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Zhou Luoyang immediately flipped over and sat up. Du Jing turned to look at him, brows deeply furrowed. He was in deep thought.
“Du Jing?” Zhou Luoyang studied him suspiciously, wanting to confirm if he had kept his memories, or if…
“It’s me,” Du Jing said. “They discovered our trap and killed the body double.”
This was the confirmation that Zhou Luoyang needed. Fear welled up inside of him out of nowhere. Time had turned back again? Why had this happened?!
Zhou Luoyang wanted to ask, but Du Jing put up a hand, stopping him. He lay down on the bed, turned on his phone, and continued his work. Restless and ill at ease, he racked his brain, trying to recall what he’d been doing yesterday at this time.
The same things were happening all over again, and Zhou Luoyang was at a complete loss. He walked over to the window and opened the curtains, looking out at West Lake in order to check if this was all a dream. Then he sat back down on the bed.
“Du Jing!” Zhou Luoyang called out.
“Mm.” Du Jing stared watchfully at his phone and sent a processed voice message from “Wu Xingping” to the UT contact in order to win over his trust.
“How can you be so calm?!” Zhou Luoyang asked. “How?! What kind of supernatural event did we encounter, exactly?! This day has turned back to the beginning!”
“I’ll think about that question in a moment,” Du Jing answered coolly.
Ten minutes later:
“Quit pinching!” Du Jing said. “This isn’t a dream!”
“But I didn’t feel it…”
“You pinched my thigh.”
Zhou Luoyang: “……”
“Great,” Du Jing said to himself once he was finished sending the message. “This way, there’s enough time.”
Next, Du Jing began to piece together the location of last night’s destination from memory. At the same time, he searched up the building’s owner online.
Zhou Luoyang’s thoughts were in an utter jumble. “What on earth did we do? How did we trigger this thing again?”
“Don’t know,” Du Jing replied distractedly. He dug up all the information on that building and sent off screenshot after screenshot of it. At the same time, he began notifying the head office and calling the Hangzhou branch.
“Put me through to the body double. I need to remind him about something,” Du Jing said.
The other party did as instructed. From the sound of it, the body double was in a bar. Du Jing glanced at his watch. “You’re drinking at this time?”
“I always drink a little with my friends the night before I go out on an assignment. What’s going on?” the body double asked.
Du Jing’s gaze was fixed on the watch. After a short silence, he took it off and set it to the side. The body double asked, “Is it cancelled?”
“No,” Du Jing said. “I wanted to let you know that there’s a lane behind Jingci Temple. I’ll send you the location on a map. If you leave from Jingci Temple, you’ll need to use that lane tomorrow.”
“Wow, I didn’t know about this lane, and I’m a Hangzhou local,” the body double said. “Alright, thanks.”
“You’re welcome,” Du Jing replied. “I should be the one thanking you.”
Du Jing sent him a drawing of a map, then turned around on his swivel chair to face Zhou Luoyang. Zhou Luoyang’s brain still hadn’t recovered from its shutdown.
“It happened again.” Zhou Luoyang was still thinking aloud. “What caused this?”
“Think of the pros: the body double won’t die.”
“He doesn’t even need to go,” Zhou Luoyang said. “Don’t you already have the coordinates?”
“He does,” Du Jing said simply. “We need their recorded conversation as evidence that they’re connected to the murder case. Do you still remember where you got in their car?”
If Zhou Luoyang returned to Jingci Temple, he should be able to more or less remember, and he promptly nodded.
“But this time thing,” Zhou Luoyang asked, “what exactly caused it?”
“Last time it was in Wan City; this time it’s in Hangzhou, so we can eliminate the possibility of the storehouse being an influence. What exactly did we do?”
“We didn’t do anything at all,” Du Jing said. “Supernatural phenomenon. Spontaneous occurrence.”
“This is crazy! The same thing has happened to us twice already!”
“I wanted to get to the bottom of it last time. You were the one who stopped me.”
Initially, Zhou Luoyang had many questions, but he was suddenly stumped by Du Jing’s response.
“Well…well…” Zhou Luoyang said, “fine, I withdraw my opinion.”
Du Jing had taken care of everything, and now he sighed in relief. The body double was still alive, and Zhou Luoyang wasn’t in any danger. In a flash, the entire crisis had been turned around—it was practically a miracle.
“Sleep for a bit,” Du Jing said, snapping out of it. “I…I don’t feel very well.”
“What’s wrong?” Zhou Luoyang immediately redirected his attention, looking at Du Jing carefully.
“I might be having another episode,” Du Jing said quietly.
“A depressive episode?” Zhou Luoyang asked, worried. “So were you in a manic episode previously? You had it under very good control.”
Du Jing nodded with difficulty. The truth was, starting from the moment Zhou Luoyang had been taken away, he’d sensed that the stimulation from the external world had a far more serious impact on him than he’d thought. While he was in the car, he’d already begun to imagine Zhou Luoyang’s death.
If Zhou Luoyang was killed, he would never be able to forgive himself. It would be a tremendous shock.
