Author: 长洱 / Chang’er
Translator: Kinky || https://kinkytranslations.com/
Yongchuan, Xining Development Zone, Christine Cultural Center.
Just when Wang Chao was frustrated trying to connect to the wireless network, a middle-aged man with a gentle temperament had just pressed the elevator of the cultural center. The basement was filled with a gloomy coolness that was completely different from above ground. The middle-aged man smiled slightly at the surveillance camera, as if he were greeting the people in the surveillance room.
The elevator went straight to the negative second floor and stopped.
Carrying a backpack, the middle-aged man walked out of the elevator entrance and walked towards the entrance of the central auditorium.
The flow of people attending the fan meeting—ah, no—the memorial service was constantly crowding towards the cultural center’s central auditorium.
The central auditorium could accommodate nearly 5,000 people. In the public area at the entrance of the hall, there were many girls who hadn’t entered yet with particularly sad expressions. Some of them were squatting on the wall and crying, and some were gathered in small groups to comfort each other.
The middle-aged man passed between them. His backpack happened to scratch a pendant on one of the girl’s backpacks. The two became entangled, and the middle-aged man was forced to stop.
“I’m so sorry.” He apologized to the girl first.
The girl wanted to take off her backpack but was stopped.
“It’s okay. I’ll just do it myself.”
He asked the girl to turn her back, and he slightly unzipped the girl’s backpack, then undid the tangle and gently restored it to its original form.
Perhaps it was because the voice of the middle-aged man was clearer and more melodious than the violin music playing on the speakers, or perhaps it was his casual outfit that gave off a strong artistic temperament, but the girl suddenly really wanted to talk to the man in front of her, who looked like he could be her father’s age. But before she could speak, the middle-aged man bowed to her in advance, showed a modest and polite smile, then turned and left.
The girl reluctantly turned her head and thought, with some regret, that it was probably someone from the orchestra who was about to perform in the center.
At the entrance of the Christine Cultural Center.
Mu Wenhua hurriedly ran up the stairs. Her hair was a mess, but she didn’t have time to comb it. When she went to bed last night, her daughter gave her a sweet good night kiss. She fell into a deep sleep with a beautiful vision, but when she got up in the morning to make breakfast, it was as if lightning had struck her.
After broadcasting today’s weather, there was breaking news that was said in a serious and sad tone by the anchor.
When Mu Wenhua heard the news, she almost knocked over the pan on the gas. He committed suicide because of depression? How is this possible?
In the living room, her husband and her daughter were laughing at the dining table, but the laughter stopped quickly because of the news. She was incredibly happy that she managed to get tickets for that day. Her husband was also considerate and said he would take care of their daughter so she could rest assured and go to the fan meeting, but now, Shengsheng was dead. What was she going to see?
Mu Wenhua squatted on the kitchen floor in a daze. She didn’t cry at first, until the sound of footsteps and the gas being turned off came. Then she broke down.
A pair of wide palms touched her back. She was tightly hugged by her lover as she let her tears fall. She sobbed loudly.
She remembered that she cried for a long time. She had experienced the pain of being awakened just as her dreams were about to come true. She had experienced it many years ago. Now it seemed like she was back to that summer when she was 18 years old. The same cicadas and the same hot summer, but this time, the people who once scolded her changed and instead was now her lover.
Her husband said to her, “Let’s go. I’ll accompany you. No matter what, you still want to go, right?”
Mu Wenhua wiped away her tears and nodded vigorously.
They drove from Yongchuan Ave to the Xining Development Zone. The traffic was heavy along the way. The car radio announced the cancellation of the meeting and talked about depression for a while. Feeling uneasy, Mu Wenhua used her phone to log in to Be With You. She saw the discussion post at the top and replied resolutely: [Even if the meeting is canceled, I want to go.]
Later, she received a text message from the fan club confirming that the meeting would still be held as scheduled. There was a bitter sense of satisfaction in her heart. In any case, the wish she had failed to achieve during her summer vacation when she was 18 could only be fulfilled today.
Her husband sent her to the entrance of the cultural center and told her he would take their daughter to the bookstore nearby to play for a while. He asked her to rest assured and finally gave her a soothing kiss.
