All the members of the expert group finished their medical checks and the results were out. Everyone was fine and in good health; the virus they had theorised about did not exist.
What was more confusing was that there was no evidence of poison or a heart attack when autopsies were performed on the two bodies. Luo Su and Chen Kexue seemed to have reached their time and had left the world abruptly.
Xia Lei saw no hope in joining the group of experts and no chance in coming into contact with the pieces of alloy and the bronze book. He handed the completed report to Wang Lei the next morning and talked of leaving.
Wang Lei had Xia Lei’s report, and the medical check the higher-ups had ordered was completed so he did not want Xia Lei to stay on. He agreed without a second thought when Xia Lei said he wanted to leave.
Ning Jing came to send him off but Long Bing did not leave them alone. She should have given them some space but she followed them closely.
Ning Jing mustered up her courage when she saw that Xia Lei was about to step out of the passageway. “Lei, will you come back?”
“I don’t know. Probably not.” Xia Lei did not harbour any nostalgia for this place at all.
“Then I’ll come out and look for you,” said Ning Jing.
Xia Lei grunted in response and said, “Remember what I told you. Stay away from those alloy pieces, and avoid touching them if you can.”
Ning Jing nodded. “I’ll keep that in mind. They don’t let me touch them either. My field is archaeology and I’m only in charge of archaeological work in the group anyway.” She gave a laugh. “Frankly speaking, I’m just a background character.”
Xia Lei gave a laugh. “Don’t say that. You’re in charge of important work too. This project has a lot of archaeology involved. All right, this is it then. Go back. Give me a call when you’re out and I’ll treat you to tea.”
“Um…” Ning Jing’s face was red and she looked nervous. “Let’s hug.”
Xia Lei paused.
Ning Jing shut her eyes.
She was actually using the ‘kiss me’ body language in this way?! Xia Lei was dumbfounded.
He hesitated, just a bit, then put his arms around her in a hug and patted her on the back. “Go back, go back.”
“Ahem.” Long Bing coughed.
Ning Jing pulled away from Xia Lei and turned to run back into the passageway. She did not dare look at Long Bing, much less at Xia Lei’s eyes as she retreated. Her way of running was strange too; like a pony trotting off for a shower.
“Was it soft?” Long Bing suddenly said.
Xia Lei looked quizzically at her. “What do you mean?”
Long Bing pointed at her own chest.
Xia Lei understood and he glared at her. “She’s a cultured woman, not like us. That… was a hug goodbye. It’s like that in the West too, isn’t it?”
Long Bing made a puffing laugh. “I’m saying that she’s skinny and small but her chest is quite large. I want to know if she stuffed her bra or something. What is your answer about, hm?”
Xia Lei was speechless.
“Do you stuff your bra?”
Long Bing seemed like a whole other person.
Xia Lei took back all his things when they exited the compound, including his necklace. He used his X-ray vision on it to check on the capsule inside and he felt like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders.
Xia Lei mulled over a question on their way through the mountains - Should I eat the last AE capsule?
He thought and he thought but was still unable to come to a decision.
“I heard Tang Yuyan say you want to go to Russia to participate in a light weapons exhibition, huh?” Long Bing broke the silence in the car on the mountain roads.
“Nn, yes. Of course we have to show off a great sniper rifle such as ours; glory for our nation,” said Xia Lei.
Long Bing rolled her eyes at Xia Lei. “Yeah, yeah, stop making yourself sound noble. Your main aim is to pull in international orders, isn’t it?”
Xia Lei gave a laugh. “Isn’t it a good thing to have some foreign exchange for the country?”
“It’s good but let me remind you that selling weapons is no simple matter,” said Long Bing. “You cannot sell to enemy forces, much less terrorists, or you’ll attract trouble.”
“I got it. I’ll be careful. Thank you.”
“And I’m quite familiar with the situation over there. Better not touch any women there or you might catch something.”
Xia Lei’s smile froze on his face and his words were stuck in his throat.
When had his image become so terrible?
Half the morning was gone by the time they returned to the city. Long Bing went back to Bureau 101 and Xia Lei drove to the Tang residence. Tang Yuyan had told him to bring gifts but he knew that was a joke and didn’t take it seriously. The Tang sect had no lack of money and Tang Tianlong’s status was a little different. It wouldn’t be good to turn up at his door with an expensive gift and be seen by others doing so.
As he pondered his options, he went and bought a pot of lush plants when he passed a florist and fresh fruits from the fruit stall next to it. It didn’t cost much but it looked good.
Tang Yuyan opened the door for him when he knocked on the Tang door. She stared blankly when she saw the potted plant in his hands, then broke into a smile. “Oh? How did you come to think of buying me flowers?”
Xia Lei grinned. “These aren’t flowers, they’re ornamental plants. I bought them when I went past the florist because I thought they looked nice.”
“They’re flowers if I say they’re flowers.” Tang Yuyan then spotted the fruits in his hands and said with a smile, “You sure are a good boy, bringing gifts when I told you to bring them - and so many too.”
“I did think of buying something of greater value but I decided it was wrong to do that after thinking about it, so I didn’t,” said Xia Lei sheepishly.
Tang Tianlong’s voice came from inside, “Yuyan, what are you keeping Mr Xia at the door for? Don’t be discourteous. Why don’t you quickly invite him in?”
