Kevin Lin still couldn't secure a flying transport from the main base the next two days. He didn't want to beg Fan Lin for help either. In any event, he did enjoy much more freedom at the outpost, and he was fed adequate food and drink. It felt nice to be pampered by the soldiers at the outpost. Even though Kevin Lin still b*tched in front of Fang Zhao, he had grown more and more attached to the outpost. The reason he kept applying for a flying transport was that he wanted to collect his things from base.
Fang Zhao's assignment had been officially switched to the outpost. His daily workload was recorded on his personnel file and the person responsible for evaluating him was Fan Lin.
Digging up soil, dispensing fertilizer, setting up protective fencing, and so on—these tasks were handled by Fang Zhao and two other lab technicians. Fan Lin sometimes worked in the fields too even though there were already three or four people working the plot. Breaking down their productivity, Fang Zhao accounted for 75 percent of the total work output.
As for his downtime, Fang Zhao was always scribbling away in his notebook. It was a scene folks at the outpost had gotten used to.
"That kid is hardcore. He doesn't play around when he works," one of the sentries told Yan Biao.
The soldiers were indeed biased against celebrities and the like. They had always thought that all celebrities only knew how to put on a show, that everything was fake, but their impression had changed drastically over the last two days.
"Kevin Lin behaves more like a celebrity."
Even though they didn't go online, all the sentries knew that Kevin Lin got more screen time in the live broadcasts than Fang Zhao did.
In reality, Kevin Lin was quite conflicted.
In plain terms, Project Starlight was a poverty-alleviation program that leveraged the popularity of celebrities. But now that Baiji was no longer poor, it had no use for Fang Zhao's name recognition. In that sense, Fang Zhao was dispensable, because Baiji no longer lacked a killer resource. It had no shortage of investors and business partners. Now it was the Baiji base's turn to be picky. Every drib and drab that was announced about the latest research on the new energy ore was enough to draw massive mainstream media attention and investor interest.
Kevin Lin had gotten word from his editor-in-chief that his assignment had changed. All he needed to do now was report on novelties, anything that could grab viewer attention. As to whether or not Fang Zhao made an appearance in the live broadcast and for how long, that no longer mattered.
The bottom line was that Fang Zhao was still performing his military service, so he enjoyed far less latitude than the other four celebrities. Balancing the pros and cons, First Frontline wanted Kevin Lin to find other more interesting things to broadcast instead of focusing on Fang Zhao's routine. What was so interesting about performing military service? It was the same boring job every day.
But Kevin Lin was too embarrassed to tell Fang Zhao the truth. After all, S5's current viewership, whether they were intrigued by the power ore or something else, was all thanks to Fang Zhao. So in spite of his new marching orders, Kevin Lin always mentioned Fang Zhao in his broadcasts.
If it were anyone else, any mention of their name by Kevin Lin would have prompted them to show up in the broadcast, but Kevin Lin realized that Fang Zhao genuinely didn't care about exposure, or to put it in different terms, Fang Zhao held himself to be a different kind of celebrity.
Not to mention that, at the end of the day, Fang Zhao was there to perform his military service. His evaluation depended entirely on Fan Lin. These researcher types were so stubborn sometimes that it drove Kevin Lin mad. You couldn't count on them to stage a show. Fang Zhao had to carry out his daily duties in earnest.
So Kevin Lin had been brainstorming how to freshen up the next broadcast. Viewers were probably already bored from three straight days of footage from the experimental plot.
Kevin Lin glanced at Fang Zhao, who was toiling away in the experimental plot, before turning around and walked to the edge of the field. "Captain Yan, when are you guys going hunting again?"
Alarm bells went off in Yan Biao's head immediately. He still flashed a friendly smile, but he responded, "We are only allowed to hunt a certain number of times every month. I don't wanna break any rules. You want to do a live hunting broadcast?"
Back when the sentry post had had no visitors, when living conditions had been tough, Yan Biao would sneak his team out for a few additional hunting trips on the side so they would have better food. Every sentry post had done the same thing. They hadn't been an exception.
But they would never let these reporters or scientists in on these secret expeditions. He was afraid they would make a big deal out of it. In that case, their superiors could no longer turn a blind eye.
