tofu: wherein we witness Chen Sha rise to supreme levels of assholery…prepare yourselves
“My goal is to rise to the 3A-level of physical ability!”
“Do you know how many 3A individuals there in the entirety of Odin?”
“Two: His Excellency the Governor and Commander Chen Sha.”
The fired-up Luo Lan was suddenly stunned silent.
“3A and A are technically only separated by two levels, but it becomes exponentially harder to ascend each level,” Feng Lin patiently explained. “If you say those of the A-level are the best of the human race, then those of the 3A-level would be the absolute best of the best.”
Had Chen Sha been dicking her? He was one of the only two 3A-level individuals in existence, yet he’d actually told her to rise to level 3A!
Luo Lan no longer cared about the consequences. I’m going to chop him to pieces!
Feng Lin took in Luo Lan’s furiously changing expressions and encouragingly said, “Raising your ability level is an arduous process. Let’s take things slow: try your best to rise to D-level first.”
“Alright.” Luo Lan turned off the video call. She absently walked out of the room.
Chen Sha was speaking with Zi Yan in the kitchen.
Luo Lan silently glared at Chen Sha, her eyes like knives. Chen Sha suddenly turned his head to look at her. Luo Lan immediately pasted on a subservient smile.
Chen Sha furrowed his brow and turned back to face Zi Yan. He sounded disgruntled as he asked Zi Yan, “Alikarta’s orphanage is celebrating their six hundredth anniversary? Why do I have to go?”
Zi Yan waved at Luo Lan, beckoning for her to come over. “It was decided by vote. Our haphazard governor is on a primitive planet dealing with business and won’t be able to return in time. Naturally, you two are the best option left to represent the federation at this celebration.”
Luo Lan slid behind Chen Sha as soon as she heard she was involved as well. What kind of prestigious orphanage was this to request the Governor to attend? Luo Lan surreptitiously searched it up.
Alikarta’s orphanage was established amidst the conflict of war for the orphans of fallen soldiers, its origins extending farther back than even Odin’s. However, its prestige wasn’t born from its long history, but the fact that it’d produced an incredible figure—Odin’s first governor, You Bei Chen.
You Bei Chen had been an abandoned child who never knew his parents, and he grew up in the orphanage. When he was twenty, he joined the army, and through his accomplishments rose from the lowest military rank to the position of Governor of the center Odin region. He’d been sixty-eight when he’d ascended the position.
At the time, the galaxy had still been in chaos. Aerdes had joined with the greatest galactic nations to form a powerful military alliance, preparing to invade Alikarta and crush the mutant resistance for good. Meanwhile, the mutants continued to govern themselves, refusing to kneel. Although the central region was the first to rebel against Aerdes, due to its limited resources, the region couldn’t compare to the strength of the other seven groups. Each of the seven groups considered themselves to be supreme and constantly were at each other’s throats.
The young You Bei Chen’s request to form into a federation and unite against their mutual enemies was met with ridicule from the seven regions.
Yet this incredible figure managed to turn the subject of ridicule into miraculous reality.
After a struggle, the seven eventually accepted the positions of dukes, joining with the central region to form a united nation. You Bei Chen became the federation’s first Governor. That year, he’d been one hundred and twenty years old.
Given the average human lifespan of three hundred years, he’d only just entered the prime of life.
In the next hundred years, You Bei Chen built Odin into the one of the galaxy’s great military nations. He had no wife or children—he devoted his entire life to Odin’s prosperity. Once Odin’s position in the galaxy was stable, he retired, allowing the second Governor to ascend. That year, he’d been two hundred and sixty years old.
Two years later, he died of disease.
Luo Lan calculated the numbers in her brain. It’d already been three hundred years since his era. Odin was already on its fourth Governor, yet You Bei Chen’s influence was still undeniably present—case in point being this celebration that warranted the Governor’s appearance.
“I need to go prepare so that everything goes smoothly,” Zi Yan cheerfully said. “If you have any requests, please let me know. The scenery over there is pretty good, it’d be a perfect getaway for you two to get some private time to grow even closer.”
Chen Sha stared at Zi Yan.
“I didn’t say anything just now.” With a shrug of his shoulders, Zi Yan turned to leave. He turned his head back one last time, saying in a serious tone: “Our little friends often listen to fairytales of the hero and princess living happily ever after. I’m imploring you two to act a bit; don’t give those children a bad impression of romance. I fear if that ends up being the case, the federation’s marriage rate would drop.”
