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Death Progress Bar (Web Novel) - Chapter 24: Mission

Chapter 24: Mission

This chapter is updated by Wuxia.Blog

Edited by Bet from Betwixted Translations

“He became an adult just a few days ago!” Lian Jun’s attitude enraged Xiang Aoting. He hissed, “He was a fat pampered kid who would be dead tired after running two laps! If you let him do this, you’re sending him to death! You say he is the most qualified candidate? I think for you he’s the most qualified cannon fodder—you can use and discard him without suffering any losses!”

When he said that, the expressions of Gua Two and Gua Nine became ugly, and they looked at Xiang Aoting with enmity.

Lian Jun never used the lives of his men in exchange for benefits nor treated them as cannon fodder, not even once. Xiang Aoting’s words were insulting both Lian Jun and them, the members of Annihilation!

Meanwhile, Lian Jun realized that in his current state, Xiang Aoting would not listen to any explanations, so he motioned to Shi Jin and said, “Do it.”

“You!” Enraged, Xiang Aoting straightened up and moved to pull out his gun.

Shi Jin understood Lian Jun’s meaning right away and thought it was indeed time to change Xiang Aoting’s perception of himself. At once, he planted a hand on the desk to support himself and jumped over it. His leg swept toward Xiang Aoting’s hand which was reaching for the gun. He grabbed a pen from the desk with his other hand and, holding it like a dagger, stabbed at Xiang Aoting’s eyes.

Xiang Aoting’s expression changed, and he retreated to avoid the blow. He couldn’t unholster his gun.

Shi Jin used this opportunity to land and assume a standard fighting position. He threw away the pen and clenched his fists, then attacked Xiang Aoting.

“Xiao Jin, you—” Xiang Aoting was both shocked and nonplussed. He did not dare to believe what was happening.

Shi Jin cut him short, not stopping his attack: “Words are useless at this point. Drop your weapon, then we will talk.”

Xiang Aoting frowned. He curbed his emotions and avoided Shi Jin’s strikes, planning to find a flaw and use it to subdue him—then they could talk. After a few moves, Xiang Aoting found that Shi Jin’s attack was sharp, powerful, and immaculate. Nothing like a novice at all, and this made him even more bewildered. His expression slowly became serious, and he attacked back.

Thud thud thud thud thud!

When the two people fought in earnest, the study filled with sounds of fists and feet striking at the opponent.

Shi Jin’s offensive was swift and fierce, and Aoting’s counterattacks were steady and meticulous. They moved quickly, in a few moments exchanging dozens of moves.

Gua Two’s face turned a little sour. His expression said ‘this world is unfair,’ and he muttered, “What the hell, did these brothers trained under one master? How come their moves look so similar? And isn’t Xiang Aoting too strong for a fighter pilot? He’s winning against Shi Jin using only one hand.”

“He’s really using only one hand,” Gua Nine said, scrutinizing them. He took out his mobile phone and secretly recorded the fight. “Both of them learned the military combat, it’s normal that their fighting looks similar, though Xiang Aoting is much more proficient. Shi Jin’s trained less. Some of his moves are a little awkward.”

Gua Two eyed the phone in Gua Nine’s hand, speechless. “What are you doing?”

“Acquiring learning material,” answered Gua Nine with a dutiful look on his baby face. “Xiang Aoting is very strong, I think even Gua One couldn’t beat him.”

This remark irked Gua Two—why would you side with the “enemy” rather than the ally? Still, he couldn’t refute these words. Gua One was the most skilled in shooting and sneak attacks, so Xiang Aoting might really win against him in hand-to-hand combat.

Shi Jin also noticed that Xiang Aoting was not using his left hand. His eyes flashed and he crouched to bait Xiang Aoting into raising his leg in a kick. He then supported himself on the ground, grabbed the raised leg, and used “Monkey Steals the Peach” move—in other words, he attacked Xiang Aoting’s crotch.

“No no no, what is he doing! Little JinJin, what are you doing? You can’t just touch people there!” Gua Two cried out, receiving Lian Jun and Gua Nine’s twin stares of contempt.

