Chapter 3: Notebook
“This is your said ‘photo snatcher.’”
Yingying provided a short analysis of the data: “Luo Nan. 16 Years Old. Entered Acumen College this year on September 1st. His admissions scores were average. Teacher assessments from elementary school to middle school don’t mention anything notable. He’s very ordinary.”
Xie Junping only cared for a certain point: “So he’s not really the ‘paparazzi’ type?”
Yingying didn’t respond directly; she continued analyzing the data: “What’s relatively noteworthy is that his aunt is written as his guardian on the form. As for his parents… let me look that up. His mother passed away due to a difficult birth. His father had gone missing long ago. How strange. There’s still difficult births in this day and age?”
“Do you mean that……”
“The circumstances he grew up in is relatively unusual. There should be some eccentricities to his character. We need to observe further. Release your vehicle access privileges right now and turn on the surveillance system. I want to observe with you.”
Xie Junping immediately followed her instructions. Shortly after he synchronized the data with Yingying, Luo Nan’s steady jogging figure appeared on the sloped top of the overpass.
Right now the sky was only in twilight. The distant figure was completely blurry. Fortunately, the flying car Phantom’s surveillance system had gone through special customization to possess stronger detection and anti-detection capabilities. It was due to the automatic warning of the car’s AI that Xie Junping was able to discover that his photo was snatched
Xie Junping observed the photo snatcher’s every movement through the surveillance system. But he was unable to see make out anything.
Actually, Zhang Yingying had already reached an initial verdict on her side: “Congrats to you sucker! I can basically conclude that he did not target you specifically.”
“Do you hear the sound of his breathing?”
From fifty meters away, the muttering of the target could be recovered through the surveillance systems powerful acoustic gathering and filtering capabilities. The sound of the morning runner’s breathing was no exception to this.
“Hic! That buzzing is his breathing?”
“Isn’t it like the sound of a bee? It should be a special breathing technique, and there’s also a special chant. The specifics effects are unclear; maybe there isn’t an effect at all. His lung capacity is only slightly better than that of an ordinary person. But he’s in a state of extreme concentration. Look at his expression with that bright glow. Tsk tsk…...Would one who harbors the malicious thoughts of snatching a picture really put forth the effort into exercising after doing so?”
Xie Junping’s anxious mood finally received relief. A smile was unconsciously revealed on his face.
But right at this moment when Luo Nan made his way down the highest point of the overpass, Luo Nan’s gaze suddenly deviated. Looking at the image cast by the surveillance system, Luo Nan was looking directly at Xie Junping.
The screen was unidirectional. Those outside the car can’t see inside, but Xie Junping was still given a scare.
“Did he discover us?”
“Your Phantom is way too eye-catching. And furthermore, he’s way keener than I imagined.”
Yingying seemed to become interested: “He must have sensed something. However, it doesn’t seem like his expression has changed. He’s not the type to wear his heart on his sleeve. This type of person has many thoughts running in their head; they’re the type to have schemes. But for him to be able to maintain his concentration means that his willpower is higher than normal. Oh right. Speaking of willpower, I just found something very interesting. Do you want to hear?”
Xie Junping watched Luo Nan move closer step by step. He was currently in a mess trying to figure out what to do, how could he have the mood to leisurely listen.
However, Yingying didn’t give a damn about Xie Junping. She spoke, minding her own business:
“According to his school profile, Luo Nan’s household address is located in the River Wu District of the Blue Bay Community. The straight-line distance between Acumen College and his house is nearly forty kilometers. Obviously, this isn’t a long distance if he rides the underground public transit, the metro, and so on, but he ran over here. That’s a marathon a day! Using his lung capacity, breathing technique, and muscle composition as a basis for analysis… Each run is tantamount to peeling a layer of skin! If he runs like this everyday…… Oh dear dear, that’s quite the self-flagellation.”
“Crap!” Merely thinking those thoughts caused Xie Junping to feel his scalp go numb.
Yingying continued with her analysis: “From his forementioned circumstances I’ve determined that he shouldn’t be the impulsive type, generally speaking. He won’t make rash decisions in a situation of unknown circumstances. But if you give him a bad impression, or if you make him feel threatened... The consequences are hard to predict…… Well, get out of the car now.”
“You didn’t think you came here to just watch him run, did you? Please. Wouldn’t that show that you fancy him? Get out of the car now and make conversation with him. Don’t you always brag that you’re an expert socializer? Or do you only have the characteristics of being a sucker?”
He knew clearly she was goading him, but there isn’t a guy anywhere who would slap his own face in front of a girl. Xie Junping took a deep breath and patted his face to sober up a bit more from his hungover and murky state. Only then did he open the vertical doors of his Phantom and step outside.
This time he was standing face-to-face with Luo Nan for reals.
The distance between the two was approximately forty meters. Xie Junping brought forth the elegant demeanor of running for the student council. He waved towards Luo Nan from far away, sending him a greeting.
