While those three bodyguards weren't around, Woo Tianhao wanted to finally test Fang Zhao's fighting skills before Fang Zhao left planet Wai. Who knew when his next chance would come once Fang Zhao left Wai.
Yet reality was a crude awakening for him.
The first time Woo Tianhao tried to ambush Fang Zhao, the latter was walking back to his dorm from the base cafeteria. He was discovered way before he even came close to his mark. There was no ambush to speak of because he was busted.
On his second try, Woo Tianhao decided to switch tactics. He would confront Fang Zhao directly.
The most famous skill of the Woo family from Tongzhou was their ability to shatter rocks with their bare hands. A senior member of the Woo family had demonstrated the method on a TV show several decades ago. Decades later, the rock-shattering chop was still what folks remembered the most when the Woo family was mentioned.
Woo Tianhao had yet to achieve that level of skill. He still had to wear gloves when chopping rocks. It might take him another few dozen years before he could use his bare hands, but his current skill level was enough to handle the professional soldiers stationed on planet Wai, so Woo Tianhao was still quite confident.
This time, he waited by Fang Zhao's dorm room. When Fang Zhao emerged, Woo Tianhao darted forward and attacked. There was no finesse to speak of. All he did was throw a punch.
Fang Zhao didn't duck. All he did was raise his arm, spread his fingers, and block Woo Tianhao's punch.
It was as if Woo Tianhao's fist had met a metal plate. All the momentum he had revved up instantly vanished. He couldn't gain so much as an inch. The look on Woo Tianhao's face was one of utter astonishment. There was no way he could follow up.
Another failed attempt.
The third time, Woo Tianhao learned his lesson from the two previous failed attempts. He realized that he lacked power. Since he wasn't as powerful as Fang Zhao, he would strike strategically.
An ambush and a strategic blow.
So Woo Tianhao attacked while Fang Zhao was leaving his room with his suitcase. But before Woo Tianhao could celebrate his successful ambush, he found a gun barrel pressed against his head.
This dealt the biggest blow to Woo Tianhao. If they had been fighting for real, his first two attempts hadn't been lethal mistakes, but the third try definitely would have cost him his life.
Woo Tianhao was still recovering from his failed attempts when Fang Zhao left Wai. When he finally came to his senses, Woo Tianhao realized that he hadn't found out jack about Fang Zhao's fighting skills. All he knew was that Fang Zhao's hearing and reflexes were decent and that he was quite powerful. As for his actual fighting skills, Woo Tianhao was clueless.
Fang Zhao simply laughed off Woo Tianhao's attacks.
Fang Zhao was used to fighting to kill, and Woo Tianhao was someone who went all out quickly, so Fang Zhao had been worried that he would lose control and do permanent damage to his opponent. That would come across as an elder bullying a child, in which case Fang Zhao would be too embarrassed to pay his respects to Woo Tianhao's ancestor at the martyrs' cemetery come Memorial Day. So, ultimately, Fang Zhao had chosen a simple, straightforward block. He'd had no intention of fighting Woo Tianhao.
Not that Fang Zhao was arrogant, but if he were to evaluate Woo Tianhao based on the footage of him sparring with the soldiers aired on S4, Fang Zhao would say Woo Tianhao was just a kid.
If Woo Tianhao were privy to Fang Zhao's appraisal, he would probably be spitting blood.
Planet Wai was only the first stop in Fang Zhao's mission.
Out of the five planets included in Project Starlight, Fang Zhao had three more to visit after hitting Baiji and Wai. Protocol dictated that Fang Zhao's travel expenses were covered by the military bases on the five planets, given that he was an invited guest, yet the Wai base paid for Fang Zhao's trip from Wai to his next destination. Huo Yi was quick to pick up the tab. After all, Wai was slated for a new filmed entertainment culture complex thanks to Fang Zhao. The economic impact would be significant, so Huo Yi didn't have to pinch pennies now.
But Huo Yi hadn't told a soul about the planned filmed entertainment culture complex. All he said was that Fang Zhao hadn't detected any grade A power ore on Wai.
The base leadership on the remaining three planets prepared themselves for possible disappointment when they found out that a higher-grade power ore had eluded Wai.
Fang Zhao also didn't detect any grade A energy ore on the next planet. The mood was grim. He was given the red-carpet treatment when he arrived, but his farewell was perfunctory.
Fang Zhao wasn't upset. This was what he had expected. Huo Yi wouldn't have been so generous if not for the planned filmed entertainment culture complex on Wai.
Fang Zhao also came up empty-handed on the next planet. As he was preparing to head to the final planet, he got word his visit had been scrapped.
The base leadership on the final planet had likely come to terms with reality after Fang Zhao's first three outings had yielded nothing. They didn't want to burn the money—space travel was expensive, a major drain on their power ore—so when the senior officials on the final planet saw that their counterparts on three other planets had splurged all that cash for nothing, they told Fang Zhao to stay put.
Fang Zhao didn't mind his trip being cut short. He headed back to Baiji to resume his military service.
During his downtime on the tour of planets, Fang Zhao had done quite a bit of research on ancient architecture. He had also come across quite a few ancient instruments while he was at it. Every time he spotted one, he would imagine its sound in his head. Melodies had flowed from these old instruments as songs of the past were unearthed from his memory. This was a major bonus for Fang Zhao as well.
When Fang Zhao returned to Baiji, Shanta, now the commander of the upgraded military district, summoned him for a briefing on his mission. Naturally, he had already learned through his own connections that no new power ore had been discovered on the other planets included in Project Starlight, which pleased him mightily.