Gua Two: “…”

Xiang Aoting did not expect Shi Jin to use such a shameless trick and reacted a beat too slow. Shi Jin suddenly changed his aim to the vulnerable point in Xiang Aoting’s leg he exposed when evading. He twisted his body and hit the nerve hard, numbing Xiang Aoting’s whole leg.

Thump.

Xiang Aoting staggered and fell to the ground and Shi Jin pinned him down, stopping him from moving. He wiped sweat from his forehead and looked at Xiang Aoting arrogantly. “It’s my win, Fourth Brother,” he said, proud of himself.

Xiang Aoting only panted and did not speak, watching the youthful face smiling radiantly at him with a complicated expression in his eyes. After a long moment, he reached over his shoulder and easily pulled Shi Jin off him. When he looked at Lian Jun, there was no longer anger on his face, but he still disapproved. He said, “Lian Jun, it’s not just about fighting. I still don’t agree for Xiao Jin take part in this task. I’ll report to higher-ups, asking for a replacement.”

Lian Jun’s answer was straightforward: “You don’t have that right. The government and I are just cooperating, they cannot interfere in my decisions. What’s more, you’re not really part of the mission; if I say I’m discontented with you, you will have to leave.”

It wasn’t a matter of choice. Xiang Aoting had absolutely no influence in ‘Nightlight.’ Today he could act only because Lian Jun allowed it.

“Don’t underestimate Shi Jin.” Lian Jun, deciding this threat was enough, felt it was time for a little honesty and continued, “Shi Jin is far more outstanding than you think. Xiang Aoting, you and your brothers all have the same failing—you believe you know who Shi Jin is based on your subjective assumptions. You are wrong. Shi Jin, you should practice. Take your brother to the shooting range.”

After being praised so much, Shi Jin was over the moon. He sent Lian Jun a flattering smile, then got up from the ground and patted Xiang Aoting on the shoulder. “Come on, let’s compare our marksmanship.”

Lian Jun’s words shocked Xiang Aoting. He looked at the brilliantly smiling, brimming with confidence Shi Jin, and realized he had never seen him smile like that. His lips moved, but he said nothing and followed Shi Jin out—Lian Jun was right, he didn’t have a right to decide anything. The only thing he could do right now do was try to stay here.

Shi Jin intended to make Xiang Aoting change his opinion of himself. So, when they arrived at the shooting range, he took his brother to the most difficult simulated scenario and said, “You can choose your weapon. This will be our battlefield. Fifteen robbers and five hostages, are you up for a match?”

‘Nightlight’s’ simulation area was just refurbished and the equipment was upgraded, making it a great place to practice. Xiang Aoting looked around, then glanced at Shi Jin and met his challenge: “Let’s do it.”

His youngest brother had grown up before he realized. He wanted to see who he had grown into.

“Let’s get started.” Shi Jin rubbed his hands, eager for the fight, and was first to equip himself.

Shi Jin’s strong points were long-range attack and marksmanship, flexible mind, and almost ridiculous ability to sense a crisis. By the time the two men defeated all the enemies and arrived at the evaluation room, the system had already scored their performance. While Xiang Aoting rescued one more hostage, Shi Jin defeated three more robbers. What’s more, Shi Jin’s accuracy was actually higher than Xiang Aoting’s.

“We also have a new feature here, tactical simulations. Wanna play?” Shi Jin took off his helmet and gasped a few times, then challenged his brother again.

By this time, Xiang Aoting was sure Shi Jin was completely different. His thin lips tightened, making his serious face look even more severe, and he nodded. “Yes.”

Tactical simulation is the best way to assess someone’s true combat efficiency. The two men stayed in the tactical simulations area for the whole afternoon. After the first run, it was Xiang Aoting who refused to let Shi Jin go, changing the scenarios repeatedly to find out where Shi Jin’s limits lie.

