Yan Biao was no fool. After reacting to Fang Zhao's comment with a momentary freeze, he quickly broke down the pros and cons in his head and concluded that this was an excellent job.
It wasn't that he had never considered his prospects after quitting the military. His initial plan if he retired before 50 had been to become an Indiana Jones-style explorer or something exciting like that. Who knows, he might even discover some treasure and become an overnight billionaire, but considering the severity of his injuries, this was not a realistic goal anymore.
He had considered working as a bodyguard before. Bodyguards for celebrities were paid well. Yan Biao had gotten the lowdown from former comrades who had already retired from the military, but doing bodyguard work for celebrities wasn't a walk in the park either, especially if your employer had a foul temper. They were a major hassle, and celebrities who behaved differently in public and in private were major headaches.
Yan Biao wasn't even 40 yet. By New Era standards, he was just beginning his golden years. He was also restless. The government would naturally find more relaxing work for him. The pay wouldn't be great, but it wouldn't be too low either. He would be able to cover his basic expenses, and the benefits would be great. Still, Yan Biao wasn't content to become a retiree so soon.
From what he had observed so far, Fang Zhao seemed like a reliable fellow. He wouldn't fare too poorly under Fang Zhao's wing.
Having been through the outpost attack, Yan Biao knew Fang Zhao was a competent fighter himself, but at the end of the day, celebrities were constrained in what they could do, especially in public. That was where their bodyguards came in.
Yan Biao switched gears quickly and started tooting his own horn. "As far as bodyguard work is concerned, you can't go wrong with me. In terms of solo fighting skills and professional ethics, I'm definitely one of the elite if not one of the very best. I know when to turn a blind eye and when to shut up. Where else are you going to find such a great bodyguard? Don't judge me by my condition now. Not to brag, but when I recover and get fitted for better prosthetics, taking on five guys alone will be a piece of cake."
After finishing his spiel, Yan Biao stared at Fang Zhao, who was sitting next to him silently. He couldn't read his potential employer's expression and started wondering, Was that a bit over-the-top?
"When can you start?" Fang Zhao asked.
Yan Biao knew he was in play. He continued, "In most cases like mine, after returning to the home planet, I'll need to receive treatment at the military hospital. I'll get fitted for prosthetics and undergo rehab. A conservative time frame would be half a year, but I haven't been on the home planet for a long time. I won't need to spend that much time with family, but I do need time to catch up on the latest developments on the home planet. I'll need a transition period. But Boss, I'm thinking by the time you complete your military service, I'll be in tip-top shape and ready to go."
The term "Boss" had come out naturally. Yan Biao was quick on his feet. He didn't feel embarrassed at all.
Fang Zhao nodded. Yan Biao's response was pretty much what he had expected. He had thought the matter through before making the offer. Someone who had served as a checkpoint leader was a rigorous thinker. Even though Yan Biao was a bit too smooth, he had his moral standards.
"Get some rest first. I'll send over your contract later. It will list all the job requirements." Fang Zhao didn't want to say too much. He got up and prepared to leave. Yan Biao wasn't in the best shape, after all; his energy level was low after surgery and he needed rest.
"Wait. Boss, has the base command reached out to you?" Yan Biao asked.
"Not yet." Fang Zhao could tell that Yan Biao had something to say. He retracted his step so Yan Biao could finish his thought.
"Then they should be reaching out to you soon." Considering Fang Zhao was likely to become his future boss, Yan Biao seized the moment to make a good impression. "The identities of the two terrorists who were killed have been confirmed. They are ranked very high on the most wanted list, very dangerous folks. You killed those two terrorists. Add to that the beasts you killed before that, Boss, and you should expect a promotion. You might even get a third-class merit logged on your records. Don't downplay a third-class merit, Boss. They're not easy to come by."
Fang Zhao didn't seem especially excited. He waited for what came next.
"But..." Yan Biao gave Fang Zhao a glance. "Odds are they're going to investigate your gun. If the base command reaches out to you, that's what they're going to ask you about."
This was a reminder to Fang Zhao. Whether Fang Zhao would be promoted, whether he would be awarded a merit—it all rode on the gun. If he didn't handle the matter properly, nothing would come to fruition.
"Got it." Fang Zhao didn't seem worried, nor did he press Yan Biao for more detail. Instead, he asked, "What about you? Should I mention you?"
"Me?" Yan Biao gave out a relaxed laugh. The sense of doom in his gaze seemed to dissipate as well. "In cases like mine, I'll probably end up getting bumped one rank and become a retired major. I'll get a bigger pension."
Yan Biao had performed well as well. Out of the five sentry posts that had been attacked, Outpost No. 23 had been the best protected. It had also sustained the fewest casualties. Of course, Fang Zhao was a big part of the equation, but under Yan Biao's command, his men had fended off two attackers. The storage rooms that had been bombed weren't that important. So be it if they were blown up. The command post and the engine room were the key locations, and these two sites had been defended well. Fan Lin and company had also survived the attack. This in itself was a job well done as far as the base leadership was concerned, not to mention that Yan Biao had suffered serious injuries while rescuing a comrade. A one-rank promotion was a given.
