Chapter 1: Massive Earthquake
The nation of crows, the City of Xia, had just entered the end of autumn.
These ugly and intelligent life forms were the true masters of this city. They gathered upon the rows of trees, and with coarse, raspy monotone voices, made fun of the scurrying travelers coming to and fro.
Kah! Kah! Get screwed!
Underneath the spoke-shaped cloud-filled skies, they would occasionally flaunt their superior flying techniques.
The majority of the travelers held unsightly expressions as if their parents had died. They glared with expressions of hate at the circling shadows above and at the strange formation of mist higher above.
The skies of the City of Xia was covered by this mist upon entering the end of the ninth month. An approximate total of six grade three, three grade four, and five grade two earthquakes had happened in under a week’s worth of time.
The magnitude and intensity of the earthquakes had yet to reach the limits to what the city could withstand, but the frail hearts of men were already rattled.
Sound and electric waves permeated through the City Xia’s atmosphere. Over half of the noise were of people shouting with all their might:
Massive earthquake! Massive earthquake!
Right when modern civilization entered into the 22nd Century, various experts and scholars spoke of this kind of “social theory” openly, appearing in all sorts of media and reports.
Luo Nan was somewhat influenced by this.
He held under his arm a black leather notebook that had never left his side, and he walked to the underground subway. At this time the band on his wrist vibrated, receiving a signal. His aunt Mrs. Luo Shuqing pelted him with words:
“Come back home at night! Your uncle already finished making dinner!”
His Aunt had originally allowed him to live life independently, but due to the frequent earthquakes, she shredded their agreement and ordered over and over for him to return to their residence to take good care of the house.
Luo Nan absolutely couldn’t agree to this. He had painstakingly tested into Acumen College. Didn’t he do that for days of freedom and independence? What’s more was that he was at a critical juncture. Who knows what consequences would occur if he tarried for a day!
The problem was that Luo Nan was never good with words; there wasn’t a hint of persuasiveness in any of the arguments he brought up. The situation was becoming colder and colder. His Aunt seemed to stare and reach out through the telephone to carry him home.
Some information was sent over right when Luo Nan was getting a headache. Luo Nan just skimmed it over, and he secretly exclaimed a breath in luck. He hurriedly added another counterpoint: “I have to prepare for an interview tomorrow with a society……”
“Interview? With which society?”
“Hic! The Mystic Arts Research Society.”
Madam Luo Shuqing was somewhat suspicious. Soon she called off to some corner:
“Mo Ya! Mo Ya!”
A somewhat hoarse voice, with a uniquely lazy tone, entered the conversation not too long later. This was Luo Nan’s older female cousin Mo Ya. She had just graduated last year from Acumen College.
“The Mystic Arts Research Society eh? I know them. Rumor has it that they have a lot of money and that their members are quite impulsive.”
Luo Shuqing hated this attitude of her daughter the most, rebuking her on the spot: “Talk properly!”
Mo Ya laughed with a “Ha!” and said: “Your ‘dear son’ is in a bad situation. School starts in a month, and he’s still interviewing. Clearly, he’s a misfit! Major things flow together in Acumen University and western thought is very critical there. First, school credits are cut if one doesn't live in a society. And even when going to the next grade, it will be hard to find an academic advisor with good things to say in a letter of recommendation……”
From this manner of speaking, which was like pouring oil on the fire, the mother-daughter war ignited once again in a flash. The focus of conflict shifted, allowing for the Luo Nan of over a hundred kilometers away to escape unscathed.
Luo Nan had been standing in his own family’s living room for nearly half an hour by now. The sky had already turned dark and the living room lights automatically lit up, casting his figure to the window of a high-rise apartment building across the street.
Luo Nan spoke a command to cause the window curtains to close automatically.
But right at this moment, a dark shadow passed through the nearly closed curtain and fell onto the open balcony. It used its thick beak to part open the sliding glass door. It walked inside, strutting, in a completely free and leisurely manner.
This uninvited fellow was a typical Corvus Frugilegus or Rook. Its entire body was jet-black aside from its ashen white beak. It looked to be thick, solid, and well-built, appearing to be larger than its kind by a factor. Its feathers fluctuated between a deep black and a hidden blue under the soft lighting.