Shi Jin was dead tired when they finally finished. He ignored Xiang Aoting after leaving the underground floor—this guy was a total madman! A training freak without a hint of mercy!

Xiang Aoting did not care about being scorned. He remained silent after they came out, contemplative. He kept scrutinizing Shi Jin from time to time, like a researcher who had been given a confounding problem to solve.

Shi Jin suspected that Xiang Aoting would dissect his body to see its internal structure. So, he stuffed his brother into ‘Nightlight’s’ dining hall and ran to the private dining room to eat with Lian Jun.

“How was it?” Lian Jun asked after dinner.

Shi Jin wiped his mouth. Prompted by this question, he blinked and recalled his afternoon. “Not bad. Xiang Aoting is very strong and has a lot of combat experience. I learned a lot from him.”

“Mm.” Lian Jun nodded. “Want to change?”

What Lian Jun asked was whether Shi Jin wanted the government to send another trainer.

Shi Jin thought for a moment and shook his head. “No need, he’s fine. He will go back anyway after the mission has ended.” Besides, Xiang Aoting appeared in a very convenient moment, making it possible for Shi Jin to inquire about the situation of each brother’s mother’s family. The original plot gave almost no information about them, and he needed to collect clues.

Another conversation was happening in the club’s dining hall.

Xiang Aoting sat opposite Gua Two and asked, “How long has Shi Jin been trained by you?”

Gua Two glanced at him, not willing to pay much attention to him. He countered, “For how long did he manage to avoid being found by you?”

Xiang Aoting noticed his hostility and frowned. He asked, “He’s not eating with you?”

This time, Gua Two did not answer. He threw his chopsticks out and left.

Xiang Aoting watched him leave. He recalled everything he had seen and heard in ‘Nightlight’ today, and his expression turned thoughtful.

Shi Jin did not dream tonight. The next day after breakfast he went to the training room as usual. This time, it was no longer Gua One or Gua Two waiting for him there, but Xiang Aoting, who had changed into an army green training suit.

“Today, we will find out your limits.” Xiang Aoting seemed to have accepted the fact that the mission participant he had to train was Shi Jin. He was holding a writing board with a list on it and wore a businesslike expression on his face. Pointing at the treadmill, he said, “Warm up first. Yesterday we only checked your hand-to-hand combat and gun skills. Now we will test the basics, starting with endurance.”

When Shi Jin saw him looking like that, an ominous feeling appeared in his heart. “How long do I have to run?” He asked.

Xiang Aoting glanced at him. His lips parted and he articulated, “Until you can’t run anymore.”

Fucking… hell…

Dear brother, aren’t you too ruthless?

“You either run or quit. I will not send a slacking-off rookie on a mission, it’s allowing him to get himself killed.” Xiang Aoting’s tone was callous.

How the hell can you sound so much like my old instructor in the police academy?

Shi Jin sighed and obediently began to warm up.

Running, push-ups, sit-ups, horizontal bar, parallel bars… Shi Jin remembered the horror of physical fitness training when he first attended the police academy in his last life. He felt both too twitchy and too tired to speak, never mind pumping Xiang Aoting for information.

Xiang Aoting’s face was as inscrutable as always, but every time Shi Jin completed a part of training, his expression sank for a moment.

By the end of the day, Shi Jin was half dead, and his clothes were so soaked with sweat they almost dripped. In the end, Xiang Aoting had to drag him out of the training room.

“Your stamina is good, but the overall physical fitness is not up to standard and your muscles are too soft.” While giving this merciless evaluation, Xiang Aoting hauled Shi Jin straight to the infirmary and let the doctor give him an IV.

Shi Jin knew that his physical fitness was a big problem, because ‘this body’ had no habit of working out. He still spat out, “It’s your muscles that are too hard. Fourth Brother, are you taking advantage of your position to take revenge on me? Why are you making me go through such extreme training, can’t we go step by step?”

Xiang Aoting answered, “No, the mission may start at any moment. You don’t have time to go step by step.”

Shi Jin slumped on the infirmary bed, unwilling to speak.

