Edited by Beth
The third morning.
Zhou Rong collapsed on the eaves of the roof. Just as the sun hit the horizon, the sky looking like a fish flipping over and revealing its belly, he exhaled a breath of white in exhaustion.
He had twenty-one bullets left, along with four hand grenades, his combat knife, a dagger, an assault rifle, and a handgun.
His stock of food and water had been completely depleted.
Although he was pretty much at his limit, he had spent an entire two long nights in a city of zombies. Even Zhou Rong felt that there was a sort of unseen force blessing and protecting him.
But, was Si Nan still alive?
Zhou Rong looked out into the sea of zombies. Which corner, which crevice of this city was he exactly hiding in?
He glanced at his watch. It had already been thirty-six hours since Si Nan disappeared.
—Was he already disheartened, hopeless, or even… dead?
No, that wouldn’t happen — although there was completely no evidence to suggest otherwise, for some reason, Zhou Rong felt that Si Nan wouldn’t be killed so easily. The most likely situation was that he was unarmed and trapped somewhere, gradually losing confidence that Squad 118 would be turning back to retrieve him, so was hiding in some unknown corner wiping at his tears; otherwise he would be packing up, preparing to set forth and fight his way to the heliport in the city suburbs.
Just hold on for a little while longer. Zhou Rong clenched his jaw, forcing himself to sit up.
If after searching for forty-eight hours without any conclusion, Zhou Rong would take a gamble and head to the heliport. Realistically, it would definitely be a fruitless endeavour, but he still started the armoured vehicle, returning back to the city to continue his search.
“Hold on,” he murmured. It was unclear if the words were directed at himself, or towards the imaginary Si Nan smiling and waving at him.
“As long as we hold on, we’ll be able to see each other again.”
Zhou Rong tightened the bandage on his left thigh. When being chased into a dead end by a zombie horde, he had no choice but to escape by bounding from one tree to another. In the end, he had been pierced by a tree branch, leaving a wound that was even bigger than his palm. However, it was no longer bleeding. Left on the dirty and yellowed bandage was a dried, dark blood stain. It looked a little frightening, but fortunately it didn’t really hinder his movements.
Carrying a megaphone, Zhou Rong leapt down from the eaves, ignoring the zombies gathering nearby. He jumped from the treetops towards the street, and just as he was about to roar loudly, his feet came to a sudden stop.
—On a street corner, in the distance, there was someone with his back towards him, walking into a hardware store.
That person was wearing a hoodie, and from his back, his figure was muscular. Zhou Rong eyed him for a while, thinking that this person might even be half a head taller than him. Furthermore, along with a height comparable to Yao Ming, this person even had the muscles of Mike Tyson. Despite such a distance, it still made one feel as though they were looking at a mountain moving along the ground.
There were actually still people alive here?
Zhou Rong pondered for a moment. He did not reveal himself, but followed behind noiselessly.
Romuller flipped over, holding Si Nan down. “—Jane!”
The female Alpha rushed swiftly into the room, pressing down on one of Si Nan’s legs. She was entirely on the ground, her left hand on the edge of the bed, and the entire process was very practiced. It was as though in the past day and night, she had repeated this many times already.
Si Nan’s brows were tightly furrowed. He was trying his best to curl up, as he moaned painfully. Romuller signalled for the female Alpha, Jane, to leave the room, then he sat across Si Nan’s body, holding him down against all his struggles. Pinching his chin, he roared, “Noah! Look at me!”
Si Nan turned a deaf ear to him.
Romuller was right against his ear, shouting at him nonstop. The volume was loud enough to even wake the dead. It took quite a number of minutes before inhumane-like gasps and pants finally came slowly to a stop, and he opened his eyes groggily.
“Look at me!” Romuller yelled.
“What did you remember?” Romuller stared fixedly into his bloodshot eyes, enunciating his every word clearly. “When at the White Eagle base, how did you get in contact with C Country’s military? Where are the finalised antibodies? Tell me!”
Si Nan moved his lips. However, having had no water or food for the past dozen or so hours, as well as the ongoing, forceful interrogation that had been happening, he was extremely exhausted, and it was difficult for him to even make a sound.