It strolled around in the room for a few steps. It leaped onto a small coffee table in the living room with a shake of its wings and immediately leaned forward with its body. A sealed glass test tube the size of a thumb slipped out from its thick beak and fell onto the coffee table. A large amount of white powder was inside the tube.
Having spat out the foreign object in its throat, the crow sat comfortably for a long time. It showed off its bright and clear voice:
“Ink! Shut up!”
The cries of this crow would spell disaster in this sealed empty room. Luo Nan chided the crow quickly, grabbed the test tube to clean, and took out a cooked strip of meat prepared beforehand to stuff up the crow’s beak.
This crow named Ink was still able to communicate quite well. It ate in a very elegant fashion and even used its wing to indicate to Luo Nan to pour for it some water.
There was also a dinner placed on the dining table to the side. The fragrance was nothing to write home about, keeping perfectly in line with the monotonous labor of a home artificial intelligence. The important thing was that the quantity of food was sufficient; it was enough to fill 3-5 people without a problem. Luo Nan displayed a first class superhuman appetite and ate at astonishing speeds. Coincidentally, he finished eating at the same time as Ink.
After Ink drank and ate its fill, it simply squeezed out of the sliding door window, flapped its wings, and flew away.
Luo Nan tidied up the cups and dishes. His wristband vibrated once again, right before he wanted to enter the study. This time it was his cousin Mo Ya who contacted him. Mo Ya and her mother were completely carved from the same mold; she pelted him with words:
“How are you going to thank me for this time?”
“Hic! Thanks, sister.”
“Tsk. You don’t even know how to exchange pleasantries!”
Mo Ya knew that Luo Nan talked awkwardly, so she didn’t press further. She cut directly to the chase by asking: “Was that Mystic Arts Research Society suggested by other people, or did you go for it on your own accord?”
“I chose it myself……”
“Do you know what kind of place it is?”
Luo Nan thought for a bit and answered simply: “It has the characteristics of being half a society and half a research institution. Its strength is robust from its private funding. There is a high degree of autonomy when compared to the college.”
Mo Ya sneered: “Doesn’t that appear awesome?”
Luo Nan didn’t know how to respond for some time.
Mo Ya reminded him: “That place is the playground for the children of the wealthy. The core members formed their own circle. They research a few fantastical oddities each day to kill time. Normal students of families would become low-level workers no matter where they go. So this place looks quite beautiful. But it’s only beautiful for those in that circle. It has nothing to do with studies or technical skill……”
Luo Nan interrupted Mo Ya’s lecture: “Experiments can be done there.”
Mo Ya dragged out her voice sighing, “Ohhhh, looks likes you’ve been experimenting more and more crazily. But dear brother, you should go to a physics or chemistry related interest society if you want to do experiments.”
Luo Nan responded calmly: “Those societies require you to go through a period of internship. I've already acquired the relevant skills from middle school. I don’t need to do this kind of work that I’ve already done again.”
“The Mystic Arts Research Society is fine with that?”
“Yes. I looked at their intro package and also the school forums. It’s the only society where a complete newbie can start an experiment freely and independently. And there’s a lot of resources that touch on the field of psychotropic drugs, which is precisely what I need.”
Mo Ya sneered: “An unskilled worker can start his own independent experiment?”
“Perhaps it’s fine for a skilled worker. It would be quite wonderful if the boss is an amateur.”
The usually sharped tongued Mo Ya was actually stifled by these words from Luo Nan. It took a few seconds before she could open her mouth:
“Alright, Mr. Skilled Worker. I just want to remind you of something. You will be labeled as a misfit for sure if you were to switch societies in Acumen College. The following four years…… Oh wait, you’re in the 10th grade. Then you will have plenty of time to regret your decision for the next eight years.”
Luo Nan’s response caused Mo Ya to sneer: “Alrighty. Let’s talk about the issue with the reward.”
“I staved off a bullet for you without regards for my own safety. You think a simple thanks would be enough?”
“Hic! What do you want?”
“Lend that apartment of yours to me for a night to host a small party.”
Luo Nan hesitated: “Which day?”
“20 days later, the 15th of next month......”
“......Fine then. 19 days. I don’t need you to prepare anything special. All you need to do is to hide and remove your shameful stuff. I’ll fix up what’s left.”
