Wayne felt like he was walking on water when he returned from the penthouse suite to the gaming department..
"Boss, do we have a deal?" his staff asked anxiously.
The dreamy look on Wayne's face subdued somewhat, replaced by a manager's grim authority. He cleared his throat and said, "Yeah." But thinking back to the visions of a grand future that popped into his head, he couldn't help smiling again. "Ehem. Everyone hunker down a bit. Tight lips. Understand? Maybe our day has finally come," Wayne instructed.
"Got! It!" his staff responded in unison.
Wayne didn't reveal too many details. He had wanted to spill the beans to boost morale, but he was also worried that Fang Zhao's poaching attempts would fail, in which case he would lose face, so Wayne decided to hold back, at least until Fang Zhao had secured a few defectors.
In the end, Wayne and Duan Qianji had agreed to Fang Zhao's terms. Since Fang Zhao would be leading the team, he would call the shots, as long as he managed to poach the top gamers. Wayne was also a businessman. All his decisions were based on personal interest. Even though things had evolved beyond his control, as long as he could profit, he would not hesitate to agree to Fang Zhao's terms. This was a one-in-a-million opportunity.
Inside the office of the executive producer for "Prairie Fire."
Qian Cheng had been in a bad mood the past few days because he had failed to land the scoop he'd so desperately wanted. He'd sent an army to District 79, but AliveAfter500Years had headed to District 78 instead. He'd reassigned his reporters to District 78, but there had been no sign of the crack gamer then.
"Any movement on Silver Wing's front?" Qian Cheng asked his staff.
"No," one of his staffers responded.
The editorial staff were also puzzled.
"This doesn't feel right. They haven't so much as put up a smokescreen. That's not Silver Wing's style. If they were thinking straight, shouldn't they have been bragging like crazy about their gamer sitting on top of the global leaderboard? Silver Wing has always enjoyed blowing the smallest triumph out of proportion, and yet they are silent now. Unless there are some shady shenanigans going on behind the scenes?"
Qian Cheng shook his head in silence. He didn't get it. Why was Silver Wing so composed this time?
"I have a bad feeling about this," Qian Cheng continued. "It feels like Silver Wing is up to something major again."
After pondering a bit, Qian Cheng issued his marching orders. "Don't let up on Silver Wing. Keep a tight watch."
"Then should we still assign folks to District 78 and 79?" someone asked. "There's big news in other districts as well, and we're quite short-staffed."
Qian Cheng thought it over. "Let's stay put in District 78. Reassign most of the reporters in District 79 to other districts. Just keep a few to keep an eye on things."
Amid the flurry of activity, inside a building in District 79 West, a silhouette moved cautiously along the wall, careful not to make the slightest sound. After tiptoeing a bit, the person stopped to thoroughly take in his surroundings.
After remaining still and making sure he was alone, the man whispered, "Hi everyone, this is your old friend Strong Bubbles. Welcome to my live broadcast. I am now situated in a furniture mall in the Old Era."
He was a webcast host. Live broadcasts were allowed in "Battle of the Century," but journalists had to apply. Only applicants vetted and cleared by Fiery Bird could report live from the game. Not everyone could qualify.
This particular host had a good reputation and was accredited, but this was his first gaming gig. He used to host lifestyle and travel shows, but there were too many personalities covering the same beat and thus too much competition. There was never a shortage of hosts willing to put their lives on the line, such as folks who attempted dangerous climbs, ventured deep into the forest, or scuba dived into great depths to uncover natural beauty. He wasn't that adventurous, which was why his viewership numbers dwindled.
"Battle of the Century" had a huge budget, and its production values were superb. The game was extremely realistic. Gaming hosts focused on strategy in their live broadcasts, but he was different. He was using the game to chart a new career path.
