“It’s you.” That student told him.
Adrian looked at him in disbelief. “What’s me?”
“The um…” The student paused awkwardly. He did not have the guts to repeat what he had just said to Adrian, so he omitted what he previously said and went on, “The optimal marriage candidate for Councilor Zhong Yan is…is you.”
Fayn’s eyes widened. He could no longer care about respecting the rules of the school; he went straight to opening his terminal and began checking for the newly-released marriage proposal list.
At least half of the people in the venue were doing the same as him.
Fayn carefully reconfirmed the Federation citizenship code right below the name “Adrian Yate” and was speechless. “My God, are the two of you trying to crash another graduation ceremony? With how many graduation ceremonies you’ve ruined, the principal might have to bar you from coming back.”
Adrian ignored him. He looked towards the direction of the School of Social Sciences, and it just so happened that Zhong Yan was also looking at him.
With expressionless faces, the two met eyes for a short moment across the auditorium, and neither could see through the other’s emotions. Then, Zhong Yan mouthed a word silently.
If a lip-reading expert was present, they would be able to interpret what he said as “top”. In reality, the two words he said had been deciphered by the audience watching the live broadcast in a matter of minutes, so everyone was filled with confusion. Top? Top what?
Many years later, a saying popped up that gained the agreement of the majority of the virtual community. Everyone agreed that Zhong Yan knew that Adrian had learned lip-reading, so he wanted to use that as a means to transmit his message that he wanted to be the one on top. But of course, this all came later.
The school had already begun their efforts to restore order, and the chaos gradually subsided.
As for how the graduation ceremony came to an end, Adrian had no recollection of it at all; in fact, most of the people who were present in the ceremony were absent-minded. They were still trying to digest the shocking news they had just received and wanted for nothing more than the speedy end of that ceremony. Then, the two who were involved could free up their hands and deal with that instead.
Adrian did not let them down. After the principal announced the end of the graduation ceremony, the first thing he did was to login to the marriage system on his terminal and chose to refuse before even leaving the auditorium.
“Back to Navi,” said Adrian with a calm face.
He did not get angry, but everyone in the military spacecraft could see that his mood was terrible. Everyone tactfully separated and went to do their own things.
The liaison officer walked over with the gloom of death looming over his face. He did not graduate from the Supreme Institution, so he had stayed in the spacecraft and did not participate in their school activities.
“Commander…we cannot leave for now.”
His voice was clearly calm, but it sent chills down the liaison officer’s spine. He whispered misfortune to himself for being thrown in front of the gun, and carefully explained, “I haven’t gotten the list yet…the specimen store contacted me earlier and told me that a small problem had cropped up; it will take a few hours.”
“When can we get it?”
“The earliest would still be after midnight—midnight local time.”
Adrian looked at the time; it would be a wait of at least three hours.
“Specimen” was an underground anti-AI intelligence organization. It had risen up in recent years and had penetrated a number of different major organizations to varying degrees. They have been in contact with the Navi Military Command and cooperated with them several times, so the impression they had of each other was not bad.
This time, Adrian came to their Supreme Institution branch to obtain a list—a name list denoting the people within the faculty and staff of the Supreme Institution that was on the same side as them. They have always been cautious when passing information, so they would only pass them through a single network. Adrian wanted the liaison officer to stay, while he himself would leave first; but unfortunately, the liaison officer was not a graduate of the Supreme Institution, and had registered on landing as an accompanying member. It would bring too much attention if he were to stay here alone.
“Inform the whole crew, our return is postponed.” Adrian continued irritably, “I’m going out for a walk, don’t follow me.”
Midnight was coming soon.
Zhong Yan raised his head a bit stiffly to look at the stars above him. He was still wearing a suit that did little to protect him against the wind, but he had already been standing on the rooftop for three hours.
This was one of the corners of the School of Arts’ West Wing Tower rooftop, and it was one of the rare places within the night time patrol’s blindspot; it was also the “top” he had hinted to Adrian about.
He and Adrian had shared a book of ciphers.
During their second year in the school, the School of Military Affairs had a sudden unprovoked closure of training for a month. They were not allowed to visit the training center during the training closure period, and the unrelated students could not go in to visit either. Secretly, they took the time at midnight when nobody was around to head towards the blindspot for a meeting. Since there were constantly people and cameras around them, it was not convenient to say any names, so they could only create a cipher book.
“When it begins, I’ll wait for you on top.”—This meant that at midnight, they would meet at the rooftop of the West Wing Tower of the School of Arts.
“Two and a half hours after the beginning, I’ll meet you below.”—2:30 in the morning, below the School of Mechanical Engineering, warehouse no.208.
“I’ll be going outside an hour before the beginning, remember to prepare the control group for lab.”—At 11 o’clock in the evening, scale the wall on the east side and head to the antique pavilion on the right; remember to bring some fresh juice from the store, the flavor I like.
He remembered all the ciphers, all of them, but perhaps…Adrian did not remember them anymore. But since Adrian’s memory was not that bad, it was even more likely that he would remember where “top” was, but was just no longer willing to show up to these appointments.
It was useless no matter how clearly he remembered them, some ciphers would never work anymore. Like the “laboratory”—that juice shop was already gone.
