Translated by zellyfish of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
On December 29th, at three a.m. East 9th district time, a reporter from the Thai Independent State who was on vacation on the cruise took the risk of secretly recording the Asian League soldiers boarding the cruise ship in the early morning and arresting Chen Boqiao. The video was then uploaded to the internet, causing an uproar.
For the twelve days following the incident, this luxury cruise ship that had departed from southern Australia and was en route to North America became the center of attention for many.
In order to reassure the guests, the cruise company issued an apology statement. The president personally broadcasted an apology to the cruise ship, promising that the ship would continue on to North America and would not make any more detours. He also promised that customers would be compensated once they got to their destination.
After two or three days of panic, the guests at the center of the storm celebrated the new year on the ship. On the night of the celebration, Zhang Jue and Cui Chengze did not leave the suite.
At midnight, the sound of the countdown on the public deck rushed through the glass door of the balcony of the suite and directly into their ears. The crowd was ecstatic. At the beginning of the new year, there were fireworks.
The booming sound of fireworks exploding, and the colorful light of fireworks reflected on the floor and railing outside the floor to ceiling windows, heralded the end of the year and the beginning of the new year.
Cui Chengze and Zhang Jue spent almost two weeks in the same suite.
The TV in the living room was turned on around the clock, most of the time tuned in to the news channel. Cui Chengze suspected that it was the same for the TV in Zhang Jue’s room, because he could hear the same sound coming from the TV inside every time he passed by his room.
Zhang Jue lived a very disciplined lifestyle, waking up every morning at six to swim in the pool upstairs.
Every day, he would come back after breakfast and he would open the door of the suite at 8 o’clock sharp. This punctuality even made Cui Chengze, who had been in the army for countless years, feel that he was too harsh on himself.
Zhang Jue did not speak much, and he talked slowly. Although he looks a little cold on the outside, after a period of time it was easy to realize that Zhang Jue was only introverted, not arrogant.
When it was time for meals, Zhang Jue would sometimes go downstairs with Cui Chengze to find a restaurant to eat, or sometimes they would get room service. The rest of the time was spent in their own bedrooms or the living room, where he would be watching something on his laptop.
Zhang Jue did not contact the outside world much, but if there was a call for him, he would not make an effort to speak away from Cui Chengze.
He talked on the phone with a person named “Jiaxi” every day. Under Jiaxi’s questioning, he dutifully reported his everyday life. A few times he would smile, but he didn’t mention Chen Boqiao at all.
According to Cui Chengze’s judgment, two or three of the calls Zhang Jue answered were from his parents, and judging by the way Zhang Jue answered the calls, Cui Chengze thought that his parents were furious.
Zhang Jue would sit cross-legged on the sofa listening patiently, then helplessly, and would reply with things like “I didn’t think that would happen” or “I’ll figure something out”.
To be honest, Cui Chengze felt that although Zhang Jue sounded sincere, he was just trying to placate his parents.
Zhang Jue’s life was too routine. Other than when Chen Boqiao left, he had barely shown any emotion and had always been calm. So much so, that before Cui Chengze walked out of the room to get a drink in the early morning one day and saw Zhang Jue asleep in the living room, he did not understand what Chen Boqiao meant by Zhang Jue being “careless” with himself.
That night, Zhang Jue had returned to his room quite early, but for some unknown reason came out again. He had not turned on the light, and he was covered with a thin blanket. He laid on the sofa with the volume of the TV turned down. He was playing a black-and-white song and dance movie from the Thai Independent State, which was almost near its end.
Cui Chengze got nearer and realised that Zhang Jue was asleep, quietly curled up on the sofa. He was tall, and his position on the sofa did not look comfortable, with his legs curled up, back hunched and his lips tightly pursed together, looking stubborn.
The TV screen was the only light source in the living room. The cool-toned light shifted with the scenes in the movie, casting flickering light on Zhang Jue. His right hand hung from the sofa, while the back of his hand was against the floor, in a loose grasp.
The living room was cold, and his blanket was too thin. Worried that he might catch a cold, Cui Chengze turned on the light near the door and walked back to wake him up. “Mr Zhang.”
Zhang Jue opened his eyes but did not look completely awake with his eyes unfocused. Something fell from his palm onto the floor when his grip loosened.