Xiang Aoting frowned and remained silent for a few seconds. Finally, he praised, “Your foundation is solid and you work hard.”

“Thank you. The world is dangerous, I wouldn’t be able to survive without trying hard,” Shi Jin answered in half-truths.

Xiang Aoting sat down next to him and observed him for a moment. He asked, “Why?”

Why, why. Why do these brothers always like to ask why? Would it kill you to say more? I can’t read your minds.

Helpless, Shi Jin asked back, “Why what?”

“Why did you choose here?” Xiang Aoting looked at his face, which was no longer the same as it was in the past, and continued, “Why do you stay here when you can lead a safe and comfortable life?”

“You don’t know?” Shi Jin raised his eyebrows.

Xiang Aoting shook his head. He really didn’t know. He spent most of these years in the army and had little contact with any of his relatives.

Shi Jin did not see deceit in his expression. An odd suspicion appeared in his mind—this brother… was entirely out of the loop, wasn’t he? He seemed to be unaware of schemes and calculations of other brothers, and both his words and actions were frank as if he had nothing to hide.

“Don’t you hate me?” Shi Jin sat up and looked into his eyes.

In Xiang Aoting’s eyes, there was some uncertainty, a bit of discomfort at being seen through, and even a little remorse and shame, but his serious expression did not change. He replied, “I hated the attitude you used to have towards life. But now… Now, you’re hard-working and in good shape. Except for choosing to follow Lian Jun and refusing to return home and go to school, you are very good.”

My dear, listen to this answer, look at this expression, is this really an evil older brother?

Shi Jin hesitantly reached for Xiang Aoting’s hand.

Xiang Aoting stiffened, but he let him hold it. He asked with a frown, “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” Shi Jin, who did not understand what expression he should have, laid back on the bed and said dully, “I just wanted to touch you… Fourth Brother, let’s get along from now on, ok?”

“It’s useless, I won’t let you off.” Xiang Aoting heartlessly took his hand away, saying in a voice full of righteousness, “Since you have decided to do it, you must persevere—the more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in battle. Xiao Jin, your attitude is still lacking.”

Shi Jin: “…”

Xiao Si said timidly, <JinJin, your progress bar has dropped to 840.>

Shi Jin let out a grunt. Instead of being comforted, he felt a headache—this brother seemed to be quite problematic in some ways.

Once the hellish training camp began, it couldn’t be stopped. Every day, Shi Jin entered the training room on his own legs and left it dragged out by Xiang Aoting like a dead dog, looking extremely unsightly.

The situation did not improve until a week later when Shi Jin’s body finally adapted to this intense workout regime. There was also no progress in his plan to acquire information from Xiang Aoting.

Xiang Aoting was like the drill instructor from hell. Want to talk about something other than training? Don’t even think about it.

After one more day, Shi Jin left the training room on his own for the first time. The two men said goodbye at the door and went in opposite directions. Unexpectedly, after a few steps, Xiang Aoting called out Shi Jin’s name.

“What’s wrong?” Shi Jin turned towards him.

Xiang Aoting hesitated for a moment, then asked, “Where do you eat every day?”

This question surprised Shi Jin. “On sixth floor, together with Jun-shao.”

Xiang Aoting expression turned unsightly. He said in a strange tone, “Xiao Jin, are you… Is it…”

“Is it what?” Shi Jin became more and more confused.

“…Never mind.” Xiang Aoting stopped his words, then said stiffly, “We can move on to the next stage of training. Have a good rest and come here early tomorrow.” Then he turned and walked away.

Baffled, Shi Jin scratched his head. “What the hell?”

The training lasted more than half a month. During this time Shi Weichong called twice, wanting to meet Shi Jin and Xiang Aoting, obviously knowing that Xiang Aoting was in ‘Nightlight.’ Shi Jin wanted to go out and strengthen his relationship with Shi Weichong. He had no choice but to refuse because the training was too important.

After yet another heavy snowfall, Xiang Aoting left for a few days. When he returned, he brought the message that the mission was about to begin, and Shi Jin finally learned the specifics.

