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Zhang Min took out a needle and passed it over the alcohol burner’s flame, then inserted it into the shoulder of another member.
“Thank you, Brother Min.” That member’s name was Wang Shu, someone who followed Zhang Min during training. After days of practicing how to hold a gun, he couldn’t lift his shoulder up, so Zhang Min had to come and give him a checkup.
As the captain of the squad, he also had to take responsibility for the health of his squad members, and because Zhang Min’s personality was sincere, the members were all very fond of him, as compared to Meng Feng whose eyes were fierce like that of a tiger’s all day, people were more than happy to be close to the famous sharpshooter captain.
Wang Shu lay belly down on the bed. Zhang Min took out yet another needle and gave him a shot.
“You’re welcome,” Zhang Min said. “Have you got a girlfriend yet?”
Wang Shu was only twenty years old, with a childish look about him, but with the arrogance of a ruffian. He laughed casually, “Brother Min, stop joking around. Where would there be time to get a girlfriend now?”
Zhang Min laughed and said, “Xie Fenghua is quite pretty. I heard that among our group of guys, there are a few who fancy her?”
Wang Shu’s face grew red. “Brother Wen likes Xie Fenghua. Brother Wen is the one who is the most handsome. How could we have a chance?”
Zhang Min, “Brother Wen? Wen Qiege?”
Wang Shu nodded his head. “Quite a lot of women like that kid, just that he’s so uptight.”
Zhang Min, “What about Brother Sen? No one good for him?”
“There is,” Wang Shu said. “Brother Sen’s wife had the surname Qiao. We used to call her Xiao Qiao in the past. She wouldn’t let us call her sister-in-law because it would feel distant.”
“What happened to Xiao Qiao afterwards?” Zhang Min asked casually.
Wang Shu, “There were too many people. They wouldn’t fit in the car. The women couldn’t be brought along. Sister Xiao Qiao set an example and was the first to get out of the car. Xiao Kui and the others came along by hiding under the canvas sheets… Aiyo! Brother Min, not so hard! Ouch!”
Zhang Min halted his movements, his voice serious. “He’s really… really…”
Zhang Min sighed heavily, and removed the needle. “Get some good sleep. There’s a mission next month. Don’t just think about women and jack off. I think you’ve done too much of that, that’s why you can’t lift your right arm.”
Wang Shu burst out into loud laughter. Zhang Min packed up his things and left.
October was drawing to a close. The temperatures went cold in an instant, and the northwest winds blew fiercely. It was good that there was enough electricity, but even with electricity, the refugees here couldn’t do anything with it.
The electricity could mostly only be used for lighting purposes. The excess was stored in the batteries. It was not possible for the television to receive signals. Liu Yan tried ways to set up the antennae and figure out how to fix it, but all the channels were a blur of static.
Not only the TV, even the broadcasting system was totally frozen. Not a single radio wave made a sound.
Every day, Jue Ming’s mission was to turn the radio channels left and right, like a crazy person. After turning left through all the radio channels, turn right again until the last channel. If Zhang Min didn’t go over to talk to him, he could sit by the radio and switch through the channels the whole day.
Liu Yan couldn’t help but be impressed. Those who learned management really were professionals and made the most of everything. Hu Jue had managed to give nearly everyone a use. The pastor and Xie Fenghua taught the children to read, the women were sewing and washing and decorating every room. In the morning, there was marksman training and physical training. In the afternoon, there was basketball, and then free time in the evening. From time to time, he would draft up speeches for Lin Musen, and every three to five days, Lin Musen would give a speech before dinner.
It was full of emotion, passion, reason, and it motivated the refugees.
In the first week of November, the first official mission began. To ensure results, Meng Feng and Zhang Min each led one team, each consisting of eighteen men,to head to the village twenty miles out to search for resources.
Hu Jue followed in the car. Lin Musen instructed him to supervise and to also help.
When Hu Jue got into the car, he sighed in awe at Liu Yan’s capability. Liu Yan modified everything that could be modified. He had used four small trucks and the front of the excavator, as well as half of the cargo container to make armoured vehicles for the transport of troops. They rolled along noisily to the northwest entrance of the village, crashing in with a cacophony of clanging.
