Adrian took a step forward. He was born with a tall stature and handsome features, so even while angry, his appearance was astonishing and gave off a feeling of oppression. The two were sticking very closely together, and even their breaths were tangled.
“We haven’t settled anything yet, what are you rushing to go back for?” Adrian interrogated him fiercely, “You’re the one who called me here, and you’re just going to walk off? We haven’t even spoken more than a few words, what’re you being impatient about?”
Zhong Yan gushed with anger, “Let go!”
He had always stood within the circle of councilmen, where everyone was decent in speech and dress, always playing the game of intrigue to get what they wanted; he had never been trapped so violently by anyone before, so he could not fight back in time. But it was quite pitiful; not only was he a half-head shorter than Adrian, his opponent was also the highest scorer in the ranking list of the Supreme Institution’s School of Military Affairs. The huge disparity in power made him unable to break free, and instead, his struggle served only to exhaust the last bit of his physical strength.
“Listen, I will not spend a single cent on you, so you will either choose to refuse, and transfer forty thousand to me, or you’re going to transfer three hundred and sixty thousand to my account.” Adrian looked menacingly down at him from above, and his silver eyes were gleaming dimly with the fire of his wrath in the dimly lit stairwell. “—I don’t care about your reputation, so don’t even think about having me pay for you.”
“Let go…” said Zhong Yan through a burst of dizziness as a trace of absurdity rose up from his heart.
They have walked through this stairwell more than a dozen times in the past. During their teen years, when they were eighteen going on nineteen, they would break into the system, scout the fields, plan routes, and even create ciphers just so they could secretly meet each other in the middle of the night. They finally succeeded in evading the school’s surveillance system, so they were able to meet up during the hours past their curfew. They did not actually have anything important to say to each other, their rendezvous and their little whispers in the night were merely their daily routines. One of the professors seem to be having an affair with the director; there’s a new product from the dessert shop at the School of Social Sciences’ main campus building, I’ll bring you some next time; my idiot classmate got caught looking at the forums in class by the professor today…In short, they were just enjoying the exhilaration of breaking the school’s rules, but it felt to them as if they have achieved a thrilling feat, filling them with excitement, and they would never get sick of it.
They were young then, and they never would have thought that the next time they evaded everyone to get to their secret base would be such an awkward situation.
“Let’s talk somewhere else.” Zhong Yan dropped his head and spoke in a low voice, “Some other time…I’ll arrange for us to talk somewhere else some other time.”
“And you think I’m just going to agree? I’m very busy, Mr. Councilor. I have no time to shoot this sh*t with you over and over again. What’s more—I don’t even want to see you again.”
Zhong Yan raised his head abruptly, and broke out, “How could you be like this?!”
They were so close, and even if the light was dim, it was enough for Adrian to take a clear look—Zhong Yan’s eyes were red.
How could he be like that? Adrian was dumbfounded. Why does Zhong Yan look as if he was going to cry?
“We’re at ‘top’ right now! Can’t you say this elsewhere? How could you do this—even at ‘laboratory’ you were…” Zhong Yan’s chest was heaving violently. He immediately realized his own moment of discomposure. He closed his eyes and forced himself to calm down before continuing, “It’s nothing, sorry. What I’m trying to say is, can you let go? It hurts.”
What does he mean say it elsewhere? Wasn’t Zhong Yan the one who asked to see him here? Adrian felt that he was simply being unreasonable. “Laboratory”…? That’s right, he made a joke that he wanted to send Zhong Yan a rabbit specimen at the doorway to “laboratory” whose signs had been switched out. And as a result of that, he was informed that Zhong Yan looked to have been crying when he entered the ceremony.
But he didn’t mention anything about rabbits? Why was he crying now???
He let him go without any clue as to what he had done. But contrary to his expectations, Zhong Yan suddenly fell over as soon as he was free from his hold. Adrian was shocked and subconsciously reached out to help him. “What’s wro—”
Only then did he realize the morbid paleness of the other’s complexion; there was also an unhealthy red blush covering his cheeks.
