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39 Interview 2

 He Zhichu's question made Gu Nianzhi feel like she was about to break out in a torrent of sweat. She thought to herself, "He's one of the best lawyers around, all right. He knows exactly which questions to ask..."

Her classmates were under the impression that she was just another transfer student at C University, but that was not the whole truth, not really; she had sat for and passed a special examination administered by the Imperial Army, thereby earning the privilege of direct admission into any university within the Empire.

Her choice of C University had been a complete coincidence.

When she had been trying to decide on her school, she had occasionally overheard Huo Shaoheng mention to his two Private Secretaries, Yin Shixiong and Zhao Liangze, over the phone that there was a Special Ops military base in C City, but none in the imperial capital.

Had Gu Nianzhi chosen to go to B University - which was located in the capital city - she would have had to part with Huo Shaoheng. She would have been left in the care of Yin Shixiong instead...

She had therefore chosen, without a moment's doubt, to study law at C University.

Now that she was graduating, she had heard that Huo Shaoheng's division was about to establish their headquarters in the imperial capital. The knowledge had given her the confidence to apply to the graduate law program at B University.

Deep down, she was still the same little girl in the burning car, scared out of her wits and, quite literally, her memories. She was not capable of living on her own, apart from Huo Shaoheng.

Ever since the car accident six years ago, she had lived in fear and insecurity.

She was only at ease around Huo Shaoheng; she needed to live with him to feel safe.

There was no way she could tell He Zhichu any of this, however; in fact, she had not even told Huo Shaoheng. These were her most intimate secrets, buried deep within her heart. Moreover, she had to keep Huo Shaoheng's true identity a secret.

Gu Nianzhi lowered her head and steadied herself against the table. She said, choosing her words carefully, "C University is closer to home. I was still very young back then, I didn't want to be too far away from home."

"Oh? Where are you from, Gu Nianzhi? Where did you grow up?" He Zhichu closed the folder and leaned back on the easy chair, his tone casual. His bright, slanted almond-shaped eyes watched her coolly.

Gu Nianzhi did not remember a thing from before she was twelve years old.

Her memory was gone, and so was her car, reduced to ashes; no one had seen the number on the license plate.

The only thing she had on her back then was a small backpack. Inside it was a photo, and a set of data charts.

The little girl in the photo was Gu Nianzhi. Written on the back of the photo was: "For Gu Nianzhi's eleventh birthday". The date below it was from one year ago.

It should have been easy enough to find her parents or relatives, but even the Imperial Army, with its massive reach and connections, had not been able to uncover where she had come from. It was all very strange.

This had been one of the reasons behind the Imperial Army's decision to ask Huo Shaoheng to be her guardian.

It was their custom to keep a tight rein on any element of uncertainty.

Because of this, Gu Nianzhi's background had to be kept a secret. When Gu Nianzhi entered C University, the military had already faked her personal history, which was now on her resume.

Gu Nianzhi calmly repeated the contents of her resume, making sure to word them differently so as not to sound suspicious.

These "experiences" would all check out; the military had prepared witnesses and physical evidence that would hold up to the closest scrutiny.

The Imperial Army's Special Operations Forces fabricated dozens of identities on a daily basis. Faking hers had not been especially difficult.

He Zhichu gave a small nod of his head. "...Your parents passed away when you were three years old? Your distant relatives have been taking care of you ever since?"

"Yes, they've been very good to me." Gu Nianzhi was keen to move on from this topic; she deliberately changed the subject to He Zhichu himself, asking, with great interest, "Professor He, you have a brilliant future in the United States. Why did you choose to be a professor here, in the Empire?"

He Zhichu raised his head, his expression grown even more frigid. He appeared to have seen through Gu Nianzhi's attempt at deflection, but did not call her out on it. His slender fingers tapped on the table as he reminded her, "I'm the one asking questions right now. Your questions will have to wait."

Gu Nianzhi said, "...In that case, please proceed with your questions."

He Zhichu asked her several highly specialized questions.

This time, he spoke in English, interspersed with Latin terms commonly used in American law.

Gu Nianzhi answered readily, without the slightest hesitation, in a British accent that sounded very authentic, like she had grown up in the British Isles.

He Zhichu was a little surprised by this. The corners of his bright, slender eyes seemed to arch further upwards as he said, "I didn't expect you to be this fluent in English. Do you plan to further your studies abroad in the future, or will you remain here, in the country?"

Gu Nianzhi folded an arm across her chest and held her chin with her other hand as she thought about it. She replied, honestly, "I haven't thought about it."

Her future destiny could only be decided after discussing it over with Huo Shaoheng.

She wanted to study abroad, to see the world outside, but if she did not have Huo Shaoheng by her side, she had a feeling she would go mad with fear...

But she also knew that she could not depend on Huo Shaoheng for the rest of her life.

She was trying to free herself from the shadows of her past. She was trying to learn to live independently, on her own.

But she was not in a hurry. She would wait until she was twenty before striking out on her own.

He Zhichu did not ask any more questions. He shut the folder, and said to Gu Nianzhi, "Well, in any case, you were late twice. You've missed the deadline for Fall enrollment."

Gu Nianzhi's heart sank. She had worked so hard and for so long; was it all for nothing?

"However, I am also recruiting for Spring semester. Are you willing to start next spring instead?" He Zhichu was being a deliberate tease. He had sent Gu Nianzhi straight down into hell with one sentence, then up into heaven with the next.

"Spring semester? You bet I'm willing! I'll be admitted next spring, right? It's official?"

"Of course." He Zhichu extended a hand to Gu Nianzhi. "Welcome to the club. You will be He Zhichu's one and only graduate student."

Gu Nianzhi had not expected He Zhichu to take her on the spot. She was giddy with joy. She grabbed He Zhichu's hand to shake it, only to release it almost immediately.

He Zhichu's palm had been cool to the touch, but this was only fitting for someone as aloof and indifferent as he was. It would be odd for someone like him to have warm hands.

"Professor He, you really mean it? I'm going to be your student?!" Gu Nianzhi's large eyes had turned into two smiling crescents. She was so happy she could barely control herself; tears threatened to spill from her eyes. "Your assistant came to me yesterday and tried to talk me out of the interview. She said I would only be sabotaging my own future if I became your student. I'm just a timid little orphan girl, with no one to support me. I was so frightened by her words I couldn't sleep the whole night!"

He Zhichu froze. He looked up at Gu Nianzhi, pinning her with his dark, inky eyes. "What did you just say? My assistant paid you a visit yesterday, and advised you to forfeit the interview?"

"Oh! I shouldn't have said all that, sorry... sorry... I'm sorry..." Gu Nianzhi bowed in apology again and again, a flustered look on her face. But she was only putting on a show - she had deliberately spilled the beans on Wen Shouyi's distasteful visit.

Gu Nianzhi was careful and vigilant. She was not the sort to keep her grievances to herself, and she was most definitely not one of those "I'm so noble because I suffer in silence" idiots, the kind who reveled in turning the other cheek because it made them more "saintly".

Gu Nianzhi's account of what had happened the day before had caught He Zhichu completely by surprise. He seated himself on the large sofa in the conference room, dignified and elegant, as he digested this. After a moment, he nodded, and asked, "...My assistant, you say? Who?"