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173 The 18th Birthday 3

 The birthday party would be held later that night.

Gu Nianzhi was feeling a little uneasy. She got out her phone and dialed Brother Huang's number.

"Nianzhi?" Brother Huang's cheerful voice sounded over her phone. "Hey there, Birthday Girl! Are you on the cruise ship?"

Gu Nianzhi relaxed. She said with a smile: "I just arrived. What about you guys? Where are all of you now?"

"We're a much bigger group, so we have to fly to Barbados first, before switching to a speedboat to get to the ship."

Gu Nianzhi was relieved to hear that. Wen Shouyi had told her the same thing, and Gu Nianzhi knew now that she had been telling the truth.

She thought of the day He Zhichu had had to leave for his hometown: he had called her to say that he would be back in time to celebrate her birthday.

She had politely told him then that he should put his family first, especially if the family matter was seirous and urgent. But deep down, she knew that He Zhichu always kept his promises.

He was the type to stay true to his word, no matter the circumstances. His pride and moral integrity did not allow him to behave otherwise; he and Huo Shaoheng were similar in that regard.

Gu Nianzhi decided she should believe He Zhichu. He had never let her down, after all.

"All right, I'll wait for you." Gu Nianzhi smiled as she ended the call.

"Well, let's go to our rooms to unpack and freshen up. It's going to be a grand birthday dinner, we should get ready." Wen Shouyi winked at Gu Nianzhi cheerfully.

Gu Nianzhi forced herself to smile at her.

Gu Nianzhi had to grudgingly admit that Wen Shouyi was a lot more refined and mature than she was. Gu Nianzhi could not pretend to like Wen Shouyi, but Wen Shouyi was different: she was evidently capable of concealing her true feelings with graceful ease.

Gu Nianzhi returned to the third floor with Zhao Liangze. They chose one of the suites near the middle, and moved in.

"Nianzhi, let's not be strangers now. We'll stay in this cabin together, you and me. Is that okay with you?" Zhao Liangze opened his suitcase and began unpacking his usual array of electronic devices and equipment.

Gu Nianzhi nodded. She had been about to make the exact same suggestion herself.

Out on the open sea, she had to stay with someone she was familiar with to feel safe.

"Brother Ze, where are Uncle Huo and Brother Xiong now? Will they know how to get here?" Gu Nianzhi asked uneasily.

"Don't worry. I've sent them our coordinates." Zhao Liangze recalled what Huo Shaoheng had chosen for his mode of transportation, and had to bite his lip to keep himself from laughing out loud.

He looked up and saw the concern in Gu Nianzhi's eyes. He tossed his iPad over to her. "Mr. Huo always creates a big commotion whenever he travels. See for yourself." He made a silly face at her.

Gu Nianzhi took the iPad skeptically. She unlocked it and found herself staring at the front page of the famous American news website, CXX.

The words "Breaking News" were splashed across the top of the page in big red letters!

Under the headline was a photo, taken from a satellite.

A submarine-long, black, and massive-had emerged amongst the rolling waves of the crystal blue sea. A bright red flag stood from the hull, fluttering gaily in the wind.

It was a high-resolution satellite image-sharp enough for Gu Nianzhi to make out the five red stars on the flag!

The photo caption said: "The Huaxia Empire's Qin-class submarine suddenly surfaced in Guam. What are they after?! The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has issued a diplomatic note to the Huaxia Empire condemning their actions, but the Huaxia Empire diplomats have not responded..."

Gu Nianzhi's heart gave a leap at this.

She looked over the article again, and discovered that it was actually from six days ago!

Guam was part of US territory. It was also the biggest and most important US military base in the western Pacific Ocean.

In order to compete with the Huaxia Empire, the United States had transformed Guam into what they called an "unsinkable aircraft carrier." They had spent 12.6 billion US dollars to build a dock for top-of-the-line nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, the most advanced missile defense system, and the biggest training ground for live-fire exercises.

It was supposed to be a massively sophisticated military base-and yet a Huaxia nuclear submarine had secretly run up to their door and pulled off a ding-dong ditch.