“If anything happens to you,” Du Jing said, “I’ll have to die with you.”
Zhou Luoyang didn’t tell him about how he’d come face to face with the muzzle of a gun in that last second. “Nothing will happen to me! They separated me and the body double precisely because they didn’t want to kill me. The body double was thinking of ways to protect me the entire time. When I get back I’ll have to thank him properly.”
“The best way to thank him,” said Du Jing, “is to keep his identity hidden. Don’t go looking for him again after this assignment is over.”
Zhou Luoyang nodded. He had a point.
“Then what do we do about this issue?” Zhou Luoyang had already experienced a twenty-four-hour time reversal once, but why was it twenty-four hours instead of thirty-six or twelve? Why was it only him and Du Jing? It wasn’t quite right to say that the reversal only got triggered when his life was in danger, either.
“Sleep,” said Du Jing. “Waste brain cells on this issue after we return to Wan City.”
“My god.” Zhou Luoyang had nearly started to think of that last time reversal as just a figment of his imagination. He hadn’t expected for it to happen for real this time. It had really, truly happened while the two of them were wide awake.
The next day, behind Jingci Temple:
This time, Du Jing didn’t choose to watch the middle-aged man again. Instead, in the afternoon, he went directly to Jingci Temple. If everything proceeded smoothly, they would arrive there in the end again.
There were many tourists present. Zhou Luoyang took a look through the binoculars—the body double was ready.
“Even now,” Zhou Luoyang told Du Jing, “I’m getting the feeling that this is an illusion again. It makes me doubt whether all those events twenty-four hours ago really happened.”
“It’s real. Ever since the first time it happend, I’ve been fairly certain of it,” Du Jing said.
“Memories can deceive you,” Zhou Luoyang said. “The brain sometimes makes up places you’ve never been to. When you arrive at a familiar place or run into a familiar face, neurons in the brain generate specific currents that cause you to react accordingly.
“Just like when a child recognizes words. When they see a familiar word, increased activity in their brain cells will automatically cause them to experience bioelectrical stimulation that says, ‘I remember.’ The brain sometimes makes errors, which is the source of this type of feeling.”
“That’s deja vu. It’s different from what we’re experiencing,” Du Jing pointed out.
“Then how would you explain the Mandela effect? Collective deja vu?”
The Mandela effect referred to several large-scale memory errors throughout history, the most prototypical of which was the obituary of South Africa’s President Mandela.
“When I was working in Washington, D.C., we had a branch that specifically researched this,” Du Jing said.
Zhou Luoyang thought back to the places he’d passed through yesterday. As they walked away from Jingci Temple along the lane, he asked, “What was their conclusion?”
“It’s on the quantum level. Maybe it’s also the same reason we’ve gone back in time twice. Quantum waves will occasionally travel in the wrong direction in space-time. The research is still in the theoretical stage.”
Zhou Luoyang didn’t understand, but it was presumably some extremely technical theory. “If something doesn’t make sense, just explain it with quantum mechanics? Isn’t this classified information? You’re allowed to just share it with outsiders as you please?”
“Aren’t you the one asking? You’re not an outsider.”
Fine, Zhou Luoyang thought. He could sense that Du Jing wasn’t in a great mood today; he wasn’t very talkative. At least, he wasn’t like he was yesterday, occasionally tossing out a sarcastic joke. Maybe Du Jing was already feeling very unwell yet was still forcing himself to keep going.
“I need to sit for a moment,” Du Jing said. Without waiting for a response, he walked off to the side and sat down next to some flowers and shrubs. He propped up a hand in front of the bridge of his nose and didn’t say a word.
He had entered into a depressive episode. Zhou Luoyang knew very well that the best way to treat Du Jing while he was in this state was to not say anything and simply stay by his side, to keep quiet and still to avoid making him even more uncomfortable.
Zhou Luoyang bought a pack of tissues and sat down next to Du Jing. He didn’t rush him; they still had plenty of time.
“Cry if you want to cry,” Zhou Luoyang said. “You’ll feel better after your hormones have spontaneously readjusted.”
Du Jing shook his head and didn’t answer. In the past, Zhou Luoyang had taken part in exchanges with family members of patients with clinical depression, and he knew that these patients often experienced abrupt drops in mood. If they couldn’t find a vacant place, they would even start crying in the middle of the street.
But Du Jing had never cried in front of him before, even though Zhou Luoyang was always amply prepared for it.
One psychiatrist had proposed a cognitive “key therapy,” believing that when a patient was experiencing a depressive episode, they needed a “key,” or a crux. Once they found this crux, they could use it like a key to induce optimistic thinking, thus slowly altering their mental state.
Even three years ago, long after Du Jing had left, Zhou Luoyang would still habitually follow the research publications on bipolar disorder. He decided to give it a try and disturb Du Jing for a moment. Things couldn’t possibly get any worse, in any case.
“Look at this.”
Zhou Luoyang finally did something insolent. He plucked a flower from behind himself and held it up in front of Du Jing.
