In Muzhou, Su Hou was conferring with Su Feng on whether to place a bid at the auction.
"I can probably chip in 10 million," Su Hou said as he scratched his head. Ten million was the total sum of his savings. He had gotten quite a few red packets this year, which had beefed up his savings. He had planned on using the money to buy seeds but then Fang Zhao's tooth had come up for auction, and he felt obliged to help out. Compared to his contemporaries, 10 million was already a huge sum, but it was still peanuts by auction standards.
Su Feng felt conflicted too. It was not that he wanted to help, but he had to bid for Fan Lin's item. However, he could still help drive the price up for Fang Zhao's lot. Even if he bought it by mistake, so be it. They owed Fang Zhao. He had saved Su Hou's life, after all. Lending a helping hand was the right thing to do.
Yanbei, Yanzhou. Retirement home for former government officials.
Great-Grandfather and Great-Grandmother Fang were at a loss too. The hype was getting out of control. They could tell that some folks were trying to drive prices up. If the feeding frenzy kept up and Fang Zhao's lot didn't fetch a handsome price, it would be a major blow to him.
The elderly couple took stock of their savings. "It's not enough," they lamented.
"Let's at least be prepared. If the price is too low, we can put in a bid. Actually, in the best-case scenario, if prices are through the roof at the outset, if there's a bidding war, then there's nothing left for us to do either."
Qi'an, top floor of Silver Wing Tower.
"Chairwoman Duan. As far as the auction is concerned, for Fang Zhao's lot, should we get involved?" the head of Silver Wing's operations department asked.
"You stay out of this," Duan Qianji responded.
The operations chief got the cue. "You stay out of this" meant that someone would take care of things. Who knows—Duan Qianji might even place a bid herself.
Duan Qianji felt that she owed Fang Zhao a favor because he had done her husband Hong Lou a good turn. Hong Lou had had so much competition from his contemporaries. In the end, it had been the intervention of Shanta, the most senior commander, that had sealed the deal. Tens of millions was nothing compared to the opportunity Hong Lou had secured. Opportunities like that couldn't be bought with money, so Duan Qianji decided that not only was she going to prop up prices for Fang Zhao's lot, she was going to buy the tooth outright. She was taking the tooth home.
Elsewhere in Qi'an.
Ming Ye, the Hull virus patient, could finally say "Mom" and "Dad" articulately after nearly two years of treatment.
Ming Cang and his wife were so emotional they felt they were about to explode. They both went completely blank and froze, recovering their senses only after an extended period of time.
Ming Cang's voice started quivering. Ming Ye's medical team started checking his various vitals. Ming Cang's wife left the hospital room.
Ming Cang's wife quickly ducked into another room, closed the door, and burst into tears. After all these years, her son could finally address her. She couldn't control her emotions.
Ming Cang paced frantically in the corridor, panting and heaving. His bloodshot eyes had become tearful. He wanted to distract himself, but he didn't know what to do. He was so emotional he felt confused.
He calmed down after a long walk. When he stopped, he noticed his face was covered in tears.
After wiping his face, Ming Cang forced himself to settle down, but to no avail. He kept pacing neurotically and mumbling to himself. "He's finally recovered, finally! I should tell everyone. Who should I call? I also need to thank... Who do I need to thank? That's right—Fang Zhao. It was Fang Zhao who pointed us in the right direction. It was Fang Zhao."
He dug out Fang Zhao's number and was about to call when he suddenly realized Fang Zhao was still performing his military service and was thus incommunicado.
After taking a few more deep breaths, Ming Cang felt a bit more composed. He couldn't reach Fang Zhao, so he was going to share the good news with others.
Ming Cang was just about to send out a status update on his social media platform when he saw a pop-up box that contained several news items. He was just about to dismiss the box when the top headline, "Fang Zhao Auction Lot Estimated at 50 Million," caught his eye.
What actually first caught Ming Cang's attention were the two words "Fang Zhao." Only then had he read the rest of the headline. He clicked on the link and got the full story.
Ming Cang stared at the picture of the animal tooth engraved with the musical score.
"I'm taking that tooth home!"
He decided to join the bidding not only to thank Fang Zhao but also to mark the occasion of Ming Ye's first words since falling ill.
Folks following the auction online wondered who else was getting ready to place bids. As people with different motives got involved, the hype kept on heating up.
People who viewed Fang Zhao as a formidable opponent were peeved. Why are we seeing his name among the top search items again?
Regardless of the hype and controversy online, the Baiji military district proceeded with its preparations for the auction.
Organizers unveiled the official list of auction items on their official website the day before the auction.
The range of items that the military could chip in was limited. Other than belts, wristbands, and bullets donated by general-level military officials in positions of real power, what was left was commemorative coins.
In the age of virtual currency, only two types of people bought commemorative coins: collectors and the wealthy that treated antique coins as a fad. The former group comprised mainly genuine collectors. They bought coins for their personal collections or to make the occasional profit. Meanwhile, the rich bought coins to flaunt their wealth.
