sharp features. From his straight nose to his lips, his chin, it was like a paper-cut silhouette.
“You guys go ahead.” He suddenly spoke, “I’ll return to the entrance and drive the old vehicle back.”
Before Zhou Rong could persuade him, he heard the metal door clanged shut, followed closely by the sound of the door locking.
Zhou Rong was furious. He ran up and grabbed the bars of the door. “Si Nan!”
The echoes from shaking the door reverberated through the tunnels. However, Si Nan was already a few metres away, stepping through the water. “What are you doing?”
“It’s too dangerous for you to be alone, go with us!”
“You don’t have to care about me!”
Zhou Rong looked at his blood stained, handsome and cold face, unable to understand what he was thinking.
The Si Nan who would take the initiative mumbling into his ear quietly, the Si Nan who cried aloud immediately when seeing him in the pit, the Si Nan who burst into fury when seeing Zhang Yingjie’s body being stolen, had suddenly turned back into that distant, aloof, on guard Si Nan whom they met for the first time in T City, even staying several metres away from him.
It was as though after experiencing a life and death situation, all his liveliness and intense emotions too vanished along with him, turning him back into that icy, cold, shell.
Si Nan’s unusual defensiveness against Alphas made Zhou Rong think of some extremely unpleasant guesses. However, he was unwilling to think further about it, and only gave a long sigh. “Comrade Xiao-Si, it’ll take at least two hours to get to the entrance from here. You’re all alone, and you don’t have any weapons…”
Si Nan extended his hand. “Give them to me.”
“A gun, and the car key.”
“You!” Zhou Rong pointed at his nose, furious. “You better not go overboard! You don’t even trust your own teammate?! You…”
“You’re not giving them?” Si Nan spoke coldly, then turned and left.
Zhou Rong immediately removed the Uzi submachine gun from his body, taking out the key to the old armoured vehicle they had used to drive into B City. “Come here!”
Si Nan refused. “Toss them over.”
Time ticked on. Si Nan’s attitude was as immovable as solid ice. Zhou Rong felt conflicted for a moment, and he could not think of anything else to do. As such, he could only toss the uzi and the key through the bars.
Thinking about it, he was still worried, and he advised him. “The sewage system of the base is very complicated. There might also still be zombie gorillas near Zone E. Just wait here, I’ll go up and get a signal flare. If you happen to be in danger you should immediately…”
Before he could finish, Si Nan picked up the car key and the submachine gun before turning and leaving. Zhou Rong choked, “Hey! Where exactly are you going?!”
Si Nan did not even look back, replying calmly, “I’ll see you at the factory.”
Zhou Rong listened to his footsteps getting further away. Finally, he exhaled, giving up.
The distance between people was truly like this. A one-sided endless pursuit would only cause the other side to vigilantly retreat even more quickly — he thought self-mockingly. Turning around, he returned down the same path he took here. Suddenly, Zhou Rong rubbed at his nose, smelling something strange.
The stink that had been brewing over the years in the tunnels was thick. Mixed with the rusty smell from the metal doors, the mold from the walls, it was as though an atomic bomb with strange smells was attacking his nose. However, amidst this indiscriminate combination of smells, where Si Nan stood just now had an indistinct scent of something he could not put into words.
He was unable to describe what it was, but his heart sped up.
However, when he paused for a moment, the scent was again covered up by the pungent smell of the tunnels.
“Rong-ge!” Chuncao’s voice travelled from a distance. “Where are you? Are you all right? Where’s Si Nan?”
Chuncao could wait no longer, and decided to come down to take a look. Zhou Rong regained his senses, and coughed.
“It’s fine… I’m here, come and give me a hand.”
Zhou Rong and Chuncao worked together to move Zhang Yingjie back up the tunnel. Si Nan had jumped very quickly into the tunnel, and Zhang Yingjie’s body did not suffer much damage. Only his eyes were still wide open. Zhou Rong tried to close them, but no matter how he tried, they never shut.
Ding Shi said that there was something his village used to say. A person whose eyes could not be closed after death was because there was still something they were worried about. As such, Zhou Rong crouched on the ground, looking at Zhang Yingjie. “Yingjie, Yan Hao has survived, we all have survived. We’re about to take the information and the anti-bodies to Nanhai. When the mission is done, we’ll go steal a helicopter and go to the northeast to bring your wife and child to the shelter. In the future, whatever I have, your wife and child would have them too. As long as I still have a breath, your wife and child will live a good life…”
Zhou Rong reached out again, and this time, Zhang Yingjie’s round eyes slowly closed.