Romuller mixed some maple syrup with water, returning and half-kneeled by his side. From his height, he commanded, “Drink it.”
Si Nan turned his head away.
There was no response.
“It’s just like the chocolate, right?” Romuller finally gave up, asking coldly.
Si Nan completely had no intention of paying him any attention, and closed his eyes.
This silent refusal, like an iron wall, caused Romuller to feel at a loss for what to do. He threw the glass of syrup water hard onto the ground, and shards of glass covered the floor.
The humble room descended into silence. Cold wind whistled through the gaps in the window, and other than that, only Romuller’s breathing, as he forced down his anger, could be heard.
The suffocating stalemate lasted for a number of minutes.
“… Fine, I’ll admit it.” Romuller again opened his mouth. Surprisingly, he was not spewing in rage, and his tone could even be described as being calm and controlled. He said, “Ok, I admit, I was wrong to have done the chocolate thing.”
—In Romuller’s life, the number of times he had said that he was wrong could be counted with the fingers of one hand. Even his own father might not have heard it for the second time before.
But Si Nan was unmoved.
“During your weakest period, I shouldn’t have let you turn on the electroshock device yourself as punishment, and to use chocolate to bait you into doing so.”
“—But you know,” Romuller paused, before continuing stiffly, “when bitten by a zombie during the test scenario, one would be punished. As soldiers who have gone through special training, both of us have experienced this before. Although the degree of the simulation you’ve experienced was higher than anyone in the White Eagle base, and you believe that using food as bait is a sort of humiliation…”
Si Nan did not react.
“Are you listening to me at all?”
Romuller inhaled deeply, controlling his emotions. “This childish stubbornness of yours is pointless, Noah. Just imagine, right now, you’re about to die from hunger, and there’s only a piece of chocolate in front of you. If you don’t eat it, you’ll die. Would you still insist on this sort of bland, ridiculous attitude towards me?”
He never expected that Si Nan would actually open his eyes and turn back towards him, smiling slightly and saying, “I won’t.”
—The two words were so hoarse that they were almost imperceptible, but the slight curve of those lips was real. Romuller was dazed just looking at it.
“I’ve long since started to eat chocolate already,” Si Nan said, making no secret of the malice in his smile, “a couple of days ago, someone gave me some, and I ate one big chunk.”
Romuller completely had no idea what he should say. He remained standing there, frozen.
Si Nan sat on the ground, again resting his head against the edge of the bed. It seemed as though that sentence had used up all the energy he had.
Romuller had always known that Noah’s true character had an exceedingly extreme and puzzling side to him. If he had to make a comparison between him and ordinary people, on some points, he was very much like a child, and it was the very childish and vengeful type of child.
He hated others, and he hated himself.
When he could no longer endure his hunger, because of a bait, a temptation — chocolate had become his greatest need, and he was thus willing to accept Romuller’s condition, starting the electroshock device himself, enduring the double torture of the physical pain and the mental humiliation.
But after that, he would also develop PTSD from it, and from then on, he rejected chocolate in all its forms, even vomiting reflexively when eating such things.
Romuller had observed that his vomiting was similar to some eating disorders. During its earliest stage, it was a punishment he gave himself, a self-loathing that made him behave that way. However, not too long later, it became true PTSD, and on one occasion, he completely could not even touch anything that was chocolate flavoured.
—Stubbornness, self-controlled, and fixated. Upon believing in something, he would constantly strengthen his own thought process of it, carving it deeply into his brain, forming a catalyst for instinctive behaviour.
This sort of character would usually never change.
Romuller completely didn’t expect that there would come a day where this so-called younger brother of his would overcome that trauma — if he wasn’t lying.
Somewhere deep inside Romuller’s heart twitched. He seemed to want to test it out, only to falter.
A moment later, with a complicated feeling, he coughed. Pulling down the zipper of his jacket, he revealed a corner of the scarf inside. “… Noah.”
“Look at this, Noah.” He pinched Si Nan’s chin, forcing him to turn towards him. However, this time, his actions were deliberately a lot gentler. “Do you still remember this?”
