Gold and silver were too flashy. Plus, out of every 10 prosthetics at the rehab center, three were painted gold and two silver.
Natural skin color?
Yan Biao toyed with the idea and eventually shook his head. It was too pretentious. It was a freaking prosthetic—why pretend otherwise?
Yan Biao gave careful thought to what color he should paint his prosthetic legs, asking a whole bunch of folks for advice. After much consideration, he decided on the color his doctor suggested: titanium white.
Most doctors preferred titanium white because first, as doctors they were biased in favor of white and second, titanium white looked peaceful and less threatening. It was also the default color of most home robots. It was a color most folks in the New Era were familiar and comfortable with.
Titanium white was also nicknamed "suntan-proof." Duh! If a prosthetic could get a tan, that would be spooky.
During his rehab at the hospital, Yan Biao typically did the maximum number of exercises allowed by the doctor so he could be in the best shape possible, the kind that would enable him to engage in combat once he had gotten used to his mechanical legs. He was getting a substantial workout.
Because of his long training sessions, Yan Biao preferred to work out outdoors and bask in the sun as long as it didn't rain. The gym was often too crowded. He wasn't used to the cramped quarters.
Just as his name suggested in Chinese, Yan Biao looked a bit intimidating. Plus, he had gone on quite a few missions in the woods during his time on Baiji. His existing tan and the fact that he was working out outdoors every day now made him look like an ox.
Yan Biao typically wore long shorts or capri pants during his training sessions, both for comfort and to allow his doctor to better monitor his prosthetics. Today he wore pants, but they came off as capri pants after his prosthetics were painted titanium white. Yan Biao even donned a pair of white sneakers to match the color of his new legs.
His other limbs were heavily tanned, in strong contrast to his pristine white prosthetic legs.
Zuo Yu nearly burst out laughing when he saw Yan Biao. "What, are you pretending to be one those black horses with white hooves?"
Fang Zhao had brought Zuo Yu up to speed shortly after he had signed a contract with Yan Biao. Zuo Yu had already visited several times during Yan Biao's hospital stay. He was free anyway and had loads of time to kill, so he looked up Yan Biao to shoot the breeze and hear a few stories about Yan Biao's life on Baiji.
Even though they were competitive toward each other, they would both be serving as Fang Zhao's bodyguards from here on out. They were comrades now, so they also tried to get along.
Zuo Yu gave Yan Biao's titanium-white mechanical prosthetics a glance and commented, "That color looks a bit girly."
That said, compared to shiny gold, silver, any of those other weird, non-conventional colors, or the floral patterns with a dizzying effect, titanium white was OK.
Yan Biao laughed and stomped his feet. He felt good about his new legs. He was used to wearing camouflage in the army. Now that he was retired, he no longer had to sneak around. It felt good to wear a different color. But he sidestepped the issue and instead asked Zuo Yu, "You got the message from boss, didn't you?"
"Got it." Zuo Yu had reached out to Yan Biao after he heard from Fang Zhao, but when he had called, Yan Biao had been having his prosthetics painted and hadn't been able to talk. Zuo Yu had asked where he was and had decided to track him down in person instead.
"The next flight to Wai is a week from now. The tickets have been booked," Zuo Yu said.
Yan Biao was blown away. "You actually managed to swing tickets?" He had looked online right after he had hung up with Fang Zhao. He had checked everything, be they freight vessels or chartered flights, anywhere he could secure seats.
But all flights for the next month had been completely sold out.
Wai was drawing tons of visitors after the establishment of the Wai Filmed Entertainment Culture Base. Most were the cast and crew of upcoming productions. The passengers were screened carefully, first when they bought tickets online and again prior to boarding. The tickets were also quite expensive, but that didn't stop the deluge of visitors. Many folks used their connections to land gopher jobs on upcoming TV productions so they would have an official cover to check out the legendary twin bases in person—the major research base and the filmed entertainment culture base.