Luo Lan only dared think it, but Chen Sha directly said it aloud.
Zi Yan waved and got lost.
Chen Sha ponderingly looked at Luo Lan, and she hurried to say, “I’ll make sure to prepare! As for the act, I think…maybe you could try out a few love simulation games. I have a few recommendations I could make for someone who’s never experienced love before—”
Chen Sha turned and left.
“No need to thank me!” Luo Lan laughingly called. She made a face at his retreating back.
The orphanage was built on a beautiful mountain slope surrounded by streams.
The celebration was held on a stretch of grass. In accordance with Chen Sha’s request, there were no media or reporters present.
The old head of the orphanage spoke at length about the history of the orphanage and formally thanked the government for its continued support. Chen Sha, representing the federation, gave a short speech, encouraging the children to grow to be valued citizens of the nation. The children looked up at him with their little faces, solemnly listening.
Luo Lan thought that the scene looked like that of a gentle commander lecturing his miniature soldiers. Both parties looked as natural and solemn as could be. The scene looked stranger and stranger the more she looked at it.
If Chen Sha ever had his own child, would he militaristically lecture them in the same way? Wouldn’t that produce a stiff and serious, miniature Chen Sha? One big ice mountain, one small ice mountain—the poor mother would never need to turn on the air conditioning.
Luo Lan couldn’t hold in her smile as she envisioned this strange image.
Chen Sha had just finished speaking and turned his head, catching sight of Luo Lan’s smiling face in a sea of serious ones. He inwardly started in surprise. She truly was like the wild grass that grew even on rocks, always finding a way to thrive.
Luo Lan hesitantly walked up to the stage and formally bowed to her audience. She smiled at the children and said, “I’m so happy to meet you all. As it’s our first meeting, I’ve prepared some sweets that I hope you’ll enjoy. Please pick them up in single file—everyone gets one, so if you want another color or kind you can switch with your friends.”
Qing Yue and Qing Chu directed the androids to carry in the large bags of sweets and stand on the grass. Each android wore clothing in the same color as the sweets they carried, letting the children line up in front of the android with the candy they wanted.
The children looked at their options. There was flower-shaped candy for the girls and gun-shaped candy for the boys. At once the children grew lively, their solemn expressions disappearing. They looked excitedly towards the orphanage head.
The head smiled and said, “The celebration is over.” The children cheered and raced to line up and pick their sweets. Inside their gifts they found a painted egg, which they smashed to the ground to open. The space was soon filled with the lively sound of laughter and shouts.
Now this is what children should look like, Luo Lan thought in satisfaction. Her efforts hadn’t been in vain.
She had no salary and no face to ask Chen Sha for his money, so she could only rely on her efforts and consideration. Qing Yue, Qing Chu, and two androids had spent three sleepless nights helping her prepare.
The head took Luo Lan and Chen Sha on a tour of the orphanage.
Soldiers in uniform walked this way and that, making Luo Lan think that this place was just the army base in miniature.
The head explained, “Since this orphanage’s roots are in the military, it’s half militarized itself. The children feel connected to the soldiers and hence, many of them join the army once they mature. After they’ve established financial independence, they’ll donate to the orphanage. Generation after generation has created a deep-rooted tradition. Today is special, so many of the orphans who’ve grown up have returned to visit.”
Ah! Luo Lan finally understood.
A group of children were playing a fighting game on a sunlit slope. The children in the group were clearly different from the others: some had very long ears or noses, some had furry tails. One child’s skin was green.
Chen Sha’s gaze immediately sharpened. “Why didn’t I see those children at the celebration?” he asked, his tone dark.
The head hurried to explain, “Their immune systems are rather weak because of their unstable genes, so the doctor recommended that they avoid large crowds, and that their playtime be limited.”
Chen Sha thought for a moment before he said, “I’ve already approved for the army recruiters to come to the orphanage—make sure these children also get the chance to meet them.”
“But their bodies—”
“I’ll tell the army doctor to consult with their doctor beforehand to make sure everything’s conducted appropriately.”
The head’s face split into a smile. “That’s wonderful! Actually, those children were always very sad whenever they were unable to go to those sorts of events.”
Suddenly, one of the children let out a shout, signaling the others that they’d found the “enemy.”