That was a very ordinary, dark grey, wool scarf. There were no prints on it, and it was very thin. Due to its age, the edges were already frayed, and it actually was not very compatible with the upper class air that exuded from Romuller.
Si Nan shot a glance at it.
“That year, when my mother passed away, I flew from New York to Los Angeles to attend her funeral. At that time, you were present too,” Romuller said slowly, “after the funeral, I walked into the forest alone. It was raining then. You suddenly walked over, and handed me this scarf…”
“‘Aren’t you cold like this?’ That was what you asked me then. And my response was to swing my hand, flinging the scarf away, angrily rebuking you, asking you to scram. You did not say anything more, only looking at me for a while before turning away and walking out of the forest.”
Many years later, Romuller could still clearly recall all the details of that memory, including his younger brother’s pale face, how he was wrapped up in a black coat, his extremely dewy eyelashes due to the drizzle, as well as the arc of his clothes swirling in the air as he silently turned away and left.
As for why the memory was so deeply imprinted in him, it was because that was the first time ever, that Noah had used such a gentle attitude and spoke to him on his own initiative.
However, that was also the last time. As such, never again did Romuller have the chance to confirm his notion that twisted about in his brain countless times — at that time, if he had responded with a completely different attitude, would things have all turned out differently?
“The next day, before I left Los Angeles, I returned to that forest. Picking up your scarf, I kept it all the way until now.”
Romuller removed the scarf from his neck, staring straight into Si Nan’s calm and unruffled eyes. “This time, before coming to China, I brought it along with me purposely, as I know that an unprecedented disaster had already started, and humankind may soon be wiped out from earth. Then, today, when we’ve reunited during the apocalypse, with regards to many things that had ended before they could even start, is there still a chance that we can return to the time before everything began, and redo everything again?”
“—If you agree, tell me where the finalised antibodies are,” Romuller spoke quietly, almost in a whisper, “Once the vaccine is developed, humankind will build the final security fortress, and both of us can be among the first batch of people to enter it… I guarantee, all the painful past will forever only be memories, and I’ll let you live a very good life, the sort that you could not even imagine in the past, and live well.”
“It’s true,” he said solemnly, “as long as you trust me.”
After a long period of silence, Si Nan said quietly, “I’ve never trusted you ever.”
“I know.” Romuller paused, and asked in return, “But just like chocolate, something that you thought you would carry with you until the end, ultimately, also changed, didn’t it?”
Si Nan lifted up his right hand that had not been cuffed. Using two fingers, he stroked the edge of the scarf that had frayed due to wear and tear.
Romuller looked at him, his eyes full of encouragement. In them, there was even a trace of hungry anticipation that he himself had yet to discover.
“…” Si Nan gave a sudden small smile.
Although that smile was very weak, it was undeniably peculiar, and promptly, he let go, shaking his head.
“What?” Romuller could not help asking.
“I don’t remember anymore,” Si Nan said as he smiled, “but I’m not the sort of person that will do something like this, especially towards you. So, it’s either you’re lying…”
“Oh?” Si Nan said lazily. “Then that should have been me wanting to take the opportunity of you being alone, and strangling you with the scarf, only to be mistaken by you.”
Romuller stood up immediately, his complexion switching between red and green. Still, before he could say anything, Si Nan’s final words successfully lit up the fuse to his rage.
“You’re flattering yourself too much, ‘gege’,” Si Nan said sympathetically, “Just like how your father behaved towards my mother… even until her death, she had never even looked straight at him once.”
A sharp growl, slightly offkey, suddenly came from the room. “Jane!”
The female Alpha quickly pushed the door open to see her superior standing by the bed. When he turned around, his pupils had turned into a terrifying clouded grey.
“The truth serum.” He gnashed his teeth, his fury making his every word chilling. “… Bring all the truth serum here!”
Abbas casually shot at the few half-rotting zombies in the alley, killing them. Carrying a cardboard box, he stepped into the yard, only to see his female comrade standing under the pagoda tree with her arms crossed. Behind the tightly shut door came the sounds of something hitting the floor, as well as things being rummaged and thrown about.
