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    The grand door before him creaked open, allowing the daylight from outside to stream in, revealing the familiar and revered figure he had long known.

    Yang Zhiwei stood there in a crisp suit, exuding an elegant and refined demeanor. His body was ravaged by illness, his complexion unnaturally pale and sallow, as if all life had drained from him. Yet, his eyes remained sharp and gentle, identical to the expression he had worn on the lecture stage years ago.

    —Back then, when Lin Shuicheng sought him out after class at the age of seventeen or eighteen, freshly enrolled in university, and with his family just shattered. He approached Yang Zhiwei with his obstinate determination, seeking answers. Yang Zhiwei's gaze pierced through his eagerness and embarrassment, discerning the ambition and hope brewing deep within his eyes.

    He asked straightforwardly, "Do you want to join me in my experiments?"

    That was the first glimmer of light in Lin Shuicheng's dark and dreary memories from his senior year of high school, preceding Chu Shihan's entrance into his life.

    Lin Shuicheng's vision flickered with grayness, as if his soul had detached from his body, leaving him isolated from all the world's sounds.

    This was the final door. Rain poured heavily outside, and the wind carried dampness that brushed against the entrance.

    Yang Zhiwei held an umbrella, gazing at him with a tender yet mournful expression. "This isn't your fault, child. From the moment you were born with lithium-resistant genes, you were destined to be extraordinary. You are the god we created. You are Number 704. Before you, we experimented on many infants, but none were as successful as you. After you, we attempted to replicate more subjects, studying the superior codes in your genes and nurturing early childhood behaviors similar to yours. But all we produced were imitations. Only you, solely you, are one of a kind, my most perfect creation."

    Lin Shuicheng was speechless. After a long while, his voice trembled almost beyond comprehension. "Why, Teacher, why?"

    "If you ask why," Yang Zhiwei whispered, "General He's ambitious establishment of Seven Sections four decades ago has spun out of her control. She founded Seven Sections, gathering key personnel from all scientific fields, making it independent from the entire alliance's political system. She foresaw the tilt in the alliance's resource allocation and sought to surpass ethical boundaries in technology for advancement—total human genetic modification, erasing geniuses, eradicating diseases. To achieve this, she couldn't do it alone. She needed someone with the same goal, to be her sword and carry out these tasks while eliminating her thorns in the flesh—such as Fu Qingsong and the Fu Military Technology, which she believed would eventually pose a threat to national security."

    "At that time, I was twenty, freshly graduated with a Ph.D., and had just started my research in the field of atoms. She called me, and the weather that day was as lovely as it was when she came to find you. In the glass greenhouse, she chose me to be that person."

    Yang Zhiwei spoke softly. "Unfortunately, things didn't go as planned. General He was a dictator all her life, but not everyone was willing to heed her words. More people preferred to listen to the voice of their gods than contribute meaningless efforts to the Alliance. And so-called miracles were merely the butterfly effect models I created out of boredom – an interesting fact. When she realized she couldn't control me, she began searching for a second-generation scientific spokesperson and eagerly aimed at academia. Sadly, it didn't succeed."

    Lin Shuicheng still murmured, "Why..."

    "If you ask me," Yang Zhiwei's smile faded, and he resumed his stern and composed demeanor as a mentor in the laboratory, "do you remember what I always asked you to do before entering the lab?"

    In that instant, Lin Shuicheng felt transported back in time – half a year seemed like eons ago.

    They had had the same conversation on that mint-scented, late-night occasion.

    He had rasped, "Titration. Acid-base... Neutralization test. Hydrochloric acid and sodium hydroxide, indicator, phenolphthalein, methyl orange."

    "Titration, complexation, oxidation-reduction, precipitation, EDTA... I told you this is the romance of chemistry. Humans invented indicators almost without any microscopic observation tools, doing their utmost to replicate and study molecular collisions. Facing the wonders of the universe with the naked eye, they spared no effort to calculate the unknown."

    "I've grown weary of such romance. I'm tired of errors and chaos, tired of anything inexplicable. Whenever I saw you all striving in titration experiments, my heart was a stagnant pond: fate told me that I wouldn't witness the perfect quantum computer in my lifetime, that the path of technological progress was sealed by human ethics – I grew weary. If I were also searching for fate, then perhaps being born in this era was mine."

    Yang Zhiwei extended his hand towards Lin Shuicheng. Amidst the gloomy rainy day, his palm revealed a nearly translucent hue – a sign of his body's self-dissolution.

    "After discovering your ineffectiveness, I underwent genetic modification to tolerate lithium compounds, but it failed. We haven't obtained the DNA optimization database from Project B4 or the method for gene splicing without side effects. The Fu family has kept this project tightly under wraps. My time is running out."

    "Yet, that doesn't stop me from relishing in observing others entangled in fate, just as I am. I find great joy in it."

    Yang Zhiwei chuckled softly. "I can't create a full butterfly effect, but I can be a creator, controlling all the tools I desire: academia, business, politics. I penned a casual paper, based on which I've amassed wealth and talent. Seven Sites is our storage, the Quantum Security Wall our treasury... We control everything, thus we predict everything.

