Fang Zhao spent the night at his second uncle's home. In the morning, he visited the apartment he'd bought in Yanbei and tidied it up a bit. It was just a place to crash—80-odd square meters, a bedroom, and a study. After he was done, he went to the cemetery to pay his respect to the parents of his body's previous owner.
In the New Era, cemeteries for the masses weren't typical cemeteries. They were run by individual companies. The parents of his body's original owner had died in an explosion. The entire building was reduced to ashes, so the cemetery held not their remains but some of their personal items.
The original owner of his body never visited his parents' gravesite in Yanbei. Instead, he would pay his respects remotely by logging into the website of the company that ran the cemetery where his parents were enshrined. You needed to make an appointment in advance to pay your respects in person. You were assigned a waiting area, and the remains of the deceased or their personal items were pulled from central storage. In contrast to the martyrs' cemetery, these centralized corporate cemeteries were more compact. When Fang Zhao arrived, he was told he owed a year in back fees. After paying the overdue bill, Fang Zhao went ahead and paid for 10 years of storage in advance.
In the New Era, rank-and-file citizens weren't allowed to be buried. Their remains were housed in cemeteries like this one. You chose from the various private cemetery companies according to preference and affordability. Some were backed by the government. Others were completely private. The cemetery where the parents of the original owner of Fang Zhao's body were enshrined was funded by the government. Even though it wasn't something to write home about, it was managed with more discretion. Despite incurring a year's worth of back fees, the Fang parents' storage box hadn't been cleared. All the cemetery company had done was send a reminder via text message. Fang Zhao had not been pestered endlessly.
Second Uncle wanted the whole family to visit Great-Grandfather Fang at his retirement home on Memorial Day. He also wanted Fang Zhao to meet other elders in the family, so he kept Fang Zhao for the night. As a result, Fang Zhao had yet to spend a single night in his new apartment in Yanbei.
Fang Yu's military assignment had been settled and Fang Zhao was back, so Second Uncle couldn't stop smiling. This gave Fang Qi, who'd almost flunked his exams, some breathing room. But what Second Uncle and family felt awkward about was the fact they were still guarded in front of Fang Zhao. It wasn't entirely due to the favor Fang Zhao had extended, although that was part of it. Second Uncle couldn't quite explain himself. He just followed his gut feeling.
Fang Yu also felt that the way Fang Zhao looked at him reminded him of the old man who lived upstairs. Fang Zhao's gaze was somewhat paternalistic, to the extent that Fang Yu felt inferior in front of his cousin. He even spoke with caution.
Fang Yu tried to figure out why he acted this way. Maybe it was like his father had said—people who are competent command a sense of respect.
Fang Zhao also noticed that Second Uncle and family were wary of him, but he couldn't change overnight. He didn't know how to act young, or rather, he didn't know how to pretend to be a young man. The reason for his visit was simple—he wanted to see what Yanbei looked like in the New Era. It had been six years since his last visit. Even if his personality had undergone massive changes, friends and family wouldn't make a big deal of it.
On Memorial Day, Fang Zhao, Second Uncle, and his family took a public train to a retirement home for former officials in the suburbs of Yanbei.
It was a bustling day at the retirement home.
Rapid advancements in technology and improved human health after the Period of Destruction had increased life expectancy. The retirement age for most industries was now around 150. At that age, it was common for five generations of the same family to be alive. As a result, families were quite large. Some families had six or seven kids. The numbers added up.
But in the New Era, what counted was personal ability, not the size of your family. Jobs in the New Era were demanding, which put a strain on family relationships. Even siblings could easily grow apart.
The various branches of Great-Grandfather Fang's family decided whether or not to visit the head of the family on their own. They never coordinated their visits.
When Fang Zhao and Second Uncle's family arrived at the retirement home, their first stop wasn't Great-Grandfather and Great-Grandmother's living quarters but rather the neighboring woods.
"The two elders get many visitors on Memorial Day. If everyone visits at the same time, it's way too crowded in their residence, so the retirement home allocates a small house for the family reunion." Second Uncle was worried that Fang Zhao wasn't familiar with the protocol.
When Fang Zhao and party arrived, there was already a crowd of 20-odd people. They sat at adjoining tables. The family members on good terms chatted in groups, while relatives at odds with each other ignored their enemies.
"The two elders will also chat with the younger Fangs, but the time they spend with each person varies. The more they like you, the longer they'll spend with you. Last year, they spent a lot of time with a female cousin, and the year before that, it was a male cousin. But I don't know either cousin well. We've never spoken." Fang Yu filled Fang Zhao in on scenes from previous Memorial Days as he walked. Second Uncle's family typically dropped by to pay their respects. They were never the center of attention.
"I don't see Grandad. Maybe he's come and left. Grandad doesn't like our family. He typically shows up every year with Third Uncle and Third Auntie," Fang Yu continued in a whisper.
Not only did Second Uncle struggle to communicate with his nephew's generation, he got into arguments with his own dad easily because they had similar temperaments.