She quickly ran up the steps. Because she was too eager, she didn’t notice a person passing in front of her and found it too late to stop, so she slammed into him.
The other party took two steps back, supported her, and said softly, “Be careful.”
Only then did she realize that she had just bumped into a middle-aged man wearing gold-rimmed glasses. The middle-aged man was carrying a black backpack and had gentle eyes. Sad violin music was playing in the hall. She stood up straight and watched the middle-aged man walk away into the darkness in the distance, amidst the sounds of strings.
Heng Xiao was an ordinary secretary who worked for the general manager of the Christine Cultural Center. When he received a call from the police, he was still secretly chatting with his girlfriend on WeChat.
Before putting down the phone, his last reply was: [Don’t join the fun. The main hall can’t fit anyone else.]
He picked up the phone as the sound of the violin suddenly became passionate.
The person on the other end of the phone claimed to be a criminal police officer and had received a report that someone had installed a bomb at the cultural center. Although it may be a false alarm, for safety concerns, he still needed to understand the relevant situation at the center and required that the cultural center immediately start their emergency protocol. The plan was to start evacuating the crowd in an orderly manner.
When he first heard the news, Heng Xiao panicked, but he still couldn’t help but think this might be some kind of prank. There were lots of news stories about bomb claims that turned out to be false alarms. Perhaps this was one as well.
“I’ll call our general manager’s office.” He stood up and looked at the densely packed flow of people downstairs as he said this.
The middle-aged man carrying a backpack walked for a long time until he finally sat down slowly in the rest area at the end of the corridor. To his left was the last emergency exit on the entire floor. Compared to the scene in front of the hall, there wasn’t a person here.
He put down his backpack, took out a sandwich, and patiently ate it.
The auntie in charge of cleaning looked at the man eating his sandwich inexplicably as she dragged a mop towards his feet.
The middle-aged man moved his feet good-naturedly and took another bite of his sandwich, revealing the bright red ham inside.
The cleaning auntie asked, “Did you send your daughter to the concert?”
The middle-aged man laughed and showed a warm smile. “Yes.”
“But isn’t the singer dead?”
“My daughter likes him, so I can’t help it.” He stood up helplessly, took a last bite, and threw the sandwich wrapper into the trash can. Then he walked down the emergency exit passage.
A reminder that the train was about to arrive at Xining Square Station was broadcast in the subway train.
Lin Chen raised his head and glanced at the indicator light. They were two stops away from the Christine Cultural Center.
Just now, news came from Jiang Chao that most of the police force at Lake Ludi had been mobilized to deal with a series of accidents caused by spontaneously combusting vehicles in the tunnel under the lake. The leader of the squadron said that to transfer another squadron, there must be sufficient evidence to prove that there may be an attack. Otherwise, the random deployment of firefighting forces was detrimental to fire safety in other areas of the city. What if this was to lure the tiger out of the mountains*?
*(调虎离山) Idiom referring to tricks used to make the other party leave the original place in order for them to take advantage of the opportunity (AKA a diversion).
This was what the other party said.
Lin Chen looked at Xing Conglian.
Xing Conglian had just finished his phone call with the general manager of the Yongchuan Christine Cultural Center. The general manager on the other line had similar sentiments. Of course, the bomb attack was just something he made up, but he couldn’t think of another reason that would make the other party relatively nervous without causing them to panic too much.
The manager had a relatively good attitude. He said in a cooperative tone, “Yes, I understand. I will report the traffic data you want immediately, but I really don’t know you. Do you have any way to prove your identity? Or can you ask any superiors in the development area to give me a call? I will quickly act if I receive a call from a superior.”
After he finished speaking, he hung up.
While looking at the floor plan of the cultural center, Xing Conglian couldn’t help but dial Jiang Chao’s number again.
“Can you contact the leaders of the Xining Development Zone? Ask them to call the manager of the cultural center and help me confirm my identity.”
“Lao Xing, Lao Xing, are you seriously using me as a secretary? I’m currently divided in 18 pieces right now. Do you know how many superiors have called me to ask if my brain is broken? If nothing happens in the end, I’m sure we’re not escaping this with just a warning. They might even force us to resign.”
“Where are you now?” Xing Conglian asked.
