"Dinner is served, retired leaders," the nurse whispered.
The nurse raised her voice and repeated her message.
She heard back this time.
The old lady turned her head and smiled apologetically. "Just leave it there. We'll eat later." Her gaze returned to the computer screen.
The nurse was curious what kind of program had so captivated the two elders, but professional ethics prevented her from peeking. She could only hide her curiosity.
The two elders remained glued to their computer screen after the nurse left.
"I'm not done yet. What the hell are you doing?" The old lady scrolled the page back up.
"You're too slow!" the old man grumbled. But he didn't stay idle while he was waiting—he saved a screen capture of the page so he could send it to a few old friends later.
Great-Grandfather and Great-Grandmother read the news occasionally, but they never followed the entertainment headlines. But after Fang Zhao's visit on Memorial Day, the two elders had started scanning the entertainment items when reading the news every day. Their great-grandson had left a deep impression. They were free all day anyway; reading an extra section of news took minimal effort, so they were on top of the controversy in Yanzhou.
The two elders had watched the Yanzhou military recruitment video too. They loved the theme song, so they searched for it online to download. They ended up watching the music video and the credits at the end of the video. Initially, they'd thought their great-grandson had a namesake—until Silver Wing revealed the truth.
The old man and the old lady were naturally worried about all the skepticism online. This was family, after all. They were upset by the insults and condemnation. They had no jurisdiction outside of Yanzhou, but the least they could do was stick up for their own on their home turf. Even though they were retired, they still wielded some influence. Their former colleagues, veterans formerly under their command, and other young ones could respond to the allegations online.
But before the two elders could act, a mountain of evidence in favor of their great-grandson started piling in.
The two deputy heads of the Yanzhou Music Association, the world-famous computer game studio Fiery Bird, and the renowned master composer Xue Jing—they all vouched for Fang Zhao.
"Ha! Now they have nothing to say, right?"
Great-Grandfather Fang slapped his leg in jubilation. He didn't know the deputy heads of the Music Association, but he had heard of Fiery Bird and had come across some of their products. As for Xue Jing, they knew the name well. Xue Jing had already made a name for himself when the two elders were still in school. The name Xue Jing might have been alien to today's youngsters, but Great-Grandfather and Great-Grandmother had followed his career trajectory closely. Journalists had closely documented his evolution from "genius" to "promising young talent" to "famed teacher" to "master." He had a profound influence on several generations.
So the two elders were especially excited to see Xue Jing's fulsome appraisal of Fang Zhao. They also pre-ordered the electronic and paper versions of Xue Jing's new textbook, "New Voices in Symphonic Composition." They would receive it once it launched.
Soon, the two elders also started noticing new categories of results when they searched for Fang Zhao's name.
"Silver Wing Genius Composer Fang Zhao Cracks the Code, Yanzhou Hull Virus Researchers Announce Breakthrough."
The Yanzhou research team had published their latest round of research results. "Breakthrough" wasn't an embellishment or exaggeration. They had genuinely achieved great progress. Researchers from related fields were now flocking from other continents to join the team. Even if they couldn't join, they wanted to observe. Yanzhou was on on the cutting edge of Hull virus research.
"Respecting History: A Discussion of the Chaotic Entertainment Industry under Capitalism."
The article lashed out at the trashy productions that emerged in a capitalist context. The movies that took historical liberties aside, historical films had to stick to history. It was understandable if you had to fudge for artistic purposes, but you should be meticulous when it came to the core elements of the movie, no? Otherwise, the billions of lives sacrificed during the Period of Destruction would come off as a joke.
The music video for the fourth movement of the "Period of Destruction" series was held up as a counterexample.
But most folks in the entertainment industry laughed off articles like that. As long as we rake it in, who gives a damn what you have to say? If you're so smart, why don't you get into film production? As for the kid who composed the series, you just watch—he's not going to last long. Silver Wing is trying to milk its profits now; that's why they're tooting his horn so aggressively. When the buzz dies down, no one will remember him. How many shooting stars emerge every year and die an anonymous death?
"When a tree is burnt down, all that's left is ashes," a Yanzhou producer commented.
But Great-Grandfather and Great-Grandmother didn't know about the industry gossip. All they noticed was that Fang Zhao's name kept popping up in music, entertainment and current affairs headlines and on TV shows. In some cases, his name was mentioned in passing. In others, he was the centerpiece.
"Did I save the photo just now?"
"Did I save the picture of him with Xue Jing?"
After saving yet another screen capture, the two elders realized it was late.
They heated their dinner and had some of it, but Great-Grandfather was in a hurry to find a conversation companion.
