The Capital, Supreme Council.
Zhong Yan walked into the office and found that somebody had actually arrived even earlier than he did today.
Intron had already arrived, and was at his desk with the virtual screen on; from the looks of it, he was already getting started with work. When he saw Zhong Yan coming in, he stood up and bowed his head respectfully. “Good morning, Sir Zhong.”
“Morning,” Zhong Yan greeted in response, “Tell Bayer to see me when he arrives.”
“Yes, sir. But there’s still some time before work starts…I mean, if it’s nothing too important, I could help you with it instead.”
Zhong Yan was about to open the door to his office but he stopped and turned to face Intron instead. His eyes were clear and calm, but for some inexplicable reason, Intron felt his heart skip a beat. Before he could speak, he heard Zhong Yan say, “That will work. Come in, help me sort out the meeting reports during my absence from the council.”
Intron hurriedly gave his response of affirmation and followed him in.
The surveillance system installed within the offices of the representative members were of the highest authority. This meant that “Butterfly” was the only existence capable of viewing it; there would be no humans whatsoever that could ever spy on the representative members’ offices.
Intron was standing in wait for Zhong Yan to turn on his virtual screen so he could transfer the meeting’s documents to him, when he suddenly said, “Sir, I was asked by Sir Bayer about your and Commander Yate’s discussion about the refusal fines, and how it went.”
“Is that so?” Zhong Yan asked, seemingly not very bothered about the question, “And how did you answer him?”
“I told him I didn’t know the details.”
“Even though you were the one who came to pick me up when I contacted the ship, you said it yourself, you were only taking over for Bayer temporarily. I seem to have given mention that externally, we should be telling people that it was A…the men from Navi who came to discuss matters with me. Intron, is Bayer an outsider?”
Failure or success depended on his answer now. Intron bowed his head and answered, “Sir Bayer used to be Sir Yate’s first-in-command assistant. After you took over as an elected member, he became your first-in-command under Sir Yate’s referral. Of course, Sir Bayer is not an outsider. Just…he would definitely be worried to know that you are in poor health. Sir Bayer is getting old, I thought that since you’ve already recovered, I’d take it upon myself to avoid giving him a shock.”
Zhong Yan showed no reaction to his words. As usual, his face was calm and steady as an ancient well with no ripples, and his mood was difficult to distinguish. A prompt for a successful file transfer popped up on the virtual screen, but he did not ask for Intron’s dismissal.
“You’re smart. Everyone likes smart men, I am no exception,” Zhong Yan spoke without looking at him, “but you were too impulsive. I can see you’ve been very tense since the day you entered my team. You’re so young, I don’t know what’s there for you to be so anxious about. When we’re on a ship…it’s not a very good idea. You know what I’m trying to say. I hope this doesn’t happen a second time.”
A sliver of sweat slid down Intron’s forehead. “So…Sorry…”
“It’s fine, I’m not trying to accuse you or anything, just giving you a warning,” Zhong Yan cut him off, “If you want to continue working hard here, then you’ll have to learn to calm yourself down a little more.”
Intron raised his head abruptly. “You mean…”
“From tomorrow morning onwards, report to my office. What you said is right, Bayer is getting old, it’s time for someone to take some work off his hands.”
When Bayer arrived at the area around Zhong Yan’s private office, a message appeared.
“Sir Yate wants to see me?” Zhong Yan asked, “Now? I’m still at work.”
“The Navi meeting is going to begin a little past noon, and Sir Yate hopes to see you before then,” Bayer passed along the notice to him.
Everyone knew that this first-in-command had been assistant to Stalvern Yate of the Council of Representatives for several decades. He was a few years younger than Stalvern, and you could almost say he had reached his position with due thanks to him, so their relationship could not be any closer.
Later, when Stalvern received his retirement proposal, he was still working. Thus, he became the first-in-command of the newly elected representative member, and this was practically the thing that set the rumors of “Yate family patriarch helping Zhong Yan into his current position” to stone.
Zhong Yan’s speech when he was talking to this old assistant was very respectful, but he did not continue to question him. Instead, he said, “All right, I will tie up the loose ends here and be there immediately.”
The Yate family residence was not too far from the Supreme Council. In the Capital where every inch of soil was worth its weight in gold, this ancient and well-respected family occupied a stunning area of land.
Zhong Yan walked along the corridor that was covered with expensive carpets. On both sides of this grand and spacious corridor were portraits of the successive masters of the estate. They were neither holographic images nor virtual screens, but rather real physical portraits that were framed with finely-carved gold, hanging on both sides to highlight the family’s glory.
This was what Adrian had once described to him as “the gloomy corridor lined with pictures of the dead”. At that time, neither of them would ever have imagined that Zhong Yan would visit this “coffin house” from Adrian’s words so frequently in the future.
Without looking around, he followed behind the butler unhurriedly. Every time he stepped into the Yate family residence, an idea would always circle around in his mind: This was the place where Adrian grew up. Adrian must have stepped on these very carpets beneath him countless times before he turned seventeen; and those steps in front of that door was the place Adrian had mentioned tripping over; there was a scratch on the corner of the portrait of the second last patriarch, and it was Adrian who had accidentally caused it when he was playing around with his friend…This place was so far away from Adrian, but it felt so close.
Zhong Yan did not know to what extent these thoughts have influenced his decisions, but it was not a difficult decision for him to accept the olive branch thrown to him by the current patriarch of the Yate family. At that time, he had already officially climbed up to the highest position of the Supreme Council, but he was still young and not yet well-versed in the ways of this world; he seemed to have already reached his peak in this world that was led by those with experience.
