Fang Zhao found his composure and asked the tour guide, "When are these fruits going to market?"
Noticing Fang Zhao's interest in the fruit trees, the tour guide became even more enthusiastic. "Soon. These experimental trees are being planted in secret. All visitors are required to sign confidentiality agreements, so the results haven't been announced yet. The higher-ups want to see how the experiments come along, but judging from the progress, they may go public this year."
The experiments were winding down. There were no major technical issues that needed to be resolved, so only the lab technicians working for research scientists remained.
The tour guide said Fan Lin had started quite a few experiments here as well, but they no longer required his direct supervision. A few of his students had been running the final phases of his projects for several years now. That was also why Fan Lin focused his attention on Baiji. If those experiments panned out, it would be a major technical breakthrough and elevate his influence in his field.
Channel S4 had avoided discussing the experimental fruit trees because of the confidentiality requirement.
The gene bank had once been hailed mankind's last line of defense. Perhaps only people who had survived the Period of Destruction could appreciate its incredible value.
There had been a saying in the Old Era: "Eating is everything." Filling your stomach was a big deal.
There were many plant species out there, but not all were edible by man.
As Earth's major food producer, Muzhou had started out by planting seeds preserved in the gene bank before developing new crops based on technological innovations.
Then had come the advent of space exploration and the introduction of colonization programs. Once a foreign planet was deemed livable and troops were dispatched, the Academy of Agricultural Science would select certain seeds, based on the planet's conditions, for the soldiers to plant on a small scale. The experimental plots would be gradually expanded based on their success.
There were also the hunting quotas, which, besides curbing excessive aggression on the part of the soldiers, were aimed at guaranteeing food safety.
No one knew if the animals on foreign planets carried any untreatable viruses or whether eating them would have any long-term side effects.
Meanwhile, the decision of which species from the gene bank to revive had been reached after extensive discussions among about a dozen senior professors at the Academy of Agricultural Science.
Which plants to test on a foreign planet, whether the ingestion of local animals would bring ill health to soldiers, whether that would impact colonization plans—all these questions required long-term studies and observation to answer. This was also why the soldiers received multiple physicals every year.
It took too long to reach firm conclusions, and it was a major drain on finances and manpower. By contrast, it made more sense to revive "safe" plant species from the gene bank that were suitable for human consumption. Long-term scientific studies were needed too, but running experimental plots and expanding them was less costly.
In times of desperation, during food shortages, it was easy to compromise, but now, material conditions allowed humans to prioritize safety and efficiency.
In choosing extinct species from the gene bank, food crops were preferred because humans needed full stomachs to do anything else, after all.
After full stomachs came a taste for refinement, so next on the list were delicious fruits and plants. Aesthetically pleasing, recreational plants came next.
Few medicinal plants were revived, because many such species had actually survived the Period of Destruction and played a major role in combating disease.
There were quite a few experimental plots on planet Wai, but it had never been certified an "experimental base" because Wai ranked low on the development sequence. Transportation was a major expense. Official budgets only allowed for an annual dispatch of lab technicians from Earth. Other expenses were covered out of pocket by the project leaders.
The reason the tour guide responded so effusively to Fang Zhao was because he wanted the famed composer to invest in Wai's experimental plots. Most investors shied away from Wai because they knew that short-term profit was unlikely, and now that Baiji had stolen the limelight, investors were flocking there instead.
Fang Zhao hadn't promised to invest, nor had he rejected the possibility. The tour guide didn't know what Fang Zhao was thinking. He was about to launch into another spiel when the weather took a turn for the worse. A light drizzle started, so the tour guide scrambled to get Fang Zhao back to base.
The lodgings the Wai base offered to Fang Zhao were decent. Fang Zhao still hadn't seen Tianhao from S4 or his assigned journalist. He had heard that they were on a trip. Tianhao had been going on quite a few excursions of late. He was either doing live broadcasts of himself fishing at a lake or showing off his handicraft. He made specimens out of the fish he caught and the wild flowers he picked. Word was that they were going to be given away as gifts in an online lucky draw.
This was also a gimmick that S4 had come up with in light of S5's strong viewership numbers.
It didn't matter whether Fang Zhao saw Tianhao or not. Kevin Lin treated Tianhao and his assigned journalist as competition, whereas Fang Zhao simply viewed him as the young descendant of an old friend.
Fang Zhao enjoyed his lavish treatment at Wai. The next day, he was woken up early in the morning.
"Your flying transport is ready. Commander Huo Yi is leading the expedition personally. Seems like the Wai authorities are taking your visit seriously," a bodyguard told Fang Zhao.