“GOGOGO!” Meng Feng jumped off the car first. His second in command was that policeman Deng Changhe.
“Is the bet still on?” Zhang Min shouted. His second in command was the gangster who swore to kill Liu Yan, Wen Qiege.
“Yeah!” Meng Feng called back. “A pack of cigarettes! See who can kill more! Count the points when we finish!”
The deputy commander’s job was tedious and desperate. Lin Musen set the rule that if the chief commander was sacrificed, then the deputy would take over, and for Meng Feng and Zhang Min to die, the only possibility was to wait for them to die of old age.
Their ragtag team of soldiers had gone through almost three months of training before finally going on their first mission. Their goal was to enter this small village of less than five hectares and kill off all the zombies there, then bring back all the food that was still edible, no matter dead or alive.
“Will there be any live ones?” Jue Ming was sitting in the passenger seat, extremely curious.
Hu Jue glanced out of the car window. “Yes, like cows and goats, for example. Livestock can run out on their own to find grass.”
Liu Yan, “Hu Jue, did Lin Musen say anything before we left?”
Hu Jue, “He wants me to deal with any aftermath. If anyone gets infected, I take care of it on the spot. Jue Ming, do you want to drive?”
Half an hour after the small team left, that huge, armoured vehicle that Liu Yan personally handcrafted lifted its excavator shovel. With a rumble, it knocked over two houses, squashing the zombies inside the room along with the walls.
“Swoosh–” Jue Ming was holding onto the steering wheel and banging around aimlessly, making sound effects with each bang. This car was one of the greatest achievements in Liu Yan’s life. The copper and iron armour was invincible, and knocked over almost half of the southern part of the village.
“All right, all right. Give the steering wheel back,” Liu Yan laughed. “You almost crushed a cow… Look, there’s a dog over there barking at you.”
Jue Ming stopped the car and asked, “Can we raise it?”
Liu Yan frowned, and muttered, “Best not to… or give it to Lin Musen to raise for a while. I’m worried that animals can carry the virus, it’ll be bad if we get infected. Hu Jue, hopefully no one gets infected this time, or you’ll have to shoot again.”
“I won’t kill again,” Hu Jue said. “That night, when I opened fire… I… When I closed my eyes at night, I could see that person’s face. I didn’t even know what his name was… I didn’t think much of it at the time, but after I took the shot, I regretted it… That person was lying on the floor, slowly bleeding out, I… My head was filled with that image the whole night.”
Liu Yan watched him quietly.
“His name was Yang Qinghe,” Liu Yan finally said.
Hu Jue nodded. “I’ll remember that time. Aren’t you afraid… that Meng Feng and the others will become like this?”
Liu Yan, “You’re afraid that once you start and kill one, you’ll kill the next person, and go on and on, right? You fear that you’ll become indifferent to the blood and lives of a few, a dozen, hundreds. When Lin Musen made me kill the first comrade who was infected, I was also thinking the same thing, but I didn’t kill him in the end. Neither did Meng Feng. Whether it’s killing one person or multiple people, all it takes is a pull of the trigger. The most important thing is if you’re still human after that. It’s probably not that much different from zombies who eat humans for the sake of survival.”
Hu Jue nodded, and sighed. “Everyone is born equal. No one gets to decide whether another should live or die. Liu Yan, if I get infected here, would you shoot me?”
“Of course not. But you have no relatives here. Who are you going to say goodbye to?” Liu Yan answered.
Hu Jue thought about it. “That’s true. Give me some food, and I’ll go my own way.”
The wind was cold and biting, cutting like blades as it blew over. In the car, Liu Yan and Jue Ming were tired of playing. Liu Yan was bundled up in a jacket, his hat covering his face as he napped. Jue Ming opened a small book, learning to keep a diary like Liu Yan.
No one knew how much time passed. Snow was slowly falling outside. A layer of frost was freezing onto the troop’s vehicle. Outside the car, Meng Feng tapped on the window. Jue Ming looked out in a daze, and opened the window, then shook Liu Yan awake.