Having said what needed to be said, Fang Zhao left Yan Biao's hospital room. Even though he was quite tired, Yan Biao was on a bit of a high. He turned and tossed in bed, trying to think of which former comrades had gone into bodyguard work. He could ask them for advice.
Not long after Fang Zhao left, a clinical psychologist showed up.
The psychologists looked up experienced soldiers like Yan Biao from time to time. Retiring soldiers were also subject to exit interviews. Their job was to assess if the soldier's psychological state was appropriate for their new civilian post and whether they showed any sociopathic tendencies.
After reading Yan Biao's work and patient history, the psychologist had been brainstorming for ways to console Yan Biao, but the conversation took a completely different turn than what he had expected.
Yan Biao had his regrets, but he was clearly not depressed. Yan Biao's mental state was probably the best out of all the wounded soldiers.
The psychologist was a bit baffled when he left Yan Biao's hospital room, even doubting his own professional judgment, so he asked a colleague to drop in on Yan Biao as well. The prognosis was the same.
"He seems... quite upbeat," the colleague marveled as he jotted down notes from the interview.
Yan Biao hadn't disclosed his conversation with Fang Zhao. He hadn't signed a contract yet, after all, and he hadn't officially retired from the military, so he had decided not to tell anyone about his next move. Still, he was in a totally different mindset now, especially when he got the contract Fang Zhao sent him. His smile then was as wide as a Cheshire cat's.
The contract listed various requirements. Yan Biao studied them carefully in typical fashion and couldn't find anything he took issue with. The pay was especially generous. His pay level during probation was already higher than what he had expected his permanent salary to be. Still, Yan Biao didn't think being a bodyguard was straightforward, that it was easy money, but at least it was better than early retirement. All he hoped for now was a quick recovery so he could start his new job in the best shape possible. Fang Zhao's other bodyguard was former special forces, after all. As a retired major once stationed on a foreign planet, he had to measure up as well.
That's right—in a year, Baiji might become a full-fledged military installation. As a retired major from the Baiji military district, he couldn't afford to lose face.
Just as Yan Biao was looking forward to the next stage in his life, Fang Zhao was summoned to a conference room on base.
As soon as he entered, Fang Zhao saw five members of the base senior command, including Shanta.
The farewell ceremony for the fallen soldiers had concluded. Security protocols for the base and the various outposts had been upgraded. Everything was returning to normal. It was time to tally merits. But some of the candidates for merits who were still on active duty had to be interviewed.
Fang Zhao was the first one.
Under normal circumstances, meetings between the base's senior command and rank-and-file soldiers took on a serious tone. The top brass would posture as well, but somehow, they couldn't play their parts in front of Fang Zhao.
After all, Baiji's advancement in the global development order was all due to Fang Zhao.
When Fang Zhao entered the room, everyone couldn't help but burst into smiles, regardless of the expressions they had intended. It was a lost cause. Every time they saw Fang Zhao, they were reminded of the Baiji power ore, after all. Thoughts of the Baiji ore led to rosy predictions for the planet's future.
Fang Zhao performed a standard New Erstyle military salute in accordance with his service manual.
"Sit down first, Fang Zhao. Relax. We just want to have a chat," Shanta said.
Once Shanta set the tone, the others gave up all pretenses and stopped suppressing their smiles.
Fang Zhao sat down in the chair reserved for him. He wasn't nervous, but he didn't ignore decorum either.
Shanta was secretly impressed. The way Fang Zhao carried himself—it definitely grew on him. Still, procedure had to be followed.
Shanta's gaze shifted to the box on the conference table. "Let's talk about your gun." The box contained the firearm that Fang Zhao had voluntarily surrendered after the terrorist attack. A quick run of the model and the serial number had already revealed its owner.
"The gun is my great-grandfather's. It's for personal protection. Prior to the attack, it had only been fired on a shooting range. It has never been used publicly on the home planet."
Fang Zhao said he had taken the gun from his great-grandfather, but he didn't volunteer that it was a gift from Great-Grandfather Fang. The interview was recorded and would be considered along with written material Fang Zhao submitted.
Shanta and company knew very well that even their own kids and grandkids played with their guns before they were licensed to carry. They turned a blind eye as long as nothing serious went down. If they went by the book, the barracks of every military district on every continent would be filled with offenders.
Once they ascertained the identity of the gun's owner, the senior command had a sense of how to proceed. They wouldn't press Fang Zhao for details. The severity of the offense was up to them. It all depended on the attitude of these senior commanders. If they treaded lightly, then it wasn't a big deal. Not to mention that Fang Zhao had offered a full explanation. Every bullet the gun had ever fired had been accounted for. The logs of the firing range where it had been used could be easily traced. The other bullets had been retrieved from the bodies of the beasts and terrorists that Fang Zhao had shot. The evidence backed up Fang Zhao's story.
But a minor refraction was still a refraction. It was impossible to cover up. However, the senior commanders could play it down when applying for a merit on his behalf.
Shanta released Fang Zhao after a brief conversation of about 10 minutes. He then took out the paperwork he had prepared ahead of time and ticked the box next to the item "third-class merit."