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Eleven months was a long time in the game, but it passed very quickly in real life.
In that tiny apartment that had a space of less than 60 square meters, Zhang Heng had experienced the four seasons. He was familiar with it’s every corner, knowing the position of each piece of furniture, knowing where to store the milk and eggs in the refrigerator, and knowing which cat food Baby Croc liked the most. He also knew how the old TV in front of the sofa would shut off automatically when a football match was shown…
Zhang Heng proposed to buy a new television since he made lots of money from Fox. Besides, it was not like he could take the money out of the quest anyway. As a person without identity, he could not spend the money that he earned as he wished. However, Little Boy rejected the suggestion without any hesitation. The reason was that the newly produced televisions had microcomputers that could connect to the Internet.
This meant that the CTOS could trace them.
Speaking of which, this was the strangest quest that Zhang Heng had ever participated in. It was supposed to be the future. However, besides learning new skills, he rarely came into contact with electronic products in his daily life. Instead, Little Boy chose to go far away from her apartment to teach Zhang Heng how to make use of the new skill that he learned.
Therefore, other than watching boring TV shows, old movies, and playing Tetris together, the usual entertainment for the two was the endless small talk. Little Boy liked it a lot when it rained. Whenever the sky darkened, she’d prepare drinks. Occasionally, cookies would be baked as well if she had the time. She loved eating cookies while watching the rainfall outside the window.
Zhang Heng had no idea how many cookies Little Boy had eaten in the same position and the same posture before he arrived.
It was similar to the fact that only a handful of people knew how there was still a group of people in this city fighting for justice. Fewer and fewer 01 members remained in the team, where some chose to quit, unable to handle the enormous pressure that came along with it. Some had their enthusiasm erased since they had been fighting for a long time but still failed to glimpse the victory they longed for. People like them would quit silently in the end. Besides pursuing justice and axioms, there were still countless things in their lives that required their concern.
Parents, partners, children, friends… these were people in their lives that they needed to spend time with to build better relationships. When dreams began to fade, everyone had to learn how to face reality. . At this point, the Black Nest’s victory was set in stone. The people around them had become more and more accustomed to the existence of CTOS to the point that they couldn’t live without it.
Not everyone was as obsessed as Little Boy in making things right again. With the departure of the original members, coupled with the lack of fresh blood, the demise of 01 now seemed only a matter of time. Perhaps when the veterans like Leah, Little Boy, and Semiprime became older, no one would remember that they ever fought for justice.
During this period, Zhang Heng participated in oi’s operations as foreign aid, but even with his abilities, there wasn’t much he could do. After over ten years of crazy expansion, Black Nest was now a behemoth. A complicated relationship of benefiting each other had been formed, where even CTOS’ creator lost control over it. It was no longer under the control of one or several people. In other words, no one would be able to stop it.
However, Zhang Heng’s information technology, internet intrusion and defense, modification of electronic equipment, and anti-tracking skills had all improved to a certain degree. The combination of all these skills turned him into a Level 2 geek. It was also his most significant achievement in this parallel quest.
There was one month left, and this parallel quest was about to come to an end. It was finally time to say goodbye to Little Boy.
“Are you leaving?” Little Boy leaned against the kitchen counter, holding a cup of coffee. “Yes, thank you for taking me in and for teaching me so many things. It’s almost time for me to return to my parallel universe,” Zhang Heng said. He had already bought a suitcase and everything he needed from the department store.
“How long till you leave?” “In less than a month, but I have some things to do before I leave,” Zhang Heng said. He planned to spend his remaining time traveling to Grenoble, intending to explore the ski resort in advance and improve on the Leah rescue-plan. On top of that, he would also sneak into Black Nest to learn more about them.
Of course, considering the risks of infiltrating Black Nest, he allotted this operation to be done at the end of his trip.
“You said Edward was still alive when you came, and Black Nest hadn’t killed him yet. Although I still don’t believe your parallel universe nonsense, if 01 hypothetically stopped CTOS 13 years ago, what will happen to my world?”
“I don’t know,” Zhang Heng said, “I only traveled back to the past before this, but never to the future. This is my first time, but…” Zhang Heng paused, “but I guess, whether I succeed or not, we probably won’t meet again.”
This parallel quest was based on a future unaffected by players from the real world. In other words, even after this round was over, Zhang Heng had no right to play an extra round. It meant he would never see the future Little Boy again.
Hence, Zhang Heng wondered what the point of his 11-month stay was. Was it all an illusion? But he remembered everything clearly. The 29-year-old Little Boy standing before him at the moment was so real. Every frown and move from Little Girl told him that this was an authentic experience.
“I understand,” Little Boy took a sip of coffee, expressions unchanged, “Go to bed early after you are done packing. You will be on the road early tomorrow.”
Little Boy seemed calmer than Zhang Heng had imagined. She even calculated tomorrow’s breakfast expenses in advance and settled the rent, water, and electricity with Zhang Heng. The weather report on the TV forecasted heavy rain in the city after midnight, reminding the public to close the doors and windows. Leaving Zhang Heng undisturbed, Little Boy did not sit under the window and listen to the rain as usual.
After the two bid each other good night, Little Boy returned to her bedroom.
The living room was filled with darkness once again. Zhang Heng divided half of the money he had made during this period and placed it under Baby Croc’s bed. After that, he got onto the couch and closed his eyes.
As he slept, he vaguely felt something warm climbing on him, softly settling on his hips. He thought it was Baby Croc, but when he opened his eyes, he saw Little Boy’s face.
Her pajamas were undone, and she began riding him while covering his mouth with her hand.
“Shhh, say hello to my 17-year-old self,” Little Boy whispered as she bent down.
The torrential downpour came as promised. The wind made the leaves rustle, casting with it shadows of trees shaking in the gusts. The storm caused the signboard of the convenience store opposite of their apartment to be blown away, its blue light piercing the night and disappearing into the darkness.
The whole world seemed as if it was about to be devoured by a massive flood.
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