    "It was all perfect until Shihan called, inquiring about that experimental reaction... until your current lover proposed a quantum interference strike worldwide, willing to sacrifice everything, turning our fourteen quantum computers into scrap metal." Yang Zhiwei's voice turned cold. "I underestimated the Fu family. General He's only correct move was to be wary of them."

    He asked, "Shuicheng, do you have any more questions?"

    That calm and soothing voice echoed like every time he smiled in the lab, asking, "Do you have any other concerns?"

    Lin Shuicheng, the youngest student in the lab, with peers four or five years older, was always met with this accommodating tone by Yang Zhiwei and the other students – a subtle indulgence and affection.

    Lin Shuicheng croaked, "What about Professor Jin Li?"

    "That young man with blue eyes? He was the main figure in B4 and willingly works for me. He's divulged all the B4 information he knows. No need for threats; he values his life too much," Yang Zhiwei said with a hint of pity in his gaze. "What expectations do you still have for such an academic disgrace, Shuicheng? Your greatest flaw is your naivety."

    Lin Shuicheng couldn't think of any more questions – he was speechless. The absurdity and confusion of recent events felt like a knife slicing through his flesh and piercing his heart.

    The butterfly he had been chasing suddenly vanished, for the path ahead was nothing but a mirage.

    In this lifetime, how much more could he grasp?

    How much more could he demand from fate?

    Yang Zhiwei bent down and gently pressed a subdermal tranquilizer against his neck. "It's alright now, everything is fine, Shuicheng, my good child. Have a good sleep, you still have one last purpose. You'll be better when you wake up."

    "Just pretend none of this ever happened. Imagine that you were born into a happy family in Winter Chestnut City, with loving parents, an adorable younger brother, and a doting grandfather – do you remember how delicious his dumpling soup was? Every Saturday afternoon, he would make a pot and bring it over with dinner for your midnight snack."

    "Your little brother, wait, he was bullied at junior high, but he didn't cry. Instead, he ran straight to you to fight back. That week, you gave a self-criticism speech at the flag-raising ceremony, acknowledging your introversion. But your classmates were all proud of you, they cheered loudly from below."

    "Your lover waited for you at the door with flowers, braving the cold winter night for eight hours and taking allergy medicine. The next day, when you came out of your room, the cat you named after him had dragged the flowers up a tree. The cherry blossoms fell so beautifully, and the sun was shining brightly that day."

    So many... beautiful, joyful, and sweet memories emerged in Lin Shuicheng's mind. He struggled desperately, trying to reach out and grab hold of them, yet grasped nothing.

    Darkness engulfed him, leaving only emptiness behind.

    Just like in those black nights that drowned him, when he held a book under the lamp and read slowly, the darkness enveloped him. He awaited the return of the mint-scented person in vain, just as he watched the landscape rush past on the bus home. Like when he was five and mimicked his grandfather's parrot-like singing, fate had already revealed his end there.

    "I have seen all the things that are done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a chasing after the wind."

    (From the Bible, Old Testament, Ecclesiastes)

    "Reporting to Deputy Director Fu, Squad Seven of the Defense Bureau successfully breached Division Two's headquarters, regained partial communication data, and although most areas are now disconnected, we've established contact with regional branch heads for wartime emergency coordination. The RANDOM faction, centered in Star City, has spread to surrounding branches, and their influence is waning. Reinforcements from other regions are deploying at full capacity. The main challenges now are restoring transportation infrastructure and rebuilding in heavily affected areas."

    "Very well, inform Team B to assist me in infiltrating the old Division Seven this afternoon to rescue hostages. Everyone, take a break for now; you've worked hard these past few days."

    "Yes, sir!"

    Within the Defense Bureau building, Fu Luoyin watched as his subordinate left the office before lowering his head to continue discussing battle strategies with the few individuals beside him.

    In the earliest stages, Fu Luoyin arrived at Star City with a substantial convoy of military supplies, providing much-needed reinforcement. Among those who remained, communication relied on signal stations and encryption technologies furnished by the Fu Corporation's military-industrial arm. Though not as efficient as large-scale telecommunications operations, these measures effectively managed the situation. Everyone else who had survived threw themselves into their tasks with fervor, tirelessly striving to revive the vitality of the Alliance.

    As he had anticipated, RANDOM's large-scale assault from a few days prior was their final desperate retaliation, following the destruction of their weapons control system. The remaining organization members in Star City were now nearing the end of their rope, relentlessly depleting their ammunition and supplies with no viable recourse. Fu Luoyin, adhering to the principle of utilizing every resource brought to its utmost strategic advantage, decisively issued the order for "siege."

    Not initiating aggression, nor revealing his position to invite enemy strikes, he directly severed and sealed several transportation routes around the old Seventh Haven of Defense.

    Like taming an eagle, he intended to wear the other person down until life left them.

    For three days and three nights, seventy-two hours in total, there were insufficient food reserves in the old Seventh Bureau's shelter. The people inside couldn't get out, and those outside couldn't get in. The situation had unfolded abruptly, and RANDOM could only create chaos but didn't have the resources to sustain it or prepare in advance.

