Zu Wen and others breathed a heavy sigh of relief after the air was cleared. They were genuinely worried that they had been dragged into a life-threatening conspiracy at their first live sheep-herding contest.
"I was scared shitless just now. Did you notice how the armed officers over there almost opened fire? How scary!" Wan Yue looped her arm around Zeng Huang's, still recovering from the tense standoff.
Zu Wen said, "Believe it or not, I actually felt no fear. I even wanted to laugh."
Song Miao was deeply skeptical. "I don't believe you. You were ghastly pale and your legs were shaking."
"Anyway, all's good as long as nothing bad happened. I really don't understand how those folks got in their heads that we were carrying dangerous items. All was have is a small curly-haired dog." Wu Yi was very upset. The policemen were this close to entering their transport with guns, which would have terrified his beloved competition dogs. If Curly Hair had been spooked, they could've kiss today's contest goodbye.
Fang Zhao had returned Curly Hair to their dog transport, but the group still drew many curious gazes when they left the parking lot for the competition venue.
"I'm still confused, though, as to why the police dogs zeroed in on Curly Hair." Zu Wen was puzzled. "Also, none of those sophisticated detectors sounded any alarms. Why did all the officers swing into action when the police dogs barked? Are police dogs more reliable than detectors in Muzhou?"
Wu Yi shook his head. "All the police dogs deployed here have undergone the most rigorous training. The ones that show up here are the select elite. Actually, there are ways to beat the detectors and smuggle in dangerous items, but the dogs can identify dangerous individuals based on their superb instincts. You've heard of cemetery guards, right? The folks assigned to guard martyrs' cemeteries? They all have very strong instincts. The police dogs here are similar. As for why they singled out Curly Hair, I have no idea. Maybe it's because Curly Hair has a keen fighting spirit?"
"Hahahaha!" Zu Wen couldn't contain his laughter.
Wu Yi and Su Hou turned their heads and glared at him. They didn't find anything funny about Wu Yi's hypothesis. "His fighting spirit is strong. He hasn't lost in a fight since he arrived in Muzhou."
But shepherd dogs and police dogs were different. If it were one of the shepherd dogs that had caused such a stir, so be it. And why were the police dogs so alarmed even when the shepherd dogs were confined to their transport? It was as if they had sensed some form of extreme danger.
A light bulb flashed in Wu Yi's head when his train of thought reached this point. He was no longer worried—he was excited instead. "Champions always stand out!" He felt even better about their chances in the grand finals.
Zu Wen: "..." He really wanted to burst out laughing.
The police officers guarding the exit to the parking lot were confused too after Fang Zhao and company left, although they didn't blame or discipline the three police dogs.
"That's the dog from Muzhou who's here to stir things up?" one officer asked a colleague.
"Now I realize why the sheep dash like they're running for their lives when they're herded by Dongshan Farm's dogs."
"Yeah, I think I get it too."
The man who was addressed as Captain watched Fang Zhao and company make their way to the stadium. "Be careful if you run into that dog again. If you're caught unawares, you'll get ripped to shreds," he said.
There were some dogs you simply couldn't judge by appearance. They were also exceptionally gifted. Despite their small size, they were endowed with the DNA that allowed them to survive the apocalypse. Any dog that endured the end of days shouldn't be underestimated. Among service dogs, few were small in size, but every one of them was extremely competent. The officers had come across many special breeds of military dogs in their line of work, so they would never underestimate a seemingly innocent puppy.
"That curly-haired dog is probably descended from a service dog, right?"
"He's definitely military dog material. Pity he's being used as a shepherd dog." Military dogs and shepherd dogs were subject to different kinds of training. Neither would be able to adapt to the other's line of work after being trained.
"It's a shame such a good dog has been trained as a shepherd dog, notwithstanding the fact that he's being raised by a foreigner," one officer lamented.
After a brief silence, someone asked, "Have you placed your bets yet?"
The others raised their heads, eyes burning. Police officers in Muzhou weren't banned from betting. They just couldn't watch the contest, having to guard it instead.
"Who are you going to bet on?"
"What a stupid question. It's a no-brainer." Of course they would put their money on the dog they considered most dangerous.
Curious bystanders who had gathered near the parking lot were held back by grounds staff, so they couldn't figure out what was going on. All they heard was barking. They thought something big had gone down, but things quieted down after a while, as if nothing had ever happened.
One staffer told the folks still lingering, "Stop peeking. It's just a misunderstanding."
"Hey, you're blocking the way!" an obnoxious voice complained.
The staffers turned their heads. The person who spoke was a young man emerging from the parking lot. He wore green shades that resembled a fly's eyes. The lower part of his face wore an expression of unabashed cockiness. For a young kid like him to roll with assistants and bodyguards, he had to be a rich kid, but there were tons of people like that milling around today. That didn't strike anyone as unusual. What drew attention was the fat dog he was leading on a leash.
It was big enough to swallow two dogs of the same height.
