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Zhang Heng tagged along with Little Boy to the nearby Carrefour, where they bought blankets, pillows, a rinse cup, underwear, socks, and razors. Little Boy also picked out a bottle of cologne for him, but Zhang Heng waved it off, indicating to her that he had no need for that sort of thing. When he passed by the knife rack, however, he stopped and picked up a pocket knife.
Its handle was made of rosewood with a brass end. Sporting a stainless-steel blade, it felt sturdy and durable. More importantly, it was only 11cm long-compact enough for traveling. With Zhang Heng’s level 3 knife fighting skills, it would make a perfect melee weapon. “Do you want it?” Little Boy asked. “Can I?”
Zhang Heng looked at the price tag that read €35. “It’s a little pricey,” he hesitated, “I can choose another one.”
“Never mind, just take this one. It’ll just be deducted from your salary.”
After their trip to the mall, Little Boy brought Zhang Heng to a used clothes store and spent €10 on a black suit, a collared shirt, and leather shoes—the whole set.
Zhang Heng changed into the suit and walked out of the fitting room. Little Boy took two steps back and gave him a once over.
“How is it?” asked Zhang Heng.
“It’s half a size too big, but it seems pretty good overall,” Little Boy commented as she picked out a pair of shades off the rack and handed them to Zhang Heng. “You don’t have to wear it, just put it in your front pocket.”
Zhang Heng did as instructed, and Little Boy finally nodded in approval. “Now, that’s more like it…”
Little Boy did not explain why it was ‘more like it,’ and Zhang Heng didn’t ask.
They dropped their shopping bags at home before getting two hot dogs from a roadside stall for dinner. It was already night by then.
“Let’s go. Time to get to work.”
Little Boy finished off the last of her sausage, wiped her mouth, and lead Zhang Heng to the subway.
It was the hour where everyone was just getting off work, so the station was packed to the brim. The two had to squeeze their way into the train. “In a while, we’ll be meeting a guy called Fox. He’s a famous middleman in the neighborhood,” Little Boy explained to Zhang Heng as the doors of the coach slid shut.
“Yes, he sets up the connectionsmatchmaking businesses. He then draws commissions from them. Simply put, he’s the go-to person when you’re in trouble. As long as you have money, he’ll do anything for you. Of course, he won’t be doing them himself. What he does is recruit the right talents for you.”
“Like an intermediary?”
“They have the same method of making a profit, but the biggest difference is that an intermediary only does legal things. Fox, on the other hand, has no taboos—lawful, unlawful, or even grey-area endeavours… as long as it brings him money, he’s willing to make a deal.”
“Hah! And I thought criminals would disappear like magic once the city connected to CTOS.”
“The crime rate has dropped significantly, but the perpetrators have not entirely disappeared. The people working for Black Nest are brilliant. If criminals were to vanish all of a sudden, then people would definitely question the feasibility of CTOS. The public is willing to sacrifice some of their privacy for safety, but if they realize that they are already safe, their focus will shift back to the security of their privacy. So, Black Nest has to maintain a balance—they need to prove that CTOS is effective, and they can’t do that if they eliminate every criminal in the city.”
“If criminals no longer exist, then there would be no need for the police.”
“Yup, that’s the logic around it,” Little Boy said, “but after CTOS was set up, it massively impacted Dark World. The old rules of survival no longer apply. Old and stubborn ones who are not up to the times retired, but newcomers like Fox emerge as quickly as the older ones disappear.”
“What about 01?”
“We’re not criminals,” Little Boy went on, looking dead-serious, “even though Black Nest has always discredited us, 01 has been a non-profit organization since its establishment. Even illegally obtained funds were used to fight CTOS, and never have they gone into the pockets of the members.” “It’s really inspiring,” Zhang Heng nodded. “Are you mocking us?” “I have never ridiculed you. You, on the other hand, no matter what year I meet you, you question my motives. Is this the ‘historical inertia’ everyone had always talked about?”
An hour later, the pair arrived at the other side of the city. Here, near the outskirts, there were evidently fewer cameras and even fewer people on the streets. “Do not speak when we meet with Fox. Let me do the talking,” Little Boy reminded Zhang Heng when they arrived.
“Whatever you say.” Hence, they walked into an underground garage. The cars grew lesser as they descended two floors below, and the sound of booming stereos grew louder and louder.
When they finally reached the lowest floor, two men with crew cuts were smoking at the entrance. When they saw the pair approaching, they got up and made a ‘no entry’ gesture with a finger.
“We’re here to see Fox,” Little Boy said.
The men looked at each other, then sat back down again.
“So much for security, those people. One name and you’re allowed to come in,” Zhang Heng observed. They then walked into the garage four levels underground. Unlike the empty upper floor, the place was packed with people, luxury cars, and sultry, attractive women.
“It’s just a small gathering organized by a group of rich second-generation kids who try to be as badass as possible to satisfy the curiosity of gangsters. Some of them even brought ‘soft censorship’ to avoid being targeted by the police.” Little Boy searched the place and finally stopped. “I found Fox.”
He was also one of two people in the party in formal wear; the other person being Zhang Heng, dressed in a full suit. Unlike Zhang Heng, though, Fox was semi-formal, where under his trench coat lay pair of beach shorts and hairy thighs. Even though the room was chilly, he did not seem cold and even appeared to be in a good mood. In each of his arms was a French girl, both of them smiling and looking up at him. “I’m sorry, darlings, work is here. Why don’t you go get me some champagne?”
The two girls reluctantly left his arms, and one even raised her eyebrows at Little Boy as she walked past.
“Don’t take it to heart. Sophie gets jealous easily, and Aneth keeps a cute cobra in her garage,” Fox said, “It’s been a long time. I haven’t heard from you for a very long time. When Semiprime sent me an encrypted email telling me that you’re coming to see me, I thought I heard wrong. Is this… your boyfriend?”
“No, he’s just a guest, and right now, he needs money for rent, which is why I brought him to see you.”
“Nice to meet you.” Fox extended a hand and shook hands with Zhang Heng. Then he turned his attention to Little Boy. “So, you still haven’t found a boyfriend yet?”
“People who talk crap often die prematurely in movies,” Little Boy growled in a chilly tone.
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