“Laozi just got on the subway, and I just notified all levels of the city, but the opinions of the superiors are unified. You have to have evidence. It’s not sufficient to speculate that the dark web will do a live death broadcast twice based on Song Shengsheng’s suicide. As long as you have sufficient evidence, the power of the city will be deployed by you!”
Lin Chen heard these words in his mind. Wang Chao had been searching for live content on the dark web non-stop since they stepped on the Jeep. Lin Chen glanced at the time. It was 15 minutes before the meeting started, which made it impossible to confirm and collect evidence within this short time.
“You once said that you’re very familiar with the source code of the app that Royal One uses. Have you compared that code to the live broadcast website?”
Lin Chen couldn’t help asking Wang Chao. Although he also knew well that it was most likely impossible for Wang Chao not to have done so, at this critical moment, he could only ask this.
“Of course I have compared A’Chen, and I even compared it with Yang Dianfeng’s foot-binding system. It shouldn’t be written by the same person.”
Xing Conglian hung up the phone and continued to look through the drawings before asking, “Consultant Lin, with your understanding of these people, how will they act this time?”
“Our last operation destroyed their stronghold, so it’s impossible for them to organize enough manpower in a short period of time, so this operation is more like revenge. If you’re not wrong in your judgment of that bug, then the power they possess can’t be underestimated. What we’re facing isn’t a small criminal organization, but more like a medium- or large-sized crime syndicate.”
“In other words, our opponent’s technological power may be above us, such as the ability to control cyber networks?” Xing Conglian asked.
“Captain, although it’s urgent now, I’m still very upset when you say that!”
Xing Conglian held down the tablet with two fingers and zoomed in on the drawing of the culture center. “When you were looking for evidence in the Li Jingtian case, did you look at the management system of the Christine Cultural Center?”
Wang Chao took a sharp inhale. “I seem to have seen it once or twice!”
“Holy shit, Captain!” The teenager wanted to hack into the network system of the cultural center while talking, but for some unknown reason, he couldn’t open the homepage of the cultural center’s website.
“I want to get off this train. I want to get off!” Wang Chao smacked his laptop out of irritability and almost dropped it.
“What’s wrong?” Xing Conglian asked.
“I can’t connect to the cultural center’s intranet anymore.”
“The firewall is too great?”
“No, no…” Wang Chao said in extreme panic, “There’s only one possibility for this situation…”
“Someone manually disconnected the network, either by cutting the optical cable or destroying the telecommunication distribution box.”
In fact, it wasn’t Wang Chao who first discovered there was a problem with the cultural center’s network, but Heng Xiao, the secretary of the general manager’s office. He found that the last message on WeChat he wanted to send to his girlfriend failed to deliver.
The sound of many employees desperately clicking the mouse immediately sounded in the office and whispering gradually followed.
Mr. General Manager rushed out of the office and said to him, “Notify all the staff to take up their posts at once and prepare for emergency protocol. We need to start evacuating the audience.”
Heng Xiao looked at his boss and was stunned. “Did you say, evacuate?”
Mr. General Manager glanced around the office and asked, “What’s the matter? Why are you just standing there blankly? Do you not have ears?”
“Manager, our network is disconnected…” Heng Xiao said timidly.
“What’s the use of telling me our network is down?” After the manager finished speaking, he suddenly thought of something, and his face turned pale. He quickly took out his phone and called the police officer back just now.
“Mr. Police Officer, our network is down, and we can’t get traffic data for the time being. I’m going to the surveillance room now.” The manager rushed out of the office while speaking. The moment he ran out the door, he didn’t forget to yell at his subordinates. “Get to work! We have people to save!”
The violin music in the hall was about to reach its climax, giving an ominous feeling of a turbulent sea rolling in.
Mu Wenhua finally squeezed into the main auditorium and found her seat.
There were three floors in the performance hall. It was said that only half the floor was open to the fan meeting, but now, Mu Wenhua saw that even the corner of the third floor was filled.
She put down her bag and sent her husband a text that she had arrived safely, then she opened her bag where she kept an old CD that she planned to get Song Shengsheng’s autograph.
At this moment, a broadcast sounded. “Due to circuit failure and other reasons, the Christine Cultural Center is about to close. Please find the nearest emergency exit and leave the venue in an orderly manner.”
