Edited by Beth
Si Nan jumped to his feet.
In the industrial zone, explosions created from the bombs followed the winding roads, clearing the zombies in the way. The SUV sped away with the backdrop of black and red explosions; drifting to a perfect stop just below the building.
Next, with a rocket launcher supported on his shoulder, Zhou Rong leapt out from the window and onto the roof of the vehicle, smiling brightly.
“Rong-ge has come back for you—!”
Dr. Zheng looked out of the window with an expression as if he was personally witnessing Moses part the Red Sea. He couldn’t believe his eyes. Whilst Chuncao leapt up from her previously depressed state and leant out of the window, wanting to scream, “You came back to die?!”
Fortunately, before she opened her mouth, she remembered that the corridor was filled with zombies, so had to forcefully swallow her words.
“You came back to die–?!” Above her, Si Nan shouted.
Si Xiaonan! My twin in this world! Chuncao thought as her eyes filled with passionate tears.
Zhou Rong laughed, “Watch! I’ll let you guys see the secret techniques of 118!”
Zhou Rong took out something that looked like an Uzi machine gun. However, its barrel had an attachment that could shoot triangular projectiles. Seeing that thing, Chuncao immediately pulled Dr. Zheng away. She had no time to worry if they would attract the zombies. “Quick, retreat!”
Before her words echoed away, the two had withdrawn several steps away, and the glass windows shattered.
The projectile, with a rope attached to it, swept past the top of their heads, and pierced right into the cement wall!
The other end of the projectile launcher was attached to the roof of the car via a very strong magnet by Zhou Rong. The rope stretched from the ground to the top of the ten-storey building. In the vast sky, it became a bridge of survival. Si Nan re-wrapped the baby, tying her firmly to his back, then asked Chuncao, “You first, or me?”
Chuncao was rifling through the entire room for a rope to tie Dr. Zheng up. “You!”
Si Nan inhaled deeply. Patting the baby’s little bottom, he spoke quietly, “With your mother’s blessing, please don’t fall out.”
He then tightened his military gloves, leapt off the building, and caught the rope in a flash.
The wind rustled his hair, his jacket flapping in the wind as he shot straight down from thirty metres up. With a knee on the ground, Zhou Rong steadied himself— and caught hold of Si Nan!
Zhou Rong, “Good!”
The force made the two fall back and onto the rooftop of the vehicle. Si Nan was pressing down on Zhou Rong’s body, and for the moment, the two were only millimetres apart.
Defeated, the sea of zombies receded. The gunfire that had yet to end, increased. Smoke curled upwards to the sky. And all of this was reflected in Zhou Rong’s smiling eyes.
That moment was something completely unexpected, and yet it felt as though it had been deeply engraved in his memories. They stared into each other’s eyes, and Si Nan eventually lowered his head, touching the same lips that felt rough due to dryness.
It was a fleeting kiss.
But the vast, hazy world froze in that moment, before shattering into countless shards, swirling away with the wind.
“…” Chuncao shivered. “In— in broad daylight! Out in the open they— did they forget about us two..”
“Before Captain Zhou retrieves the rope and leaves, let’s hurry up and move!” Dr. Zheng urged.
Zhou Rong laughed delightedly, whilst Si Nan flipped over and got up. He was slightly blushing as he slid down from the SUV.
Chuncao reacted. She tightened the rope around her body, afraid that it might not be able to take the weight of a full-grown man. She signalled for Dr. Zheng to hold onto her as tightly as he could. If the bedclothes were to tear apart, it would mean Dr. Zheng falling midair.
Dr. Zheng was hesitant, “Why don’t we.. let me do it, you’re still a girl..”
“Stop your nonsense and hold on tight.” Chuncao laughed.
Dr. Zheng wanted to tell her that if he had a daughter, Chuncao would be around her age. However, in that critical moment, he couldn’t think about anything else and could only hold his breath as he gripped Chunao’s shoulders. Grabbing on, he felt the firm and sturdy frame under his palms. The girl’s lean muscles were tenser than a rock, as if they contained a boundless amount of strength.
Chuncao caught the rope and stood on the windowsill. With an exclamation, she leapt into the air!