“Dear, I can’t believe you’re actually using a Korean product. I don’t want to play with you anymore, dear. Gonna ignore you.” Meng Feng poked Jue Ming’s head. Jue Ming immediately put his Korean cartoon diary away.
Liu Yan chimed in sympathetically, “Ignoring people isn’t good. As long as his diary doesn’t have any weird pictures inside, give him a chance to turn over a new leaf.”
Jue Ming, “Don’t bully me! My dad will beat you up!”
As soon as he said that, Zhang Min returned. An angered voice reached their ears. The three of them were silent as they looked outside.
“What are you doing?!” Zhang Min roared. “Who said you could shoot?!”
Hu Jue immediately frowned and pushed the door open to get out, but Liu Yan stopped him.
Wen Qiege was holding a gun, standing to one side as he got reprimanded. Behind him were two squad members, their bodies covered in injuries, but no one collapsed, and no one died. However, the wounds on their arms and neck clearly showed their fate.
The wounded hadn't died, but everyone knew They wouldn’t survive.
Wen Qiege’s face was calm. Zhang Min roared. “Did I give you permission to shoot?! Didn’t I tell you before we left?! If our teammate is injured, we bring him back here for inspection! Who allowed you to shoot him then and there! He might not have been injured by a zombie!”
The more Zhang Min went on, the angrier he got. He beat Wen Qiege with the butt of his gun. Wen Qiege fell onto the snow-covered floor.
Zhang Min switched to his AK, pointing it towards Wen Qiege. Meng Feng immediately cut in, “Zhang Min.”
Zhang Min was like an angered wild cheetah. Only when Meng Feng placed a hand on the barrel of the gun did Zhang Min take a breath and lower his rifle. He looked at Liu Yan, his eyes pleading.
“Three were injured. I didn’t even make sense of the situation yet before this bastard shot dead one of them then and there,” Zhang Min said.
Zhang Min went over to inspect the other two people and put away the flashlight in his hand. “You’re fine.”
It was as if that person had been reborn, crying loudly as he stood there.
“What about me?” the other person asked. “Instructor Zhang, have I been infected?”
“You’ve been bitten, it’s not clear yet…”
“Let me go back and say goodbye to my wife. Can I? Please,” the other person said.
Zhang Min, “Of course… Get in the car.”
“The area has been searched?” Hu Jue asked.
“It’s been searched. There are cows, and pigs that escaped their pen. There’s grain, flour, dried noodles. There’s also quite a lot of rice in the granary,” Meng Feng replied. “Those of you who are injured, make sure not to come in contact with the livestock. How about this, Zhang Min, you take your men and the car to transport the first batch of food supplies back. Send the wounded back as well. Drive the car back later to transport the rest back. Hu Jue, any opinions?”
Hu Jue, “No. Send him to the basketball court to wait. I’ll go back and deal with it.”
Zhang Min nodded numbly and said tiredly, “Get in the car.”
Zhang Min drove out of the village. Meng Feng and Liu Yan, along with the remaining squad members, made a fire. They tied Wen Qiege up and put him in a corner.
The snow started to get heavier and heavier. The armoured vehicles were driven out of the village and parked in the wilderness. The snow gently covered the plateau in a blanket. Between the earth and the sky was a sheet of white for as far as the eye could see.
Zhang Min didn’t carry out Lin Musen’s orders, and took the two injured members back to the base, letting the infected person wait in the basketball court.
It was already eleven p.m. in the night. Hu Jue went to report to Lin Musen, and Liu Yan started his maintenance of the equipment.
In the middle of the night, the snow outside rustled. Occasionally, there would be sounds of crying. Meng Feng’s eyes were wide open, and he was suddenly thinking about something.
He lowered his head to look at Liu Yan who was in his arms, and places kisses on his face.
“What,” Liu Yan said. “How did Liu Yan deal with it?”
Meng Feng, “He let the injured people stay in the school building behind the basketball court.”
Liu Yan nodded. Meng Feng continued, “Zhang Min was demoted. Wang Shu is the captain now. Do you know what I’m thinking?”
