Chapter 1: First Encounter
Translator: Nyoi-Bo Studio Editor: Nyoi-Bo Studio
The train was rumbling along, traveling from deep in the snow-capped mountains to the endless horizon.
The scenery outside the window was like a movie, jumping from one frame to another; towering mountains, drifting clouds, sparkling lakes, and herds of cattle and sheep hidden in the grassland that was troubled by the wind.
All the colors in the landscape of Tibet appeared pure and tranquil. Every glance of them seemed to touch the deepest parts of the heart.
Lin Qian sat by the window.
The entire carriage was filled with people except for the space around her, which was deserted. Everybody seemed to be very careful in keeping a polite distance from the young woman.
Lin Qian was somewhat embarrassed but thought it kind of funny at the same time. She held her forehead in one hand and distractedly read a book in the other. Whenever she looked up, she saw a crowd of army green. She could feel the men’s gazes fall upon her from time to time, making her blush slightly.
Indeed, it was unusual for a young woman with just a backpack to find herself in a carriage packed with soldiers and then traveling eight hours with them.
It was only two days ago that Lin Qian had been in an accident in the snowy mountains.
Because of her new job, she had allowed herself to take a vacation before starting. She had gone hiking in Tibet, a trip that she had been dreaming of for a long time.
Hiking shouldn’t have been that difficult considering her physical state and experience with outdoor activities. But on her way back, her rented pickup truck had stopped working halfway down the mountain. An unexpected change in the weather had brought overnight snow, which added to her anxiety.
Luckily, at dawn the next day, a group of passing soldiers rescued her. The border guards were so friendly that they had offered to put her on a special train that transported veterans newly-retired from their service. The train could take her all the way to Lhasa.
A soldier sitting on the other side of the aisle took the initiative to ask, “Miss, where are you from?”
All of the soldiers had likely heard about her situation, so they were being particularly nice to her. Lin Qian smiled. “I’m from Lin City.”
Upon hearing that, a soldier down the aisle said cheerfully, “I’m from Lin City too, so we’re from the same area!”
Lin Qian looked up and smiled at him as well. She had a sweet face. Even though she was bundled in a jacket and wore no makeup, she still looked pretty and neat. Her smile made the soldiers’ hearts skip a beat.
The soldier laughed and asked again, “So I’m guessing you’re a university student?”
“No, I’ve actually been working for a few years,” she answered politely. Her soft, gentle voice seemed to carry a kind of unhurried natural ease, which made the soldiers feel comfortable. They again said she looked like a young student.
“What company do you work for in Lin City?”
Lin Qin replied, “Um, Aida Group.”
“Impressive!” The fellow-townsman gave her a thumbs up. “That’s the top enterprise in our city. It’s said it has billions in assets…”
Lin Qian acted natural, but in between the conversations she occasionally stole glances at the man sitting in front of her at an angle.
This man was the most silent yet conspicuous person in the entire carriage. It was hard for her not to notice him.
He wore a woolen military coat and, even though he sat with his back to her, appeared very tall and stood out from the general height of the soldiers around him. The wide-brimmed army cap was pulled so far down that most of his face was covered, leaving his clean-cut profile to be barely visible. His skin looked lighter than the others.
No matter how heated the yells, conversations, and singing were in the carriage, he remained motionless, as if he had fallen into a deep sleep.
It was a long journey, and it was beginning to get dark.
The soldiers were getting tired too, and most of them were snoozing in their seats. The carriage became cold and quiet. Lin Qian leaned against the cool windowpane and closed her eyes. Now, she could only hear the rumbling of the train against the tracks.
When they arrived back in Lin City, she would be busy again. Vacations always flew by and she felt reluctant to go back.
Gradually, the sound faded and Lin Qian found herself opening her eyes.
The windowpane was still cold. Outside, it was dark and silent. The silhouettes of mountains and lakes were barely visible. Up in the sky, bright stars twinkled softly.
The train stopped.
They were in the middle of nowhere. There was no platform either. Apparently, it was only a temporary stop. More attentive than Lin Qian, the soldiers were already all awake. Most of them stretched their necks and looked out of the window.
