The person Song Shihua wanted to poach the most was the actual composer behind the two movements. Initially, he had suspected it was the newcomer Silver Wing listed in the credits, but after figuring out Silver Wing's true intentions, he reversed himself. Silver Wing couldn't possibly have assigned such an important project to a newcomer.
Song Shihua studied the credits at the end of the two music videos again and again. He also ordered his underlings to research everyone listed. His conclusion: the list of project team members was incomplete. Silver Wing had left out the most important name.
More than a few people shared Song Shihua's thinking.
Industry practice was to only identify the producer of the virtual idol project at the outset. The producer was the equivalent of the director of a TV show or movie. As for the composer, the arranger, the mixer, and the actual performer, they were never named. Any other names that would draw attention away from the virtual idol were held back. Only when the virtual idol became a bona fide star, when the timing was right, would the label provide a detailed division of labor.
Even though everyone wanted to know who had composed the two movements and who had mixed and arranged them, you couldn't tell from the list of credits at the end of the music videos. Most people believed that the names listed were merely technicians and that Silver Wing had held back the names of the composer, arranger, and mixer. They were probably afraid these folks would get poached.
Inside a sanatorium in Yanzhou's coastal city of Jinggang.
Famed musician and virtual idol producer Glifetz was sitting by the window in his room as usual, except he hadn't been in the mood to enjoy the bright sunshine for days now. All he did was stare at his tablet. He looked pale and frowned increasingly harder.
He wasn't faking it this time. He was really sick. On the day the second movement, "Cocoon Breach," was released, Gliftez was nearly transferred to intensive care.
His humble hopes for a comeback were dashed with the release of the second movement. Ming Cang's comments put him in an even tougher spot. The more attention Polar Light got, the worse his situation, and the dimmer the prospects of his comeback. Quite a few colleagues were already poking fun at him, saying he didn't even measure up to a newcomer.
"Still no luck?" Glifetz asked the three people standing next to him. They were all disciples of his. Two of them had been purged from Silver Wing's virtual projects department last year.
Glifetz's voice was hoarse and muffled, but his tone was pointed. He spoke slowly, making for a creepy delivery. It sounded like a set of rusty gears struggling to rotate, giving his three students the goosebumps.
"Not yet," one of the students said, his head drooped.
The other two students shriveled, wishing they were somewhere else.
Glifetz had asked them to identify the composer who wrote the two movements. The composer was the key to Polar Light's success. The three students tried on their own and worked some of Glifetz's connections, but they still came up empty-handed.
It wasn't just them. Most of the folks at Silver Wing only knew that the project was assigned to Fang Zhao, but they didn't know who the actual composer was.
"No?" Glifetz sounded like he was responding and talking to himself at the same time. He had a desperate look in his eyes.
Glifetz paused briefly, then waved his hand, signaling his students to leave.
A tremendous weight lifted from their shoulders, and the trio bolted, not bothering to ask any follow-up questions.
Glifetz was the only person left in the quiet room. The afternoon sun was quite strong, flooding the entire room with light. The flowers in the vase were still lush, adding a touch of brightness to the room. But the room was so quiet you could hear Glifetz breathe, and a sense of chill prevailed.
Glifetz switched his tablet to encrypted mode and dialed a number. The person on the other end answered after about 15 seconds.
"What is it?" The person sounded cautious. He lowered his voice and, before Glifetz could speak, blurted out, "If you're calling about the Polar Light project, I can't tell you anything. Duan Qianji is watching everyone like a hawk. I don't want to get kicked out."
The person on the other end was a senior executive at Silver Wing who had a history with Glifetz. He benefited quite a bit from Glifetz's help in the past.
"It's OK. I know I'm putting you in a difficult bind. All I want to know is who the actual composer behind the first two movements of the Polar Light project is."
"..." The senior executive went silent for a few seconds. "Duan Qianji issued strict orders not to tell."
"I just want to know for myself. I won't tell anyone else." Glifetz knew his source had to be careful, so he added, "I swear I won't tell anyone else."
A longer silence on the other end. Hesitation.
Glifetz didn't dial up the pressure. He just waited patiently.
After a minute's silence, the person said in a muffled voice, "It's Fang Zhao."
"Come again?" Glifetz was so shocked he got up abruptly and almost fell before struggling to regain his balance.