Even though the outcome was what he had expected, confirmation from Fang Zhao's tour meant Shanta could now brag away without holding back. Baiji had a monopoly!
Such great luck that was. Shanta thought to himself that he was no ordinary Joe—he was born to accomplish great things.
Even though Shanta was secretly gloating, he still paid lip service by congratulating Fang Zhao on a job well done.
"It must have been an exhausting journey. I will log your contribution in your official records. There's still quite a bit of time left in your service period. Depending on how many merits you accumulate, you might get another promotion. Oh, the two elders from your family have already settled down in the quarters for military family members. You should visit them soon."
By the time Great-Grandmother Fang and Great-Grandfather Fang had arrived on Baiji, Fang Zhao had already set off for Wai, so they had missed each other, but Fang Zhao had gotten in touch with the two elders when he was on Wai. He had learned that they liked their accomodations on Baiji. They had no plans to move to Baiji permanently, but they could still get a feel for living on a foreign planet.
The two elders told Fang Zhao that they had run into a few former comrades in the housing complex for family members. A bunch of old folks living in the compound had been shooting the breeze one day and realized that all of them had served on the exploratory vessel Sirius, which had instantly drawn them closer.
After confirming he was allowed to take pictures on Baiji and post them, Great-Grandfather Fang had splurged on the exorbitant broadband fees so he could post pictures on his social media account. His friends back at the retirement home on Earth were awfully jealous.
The folks at the retirement home for former officials in Yanbei weren't the only ones filled with envy.
Immigration was a hot topic. Thus far, the foreign planets ranked high in the development order and listed as possible immigration destinations weren't completely open to the public. The two highest-ranked planets had only welcomed visitors to their tourist spots.
Now Baiji had launched a major marketing campaign promoting itself as an immigration hotspot. Even though Baiji had been colonized after the first two planets listed as likely recipients of Earth immigrants, Shanta wanted to play catch up. The two planets weren't completely open to immigrants yet. Who knows—maybe Baiji could beat them to the punch.
The more publicity, the more investment and donations and the quicker the pace of development.
While Shanta was fantasizing about surpassing the two rival planets, Fang Zhao was en route to the residential compound for military family members. Great-Grandmother Fang and Great-Grandfather Fang had already gotten word and were waiting at the main entrance.
Even though Fang Zhao had a low military rank, everyone living in the military family compound knew that he was the one who had discovered the grade A power ore and reversed Baiji's fortunes. He had also helped fend off the terrorist attack, and he was only performing his military service on Baiji and was scheduled to leave next year, so he posed no threat. He wasn't a potential rival, so residents of the compound were friendly toward him.
During the two Fang elders' stay in the compound, their neighbors treated them with the utmost kindness and courtesy. That was also why the couple was in a such a good mood.
Great-Grandmother Fang was beaming as she tugged her great-grandson in her direction. "Quick, go on in. There's a whole table of yummy dishes waiting for you."
Great-Grandfather Fang followed, flashing a broad smile with his hands folded behind his back.
The Fangs ran into a crying child being comforted by his parents.
"That kid hasn't adjusted to life on Baiji yet," Great-Grandfather Fang mumbled.
It was unrealistic to expect the new immigrants to acclimatize in a short period of time. They harbored aspirations for their new life, and there were psychological and physical adjustments to make. They also missed life on Earth, but this was their new home. They had to regroup sooner or later.
Moving to a foreign planet brought mixed feelings. Even though the two Fang elders were vacationing on Baiji, even they got a sense of the conflicted emotions involved, let alone a vulnerable young child.
"When the communications infrastructure is better, it'll be easier to stay in touch with Earth. Kids will adjust more quickly as a result," Great-Grandmother Fang said.
The internet brought people closer together. Folks could only hope that the cap on data traffic to and from Baiji would be removed soon. Data transmissions were still restricted, and not everyone could afford the expensive broadband charges. Short calls were still affordable, but long conversations were simply too costly.
After having dinner with the two Fang elders in the military family compound, Fang Zhao got a message from Kevin Lin demanding his quick return to the outpost.
After bidding farewell to his great-grandparents, Fang Zhao boarded a flying transport bound for Outpost 23. He hadn't been away from Baiji for long, but the Baiji skyline was changing rapidly, especially in the core area that included the base and various outposts. New buildings and highways were popping up by the minute.
The space port near Baiji was still under construction. When it was completed, there would be even more flying transport traffic, a stark contrast to the empty skies on planet Wai.
Fang Zhao could hear Kevin Lin yelling the moment he set foot in the outpost.
"Fang Zhao, you're finally back!" Kevin Lin darted toward him. "Check out your 'rabbit' quickly. It's been convulsing all morning."
"What happened?" Fang Zhao asked as he hurried into the outpost.
"That idiot Zaro tossed a huge red pepper into its tank this morning when no one was looking, the kind being grown in the plots by the main base, the really spicy ones. The 'rabbit' gobbled it down, and there you have it," Kevin Lin said while pointing to the fish tank.
Inside the fish tank, the 'rabbit,' which used to be white, had turned red. Outside of meals, the 'rabbit' was typically idle. Now it was frantically racing around in the tank, banging up against the glass walls of the tank to create a pounding noise.
"But Fan Lin said it's still in decent health, just... a bit hyper." Kevin Lin thought of something and added with a laugh, "It's probably the red pepper. Isn't there that term from the Old Era, 'friggin' spicy'?"
Fang Zhao: "...That's actually the name of a dish."