“You’re back?” Jane took the cigarette away from her lips. “Anything good?”
Abbas silently put the cardboard box down, taking out the items inside one by one.
Batteries, knives, hardware parts, half a bottle of engine oil, half a bottle of baijiu.
Jane picked up the bottle of baijiu, throwing her head back and gulping some down. Clicking her tongue, she said, “This place is not ideal, the goods at the southern coast are a lot more plentiful. Seen anyone alive?”
Abbas shook his head.
Jane suddenly shot a look behind him, calling out sharply, “Who’s there?”
Abbas jerked his head back, and the two people simultaneously gazed at the top of the wall that had been covered by the trees.
For a few seconds, there was no movement at all, then the trees suddenly shook a little. A black shadow shrieked sharply, scrambling across the top of the wall — it was a skinny and ragged grey cat.
“Just a little thing,” Jane mocked. It was unclear if she was referring to the cat or the person inside the house.
Gloomily, Abbas asked, “When you just entered White Eagle, this was not what you said when you were being trained by him.”
Jane laughed, “So, don’t you feel very satisfied to see this sort of person being tortured now?”
“Especially for an instructor like him, harsh and cruel, always holding himself aloof, never looking straight at anyone… to torture someone like this, it would definitely be very stimulating.”
Abbas thought about it. Before he could respond, the door opened.
Wrapped in an air of violence, Romuller strode up, not looking at his two subordinates that had snapped to attention. “To the north.”
Jane had yet to make the connection. “What?”
“The plane had crashed in the north,” Romuller said coldly, “he must have dumped the things there. Abbas, get him into the car, and prepare to depart.”
The subordinate that seemed to have been cast from metal immediately acknowledged the order. With his head bowed, he entered the house. A moment later, when he exited, on his shoulder was an unconscious, motionless figure.
From a corner of the wall, behind the shelter of the trees, Zhou Rong’s pupils constricted without a sound.
—Although he had a vague premonition along the way, to see it personally, it still felt as though a needle had pierced right into his heart in that instant, stabbing him and leaving him bleeding and spasming.
That was Si Nan.
Si Nan would never approach unknown Alphas, not to mention being caught easily. Zhou Rong could almost imagine the scene then — a hungry and thirsty Si Nan, after hearing the sound of a vehicle drawing nearer, thinking that it was Squad 118 returning to rescue him, and happily ran out from his hiding spot, waving and shouting at the vehicle. However, when he discovered that the other party had no good intentions, it was already too late. Not only did the other side have three well-trained Alphas, they were even armed with loaded guns…
Zhou Rong forcefully suppressed his heated, scorching breaths, clutching the wall tightly.
His fingernails dug deeply into the wall, leaving four very distinctive marks on the old bricks, as traces of blood seeped out from the seams of his nails.
Now, what was he going to do?
Noiselessly, Zhou Rong landed on the ground, swiftly moving over to the turn next to the gate of the yard. He was entirely hidden behind the wall, and behind his rifle sight, he studied the three Alphas.
Two males and one female. For some reason, that man who gave the command vaguely left him with a sense of familiarity, but right now, Zhou Rong had no time to think about it.
If he were to fire under the current conditions, Zhou Rong was certain that with his capability, he could kill this man in one shot, or at least cause his target to lose his ability to move. However, the other party still had two reserve forces with him, and what if he grabbed Si Nan as a shield?
They had a car, and once they fled with it, it would be difficult to catch up with them again. At that time, what would they do to Si Nan?!
The muzzle of the gun shifted slightly, and the target in the sight now changed over to the muscular man carrying Si Nan. Zhou Rong narrowed his eyes.
If he were to fire at this man, Si Nan would have a chance to free himself from his restraints, and quickly flee. However, from this angle, it seemed like Si Nan was not moving at all, and it was possible that he had already lost consciousness…
Calm down, Zhou Rong told himself, calm down.
He had worked in a department of the country where the political examination was the strictest, and the security level the highest. He had once been the bodyguard of the top leader of the country, and he too had been responsible for the safety of many foreign guests who were the head of state of their own countries.