But Kevin Lin was no fool. There was no way he was buying Yan Biao's explanation, but he didn't want to call him out on the lie either. Instead, he negotiated. "I asked Prof. Fan Lin. He said there isn't much work left to do at the experimental plot this afternoon. The weather is decent. It's not too hot and it's not raining. Why don't we go for a stroll? Even if we don't hunt, I can shoot something else. You guys have been stationed here for some time and know the area quite well. Is there any interesting stuff I can shoot?"
"There's plenty, but it's rather dangerous out there. If you guys head out alone, you're bound to run into trouble. If you really want to go, I'll personally escort you with a team to guarantee your safety." Yan Biao sounded so chivalrous, but what was really going on was that he was itching to hunt and wanted to get some airtime as well. He wanted to give other members of his team some exposure too.
"Then apologies in advance for imposing on Captain Yan."
After sorting out the details with Yan Biao, Kevin Lin went over to give Fang Zhao a heads up. Fang Zhao also wanted to check out the woods beyond the sentry post. It was his first time living on a foreign planet. He wanted to take in its unique features as much as possible.
Yan Biao approached the two with a traditional hunting rifle. "Do you guys hunt?"
"I do!" Kevin Lin wanted to try hunting here. Restrictions were too tight on their home planet. You could never find a place like this. If you wanted to hunt freely, you had to do it on an undeveloped foreign planet like this.
"Fang Zhao, wanna give it a try, then?" Kevin Lin asked.
Fang Zhao nodded. "Sure."
The group headed out in the afternoon.
Yan Biao brought a team of about a dozen people to guard Kevin Lin and Fang Zhao.
After leaving the outpost, they were removed from the safety of the protective fence. A raw, dangerous vibe emanated from their surroundings. The natural fragrance of the forest was mixed with a warm, bloody smell.
"There are a bunch of big carnivores feasting over there. Let's take a detour," Yan Biao whispered.
As if to echo Lin Biao's warning, a huge roar erupted about 200 meters away. Kevin Lin felt as if every hair on his body was standing up. He had spent too much time in the city. It took his first foray into a virgin forest to realize that he had grossly underestimated the level of danger. He was too stiff to move, as if the slightest shiver would result in his immediate demise.
"It's OK." Yan Biao pointed to the shadows hovering in the sky. "They're just scaring off the carrion-feeding birds. They won't attack us. Keep going."
Kevin Lin's teeth were chattering. "K-k-keep going? Haven't we ventured too far?"
"Not at all. Normally we don't hunt so close to the outpost." Yan Biao was speaking with a normal tone, but he was secretly snickering. Ha—you're terrified, aren't you? I knew these folks are too chickenshit. Yan Biao continued, "We've got guns. There's nothing to fear even if the beasts attack us."
The guns the sentry team had been allocated were different from the hunting rifles issued by the main base. The guns the sentries carried with them were more lethal—just in case.
Taking into account the fact that this was Kevin Lin's and Fang Zhao's first trip into the forest, Yan Biao didn't go too deep into the woods. After finding a suitable spot, he turned around and told Kevin Lin, "This is a safe area. There won't be any major threats, so you can start your live broadcast."
"Am I going to get a signal this far from the outpost?" Kevin Lin grumbled.
Yan Biao looked at Kevin Lin like he was an idiot.
The whole point of the outpost was to build a global defense network, which counted a global communications grid as a major component. Apart from areas where signal strength was affected by a peculiar landscape or soil quality, coverage was universal within the network. Kevin Lin was a veteran journalist, but his question made him sound like an amateur.
Not to mention that Yan Biao and team rarely ventured into areas where there was no coverage. Otherwise, even if they died, no one would know to fetch their corpses. They were brave, but they weren't death-seekers.
Kevin Lin calmed down. He realized the mistake he had just made and coughed in embarrassment. He was still stiff from his nerves, so he passed his rifle to Fang Zhao. "Why don't you go ahead first?"
Fang Zhao accepted the rifle. "Sure." The old-school hunting rifle from the New Era was very similar to the hunting rifles Fang Zhao was familiar with. It was not foreign at all.
"Can we go live?" Kevin Lin asked.
"Do you need to warm up?" Kevin Lin was worried.