Yingying’s rang through the internal earbuds, seemingly ringing from the depths of his mind: “Excellent, you look just like a dog. Pay attention. Don’t give off a stinking air of pretension. Your current appearance is of a shameless degenerate, but you’re still considered a straightforward playboy. Also, you need to be a bit more forthright. He’s way smarter than you imagine.”
It was as if Xie Junping had returned to the time when he was running for student council. He followed every step planned by his advisor and operated according to the image he would present to voters. Luckily Yingying’s request wasn’t that difficult. It seemed that this performance came naturally to him.
He saw Luo Nan slow down in front of him and stare directly over to him. It was unclear if Luo Nan’s expression had changed; he lacked the visible intention of responding. This made Luo Nan quite hard to pin down.
Xie Junping decided to take the offensive initiative. He moved forward a few steps: “Apologies to this schoolmate, I wish to have a chat with you.”
Only when the distance between the two was within ten meters did Luo Nan tilt his head in greeting: “Senior Xie.”
Xie Junping’s heart skipped a beat. He asked by reflex: “You recognize me!?”
Yingying’s resentful voice sounded out: “What are you panicking for!?”
Luo Nan answered at practically the same time: “The 24th. You’ve participated in the senior-run society promotion and advice convention.”
“Oh, that’s right. That really did happen.”
Xie Junping scolded himself internally for the bad response. He started the conversation over with Luo Nan by asking a question he already knew the answer to: “How should I address this junior?”
“Okay then. Junior Luo Nan. I’m terribly sorry for disturbing your morning run, but there’s something I need your help with. Yes. The awkward moment just then. I can’t be out in public at the moment…… Can we talk in the car?”
Yingying spoke in a soft patronizing voice: “You wield that self-deprecating tone quite well.”
Luo Nan thought about it and didn’t refuse.
Luo Nan squeezed into the car and sat shotgun. He placed the notebook on his knee and sat upright, giving the appearance of a well-behaved law-abiding student.
Seeing how Luo Nan was quite cooperative, Xie Junping let out a breath of relief and returned sitting in the car.
He followed Yingying’s instructions and allowed the door to remain open, avoiding the mental implications created by a confined empty space. He even pulled out a performance drink from the mini fridge from the back seat and handed the drink over: “Replenish yourself with some water.”
“Thanks Senior Xie.” Luo Nan’s displayed distant manners from the very beginning. He took the drink, but he didn’t open the can.
Yingying raised some additional points: “Retard. Stop beating around the bush. This type of person is quick thinking. Many thoughts run through his head. It would be troublesome if you make a mistake. You need to pay attention. You were too vague just then. What awkward incident? Directly say the time and place!”
Xie Junping immediately cut to the chase: “Junior, forgive me for being presumptuous. I wish to ask if you were at the Dongxing Twin Towers’ moving walkway approximately 10 minutes ago at around 5:00?”
Luo Nan held the cold drink in his hand as he responded simply with: “Yes Senior.”
“Hic! You saw me come out of the nightclub?”
Xie Junping smacked his forehead and put on an extremely vexed expression. Five minutes were spent inside the car acting, three minutes venting, and two minutes waiting for Yingying’s instructions.
Yingying did not disappoint him, delivering him instructions very quickly: “He isn’t deliberately taking the initiative. He responds whenever you ask him a question. It’s highly probable that he lacks some social abilities. He may not be inexperienced from what he’s exhibited so far; he should put more of a value on a person’s image. This type of person will likely be fine being persuaded, but not coerced. However, you also shouldn’t straightforwardly talk about money.”
Xie Junping understood in a second. He forced a laugh on the spot: “Junior~ This senior has truly lost face today. I don’t have any sort of excuses for this matter that happened. But right now we’re in unusual times……”
He pointed out the matter of him wishing to get the Honor Society’s Senior Medal. Then he clasped his hand together, faced Luo Nan, and acted out paying his respects. He spoke half exaggerated and half seriously:
“I know no matter how I say it, it may not seem authentic. But junior, can you turn a blind eye to this? Can you let me off this time? Reputation and the like really doesn’t mean much to me. But as far as I’m concerned that medal is very very important!”
The performance that Xie Junping put on this time was absolutely top-notch. His attitude was very self-deprecating. The vulgar gangster smile of a playboy was on his face; his brazenness was protruding and the smile also dispelled some of the seriousness of the situation. He was refraining from rousing Luo Nan’s greed, for that would lead to bigger problems.
Luo Nan remained unperturbed from beginning to end: “Senior you don’t need to act this way. I’m no gossip, and even more so, I don’t talk behind peoples backs.”
“Hic! I trust my Junior. But in the information age with videos, photos, and the like, it’s not really safe……”
“I didn’t take a photo. I just felt that scene was relatively special so I drew a rough sketch as a souvenir.”