"You know, the newcomer."
"Believe it or not."
"How come... That doesn't make sense. Why would Silver Wing trust a newcomer with such an expensive project? A newcomer couldn't possibly have composed..." Glifetz was in disbelief.
"I'm warning you, just keep this to yourself. Don't tell anyone, otherwise we are both finished. You know what Duan Qianji is capable of," the source said before hanging up.
In the warm and bright room, Glifetz collapsed onto his deck chair, limbs sprawled, and dropped his tablet. He lay paralyzed, a corpse waiting to be fossilized.
A sudden shiver. Glifetz felt the chills.
The newcomer he'd researched, the one who had joined Silver Wing just this year?
He remembered that fellow. A fresh graduate in his 20s. Fang Zhao wasn't even a third his age.
A little punk had all but hammered the final nail into his coffin.
If only Fang Zhao knew what Glifetz was thinking. He would have responded, "I'm your daddy, not the other way around."
Regardless of what other people thought, regardless of the fact that some industry publications were clamoring for the name of the composer behind Polar Light, Fang Zhao was in no mood to deal with the media. He stuck to Silver Wing's new protocol of not leaving the building unless it was necessary. He wanted to game.
The gaming equipment he'd requested from Duan Qianji had finally been set up.
There were about a dozen prop guns that were nearly identical to the real thing. These were hard to come by. They looked so realistic that they were more tightly regulated than the prop guns used by the label's film division. Duan Qianji's husband was a military official and she had her own connections. If they wanted to, they could probably procure a sizable batch of real firearms, let alone prop guns.
Some of Silver Wing's security staff were licensed to carry.
Duan Qianji gave the virtual projects department 20 days off. Fang Zhao planned to devote the bulk of this period to gaming.
Fang Zhao's bracelet rang as he watched technicians install the gaming consoles in a dedicated room.
It was a number he didn't recognize.
He walked into his office and selected voice transmission.
"Hello? Is it Fang Zhao?" It was the voice of a male stranger.
"Speaking." Fang Zhao walked to his window and examined the flying car traffic below the 50th floor.
"My name is Beavis. I'm a B-level agent at Neon Culture. Are you interested in working at Neon Culture? Don't worry about the fine for breaking your Silver Wing contract. We can take care of that. As long as you're willing to jump ship, we'll sign you right away. You'll be treated as a level B star. Your work will be given priority release during your first year. We'll also assign a master composer to mentor you. And if you want anything else, we're all ears."
Beavis was quite confident. His offer was better than what most newcomers could manage. He was thinking that Fang Zhao was just a figurehead at Silver Wing's virtual projects department. He was better off jumping ship to Neon Culture, where he would enjoy real perks. He had other enticements up his sleeve, but he wanted to gauge Fang Zhao's reaction first. He would continue with his sales pitch if Fang Zhao was interested.
Neon Culture? Fang Zhao had thought Tongshan True Entertainment would approach him first. He hadn't expected Neon Culture to beat them to the punch.
Fang Zhao knew what Neon Culture was up to.
Since they couldn't find out who had composed the first two movements, then they would poach a few known staffers from the project team. As the project's producer, Fang Zhao was naturally first on the list. While Song Shihua was still debating whether or not to make an offer, Neon Culture reached out first.
"Beavis from Neon Culture? How did you get my number?" Fang Zhao asked. The original owner of his body had gotten a new number when he'd moved to his black street after graduation. It was different from the number in the school directory. Only a few people had the number.
"Now that you mention it, it's quite serendipitous. One of our newcomers is from the same hometown as you are. I think you know him."
"You mean Fang Sheng?"
"Exactly! What a coincidence, right? Haha!"
When he was digging into Fang Zhao's background, he had noticed that Fang Zhao shared a hometown with one of Neon Culture's new composers. They went to the same primary school and high school. He asked around—it turned out they did know each other.
Fang Sheng turned pale when Beavis asked him for Fang Zhao's number, but Beavis didn't think much of it. He thought Fang Sheng was just jealous and didn't dwell on the matter.
"Serendipitous indeed." Fang Zhao chuckled as he stared into the glint from a passing flying car. "Why don't you ask who the real composer of his first three songs was first?"
He hung up before Beavis could respond.