Zhong Yan tried in vain to warm himself by rubbing his arms, hoping to give his body just a little bit of warmth. Today, Adrian had seen him twice and had already clearly expressed his stance towards him—Adrian hates him, so much so that he was unwilling to even hear his name spoken from his lips, so much so that he would even use the secrets between them as weapons against him in front of an outsider.
They’ve hit rock bottom.
He should not be having any fantasies. Zhong Yan covered one side of his face with his hand, and for just a few seconds, revealed an expression of utmost pain; but in the next instant, that flawless face returned to its usual indifference.
He put his hand down. He fixed his unruffled collar and headed towards the stairs.
A man was currently walking up the stairwell, and they met on a narrow path.
Adrian had already changed back to his casual dress, so it was clear to see that he had already made a trip back to Navi’s warship. He put his hand in his pocket and raised his head to look up at Zhong Yan who stood a few steps above him. The look within his silver eyes were indistinct, but they were definitely not smiling.
An awkward silence fell over the dark, narrow stairwell.
After a long time, Adrian said, “I’ve already refused it.”
“I came to talk to you about the fines.”
The marriage system was a special one because it involved the will of two people. If both of them agreed, then naturally, they would immediately be declared legal partners by “Butterfly”; under the circumstances where one person refuses, that person would be required to shell out five times the price of the fine; if both of them refused, then both of them would have to pay a fine. In addition, if an optimal marriage candidate wanted a divorce after marriage, they would also be considered unfavorable to society and fined.
The amount one was fined varied from person to person. Since adhering to the optimal arrangements were considered to be a beneficial choice to society, “Butterfly” would assess the matter based on the identity of the rejector, the scale of the rejected matter, and etcetera. The greater the adverse impacts it would evoke unto society, the higher the fine.
“I just got the assessment results, the fine is about eighty-one thousand.”
Zhong Yan was a little confused, but he still responded, “Oh, it’s quite high.”
Frankly, it was indeed quite high. The fines for ordinary citizens in tier three planets were generally around five thousand federation dollars, it would rarely go above ten thousand; any number above even five thousand was an extremely rare number.
Adrian spoke, “I’ve checked the rules, we can’t pay them separately, it has to come from one account. Just transfer forty thousand to my account and I’ll deal with the rest. My account is still the same.”
Zhong Yan looked at him in confusion, it was almost as if he could not understand what he was saying at all.
“What?” Seeing that he was not getting a response, Adrian made a snide remark, “Has my account already been deleted because Mr. Councilor’s transaction address book has gotten too full?”
“A…” Something clicked. Zhong Yan suddenly remembered what Adrian had said to him during the day, and swallowed the rest of the syllables back down his throat. “You seem to be misunderstanding something.”
“Only under the joint refusal of marriage would the two jointly pay a fine; otherwise, the refuser has to pay five times the amount.”
“Thank you for your reminder, I know the rules.”
“So why would you think we would be paying the fines the former way, and not the latter?”
“Because you’d refuse, of course!”
Zhong Yan revealed a look of incredulity and said, “Of course I wouldn’t.”
Adrian was also looking at him in disbelief, “Are you mad?!”
“You’re mad.” Zhong Yan slowly began, “I am a member of the Supreme Council, a direct subordinate to “Butterfly”. What benefits would I gain to refuse an order from my direct superior? I should be taking the lead in advocating “Butterfly’s” judgment. What would everyone in the Federation think of me if I refuse?”
Adrian was so angry that he spat out a laugh. “Oh, sorry, I’ve forgotten, of course you wouldn’t refuse any of “Butterfly’s” proposals. You’re ready to pay—let’s see here, eighty thousand times five is four hundred thousand, and that minus forty thousand equals three hundred and sixty thousand. Hah, after crunching the numbers, it does seem like a rather good deal; with just three hundred and sixty thousand, you can save your political career.”
Zhong Yan shook his head, and a single tuft of his impeccable hairdo fell out of place, hanging softly down by his brow, instantly softening his overly cool demeanor.
That’s right…Adrian stared at that tuft of hair and suddenly thought, in this inappropriate moment, about how he had nearly forgotten how soft Zhong Yan’s hair had always been.
This overly warm memory was shattered by the person before him in the very next second.
“I don’t know what you’re calculating about, but perhaps I did not make myself clear. Let me reiterate myself: I will not refuse the marriage proposal, nor will I be paying out a single cent. After all, aren’t you the rejecter of this proposal?”
“So you told me to come over so you could tell me, that not only do you want to preserve your reputation, you’re not willing to pay either? That’s equivalent to asking me to shell out four hundred thousand to preserve your reputation. Is that what you’re trying to tell me?”
Adrian scoffed, “A wonderful idea, but do you really think that’s possible? Do you think that we’re still stuck seven years in the past?”
He was unsure if it was due to their conflict, but Zhong Yan started to feel short of breath. After working around the clock for a full day, he still had to stand in the cold winter winds for three hours; he felt that he was reaching the bottom of his physical strength. He supported himself on the handrails so as not to show any weakness, and said, “If it suits you. I’m leaving now.”
Saying that, he was just about to walk past Adrian; but the instant their shoulders brushed against each other, the sky seemed to have turned around—that angry man caught his wrist, and pushed him to the wall.