Du Jing stared at the flower in his hand.
Just then, Jingci’s bells started to ring.
At dusk, the ringing of Nanping’s evening bells followed one after another, drifting in the wind. In the afterglow of the setting sun, they seemed tangible, as if they were forming a protective boundary.
Du Jing took the flower and studied it as he turned it over and over. After handing it to him, Zhou Luoyang pretended not to pay attention to him anymore.
After the bells quieted down, Du Jing took several deep breaths, slowly recovering and adjusting his mood.
“Better now?” Zhou Luoyang asked.
Du Jing nodded and got up. Zhou Luoyang led the way again. He could tell that Du Jing was much better now.
Zhou Luoyang walked nearly a kilometer down the previous day’s route before arriving at one side of a secluded road. There, he spotted the SUV from yesterday.
“It’s that one.” Zhou Luoyang informed Du Jing.
Du Jing seemed very lethargic. Depressive episodes were a little more troublesome than manic episodes. At the longest, they lasted several months; at the shortest, they lasted several days, or even just half a day. But during depressive episodes, Du Jing was in a terrible mental state and it was hard for him to think or concentrate.
“I notified Zhuang Li,” said Du Jing. “Send him a picture of the car.” As he spoke, he handed his phone over to Zhou Luoyang. Zhou Luoyang knew that he was feeling very unwell at the moment, so he took care of everything for him.
“Does this happen often?” Zhou Luoyang asked. It was way too dangerous if Du Jing suddenly experienced a depressive episode during a typical day at work.
“This is the first time it’s happened,” Du Jing answered serenely. “In the past, it always happened at night, and I’d ask for time off work the next day.”
Zhou Luoyang messaged Zhuang Li. Far away from Du Jing, he caught sight of the driver sitting in the driver’s seat of the SUV. “It’s him, I still remember.”
“What’s the situation?” Du Jing sat down and watched Zhou Luoyang.
“He’s waiting for the man meeting up with Wu Xingping. Every once in a while, he gets off to smoke a cigarette,” Zhou Luoyang said, “but he doesn’t go far. What are you planning?”
Du Jing’s large hands fiddled with his phone, sending out a couple of messages. He’d already sent the location to the company yesterday, and now all that was left to do was to figure out how to obtain voice-recorded evidence, and then draw in the net that had been cast, all while keeping the body double safe.
“I have to follow them when they leave,” Du Jing said. “Zhuang Li still hasn’t arrived?”
“He’s at the Hangzhou branch office picking up a car right now. I’ll help you think of something.” Zhou Luoyang understood Du Jing’s plans.
In the dusk, a handful of hundred-yuan bills fluttered in the wind. A couple stuck themselves onto the glass window of the driver’s seat, while others were blown away.
The driver immediately got out and collected the bills on the hood of the car. Behind him, a child yelled, “Uncle! My money, my money!”
The driver quickly strode to the curb to pick up the child’s money.
“Give it back!” the child shouted.
At the same time, Zhou Luoyang stalked around the SUV, pulled open the driver’s door, and found the button to the trunk lid. Du Jing opened the trunk and ducked inside.
Zhou Luoyang shut the driver’s seat door and ran towards Du Jing, who was just about to close the trunk lid. Zhou Luoyang quickly ducked in behind him.
“Get out,” Du Jing ordered. “Go back to the hotel.”
“He’s coming back! Hurry!” Zhou Luoyang paid no attention to Du Jing’s words. At a time like this, he absolutely had to stay with him, otherwise he feared that his condition would worsen again once night fell.
Just as Zhou Luoyang pulled the lid closed, the driver finished collecting the money and headed back to the car. The child was still wailing outside, but left resentfully after a while. Zhou Luoyang and Du Jing were squeezed behind the seats in the very last row, where luggage would typically be stored in the seven-seater SUV. Now, there was no way for Du Jing to make Zhou Luoyang get out of the car.
At this point, the car’s alarm would go off if they opened the trunk. Du Jing had no alternative but to reach out and wrap his arm around Zhou Luoyang, and the two of them huddled together.
The driver was still looking in the direction that the child had left in, afraid that he would come back with a parent in tow to make him return the money. Fortunately, just then, the middle-aged man and the fake Wu Xingping ran over, gasping for breath.
“We caught the cops’ attention!” the middle-aged man said. “Leave, quick!”
The fake Wu Xingping looked panicked. The driver was just itching to leave; he floored the gas pedal and peeled away from the curb.
The car rocked and swayed. The middle-aged man pulled out a security wand and swept it over the fake Wu Xingping’s entire person. It was very uncomfortable in the boot of the car. Du Jing extended an arm for Zhou Luoyang to rest his head on. He had his other hand circled around Zhou Luoyang’s back and was using it to contact Zhuang Li. He looked at Zhou Luoyang helplessly.
Zhou Luoyang motioned for him to rest for a bit.
He nodded and closed his eyes. Zhou Luoyang was left to keep vigilant watch over every movement and development around them.
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Cat.