A few seconds later, Chuncao fell firmly onto the roof of the car, her face landing first. She was nearly crushed to death by Dr. Zheng.
“Yo, my daughter!” Zhou Rong kept the grappling hook gun. Crouching by the side, he spoke hypocritically, “Let daddy see if you’ve been injured, does it hurt? …”
Chuncao raised her head, two streams of blood flowing from her nose. “You could at least pretend to catch us! Would you die pretending?!”
“There are two of you, with my old arms and old legs, how would I be able to catch you? Alright, where’s the mother?”
Chuncao replied, depressed, “She jumped into the zombie hoard, I couldn’t stop her.”
Zhou Rong patted her on the head. “I’ll settle this with you when we get back.”
He fired a mortar as he stood up, clearing the zombies that were again swarming towards them from dozens of metres away. Jumping into the driver’s seat, he exclaimed, “Let’s go!”
It was 6 in the morning. The night was ebbing, and light was growing.
Still carrying the child, Si Nan sat shotgun and fell asleep. Slumped in the backseat, Chuncao and Dr. Zheng were sleeping with their mouths wide open and drooling. Even the non-stop explosions from the mortars could not disturb them.
The SUV drove through the highway, heading down south. Behind them was an endless stream of zombies, and in front were magnificent fireworks.
At the end of the wilderness, when the first light appeared over the horizon, Guo Weixiang gazed at the highway from the vehicle’s bonnet and shouted, “They… Da Ding! They’re back!”
Ding Shi and Guo Weixiang both rushed towards the highway, frantically jumping and waving their arms. Behind them, the civilians all sped out from the vehicle, staring at the SUV heading swiftly towards them with mixed feelings of both grief and joy.
Yan Hao was groggy, struggling to get up. The survivors carefully supported him.
“Rong-ge is back!”
“Captain Zhou has returned—!”
Covered with dew, the SUV stopped by the roadside, its outer layer reflecting the sunlight. Zhou Rong opened the door, and just as he exited, he was immediately embraced by Ding Shi and Guo Weixiang on both sides. The survivors clustered around with tears in their eyes. The women competing to take the baby from Si Nan’s arms, hugging, kissing and coaxing her while the men stood on tip-toes to watch.
“Is there anything to eat? I’m starving. Willing to exchange a kissy-kiss for some food,” Zhou Rong laughed. “Also, since he’s still sleeping, steal some of that milk powder Si Xiaonan has been hiding to prepare milk for the child, quick.”
The temperature had dropped sharply overnight. The freezing cold conditions had caused zombies from the three north-eastern provinces, as well as the entire North China, to gather and spread down south as a large force.
They needed to reach Nanhai ahead of the zombies and reach the safe zone. If not, they’ll end up like the Feng fellow and the other unlucky bastards, submerged in the crush of the thousands, even millions of zombies. That bus was destined to become their metal coffin.
Fortunately, other than Wang Wen, all the other survivors were unharmed, and none of the special-forces soldiers had been sacrificed in this flee for their lives. They had maintained their full strength to transport the information and antibodies to their destination.
The unfortunate part was also very obvious — there were no longer enough supplies.
When Si Nan woke up, he drank some cold water and ate two packets of compressed biscuits expressionlessly. From the speed of his chewing, it was obvious that he wasn’t happy. Zhou Rong was squatting beside him, eating his biscuits whilst reprimanding him, “You’re far too spoilt and pampered! The coddled generation will definitely be destroyed! Do you remember the Long March, 25000 miles trekked by the Red Army, they traversed grasslands, our ten years of Cultural Revolution and three years of disasters, fighting against floods and working on earthquake relief! It’s already a miracle you have biscuits to eat— yours even with raisins inside! If you’re still not satisfied then we’ll exchange!”
“What Cultural Revolution? I know nothing about that,” Si Nan responded coldly. “If you talk instead about General Washington crossing the Delaware River during the winter’s night, then I might identify more with it.”
Zhou Rong was transfixed on the biscuit crumbs on the corner of Si Nan’s lips. Desire flooded him; really wanting to kiss them off. However, the space around them was filled with people, and after thinking it over for a moment, Zhou Rong could only reach out and brush the hair off Si Nan’s forehead.