The official auction website published large pictures of the Baiji commemorative coin. One side of the round coin was engraved with the logo of the global alliance—standard practice for all commemorative coins—and the other side was engraved with the picture of a white-flag dolphin, which was Baiji's official animal.
The act of naming streets, buildings, residential districts, and even organizations after extinct animals or using them as logos was common practice in the New Era. Baiji had been named thus because, observed from space, it looked paler than Earth 1 . So the planet's logo took after the white-flag dolphin, which had been picked from the list of extinct animals.
The official website also published the rundown of the auction, which was based on the stature of the person who donated the item. The more important the donor, the later his or her item would be auctioned. The first lot was Fang Zhao's tooth.
There was no way around it. Among all the donors who had contributed items, Fang Zhao was the lowliest in terms of status and influence. Fan Lin and others ranked higher than he did. The list ended with the various items donated by Baiji's senior military command. The set of commemorative coins was the final lot.
Online observers got a kick out of the rundown.
"First lot, huh?"
"That's great. We don't have to wait. We get our headline at the beginning of the auction."
"It's hard to say how much the tooth will fetch."
"We'll find out tomorrow."
"The time of the auction is midnight in my time zone."
"It's noon on our continent."
"Our timing is the best. It's around dinner time on our continent."
Meanwhile, on Baiji, Kevin Lin was even more nervous than Fang Zhao. He stayed up all night browsing headlines and struggling to sleep. He had spent the past few days quarreling with Fang Zhao's online critics. He and Fang Zhao were brothers from the trenches, so naturally, he had to stand up for his brother. His diatribes grew more and more passionate—plus he had been in a "I don't give a flying f*ck" mood. Whenever he saw a comment he didn't like, he went after the author.
The next morning, Kevin Lin got up with bleary eyes. He looked around and realized the entire squadron was in the same condition.
"What happened? Did someone attack the base last night?" Kevin Lin asked.
Bie Liao and the others chuckled without answering.
They had been even more nervous than Kevin Lin. They couldn't go online, so they had peeked over Kevin Lin's shoulders. Kevin Lin had given them an update on the pre-auction analysis.
Once they had heard that Fang Zhao's broken tooth had been valued at 50 million, the soldiers had been ecstatic. Bie Liao had felt vindicated in his decision to accept Riode's suggestion to apply for 10 percent of the proceeds from Fang Zhao's lot to beef up their outpost.
Indeed, the bosses had approved Bie Liao's proposal, which was why the squadron was so hung up on the auction.
Ten percent of 50 million was 5 million. They could use it to buy new supplies and other projects.
But some folks online had said that was only an estimate and that the actual auction price might be much lower, so Bie Liao and company were also worried. The more invested they were, the more they were affected. The squadron had gotten together and chatted through the night. They had overthought the situation, tossing and turning in a case of collective insomnia.
Anyone who wasn't on duty had gathered in the main lounge. Kevin Lin was going to project the live feed from the auction. Bie Liao had put him up to the task after his proposal had been approved.
Soon, Fan Lin and his research team joined. They had also donated auction items, but they weren't worried about their donations fetching low prices. They had already received word that quite a few major farm owners in Muzhou were going to bid for their lots. The scientists were there to enjoy the show.
Fan Lin was worried that Fang Zhao would crumble under the stress of the situation, yet one quick scan of the room and he was taken by surprise. Clearly, the person who had slept the soundest in the entire room was Fang Zhao. The others seemed exhausted from an all-nighter.
Geez, whose items were being auctioned after all? The people who should worry were perfectly calm, while the people who shouldn't worry were stressed out.
The countdown clock on the official auction website approached zero. The discussion in the lounge died down gradually, replaced by a solemn silence.
"Battling terrorists is less stressful," Bie Liao said. As he watched the counter hit zero and the website refresh to indicate the start of the auction, he couldn't help clutching his chest.
After Baiji's white-flag dolphin logo and the organizers' logos appeared, the auction rules scrolled by. In an online auction like this that was open to the public, the top bid would be displayed next to the auction item. In line with the rundown the organizers had released earlier, the first lot to appear was Fang Zhao's engraved animal tooth.
The starting price was 10 million.
Bie Liao and the other soldiers clenched their fists, their palms sweaty, as they glared at the screen.
Another countdown appeared in the center of the screen: 3, 2, 1.
The counter displaying the highest bid started shifting immediately, jumping from 10 million to 30 million. Before Bie Liao and the others could catch their breath, it had hiked to 40 million, then 50 million, then 55 million, then 61 million, and finally 80 million.
Bie Liao was dumbfounded.
What... what was going on?
Was there a system glitch? Hadn't the tooth been valued at 50 million at most? Now the bids had hit 80 million and were still going strong."Bai" means white in Chinese.