But because of the limited number of seats, even production crews had to work their connections.
Yan Biao had access to Wai because he worked for an investor in the filmed entertainment culture base, but first he had to land a space transport ticket.
"I'm no miracle worker. Boss got us tickets and sent me a message. The tickets were just issued," Zuo Yu responded.
Yan Biao fired up his tablet. Indeed, there was an unread message waiting for him. It was too noisy, so he had missed the reminder. He was used to using military-issue electronic equipment in the service and was still getting used to the new consumer electronic devices on Earth.
Yan Biao made a mental note to buy a better tablet when he got his first paycheck.
A week later, Yan Biao and Zuo Yu boarded a space vessel bound for Wai.
The Wai Filmed Entertainment Culture Base was now crammed with various productions that were renting space from the major investors. They had all signed contracts.
There were quite a few production crews leasing plots from the area that Fang Zhao had bought. Fang Zhao didn't have the time to deal with the paperwork; Duan Qianji had assigned someone to help him out.
But Duan Qianji was also busy and frequently delegated to her staff. The production crews paid their rent on time initially, but some tenants had started playing games when Fang Zhao's plot had started getting crowded. Tenants of the Silver Wing set were typically on time because they had dedicated staffers in charge of collecting rent. Meanwhile, production crews on Fang Zhao's plot had started owing back rent. These folks didn't dare take on Duan Qianji, but they thought Fang Zhao would let things slide.
Fang Zhao was willing to let production crews write IOUs or pay in installments, but the bottom line was that they had to show they intended to pay.
When he checked his books, he realized some tenants were messing with him this month.
It wasn't a big deal, and Fang Zhao was clearly in the right, so he didn't take the issue to Duan Qianji or the Wai military command. Zuo Yu was ridiculously free anyway, and Yan Biao had recovered. This was something for them to do. A former special forces and a retired major, both armed, would send the right message.
When Yan Biao and Zuo Yu arrived at the film studio complex and laid eyes on the clusters of replicated ancient buildings for the first time, they were blown away. Even though they had seen footage of the structures online, the real thing was more impressive.
Yan Biao took a look at his map and took a deep breath. "Wow—this entire plot belongs to boss?"
Zuo Yu triple-checked and nodded. "Yep, that's the plot."
Yan Biao was anxious to get started. "So, let's... go on patrol?" Walking in the streets of these sets felt like traveling through time. No wonder folks liked working here. Filming on a proper set definitely helped you get in character. Those talented actors would feel the difference.
"Let's go." Zuo Yu started a quick trot.
They were careful to avoid production crews that were in the middle of shooting.
They spotted folks arguing and fighting when they walked past the replica of an ancient inn.
Zuo Yu scanned the surroundings. "Are they acting or is this for real?" He didn't see any cameras, and the folks at the center of the fight wore contrasting outfits. Some were in costume and others wore modern garb.
"It's a real fight," Zuo Yu concluded. He asked, "Should we alert the soldiers stationed at the outpost nearby?"
Yan Biao flexed his arms and told Zuo Yu, "No need to bother the outpost over something minor like this. Let's keep track of what these folks damaged, and I'll take care of the rest."
He darted toward the crowd, yelling as he walked, "Hey, hey! What's going on? Stop fighting!"
Followed by three punches, two kicks, and a slap that took down the most violent parties.
The injured folks stayed down for some time. Their heads were spinning.
The other folks retreated immediately after a quick look at the menacing Yan Biao and an approaching Zuo Yu. "Who... who are you?"
"Us?" Yan Biao's tanned face flashed a toothy grin. "Debt collectors."
Judging from their demeanor, the crowd quickly translated "debt collectors" as "gangsters after protection money."
This kind of shady sh*t is going down here already? So soon after the film studio complex opened for business? Isn't the military paying attention?
But come to think of it, this was no surprise. Mobsters collecting protection fees were common around shops and film sets in remote locations on Earth as well as stores on black streets. It wasn't far-fetched for criminals to branch out to foreign planets.