Luo Nan calculated the time: “Shouldn’t be a problem. Remind me 5 days earlier though, to give me a heads-up reminder.”
“Not cool. Well, that’s how it is.”
The call was hung up by the other side. Luo Nan started to get a headache from thinking of finding a place to temporarily relocate to 19 days later.
Although things were this way, he was still grateful for Mo Ya. If it weren’t for his older female cousin covering up for him for several years, how would he have been able to continue with his dangerous experiments under the eyes of his Aunt?
Luo Nan shook his head, making a decision. He’ll think about all this stuff tomorrow.
It was presently 2096 AD, September 26th, 19:22. The fruitless day was finally over. Luo Nan welcomed the precious and tranquil time of night.
He walked into the study. A black leather suitcase was standing upright on the cable. It had a decent size to it and looked rather towering.
Luo Nan submitted his fingerprint and entered in the password, causing the suitcase lid to open up with a low thin hiss. Tools and instruments were laid orderly inside. Layers and layers of shelves were lifted up. The extension of each shelf was like the spreading of flower petals. They entered one by one into prefixed positions.
The desk had transformed instantaneously into a simple yet comprehensive workbench.
Luo Nan took out a medical cooler from the bookshelf, placing the cooler on the table. Various raw drug materials were seen encapsulated inside upon opening the cooler. The white powder brought by Ink was subjected to a series of tests and was added amongst the drug materials upon confirmation of its validity.
All the materials he needed for this night of work were here at this point. All his instruments were ready…… Well at least all those he could acquire and prepare.
Luo Nan took a deep breath having finished with preparations. He opened a hidden drawer to the side of the desk and took out an old-fashioned notebook.
This notebook had a brown cover. It had the same design as the notebook he always carried with him; they were both loose-leaf notebooks. However through wear and tear over countless years, a great amount of inked writing was affected, the brown leather notebook seemed to be somewhat separating, and there was even swelling on the outer skin. The insides also lacked a flexible e-ink screen.
Luo Nan placed his own notebook to the side and opened the brown notebook very carefully.
A properly hand-drawn diagram could be seen in the center of the very first page. It appeared to consist of several shapes from geometry class. There was a pyramid, or a more accurate description would be a tetrahedron, with an inscribed sphere and a circumscribed sphere. Together they formed a completely flawless structure.
There were hand-scrawled writings beneath this diagram. Four flowing and linked clauses were written:
My heart’s a prison, my heart’s a furnace;
My heart calls for a lens, my heart calls for the nation.
Luo Nan didn’t dare state that he understood the true meaning of this diagram and its following words. But every time he flipped to this page and read these words attentively to himself, all the messy thoughts in his head would settle down, causing his heart and mind to naturally become clear and tranquil.
Luo Nan stayed on this page for a few seconds, then he started flipping towards the back of the book. He was searching for relevant content and keywords for the drug synthesis preparation amongst the densely packed words and sentences. He was totally engrossed in the profound sentences and complicated molecular formulas:
“Reduction, substitution, simplification…… Grandpa, come on and help me out!”
Time passed abruptly as he muttered to himself in a low voice.
The lights outside the window had already gone out. And all this time in front of the workbench, Luo Nan’s attention was focused back and forth between his notebook and his instruments for his experiment. He followed the data in his notebook, increasing doses of various raw drug materials.
He only took a two-hour nap during this time frame; he slept for approximately two hours during the slow reaction phase.
It was 3:15 in the early morning when he added in the final drop of solution. The turbid liquid started to boil violently in the reaction receptacle. Its color began to slowly change as well.
Luo Nan stared attentively at the transparent receptacle that seemed to be on the verge of exploding; he was confirming if the reaction was the one he wanted. It took two minutes before he stretched his somewhat stiff neck and began cleaning up the stuff on his lab bench. At the same time, he muttered some data for recording:
“Stock of Dimethyltryptamine: 0, Stock of Cathinone: 0, Stock of MMDA: 2 mmg. Stock of Cetilistat: 5 mmg……”
The self-operating notebook was spread out on the lab bench and it followed his words. The opened flexible e-ink screen flickered and glimmered. The recorded tables on the interface automatically changed to the relevant data. The majority stock of drugs had already been depleted to zero, or they were rapidly approaching zero.
