At the age of twenty-seven this year, Adrian who had mixed with both the good and bad, crawling and beating his way up that disorderly mess of a star system, was suddenly referred to as “Fellow Student”.
If this person had been one of his old professors, he might even feel touched to hear that; but unfortunately, this was Zhong Yan who was also twenty-seven this year. Adrian felt a strange chill and had a suspicion that this man was trying to disgust him on purpose, thus he shot back with an insult. “Is something wrong with you?”
Zhong Yan was back to himself now, so he countered him effortlessly, “Yes, that’s right, I’ve just taken my medicine and I’m getting better now. Thank you for your humanitarian aid. Can you get me a glass of water please? Or I could go and get it myself, if that works for you.”
Many years ago, Adrian had gone to watch several of the in-school debate competitions that Zhong Yan had participated in when he had no classes. Zhong Yan had his own distinct style and was also a strong argumenter whose every word carried tons of weight. He was always put in charge as the second or third speaker, and the speakers of these positions mainly participated in the opposition segments.
At that time, he watched as Zhong Yan sat in his seat like an immovable mountain; even when his opponent was vehement and red-faced, his expression still remained the same; always like the stagnant surface of a lake without any ripples. When he opened his mouth to speak, even though the speed in which he gave his speech was quick, it still felt to everyone present that he was completely calm and steady.
This may be strange to say, but Zhong Yan was more lively and much warmer when they were in the privacy of their shared dormitory. But when he saw how he spoke word after word, each as sharp and accurate as a dagger, against his opponent with that calm face of his, Adrian found himself unable to look away.
He was so fascinated by this man during those years, but now he felt like he was the biggest fool in the world.
Adrian had a mind to order one of his subordinates to follow that guy around, but unfortunately, he did not bring many people with him to begin with, and most of them had already gone to sleep. Standing up, he walked out of the room with an unkindly expression.
Adrian returned the now filled glass to the stand right beside the bed and turned towards Zhong Yan. “I just thought about the time when you were in your second year. There was a debate on the pros and cons of artificial intelligence. You invited me to go see it.”
Zhong Yan did not know why that was suddenly brought up, so he nodded. “Yes. I was the third speaker of the opposition for that debate, and the opposition won; I remember it, why?”
Adrian asked with a menacing tone, “Have you been planning to mislead me since then?”
Only then did Zhong Yan understand. He did not know how Adrian had come up with this idea, but he was convinced that this had all been an ill-intended, well-planned deception.
“The supporting and opposition parties of the school debates are decided by lots only half an hour before it begins. I’ve invited you to every competition I participated in, but since you were always busy with building up a clique of your own, you’ve only been to several of them and happened to come on a day where that was the chosen topic; can I really be blamed for that as well?”
“Weren’t you very thorough that day on that stage about how bad artificial intelligence was? Even I couldn’t muster as many words as you did. How is it that your words and actions are in complete conflict with each other?”
“That was a debate competition,” Zhong Yan frowned, “If I had been chosen to be on the supporting side, I would also have led my team to victory just the same. Could you be a little less naive? The competition is one that looks at a debater’s ability in language expression, and the ability to respond on the spot; it does not mean that the debater really agrees with the points they have brought up. I performed well, and that only proves that the level of my ability to debate is high. It has no other meaning.”
Adrian sneered coldly. “I am rather naive. I only knew that you were performing on stage, but I never suspected that what happened below that stage could be a performance as well.”
Zhong Yan’s expression was turning colder. “I wasn’t acting.”
“Is that so?”
It was useless to deny anything. Most likely, he was seen as nothing more than a swindler now in Adrian’s heart; to him, he was a person who could do anything for the sake of obtaining power.
But it did not matter. Zhong Yan’s hands tightened around the glass. It doesn’t matter, he can think whatever he wants, this is how he had always been.
When Adrian saw him about to take his drink, he snapped coldly. “That glass of water costs three hundred thousand. For old time’s sake, I’ll give you a discount, only 120%, you owe me three hundred and sixty thousand. Remember to pay up after you drink.”
As if he did not hear him, Zhong Yan took a slow few sips and raised his glass to look at the contents. “I’ve got no money, just charge me forty thousand for these two sips.”