Luo Lan was shocked to see that the “enemy” was Qian Xu. He raised his hands in surrender, and the children swarmed him in a rush, tackling him to the ground in a flurry of limbs.
Luo Lan, in terror of being seen, quickly shifted to hide behind Chen Sha. He turned his head to look at her in confusion. She grabbed his elbow, shoving her face into his shoulder.
“What are you doing?” Chen Sha’s body immediately stiffened, and he braced to push her off.
“What do you mean? I’m expressing my love, that’s what. If those little kids see you so indifferent towards love, you’ll surely be the biggest criminal in the federation!” Luo Lan clung like an eel to Chen Sha.
Chen Sha didn’t push her off, but his expression grew ugly.
The head looked at this strange husband and wife and carefully ventured, “Shall we continue the tour?”
Luo Lan made sure Qian Xu hadn’t seen her before she jumped away, putting a large distance between her and Chen Sha.
“Don’t want to express your love anymore?” Chen Sha asked, his voice icy.
“There’s no children here. Don’t tell me you want to set an example for the adults as well?” Luo Lan snippily replied.
Luo Lan remained uneasy for the rest of the tour, worried that they would bump into Qian Xu.
The tour dragged on, until the head finally finished. He asked Chen Sha if he could speak with him in private.
Chen Sha glanced at the time before he instructed Luo Lan: “Go look around for a bit and be back in fifteen minutes to leave.”
Luo Lan didn’t think it was safe anywhere, so she decided to wait in the women’s bathroom—the one place Qian Xu most certainly would not be at.
She was pacing to pass the time when a girl of about twelve walked in, crying. The girl stood in front of the mirror and looked at a rip in her dress, crying so hard she couldn’t breathe properly.
Luo Lan considerately asked, “Are you crying because of your dress?”
“Don’t cry, I’ll help you buy a new one.”
The girl sobbed and said, “It’s too late. I won’t be able to participate in the performance later.”
Luo Lan glanced at the candy gift bag on the sink and smiled. “Don’t give up! Let’s think of a solution.”
“A solution?” The girl looked confused.
Luo Lan glanced at the time before removing the egg from the gift bag and smashing it against the sink, revealing a toy stick.
“Are you going to use this?” The girl asked.
“M-hm, I learned about its many uses in a wilderness survival class. Can I use the gift bag?”
The girl nodded, helping Luo Lan pour out the remaining sweets. Luo Lan examined her dress, flicking out the stick’s blade.
“Let’s cut something out first.” Luo Lan quickly cut across the colorful material of the gift bag, cutting out a few butterflies and flowers. “Then we can use the end of stick. Do you know what it contains?”
“Velcro. During camping, if the tent rips, the Velcro can stick it back together again. It’ll last even under a heavy rain.”
“We can use it to stick the flowers and butterflies on the ripped parts of your dress…oh, looks like this bit is dirty, so let’s just stick a butterfly on it, too.”
The girl watched Luo Lan slowly mend her dress, her eyes widening with happiness.
Luo Lan looked at the time and found that there were only two minutes left until Chen Sha’s departure time. She hurriedly returned the stick to the girl: “I need to go! Remember, next time you cry, wipe your tears quickly and try to think of a solution.”
Amid the girl’s “thank yous,” as if she were running the 100-meter sprint, Luo Lan shot out of the restroom. She clearly remembered Chen Sha’s lesson last time at the ship dock. She ran like mad, bursting through the glass door, glimpsing Chen Sha’s ship.
“Wait for me!”
Yet the ship had already taken off, leaving with only a whistle in the air.
Luo Lan bent at the waist, panting from the exertion. She looked at the time—she hadn’t even been a minute late.
She bitterly smiled, imitating Chen Sha under her breath, “Princess, please remember that I won’t wait for you.”
Luo Lan felt her eyes begin to prickle. She’d been forced to recall that the man bound closest to her by law wouldn’t wait even a minute for her.
She calmed herself, beginning to ponder ways to get out of this predicament.
The orphanage was very far away from Sparta Palace, almost on the other side of the planet. She also didn’t have the face to ask An Da to send a ship to pick her up, so she had to think of another solution.
She searched up the public transportation system and found that there was a train station near the orphanage which had a route to Sparta Palace. Luo Lan pulled up a GPS and began to walk in the direction of the station.
Luo Lan took a seat in the empty station, looking up the route as she waited for the train.