Fang Zhao noticed that Huo Yi wasn't in the best shape, but one couldn't tell at first glance. Huo Yi had done a good job of hiding his condition.
Huo Yi had read a development plan for Baiji last night. He was filled with jealousy. A torrent of thoughts prevented him from falling asleep. One moment, he was fantasizing about the discovery of a grade A power ore on Wai, then the next rational thought told him that it was impossible and he had to accept reality.
Huo Yi managed a smile when he saw Fang Zhao. "Let's go. Let's check out the closest mine first, then move further."
Upon arrival at the first mine, Fang Zhao knocked on the walls and listened, just like he had done on the previous live broadcast. Huo Yi and company were familiar with these moves. Lord knows how many times they had replayed the footage of Fang Zhao discovering the new ore on Baiji. They remembered Fang Zhao's every maneuver.
When Fang Zhao stopped knocking, a major general next to Huo Yi couldn't help but ask, "So?"
"Nothing." Fang Zhao shook his head.
Disappointment was visible on the faces of Huo Yi and co.
"Anything?" the major general asked again.
"Nothing," Fang Zhao responded.
The next mine.
And the next.
After touring the last mine, the senior military officials from the Wai base had turned neutral. Disappointment had become resignation. This was the result they had been expecting. How could the most advanced detection equipment fall short of the human ear? But they hadn't been able to help but raise their hopes. Now there was nothing to look forward to.
Huo Yi was among the more clear headed. He had adjusted his mindset when they had set foot in the first mine.
So be it.
Such was their fate.
If he hadn't used underhanded tactics to secure the assignment to Wai, maybe he would have been sent to Baiji instead. But hindsight was useless now. It was best to accept things as they were, lest he become more and more depressed.
Fang Zhao had expected the same outcome. His hearing was good all right, but it didn't rival the most advanced detectors. Technology had its advantages. The reason he had discovered a new energy ore on Baiji was because miners there had still been using older detectors due to poor funding. The older models couldn't detect the new ore, but the newer models were a different story.
So Fang Zhao wasn't disappointed that he had failed to discover another power ore. He took advantage of the tour of the mines to carefully observe the physical landscape of planet Wai. It was definitely less harsh than Baiji, even taking into consideration its virgin forests, which could be easily accessed by ground troops with modern weaponry and battle gear.
Because Baiji was ranked high in the development order, every infrastructure project and the zoning for every plot of land had been carefully planned. Fang Zhao had no say. This was a turf war between titans of business and politics, where wealthy businessmen were going to cash in. For now, Fang Zhao wasn't qualified to take part.
As far as planet Wai was concerned, now that it had missed out on the new energy ore, it could no longer secure the most advanced equipment or long stays by top-of-the-line military vessels, which meant it was stuck in no-man's-land in the short run. If the experimental base certification came through, the Wai base would have an extra source of funding. If not, they were stuck with the status quo.
Wai didn't boast any grade A power ore, so it was likely no major investor groups would be willing to commit for the next century or so. The discrepancy between Wai and Baiji would grow bigger. In a few years, the gap might be similar to the difference between a first-tier city from the Old Era and a podunk village.
This was the reality that the leadership of the Wai base had to accept.
Back at base, the atmosphere was a bit stilted. The military officials were less hospitable. Fang Zhao didn't mind, though. He didn't enter the base compound immediately. Instead, he sat on a large rock located near one of the experimental plots.
The base leadership let him be. Fang Zhao's three bodyguards, however, did their duty and stuck with their subject, even though they had no idea what Fang Zhao was up to. The trio exchanged puzzled glances, frowning at Fang Zhao's strange behavior in their own secret language.
One of the bodyguards became alarmed when he saw Fang Zhao turn his head toward the neighboring woods.
No one could be observed emerging from the woods, but Fang Zhao's expression clearly said he had detected something. The three bodyguards knew they probably weren't as competent as Fang Zhao, Hearing-wise, they were definitely inferior, so if Fang Zhao sensed something out of the ordinary, then something had to be wrong.
"Are your ears really as sensitive as legend has them?"
A figure emerged from behind one of the trees in the woods. The person wasn't embarrassed at all about being discovered.
The man was Tianhao. He had heard that Fang Zhao had arrived on Wai, but it was too late and he and his assigned reporter had been quite far from base at the time. They had only returned today. He had wanted to test Fang Zhao, to see if Fang Zhao was really a good enough fighter to earn a second-class merit. He was confident about a successful ambush even though Fang Zhao was guarded by three men. Little had he expected to be discovered before he could approach.
Fang Zhao gestured with his right hand, signaling the three bodyguards to stand down.