Translated by zellyfish of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
The last boarding call sounded, and the cruise ship was about to set sail.
Cui Chengze stood at the door of Room 1037, waiting for someone. He’d just turned 30 this year and had served as a soldier in the Asian League for five years. After retiring from the army, he joined Pei Shu’s security company. He has worked for him since then and has been divorced once. His family was in a small town on the edge of the war zone. Since the Asian League and the Mongolian Independent State opened fire, he had never heard any news from his family. It was not until the war zone was cleared at the beginning of the year that he finally reunited with his mother and young son.
Room 1037 was at the end of the corridor. Cui Chengze looked at the people walking by in the corridor. They all entered their respective rooms, none of them even went close to 1037.
At 3:07 in the afternoon, a bearded Alpha man in overalls walked towards Cui Chengze. Cui Chengze had only met him this afternoon. The Alpha had a slightly similar figure to Cui Chengze, but was slightly taller and larger than him. His footsteps never faltered until he stopped in front of the door of room 1037.
“Sorry for the wait,” the man said as he took out the room card, swiped it across the magnetic sensor port, and the door of the room opened. The man walked in first. Cui Chengze took the luggage and walked in after him.
The man turned on the lights in the room first. Although the room in the inner cabin had decorative curtains, it did not have real windows. The blinding light shone from the ceiling, adding a little more coldness to the already depressing room.
Cui Chengze closed the door behind his back and stammered, “Major Chen.”
Chen Boqiao turned around, stretched out his hand, and shook hands with Cui Chengze firmly. “Hello.”
“Hello.” Cui Chengze had seen Chen Boqiao many times in the newspapers, but this was the first time he was seeing him in person.
Chen Boqiao was in his disguise and wore some dirty clothes buttoned all the way to the top. His eyes were calm, but he gave people an inexplicable sense of oppression. Cui Chengze retracted his hand somewhat nervously and told Chen Boqiao, “Colonel, Mr. Pei said to contact him after arriving.”
Chen Boqiao nodded. “Okay.” Cui Chengze dialed Pei Shu using an encrypted phone and stuck a small projector to the door of the cabinet, which projected the image of Pei Shu on the white wall.
Cui Chengze used to be Pei Shu’s mother’s bodyguard. After Pei Shu contacted him a few months ago, he was transferred to an inconspicuous administrative position in the conglomerate’s subsidiary, waiting for the right time to cooperate in the plan.
A week ago, Pei Shu told him part of the plan, brought him to the TIS, and gave him a new identity. Compared to the others, he did not have much to do. He only needed to exchange identities with Chen Boqiao, live with a roommate, and arrive in North America with Shen Yufei’s passport.
“Aboard the ship already?” Pei Shu sat at the slightly messy desk, raised his head, and said, “After the ship leaves the port, Zhao Kun will obtain your passport and cabin information. We expect the ship to enter Asian League waters in the early morning, four days later.”
Cui Chengze glanced at Chen Boqiao, Chen Boqiao’s expression did not change, he just nodded lightly.
“Also,” Pei Shu pushed his glasses, flipped through a pile of documents, fished one out and informed Chen Boqiao, “we’ve discussed the concerns you raised. The President did not want to make a statement. He’ll need to quickly move the ship away from the Asian League waters. As for the safety of other people on the ship, it should not be affected.
“——Of course, this is all on the condition that the personnel concerned stay in their room properly and do not run around in the middle of the night.”
“I know.” Chen Boqiao said.
Cui Chengze vaguely felt that both of them had some secret meaning and the atmosphere was a bit weird, but he couldn’t tell where the strangeness was coming from.
Pei Shu then suddenly narrowed his eyes, carefully looked at Chen Boqiao’s outfit, and slowly said, “He is pretty good at this.” Then he said to Cui Chengze, “Chengze, get Zhang Jue to Boqiao’s room to prepare his disguise in three days.”
Cui Chengze glanced at Chen Boqiao, and Chen Boqiao expressionlessly told off Pei Shu, saying, “Don’t try to probe me about this when we are talking about serious things.”
Pei Shu was stunned momentarily, then he laughed sheepishly and explained, “I’m just asking.”
“You’ll both be more comfortable if you live separately,” Pei Shu said again. “I’ve seen the blueprints of the ship. The cabin is so small. Why would you squeeze in with him?”
Pei Shu’s voice became lower and lower, as if he didn’t want to continue this topic anymore. He quickly and abruptly changed the topic and said, “By the way, about the differentiation agent you asked me to find, most of the ones I could find on the market are fake, and I couldn’t find any real ones.”
