The first thing Fang Zhao did after returning to Yanzhou was buy a beginner's console online. It was as if Curly Hair had discovered a brand new world. He became addicted to the world of gaming. There was no end in sight. When he had been in Muzhou, he'd had to restrain himself, only sneaking into the gaming room to get his fix whenever he had the chance, but now that he was back in Yanzhou and he was all alone, Curly Hair could go all out.
But Fang Zhao only let him play single-console games. He wasn't allowed to go online.
Even though the internet was a simulated version of the real world, more often than not, you never knew whether an actual person or not was on the other end. Since using a 10th-generation console and becoming aware of the data collection Fiery Bird was conducting, Fang Zhao knew that there were no secrets in this virtual world, especially when it came to machines controlled by your brain. Folks of average ability could get by—no one would notice you—but if you stood out, people would investigate, and there were no secrets. Brain waves could be identified by certain markers. Fang Zhao didn't want to risk Curly Hair being singled out. Thankfully, for now Curly Hair was simply addicted to single-console games and knew he couldn't get online and go all out.
Fang Zhao had learned of some of the conclusions from the investigation into the Dongshan Farm flying transport crash while chatting with Su Hou after returning to Yanzhou. The pilot of the transport had committed suicide. The other passengers were students from other continents holidaying in Muzhou. The pilot was a local Muzhou resident who had been recommended to them. Who could have known something like this would go down? The students had been heavily injured and even more traumatized than Su Hou, probably with lingering effects.
"There are two possibilities—either it's a sociopath or an enemy of the Su family." Su Hou had calmed down. In any case, threats like this had become routine.
Su Hou's father's other bastard sons wouldn't be so stupid as to target him like that. Typically, the elders didn't get involved in feuds between youngsters in the family; they tended to turn a blind eye. Adversity was the breeding ground for true leaders, after all, but the flying transport attack was the equivalent of throwing down the gauntlet to the Su family.
There was a limit to what Su Hou could say. He also wasn't privy to too many details. He was just a kid who wasn't particularly smart, so the elders wouldn't let him in on core matters before he raised his IQ.
"Seems that our community isn't entirely crime-free," Fang Zhao said.
"Indeed. There are many things that go down in the dark that are kept secret from the public, but most of these potential disasters are pre-empted. Today, they arrested two attempted bombers in the martyrs' cemetery. Events like these are never reported. Even folks who paid their respects today won't have noticed."
Memorial Day was when the martyrs' cemeteries saw their traffic peak. Apart from the cemetery guards assigned to the core area, the government typically deployed additional guards to ensure that worship activities could proceed uninterrupted.
Fang Zhao wasn't planning on joining the ruckus this year. His status was different compared to last year. He was a public figure with quite a few fans, so he planned on visiting the martyrs' cemeteries in various continents after Memorial Day, when there were fewer visitors.
With the Su family stepping in to contain the fallout over the Dongshan Farm plane crash, online discussion of the incident had tapered off significantly over the past three days. Regardless of how folks spun the event, whether it was a brilliantly executed marketing ploy or some earth-shattering conspiracy, the level of attention was declining with the approach of Memorial Day.
On Jan. 20, Silver Wing's virtual projects and gaming departments held a joint press conference. The company officially announced that Jinro was taking over as captain of their gaming team and that Dorrian would serve as his deputy. Fang Zhao was scheduled to start his military service in April and would go on temporary leave. The departure of Fang Zhao didn't necessarily deal a blow to the team's prospects, though. Jinro had been personally trained by Fang Zhao. On paper, Fang Zhao was much younger than Jinro, but between Jinro himself or Silver Wing fans, no one considered it a problem. Fang Zhao's gaming prowess was a well-established fact.
Wayne also announced that the team would be adding new members in the near future, but their identities would be kept secret for now.
Silver Wing's performance the past few months had prompted quite a few pro gamers to consider jumping ship. This time, it was Wayne's turn to play hard to get. In the past, he'd had to make the rounds, begging people to join. Now he was the one being sought out. It was sweet vindication.
As the focus of the press attention, Fang Zhao was inundated with questions. Some journalists also asked him about the Dongshan Farm crash. Fang Zhao just waved it off as an accident without elaborating. Silver Wing's PR staff would follow up with journalists.
In other news, Fang Zhao also revealed during the press conference that Fiery Bird would soon be making an announcement about their 10th-generation console's protection mode, but that it recommended customers not try it out before then.
In fact, Fang Zhao hadn't been able to control the console on demand right away. He'd only went out on a limb because Su Hou had been in a bad spot, buried in rubble and struggling to breathe.
The other focus of the entertainment journalists was Fang Zhao's imminent military service. Celebrities entering the military always got the media excited. Reporters were always trying to find a point of controversy, like a certain star parlaying connections into an easy assignment, a star lying about working as a miner on a faraway planet while in actuality vacationing on a newly colonized planet, or someone faking their service records.
Many people wanted to use their connections to secure an easy posting. The thing was, only a few could manage to do so. Others could only watch with envy and vent their frustrations online, posting spiels about special treatment. Public figures like celebrities were a regular target.
If Fang Zhao received a relaxed posting, the pundits would show no mercy.
But Fang Zhao didn't announce any details about his assignment. Even Wayne didn't know. Duan Qianji asked Fang Zhao several times, but all he said was that he would decide after visiting his great-grandfather in Yanbei on Memorial Day.
On Jan. 26, Fang Zhao rented a flying car and drove from Qi'an to Yanbei himself with Curly Hair in tow.
Security was especially tight during the Memorial Day period, and the amount of vehicle traffic increased the closer to Memorial Day one got. Fang Zhao had to clear a security checkpoint before entering Yanbei's city limits.
There was tons of traffic and a long queue leading to the checkpoint. The good thing was that the security checks were quite swift. What seemed to be a long queue could in fact be processed quite quickly.
After lining up for about 10 minutes, Fang Zhao drove his car into the security checkpoint. Besides his car undergoing a scan for dangerous items, the driver's personal information also came up automatically on the screen of the inspector.
When he noticed Fang Zhao's personal details on the screen, the inspector's expression went from serious to surprised, but he regained his composure quickly. He walked out of his booth, approached Fang Zhao's car, and signaled Fang Zhao to lower his car window.
It was common for inspectors to randomly screen drivers and passengers in person, so the inspector's appearance didn't strike the drivers lined up behind Fang Zhao as odd.
The stern-faced inspector walked up to Fang Zhao's car. After Fang Zhao lowered his window, the inspector pulled out a paper notebook and pen from his pocket and handed them to Fang Zhao. "Sir, could I trouble you for an autograph?"
Fang Zhao eyed the inspector's tense expression and smiled. "Sure thing."
He took the pen and notebook, flipped to a blank page, signed his name, and then handed the pen and notebook back.
"Thank you." The inspector struggled to suppress his smile as he held off on taking his pen and notebook. Resuming his solemn expression as if he were conducting official business, he handed over a stamp pad. "Could I trouble your passenger in the back to sign as well?"
Fang Zhao glanced at Curly Hair, who was kneeling on the back seat. He waved him over, grabbed one of his paws, placed it on the stamp pad, and then pressed it onto the inspector's notebook.
The inspector took his pen and notebook and tucked them away carefully. His face was still tense as he took a step back and bowed slightly. "Thank you! Happy Memorial Day! Welcome back to Yanbei. I wish you and your family good health and I wish you swift sailing."
"Happy Memorial Day!"
Fang Zhao closed his car window and drove away.