Luo Lan’s neck prickled, as if someone was watching her. She raised her head and was shocked to see it was Qian Xu. She immediately stood up, startled.
Qian Xu walked over, jovially saying, “What a coincidence, why are you here?”
“I-I…I came to sightsee, I heard this place has beautiful scenery, right now I’m…” She suddenly realized that the time wasn’t right—it currently wasn’t even past noon. She hurried to say, “I just arrived on the last train and was looking for directions on the map.”
Qian Xu agreeably said, “The natural scenery really is quite beautiful here. There’s a lot of fun places to go to.”
Luo Lan feigned ignorance: “Did you also come to sightsee?”
“I actually grew up at an orphanage nearby. I came today because they were holding an event.”
Luo Lan had guessed so when she first saw him with the children, and his words only confirmed it. She felt a deep melancholy. “No wonder we became such fast friends. I also have no parents or close family.”
Qian Xu was silent for a moment before he said, “Reach out your hand.”
“What?” Luo Lan curiously reached out her hand.
Qian Xu placed a lucky egg on her palm. “This was part of the gift that the Commander’s wife made for the children. One child gave it to me, wishing me good luck. Now I’m sending that luck to you.”
Luo Lan clutched the egg, finding that it still held some of his body heat. Luo Lan felt a warm feeling spread from her palm. She’d never thought that the gift she’d sent would so quickly return to her hand.
The roar of an engine sounded, and the train pulled up at the stop. A speaker reminded all passengers to board.
Luo Lan said to Qian Xu, “Your ride is here. I also need to go sightsee. I’ll see you again.”
Qian Xu boarded the train. He looked at Luo Lan through the window.
Luo Lan smiled and waved, quickly walking towards the station exit. There was no helping it. She’d have to take responsibility for the lie she’d told and return later for the next train.
The engine roared again, and the train began to move, speeding up as it pulled out of the station.
Luo Lan raised her head to watch the train as it disappeared, her lively steps slowing and her back hunching. The next train would be coming in thirty minutes. All she had was time, anyway.
Luo Lan was walking in a trance, not even registering that the call was addressing her.
A person patted her shoulder, and she immediately turned her head, seeing it was Qian Xu.
“You…you didn’t go?” She was so surprised she asked the obvious.
Qian Xu smiled and said, “I don’t have anything urgent to do, so I don’t mind heading back later. Where do you want to go? I’ll accompany you.”
Luo Lan was both shocked and delighted; she’d never thought that someone would be willing to change their plans for her sake. The dark cloud of sadness that Chen Sha had left behind completely dissipated.
She clutched the lucky egg in her hand tighter; it seemed that luck had truly fallen on her today.
Luo Lan originally hadn’t been planning to go sightseeing, but now she wanted to enjoy her time.
“Have you heard of the Explorer’s Playground?” She’d just been searching the public transportation page, and the site automatically recommended the tourist destination.
“Of course, it was voted one of Alikarta’s ten must-see places online. It took first place; it seems almost every Alikarta person has been there before.”
Luo Lan didn’t expect to hit the mark so quickly and excitedly said, “I would like to go there.”
“Let’s go then.”
They walked out of the station. Qian Xu called a driverless vehicle, and within twenty minutes, the two had arrived.
They bought their tickets and attended the visitor introduction. Once Luo Lan entered, she realized that the Playground was like a kaleidoscope of different things to do.
The creators of the park had used the most special building materials, advanced technology, and generous amounts of money to create sixty-four different isolated environments, allowing visitors to experience the galaxy’s most exciting places in a short period of time.
The Playground had three levels of difficulty, with each level having a low, middle, or high setting. This satisfied everyone’s taste for adventure, be they a common individual or a person of the highest ability level. Thus, the Playground was immensely popular.
Qian Xu looked at the time and apologetically said, “I have treatment scheduled tonight, so I’ll have to be back by nine. At most, we can only visit two ecospheres.”
Luo Lan smiled and said, “Even just one is fine. We’ll have more time in the future.” Qian Xu was already willing to spend ten hours with her, so she was already satisfied—after all, there was someone who wouldn’t even spare a minute.
“Which ecosphere do you want to visit?” Qian Xu asked.
Luo Lan was lost in thought for a moment. Perhaps every person had some place they longed to go to, yet her memories were a blank slate. After some deliberation, she chose Alikarta’s highest mountain: Mt. Yilar. Since there was no place she longed to go, she’d chosen a place that would allow her to understand the planet she would have to call home.