When Great-Grandmother was taking out the trash, she could hear her husband's loud voice projected from their neighbor's room.
"Hey, Old Yang, let's not discuss matters of state today. Let's talk about our descendants. Do you know the kid who's been in the news? That's my great-grandson. He's in the entertainment industry. It's a tough industry. Unlike the other celebrities, he's just a composer, but he's already composed an epic series of four songs at such a young age." Great-Grandfather Fang tried to sound humble, but in reality, he was bragging hard. At this point in his monologue, he lifted four fingers, then retracted three. "One of the songs was used in a military recruitment ad for Yanzhou."
Neighbor Old Yang: "..."
"What's going to happen it things continue down this path? I'm worried he's too young and can't cope with the pressure. I heard even that company Fiery Bird has sought him out as a collaborator. Oh, you know about Xue Jing, right? He's the one your mom always invoked as a role model for you. The guy who's 10 years older than us? My great-grandson coedited a textbook with him. He's the deputy editor."
Old Yang: "..."
"Have you been browsing the web?" Have you read the news? No? Let me show you my news clippings."
Old Yang: "Get lost!"
When Great-Grandfather Yang returned, swaying his head and whistling an off-tune melody, he noticed his wife wearing a knowing smile.
"What are you smiling about?" Great-Grandfather was puzzled.
"Did you forget something?" Great-Grandmother asked.
Great-Grandfather pondered the question. "I watered the plants on the balcony already."
"Who cares about that?"
"Then what are you talking about?" Great-Grandfather was still confused.
Great-Grandmother had no illusions about her husband's memory. "Don't you remember what you said when Little Zhao left on Memorial Day? You remember what you promised?"
It finally dawned on Great-Grandfather. "Did I promise him?"
He was in no mood to chitchat any more. Great-Grandfather paced in circles in his room then called Fang Zhao via videoconference.
Fang Zhao had just returned to his office after having dinner with Xue Jing.
"Something the matter?"
"Of course! Why else would I call? Am I bored out of my mind?" Great-Grandfather glared at his great-grandson.
Great-Grandmother laughed. They were retired. They had all the time in the world.
"You're in your office?" Great-Grandfather asked after examining Fang Zhao's backdrop.
"I just got back from Professor Xue's."
Great-Grandfather wanted to smile, but a thought struck him and he turned serious. "I was going to bring that up. I've been following the news these past few days. You've done a good job, but at times like this, don't let all the fanfare get to your head. Don't get carried away. Keep a level head."
Great-Grandmother glared at her husband. Weren't you bragging about him just now? And now you want him to stay grounded? Such a reversal.
But Great-Grandmother agreed with Great-Grandfather.
Even though they were in quasi-retirement after quitting the military, they had gone through quite a bit and witnessed others' ups and downs. They understood that the brightest stars always made for the biggest targets. Fang Zhao was one of their rare descendants who had made a name for himself. They didn't want his success to be fleeting. Fang Zhao's parents were gone, so as elders, it was their duty to offer a few words of caution.
Both Great-Grandfather and Great-Grandmother had much to say. Fang Zhao had already heard similar advice from Ming Cang, Xue Jing, and Duan Qianji. When you became famous, controversy naturally followed. You were going to face heat whether you were doing the right thing or not. People would seize on you to advance their own causes. Some of the noise would be helpful, some harmful, but this was a necessary rite of passage on the road to success.
In reality, Fang Zhao was not bothered much by all the feedback and pontification. He was someone who had been through a lot. In his previous incarnation, he was older than Ming Cang and Duan Qianji. He wasn't that much younger than Great-Grandfather, Great-Grandmother, and Xue Jing. The apocalypse was a different period than the New Era, but Fang Zhao had been exposed to the vagaries of life.
Great-Grandfather was still rambling on. "If you can't settle down, you could take a trip. Do you need bodyguards? One of my old army buddies owns a security company. Do you want me to send you a few guards?"
"There's no need. The label has taken care of it. The bodyguards should arrive tomorrow," Fang Zhao responded.
"The bodyguards your label has hired may not be up to par. What is their training?"
"I hear they're former special forces."
"Oh." That gave Great-Grandfather pause. "In any case, keep your composure. Let your colleagues deal with all the other crap. You just focus on writing your music and editing your textbook. Got it?"
"OK. That's it."
Great-grandfather ended the call, went to his bedroom, and removed a box from his nightstand.
"So you've decided?" Great-Grandmother asked.
Great-Grandfather sighed. "You know, sometimes you might as well rely on yourself. I have no use for the gun anyway. Don't you still have yours? If we need one, we'll use yours. I'll lend mine to the kid. He might not need it, but it's just for peace of mind."