Chen Boqiao nodded, and Pei Shu persuaded him, “Stop worrying about this. I took a look and found out that this cruise ship is pretty good, with various entertainment activities. You haven’t taken a vacation for ten years. Zhuhe’s credit card limit is pretty high, so you can take a break these few days. There is still a tough battle to be fought.”
Cui Chengze was not clear about what was going to happen next. The only thing he’s sure about is that Chen Boqiao was completely safe.
Although Pei Shu was fairly relaxed at this point, it was still unknown whether the Zhao family’s authority could be shaken. They all knew that letting Chen Boqiao get arrested in Asian League waters was not a well-designed plan at all—it was just a wild gamble.
Chen Boqiao looked at Pei Shu non-committally and asked, “What kinds of entertainment are there?”
Pei Shu smiled. “Everything.”
Cui Chengze handed the entertainment flyer placed on the table to Chen Boqiao and said, “Colonel, it’s all on here.”
Chen Boqiao looked at the flyer for a while, put it down, and looked up to find that Pei Shu hadn’t hung up yet, so he said, “You’re still here?” Then he ended the call.
After Pei Shu’s projection disappeared, Chen Boqiao looked at Cui Chengze. He pushed the room card across the table towards Cui Chengze’s side. His index finger pressed the card gently.
“You can stay here for these few days, I’ll stay with him at 1013. I will come here the night before the operation.”
Cui Chengze gave the 1013 room key back to Chen Boqiao. He asked, “Then when you’re back in the Asian League, I’ll live in 1013?”
Chen Boqiao glanced at Cui Chengze and calmingly called him, “Chengze.”
Cui Chengze looked in his direction. Chen Boqiao was watching him. Chen Boqiao’s eyes were very bright and focused, giving people a very firm and reliable impression. Cui Chengze silently wondered whether it was Chen Boqiao’s temperament that gave the impression that he would always win that made the soldiers ambushing in the war zone willingly follow him to battle, listen to his commands, and build an unbreakable shield for the nation with their flesh and blood.
“When I get back, he might change to another room.” Chen Boqiao didn’t care about him being distracted. He said something that had nothing to do with the plan, “I’ve asked Pei Shu to raise the spending quota for you, and you will be transferred to the same floor as him. Please take care of him for the remaining ten days or so.”
Cui Chengze felt a little dazed at first and then reacted, Chen Boqiao was talking about the other person in Room 1013.
As if he could read minds, Chen Boqiao stopped and asked Cui Chengze, “Did Pei Shu mention him to you?”
“Not really.” Cui Chengze scratched his head and tried to search his memory. Pei Shu mentioned him in a nuanced and evasive tone, saying insignificant things. There was not much he could glean from those pieces.
“I see.” Chen Boqiao curled his lips slightly and said, “He is a citizen of the New Independent Republic. I hope that after he lands in North America, you can accompany him to the NIR until his family can take him.”
As he spoke, Chen Boqiao picked up the notepad on the table and gave a number to Cui Chengze. “If you can’t get to the same floor as him, just call him. Tell him I asked you to find him.” He paused for a while, and then gently informed Cui Chengze, “This person cannot take care of himself too well, so please be careful. If he stays in his room for the whole day, help him order a meal.”
It might just be him, but Cui Chengze felt that the man was more relaxed when facing him than when speaking to Pei Shu. It was as if he unintentionally revealed the discrete tenderness he was unwilling to show his close friends to a stranger of sorts.
Cui Chengze was curious about the person Chen Boqiao was talking about, so he looked down at the note written by Chen Boqiao. It was written with little hesitation, perhaps because he had a good memory or maybe because he has had this number memorised after many times of recall.
“After you memorise the number, dispose of the paper immediately.” Chen Boqiao said again, “Don’t leave anything related to you two in this room.”
Cui Chengze nodded in response.
“Oh right.” Chen Boqiao seemed to suddenly remember something, and turned back to say, “Don’t let him drink any alcohol.”
Cui Chengze nodded quickly and suddenly thought of the rumors about Colonel Chen hating cigarettes, so he asked, “What about smoking?”
Chen Boqiao paused before saying, “Let him do what he wants.”
When Chen Boqiao returned to the room, Zhang Jue had just tidied up the last item. Chen Boqiao leaned over and closed the empty suitcase, hoisted it up by the sides, and told Zhang Jue, “Help me pull the shelf out.”
Zhang Jue tried to pull open the shelf. The metal bar was tightly stuck on the wall. Chen Boqiao made it look easy just now, but when he tried it himself he realised it was difficult.