“Do you want a serious or relaxed experience?”
“A bit more relaxed.”
Qian Xu selected the first level of difficulty. The pair boarded a vehicle and were soon transported to the entrance of the ecosphere. They were dropped off on a winding trail surrounded by verdant greenery and the chirping of birds and insects. The mountains continued to stretch far off into the distance, high and low, their end nowhere in sight. The highest mountains peaked through the clouds, their summits covered in white snow, until it looked as if the earth was joining with the very heavens.
Luo Lan sucked in a breath, exhilaration rushing through her as she took in the sights. “I can’t even tell that this is man-made. No wonder the Playground topped the must-see list.”
“If you ever visit Mt. Yilar, you’ll see the difference between this and the real thing.”
“I hope I’ll get an opportunity in the future.”
The two chatted as they slowly ascended the meandering trail. Luo Lan broke into a sweat that was promptly cooled by the mountain breeze. She couldn’t resist throwing open her arms and screaming at the mountain forests that stretched before her. “AHHHHHH!”
Qian Xu chuckled and said, “You’re really not a bit scared!”
“We picked the lowest difficulty, so there shouldn’t be any danger, right? Also, aren’t you of A-level physical ability? Even if we run across any wild animals, there shouldn’t be a problem.”
“The scariest thing isn’t a wild beast, but me.”
Luo Lan’s steps slowed, and she looked at Qian Xu in surprise.
“There’s no one else here except us. If I suddenly mutate, there will be no one to help you.”
Luo Lan laughed and bent to pluck a small blue flower. She offered it to Qian Xu. “The flowers that bloom today will wither tomorrow, yet do the flowers stop blooming because of tomorrow’s withering? I won’t distance myself from you because of something that may not even ever happen.”
Qian Xu accepted the flower. “What happens if one day it does suddenly happen? If that day comes, it will truly be too late to regret it.”
Luo Lan raised her chin and laughed. She pointed at herself and confidently said, “I’ve already decided that I’ll work hard to rise to A-level physical ability. If that day truly comes, I’ll use my strength to capture you and wait for your recovery.”
Qian Xu gazed at Luo Lan. He didn’t say anything.
Luo Lan made a face at him. “If you don’t believe me, my examiner said I have great potential!” If she couldn’t be the best of the best, she’d at least strive for being the best.
Qian Xu laughed, the sound radiant. He placed the blue flower into his breast pocket. “I believe you!”
After three hours, the pair had climbed halfway up the mountain.
“I’m a bit hungry. What about you?” Luo Lan asked apologetically. How could she forget to bring a meal and force a sick person to starve along with her? She searched up the Playground’s map to see if there was any place to buy refreshments nearby. She instead found the warning that said, “Food can only be bought after leaving the ecosphere. If you get hungry or thirsty within the ecosphere, that’s up to you. Don’t forget you came here for an adventure!”
Luo Lan was speechless. Qian Xu chuckled and said, “Come with me.”
He led her up a slope, the foliage suddenly parting to reveal a small lake. The waters were a brilliant blue, and they reflected the sky and clouds, creating a picturesquely beautiful scene.
Luo Lan excitedly opened her mouth to say something, but Qian Xu put his finger to his lips, signaling for her to remain silent. He closed his eyes and perked his ears. Before Luo Lan could blink, he’d shot off like an arrow and disappeared within the brush.
A flock of brilliantly colored birds suddenly flapped out of the shrubbery, squawking as they flew upwards.
Qian Xu waited for them to fly away before he lifted two eggs for Luo Lan to see. “Lunch.”
Luo Lan was both shocked and delighted. Everyone liked to rely on convenient nutritional doses. If the situation called for it, they wouldn’t be able to enjoy this sort of primitive offering even if they wanted to.
Qian Xu said, “There grows a thin and tall flower by the lake called a water mandarin. The stalks are edible and have a light and refreshing taste. If you tear some up it’ll be delicious with some roast meat.”
“Okay!” Luo Lan got to work, while Qian Xu caught some wild birds by the lake.
When Luo Lan had picked and prepared some mandarin stalks, Qian Xu had already dressed and cleaned the birds. Luo Lan began to prepare the meat while Qian Xu took care of the eggs.