He had experienced many dangerous situations, and had achieved many meritorious deeds. With regards to his professionalism, Zhou Rong’s official error rate had always been zero.
—Never had he been like now, feeling a trace of uncontrollable anxiety and rage creeping over his entire self.
Zhou Rong shifted his gun towards the left, aiming right at Romuller’s leg, his finger on the trigger.
—But right at this moment, the female Alpha suddenly shouted, “What’s going on?!”
Zhou Rong turned his head.
From his unconscious state, Si Nan suddenly spasmed, he gave a beast-like, terrifying growl, and flipped onto the ground!
He had not eaten anything for nearly forty-eight hours already, and all his systems were extremely weak. However, the force in this struggle of his was so strong that even Abbas could not defend against it. Taken by surprise, he let Si Nan fall to the ground, urgently yelling, “Quick, come help!”
Romuller and Jane shot forward. Abbas grabbed Si Nan’s arm, throwing him, and the sound of his elbow dislocating was heard clearly.
Still, it was as though Si Nan had lost the ability to feel pain, and even such an acute pain did not slow him down in the slightest. In the blink of an eye, he actually twisted his elbow backwards, leaping up and kicking Abbas’s back, and his other elbow slammed viciously into his opponent’s spine!
Abbas roared in pain, instantly throwing Si Nan to the ground—
It was this instant, when Zhou Rong pulled his trigger thrice.
The first bullet slammed into Abbas’ calf, and with a loud crash the muscular man knelt onto the ground;
The second bullet hit the female Alpha’s shoulder. Before she could even place her finger on the trigger of her gun, it flew out of her hand;
The third bullet was in mid-air, when Romuller turned around, quick as lightning, and fired a shotgun towards Zhou Rong’s hiding spot!
Zhou Rong avoided it deftly, and the impact caused part of the brick wall to shatter into fragments and dust!
“Over there!” Romuller shouted, using rapid firepower to suppress Zhou Rong, causing him to be unable to return fire. With large strides, he walked towards the wall!
“Commander!” Jane’s ear-piercing scream rang out. “Come back! He’s lost control!”
They saw Si Nan standing up, swaying. His pupils were extremely dilated, the veins running through his eyes a dark red. With his ashen face, he looked just like a frenzied zombie. Shifting his elbow that had been twisted into a strange position, with a loud crack, it returned to position, and he stared fixedly at Abbas.
A rattle emitted slowly from his chest — that sound was like a groan of an animal on the verge of death, its mind confused and frenzied.
Kill them all, a voice repeated constantly in his mind.
Everyone had all transformed into zombies, their faces vague and indistinct. The hallucinations from the overdosing of truth serum flashed across his vision ceaselessly, and there was no way Si Nan could see who was in front of him clearly.
Kill them all.
Anything that moves is a zombie, kill them all.
In that moment, Abbas could even feel a chill running down his spine. Dragging his leg, he withdrew a couple of steps, only to see Si Nan rushing towards him. There was no time for him to dodge at all, and with a punch, he fell onto his back!
The female Alpha cursed loudly. Holding onto her injured shoulder, she ran towards Si Nan.
Zhou Rong leapt up the wall. Under the hail of bullets, he jumped, shoving Romuller down to the ground. During that moment, all the bullets shot past right by his carotid artery, and the two people simultaneously hit each other’s gun away from the other. Spraying its bullets, the AK47 flew up into the air, and in the very next moment, craters appeared on the ground as well as the brick wall!
Zhou Rong pressed an elbow to Romuller’s throat, shouting, “Si Nan!”
Si Nan lifted his head.
Right at that critical moment, Zhou Rong saw his eyes, and his heart sank.
Si Nan’s eyes were unfocused, his veins bulging. He was so thin that he barely looked human, and his appearance was even more terrifying than how he looked like at the construction site, even giving off a bloodthirstiness of the living dead.
—Si Nan could not recognise him.
His eyes, directed towards Zhou Rong, held no difference from when he was looking at the other three Alphas, or even when he was looking at the zombies.