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114 Faraway Thoughts

 This was not the first time they lost communication. But the consequences typically weren't good if this kind of situation arose. Yin Shixiong grew more anxious and sat in his bedroom alone until the morning.

Gu Nianzhi got up early to shower and scarfed down a breakfast before heading to class. Yin Shixiong waited until 10am before getting an email back from Zhao Liangze. Aside from encryption, the email was also protected by a Special Ops coded password. This was serious. Yin Shixong rubbed his chin and stared at Zhao Liangze's email for a long time.


Gu Nianzhi was having class in He Zhichu's office at the Harvard Law School. He Zhichu looked at her homework from yesterday, made detailed edits and asked her to completely redo it. It was only a draft legislation regarding public school funding regulations and he actually made her rewrite it. Gu Nianzhi wasn't pleased but didn't directly take it up with He Zhichu. She nodded silently and returned to her desk to open her laptop and to check for He Zhichu's email with the edits. He Zhichu's office was very spacious and a bright window took up half the walls. His office desk was on the innermost corner of the room, besides the window. By the wall near the desk was a exquisite little study desk, where Gu Nianzhi had her laptop. This was were she was going to be for the majority of the next two months.

He Zhichu finished his emails and picked up his briefcase and iPad. He spoke to Gu Nianzhi, who was intently rewriting the legislation, "I'm going to a meeting, be back in two hours."

Gu Nianzhi answered and saw He Zhichu's slim fingers close the office door out of the corner of her eyes. She finally sighed in relief and bit the end of her pen as she looked at the azure skies outside in a daze. Her thoughts drifted to Huo Shaoheng--she wondered what Uncle Huo and his men were doing right now?


The subjects of Gu Nianzhi and Yin Shixiong's thoughts, Huo Shaoheng and Zhao Liangze were running in a dark forest in rural Vienna. It was the middle of the summer--the trees and grass were so lush and green they appeared black and endless. Great trees towered in the recesses of the forest, blocking out the outside heat and sunlight to kept the temperature cool. Because the trees were too dense, it was dark inside the forest, even in the middle of the day. Huo Shaoheng and Zhao Liangze were in camo, wore green and yellow warpaint, and also had dark sunglasses that filtered light. They swiftly jumped over creeks and crossed hills to arrive under a gigantic tree deep inside the forest.

"Team A disappeared here?" Huo Shaoheng and Zhao Liangze had their backs to each other as they surveyed the forest.

"According to the signal." Zhao Liangze only moved his lips and was so quiet no one else would hear him. Even though Huo Shaoheng's, who had his back to him, could only hear him through the headset. Huo Shaoheng wore military fingerless leather gloves and adjusted the sunglasses resting on his straight nose bridge as he looked around. His sunglasses had location functions and could also detect hidden objects. However he found nothing peculiar after peering around. There were obvious human tracks on the ground, but it had been two days already and no new tracks had appeared.

"...Where did they go? Could they have really flown away?" Zhao Liang muttered Gu Nianzhi's catchphrase, "...To hell with this!"

"No, they wouldn't have gone to hell, they would have gone to..." Huo Shaoheng froze and suddenly inclined head to the top of the giant tree. The heavy foliage appeared no different from that of any other trees, but he a suspicion there was something wrong with the top. He wanted to use his communicator but as soon as his fingers rested on it, unease began creeping from his heart. This was his instinct against danger, and it had saved him from traps numerous times.

"Keep watch here, I'll go up and have a look." Huo Shaoheng decided against the communicator and went up to check instead. He embraced the hefty trunk and quickly flitted up the top of the trees. He sighed in relief when he climbed halfway up. A head peered out from the bird's nest area at the top of tree crown and called to him like a partridge. Huo Shaoheng gave hand signals in the scant sunlight escaping through the leaves. Very quickly, two silhouettes appeared from the the leaves--it was the two A Team members who had been missing for two days.

"Mr. Huo!" The two men saw Huo Shaoheng and almost fell off the tree in excitement.

Huo Shaoheng nodded to them and pointed down. The men understood and followed Huo Shaoheng in a slow climb.

Zhao Liangze saw his two missing teammates and sighed in great relief as he wiped the sweat off his forehead. He punched the shoulder of one of the men, "You scoundrel! Why were you hiding up there? You scared us to death..."

Although there was always the a chance of death or injury with any mission, it didn't mean that they would get used to the grief and pain of losing a fellow soldier. The two missing teammates supported each other and smiled wryly at Huo Shaoheng and Zhao Liangze, "Mr. Huo, we didn't complete the mission and was shot in the legs by the enemies."

Only then did Huo Shaoheng and Zhao Liangze realize that they were limping as they saluted.

"We'll talk when we get back." Huo Shaoheng patted their shoulders, "Let's quickly treat your wounds first."

Zhao Liangze opened his backpack and took out his first aid kit. He ripped the pant legs and examined carefully.

"Bullet wound, we have to take them out. It's been a little too long and may have festered, we need to operate right away." Zhao Liangze only did a basic cleaning of the wounds.

Huo Shaoheng took over the scalpel, "I'll do it."

They couldn't delay any longer, a bullet wound couldn't be treated here because the physicians are obligated to contact the police. Although the Huaxia Imperial Consulate in Austria had physicians who could perform this type of surgery, the rules and regulations of the military mandated that the Special Ops could not act as civilians of the Huaxia Empire once they left its borders. They must cut all ties with the Empire and of course couldn't go to the Consulate. In this kind of situation, they would have to operate themselves. Zhao Liangze carefully administered local anesthesia to their legs. Huo Shaoheng pursed his lips and his face was impassive as he put on sterile medical gloves. He wielded the scalpel and made a steady incision on the wound of the first teammate, scraping away the putrid flesh. The blade glinted and swerved inside to prod at the shell of the bullet, then curved around it and gently flicked upwards. The bullet landed on the ground with a thud.

Zhao Liangze promptly applied dressing saturated with alcohol and bandaged it tightly so not a whiff of blood would escape.

"Your turn." Huo Shaoheng waved at the other man. With one successful surgery complete, the second one was done in even in less time. The entire process didn't take more than five minutes to remove the bullet and shrapnel from the leg. Zhao Liangze also cleaned and dressed the second team member's wound with dexterity. They often trained for outdoor first aid and it was a part of the job description. The entire process was less than 15 minutes, but Huo Shaoheng already felt that that had been there for too long. "We have to leave now." He stood up and took the backpacks of the two A Team members. He and Zhao Liangze supported one man each and walked out. They had already researched the the route and the layout of the entire forest before they came. Fortunately, the forest was too vast and the dense foliage blocked out the sky to make the reception weak enough to evade enemy tracking. They successfully exited and returned to the parked SUV besides the forest. The two team members went in together--they finally relaxed and began snoring soon after.

Zhao Liangze swiftly started the engine and sped towards where their lodgings.

Huo Shaoheng rested an elbow on his against one car window and propped his chin on the back of his hand. His eyes were sombre as he watched the streets speeding past and his mind spun in motion, Where did things go wrong?

The operation had run smoothly in Czach, but they were now floundering in Austria. It was like someone had already known their every move and laid traps for every step they took.