“What we need to do this time is to collect information.” Xiang Aoting projected the decrypted data on the screen and continued to explain, “The man in this picture is Liu Yuan, nicknamed ‘Pockmarked Yuan,’ and he’s engaging in the human trafficking business. He’s your main target. He used to be one of our informants, but he turned traitor. We suspect he persuaded some military intelligence personnel to support him because they’ve discovered all the undercover agents we’ve sent out. That is why we had to ask for external assistance.”

Human trafficking? Military personnel colluding with a traitor?

Shi Jin’s face was full of revulsion, and no wonder—there was no policeman who did not loathe human traffickers. They were much more hated than murderers.

“Pockmarked Yuan belongs to an illegal underworld organization called ‘Werewolf.’ Its main members have been hiding abroad for many years. Besides trafficking, they are also involved with various black businesses. Recently, we heard they have sneaked back into China one by one; it seems they received some big business. This is our chance.”

Shi Jin more or less understood what he meant. “The government wants to know who is behind Werewolf and Liu Yuan?”

“Exactly.” Xiang Aoting nodded, satisfied with his thinking speed and deduction ability, and continued, “This mission is confidential. To prevent further leaks, all the personnel involved in it were transferred from other places. You are the only outsider, and your role is the most important. We need you to disguise yourself, pretend to be trafficked by Pockmarked Yuan, mix with the Werewolf members, and collect as much information as possible.”

Shi Jin wrinkled his eyebrows. “Disguise me as who? Besides, the main victims of human trafficking are children and women. Will Pockmarked Yuan even look at me?”

Xiang Aoting remained silent for a moment. “Yes. Contrary to the statistics, Pockmarked Yuan’s favorite target group are young men, about seventeen or eighteen years old and pretty-looking. He prefers naive, hardy country boys who had just left their villages to find work in a big city.”

As Shi Jin kept listening, his face slowly became expressionless. He looked at Xiang Aoting cooly. “Don’t tell me, Pockmarked Yuan is…”

“He is not only a trafficker but also a part-time pimp. Because of his sexual orientation, he prefers to kidnap and sell young men. Usually, the men abducted by him are trained for a time. After he tires of playing with them, he sends them to T Country, then they are sold to other parts of the world.”

“…” Fuck, why is it this type of mission again?

Xiang Aoting also felt this task was somewhat unbearable. He patted Shi Jin on the shoulder and consoled, “Don’t be scared, there is reliable evidence that Pockmarked Yuan became impotent, and the other members don’t dare to be too unrestrained in China. We will try our best to ensure your safety.”

Shi Jin did not feel comforted. He asked gloomily, “How?”

Xiang Aoting retracted his hand, saying, “I applied to participate in this mission. It’s already been approved—I’m your handler. I will save you as soon as you’re in trouble, so don’t be afraid.”

Shi Jin did not expect his brother would take part in the mission. His mood became complicated—Xiang Aoting was a pilot, and he would never get involved in this kind of undercover operation usually. He must’ve strived hard to get permission.

“You did not have to do this, Fourth Brother.”

“You’re wrong.” Xiang Aoting turned off the projector and said with a serious expression on his face, “We are brothers, and older brother has to protect the younger, so everything is how it should be.”

Shi Jin sighed and said to Xiao Si in his mind, “That’s it, I’m sold. He truly is an honest and dependable older brother.”

Xiao Si carefully recalled everything that happened but could not find even a sliver of evidence against Xiang Aoting, so it couldn’t refute.

Two days later, the exact date of the mission was set. Pockmarked Yuan appeared in a small town in H province and seemed to be ready to take the Green Train to move inland. It was a good moment to approach him.

Shi Jin received a call from Xiang Aoting halfway through the meal. He looked at Lian Jun and wanted to explain the situation, but Lian Jun forestalled him.

“Pay attention to your safety,” he ordered, putting down his chopsticks.