Meanwhile, this family had strong financial resources and a wide network of contacts, whilst their only heir had ran off to Navi. They could barely see any hopes of him returning. All the forces were eyeing them, and the other members of their family were eager to make their move. And the best part was, they had an incumbent patriarch who was about to retire.
“Please,” the butler opened the door to the living room and bowed to him.
Zhong Yan returned a slight bow in response before stepping in.
Stalvern took a sip of his tea before turning to him, “Sit.”
From his cold demeanor, Zhong Yan could tell what he was thinking. He thanked him and sat down, waiting for the other party to open his mouth.
“I’ve heard about the plan you suggested, about rebooting the project of installing ‘Butterfly’ within the Navi System.” Stalvern put his cup down. He was already in his eighties but he was still in great spirits, and when he kept a straight face, it still had the power to suppress those beneath him.
But of course, there were no other times where he did not keep a straight face.
“Yes,” Zhong Yan responded.
“Hmph!” Stalvern put down his cup, “Impetuous! Have you read the council records in these recent years? When that impulsive idiot mentioned this seven years ago, he wrote the plan without even investigating it! And the media wrote him out to be a mess, causing the project to get stuck in discussion for months, and it ended up not passing anyways. The council was questioned and ridiculed by the public for this, have you forgotten about that?! What kind of place do you think the Navi System is? A safe haven for fugitives! A criminal’s paradise! All the people there are desperate men with nothing to lose! Are you going to take responsibility if anything happens?”
“Sir Yate, those things happened many years ago. Right now…I heard they’ve already reorganized the place, it’s not the same as before.”
“Not the same?!” Stalvern was getting even more furious. He knocked his cane heavily on the ground. “From heaven for murderers to a haven of anti-AI antagonists? What’s different about them! The latter are even more wicked, and their sins are even heavier! What’s more, you said you heard about the change, but from whom? Nobody can say for sure what Navi has truly become!”
“Actually, about the investigations…there are many residents from the Navi System who have taken photos to broadcast their own lives.”
“Those are all fake! What have you been doing in the council all these years? Can you really believe in that nonsense in the virtual community that comes from a place with no AI supervision?”
“What you say is true,” Zhong Yan answered respectfully. “And that is where the difficulty lies. Since we can’t grasp the true situation of the opponent, I’ve thought of an idea. We will lead ‘Butterfly’ into Navi as a pretense.”
The current…the current military forces over there have taken full control over the Navi region. We need a strong enough reason to send our men into the Navi System to shake the upper-levels of the opponent. And I believe that this is a big enough reason that could shake their upper hierarchy.”
Stalvern’s face eased up considerably. “Tell me about your thoughts in detail.”
Navi Military Command Headquarters, Intelligence Department
“Twenty-four years old, a man with either the name or surname of Intron. We have indeed found one in the Supreme Institution. Intron Gines, here is the image.”
The head of the intelligence department turned the virtual screen to Fayn and Adrian. With just one glance, Fayn immediately answered, “No doubt about it, it’s him.”
“This Mr. Gines scored highly when he studied in the Supreme Institution and performed well, but there has been no clear information about which side he stands on. The professors he is usually close to all stand on neutral sides. During his graduation ceremony, he accepted ‘Butterfly’s’ proposal and entered the Capital’s Inspection Bureau. A year later, he entered the sub-council of one of the planets surrounding the Capital to work. From there, he gained great achievements, and later the Supreme Council…Um,” The person in charge had an awkward pause. He looked at the expressionless Adrian and changed his wording. “The Supreme Council’s newest elected member, um…he, he was a little on the younger side, so when it came time to form his team, he picked up a few of the young people from the common councils—perhaps due to the fact that it may be awkward for those older than him to be working under him. In short, there is one Mr. Gines in the council, and he is in general, a very lucky man.”
“About the professors he was close to during his time in the Supreme Institution,” Adrian mused, “do you have a list?”
“Yes. I understand what you mean and have already made the comparisons; these seemingly neutral professors are all on the list we’ve just received from the Institution Star.”
“So that’s how it is, then that makes sense!” Fayn suddenly struck his palm with his fist “This man is quite likely to be someone from the Institution’s branch of ‘Specimen’ since his school days—Oh, upon calculation, the time seems to coincide with the time before the organization started to grow, then there’s a good possibility that he has also personally participated in the construction of the Institution Star’s branch of ‘Specimen’. He even contacted some of the professors, and they may have likely sorted out that list long ago. For him to enter the Supreme Council so coincidentally, I don’t believe that it’s luck at all, he must have a powerful backer! Commander, say…” He approached Adrian and whispered, “He’s the one who personally picked him to join the Supreme Council, and he was also one of the men he brought to the school’s celebration, do you think…”
“Not possible,” said Adrian matter-of-factly, “His backer must have helped him get close to Zhong Yan only because Zhong Yan’s position is high enough, and he is also young. Those old codgers won’t recruit such a young person to their team, so the only way to avoid attention is to place him by Zhong Yan’s side.”
To think that there was actually someone from “Specimen” within the Supreme Council, and that person even occupied such a security-sensitive position. When the head of the intelligence department heard this, he quickly followed on with Adrian’s words, “Then Councilor Zhong Yan is…” Just as he brought this up, he could see Fayn desperately shaking his head and waving in great panic behind Adrian.
It was too late.
The person responsible had not even reacted to what had just happened when the ceramic cup in Adrian’s hands zoomed right past his ear. With a “crash”, it turned to dust on the wall right behind him.
“Don’t f*cking mention his name in front of me! How many times have I said it?! Do any of you have any brains?!”