The Old Era was undoubtedly a novelty for folks from the New Era, so after switching beats, this host saw his viewership figures climb again. He maintained his fan base, while new viewers were gamers who were curious about the Old Era. Quite a few of them were underaged. Children were not allowed to play "Battle of the Century." All they could do was tune in to live webcasts every day. Some of these kids were interested in watching monster slaying. Others were not but were rather drawn to Strong Bubbles's levelheaded but stimulating reporting style. It was a nice change of pace and made for pleasant viewing. The latter demographic included both gamers and non-gamers. The gamers tuned in to the live broadcast to get their fix when they themselves couldn't play because of work or other engagements.
As an experienced host, Strong Bubbles knew how to pick a location. His staff had opened several accounts for him. He picked the one that gave him access to District 79 for the sole reason that the furniture mall was there. It was a strategic location and easy to hide in, and next to the furniture mall was a major intersection. Even though he was on the first floor, the windows were covered with a wire mesh, so he could observe developments at the crossroads from a safe sanctuary. He could also see other players kill monsters. Strong Bubbles had no intention of switching locations any time soon.
The footage seen by viewers was decided by the host. The host could choose from various vantage points, including his own. Strong Bubbles had chosen his own. He liked sharing what he saw with his own eyes.
Just as he was about to share an amusing anecdote from the Old Era, he was interrupted.
"Sounds like gunshots. They're getting louder. Also, is that the sound of a motorbike? Even though there aren't that many beasts in the city, there's still a sizable population. The sound of a motorbike might draw the attention of the beasts and overshadow other sounds. It would be hard to detect threats by sound. I wonder if the rider factored this into consideration. Wait..."
"The gunshots are quite regular. It seems there might be a team of shooters. Let's wait and see." Strong Bubbles held his breath and peeked through the window to locate the source of the gunshots.
The sound of the motorbike and gunshots kept getting louder. Soon, he saw a speeding shadow pop up some distance away. There was only one silhouette.
A huge black motorbike with a clear outline and a chiseled body charged at the crossroads, rumbling at a high frequency, as if milking its engine for all it was worth. It was a wild beast heaving and panting frantically.
"Is that the heavy-duty motorbike T-Rex?" To prepare for his broadcast, the host had crammed on Old Era trivia. When Fiery Bird had released its game-related merchandise, he'd also bought a T-Rex model, but the model he'd bought was the racing version. What appeared now was a street version with lights and mirrors.
He didn't have a clear view because of the metal mesh covering the window, so he took a chance and opened the window, pressing his face toward the mesh to get a better look. His personal safety was secondary now. He had to go all out for the live broadcast.
Looking through the metal mesh, he still couldn't identify the rider of the motorbike, because the rider was wearing a helmet. All he saw was his right hand on a handle and his left pulling out a short pistol and firing all over the place. The proximity of the shots was spooky. Almost every shot killed a beast.
The closer he approached the intersection, the more dangerous it was. The sound of beasts crying traveled from all four directions. The gunshots became even more frequent. Some of the beasts were still hiding in buildings. Once they poked their heads out, they were shot.
Another shot, which threaded the gap of a window on the building to the right, hit another beast.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
One beast fell after another.
By now, the rider had reached the crossroads. Beasts were approaching from all four directions, the sudden surge of bodies and flesh resembling a tsunami. If it were someone else, four guns wouldn't have done the trick. There was no time.
Yet the man on the bike betrayed no signs of fear.
The sound of the motorbike's wheels revolving against the ground made for a long piercing noise. The rider swerved and sped forward.
Man and machine combined for a menacing T-Rex, lethal shots spraying from the barrel of the rider's gun nonstop. During the turn, the gun was reduced to a blob. He was moving so quickly you couldn't see the gun clearly. All you could see were mini explosions emerging from T-Rex Central.
The smell of gunpowder was everywhere, as if auguring an imminent detonation.
The beasts weren't slow either, but...
Downed with a shot!
This was a meeting of two powerful currents. Yet the end result was utterly one-sided.
One person facing beasts attacking from all four directions—and yet his firepower had the upper hand. Those beasts couldn't get anywhere near him.