Shi Jin swallowed back the words he prepared to say and nodded, then gave out his own order: “You have to eat properly while I’m away.”

“You talk too much,” replied Lian Jun. He moved his wheelchair from behind the table, then took out a small pendant and put it in Shi Jin’s hand. “I heard you returned the cucumber pillow to Rong Zhouzhong. This is for you. Remember to carry it with you.”

Shi Jin looked down. He saw that the pendant he was given was shaped like a cartoon chicken drumstick, and couldn’t help but laugh. He said willfully, swaying it, “Jun-shao, I don’t like to eat chicken legs.”

Lian Jun glanced at him and waved his hand. “Go, don’t delay.”

“I’m going.” Shi Jin put the pendant away. He stepped forward and hugged Lian Jun for a moment, then let go and retreated swiftly. He then turned to wave at him, saying with a smile, “When I return after completing my mission, I want to eat a roasted whole lamb!”

Lian Jun’s tensed muscles relaxed slowly. He waited in silence until he could not see Shi Jin anymore, and then his cold voice echoed in the room: “Don’t dream. I can’t eat it, so you are not allowed to eat it either.”

H Province, next to S Province

Shi Jin, wearing an old, faded coat and a tacky black knit cap, and carrying a luggage bag on his back, squeezed into the Green Train.

His lips were blue from cold, he held an old mobile phone and kept his head down all the time, but his eyes kept glancing around. Judging from his awkward body language, it was the first time he traveled by train.

People like that could be seen often, so nobody paid any attention to him. He found his seat and sat down, smiling tentatively at his neighbor. Unfortunately, his neighbor was a middle-aged office worker who answered his smile with a look of aversion.

That made Shi Jin even more awkward. He turned his body to the side and took out his old mobile phone. After dialing a number, he whispered with a bizarre local accent: “Ma, Ah’m already on da train. Aw, don’ worry, Ah shore can dig up enough fer Brother’s bride price. Make ‘im rest and ta not move so his broken leg heals faster. Sister-in-law said she can wait for ‘im to git better afore they gits murried, so it’s all good.”

Xiang Aoting on the other end of the line: {…}

Shi Jin gave his phone a shake, looking at it dubiously, then spoke louder: “Ma? Can ya hear me? Is there no signal?”

{…I can hear you.} Xiang Aoting adjusted his mood and asked, {Have you seen the target yet?}

“Weird, no signal?” Shi Jin rose from his seat and moved as if searching for a signal, turning this way and that. After a moment, he stopped and said happily, “Now Ah can hear ya, Ma, go ‘head and speak.”

This strange accent really affects communication.

Xiang Aoting let out a cough, then asked again, {Have you found the target?}

“Yeah,” confirmed Shi Jin.

{We suspect Pockmarked Yuan is going to C City to meet with other Werewolf members. There are six stops between S Province and C City, the total time of travel is sixteen hours. Try to get ‘abducted’ by him during that time,} instructed Xiang Aoting.

Shi Jin turned bashful. “Ah knows, Ma, mah brother’s murriage is mighty important, he’s almost thirty and an old bachelor. Ah’m still young, Ah don’t hafta git tied down yet.”

Xiang Aoting: {…}

After the first status call of the mission, Shi Jin was pleased with himself, but Xiang Aoting took damage. He became aware that he honestly did not know his youngest brother as well as he thought.

Pockmarked Yuan was a mean-looking, middle-aged man with a waxy complexion, thin lips, and almost no eyebrows. He was sitting in the corner of the carriage. When Shi Jin came in, he was sleeping and did not notice him. It wasn’t until Shi Jin searched for a signal that he was attracted by Shi Jin’s voice and opened his small eyes.

Shi Jin was not well-dressed, his speech was simple, and he tended to cringe, but underneath, his appearance was pleasant. To not look like a delicate young master, he made the exposed skin rougher and several tones darker, but he couldn’t change his facial features—good-looking was good-looking.

Shi Jin ended the call, aware Pockmarked Yuan’s eyes turned this way and stayed on him for a long time. Inwardly, he was satisfied, but he pretended not to notice and returned to his seat.