The young man basked in the attention his beloved dog was receiving. He cocked his chin and said, "So what do you think? Well fed, huh? This dog is descended from the most valuable dog of last year's championship team. It shares the bloodline of a champion dog!"
The Muzhou locals who had gathered around the dog twitched their faces. What the f*ck are you so cocky about? Do you know anything about raising a dog? You've wasted such precious genes. Travesty, a total travesty.
The Muzhou natives were heartbroken. That was why they rarely sold the offspring of quality shepherd dogs to foreigners—so they wouldn't fall into the hands of self-indulgent owners like him. Even the best dogs would be sabotaged.
Such a well-endowed dog had been turned into a pig. What could it accomplish?
It looked like it was just good for cuddles.
The young man responded to the angry glares with a broader smile. He thought folks were jealous about how much he pampered his dog, so he went on his way. "Come on, my little angel. I'm going to pick you the perfect companion this year. How about this year's MVD?"
When the cocky young man left with a group of bodyguards, one of the bystanders asked, "Who was that obnoxious kid? He actually had the gumption to consider poaching our MVD."
"I have no idea. Anyone? Any foreigners here?"
"He's not from Tongzhou."
"Not from Jinzhou."
"There aren't idiots like that from Jizhou."
A journalist from Leizhou pursed his lips, retreated, and then sent a message to his colleagues: "Big Master Zaro just started a feud."
As for Fang Zhao and company, they split up once they arrived at the stadium. Wu Yi took the team for precompetition medical tests while Fang Zhao led Zu Wen and the others to the viewing gallery.
The team arrived early because, after arriving at the venue, the dogs had to undergo several rounds of testing, which required everything from blood to fur samples. Both biological and physical screening was conducted. To prevent cheating, no stone was left unturned.
Naturally, Wu Yi and Su Hou had to be present for the tests. Especially Su Hou, who was banned from doping. That was why they arrived early, so they could rest after the testing and appear and compete in tip-top shape.
After Fang Zhao and company entered the viewing gallery, they looked for the balconies. The balconies were open air and would be sealed only when the contest began.
"Wow! So this is the legendary VIP viewing gallery!" Zu Wen carefully examined all the trappings and scrutinized the audiovisual equipment with his professional judgment. His conclusion: "This place is f*cking loaded."
"This isn't the VIP viewing gallery. This is the viewing gallery for competing teams. The VIP viewing gallery is over there." Fang Zhao pointed from the balcony.
"F*ck, I think I see a major celebrity. I think it's that really famous star from Huangzhou," Rodney exclaimed.
"Woah! Good thing I brought my binoculars. Wait... there are other celebrities standing next to the Huangzhou one. I think they're from Lazhou or Jinzhou. Wait, there are so many! I see a few more now. They're all standing on the balconies of the VIP viewing gallery."
"The grand finals of Muzhou's sheep-herding contest draw a sizable batch of celebrities every year, as well as prominent figures from different fields, but they don't necessarily show up on the balconies," Song Miao said calmly as she craned her neck, binoculars in hand.
The viewing gallery for competing teams had the best view. From here, you could see most of the balconies jutting out from the VIP viewing gallery.
"Wow!" Pang Pusong shouted from another balcony.
"What is it? What is it? Did you spot another big star?" Zu Wen rushed over from his balcony.
Pang Pusong pointed to his right. Deep inhalations followed.
The balcony Zu Wen had staked out had a view of the interior of the stadium, while the one Pang Pusong had picked faced outward.
It had been nearly an hour since they'd landed. Traffic was picking up. From the balcony, they had a clear view of the parking lot. Scores of flying transports and flying cars were hovering above it. Police aircrafts were scattered nearby. Air traffic lights blinked nonstop, keeping flying transports in queue and directing them to designated parking spots.
Zu Wen felt goosebumps. "Such a spectacle. If you didn't know better, you might think war was imminent." He was nervous and emotional. The blood coursing through his veins felt like it was heating up.
The faces of VIPs kept showing up on the big screen in the viewing gallery, such as a world-renowned actor, an infamous rich kid, and his contemporaries from various continents. There were also political figures from other continents invited by the Muzhou government. And so on. The press corps was having a field day. They didn't have to worry about filling their pages.
"This is why today is known as 'Lockdown Day'." Zu Wen felt the trip was totally worth it. The security fiasco was nothing.
"Who knew so many people were interested in a sheep-herding contest," Pang Pusong said.
Song Miao, who was standing next to him, snickered. "You think they're actually interested in a sheep-herding competition? They're not here to watch the contest. They're here to show their status and further their personal interests."
That rang true, especially for all the celebrities present, big shots or not. They were here to get exposure, and Muzhou journalists wouldn't let them down. Who would not milk this golden occasion to draw global attention, to let the whole world know that the grand finals of Muzhou's sheep-herding contest were taking place today?
"Ah, I almost forgot the contest is being televised live globally." Zu Wen smacked himself on the head, tidied up in front of a mirror, then struck what he thought was the slickest pose on the balcony that overlooked the stadium.