Du Ang's head dropped even lower. The mood in the room froze. It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. The pressure mounted again, reducing Du Ang and company to labored breathing.
Can I bring a dog to work?
This was the first time they'd heard someone pose that question to the big boss in the top-floor conference room.
Kid, do you have a death wish?
You wanna bring a dog to work? How about becoming a dog's bitch instead?
Why not capitalize on the opportunity to lobby for more perks instead? What are you thinking?
He was indeed too young, or maybe an artist's brain functioned differently. So this was the kind of brain that could produce an epic.
After a nearly 30-second silence, Duan Qianji slowly responded, "No problem. Like I said, the label prizes its best talent."
Of course the special treatment didn't mean that Fang Zhao could roam around the company with his dog. That was restricted to the 50th floor. The virtual projects department was now Fang Zhao's turf. He could do whatever he wanted. Duan Qianji had one demand—that he deliver a satisfactory product. As long as Fang Zhao met that demand, as far as she was concerned, he could bring a zoo to work.
"So that's the agenda for the virtual idol project. I want to see the second movement released before November. Alright, the four of you can leave first," Duan Qianji said.
Du Ang raised his head and glanced at his boss. Gleaning from Manager Shi's gaze, he confirmed that Duan Qianji was talking about the four of them, meaning their business had been attended to and they could leave. The rest of the meeting was beyond their pay grade.
After tapping Fang Zhao, whose chair had returned to its original spot, Fang Zhao led the four out of the conference room. Whatever happened behind closed doors after they left was none of their business.
Du Ang and the two department heads only dared to breathe when they entered the elevator. It looked like they'd been reborn. Ya Erlin was still clutching his chest. "I was scared shitless. Shitless. Hey, Fang Zhao, weren't you scared?"
"Why would I be scared?" Fang Zhao asked.
Julian looked at the peaceful Fang Zhao and recalled his bold question in the conference room, then took in the Ya Erlin still drenched in cold sweat and shook her head. Both were creative types. How come they were so different?
"No matter what, congrats on the promotion, Fang Zhao," Julian said with a laugh. They used to be able to pull rank on him, but from the moment they left the conference room, Fang Zhao was no longer junior to them. Judging from his new title, he was actually more senior, except he didn't wield much real authority. But if his second movement also became a hit...
Du Ang grabbed Fang Zhao's arm tightly and stared at him with a strange gaze. The nerves that paralyzed him during the meeting were gone, replaced with excitement and disbelief.
"Fang Zhao, the second movement must be a success."
Du Ang wasn't mad that he'd lost oversight of the project. He could tell from his boss's gaze that he would be receiving a decent bonus too. Plus, he'd never wanted to manage the virtual projects department. He wasn't upset. He was thinking about something else.
In the New Era, commercial entertainment was never limited to one medium, be it real idols or virtual idols. They were never confined to the music industry only. Pop music was only the tip of the iceberg.
It was always part of a broader strategic plan.
Take the virtual idols Neon Culture and Tongshan True Entertainment launched, for example. After their songs charted well, they began to plot their movie careers. Silver Wing's real idols followed a similar path.
The difference was that, since Silver Wing's founding, none of its virtual idols had received this kind of backing from the label. But Du Ang had sensed a shifting landscape when he'd left the conference room today.
Why had Duan Qianji lavished so many perks on Fang Zhao? Even someone from Flying Pegasus might not have received that kind of treatment. Something had to be lined up for him, pending the launch of the second movement.
"Now it's up to you to record the second movement."
Du Ang could only confirm his speculation if the second chapter was also a success.
Fang Zhao didn't know how much longer the meeting on the top floor lasted after they left, but less than an hour after he returned to the 50th floor, Silver Wing's chief spokesman mentioned Polar Light in an interview. He still maintained that calm smile. No one could tell what he was thinking and he didn't reveal much, only saying fans should expect a second chapter. He continued to play coy, not announcing a release date, but Du Ang was willing to bet that the spokesman felt more confident.
Duan Qianji's assistant, Zhu Zhen, had already sent Fang Zhao a bonus breakdown. The people who actually worked on the project—Zeng Huang, Wan Yue, Song Miao and Pang Pusong—were each awarded 100,000 dollars. Zu Wen, the chief technician, got 300,000. Fang Zhao, the producer, received 1 million. That was strictly a bonus. He would also get a cut of his song's profits next month.
The second round of funding was also in place. They could start working on the second chapter right away.
After consulting Zeng Huang, Wan Yue, and Pang Pusong, Fang Zhao changed their status to full-time employees.