“What use is it if you only pay forty thousand?” Adrian broke out in rage, “Just choose to refuse!”
“Not possible, I don’t have three hundred and sixty thousand.”
“You’re so poor that you can’t even shell out three hundred and sixty thousand?” Adrian sneered. “The damned annual salary of a council representative is no less than four hundred thousand, let alone the various benefits you’re given. Moreover, I’m sure most of your money is coming from grey areas—and don’t tell me you don’t have any. I don’t believe that someone with clean hands and feet can climb up as quickly as you did. Besides, you said it yourself, are there any members in the council with clean hands?”
It was very late now and Zhong Yan was feeling rather sleepy. Since there was no surveillance here, he had a rare chance of finally being able to relax and was also too lazy to maintain his image. He drained the glass of water that was said to be worth more than three hundred thousand, and simply responded, “Got no money. I’m going to sleep.”
Saying that, he pulled the coat over his head, forcing the topic to an end.
Adrian left the clinic after watching him settle down into his slumber, and locked the door from the outside. He laid on the bed in his own room, and his emotions were tumbling within his chest. No matter how hard he tried, he could not sleep—probably only someone as heartless as Zhong Yan could sleep so peacefully after so many things have happened.
He looked at the news on his terminal for a while, and realized that he really could not blame Fayn; almost all the discussions about the graduation ceremony were taken up by news of him and Zhong Yan. He could only spend some effort to look for the articles published by the major media outlets that were discussing the Supreme Institution’s internal flow, but they were simply too few, and it did not take him long to finish reading all of them.
He decided simply to get up once more and enter the surveillance room by himself.
Since he had came out with only a few officers, nobody was on night duty in the surveillance room. Adrian manually turned on the surveillance of a certain room using the highest authority.
He did not know what he was trying to do either, but fortunately, nobody was around so he did not have to explain himself to anyone.
He couldn’t sleep anyways. That was what he said to appease himself. What if Zhong Yan was only pretending to sleep, and was planning to do something fishy? After all, he brought the “enemy” into his own warship, he should be taking the responsibility of watching over him…
The surveillance screen was restored, and the idle expression on Adrian’s face froze.
As expected, Zhong Yan was only pretending to sleep. The chair that had originally been left at the corner was brought by Zhong Yan to the side of the bed, and he was sitting there now. From the looks of it, he seemed to be daydreaming.
What was he trying to do in the middle of the night? Adrian watched the image closely. Could it be, Zhong Yan had brought a small eavesdropping device on him, and was going to install it somewhere? But he had brought him over forcefully, he did not think that Zhong Yan could have expected this situation.
Then, was he going to modify the camera’s wreckage to be used as a wiretapping device? But Zhong Yan’s profession was miles away from the electronics and machinery section. He did not believe that Zhong Yan had the ability to recover equipment that had been crushed by him.
After a while, Zhong Yan finally moved. Adrian watched him seriously, and he watched as Zhong Yan began to…fold clothes.
He was folding Adrian’s coat.
The way he folded the coat looked very dilatory. A little tug here, a little pat there; an ordinary coat took him a full two minutes to fold, and the finished product was left with no edges at all; it looked soft and feeble. If he was inspecting the new recruits while they were folding their clothes, and they did it in this way, he would have beaten them until their faces were swollen.
But clearly, Zhong Yan did not find anything unacceptable about that folded coat. He put it down on the bed and picked up the wrecked camera beside the bed, turning it around and looking over it. A look of confusion appeared on his face, clearly not having found the reason behind it being reduced to such a state. So, he put it back into the clothes, leaving it to rest in peace.
After doing these mysterious things, he went to the bathroom. When he came out again, Adrian figured that he should be going to sleep now.
But he did not.
Instead, he sat back down on the chair and stared at the folded coat, entering into that trance-like state again. After a while, he took off his slippers and slowly curled up on the chair, holding his legs with both hands with his head buried within, shriveling up into one small figure.
This was Zhong Yan who cared about keeping up appearances more than anything else in this world. Unbeknownst to him, he revealed for the first time, within the locked doors of the clinic which he thought was completely isolated to Adrian, a side of him he had never seen—a side of him that was fragile, dispirited, and vulnerable.