When entering the base, the seven of them had been making quips and jokes. Now, when leaving, there were only four standing, one unconscious, and another who would never wake up again. Zhou Rong and the group first returned to the central zone before heading up. Along the way, they met waves and hoards of zombies. However, Yan Hao and his group had managed to gather large amounts of ammunition, and a few rounds of shooting as well as hand grenades soon cleared the passage.
They arrived at the surface half an hour quicker than they estimated. Seeing the explosion-proof armoured vehicle, Zhou Rong exclaimed, “You guys are sure capable. You even managed to drive this over?”
Guo Weixiang responded, “We had to manually blast a few doors open before we could drive it up. At first, we wanted to head back to steal a helicopter, but then we got caught by the zombies.”
“So, this shows that people should really not bite off more than they can chew. If you’ve just waited here, wouldn’t you guys have been fine? However, you guys really can run. Running all the way from the south zone to the north zone. Not sending you guys to the Olympics was truly a loss for our country’s track and field team… Oh? There are even mortars!”
Chuncao spoke, “Enough, Rong-ge. You’re starting to drool.”
Zhou Rong smiled. He lifted the mortar onto his shoulder, testing it. He then tossed it back into the trunk and slammed it shut. “Let’s go!”
The armoured vehicle made a turn, rushing out of the parking lot of the base. With a crash, it blew through the gate, flying towards the south.
Six am at dawn, the sky was dark and grey over the blood red earth. Along the metal chain fence, Zhou Rong made a turn. In front was the entrance to the tunnel they had used to enter the base. The old armoured vehicle they had used earlier was still parked by the road.
A figure was leaning against the door. Hearing the sound, he turned around.
Si Nan had clearly done some washing up. He found a set of the uniform worn by the riot police somewhere. On his feet were a pair of black leather boots with thick soles, and on him hung an uzi submachine gun.
He looked as though he was waiting for the sunrise, or he was simply just resting over there. The blood stains on that handsome face had already been washed off. Due to being dressed entirely in black, his face seemed even more coldly pale. When the armoured vehicle drove past, through the windows, he composedly met Zhou Rong’s eyes.
Zhou Rong looked at him from his elevated position with a scrutinising gaze. Si Nan was quickly left in the dust.
From the rearview mirror, Si Nan could be seen getting into the vehicle, and it slowly made its way onto the road.
The distance between both vehicles was less than two hundred metres, sticking together closely. The few times Zhou Rong looked up, he could see the shadow of the vehicle behind. The sky gradually lightened. Each time they drove past a big supermarket and a petrol station, Zhou Rong would always stop and lead the group to look for goods as well as stocking up their food and water supply. Si Nan too stopped his vehicle as well, but he did not get down. Instead, he took a nap in the driver’s seat.
Rummaging through the messy shelves, Zhou Rong gathered up the batteries, salt, soap, paper clips and other various items into a cardboard box. He carried them out of the supermarket, casually kicking a stumbling zombie away.
He grabbed a bottle of aspirin and tossed it at Ding Shi, signalling him to feed it to Yan Hao. Turning around, he saw Chuncao on tiptoes, leaning against the window of the armoured vehicle and speaking to Si Nan.
Zhou Rong was not very happy to see this. Standing still, he pondered over it for a moment, then returned to the supermarket, shooting some zombies. He headed towards the food section and found a few packs of candied fruit, bringing them along with him.
“Daughter!” Zhou Rong stood between the two vehicles and shouted, raising the candied fruit and waving them.
Chuncao looked up, and as expected, she was scornful. “It’s sweet and sticky! Who would ever want to eat that!”
Zhou Rong could distinctly see the bob of Si Nan’s throat, as though he had just swallowed his saliva.
“Then forget it,” Zhou Rong spoke disappointedly. Holding the candied fruit, he slowly walked away.
On their way back, they stopped for about seven or eight times, ransacking several supermarkets. With their strength, they transported more than a ton of food staples and dozens of boxes of daily necessities, a remarkable quantity.
Yan Hao’s situation did not improve, but neither did it worsen. He was still unconscious, and by evening time, he had a slight fever. Zhou Rong wanted to break into the hospital’s pharmacy, but the public hospitals were the worst-hit areas by zombies. They only had four fighters at full strength. Together with Si Nan who was very likely to leech off them and just gain experience, there were a total of four and a half of them. With tanks and no healers, they really did not have the strength to invade the public hospital, and so Zhou Rong had to give up.
Fortunately, before the sky darkened completely, they finally found a hospital dealing with plastic surgery. The doctors and nurses had all turned into zombies and ran away. Zhou Rong then brought along his trash daughter and swaggered into the pharmacy. He did not care if he recognised them, but as long as they were medication, he brought them all with him.
“Don’t try it!” Zhou Rong was appalled. “There’s no chance for you ever in this life, don’t even think about it!”
Chuncao stretched her neck as she stood in front of a mirror. Holding a fake silicon chest, she held it up to her own chest.