“It’s all right,” the soldier sitting opposite comforted her. “The road isn’t in a very good condition around here, so there might be some temporary issues that can be handled quickly.”
“Okay.” Lin Qian glanced back outside and caught a glimpse of the vacant seat in front of her. The man who had been sitting there sleeping was gone.
It wasn’t long until somebody came. It was a young officer standing tall in the carriage doorway, loudly giving a string of orders.
“Squad 2 and Squad 4, report to the front immediately. Squad 5, stay in charge of the security in this carriage before the train restarts; everyone else, stay where you are on standby.”
His voice had hardly died away when the soldiers all stood. “Yes!”
Lin Qian watched them all closely until the soldiers got to work. She then took a cap out of her backpack and got ready to fall back asleep. Just as she was about to curl up in her seat, she suddenly felt the eyes of all the soldiers resting on her.
She sat up straight again.
The officer had walked up to her side, with no expression on his face but a serious look in his eyes.
“Miss, please grab your luggage and follow me.”
With the soldiers still watching, Lin Qian stared up at him squarely. “Sorry, what seems to be the issue?”
The officer didn’t reply. He simply waved his hand and had another soldier put her luggage on his shoulder. Then they strode towards the carriage door.
The space between the carriages was dimly lit and the night air was cold.
Lin Qian hurried to follow the two tall military men, walking through one carriage after another, each one full of soldiers. She drew curious looks all throughout the train.
Finally, they reached the door of a soft sleeper carriage, far from the soldiers. The officer gestured to the soldier to lay down the luggage and leave, and then looked at Lin Qian.
She looked back at him. Her white face grew paler in the darkness and her eyes were sharp with tension.
Probably uncomfortable from being stared at for so long, the young officer moved his eyes away with a bit of uneasiness and explained flatly, “There is a small landslide out front. Soldiers have been sent to clear the tracks. There will be frequent staff activity in the train tonight, and there are wolves in this area too. It’s not convenient for you, a girl, to stay in that carriage, so our major ordered me to bring you to this sleeper for the night. There’s no one here and it’s safe and quiet. We’ll see you off at dawn.”
Lin Qian continued to stare at him.
So, he’d acted in such a menacing manner but was actually helping her?
She burst into laughter and immediately gave him a bow. “Thank you, thank you very much.”
Somewhat embarrassed, the officer quickly said, “No problem,” and left.
The corridor was empty with only two soldiers standing guard at the carriage door. It was indeed quite safe and quiet here.
Lin Qian lowered her head, breathed warm air onto her cold hands, and reached for the compartment door.
Before her hands reached the handle, she heard a click come from the door.
She was startled. Is there someone inside?
Before she could react, she heard a clatter and the door opened from the inside.
Lin Qian quickly backed away and leaned against the windowpane.
A man appeared at the door.
With no light in the compartment, the man’s face was hard to make out. Dressed in uniform, he was very tall, a head taller than the officer she’d just met. His cap brim was so low that it covered his eyes. She could only tell that he had a straight nose and a neat, clean chin.
Is it him? The man who was sleeping in the carriage?
Though she could not see his face clearly, his figure and presence told her that he was the same man.
Well, why he is here?
Lin Qian smiled at him. “Sorry, I didn’t know you were inside. The officer told me there was nobody here.”
“Mmm.” With a sound seemingly forced out of his throat, he quickly moved his long legs and strode through the compartment without further delay, passing by her.
Lin Qian stayed where she was but turned her head to look at him. Suddenly, she realized who he was.
“Are you the major?”
“Mmm.” He had already opened the carriage door.
Lin Qian was surprised. She had been thinking that the major who dispatched his officer to bring her here must have been a strong and swarthy military man. She hadn’t expected it to be someone like him at all. She hurried over without thinking and said, “Thank you.”
He had already slammed the door behind him without paying any attention to her. His tall and straight figure quickly hurried away.
It was bright and warm in her new carriage. Lin Qian sat by the window, looking around one more time.