Luo Nan opened his notebook as he spoke. The flexible e-ink screen lit up to let Xie Junping take a look at the work he had drawn.
Xie Junping was slightly relieved when he saw the vague lines and shadows.
Right before Xie Junping was about to speak, Yingying spoke suddenly: “Get the notebook into your possession.”
She had spoken too fast. Xie Junping thought he heard her say “snatch”. He had a cold sweat from fright on the spot.
Xie Junping was stunned for two seconds before he could find a pretext: “Junior, you’ve carried this notebook for the whole day. It looks quite inconvenient to do so. What special function does it have?”
Xie Junping had spoken the truth. Luo Nan’s loose-leaf notebook combined the flexible screen with conventional paper binding into a single form factor. It appeared that having a flexible screen would cause traditional pages to not be very useful. And if one were to use traditional pages instead, a flexible screen would also be superfluous.
He reached out his hand as he spoke, adopting a curious investigating appearance. In truth, his heart was somewhat shaking with fear, fear that Luo Nan would get angry and bring forth another mess.
Luo Nan was actually quite magnanimous. He handed over the loose-leaf notebook to Xie Junping’s hands: “This kind of notebook was very popular during the Third War. Charging facilities weren’t everywhere in the chaos of war or in the desolate countryside. It was quite easy for electronic goods to turn into garbage. Traditional paper products were more reliable than electronic products at the time. Also, the efficiency can be rapidly increased when manufacturing is abundant. The flexible screen can be swapped out at any time; its manufacturing costs aren't high.”
“Whoa. A product from the Third War Era…... Have they produced any in the past dozen of years?”
This brought a smile to Luo Nan’s face, causing his facial contours to be softer: “My grandfather loved these types of notebooks the most back in the day. He had bought over a thousand books in one fell sweep. This one I’m using is amongst those. And, my grandfather wrote in at least hundreds of similar notebooks. Each book was packed to the brim. But now I’m unable to see the majority of them.”
“Wow! So it’s an antique.” Xie Junping flipped the pages at random and saw that the majority of the space was white. Only parts of the pages were written with formulas, numbers, and simple diagrams. It was like they were written down in passing and Xie Junping couldn’t see through the history behind them.
Xie Junping’s attention was primarily on the flexible screen. The drawing software was still running so he swiped with his finger, switching through page after page. He blurted out asking:
“Is this flexible screen also from fifty years ago? I’m not quite familiar with this drawing software.”
“No, I….. installed it later on.”
Xie Junping didn’t need Yingying’s reminder to hear the sign that Luo Nan had changed what he was going to say.
Anyway, he soon became interested in a drawing.
Xie Junping looked in browser mode and saw many images with similar scenes to the one he was in. There were scenes from inside the school and outside the school.
Xie Junping was somewhat stunned. He had some basic level of appreciation from being a second-generation rich folk, having received a good education.
Although every single one of these sketches was sloppy, some even lacking any sort of background, Xie Junping was familiar with these places. From the contour lines of humanoid figures of the sketch on the crooked paper, he could clearly see what sort of places, circumstances, and people were described in the end…..
Eh, the last sentence was too exaggerated. What he meant was that he could see what was happening in these drawings. He could see the intense body language and expressions from lines that contoured and portrayed the human figures.
Speaking of which, it was quite incredible. From the picture, concentration could be seen. Excitement could be seen. Depression could be seen. Madness could be seen…… Those rough lines of the image could portray the atmosphere of the scene, could portray the mood of the crowd. It could even portray everyone’s bearings.
Luo Nan had used a digital pen to draw out the lines, but clearly, there was a sort of sharp feeling of the image tearing out of the surface, stabbing deeply into one’s hidden heart indicating that part of it was real.
Xie Junping sweated inexplicably from looking: Crap. Did I discover the next Picasso?
He flipped to the last page and saw the sketch where he was the main subject. Xie Junping was actually somewhat dazzled, all the way until Yingying’s voice woke him up:
“He was clearly more excited than normal when he was talking about his notebook and his grandfather. I was researching some data just now and I discovered something very interesting…… Retard. Flip ahead a few more pages. You were idle for too long. Take care that he doesn’t misunderstand.”
It’s because I was talking to you! Xie Junping scolded Yingying over a hundred times in his heart. But he still followed her instructions like a marionette.
Yingying’s voice continued to come over: “His grandfather’s name is Luo Yuandao. He was formerly a researcher. He didn’t have any noteworthy achievements. But at 83 years, aka 13 years ago, he was accused of something. It’s said that a short time after the Third War he went to the wilderness and, with cooperation from vagrant forces, he performed private live human experimentation……”
Xie Junpei’s finger, which was swiping on the screen, shivered. He felt Luo Nan’s gaze constantly looking at him; maybe this feeling was from his guilty-conscience. However, it wasn’t an appropriate time to talk right now. The only thing he could do was force himself to continue on.