The eggs were about the size of a small bowl, their shells hard and stiff. Qian Xu vigorously shook them, mixing the yolk and the white. Then he used an army knife and cut a few holes in the shell before placing them next to a fire, letting the eggs cook slowly through. Ten minutes later, the eggs were ready.
Qian Xu used leaves to wrap up the eggs. Once they were cool enough to touch, he handed them to Luo Lan. “I haven’t done this in many years, so I’m a bit out of practice. Try it and see how it tastes.”
Because of those three horrible days and nights in the desert, Luo Lan had grown a bit fearful of the outdoors. Today’s experience with Qian Xu had completely changed that. She now found nature to be both interesting and fun.
She said as she ate and stared out over the mountainside, “Alikarta truly is beautiful!”
“Do you know what ‘Alikarta’ means?” Qian Xu asked.
Luo Lan shook her head.
“In ancient Latin, it means ‘cast away.’”
“This planet was once Aerdes’ landfill planet.”
Luo Lan was shocked silent. She couldn’t believe this beautiful place had once been a planet that was deemed useless, worthy only of holding trash. It was hard to even imagine, with their history of enmity, that Odin had once been a part of Aerdes.
“A group of mutants cast away by humans, with no other alternative, joined together to form a resistance. They pledged to build a world where mutants could live in piece and happiness, so they united and built Sparta Palace, ‘Sparta’s” meaning in Latin being ‘hope.’ My teacher once told me that the palace was built for the mutants to live with hope, despite having been cast away.”
Luo Lan was shocked silent. Although she wasn’t a mutant, she’d despairingly trekked through that desert, experiencing herself how it felt to seemingly have been abandoned by the world. She could relate to their plight—the road from abandonment to hope was an extremely hard road, but there was no room to retreat. One could only bravely march on, determinedly pressing ahead.
Qian Xu tore off a drumstick and wrapped it in a tree leaf. He handed it to Luo Lan and said, “Eat it with the water mandarin.”
Luo Lan took a bite of bird and then a bite of water mandarin. The bird was juicy and the taste incomparable, resulting in an explosion of flavor in her mouth. She didn’t stop to speak, furiously devouring the drumstick. Even when she could eat no more, she still looked longingly at the remaining meat.
Qian Xu used the empty eggshells to boil up some water. He placed in some leaves that looked like mint and handed the eggshell to Luo Lan, saying, “Try this tea.”
Luo Lan accepted the shell that was wrapped in leaves. The scent of the tea wafted up, refreshing her senses.
Qian Xu extinguished the fire and lifted his eggshell cup, asking, “Have you decided to permanently reside in Odin?”
“Huh?” Luo Lan suddenly didn’t know what to say.
“You said before that you’d only just moved here, so I was worried you wouldn’t like life here.”
“It’s not that I don’t like Alikarta…”
But to come to think of this place as her home? Luo Lan didn’t think it was a matter of liking Alikarta or not liking Alikarta—having lost her memories, she didn’t even have the right to think this way. She could only observe step by step, come what may.
Luo Lan lifted her cup and sipped the tea. She squinted at Qian Xu and asked, “You grew up on Alikarta, didn’t you? So you must understand Alikarta well, no?”
“Can you bring me to the places you like most? I’d like to understand Alikarta better.”
“In my opinion, there’s many fun places on this planet to go to,” Qian Xu slowly replied.
“No worries. I have time. If we go to one place at a time, once I’ve seen all that can be seen, I’ll be able to fully answer your question.”
Qian Xu mulled this over carefully before he said, “All right!”
Luo Lan was both surprised and delighted. “You really agree? Then let’s pinky promise!”
Qian Xu couldn’t hold in his laugh. He hooked his little finger with Luo Lan’s: “I promise.”
“A pinky promise remains for one hundred years!” They pressed down on each other’s thumbs. “It’s an oath!”
Qian Xu started. He retracted his hand.
Around five, Luo Lan and Qian Xu departed from the Explorer’s Playground. The two boarded the vehicle back to the train station, arriving at the stop just in time for the six o’clock train. Luo Lan calculated the time and confirmed that Qian Xu would be able to return to the research center by eight.
“Thank you for today—it was the happiest day I’ve had since coming to Alikarta.”
“Once you’re more familiar with Alikarta, you’ll only experience more days like today.”
Luo Lan grinned, nodding.