"No, I'm good."
It wasn't that Fang Zhao was overconfident, it was just that he had noticed that Yan Biao was antsy and eager to start barking instructions. If they warmed up and he finished his spiel, then there would be nothing left to say on air.
Of course, Fang Zhao was also confident in his abilities. Even if he missed his first few shots, he'd get the hang of it after a few tries. He wasn't worried about losing face.
"Then here I go." Kevin Lin switched his camera to "live" mode and gave a brief rundown of their location.
Yan Biao also gave a briefing and offered tips on how to use the traditional hunting rifle—how to aim, how to seize the moment, and so on.
I can't show my face, but I can sure as hell make sure my voice is heard! This time, Yan Biao got his fix.
His family should be able to recognize his voice, no? He hadn't been home in years, so he wasn't sure. In any case, this was his way of getting on air at least once.
The online viewers were also intrigued.
"Wow, so this is one of those storied virgin forests on foreign planets?"
"I hear they're crawling with wild animals."
"Who's the hunting instructor? How come he isn't showing his face?"
"The camera panned past him a few times but missed his face. Still, I'm certain it's one of the sentries from the outpost."
"Duh. Who else would it be? A lab technician?"
"Is Fang Zhao going to hunt on live broadcast?"
"Will he be able to hit anything?"
Fang Zhao's meteoric rise to the top of the "Battle of the Century" rankings and the black street scuffle had people wondering whether he had gang connections. There were all sorts of wild stories. Now, folks could finally see Fang Zhao use a hunting rifle for real.
This time, the live broadcast drew gamers who typically weren't interested in the show.
Gaming was just gaming, after all. As good as you were in-game and as much time as you put in on the practice range, it was no substitute for the real thing.
Hunting was the real thing.
So many online viewers were eagerly anticipating this moment. Many so-called professional marksmen were glued to Fang Zhao's every move and every gesture so they could analyze them like a precision instrument.
Holding a rifle was one thing, but shooting it was another. Was he an accurate shooter? How would he compare to his avatar?
The 50th floor of Silver Wing Tower. The virtual projects department.
"Wow, boss is going to fire a real gun on live TV!"
Zu Wen quickly spread the word within the department.
"This is for real. I'm so nervous."
"What's so nerve-racking about hunting? Over in Muzhou, they have private hunting grounds. Word is quite a few professional marksmen go hunting over there."
"No, it's not that. You don't know the entertainment industry. Some of these folks are brutal critics. Boss did so well in 'Battle of the Century.' If he falls short just a bit in reality, they're going to butcher him. Not to mention that Boss has been in the headlines for discovering the Baiji power ore. What do you think they will do if they see an opening?"
Of course, they would show no mercy.
"But Fang Zhao doesn't look like someone who would take on something he isn't sure about," Jinro said.
"That's true. If he weren't confident, he wouldn't have agreed to the live broadcast so quickly."
Considering the matter from a different perspective, perhaps this was an opportunity for Fang Zhao to show off his gunplay?
The thought made Zu Wen and company more relaxed. They started looking forward to the broadcast as well.
"I've never seen boss use a real gun in real life."
"Zuo Yu, have you?"
"It's illegal for people without gun permits to shoot in public except for firing ranges," Zuo Yu responded. He had never seen Fang Zhao shoot a real gun, but even if he had, confessing to it would be the equivalent of announcing that his boss had broken the law.
Meanwhile, in the live broadcast, Fang Zhao raised his old-school rifle and started aiming at a chubby bird that was resting on a tree branch under Yan Biao's guidance.
"Wait. Be patient. Calm down." Yan Biao was worried Fang Zhao couldn't maintain his composure, so kept whispering reminders. But when he turned his head, he noticed that Fang Zhao was surprisingly calm. He didn't look like a young man of his age raising a rifle for the first time.
Wouldn't a normal person be excited and a bit nervous and uncertain at the same time?
But Yan Biao cast aside his doubts when the felt the timing was right. "Go for it!" he urged in a whisper.
The online viewers wouldn't risk so much as a blink lest they miss the scene.
Right at that moment, the screen went dark and the following line appeared: "Signal lost. Reconnecting."
The online viewers: "..."