Stopping his chewing, Si Nan swallowed the remaining bite of biscuit. He yawned, wrapped his jacket tightly around him and returned to the armoured vehicle to catch up on some sleep.
The women were carrying the baby, clamouring to be the one to feed her milk. They built a fire with the wood they picked up, carefully heating up half a bottle of water to prepare the powdered milk. With his clothes wrapped tightly around him, Si Nan leant in his seat, gazing at that bottle of thick and warm milk. Gulping his saliva, he suddenly felt something hard in his arms.
He took it out, it was a bar of Dove chocolate.
“Wow, chocolate!” Wu Xinyan was picking up wood, getting ready for breakfast. She happened to walk past the vehicle, and casually said, “Let me have it!”
Si Nan glared at her.
Wu Xinyan looked back guiltlessly.
A few seconds later, Si Nan put the chocolate back into his pocket, speaking slowly, “You’re a girl, so you can’t eat too many sweet things. You’ll gain weight.”
Wu Xinyan, “…”
Chuncao and Dr. Zheng both woke up as well. Chuncao was extremely hungry, and clambered down the SUV to look for food. She happened to see a kind Auntie preparing a meal for invalids such as the half-asleep Yan Hao, so immediately headed towards her while drooling. Who would have guessed that before she could steal a can of food, a roar exploded behind her. “First Lieutenant Yang Chuncao! Get your ass over here!”
A shock ran through Chuncao’s entire body.
Zhou Rong was rested and recharged, and he was about to start settling accounts.
“Why didn’t you save the mother Wang Wen?” Zhou Rong emphasised every word.
In front of him, Chuncao was standing up straight, yet her head was bowed, like a frostbitten little cabbage. Dr. Zheng wrung his hands, wanting to explain. However, before he could even speak, he was forced back by Zhou Rong’s loud berating, “Why didn’t you carry her yourself?! Why didn’t you tie her to your back?! Why did the retreat take so long?!”
“There were 2500 bullets between Si Nan and you, Si Nan emptied all of his! Why didn’t you?!”
“You still had a 160 bullets left in your magazine, why was there 160 left—?!”
Zhou Rong was almost yelling into Chuncao’s ear. The people around them were terrified, and none dared to speak.
Si Nan was woken up by the shouts, and he cut in coldly. “I was on the scene as well, and I didn’t catch her then. If you want to scold someone, you should scold me too.”
“I can’t afford to scold you!” Zhou Rong raged mercilessly. “You’re not my team member, and you did not take any vows. The country isn’t paying you either!”
“What could I do with that pittance of a wage? Which individual here, giving their absolute all, did so because of their military pay? Is 118 even paying you your salary now?”
Under the eyes of an audience, Si Nan was actually opposing Zhou Rong. No one had expected that someone, who had always been very quiet, would be able to speak such harsh words. “How much is your salary? How many kilos of oil and rice can we convert it into? You—that fellow, get me a gun and I’ll go to the market close-by and loot the amount it’s worth. However much the First Lieutenant Yang Chuncao’s salary is, I’ll loot that amount just for you. Then from now on, she will work for me— how about that?”
Zhou Rong, “…”
Guo Weixiang who had been referred to as ‘that fellow’, “…”
Dr. Zheng’s jaw hit the ground. A moment later, he finally mustered up the courage to speak and feebly called out, “Uhh..umm”
Everyone turned their heads to face him, and Dr. Zheng forced himself to explain, “They both tried their best. There truly was too many zombies surrounding us from every direction.. it’s my fault for not holding the lady tight enough. She let go of me and jumped off secretly, wanting to give us time..”
Many people appeared unable to bear those words. Even the baby was woken up by the noise, and wailed loudly.
“If they were afraid of being burdened, then why would they put in so much effort to bring the baby back? If not for the two of them.. if not..for the two of them, we would have long been dead.” Dr. Zheng shrank back, emotional. “We really would have died.”
The survivors eyed Zhou Rong with veiled opinions, most with implications being that Zhou Rong was being unreasonable and how he could possibly act like he was. So Zhou Rong had no other choice.
