Even though Dina, an industry veteran with even more seniority, had already spoken, many people were still looking forward to Ming Cang's comments.
Epics varied in quality. In Ming Cang's opinion, was there a discrepancy in quality between the first and second movements?
Also, Dina had said that Ming Cang was too emotional to comment when he'd offered his own thoughts the other day. What had prompted the other deputy head of the music association to get so worked up?
That was why people were glued to Voice of Yanzhou, the publication run by Yanzhou Music Association, during the five days Ming Cang was missing. When Ming Cang showed up, everyone took notice.
In his webcast, Ming Cang looked like he was in good spirits, his gaze bursting with joy and lingering passion. That vouched for Dina's remarks five days ago.
"My apologies. These were probably the most exciting five days of my 60-plus years of existence!" Ming Cang's voice started to quiver toward the end of the sentence.
A hand carrying a teacup entered the frame.
Even though the hand was the identifying feature, people who knew about Ming Cang's family situation recognized it belonged to his wife.
Ming Cang was probably trying to break the ice. Wasn't his wedding the happiest few days of his life? But judging from the gesture that had just occurred, Ming Cang's wife agreed with the sentiment.
What exactly had happened to create such emotional upheaval in the couple?
The keen news sense of the "Prairie Fire" producer prompted him to message a staffer immediately, asking him to look into Ming Cang's latest movements.
Back at the live webcast, Ming Cang accepted the cup of tea and calmed himself down. He continued speaking with a steady voice.
"Many people know that I was preoccupied with my music career the first 50 years of my life. When I was 51, I married Prof. Su Tong from the arrangement department at the Qi'an Academy of Music. The year I turned 52, we had a child. But God added a twist—our son was different from other kids."
At that point in the monologue, many viewers remembered that Ming Cang was once a rising star. He was named president of the Qi'an Academy of Music at 49. That was young, considering life expectancy had doubled in the New Era. Ming Cang was the type deemed a genius since he was a kid.
Ming Cang's wife Su Tong was also well-known back then. Hailing from a musical family, she was supremely talented, a standout at the Qi'an Academy of Music.
But soon after their son was born, he was diagnosed as a carrier of the Hull virus.
The New Era was marked by rapid technological advancements. Medical care also improved leaps and bounds. Some 95 percent of diseases that had existed during the Period of Destruction had been cured, but 5 percent remained unsolved. Even though those illnesses were treatable, existing protocols provided limited relief.
The Hull virus was part of the 5 percent—and even basic treatment and alleviation were unavailable. The virus emerged during the Period of Destruction. Infected patients were trapped in a frozen state, zapped of all emotion. Even though their bodies were perfectly healthy, they needed help performing basic bodily functions. They were rendered speechless, their listless eyes blinking non-stop. They were shells devoid of their souls. Their brains were state-of-the-art machines that simply refused to function.
A Dr. Edward Hull had contracted the virus during the end of days. He had spent the nearly six-month period of his illness studying the virus and promised his corpse to researchers following his death. The virus was later named the Hull virus.
Perhaps for many people, having a deadly virus named after them might be a curse, but for researchers studying viruses, it was an honor, just like it was for Hull, whom future generations considered a madman.
The Hull virus was transmissible by air, although it didn't survive long in the atmosphere. However, it could be picked up by many carriers, including plants, animals, and many microorganisms. It was tough to guard against.
Initially, people had used sophisticated filtration systems as a precaution, but research later showed that the infection rate was less than one in 10 million.
Gradually, people became complacent. Given the odds of one in 10 million, it can't possibly be me. So eventually, people gave up on the strict and complicated filtration protocols.
Nonetheless, the odds of less than one in 10 million had struck Ming Cang and his wife. They would have done anything to trade places with their newborn son.
When they were informed of the diagnosis, the couple nearly broke down. Ming Cang resigned from his hard-earned university presidency and Su Tong quit as well. They traveled the world with their son in search of treatment, but time and again, they were greeted with the same response. No cure. Untreatable. There's nothing we can do.
Close friends and family remember that the couple was deeply fragile. The young—by life expectancy standards in the New Era—and promising couple started accumulating gray hairs.
Many lamented the fact that these two genius types met such a cruel fate. If not, Ming Cang might have still been the president of the Qi'an Academy of Music, enjoying tremendous status and prestige. Presidencies at the academy usually lasted five years, but it wasn't uncommon for presidents to serve two, three, or even more terms. Ming Cang had that potential.
But some cynics teased that tragedy struck because the couple used up all their good luck in their first 50 years. How unlikely was it that the couple became that one case in 10 million?
It was an emotional wound that no one dared touch, because the slightest breach would lead to a massive rupture. But now, Ming Cang was actually bringing up the matter himself in a live webcast.
Watching the live feed, Song Shihua had a bad feeling.
Recalling the events after his son's birth, Ming Cang was overcome with emotion. His eyes turned red.
"From total despair and breakdown to gradual acceptance, 12 years have passed. There's nothing you can't recover from. Our child is growing up. As parents, we are aging too. We thought the rest of our lives would continue this way."