When the train started, the carriage became quiet—few people got in at this station, and no one spoke.

Shi Jin leaned back in his seat and looked out the window, glancing at the bag overhead from time to time. He gripped the old mobile phone tightly. He behaved like a cautious little mouse that left its burrow for the first time.

The sky dimmed, and the smell of instant noodles and boxed meals floated through the train carriage. Seemingly sleepy, Shi Jin let out a yawn but bought nothing. Instead, he got up and took down his luggage bag, removing tightly wrapped pancakes from inside.

As the night grew deeper, people in the carriage fell asleep one after another. Shi Jin also drifted off, listing sideways in sound sleep. In the early morning when the train stopped, and people got on and off, Shi Jin left to visit the bathroom. When he came back and was passing Pockmarked Yuan’s seat, he deliberately raised his hand to scratch his neck, showing a delicate clavicle for a second.

The weather turned cloudy, and the frequency of train stops became dense—they were nearing the bustling inland cities.

Shi Jin started a conversation with a good-natured old man, revealing almost all of his information as they talked. Fortunately, the old man did not seem to be a bad person. Seeing his naivety, he repeatedly warned Shi Jin not to be so trusting when outside and bought him a hot meal.

Shi Jin was grateful to him. His face was full of embarrassment, but he wolfed down the meal.

Several hours passed. The next train stop was C City. However, Shi Jin had not come in contact with Pockmarked Yuan yet.

Xiang Aoting called and asked about his situation.

Shi Jin huddled in his seat, tearing off a piece of pancake. “Ma, tawk a bit faster, da battery on this is runnin’. Ah’ll call ya when Ah gits there. Ah knows, Ah hids da money well, it’s all good.”

Hearing him mention money, Xiang Aoting’s heart began to beat faster. {Pockmarked Yuan already targeted you? He stole your money?}

“Yes,” replied Shi Jin, not saying that it was shortly after he told the old man that he would get off in C City. Pockmarked Yuan was impatient, but also more careful than he expected. Well, it was good the horny scumbag took the initiative though. It saved Shi Jin the effort of approaching him and reduced the possibility of exposing himself in the process.

Xiang Aoting was relieved. For a moment, he couldn’t decide if Shi Jin was lucky or that he accurately analyzed Pockmarked Yuan’s character and manipulated him. He asked a few more questions and hung up.

Half an hour later, the train arrived at C City, and Shi Jin grabbed his luggage bag and got off. He meandered so that Pockmarked Yuan could keep up. He followed the crowd and was jostled and bumped into several times, apologizing voluntarily every time. Finally, he stumbled outside the railway station and wanted to make a phone call.

He reached into his pocket, but it was empty.

Shi Jin was not surprised at all, but his expression turned panic-stricken. He nervously patted himself up and down. Still not finding the phone, he put his luggage down and crouched to rummage through it.

“What’s the matter, young man?” A tall and thin figure appeared next to Shi Jin.

Shi Jin exclaimed triumphantly in his mind, not showing anything on his face. He looked up warily and pursed his lips, shaking his head to show nothing was wrong. He grabbed his bag and went to leave.

Pockmarked Yuan hurried to stop him, saying with a genial smile, “Don’t be afraid, we are acquaintances from the train. I was sitting in the corner, remember? I saw you having trouble, so I came over to see what’s wrong. Living away from home is difficult. We have to help each other if we can.”

Shi Jin looked at him suspiciously, as if trying to remember, then began to lower his guard. His eyebrows wrinkled, and he said in non-standard Mandarin: “Ah cain’t find muh phone… Gosh dang, what now? My Ma is still waitin’ fer me to calls her.”

“Don’t worry, you can borrow Uncle’s phone. Calm down and look for it carefully, maybe you’ve just forgotten where you put it.” Pockmarked Yuan comforted him, reaching for his own mobile phone.

This let him successfully “win over” Shi Jin, this naive country boy. He took the phone from Pockmarked Yuan, looking embarrassed, and thanked him shyly a few times. Then he turned away and carefully dialed the number.