Zhong Yan stepped back and broke free from Adrian’s arms, supporting himself against the wall instead.
“Next time,” he spoke between gasps, “I…I have something to do right now.”
Adrian pursed his lips. He was holding Zhong Yan’s waist earlier, and even if it was only for a few seconds, it was enough to feel through the thin shirt how terrifyingly hot the other man was—Zhong Yan was having a fever. No wonder his speech was so disorderly earlier, he was also not as calm as he usually was.
But he did not intend to accommodate him.
“No, if you want to talk, then we’re making things clear right now, I don’t want to see you after today. You’re not prepared to pay, nor are you willing to defy “Butterfly”; does it not matter to you at all that you have to marry someone you don’t like? Getting married is such a sacred thing, and you’re just being this casual about it? …What’re you laughing about?”
While he was speaking, Zhong Yan could not help but let out a soft chuckle, but hearing that, he stopped. He shook his head. “I’m laughing at you, you’re still so naive even after so many years have passed. Getting married is so sacred that you have to defend it even if it means losing your job and all your savings, is that how it is? And for the sake of your grand ideals, it’s worth it to abandon everything, to run towards that goal without a care for a single thing in your life, is that how it is?”
He did not raise his voice, but slowly, without any hint of taunting, Adrian looked coldly at him and made a resolute answer. “Yes, of course it is!”
“That’s what you think. Not everyone’s the same as you, being born in a prominent family, squandering money as you please. I was abandoned by my parents as soon as I came into this world, I have nothing. Do you know what life was like in the orphanage of an underdeveloped little planet? Do you know what it’s like to go through different adoptive families, playing by their tune, and standing ready for their beck and call?! All the verbal abuse, the bullying, do you know how it feels when nobody cares about you? Do you?
“You don’t, do you? You’ve always been at the center of everyone’s focus, anything you wanted, you would be given. I gritted my teeth and struggled through everything alone just so I could get to where I am today! For twenty whole years! And at the final moment, you want me to give up the opportunity I was given to change my life just because a good friend asked me to?”
Zhong Yan became more agitated the more he spoke, and he had almost never been this brusque with someone in his life. After he stopped, he took a breath and looked into Adrian’s eyes, saying, “I’m sorry, even if that friend is you, I can’t do it.”
Adrian stared fiercely in his eyes and questioned him, “That’s the reason you betrayed me?”
“You call this betrayal? The situation then, when we graduated, and the situation now is different, most of the people accepted ‘Butterfly’s’ arrangements then. And as far as I know, you were in good relations with several of them, but I’m the only one whose telecommunication account you blocked.
“There was Feng Weiran, your friend from the military division, and he went to the Glory Star System according to ‘Butterfly’s’ proposals. As far as I know, his wife’s merchant ship entered the Navi Star System many times last year, and she even has your special permission. They also ‘betrayed’ you, so why don’t you blacklist them instead? Why don’t you hate them? Why…why am I the only one who’s hated by you!”
Zhong Yan spoke very quickly as if he had been repressing the words in his heart for a very long time, and could finally spit it all out at once today.
“He was only—Hold on,” Adrian narrowed his eyes dangerously, “You’re monitoring my network.”
Zhong Yan could barely stand anymore, his whole body was soft and his head was dizzy. “Yes. I’m abusing my power for my own gain. This is one of the many conveniences brought to me by my power. How many council members do you think have clean hands? Haven’t you always been going off about this?”
To think he would admit it so quickly, and even chucked his words right back at him; Adrian was stunned, and for a moment, he could not find any words to continue his criticism. He quickly latched onto the previous topic. “Feng Weiran was born in the Glory Star, he had always thought of going back, so all he did was accept the most ideal position for him, and you call that betrayal?”
“I also just accepted my ideal position!”