“You’re thinking,” Liu Yan replied. “About what I would do if you were the infected one, right?”
Meng Feng hummed in agreement. “You always like to think about these what-ifs,” Liu Yan said.
Meng Feng, “Actually, I kind of want to see you in a pitiful way, wanting to take my zombified hand that’s reaching its claws in from the outside.”
Liu Yan, “If that day comes, you don’t have to be so polite. Go ahead and scratch me, then we can be locked up together.”
“I won’t.” Meng Feng taunted. “I wouldn’t do that to you. I would say you have to continue to live on behalf of me, darling. Don’t they always say that on TV?”
Liu Yan, “...”
Meng Feng sighed. “Liu Yan, you have to live well, fall in love with other people, live out your life…”
Liu Yan, “Enough!”
Meng Feng patted Liu Yan, and was pushed away. Meng Feng noticed that Liu Yan really was angry and didn’t dare to continue the joke. He peeked at Liu Yan’s face.
There was something off about Liu Yan’s expression, and Meng Feng immediately started to panic and coax him. Liu Yan didn’t make a single sound. After a few tries of trying to coax him, Meng Feng was so sleepy that he couldn’t take it anymore, and started to snore.
Liu Yan, “...”
The next day, when Liu Yan went downstairs, Wu Weiguang was giving a sermon to a man, an old person and a woman.
Liu Yan got his breakfast and sat in the canteen, opposite Jue Ming, as he ate.
“Pushing your food around like that isn’t a good habit,” Liu Yan said. “Jue Ming, why does it look like you have some kind of grudge with Auntie Yu? The food doesn’t taste good?”
“I hate eating potatoes. I’m going to puke. Don’t you think the taste of potatoes cooked in porridge is really weird?”
Wu Weiguang’s voice drifted over to them, “In a few decades, you will meet in the kingdom of the heavenly father, do not despair…”
After Auntie Yu finished giving out all the meals and heard about what happened last night, she let out a long sigh, wiped her hands on her apron and sat at another table. She turned towards a young person and asked, “Is your brother better now?”
That young person’s eyes were red. “My brother’s injuries are quite severe. It scared me to death. He was by my side the whole time until we got here, now it’s just me. I really don’t know what to do…”
“Live.” Auntie Yu’s words were serious. “Young one, when I was younger, my grandfather died of sickness. I had no sons or daughters, no one to miss. My nieces and nephews and sisters all lived far away. It wasn’t easy to find a job cooking in kitchens and make a living. According to you, shouldn’t I have died a long time ago?”
“Living is worthwhile.” Auntie Yu gently patted the young person’s hair. “Live for yourself. Your brother would also think like that. Go and talk to him. Come, I’ll give you two roasted potatoes. They’re still piping hot.”
“Auntie Yu is the one who sounds like a missionary,” Liu Yan mumbled.
“Mm. She can swap with the uncle…” Jue Ming replied.
Liu Yan was silent for a long time that morning, and he thought about quite a lot of things. He suspected that there was something inside.
“Stop!” Liu Yan called to a fat boy who was running quickly down the corridor. “You’re part of the Scaredy-shroom squad, right? I have a task for you.”
The fat boy was panting as he backpedalled and asked, “Crazy Dave, what’s up? Do you want us to test your new inventions? This is too inhumane! I don’t want to step on a rake.”
Liu Yan recognised the badge on his shoulder and gestured for him to come over. “It’s nothing. Take this note and give it to Captain Jue Ming,” he said quietly.
After a moment, a girl in junior high school came over and said gently, “Wen Qiege is at the field in the back. He’s there after he ate breakfast.”
Liu Yan was silent for a moment, then went downstairs and walked through the snow towards the field. Beyond the fence that kept patients in one place, Wen Qiege was standing there quietly, not uttering a word.
Liu Yan looked at him for a while, then went back into the school.
It was snowing heavily, so training was postponed for the day, and everyone had nothing to do. Wu Weiguang and Xie Fenghua sat shoulder to shoulder on the steps of a staircase.
“Pastor,” Liu Yan said. “I need you to help me with something. It’s very important.”