“Say, on our journey, is there a chance to rescue a plastic surgeon?” Chuncao seemed to be in deep thought. “Don’t they all say female Alphas are mostly curvy? Why is there nothing happening with my chest? I think I might be a fake Alpha…”
Zhou Rong was helpless. “The second puberty of another body part of yours doesn’t seem to agree with that.”
“I can’t even use it now. Also, I can’t take a photo of it and ask for likes.”
Her words were very logical. Zhou Rong was unable to respond to that, and could only console her. “The next time, just take a photo and send it to your friend circle. We’ll like the photo.”
They each carried two boxes of medication. Around Chuncao’s neck hung her fake silicon chest, and they exited the plastic surgery hospital. Ding Shi was standing guard, carrying his gun. Guo Weixiang was pissing onto a telegraph pole by the roadside. Behind them, the trunk of the armoured vehicle was open. Half of Si Nan’s body was inside, seeming to be looking for something.
Zhou Rong coughed.
Si Nan immediately stopped, taking a bottle of water out from the trunk. As he drank, he quickly made his way back to the vehicle behind.
“… You’re really not talking to each other anymore?” Chuncao asked quietly.
Zhou Rong asked in return, “What were you talking about just now?”
“N-nothing much… He doesn’t like Alphas, and feel that the pheromones are too oppressive, and he doesn’t feel safe… I said that my pheromones are weaker than all of yours, he agreed, and nothing else after that.”
Zhou Rong nodded, remaining silent. Chuncao continued sympathetically, “I think that Si Xiaonan might have suffered some trauma in the past. If the viral outbreak didn’t happen, he would actually be suitable for promoting the rights of Betas, asking for equal treatment and organising charities etc…”
The night fell, and the group returned to the armoured vehicle for dinner.
As they had gathered many resources, the stingy, miserly Zhou Rong finally was willing to be generous this time. He broke open the beer and several cans of meat and vegetables, dipping the bread into a jar of Lao Gan Ma1 and eating. Si Nan was still hiding in the old armoured vehicle, unwilling to join them. Chuncao then took some food and drinks to go look for him. A moment later, she returned. “He doesn’t want beer, and asked if there’s any more Lao Gan Ma.”
“Does he really plan on cutting all ties with us?” Guo Weixiang was disappointed.
Zhou Rong said, “You tell him, if he cuts off ties with us, there’s no more Lao Gan Ma.”
Obeying the instructions, Chuncao left, only to return very quickly. “‘Fine, no more then no more, just wait and see. Tonight I want two blankets to sleep.’”
Zhou Rong was about to say that if he cut off all ties, there would be no blanket. However, the entire car stared at him with deploring eyes.
Zhou Rong, “… Give him three!”
Late October nights up north were very cold. The few people squeezed in the armoured vehicle, making their beds on the floor. Only Zhou Rong was separated a distance away from the rest, sleeping at the furthest spot right next to the car door.
In the middle of the night, the moon and stars shone brightly.
The vehicle door slid open silently. Si Nan was wrapped entirely in a blanket, and only his right hand was extended. Rummaging through the cardboard box that stored food, he seemed to be looking for something.
His breathing was even quieter than a feline on a hunt. However, the box did not contain his desired target. It did not even have any other snacks, only an empty bottle of Lao Gan Ma. The plastic bag was full of plain soda crackers and bread.
Si Nan’s eyes slid about. Zhou Rong’s back was facing him, snoring steadily. There was a bulge in the pocket of his camouflage pants, looking as though something was stuffed in it. A corner of a packaging was revealed.
Si Nan, “…?”
Si Nan did not make any sound. Using two fingers, he pinched that corner.
Just as he was about to exert some strength to pull the bag out, Zhou Rong suddenly turned around and raised his arm. Grabbing hold of Si Nan’s waist lightning quick, he caught him and pulled him under himself!
Thunk! Si Nan’s head hit the bedding, and a dull thud could be heard.
Not far away, Guo Weixiang scratched his ass as he turned around. Mumbling, he seemed to be mentioning something about braised pork.
Si Nan’s brows were knitted tightly. Under the moonlight, his pursed lips reddened slightly, and he stared at Zhou Rong in silence.
Holding their overlapping positions, they did not move. A few seconds later, peace returned to their surroundings.
Zhou Rong studied Si Nan’s amber eyes, a lofty amusement in his own eyes, as his lips quirked up. He then pulled out that packet of candied apples from his pocket, shaking it. Leaning into Si Nan’s ear, he spoke slowly, “You…”
Before he could finish, his hand was empty. The candied fruit had disappeared.
Si Nan pushed him away, huffing as he wrapped the blanket around him. Rushing back to his vehicle, there was no more movement.