Xiang Aoting picked up right away but didn’t speak.

“Ma, it’s me.” Shi Jin took the initiative. He glanced at Pockmarked Yuan standing next to him and said, smiling sheepishly, “Muh battery died and Ah borrowed a phone from a nice fella who traveled with me… It’s fine, it’s fine. Ah’ll give Uncle Wang a call right away, Ah ‘member da name of ‘is factory.”

Xiang Aoting: {…Are you using Pockmarked Yuan’s phone?}

“Yes.”

Xiang Aoting kept silent for a few seconds, signaling the staff next to him to track the phone number, and then asked, {Can you do this? Do you need any help?}

“Ah can do it, Ma. Ah’m goin’ to hangs up, it’s somebody else’s phone, it be rude if Ah used it too long and it dies.” Shi Jin ended the call and returned it to Pockmarked Yuan with a grateful expression, thanking him again.

The man said it was nothing, that he didn’t need to thank him so much and took the opportunity to ask if anyone was waiting for Shi Jin and why he came to C City.

Shi Jin did not hide anything and told Pockmarked Yuan the same story he gave the old man in the train—he came here to work and a fellow villager, Uncle Wang, would come pick him up.

Pockmarked Yuan nodded his understanding and said he suspected someone had stolen Shi Jin’s mobile while he was at the crowded railway station. He urged him to check if anything else was missing. Frightened, Shi Jin reached into his baggage. He touched the empty place where his money should have been hidden and made a shocked expression, then panicked and started to cry.

Pockmarked Yuan called out “Oh dear, what a heinous thief,” and promptly started to comfort Shi Jin.

After a few routine lines delivered by both sides, Pockmarked Yuan persuaded Shi Jin into his “friend’s” car, saying they would drive him to his Uncle Wang’s factory.

Pockmarked Yuan’s “friend” was an unattractive young man driving an old van. Once Pockmarked Yuan let Shi Jin in, he frowned and said with annoyance, “What are you doing, Brother Liu? Now isn’t the time to fool around.”

“Why are you shouting? Don’t scare Xiao Yuan, he’s timid.” Pockmarked Yuan sent the young man a meaningful glance, handing Shi Jin a bottle of water. “Here, drink it. We will be at the factory soon.”

The young man rolled his eyes and muttered “damn faggot,” then started the car, looking resentful.

Shi Jin’s face showed he didn’t understand these words, turning away as if he was afraid of the young man. He received the water bottle, asking Xiao Si, “Drugged?”

Xiao Si confirmed.

“Then give me a buff.” Shi Jin kept his cool.

Xiao Si silently acted.

After the person and the system understood each other, Shi Jin obediently opened the bottle and drank half of the water in one go. Pockmarked Yuan showed a satisfied expression, watching Shi Jin as he would an appetizing dish delivered to his table.

Shi Jin smiled at him shyly and counted in his mind for a while. Then, when he felt the time was right, he swayed and slumped to the side, “losing consciousness.”

Translator’s Notes:

“The Green Train” [绿皮火车] – it is a type of train operating in China. It’s slow but very cheap, making it popular with poorer people like, you guessed it, migrant workers.

Pockmarked “Yuan” [元, yuán] and Xiao “Yuan” [远, yuǎn] (Shi Jin’s fake name) are two different words and they are not pronounced the same way in Chinese.

[Tyethehybrid ‘translated’ Shi Jin’s lines into the Southern accent (not too heavy to understand though, and I messed with it a little). Thank you, Muah!]

❤ (ɔˆз(ˆ⌣ˆc)

Lian Jun redeemed himself.

┬─┬ノ( º _ ºノ)

Guys, we are 24 chapters in, and this novel is 167 chapters long. What’s more, from now on chapters are two times longer. If you think you know any of the characters and what’s going to happen… think again because there’s a good chance you’re wrong. Adds to the fun though, at least for me~ ( ̄ヮ ̄)

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