Cui Chengze looked at it and saw a small plastic ziploc bag, containing a small metal object. Its shape was irregular and it looked broken, with cracks in it.
He stretched out his hand and wanted to pick it up for Zhang Jue, but Zhang Jue was faster, quickly picking up the bag and then sitting up.
The movie ended, the screen went black, and the credits started rolling.
“Mr Zhang,” Cui Chengze explained, “it’s cold outside.”
Zhang Jue sat absent-mindedly for a while, then nodded. He told Cui Chengze that the TV in his room was broken, so he’d come out. He bid goodnight to Cui Chengze, lifted the blanket on his lap, and walked slowly back to the room.
In the next dozen days of the cruise’s journey, there was plenty of scandalous news about Asian League president Zhao Kun exposed on land.
There was photo and video evidence of his meeting with the judge that gave Chen Boqiao the death sentence before the court meeting, and there was an unexplained large sum of money wire-transferred to a close companion of the judge. These things attracted the attention of the Anti-corruption Bureau, and the petitions for a retrial of Chen Boqiao were more prominent than ever.
On the day before arriving in North America, at ten a.m. Asian League time, the Congress passed the first ever presidential impeachment bill since the establishment of the Asian League with a high number of votes. Zhao Kun’s presidency was suspended, and he was subject to special investigation.
In the afternoon of the same day, the adjudication committee announced the removal of the chief judge of the Chen Boqiao case and that the case would be retried in 15 days.
On the day of the scheduled arrival, they could see the shore from the deck.
In recent days, the sea weather has not been very good, and it was overcast all the time, but on the last day, the sun came out, exposing some heat to the cold air.
Zhang Jue opened the door to the balcony and took in the view of the North American continent that was a distance away. Cui Chengze sat on the sofa and watched his back. Zhang Jue wore a windbreaker and stood unmoving in the wind, as if he would stay there until they were in the dock.
The phone rang at ten a.m. It was Pei Shu’s encrypted line. Cui Chengze’s heart skipped a beat when he saw the number. Before they’d boarded the cruise, Pei Shu had told him that he would not contact them unless there was a need to. When he picked up, Pei Shu’s voice was tired but determined.
He first asked Cui Chengze about the situation on the cruise ship, paused for a while, and then asked Cui Chengze, “Is Zhang Jue by your side?”
“Yes,” said Cui Chengze, looking up at Zhang Jue.Pei Shu told Cui Chengze to pass the phone.
When Cui Chengze called Zhang Jue, Zhang Jue turned his head and saw Cui Chengze’s movement with his mobile phone, he immediately walked into the room.
He tripped on the door frame of the balcony, and he reacted very quickly to push himself off the glass door before falling down. His eyes widened, he quickly pursed his lips, and looked up at Cui Chengze again.
“Do I need to take the phone?” he asked Cui Chengze. Cui Chengze nodded and Zhang Jue smiled.
Zhang Jue received the phone from Cui Chengze and placed it next to his ear. The person waited a few seconds before asking, “Zhang Jue?”
Zhang Jue paused. It was not Chen Boqiao on the other side. The person had a higher pitch of voice, and was more emotional than Chen Boqiao. “This is Pei Shu.”
Zhang Jue reacted to that for a bit, then said, “Oh, hello.”
“He’s gonna get out of prison soon,” Pei Shu said, “if everything goes according to plan.”
Zhang Jue took in what Pei Shu said, and suddenly it felt like there was fresh blood in his veins, and his body felt warm all over. However, Zhang Jue was not good at conversation, so he only said, “Is that so?”
“Yeah.” Pei Shu paused.
“I am calling you to tell you that even though he will be released from prison soon, he cannot contact you for the time being,” Pei Shu said quickly, smoothly, and straightforwardly. “The impeachment bill has just passed, and it is still far from over. Now he can’t do anything too carelessly.”
“Okay,” Zhang Jue said. “No problem.”
Pei Shu suddenly went quiet, and for some reason, his tone was kinder. He said, “I’m glad you can understand.”
After that, they had nothing more to say to each other.
The conversation stopped for more than ten seconds, then Pei Shu suggested, “That’s it then.”
They said goodbye to each other and hung up.