Suddenly, her communicator beeped. The notification was for a message from Zi Yan. It seemed that someone had finally realized that Chen Sha had abandoned her at the orphanage.
Luo Lan apologetically smiled at Qian Xu before she walked out of the carriage, picking up the call. As soon as she picked up, Zi Yan said, “Just wait there. I’ll come over and pick you up.”
“No need. I’m already on the train back.
Zi Yan’s voice relaxed. “Not bad. Not only did you not lose your way, but you also found a way back yourself.”
“There’s a fairytale about a princess who had to sleep a thousand years before the prince came to rescue her. I didn’t think that was very reliable, so I figured I’d rescue myself.”
“You know what Chen Sha’s like, so why were you still late? I think you invited this trouble on yourself.”
Luo Lan said nothing.
“Why aren’t you saying anything?”
“It’s already water under the bridge, what more is there to say? In the future I’ll adhere to his protocols.” She might as well just take it as the norm from now on.
“I’ll pick you up at the stop.”
“Be careful on the road. Contact me once you arrive.” Zi Yan hung up.
They reached the stop an hour later. Qian Xu said his vehicle was nearby, offering to give her a ride back. Letting him know she lived in Sparta Palace was the last thing she wanted, however, so she quickly said, “My friend came to pick me up. He’s waiting for me outside.”
The two left the stop. Luo Lan glimpsed Zi Yan’s vehicle. Fortunately, despite being such a flashy person, he’d brought a car not very different from the others.
She quickly said her goodbyes to Qian Xu and shot off towards the vehicle, bending at the waist so she could hop in.
“Who was that man?” Qian Xu asked. “What did you do all day? Even if you didn’t contact Chen Sha, why didn’t you contact Feng Lin or me?”
Luo Lan felt her ire rise at his questioning. She neither haughtily nor humbly said, “First, I’m not a criminal, so I have no obligation to answer your questions. Second, Chen Sha’s my husband, so go get his permission before you come sniffing for answers.”
Zi Yan’s smile wasn’t quite a smile. “Your Highness the Princess, you can tell me these words only when you and Chen Sha are truly husband and wife!”
Luo Lan wordlessly pushed open the door, preparing to get out of the vehicle.
Zi Yan leaned over and grabbed her arm. Luo Lan could only fall back heavily onto her seat. The two were inches from each other, their eyes locked, so close they shared the same breath. They both started in surprise.
Zi Yan immediately let her go. “Sorry, I misspoke.”
Luo Lan never expected that he would apologize and was shocked silent. She suddenly registered that Zi Yan was the first person to apologize—the last person she expected to ever say sorry!
“It’s late, it’s best if I send you back.” Zi Yan put a command in the system, and the hovervehicle automatically rose, returning to Sparta Palace.
In the dark night, the silence of the small car was broken by Luo Lan’s voice.
“I don’t know what you truly think of me, be it an expensively bought item, a valuable research specimen, or even Chen Sha’s wife…Princess Luo Lan has already been cast away by Aerdes, but I refuse to give up on myself, so I’ll continue to try to understand Alikarta, so that one day I may be able to be like all you, finding an occupation I’m passionate about, having friends I can confide in, knowing where to visit in Alikarta…living like a true Odin citizen on this planet.”
As she spoke, Zi Yan’s fingers slowly stopped playing with his tarot card, until all he did was silently listen.
“I’ll cooperate with Feng Lin’s research, but I refuse to be your locked-up apple tree.” She stopped. Had she made a grievous error in speaking the truth? She couldn’t predict how Zi Yan would react, but she couldn’t go on any longer without declaring her thoughts.
Zi Yan turned his head to face Luo Lan, his gaze deep and contemplative. Luo Lan calmly returned his gaze. “You seem to be constantly on alert around me, and it’s certainly not because I’ve caught your fancy. I promise that what you fear most will not happen, because I’m most certainly not Aerdes’ spy.”
Zi Yan leaned back in his seat, raising an eyebrow. He ambiguously said, “Does the princess truly believe I’m the kind of person who’ll believe anything I’m told?”
“Time will reveal all.”
Zi Yan crossed his legs and rubbed his chin, muttering to himself, “So all it took for you to say this much was saying sorry.” He suddenly sat up straight, his hands on his knees. He earnestly looked at Luo Lan. “I’m sorry!” His eyes were bright and starry, as if he were expecting that Luo Lan would spill everything in her heart.