"Brother Ze, is this..." She stared at Zhao Liangze, her eyes very bright. She could hear her heart pounding in her ears.

Had Uncle Huo left the country in a nuclear submarine?!

Zhao Liangze gave a small nod, smiling. "Mr. Huo had official business to deal with in Cuba, so it was convenient for him to come over. But you know how it is-a submarine isn't exactly the fastest way to travel."

Nuclear submarines were not renowned for their speed; their strengths lay primarily in their ability to get up close to enemy territory to launch missiles from the coastline. Capable of successive nuclear strikes, these submarines served as important chess pieces in the game of war.

Huo Shaoheng and Yin Shixiong had set out in the submarine a few days ago.

They had earmarked two days in their itinerary to celebrate Gu Nianzhi's birthday in the Caribbean.


Six days ago, Huo Shaoheng had looked out from the submarine at the Guam US military base and said, "...Well, we should at least say hello, since we're already here."

Following that, the nuclear submarine had slowly emerged from the depths of the sea. It poked its nose out of the waters near Guam, a Huaxia Empire flag cheerily flapping from its hull.

The officer on duty at the Guam US military base saw the enormous blip on the radar screen and hastily removed his glasses to wipe them, afraid he was seeing things.

His partner tapped him on the shoulder and pointed at the window, which looked out upon the sea. He said, his expression deadpan: "Stop wiping your glasses, and look outside, for god's sake. They're already at our door. What, did you think you were hallucinating?"

Shortly after, a loud, piercing siren began to wail over the PA system.

Fighter jets took off from the airport, their radars spinning wildly as they kept a close watch on the nuclear submarine that had somehow slipped past their noses.

The US military's highest resolution imaging satellites quickly snapped a number of photos and transmitted them to the Department of Defense in Washington, DC.

The US military experts quickly learned that this was a Qin-class nuclear submarine, which the Huaxia Empire had just finished putting together.

The US experts had not realized that the submarine was already operational-in fact, it was already patrolling the seas with loaded missiles!

As the Americans frantically pointed and shouted at one another, the Huaxia Qin-class nuclear submarine stealthily sank beneath the waves and cruised away from the Guam US military base.


Gu Nianzhi wore a white bikini, over which she had put on a long, navy blue Maxi skirt. She lay on a pool chair next to the open-air swimming pool on the top deck of the cruise ship, working on her tan as she read the news on her iPad.

Judging from the news timeline, the nuclear submarine would be emerging near the Hawaiian Islands next.

Gu Nianzhi gazed at the news about the Huaxia Imperial Qin-class nuclear submarine, bursting with vicarious pride. The article had been at the top of the Major News section on the CXX website for the last six days.

She kissed the iPad screen.

Zhao Liangze had changed into colorful knee-length swimming trunks and a pair of shades. He lay on the pool chair beside Gu Nianzhi, basking in the sun.

Wen Shouyi was still in her red and black Maxi dress. She lay on a pool chair opposite Gu Nianzhi and Zhao Liangze.

They were separated by a swimming pool, its crystal-clear waters blue from the reflection of the sky.

Gu Nianzhi's fingers gently caressed the photo of the nuclear submarine on the iPad. She thought of Huo Shaoheng's achingly handsome face-so beautiful it took her breath away-and how he had always protected and sheltered her, like a strong, silent mountain. Her heart warmed at the recollection.

He was on his way to her. Gu Nianzhi had found a fountain of courage, and was now drinking from it.

As long as he was by her side, she was not afraid of anyone. In her current buoyant mood, Wen Shouyi seemed about as menacing as a fly.

Gu Nianzhi picked up her glass of red wine. She smiled as she lifted it in the direction of Wen Shouyi, lying across the pool from her, and toasted her.

Wen Shouyi was clearly taken aback by her gesture. She stared uncertainly at her for a moment, before returning the toast.