After becoming a full-time staffer, Pang Pusong felt he could carry himself with more gusto. After signing his new contract, he notified his mother and told her he wanted to buy her a gift.
Song Miao was planning on using her bonus to buy the dress she'd spotted last time.
Zeng Huang and Wan Yue were wondering if they should buy the flat they were considering.
"Zu Wen, what are you going to buy?" Zeng Huang asked after noticing the technician remaining silent.
"Me? I've already bought something." He turned on the screen of his bracelet and showed the group a settings page. "I've upgraded my gaming gear. What's the point of having money and not enhancing the gaming experience?"
Zeng Huang: "...Whatever makes you happy."
"Boss, what are you going to get?" Zu Wen asked Fang Zhao, now addressing him differently.
Fang Zhao was reading a text message he'd just received. "Zhu Zhen, the chairwoman's assistant, says she's sending us two flying cars. She wants us to check our garage to make sure they aren't cluttered."
"Flying cars?" Zu Wen forgot about his gaming upgrade and jogged to the garage.
Every floor above the 20th was equipped with a garage. So was the 50th, but the department had been gutted and nothing was left. Only a few staffers had remained, and they had been dirt poor. Things had only improved when Fang Zhao arrived, but they had still been on a tight budget. They'd rented their equipment by the hour; otherwise, they would've gone over budget.
Now they were rich.
"I checked. The garage is empty." Zu Wen opened the garage door.
Soon, someone delivered two flying cars, each emblazoned with a pair of silver wings.
They were also company cars, but these two were much better than the one Fang Zhao saw Fang Sheng arrive in on his black street. That wasn't to say that Silver Wing's cars were better than Neon Culture's. The make of the car was a function of one's status within the company. The higher your position, the more the label valued you and the better your car.
The two cars were department property, not for personal use. They were there for emergencies, so the department didn't have to beg other departments for transportation.
Zu Wen fondled the two cars lovingly top to bottom, even their wheels.
"I decided not to game today. I'm going to go for a spin instead. Boss, didn't you want to head home for a bit? I'll drive you," Zu Wen said.
Fang Zhao gave his staff the day off. They would start piling on the overtime again tomorrow. They would be living at the office for some time, although with only the few of them occupying the whole floor, everyone would get their own office. Plus there was a lounge. It wasn't a hardship. It was easier living at the office.
Food-wise, Fang Zhao also treated them well. Meals from the company cafeteria weren't great, but they weren't bad.
By the time Zu Wen drove Fang Zhao to his black street, it was already dark. Fang Zhao didn't have Zu Wen drop him off at his building entrance. There was more traffic at night. Various forms of transportation were out and about, zigzagging in the airspace, and Zu Wen was an average driver. So for safety's sake, Fang Zhao got off at a train station. He took the elevator to ground level and walked toward his building.
Black streets were noisier at night. Many of the street lamps were broken and left unrepaired. The streets were illuminated by shop signs on both sides.
Fang Zhao kept walking, pondering how to go about the second movement of his series at the same time. He stopped suddenly.
He had reached a street corner. There were no shops on either side and the street lamps were busted. He was about 100 meters from the busy stretch of the street. What stopped Fang Zhao was the four people standing in front of him. One held a gun that was pointed at Fang Zhao. The four men were wearing black masks and had scrambled their voices.
"Be smart and transfer 1,000 dollars to this account." One of the young men, wearing a biker jacket, flashed a card with an account number written on it with fluorescent ink.
He knew instantly that this was a repeat offender who specialized in extorting bank transfers.
After he got over the shock, Fang Zhao couldn't help laughing. Even when he'd learned about his promotion, that he could requisition resources from other departments to produce his second movement, when people were flattering him, he hadn't laughed.
How long had it been since he'd had a gun pointed at him? Fang Zhao couldn't remember.
The gunman didn't know what Fang Zhao was laughing about. He was wondering why Fang Zhao's response was so odd. Wouldn't a normal person tremble and make the transfer?
Is he nuts or crazy? The four robbers gauged Fang Zhao again.
Whatever, the robbery was the pressing matter at hand.
"Transfer the money, hurry!" the gunman urged.
"You just got the gun today, didn't you?" Fang Zhao walked toward the gunman.
"What? Stop, or I'll shoot."
"Is this your first time using a gun?" Fang Zhao pressed forward.
"None of your business. Stop, you hear me?"
"Your hands are shaking."
"I told you, I'm going to shoot if you keep walking."
"Do you know what they called someone like you in my times?"
The quartet stared at Fang Zhao, puzzled by what this fellow who looked no older than them meant.
Fang Zhao smiled at the four robbers. "A little bastard."