At this point, Ming Cang got emotional again. "A month ago, I listened to a song. To be specific, I listened to a movement."
Song Shihua started gripping his cup hard, nearly breaking it.
Ears pricked and eyes stared among the many viewers. Here it comes.
"My close friends know that I rarely listen to the songs on the newcomers' chart. But every time I do, I share them with my son Ming Ye."
Even though patients infected with the Hull virus were non-responsive, Ming Cang still liked to share his music with Ming Ye and offer his comments as if his son was a normal kid. He had kept up the practice for 12 years.
"By chance, I stumbled upon the song recommended by Silver Wing, 'Divine Punishment.' The first thing I saw was a tree. I was a bit surprised at the time. It was the first time I had a seen a virtual idol that was a tree man, so I watched the music video. Quality-wise, 'Divine Punishment' is undoubtedly a great song. Even though I'm not an expert on symphonic structures, I could notice many details worth studying. My common practice is to share my thoughts with my son first and then write a review. But this time, when I turned my head and locked eyes with my son, I noticed a slight movement."
It was as if someone's finger had smudged a small opening on a window covered in a thick layer of dust.
Before Ming Cang's brain could formulate a response, tears started streaming down his face without warning. He'd been afraid it was an illusion. After all, his son's eyes showed such little emotion. He and his wife were so familiar with their son's body from spending every day with him. Others would have missed such a subtle expression.
So Ming Cang played the song again, downloaded it, and started looping it.
When he was certain, Ming Cang was ecstatic. He immediately invited a medical professor in Qi'an who specialized in viruses from the Period of Destruction to check on his son.
That was also why Ming Cang gave his take on "Divine Punishment" so quickly and why it was a brief phrase without elaboration. He was busy tracking someone down to examine his son.
Ming Ye's brain clearly responded slightly, but it was a subtle response. It was hard to draw a conclusion.
Ming Cang switched to other songs, but none of them prompted a response from Ming Ye's brain. That piqued the professor's curiosity.
"If the second song provokes the same response, maybe we'll have more data to work with," the old professor said.
Sensing a sliver of hope, Ming Cang got in touch with Duan Qianji. He wanted to know who composed "Divine Punishment" and whether she could set up a meeting.
Duan Qianji refused, but she told Ming Cang that the second movement was being recorded and scheduled to be completed by October. It would be released in November.
After waiting for 12 years, one more month was nothing.
Ming Cang could understand where Duan Qianji was coming from. From a businesswoman's perspective, to unveil the composer behind the virtual idol then would hurt their interests and throw a wrench in their marketing plan. As a fellow composer, he knew that the composer had to have been busy composing and brainstorming at the time. He didn't want to intrude. He knew well from personal experience the frustration of being interrupted. An unintentional interruption could stem the flow of creativity. He'd be damned if impatience smothered the long-awaited sliver of hope.
After a painful month-long wait, the release of the second movement was finally imminent.
Ming Cang's home was crowded with people filled with anticipation. Besides the couple themselves, there were also two professors who specialized in the Hull virus and their study group.
The second movement was obviously an escalation of the burst of emotions in the first movement. During the month-long wait, Ming Cang had studied quite a few songs with symphonic structures, but none of them provoked the slightest response. But when the second movement, "Cocoon Breach," played, Ming Ye's eyes showed an even stronger response.
If the first movement had smudged a small opening on the dusty window, then the second movement left a large and clear hand print.
For anyone else, the level of response was merely a flash of emotion, but for Ming Ye, it carried as much weight as a meteor crash.
Sixty-year-old Ming Cang resembled a weary traveler who could finally shed his burden. He collapsed to his knees in a free fall and covered his mouth. He was scared a scream would scare off the smidgen of emotion in Ming Ye's eyes. Meanwhile, Ming Cang's wife, Su Tong, was crying hysterically in a soundproof room next door, venting years of repressed feelings.
When Ming Cang's forehead hit the floor, he wore a silly smile, but his face was covered in tears.
The pressure of outside gossip and inner turmoil had nearly crushed the couple on several occasions.
They had searched and hoped for 12 years and were prepared for a lifetime of waiting and searching. Low and behold, their prayers were finally answered.
"I'm sorry. I got emotional again." Ming Cang had stopped reminiscing and wiped the tears on his face with a trembling hand. He took a deep breath to calm himself then said to the camera: "I know many people are curious about my thoughts on the second movement, but my sincere apologies—I can't offer an objective review because, for me, it's an act of God."
First-year classes at the Qi'an Academy of Music.
Five days after Dina had reviewed the second movement, "Cocoon Breach," instructors from the composition, arrangement, and mixing departments handed out a new assignment to first years asking them to submit a paper analyzing "Cocoon Breach" from the vantage point of their respective specialties. The paper served as their midterm and was due in 10 days.
When they heard that former president Ming Cang was about to break his silence, the students scrambled to get online to gather material.
But now they were dumbfounded.
We were expecting musical analysis, and you start spewing medical diagnoses?
After conferring among themselves, the first years from the composition, arrangement and mixing departments wrote a joint letter petitioning their instructors to switch topics for the mid-term essay, the reason being:
The assigned topic was over their heads.