Mu Wenhua couldn’t help clenching her purse strap tightly. She suddenly thought of her daughter.
Lin Chen followed Xing Conglian and Wang Chao and rushed out of the subway entrance. The towering Christine Cultural Center appeared in view.
The people from the Xining Development Zone police station had arrived. The captain was giving orders to his team. When he saw Xing Conglian, the sweaty police captain hurriedly said, “Lao Jiang has already told us the situation. We came as soon as we received the news. Now the first step is to evacuate the crowd, right?”
Before his voice fell, there seemed to be a muffled sound from inside the cultural center not far away.
People in the venue had already followed the instructions of the staff and started to evacuate one after another, with a steady flow of people rushing out. However, the sudden noise caused them to settle on the spot and look back.
Following the sight of those people, facing the dazzling sun, Lin Chen looked in the direction of the cultural center. If he heard right, it was a dull sound just now, which sounded like a small explosive device.
They didn’t have time to breathe and ran against the flow of people to the top of the steps.
Xing Conglian’s phone rang again, as if with some kind of reminder. Lin Chen had never felt that running nonstop could be so exhausting.
As soon as they rushed into the hall, the deafening sound of the alarm bells ringing echoed. He couldn’t see any fire, but the bell slamming into the eardrums was enough to make their vision dazed. There were terrified faces and crazy screams. A girl with long hair was throwing up while a boy’s gray sneaker lay on the floor. Everything was like a palette that kept stirring, making Lin Chen so dizzy that he had to stop and gasp for breath.
“What’s the situation inside?” Xing Conglian grabbed a boy who didn’t look too flustered and asked.
Perhaps it was because his extraordinary calmness was contagious that the boy followed his instructions and replied clearly, “As soon as the staff started to evacuate us, a trash can exploded on the second floor. I heard people say that there’s a fire somewhere inside!”
The slight sound of the violin came from the building. The strings trembled and the music was high, as if flames were spewing out.
The police officers of Xining police station rushed into the hall against the flow of people. Lin Chen was about to follow but was pulled by Xing Conglian. “Where do you think that Mr. Meijing will be?”
“It’s definitely not in this cultural center.” Lin Chen stood up straight and quickly understood the meaning of Xing Conglian’s words. His heart suddenly became clear. “If I was deliberately trying to create a tragedy, I would definitely not be far from it. I would watch the turmoil happen with my own eyes.” He looked around. The Christine Cultural Center was surrounded by construction sites, and there were only three completed buildings nearby. Then, from the building with the best view, someone might be looking at the chaos with a gratified smile.
“Wang Chao, do me a favor and calculate which of the three buildings has the best view here.”
The teenager’s gifted space imagination was once again exerted to the extreme. He looked at the three high-rise buildings around him, then pointed to one of them and said, “That one.”
While they were talking, water suddenly poured down from the ceiling. Many people screamed again when they were sprayed by the cold water. Lin Chen looked up and found that the automatic sprinkler at the cultural center was still working, but there was no fire in the lobby of the first floor. The firefighting system in place at the Christine Cultural Center was top-notch. However, he suddenly remembered that the network had just been disconnected, and he could only become more worried.
Whether it was the fire-fighting system or a building intelligence control system, these weren’t his areas of expertise.
“I’m going there.” He pointed to the high-rise building outside and said to Xing Conglian decisively.
“Lin Chen!” Just as he turned around, Xing Conglian called out to him.
Lin Chen turned around suddenly, and an explosion sounded. The violin abruptly stopped as the water splashing from the ceiling reached its end. Lin Chen was shocked to find the fire-proof rolling gate that was originally used to separate the large space beginning to lower slowly.
The crowd started screaming again.
Everyone frantically wanted to run out before the rolling gate descended, but at that moment, Lin Chen found that the faces of everyone around him had disappeared, and he could only see Xing Conglian.
Even though the crowd was pushing like waves hitting the shore, Xing Conglian still stood firm, like an unwavering rock.
Lin Chen watched him take something from his waist and throw it hard. He stretched out his hand to catch it. When he touched it, it felt cold. He lowered his head only to find that Xing Conglian had thrown him a gun.
When he looked up again, the rolling gate fell. The cold and ruthless silver-gray separated them.
The screams around him were still the same, but he could no longer see Xing Conglian.
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