Wu Weiguang got up. Liu Yan exchanged a few words with him, and Wu Weiguang’s expression changed.
“This…” Wu Weiguang took a deep breath and asked, “Are you sure this is all real?”
Liu Yan looked Wu Weiguang in the eyes and said, “Are you willing to go?”
Wu Weiguang was silent for a moment, then he left the school building and headed towards the field.
Liu Yan sat quietly down next to Xie Fenghua.
Xie Fenghua, “What happened? Why was Zhang Min angry yesterday?”
Liu Yan pursed his lips and nodded, then said, “He is the reason for all of this.”
Xie Fenghua, “Brother Wen?”
Liu Yan nodded again. “Do you know what he used to do?”
Xie Fenghua thought about it for awhile, then said, “Wang Hui told me before. Brother Wen didn’t do very well in school.... And he dropped out. He was just a kid. His high school teachers didn’t really like him, and always tormented him… It caused him to have very bad results, until he finally skipped classes and hung around Wang Hui. His humanities isn’t that bad, actually.”
Liu Yan, “Mm, he’s quite a boring person. People who don’t like to talk usually do pretty good in languages . They have a lot of time to… think about things like literature and philosophy.”
Xie Fenghua, “It’s a pity about his teachers… They obviously didn’t like the essays he wrote, but he never did anything bad. Sometimes we’ll talk about language, history and art, sometimes about Wang Hui’s previous life. Liu Yan, he probably… feels very guilty. People like that can be saved.”
Liu Yan, “I think he can be saved too. I plan to use Wen Qiege as a breakthrough, to find some way to separate from Lin Musen… He doesn’t understand that our greatest enemy right now are the zombies, and not one another. Meng Feng and Zhang Min went on a patrol, I don’t know how long before they’re back. Let’s wait for them to come back before we prepare to make our move.”
Xie Fenghua, “How are we going to separate?”
Liu Yan, “Wait for Meng Feng and Zhang Min to come back, we’ll bring our own. The village over there can be inhabited.”
Xie Fenghua, “Will it cause violence? There are quite a few people here who are loyal to him… Especially his followers, they’re loyal to death. It’s a bit risky. What if someone gets taken hostage?”
Liu Yan sighed. “Before, we tried our best to avoid conflict with him because of that. You can’t push all of this responsibility onto my shoulders. Did no one else ever think of anything?”
Xie Fenghua shook her head. “Sorry, that’s embarrassing. I’ve never dealt with people from the underworld before.”
As she thought of the beginning of the bloodshed, not knowing how many people would have to die, she couldn’t help but shudder. “You can’t possibly kill everyone who follows him…”
Liu Yan, “This is a real headache. I don’t dare to trust Hu Jue completely, and I don’t dare to discuss this with him. If things take a turn for the worse, and we have to fight it out with Lin Musen, if he loses and dies, and the dozens of his followers are left behind, they won’t show it, but they’ll harbour the hate in their hearts. What if they kill others to take revenge? Should we massacre them all in one go? Gather… Gather them all together and shoot them one by one?”
Xie Fenghua pursed her lips. This was a very difficult situation.
“Our small ragtag team has formed several levels of hierarchy now,” Xie Fenghua said. “At the top of the pyramid is Lin Musen in the centre of it, along with his followers. Other than training, they basically don’t need to do any tasks, and they don’t need to face much danger. They only have to sit around and eat.”
Liu Yan nodded and replied, “Once Lin Musen loses his position as a leader, they’ll have to work just like anyone else, their privileged positions are gone, and they’ll carry a grudge. You can’t use guns to force them to work, and you have no way to persuade them. This kind of grudge that’s harboured in their hearts will come out sooner or later. Do we murder them? Lock all of them up in a room, everyone else takes up a gun and shoots them from the windows? I can’t do that kind of thing… Exile them? If one of them wants revenge, they’ll definitely come back and cause trouble.”
Xie Fenghua fell silent again, then said, “It’s certainly very difficult. The second level is people like you who do the work. There’s nothing else to say about it. The third level is people like me, who can only do our best to help.”
