When Fang Zhao had received his first paycheck, he had hired someone to follow Fang Sheng. He knew that once Fang Sheng had money, he would move out of the company dorm. Fang Sheng also liked to party at night.
He told the two thugs Fang Sheng's address and let them go. It was going to be an exciting night at Fang Sheng's place that night.
Fang Zhao stayed in the chair after the two men left. He sat quietly for some time, fondling his gun with his fingers and taking deep breaths. He was trying to suppress his instinct to kill.
He had nearly pulled the trigger just then. He knew his opponents weren't out to kill—they just wanted to send a message—but he'd had the urge to shoot.
Even though he was reborn into the New Era, Fang Zhao had spent most of his previous life in the apocalypse. He was still adjusting to his new surroundings. Even though he looked no different than anyone else and blended into the New Era well, he himself knew that he was suppressing a mean streak that was born during the end of days and had snowballed for nearly 100 years.
The two thugs had noticed his inner turmoil. That was why they'd been so obedient.
Fang Zhao didn't know how much longer he could control the mean streak. He didn't know if it would dissipate over time or accumulate like it had during the end of days. All he could do was keep repressing it and try not to act violently.
When he'd been mugged on the street corner, he had nearly killed the little punk after snatching his gun. He had fired the shot that Yue Qing had heard. He'd fired against the ground right by the kid's skull.
After that, Fang Zhao could sense his mean streak swell.
The New Era was a world regulated by laws. Even black streets had their codes of conduct. Fang Zhao didn't want to break the rules. All he could do was vent his anger over time when he had the chance.
That was why Fang Zhao was looking forward to having gaming equipment installed in his office. New Era games allowed players to communicate their thoughts and feelings. Whatever mean streak he couldn't vent in the real world, he would do so by gaming.
Just when Fang Zhao was wondering when he could game and vent his frustrations properly, Fang Sheng, who was waiting for an update at home, was paid a visit and badly beaten. He was also forced to fork over 500,000 as compensation.
He was robbed of 500,000 just when he'd received his severance pay of 1.5 million from Neon Culture. Luckily, he was cautious and deposited the 1.5 million into three accounts. Otherwise, he might have lost it all.
Fang Sheng didn't report the robbery or the beating. Investigating the matter would do him no good. He also wondered how the two men had found out his address. Weren't they supposed to steal Fang Zhao's bracelet? Why the hell did they beat him up instead?
Fang Sheng also remembered one of the men flashing his neon-green teeth and accusing him of setting them up. How had he set them up?
Fang Sheng was hospitalized for five days, and that was thanks to the fact that medical technology in the New Era was far superior to what it was before the end of days. If he were being treated before the apocalypse, he would have been hospitalized for at least a month.
Indeed, the two thugs had given Fang Sheng a rather heavy beating. They'd cowered before Fang Zhao because their well-honed instincts told them that he wasn't a pushover. It would have been a tough battle. They would have had to go all out. But they were just in it to earn a living—they had no intention of risking their lives. So they chose to play terrified. But matched up against Fang Sheng, they showed their true colors. They wanted to let him know what a black-street thug was really like.
Fang Zhao read the new messages on his bracelet. Fang Sheng had moved into a new place after leaving the hospital. He'd probably realized his old flat wasn't safe any more. He also wanted to avoid the two thugs.
After sending a message to his hired guns, Fang Zhao headed to an apartment block near Qi'an's Third Ring Road. The black streets were located beyond the Sixth Ring Road. The Third Ring Road was considered the outer limits of downtown Qi'an, although it was populated with mostly residential buildings, not commercial ones.
Fang Zhao had gotten word from Duan Qianji that the elderly composer looking to sell his home was back in town. He wanted to meet Fang Zhao and discuss the possible sale.
Fang Zhao located the building based on the address he was given. It was a 120-story, pyramid-shaped building about 600 meters tall. The lower floors were thousands of square meters in size, but by the top floor, the floor area was only around 200 square meters.
The apartment number Fang Zhao was given was the top-floor penthouse.
The owner of the penthouse was an old man some 160 years old. He was older than Fang Zhao's previous incarnation had been. He was a composer who edited and co-wrote quite a few composition textbooks used by local music schools. Fang Zhao could instantly recall a few.
Xue Jing was a well-known name in the music industry.
Xue Jing's assistant was waiting when Fang Zhao arrived.
"Please. Teacher Xue is inside." The assistant brought Fang Zhao to a room but didn't enter with him. Without Xue Jing's permission, the room was off-limits.
When Fang Zhao entered, Xue Jing was sitting on a sofa with a wooden frame. Few sofas were made of natural wood these days. The bookshelves, tables, and other pieces of furniture were also made of wood. The room had a distinctly antique feel to it.
The sofa and the chairs in the room were covered with cushions with a wood-grain pattern. The room temperature was moderate.
"How do you do, Teacher Xue?" Xue Jing was much older and a veteran teacher. The "teacher" honorific was appropriate.
Xue Jing put down the score he was reading and pointed to the single sofa chair across from him. "Sit."
Xue Jing was some 160 years old, which was equivalent to 60 or 70 years old before the end of days.
He had quite a few grey hairs but seemed quite energetic.
"What do you think of the decor in this room?" Xue Jing's scrutinizing gaze swept across Fang Zhao and met his eyes.
"You definitely don't have any pets," Fang Zhao responded.
The assistant who had Xue Jing's permission to enter the room to serve tea heard the response and glared at Fang Zhao. The aspiring musicians who had sat in the same chair typically lavished praise on the interior design, gushed at the painting on the wall comprising musical notes, which Xue Jing himself couldn't quite decipher, and kissed ass.
It seemed that Fang Zhao's brain was wired differently.
The assistant reviewed his entire tenure with Xue. The elderly musician indeed had never had a pet. The sofa and bookshelves would have never survived.
The response also caught Xue Jing by surprise. He laughed, responding, "Indeed. You have a pet?"
"I have a dog. I found it on a black street," Fang Zhao said.
Most people would have avoided associating themselves with potentially self-demeaning references like "black street," but Fang Zhao didn't think it was a big deal. It was a fact that he lived on a black street. There was no need to lie. There was no point in lying, either. Xue Jing had most likely gotten a detailed lowdown from Duan Qianji.
"That's a shame. I was going to leave you the furniture," Xue Jing said with a sigh. The furniture was handcrafted by a master carpenter, not machine-made.
"The same score in the hands of different arrangers will turn out differently. It's not a big deal," Fang Zhao said.
"Indeed." Xue Jing laughed gently, a few deep creases forming on his face. "Nowadays, few young musicians can find the inner peace to compose. If Duan Qianji didn't assure me that you'd written the two movements, judging from the two pieces themselves, it would have been hard to believe the composer was so young. But now that I have met you, I have no doubt."
Xue Jing couldn't explain why, but when he laid eyes on Fang Zhao, he felt that this was someone who could produce those two movements.
"Age is not a good predictor of musical quality," Fang Zhao said.
"Indeed." Xue Jing gazed out the window quietly, exuding a sense of peace honed from an abundance of life experience. He could see quite a few taller buildings. There used to be a 100-plus-year-old building nearby, but it had been torn down recently. A new building was taking its place. It was going to be taller, prettier, and attract more eyeballs.