“Get lost!” Luo Lan couldn’t resist saying the thing she’d thought over and over, yet never dared vocalize in the past. She immediately shut her mouth, only for Zi Yan to burst out laughing. “Isn’t it refreshing, saying what you truly think?”
Luo Lan decided to own up to it. “Yeah.”
A glossy purple tarot card flew from Zi Yan’s fingers, and circled around her neck before landing back in his palm. He held up the card for her to see. Two earrings were neatly placed on the card’s surface. Luo Lan unconsciously reached up to feel her ears and found that only a small part of the earrings were left.
Zi Yan grinned and said, “In this world, the majority of people don’t have the right to be frank. Unfortunately, you seem to be one of them.”
Luo Lan despondently turned around, knocking her head again and again against the window. She knew he was a trickster through and through. So why did she keep falling for his traps?
“Thanks for the ride. Bye!” The car hadn’t even stopped before Luo Lan hopped out of the car.
“Ah, because we’re friends, I should remind you that your husband is waiting for an answer.”
What? Luo Lan looked at him in confusion.
Zi Yan pointed up. “That man at the train stop.”
Luo Lan raised her head to see Chen Sha standing at the window, his hands in his pockets, watching them from above.
Luo Lan tiredly said, “You reported it to him?”
“You’re the one who said only Chen Sha has the power to question you.” Zi Yan’s tone was righteous.
Since there was no escape, she could only confront the problem head on.
She knocked on Chen Sha’s door. “Can I come in?” The door silently rolled open.
Luo Lan walked in. She hadn’t even opened her mouth to say anything before Chen Sha turned, his face and voice as cold as ice. “The man who you arrived at the stop with, and the man who suddenly made you pull out that farce of act. Were they the same person?”
Luo Lan’s jaw dropped.
She knew Chen Sha was as different as could be from Zi Yan with his blunt words and sharp attacks, but she’d truly underestimated how keen he was.
Chen Sha took her reaction as confirmation. “Who is he?”
Luo Lan quietly said, “His name is Qian Xu, an orphan who once lived at the orphanage. He’s now a soldier for the Odin military. We met at the research center. I didn’t tell him my identity. If you want me to sever ties, I’d like to explain to him myself.”
Chen Sha calmly said, “The marriage agreement didn’t mandate that you couldn’t make friends.”
Luo Lan belatedly registered what he’d just said. “You-you don’t mind? But you were suddenly questioning me like…”
“Should I care?”
Luo Lan hurried to say, “No!”
“I reasonably questioned you for the sake of your safety. As your legal husband, I need to take responsibility for your safety. “ (tofu: Yeah. Are you also going to say, “As your legal husband, I abandoned you for being less than a minute late?” Responsible for her safety my ass)
Luo Lan was rendered speechless. Were your questions just now really reasonable? How scary are your unreasonable questions, then?
“The questioning is over. You may leave now.”
Luo Lan turned and walked out, as if in a trance. She suddenly thought of something and halted. She turned back to look at Chen Sha, but she hesitated.
Chen Sha furrowed his brow. “Speak!”
Luo Lan timidly said, testing the waters, “You just said…as my legal husband, then our…relationship is solely a legal contract?”
“You love me?”
Luo Lan shook her head.
“Perfect. I also don’t love you. Our relationship remains a legality.”
“Your meaning is…we’re just fake husband and wife? Our relationship is just a convenience so you all can study my genes?”
“That’s right! You cooperate with Feng Lin’s research, and I’ll ensure your safety.”
Luo Lan felt that a weight had suddenly been lifted from her shoulders. She suddenly agreed with what Zi Yan had said, though Chen Sha was hard to get close to, if she followed his protocols, he truly wasn’t that hard to get along with. At least, he was easier to interact with than the unpredictable Zi Yan.
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tofu: And that’s the end of this chapter! When Qian Xu said, “the scariest thing isn’t a wild beast, but me,” did anyone else think of something pervier then what he meant lol
I told you all Chen Sha would rise to unprecedented levels of assholery. And he still had the gall to say in the end, “I’m responsible for your safety?” Give me a f*cking break.
Luo Lan is always caught between a rock and a hard place, wanting to speak her mind when she’s mistreated but wisely and cautiously choosing to remain silent. It really was 爽 (refreshing) to see her finally just blow up, however briefly, at Zi Yan.