The four bunks all looked tidy, with quilts that were folded in neat squares. On the wall by one of the upper bunks, a military coat was hung up. There was also a stainless steel mug on the small table in front of her.
It looked as if this was the carriage where officers stayed. This must be his bunk, which he had lent to her.
What a nice man. But why had he avoided her like the plague? Was there something scary about her?
Lin Qian couldn’t help but smile.
Sleeping until midnight, Lin Qian opened her eyes and found the train still hadn’t moved. She wasn’t sleepy anymore. Putting on a coat, she got up and looked outside.
She was stunned when she opened the door.
The corridor was quiet outside and the two guards were still standing not far off. But on the bench a dozen feet away from her, an officer sat quietly, dressed in a woolen coat and a pair of black army boots. Wasn’t he the major who had ignored her?
Unlike the cold and straight figure from a short while ago, his whole body leaned against the seat with his head drooped down, cap pulled low, and face covered by his coat collar. His posture reminded her of a lounging boy. Or a snoozing cat.
There was no doubt that the sound of the door opening alarmed him. His head lifted an inch but was still buried by the collar. It seemed like he was too lazy to look up at her; he was just waiting for her to speak up.
Lin Qian walked out and spoke to him a few steps away: “I’m not so tired anymore. You can go ahead and sleep inside.”
He was motionless for a few seconds.
Lin Qian thought he was about to speak up, so she waited quietly. However, gradually, he lowered his head until his original posture was resumed. And then there was no more movement from him.
“Okay then… Goodnight.” The only thing she could do was retreat back to the compartment and gently close the door.
At dawn, the train finally arrived in Lhasa.
Lin Qian got up, washed her face, and packed up. Outside was the bright and narrow corridor with the soldiers standing at the end. Where was the major?
She thought for a moment, took a pen and a piece of paper out of her bag, and wrote down her cell phone number and a quick note: I don’t think we will meet again. But if you have a chance to come to Lin City, please call me. I’ll be a good tour guide and a friend. Lin Qian.
Lin Qian bought a ticket for the first flight home. In the evening, she arrived in Lin City and took a taxi to her destination.
At the far end of the straight highway, she could see a vast industrial zone, in which stood several tall, white buildings that were neat and stylish. The large gilded letters Aida Group were particularly eye-catching.
Lin Qian asked the driver to stop in front of a residential building, almost a thousand feet away from Aida Group.
She had started renting an apartment here a month ago. After entering the room, she put her suitcase away and threw herself onto the bed.
Lying down for a while, she felt better. She looked at her cell phone; as expected, there were no new text messages or unanswered phone calls.
In all honesty, it was the first time that she had voluntarily given her phone number to a man. She was such a loser!
She stood up smiling and pulled open the curtains.
The golden light of the sunset flooded in, and Aida Group’s buildings, plants, and the green field behind them were bathed in the endless sunshine.
Lin Qian took a deep breath and felt surprisingly happy.
She decided that it had been a pretty good start: The warm encounter with thousands of people, the beautiful and flourishing city, and the new career she was about to take on.
Back at the expressway entrance to Lin City, a troop of military trucks was parked and ready to transport veterans back to their hometowns.
After talking in hushed tones, a few officers were about to get into a jeep. At that moment, a soldier ran up, running out of breath. He ran to the officer in the middle, stopped and neatly saluted. Then he said, “Major Li, I’ve finally found you. I found this when I cleaned your train compartment earlier.” He handed the man a note with a phone number and a few lines of writing on it.
The man, “Major Li,” took the note and looked it over; his face remained expressionless.
“You didn’t need to give this to me,” he said in cool and calm voice.
He hadn’t tried to cover the note at all. The two officers to his left and right, though standing straight, couldn’t help peeking at it too.
Hearing this, one of them couldn’t help saying, “Lin Qian… Isn’t she the girl who had an accident and rode with us? I saw her this morning. She’s pretty. Don’t you live in Lin City too? Why don’t you keep her number?”
The people around Major Li stared at him expectantly.
He lowered his brim again, straightened his collar, and stepped into the jeep.
“No need,” he said lightly, “she and I will see each other again very soon.”