Tang Yuyan stuck her tongue out cheekily, then took the potted plants and fruit from Xia Lei’s hands and led him in.
Tang Yunhai was in the living room too. The two heads of the Tang household were sitting on the sofa and looking at Xia Lei.
Xia Lei greeted them with a smile. “Hello Uncle Tang, hello Grandfather Tang.”
“Sit, sit.” Tang Tian-Long gestured for Xia Lei to sit and said, “Yuyan, make Mr Xia some tea, then to go the kitchen and help your mother prepare the meal. We shall have Mr Xia stay with us for our afternoon meal.”
“‘Kay.” Tang Yuyan agreed quickly and went to make tea for Xia Lei.
“How can I intrude on you like this?” said Xia Lei awkwardly.
Tang Yunhai gave him a glare. “Boy, you’re a martial artist. What’s with this wishy-washy-ness?”
“Then I shall intrude,” said Xia Lei.
Tang Yuyan brought the tea she had made over to Xia Lei and set it before him, saying with a smile, “Please have tea, Master Xia. This lowly one will prepare your meal right away.”
Xia Lei looked at her wordlessly.
The two heads of the Tang household looked oddly at Tang Yuyan. Tang Yunhai looked ready to swing the dragon-headed cane in his hand at her.
“It’s just a joke. What’s with those eyes? Lei and I went through death-defying experiences in Afghanistan together. We came out from under a hail of bullets… Ugh, whatever. I said nothing. I’ll go help Mum prepare the meal.” Tang Yuyan lost to Tang Tianlong’s powerful glare and retreated.
A wry smile appeared in the corners of Tang Tianlong’s mouth. “Her mother spoils her. Please excuse her, Mr Xia.”
“It’s all right. Yuyan and I are friends, so a small joke like that is nothing,” said Xia Lei with a laugh.
“Let’s get down to business.” Tang Tianlong took out a document envelope from under the coffee table and put it before Xia Lei. “The higher-ups have approved it but there are some conditions.”
“What conditions?” asked Xia Lei.
“The first condition is that Annina is not allowed to go to Moscow. Her status is rather special and the CIA and German Intelligence are still on the lookout for her. She will attract a lot of trouble if she shows her face in public,” said Tang Tianlong.
Xia Lei thought for a bit. “I’ll go back and talk with her. I should be able to persuade her. This condition is acceptable. What else?”
“It’s good that you’re bringing your company’s sniper rifles to the light weapons exhibition in Moscow. The capabilities of your model of sniper rifle are sure to draw notice and cause a stir. When that happens, orders are sure to come pouring in. What the higher-ups mean is that purchase orders have to first gain the nation’s approval before you sign the dotted line. Who can buy and who you sell to is not up to you to decide.”
Long Bing had already mentioned this and Xia Lei had been mentally prepared for this. He nodded. “No problem with this condition either; I agree.”
Thunder Horse Military Factory was actually already busy enough with the domestic orders at its current scale and production capacity. Overseas orders would be a too much for him to handle in a timely fashion. It was perhaps a good thing that the higher-ups had made such a decision for him, since he could not be bothered to worry about it. The main purpose in going to Moscow was to make the name of Thunder Horse Military Factory known.
“One more condition. You cannot go alone. You must bring an assistant.”
“I have several talents in my company. When the time comes, I’ll…”
Tang Tianlong cut him off. “Your company assistants don’t count. What I mean by assistant is someone who can ensure your safety. The higher-ups have two people in mind - Long Bing and Yuyan. Who do you think is more suitable? Pick one.”
“Pick one?” Xia Lei was troubled.
Both women were impressive and both had fought by his side before. He did not know who to pick.
Just then, Tang Yuyan’s voice came from the kitchen. “If you pick Long Bing I’ll put a pile of salt in your bowl!”
Xia Lei gave a laugh. “Okay, you’ll accompany me to Moscow then.”
“Heh heh, I knew you’d pick me.” Tang Yuyan laughed happily.
But Xia Lei knew that Tang Tianlong wanted him to take not an assistant but a monitor. Long Bing and Tang Yuyan would be doing the same task no matter who he picked. The mission was easy enough to guess too - who he’d interacted with, what he’d done, all would be reported to the higher-ups. The last part of the mission was most likely to bring him back to China.
“I feel more assured with Yuyan going with you to Moscow, since you two had fought together in Afghanistan. Russia will be a piece of cake.” Tang Tianlong said with a smile, “That’s decided, then. You can go to Russia when you’re done with preparations on your side.”
“There’s still about a month left, no hurry.” Xia Lei watched Tang Tianlong out of the corner of his eye as he spoke, thinking to himself, ‘Is the person who’d marked me Tang Tianlong?’
“There’s still some time before we have our meal, Boy. Come with me to the backyard for some sparring,” said Tang Yunhai. He did not seem interested in their conversation.
“Sparring?” Xia Lei was unwilling.
“Am I too old for you?” Tang Yunhai pretended to look affronted. “How about this - if you win with me using half-techniques I’ll teach you one of the Tang hidden weapons techniques. What do you think about that, eh?”
“Right this way, sir!” Xia Lei changed his tune right away.
In the kitchen, Zhang Yumei said, “Didn’t your grandfather say that the Tang techniques cannot be passed down to people who have not married into the Tang sect? Why has he changed his mind?”
Tang Yuyan shook her head. “I don’t know.”Previous Chapter Next Chapter