After a struggle, he unfolded the shelf completely. Chen Boqiao placed the luggage on it and closed the cabinet door. Now, the room was not as small as it seemed when they first entered.
The beds in the room were placed in parallel to each other, separated by a gap no wider than twenty centimeters. Zhang Jue turned and asked Chen Boqiao, “Which one do you want?”
Chen Boqiao looked at him for a while, then said, “You can pick first.”
Zhang Jue was in a dilemma, because he could not guess which one Chen Boqiao wanted. After thinking about it, he ended up asking Chen Boqiao for help, “Can you choose first?”
Chen Boqiao smiled. He looked at Zhang Jue and said, “You can’t even come to a decision on this kind of thing?” He pointed to the bed against the wall and said, “Then you take this one.” Zhang Jue nodded in relief.
It was still early, so he sat on his bed and turned on the TV. The bedding and mattress were very soft and didn’t have any weird smells on them.
The TV began to broadcast a lengthy boarding instruction, introducing the various facilities on the ship. Chen Boqiao sat on the other bed, but not far from Zhang Jue. He watched it with Zhang Jue for a while, then suddenly reached out his hand, took the remote control to lower the volume of the TV until it was almost inaudible, and put it beside his leg.
“Zhang Jue,” Chen Boqiao was not looking at Zhang Jue, his eyes wandering on the screen, and said slowly, “I’ve always wanted to ask you, what are you planning to do after getting the τ-differentiation agent.”
Zhang Jue shifted his eyes and looked at Chen Boqiao’s side profile. He was startled and thought about it for a moment. He told Chen Boqiao truthfully, “The medical team my father hired said that there had been other cases before where they separated the glands and removed one of them, but they needed the highest purity τ-differentiation agent for the process.”
Chen Boqiao was silent.
After a while, he asked Zhang Jue, “Is the operation dangerous?”
Zhang Jue has never really tried to do any research on whether it is dangerous or not. After all, he was not getting the surgery immediately. However, his parents were very enthusiastic and hopeful about finding the τ-differentiation agent, so he said with some uncertainty, “It’s probably not dangerous…”
“Probably?” Chen Boqiao turned his head and asked Zhang Jue calmly and objectively.
“The previous patient survived.” That’s what the medical team said.
Chen Boqiao stared at Zhang Jue for a long time. “After you get the differentiation agent, do another risk assessment.” He added, “If the operation is dangerous, it is better not to do it.”
“It’s been evaluated several times, and my parents hope I can get the surgery.” Zhang Jue told Chen Boqiao honestly. After he’d managed to find a suitable heat inhibitor for himself, Zhang Jue was no longer hellbent on improving his condition, but it was not just his choice that mattered.
“Why?” Chen Boqiao asked him again.
“Because—” Zhang Jue could not understand Chen Boqiao’s expression, so he hesitated before saying, “People with two glands have a lifespan, it’s hard for them to accept that.”
Chen Boqiao was still quiet, so Zhang Jue continued to explain, “The pheromones interfere with each other and will implicate health.”
He glanced at the TV screen. It was introducing the performance schedule of the small theater troupe on board for the next ten days. The poster switched from Hamlet to a ballet program. There was a faint sound of an announcement in the air, but he could not discern it no matter how hard he tried.
Zhang Jue didn’t want Chen Boqiao to feel like he was using his health condition to gain sympathy, so he said to Chen Boqiao, “You don’t have to pity me, I actually don’t care much about it.”
Before the schedule announcement was over, Chen Boqiao turned off the TV.
Before Zhang Jue could notice, Chen Boqiao had gotten closer. Chen Boqiao put his hand on his shoulder, and asked him to turn his face. Chen Boqiao gently brushed the glands on his neck with his fingertip. Zhang Jue felt itchy, and couldn’t help but raise his hand to press against Chen Boqiao’s chest in protest, but Chen Boqiao held his wrist.
Chen Boqiao’s breath lingered around Zhang Jue, and it felt slightly addictive. Zhang Jue felt that Chen Boqiao might still be sympathizing with him, because Chen Boqiao’s kisses became more delicate than before, and the scent of pine on his body softened. He kissed Zhang Jue for a long time. Zhang Jue knew he wanted to make love, but in the end they didn’t do it.
Chen Boqiao got up from Zhang Jue and went to the bathroom. Perhaps because he only washed his face, he came out soon. He handed the cruise ship’s entertainment pamphlet to Zhang Jue, telling him that it was almost time to eat, and asked Zhang Jue to pick a restaurant for their meal.