The waiters on the ship served them tropical dishes: deep-fried plumeria, fresh oysters, steamed prawns, cheesy crab soup, and lobster dipping sauce. There were also potato chips, a large vegetable salad, and rainbow cocktails decorated with miniature bamboo umbrellas.

Gu Nianzhi never said no to good food.

Gu Nianzhi and Zhao Liangze had a merry time eating and drinking.

The minutes ticked by. The sun gradually sank into the horizon as the cruise ship slowly moved across the sea.

The sun, previously hot and white, was now a dark gold. It reminded Gu Nianzhi of the yellow, transparent flesh of an overripe Ivory mango-she could even imagine a warm, sweet fragrance drifting from the rapidly cooling sun.

Gu Nianzhi removed her sunglasses and watched the sun set over the horizon. The last rays from the sun danced upon the waves like gold confetti.

A speedboat had come into view; it was approaching the ship at high speed.

Gu Nianzhi stood up. "Is that Brother Huang and the rest of the guests?"

Wen Shouyi had gotten out of her chair. She watched the speedboat for a moment, before smiling and nodding. "Yes, that should be them."


The Qin-class nuclear submarine, with Huo Shaoheng and Yin Shixiong on board, had set out for Cuba from Huludao six days ago.

The submarine had stealthily made its way to Guam, where it surfaced to say a cheeky hello, before moving on to Hawaii. After that, it had submerged to the bottom of the sea, rounded Cape Horn, the southernmost tip of South America, and sailed northward at full speed. It had cruised along the shoreline of the South American continent, before finally re-emerging in Cuban waters on the day of Gu Nianzhi's birthday.

One of the generals in the Huaxia Navy was visiting with the Cuban Navy, and Huo Shaoheng had merely hitched a ride.

He was not part of whatever official business the Huaxia Navy had with Cuba.

From Cuba, it would take less than an hour to get to the Caribbean international waters by speedboat.

Huo Shaoheng disembarked from the submarine and walked ashore with Yin Shixiong and the rest of the submarine soldiers.

At that moment, on an island inside the Bermuda Triangle, a small distance away from them, Bai Shuang was sitting on the balcony of a luxury villa. She texted her cousin Bai Yueran, who was still in the Huaxia Empire.

"Sis, I found my father."


It was four o' clock in the morning. Bai Yueran could not sleep.

Her eyelids had been jumping relentlessly ever since Huo Shaoheng had insisted on joining the top brass of the Imperial Navy in their nuclear submarine on an excursion to Cuba. Something was about to happen-she could feel it.

She got up to check the time, and found a text message from an unknown number on her phone.

She unlocked her phone to read the message, and her heart almost stopped. She stared vacantly at her phone, unable to believe what she was seeing.

She sat quietly for five minutes, before making up her mind.

Bai Shuang's father, Bai Yusheng, was the former deputy director of the Imperial Secret Service. He had defected to the United States not long ago.

The Bais were a powerful family; they had married into many other distinguished families to secure their position at the top of the Empire. Even so, Bai Yusheng's act of treason had dealt a massive blow to the Huaxia Empire's intelligence network in North America, and had resulted in the loss of many lives. The Bai family was powerful, but it was not quite powerful enough to shrug this particular scandal off.

In the fallout, every member of the Bai family had been subjected to a round of stringent background checks. Some of them had been dismissed from office as a result, while a few others had been transferred to lesser positions.

Bai Yusheng's daughter, Bai Shuang, had fallen from grace. Stripped of her position as spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, she had been forced to resign from public office.

After leaving the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, she joined the Bai family business, but quit her job soon after.

The disdainful looks of strangers were bad enough, but the contemptuous looks from her own family were even worse. It was too much for her.

She wanted to find her father and ask him: Why did you do it?

He was her father, after all, and had doted on her since she was a little girl. Her search for him eventually paid off.

Her father Bai Yusheng was overjoyed to see her. He took her by the hand and chatted happily with her. He side-stepped all her questions, however.

He had defected from the Empire, it was true-but he had only done so because he felt he deserved more. He wanted a better life: was that really such an unforgivable crime?