Adrian stared at the huddled man for a very long time. With a complicated look on his face, he continued to watch him from the surveillance room for the entire night.
Early the next morning, the second lieutenant of the munitions department was stunned in place by the presence of the man seated within.”How come you’re here? Did something happen on the ship?”
His rank was not high so he had not been invited by the school, but he was also a graduate of the Supreme Institution. Three years ago, he followed in Adrian’s footsteps and announced to everyone that he wanted to give the Navi Military Command his support, and he had also caused a small sensation back then. Right now, he had become one of Adrian’s trusted men and was brought along by him to be part of his crew.
Everyone else within the crew had higher ranks than him, so he was temporarily in charge of monitoring the ship.
“You’re here?” When he saw him, Adrian gave him a very normal greeting.
“Oh, yes…is there anything wrong?” he asked with his heart beating in fear. He looked over to the screens; besides the clinic’s surveillance that he had been asked to turn off still being off, there were no abnormalities to be found.
But the commander was absolutely not normal. If this was the usual, there would definitely be a smile at his lips when he spoke; but right now, his face was cold.
“Nothing, I just woke up a little early. You can get to work—there’s no need to turn on the surveillance for the clinic.”
With that, Adrian gave him a wave and left the surveillance room.
“Holy f*ck—what’s the matter with you?” Fayn had yet to wake up and was stumbling to pull his blanket up to cover his chest. Pretending to be terrified, he asked, “Are you going to rape me?”
Adrian pulled his blanket off. “I wouldn’t do it even if you paid me. Get the hell up.”
Fayn got up while mumbling a complaint. Adrian said to him, “Send Zhong Yan back to his ship by car later, and if anyone asks, just say I’m the one in the car and was going over to negotiate with him about the refusal fines.”
Fayn was rinsing his mouth when he heard that and nearly choked to death. Through his coughs, he said, “Me? Send him back?! You’re better off choosing someone else, I’ve been an eyesore to him since we were still in school! What if he disappears me?”
“The only two people who know he’s here is you and the medical officer. The medical officer doesn’t know him, and he’s not as strong as you are when it comes to self-defense, who else is going to send him but you?”
“Just the two of us?” Fayn pointed out angrily, “Are you not a person?”
Instead of dragging out the sh*t talking session, Adrian gave him a clear and concise order, “Get on it.”
But Fayn still tried to struggle. “I think it’s better if you cover his head and carry him back again, right? He’s one of the Supreme Council’s boys, what if he spies on the internal structure of our warship?”
Adrian responded to him coldly. “This is a highly-equipped standard small-scale federation warship, what’s there to spy about?”
Fayn was very angry. He had mentioned about seven or eight years ago to Adrian that Zhong Yan seemed to bear much hostility towards him. They ate together a few times, and things were still fine when Adrian was around, but when he wasn’t—such as when he went to the bathroom or whatnot—Zhong Yan would usually ignore him if he tried to speak to him. If he continued his futile attempts, he would even shoot him a cold glance, which made Fayn very confused.
At that time, Adrian told him that he was just being overly sensitive, Zhong Yan was only a bit colder to people he was unfamiliar with.
…He should really drag Adrian over so he could see the situation!
With a bellyful of complaints, he operated the driver’s console while Zhong Yan sat silently at the back. He was currently contacting someone; most likely his assistant. He had invited him to take the shotgun passenger seat within the vehicle, but as if he had not heard him at all, Zhong Yan opened the door to the back of the vehicle.
Even though the other person was not paying any attention to him, Fayn still felt that it was necessary to explain the situation to him. Pretentiously, he coughed and spoke to himself, “Uh, Adrian asked me to send you. You know, after all, I was his best friend in school, and am more familiar with the situation, the medical officer isn’t…”
“Sorry.” Zhong Yan interrupted.
Fayn was stunned. This was the first time since picking him up from the clinic that Zhong Yan spoke to him. He only heard as Zhong Yan spoke calmly to him, “The entire federation recognizes me as best friend to the General Commander of the Navi Military Command during his student days, how has it become you?”