“Your ideal position is to become ‘Butterfly’s’ subordinate? Then why was I never told about this when I was talking to you about the necessity for human autonomy?! For three years you led me by the nose with your deliberate silence!”
“Tell you what? You want me to tell you when you’re fueled with moral indignation, talking to me about the drawbacks of AI and criticized ‘Butterfly’ as nothing, that if I were ever judged suitable for the Supreme Council, I would go? What would be the point of bringing up such an unrealistic hypothesis at that time?”
“Of course there’s a point. If you told me early on that you were this kind of a person—” Adrian enunciated each word, “I would never have been friends with you at all.”
Those words almost seemed to have destroyed the pillar that had been holding Zhong Yan up. He collapsed and hit his arm on the stairs, causing it to throb with pain.
This time, Adrian did not reach out to him.
“I still have things to do.” Zhong Yan could not stand up at all, layer after layer of darkness was seeping down into his eyes. He tried to keep the last thread of his dignity in front of this man; he could no longer maintain a steady voice, but he kept his tone firm, “Leave, we’re done here. Move away.”
“Suit yourself,” said Adrian with coldness emanating from his entire person. Without any hesitation, he left him and went.
Adrian went out of the tower and ran into one of the hovering cameras.
Since he had once used the tower’s rooftop as a secret meeting place in the past, he was very familiar with all the monitoring operations within the vicinity. For example, he knew that the camera that was now floating ahead of him would fly into the tower from the terrace on the second floor, then slowly patrol along the entire stairwell before flying out from the top window; but it would not fly up to the roof.
Cameras used in such remote corners of the campus were not very intelligent, and would not adjust its flight route according to the detected conditions in real-time, it would only patrol according to the fixed route as it was set. It was also not equipped with any intelligent real-time analysis systems and had only a single function, so, its size was especially small; it was only one-half the size of a person’s fist.
But it could detect ambient temperature.
The mainframe of the school’s monitoring system would filter through these reports every hour, which was to say—Adrian lifted up the terminal on his wrist to look at the time—in forty minutes, the intelligent analysis system would find out that a man whose body temperature was clearly above the normal ratings was present within the West Wing Tower of the School of Arts. A fever was not a life-threatening emergency, so a warning would not be sent to the school’s medical institution; however, a man who appeared in the middle of the night without any student identification in such a remote corner would trigger a low-level alert from the security department, even if no weapon was detected. The nearest patrolling security guard will come over to check on the situation, which would take about ten minutes.
So to say, in less than an hour, someone would find that Council Member Zhong Yan was currently going through a high fever.
Of course, Zhong Yan could contact his own personal assistant, who had accompanied him, to inform them about his current physical condition. Then, it would take only ten minutes, less than an hour, to obtain effective support.
But Zhong Yan would not do it. Zhong Yan had always hated being seen as weak by anyone, so he would try to keep up his image at all times. God knows why a person who was clearly born within the bowels of society had such an arrogant personality. Just like earlier, he was clearly in such a bad state that he was struggling to stand, and couldn’t even hold a proper conversation, but he still refused to show any weakness. He insisted that he had “something to do” and drove him away.
Seven years ago, Adrian had sent him to the school’s treatment ward many times. He was so angry that he was fuming when he heard him tell the doctor that he was “fine”. He understood Zhong Yan too well, there was no way he would take the initiative to contact his assistant.
Adrian looked up and saw that the patrol camera was already starting to rise up. Very soon, it would reach the open terrace on the second floor, and will then do its due diligence in a dozen seconds or so, capturing Zhong Yan’s image with its lenses.
Adrian closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
Then, he suddenly turned around and ran. He stretched his body and jumped up, grabbing the small camera that was hovering in the air, and backflipped in the air, landing steadily back on the ground.
Adrian crushed the camera with one hand and stuffed the wreckage into his coat pocket before walking with a gloomy face back to the stairwell.
He had only reached the third floor when he suddenly heard the faint sounds of a whimper. It was clearly the sound of someone crying, but that voice held no restraints, and…was also very familiar.