Liu Yan, “If anything, we need something to let Lin Musen be at ease, and the others don’t need to be hurt.”
“Sow dissension,” Xie Fenghua said softly. “Let them fight amongst themselves and Lin Musen won’t have time to deal with anything else. Hu Jue might have a plan, but you have to make sure that he won’t sell us out. I’ll also go and talk to Brother Wen later. He’s not a bad person.”
Liu Yan nodded, and started to think about the possible situations that could happen after the conflict began.
Xie Fenghua glanced upwards. “Brother Wen is leaving with the pastor.”
Liu Yan immediately headed towards the field. Wu Weiguang had the bible open before him, his hand on Wen Qiege’s head, muttering something quietly. Wen Qiege’s eyes were rimmed with red, his shoulders heaving uncontrollably as though he was crying.
“The power of religious brainwashing is quite strong indeed,” Liu Yan commented. Xie Fenghua and he stopped in the corridor.
Xie Fenghua laughed a little bit. “Philosophy is based on “thinking”, while religion is based on “faith”. When your “thinking” becomes confused, humans will turn to faith. In essence, they’re all actually talking about the problem of life and death.”
Liu Yan, “But for someone like Wen Qiege, do you think he’ll be brainwashed by the pastor?”
Xie Fenghua smiled. “Not necessarily. Everyone has their own philosophy of thinking. You saw him standing in the snow the whole day, wasn’t he just “thinking”?”
“For people who are guilty, people who are scared, people who are in pain, for people who cannot rely on “thinking” to save them, religion becomes an antidote.”
“But for those who are determined and calm-minded, they’ll never be affected by religion.”
Liu Yan laughed. “Actually, I do believe. The god in my heart is someone else, and he’s maybe even stronger than the Saviour himself.”
Xie Fenghua, “What about Mr. Hu? Has he broken yet?”
Liu Yan, “I think he’s almost at the breaking point… As a deputy or something. Whoever has to do that is the unlucky one.”
In the distance, Wen Qiege lifted his head, his eyes red as he looked at Liu Yan.
Wu Weiguang, “The dead have already departed, Mr. Wen. You have repented, and the Lord will forgive you. From now on, the blood of Jesus flows through you and drives out the devil in your heart.”
Liu Yan walked over to them. The pastor closed his bible and said, “Mr. Liu let me come here, and here we ask of you, in the face of evil and bewitchment, to bravely take back your soul.”
Xie Fenghua, “Brother Wen.”
Liu Yan, “Brother Wen, you’re not a bad person.”
Wen Qiege closed his eyes, and nodded.
“Thank you.” Wen Qiege’s voice was low and raspy.
Liu Yan, “Now please tell me, before we headed out, what did Lin Musen say to you? What else was there?”
Wen Qiege looked at Liu Yan, his lip trembling slightly.
Liu Yan, “Did Lin Musen tell you to kill them? You get what I mean, Brother Wen.”
Wen Qiege stood there for a long time before he said, “No, I did it myself.”
Liu Yan nodded. He didn’t receive the answer that he wanted, but he could see that Wen Qiege was telling the truth.
Xie Fenghua, “Brother Wen, why did you do it?”
Wen Qiege, “I… don’t know. That day when Hu Jue opened fire, he praised Hu Jue, saying “Well done. In these circumstances, we need someone of your talent.” and I wanted to… be the leader and give myself a higher position. I was really… confused. Liu Yan, you… you…”
Wen Qiege’s voice was trembling.
Liu Yan looked at him with an expectant gaze.
After a silence that seemed to last for an eternity, Wen Qiege said, “You should kill me.”
Liu Yan, “I’m not qualified to judge you, Brother Wen. You’ve already judged yourself, but please live on. You have other matters to take care of.”
“What are you all doing?” A voice in the distance rang out.
The three of them immediately silenced themselves.
Hu Jue was standing in the aisle, looking at them before saying, “Liu Yan, Brother Sen has something he wants to discuss with you.”
“Keep this a secret for now,” Liu Yan said, and turned around to run up to the second floor.
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Cael.