    "Deputy Director Fu, we have new intelligence. Someone from the old Seventh Bureau has attempted to exit, signaling that they're open to negotiation. Otherwise, they'll start executing hostages and broadcast it globally!" A moment later, the office door was pushed open again. "A message from the frontlines!"

    "I'll take a look." Fu Luoyin took the stack of documents.

    The files contained infrared images and long-distance photos taken by nanocameras. In the pictures, RANDOM members were pushing a line of hostages, all bound and with their faces covered, making it impossible to identify them.

    The only thing certain was that Lin Shuicheng wasn't among them.

    In the past few days, many people had shared the situations they encountered and cross-checked the identities and whereabouts of the hostages they knew... But no one mentioned where Lin Shuicheng was. Only his and Jin Li's whereabouts remained unclear.

    Fu Luoyin's heart sank.

    "...Deputy Director Fu?"

    Regaining his composure, Fu Luoyin replied softly, "It's nothing. The plan remains unchanged. We'll storm the shelter to rescue the hostages. Their motives may not be straightforward. Use the negotiation time to buy stability and launch a surprise attack three hours earlier. I'll lead the team personally. Deploy snipers for long-range elimination of suspicious activity. They have high-energy radiation fog, but we have anti-infrared detection equipment. Prepare the team accordingly."

    "Yes, sir!"

    In the past two days, Fu Luoyin had been working tirelessly, gathering all available intelligence on Lin Shuicheng. However, aside from that, he didn't do anything else.

    During meal breaks, Fu Luoyin would take out the ID badge from his chest pocket, gently caressing the face in the photo, lost in thought.

    His assistant stood by, observing his expression, wanting to offer some comfort but ultimately deciding against it.

    As night fell, the military forces of Star City began to narrow their surveillance perimeter.

    The old Sector Seven was eerily quiet, its lights dim, with almost no sign of life.

    "C Team, seal off the roads. The other six teams will proceed along their designated directions, detonate the second floor as planned, and rescue the hostages before the domino effect triggers further explosions and collapses. Note: Most of the old Sector Seven's shelters are underground. Control the elevator entrances and all exits. In case of direct confrontation, prioritize self-defense first, and hostage safety second. Our mission is to dismantle the enemy's weapon stockpiles."


    "Reporting, ground snipers are in position."

    "Received. Operation begins!"

    Silent tension and urgency spread through the underground shelters. Amidst the darkness, the team members moved stealthily. Gradually, some began to sense something amiss.

    No one remained in the old Seventh Shelter—no living soul. "Leader, we've got a situation. It's in the second-floor data analysis room," an investigator hurriedly reported. Fu Luoyin followed the sound up the stairs.

    Upon reaching the second floor, a putrid stench wafted over. The server room door was ajar, and scattered across the floor lay the lifeless bodies of forty or fifty individuals, entangled in grotesque positions. All signs of life had vanished. The pungent odor of incontinence, intensified by the heat in the server room, was nauseating to anyone who dared inhale.

    "The group committed mass suicide by poison. We don't know why yet," the investigator whispered. "The hostages were kept on the fourth floor, and most of them displayed symptoms of acute anemia. However, all other RANDOM organization members are deceased."

    Fu Luoyin suppressed his disgust as he surveyed the scene. He then noticed that the computer in the server room was still on, its screen glowing with a faint blue light.

    He stepped over the corpses and approached the machine for a closer look.

    In the center of the computer screen was a fully constructed butterfly effect model, still running. The simulation started from the moment the RANDOM member proposed negotiations and ended with countless scenarios, each resulting in failure.

    Starvation, ambush, and annihilation... every possible outcome and trajectory were listed. As Fu Luoyin studied the display, he detected something unusual—the butterfly effect software wasn't the same one created by Lin Shuicheng. This version was more precise and detailed, but its origin was unknown.

    Just as Fu Luoyin was about to leave, a dialog box suddenly popped up on the computer, followed by the transmission of a photograph.

    The instant Fu Luoyin laid eyes on the photograph, his blood ran cold.

    In the picture, Lin Shuicheng was blindfolded and bound by restraints in a corner, his condition unclear.

    A message followed: "Negotiation - yes or no?"

    "Exchange B4 Core for Lin Shuicheng. Decision countdown, 5, 4, 3, 2..."

    Before the digits reached "1," Fu Luoyin hastily pressed "yes."

    His gaze remained fixed on the photo, but soon it vanished, replaced by new text: "Come alone to find us. No communication devices or weapons allowed. The location is before your eyes."

    Fu Luoyin lowered his gaze, noticing a clean desk with a small note in the center.

    He reached out and gently unfolded the note.

    It was an address he had visited two years prior, bearing a bouquet of bellflowers and a black umbrella as a farewell to the person in this world who shared his face.

    Two years ago, Lin Shuicheng, stationed at the Jiangnan Branch, had also received a similar note with the identical address.

    It is the burial ground of Chu Shihan.


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