"Don't mess with us. We're going to alert the soldiers at the outpost," someone who appeared to be a leader warned Yan Biao and Zuo Yu while wearing a guarded expression.
"We're civil, law-abiding folks," Zuo Yu responded.
The surrounding crowd: "..." That claim would have been more credible if the two former soldiers hadn't flashed the holsters on their belts.
Within a week of Zuo Yu and Yan Biao's arrival at the filmed entertainment culture base, Fang Zhao had collected all his back rent and received payment covering the damage the fight had caused.
Yan Biao gave Fang Zhao a briefing by phone.
"Some folks think they can stir trouble because the landlord isn't around. Boss, just me and Zuo Yu isn't enough. It is a big plot, after all. We can't resort to our guns when there are minor disputes. Using physical violence is also quite tiring. It's just the two of us, after all. Silver Wing has a dedicated team in charge of security. I paid them a visit. The team is made up of retired soldiers. We could put together a similar group, but we don't need that many people. Around 10 will do." Yan Biao continued, "I know some former soldiers who retired for various reason. Some of them were forced to retire because of injury, like I was, but I can vouch for their character."
Fang Zhao had been pondering the same issue. He readily accepted Yan Biao's suggestion. "Zuo Yu should be able to recommend some folks too."
Fang Zhao decided to send Yan Biao and Zuo Yu to the film studio complex first to collect back rent. Second, he also wanted boots on the ground. As the film studios got busier, trouble was bound to happen. Conflicts between different production crews wasn't uncommon.
After hanging up with Yan Biao, Fang Zhao checked his account balance.
Between his savings, payment for the scores he had written for the TV shows, and rental income from the filmed entertainment base, Fang Zhao had plenty of cash.
He planned on staging a concert after he finished his military service.
In Yanzhou, there were three leading performance venues: Five Notes, Vinyl Record, and Golden Age. The first two had strict standards when it came to choosing performers. The criteria was the number of prestigious music awards the performer had received.
The concert halls typically refused to rent to performers who weren't up to snuff.
That left the final option, which was the only venue that rented to anyone who paid: Golden Age. This was Fang Zhao's venue of choice.
Golden Age was the venue where the widest range of artists performed. The age of the average performer was also lower than at the two other venues. It was an important stepping stone for many up-and-coming musicians.
Xue Jing had also suggested Fang Zhao go for Golden Age. Lacking the requisite award wins, the other two concert halls were out of the question. Considering Fang Zhao's current status within the industry, given he hadn't won any top prizes, the only option was Golden Age.
But Golden Age also scared off many potential performers, because it was prohibitively expensive.
Fang Zhao checked the rates for Golden Age, then his account balance. He could afford the venue, although he wouldn't be left with much cash after renting it, but as long as he had endorsement deals lined up for after his military service, he wouldn't be totally strapped for cash.
But precisely because Golden Age was available to anyone who could pay and its rates were exorbitant, it had a bad reputation. Purists refused to perform there, instead preferring to wait 10 or 20 years before renting the other two concert halls when they had accumulated the necessary accolades.
To prevent Fang Zhao from overthinking the matter, Xue Jing had counseled that even though Golden Age didn't enjoy the greatest reputation, it was a great venue for a newcomer, an ideal training ground. Whether it was too mass market or not was in the eye of the beholder.
"As long as you maintain a pure heart, you will always came out a winner." That had been Xue Jing's advice to Fang Zhao.
In fact, Xue Jing had no reason to worry. Fang Zhao knew very well that right now he needed a platform to showcase his talent.
Joseph had suggested hiring a PR company to launch a publicity blitz, but Fang Zhao had vetoed the idea.
If you didn't have the talent to back it up, a PR campaign could only get you so far. If you wanted the backing of major investors, that would be impossible, because they were all too smart to fall for such an act. They could detect a fraud from miles away.
It all came down to ability.