“Do you admit your mistake?!”
Chuncao responded listlessly, “I do.”
Zhou Rong could only cease his aggression. Thinking over it, he added another sentence, “Go over there, you’re not allowed to eat!”
Dejectedly, Chuncao walked over to the vehicle and crouched down. With much shame, her fingers rubbed the hem of her dirty uniform.
Si Nan exited the car, wanting to snatch a gun. Guo Weixiang recalled that this person was the one who fought his way out of a zombie hoard alone. Afraid that he would really go loot supplies without a word, Guo Weixiang promptly hugged his gun and retreated a dozen metres away. “Calm down, you have to calm down!”
Si Nan had no other options, and spoke unhappily, “I won’t be eating too.”
He walked over to Chuncao, sitting down on the ground next to her.
“…” Zhou Rong was resigned. “My ancestor, you’ve just eaten, alright?”
In a trance, Yan Hao was fed a few mouthfuls of warm soup by others, and finally woke up fully. He had heard Zhou Rong scolding Chuncao and Si Nan, and had wanted to speak up to stop him. Helplessly, he was unable to make a sound, and now he could finally cough a few times while pressing against his ribs. “Rong-ge, Rong-ge…”
Huffily, Zhou Rong turned to walk over to the other armoured vehicle. “You’re awake now? Are you ok?”
Seeing that he had turned away, the women preparing breakfast all exchanged a look. Then, the auntie who prepared Yan Hao’s meal nodded, hiding something in her arms and moved over to Chuncao sneakily, shoving it into Chuncao’s hand.
It was two braised eggs.
Before Chuncao could say a word, Zhou Rong turned his head around, as though he had eyes in the back of it. “What are you doing?”
The auntie answered quickly, “Nothing!”
Cough cough cough!! Yan Hao immediately coughed loudly — he truly gave it his all. A few of his ribs were already broken, and this bout of coughing made him ache even more, he nearly fainted from the pain.
Zhou Rong could only return to his duty as the captain. “Quick quick quick, bring some warm water here. Tighten the plywood tied around his chest…”
The auntie spoke extremely tenderly, “My pitiful little child…”
She signalled Chuncao to hurry up and eat, then slipped away.
Chuncao was extremely hungry. Peeling the shell off an egg, she started gorging herself on it. Seated on the grass, Si Nan peeled the other egg for her. He looked up and observed the armoured vehicle nearby. Zhou Rong had his back towards him, half-crouching. He was holding onto Yan Hao’s head, and was calling out for anyone near to help the injured by boiling water to disinfect the bandages.
In the eyes of outsiders, their position was a little intimate.
Inexplicably, Si Nan’s mood sunk a little, and without a sound, he averted his eyes.
“Are you still upset?” Guo Weixiang came over with two bottles from another side, handing one each to them. He smiled, “It’s fine. In front of so many, and not saving the mother, it was bound to have happened that Rong-ge would scold you. Now that he’s done, everything’s fine. Don’t take it to heart, he knows that you both tried your best.”
Lazily, Si Nan did not respond.
““Rong-ge said all of those things because he feels guilty.” Guo Weixiang lowered his voice, persuading him. “You’re not one of the special-forces, and should be a civilian receiving the needed protection from us. However, forced by circumstances, he has had to treat you like a member of a death squad. If you achieve any honours, you won’t be able to receive any promotion or pension, so he’s actually very apologetic towards you…”
— if Dr. Zheng was next to them, he would have definitely realised something was wrong, and try to give an explanation. However, Chuncao was an ignorant girl, with her mouth stuffed full with eggs, so she nodded along as she listened.
“… Just shut up.” Si Nan held his hand to his forehead, finally unable to tolerate it anymore and interrupted Xiangzi’s nagging. “What do you know? You’re just a big cock.”
Si Nan stood up, pulling the chocolate from his pocket and handing it to Guo Weixiang. “For you two.”
After that, Si Nan got back into the car without turning back. Raising his knees, he huddled in a corner of the backseat. Wrapping his jacket tightly around him, he closed his eyes.