Every shot and every move seemed to be carefully plotted. The level of anticipation and mental fortitude was mind blowing.
Every single viewer watching the live broadcast stopped what they were doing and stared without so much as a single blink. They held their breath and clenched their fists, as if they themselves were in the midst of battle. Some viewers let out the occasional scream.
The rider even managed to shoot some beasts in the head during his turn.
If it were them, they could never have managed to hit the bodies of the beasts so easily while sitting still on the bike. Let alone their heads, the motorbike was swerving.
What kind of skill level was this?
After a rainstorm of shots, the black motorbike waded through the corpses on the ground and sped off. The gunshots kept coming. For the rider, the battle wasn't over. It was just that the sound of gunshots had moved on to the next intersection, leaving behind the angry, disgruntled howls of beasts who had arrived too late.
The host took a swallow, carefully maneuvered back into the room, and shut the window. His hands were still shaking when he closed the window, still rattled from the scene he had just witnessed.
No more than 30 seconds had elapsed between the time the rider had emerged in his line of sight and the rider's departure. Many viewers watching the live broadcast were left in a cold sweat, their muscles stiff from the tension of the moment, taking forever to recover.
Viewers that were logged onto Strong Bubbles' chat forum finally came to their senses and went berserk.
"That kind of driving..."
"A 360-degree swerve while shooting at the same time. Oh. My. God."
"That was a street version of the T-Rex, no doubt about it. It's the third T-Rex that has shown up in Yanzhou since the game was launched. But this is the first person who took the T-Rex into a fight! Bad*ss!"
"Yesterday I took an ordinary motorbike from the basement garage for a spin. I lost control and broke my bones. Thank God it was in a game. I was alive and kicking again after an afternoon of rest. Watching this dude take off on his bike has given me the goosebumps again. I think I might crash again."
"Our friend upstairs missed something. The rider swerved 360 degrees, switched weapons, and fired. He switched weapons when he turned and fired. I'm just not sure how many times. But judging from the sound of the gunshots, there were definitely two types of guns in action. Several beasts were shot when they leaped forward. Those shots were definitely inflicted by a different gun, maybe a shotgun of some sort. Everything went down so quickly I couldn't see clearly."
"Did you guys see the way he switched guns?"
"Not at all."
"Bubbles: Did you tape the broadcast just now? I want to watch the rerun in slow motion. I want to know how many times he switched weapons during the short period he was swerving his bike."
"He actually switched guns at a time like that? Even a delay of 0.1 seconds could mean losing your life, not to mention the consequences of switching to the wrong gun."
"My dad just asked why I was watching the live broadcast on my knees."
"Forget about accuracy—isn't it easy to screw up with such a fast weapon switch? Last time I ran into a beast, I was going to switch to a shotgun, but I was so emotional that I didn't realize until I was about to the pull the trigger that the thing I switched to was a chicken leg. I was so freaked out I tossed it. The price you pay for not organizing your toolkit."
"Brother upstairs who switched to a chicken leg: did the beast eat the chicken leg?"
"I don't know. I was in a hurry to bolt. I didn't dare look back."
"Hey, let's not go off-topic. Stay on message. Didn't the rider just now seem familiar?"
"I couldn't get a clear view because he was wearing a helmet, but now that you mention it, yeah, I've seen the face somewhere."
"Even though the helmet wasn't a biker's helmet and his outfit wasn't a biker's kit, don't you think the dude looks a bit like the mystery man from the race between 2S and BOOM a month ago? Especially the way he swerved at the intersection. The difference is that he swerved a full 360 degrees this time, not 180 degrees, and he didn't lift his front wheel, but he switched weapons and fired."
"His accuracy reminds me of the District 79 legend AliveAfter500Years! Only he could manage such a massacre in this neighborhood. Wow, I finally witnessed the way the top player in the world racks up points. So you're saying this guy is the mystery rider who passed Ke Zimo and Olaf during the practice match between 2S and BOOM last month?"
"It's the same person?"