"Oh, you're here, Fang Lang," said a man sitting at a table beneath a tree.
Fang Lang was Second Uncle's name. The man who noticed Second Uncle was his cousin—their fathers were siblings—although they weren't close. They got to know each other better recently after working on a project together.
"Who's that over there?" the man asked, gesturing to Fang Zhao.
"That's Fang Zhao, my late older brother's only son," Second Uncle responded.
The man pondered briefly before making the connection. "Oh, him." He had too many relatives to keep track of. He didn't want to bother with minor characters.
Second Uncle's cousin was more interested in the box Fang Zhao was carrying than in Fang Zhao himself, but it was their turn to meet Great-Grandfather and Great-Grandmother; otherwise he would've pried.
Fang Zhao watched Second Uncle's cousin and his family enter a neighboring house. The houses located in the woods were all rather retro, resembling the homes with tiled roofs from before the apocalypse. This was the only house in the vicinity. It was winter already. Although it had been sunny the past two days, temperatures were quite low. The two elders were holed up inside.
"Why don't you take a seat. My cousin's family will be at least half an hour," Second Uncle said.
Fang Zhao was about to sit down when he heard someone inside the house yell his name.
"Fang Zhao! Hey, Fang Zhao! Yes, you. Hurry up. Your great-grandfather and great-grandmother want to see you."
It was Second Uncle's cousin. He must have mentioned Fang Zhao to the two elders, so they let him cut in line.
"Oh, they didn't ask for you, Fang Lang. You and your family wait here." Second Uncle's cousin gestured at him to stay put, letting only Fang Zhao through.
"Little Zhao, you be careful." Second Uncle was worried. He himself was super nervous every time he met with the two elders. They projected a dominating aura. He was worried Fang Zhao was too young and would cave under the pressure.
Fang Zhao picked up the gift he had prepared for his great-grandparents and walked in confidently.
The house was quite warm. About a dozen people were sitting in the living room. They spoke in whispers. They whispered to each other when they noticed Fang Zhao entering. Their gaze also landed on the box Fang Zhao was carrying, as if gauging its contents.
"In here." Second Uncle's cousin pointed to a room. "I'll take you."
Second Uncle's cousin led Fang Zhao into the room and left. But when he left he made a sly move. He didn't shut the door completely, leaving a small gap, so he could eavesdrop from the living room.
Inside the room.
Fang Zhao saw the two gray-haired elders sitting inside. The old lady looked friendly, wearing a gentle smile. She gauged Fang Zhao, as if comparing his stature now to the small child from 10 years ago. However, the old man sitting next to her was in a foul mood. His gaze was hawk-like and he projected an intimidating aura. An untested young man would have felt nervous.
"You two look like you're in good spirits," Fang Zhao said with a laugh. He placed the box he'd brought onto the table and opened it to remove its contents.
Great-Grandfather Fang was going to throw a tantrum. The kid hadn't shown up in 10 years, after all. He needed a dressing down. But when he saw what Fang Zhao removed from the box, he couldn't maintain his composure.
"The Sirius?" Great-Grandfather Fang exclaimed.
What Fang Zhao removed was a silver-gray spaceship model about 30 centimeters long. It was emblazoned with a logo and lettering.
The Sirius was a battleship built by mankind for space exploration during the New Era. One of the pioneering spaceships, the Sirius had already been retired. But even though it was retired, it was still a popular design among model manufacturers, not because of its historical significance but for its economic value.
And the reason Fang Zhao had picked the Sirius was that Great-Grandfather Fang and Great-Grandmother Fang had served on the spaceship.
When Fang Zhao handed over the model, Great-Grandfather Fang played cool and didn't lift a finger. It was the old lady who accepted it.
She was stunned the moment she felt the model.
"This material..." She also examined the detail before looking at Fang Zhao and saying, "How thoughtful of you."
Their children and other grandkids had bought them models of the Sirius before, but Great-Grandfather Fang had tossed all of them. His descendants were under the impression that they didn't like models, but the fact was that those models were poorly made and got many details wrong. Only model makers who understood the history of the spaceship would notice the finer features.
But the model Fang Zhao presented got all the small details right and was made with the exact same material as the real spaceship. The model had to have cost a fortune.
Great-Grandfather Fang's mood improved somewhat. At least Fang Zhao had put some thought into the gift. He and his wife loved it.
Now that Fang Zhao had extended an olive branch, Great-Grandfather Fang stopped pouting.
"It's been 10 years since we last saw you. Looks like you're doing well. Where are you working?" Great-grandfather Fang asked.
"An entertainment company." Fang Zhao sat down on a chair next to the elderly couple.
"Oh, the entertainment business." Great-Grandfather Fang was intrigued. Another thought struck him and he asked, "Where did you complete your military service?"
"I haven't yet. I've been too busy. My schedule for this year is full," Fang Zhao responded.
"Oh, you haven't served yet?" Great-Grandfather Fang straightened his back. "You're that busy? What are you busy with?"
"..." Great-Grandfather Fang withdrew the hand with which he was about to offer a red packet.