Luo Nan cleaned up the waste, which consisted mainly of the packaged containers for these drugs. He took what could be reused and he washed and sterilized them, and he gathered what could not be recycled. It took approximately half an hour for his small work bench to be restored back to its orderly and pristine state.
The light green drug in the reaction receptacle had been cooling slowly after a period of boiling. Having reached this step, he could basically determine that his efforts of this night had not been wasted.
Anyway, he had made a brief recording in his brown notebook: “Q-11R has displayed several instances of peripheral neuritis; Q-27R has displayed allergic symptoms and is on the verge of death. No abnormalities are displayed in other test subjects…… They possess substitute effects fundamentally, making it hard to determine side effects.”
Luo Nan shook his head, guessing that the time was still off. He swiped on the flexible screen and went to his often-frequented “Secret Star” forums online.
Even though it was very early in the morning, the night owls of the forum were still engaging in bustling debate and discussion.
At the center of the contention was precisely the City Xia.
The recent period of earthquakes in the City of Xia set off waves and waves in this discussion forum, which was full of those that slanted towards the study of mystics and mysteries. Many people were discussing the causes of the earthquakes. Be it the geology structure, resonance in tectonic plates, a leak in pneuma……. Any sort of fantastically odd topics were talked about.
There were even those who solemnly swear that there had been a corporation running secret experiments in City Xia recently, that it was quite likely that the corporation was the source of the frequent earthquakes.
Luo Nan did not have even an ounce of interest in these boring topics. He was only concerned about two points:
One. Will the earthquakes affect his experiments?
Two. As the panic-stricken situation becomes more and more intense, wouldn’t his Aunt forcefully haul him home!?
Luo Nan inputted his customary user role password and was ready to log into the discussion boards in the forums. But a warning jumped popped up on the website: “You don’t have sufficient privileges. Please submit an authentication request to the administrator.”
Luo Nan was dazed, then he smacked his forehead lightly. Yep. He had been shadowbanned to the small black house. The justification for his ban was quite simple: All his posts on purchasing were thought to be bait from a police sting operation.
This was a new rule set in the forums half a month ago after the police destroyed a multinational illegal drug internet deal. Talk of the rule was tightly concealed. Luo Nan was accidentally at the end of a smoking gun.
It was no big deal to have his ID banned, but the annoying thing was having his drug distribution channel severed.
Looking at his current stockpile of raw drug materials, soon he wouldn’t be able to continue with his experiments even if Mrs. Luo Shuqing were to do nothing. And, the majority of the fifty types of drugs he commonly used were all part of the regulated directory of psychotropic drugs. A minor would never be able to purchase them from a pharmacy.
Could it be that he now needs to walk the “Black Line”?
While it was true that this distribution channel of the Secret Star discussion forum was illegal, its supply chain history was actually quite reliable. Quite a lot of them were “external transactions” by factory owners. It could barely count as a “business”, in regards to avoiding the strict regulation of psychotropic drugs.
As for the “Black Line”, the quality of the test sample brought by Ink today was acceptable. But trading goods on the Black Line was a very serious crime. Every part of it was closely linked to organized crime…… To speak plainly, they’re a bunch of drug traffickers!
Therefore~...... When compared to dealing with drug traffickers, what was the big deal with entering the Mystic Arts Research Society as an unskilled worker? He was not hopeful of acquiring raw materials from the society, but rather of acquiring an advanced distribution channel. Then it would be worth it.
Finally, the liquid inside the reaction receptacle stopped boiling, cooling off rapidly.
Luo Nan collected his wandering thoughts on the spot. He opened a valve to allow the drug to flow into an already-prepared needle-less syringe. Then he immediately injected a large quantity of the psychotropic drug mixture into a vein in his arm.
There wasn’t even a trace of change in his expression from start to end.
Next, Luo Nan finished cleaning his labware & instruments. Then he pressed down on a button, causing the black suitcase to return to its original state. Only then did he tear off his lab gloves and place his brown notebook super carefully in the hidden drawer. He hid the cooler inside the bookcase and went to the bathroom to wash up.
It was exactly 4 o'clock. Luo Nan changed to a sports hat and tank top. He clasped the black notebook that had never left his side under his arm, walked out the front door, and started his strict morning run to adhere to his schedule.