Bai Yueran looked at the text message. She dialed the number on her phone.

Bai Shuang was sitting on a balcony, bored out of her mind, when she suddenly heard her phone ring. She unlocked it, and saw that it was a call from her cousin, Bai Yueran!

She hastily took the call. Her voice trembled with emotion. "Sis!"

"Shuang, listen to me: where are you now?" Bai Yueran's voice was steady. As she tried to soothe Bai Shuang on the line, she turned on the satellite positioning system to track Bai Shuang's precise location.

Five minutes later, the satellite positioning system had done its job: Bai Shuang was on the other side of the planet, on an island within the Bermuda Triangle.

Bai Yueran looked at the tracking symbol on her computer display. A thought occurred to her, and she asked: "Shuang, have you found Second Uncle?"

Bai Shuang's father, Bai Yusheng, was the younger brother of Bai Yueran's father.

"I did. He's still alive, thank god, and he's actually doing quite well." Bai Shuang patted her chest in relief-she had been afraid her father would vanish from her life entirely, without letting her know what had happened to him.

Bai Yueran laughed pleasantly. "Where is Second Uncle? Can I talk to him?"

"Not now, I'm afraid. He's gone out to sea with a few other men. He said he'll only be back at night." Bai Shuang looked at her watch. "It's still early."

"Well, how do you keep in touch with Second Uncle? How about you give me his phone number, and I'll get my father to call and talk some sense into him? We're family, we can still bail him out of this mess if the Bai family band together to help him." Bai Yueran nonchalantly kept Bai Shuang on the line as she relayed the news of Bai Yusheng's discovery to General Ji, the commander-in-chief of the Huaxia Imperial Military. She also forwarded the news to three other men: the director of the Secret Service; the Chairman of the Senate, Chairman Long; and Major General Huo, the commander of the 6th Military Region.

Bai Shuang did not hesitate to give Bai Yusheng's current mobile number. She had been meaning to ask her uncle-Bai Yueran's father-to persuade the military to let her father return to the country alive, and she was glad to hear that Bai Yueran had been thinking the same thing. The last thing she wanted was for the military to kill her father.

Bai Yueran immediately forwarded the number to the technicians working with the 6th Military Region. They began tracking Bai Yusheng's mobile phone with the Nandou Global Satellite Navigation System.

15 minutes later, they had a lock on Bai Yusheng's current location.

"General Ji, Chairman Long, this is our chance. If we let this opportunity slip away, we may never get another. Luckily for us, General Huo is currently in the vicinity-we should authorize him to strike immediately," said Bai Yueran calmly. "As far as we know, Bai Yusheng has not yet leaked all the information he has in hand-not because he feels guilty, but because he wants to maximize his leverage. Once he gives up everything he knows, he'll be useless. The Americans are ruthless, they won't hesitate to stab him in the back."

General Ji, Chairman Long, and the director of the Secret Service were unanimously agreed: Bai Yusheng had to be dealt with, immediately.

He could not be allowed to live.

Every minute he was alive was another axe-blow to the Huaxia Empire's national security.

General Ji and Chairman Long authorized a top-secret hit on Bai Yusheng, and transmitted it. Five minutes later, their message arrived at the Huaxia Qin-class nuclear submarine, now parked in the waters near Cuba.

Huo Shaoheng and Yin Shixiong were done stretching their legs on land. They had just secured a speedboat, and was about to board it when a soldier ran over to tell them they had to return to the submarine.

"General Huo, a top-secret message just arrived for you, from the Imperial Military."

Huo Shaoheng lowered his head as he read the message carefully. He was silent for a long moment.

"What's wrong?" Yin Shixiong asked, concerned. "Did something happen to Nianzhi?"

Huo Shaoheng shook his head. He looked up and gazed at the vast open sea.

Gu Nianzhi's cruise ship was sailing out there, in that direction.

He let out a small sigh, already resigned to his duty. "...We have a mission. We'll deal with it first."

If he was quick about it, he would be able to get to the Caribbean international waters and board the cruise ship before the party began.