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177 The 18th Birthday 7

 The hurricane in the distance sent towering waves over to the cruise ship. Luckily, the hurricane was too far away to do any real damage to the ship; even so, the choppy waves were more than terrifying.

The large cruise ship bobbed up and down among the wind and the waves, tilting this way and that like a helpless toy. Its fate was now in Mother Nature's hands.

Gu Nianzhi watched the dark, menacing surface of the sea close in on them through the window. She hastily asked Zhao Liangze, "I think the ship is going to sink. What do we do?"

"Let's go to the fourth floor." Zhao Liangze looked at his watch. "They should be here any minute now."

Huo Shaoheng had told them to hold out for 15 minutes. That had been 14 minutes ago.

They could only hold out for so long.

The cruise ship was now completely surrounded by pirates in white speedboats. The pirates were heavily armed; they were even equipped with shoulder-fired rocket launchers. Gu Nianzhi wondered whether she and Zhao Liangze had made a mistake: maybe they should have jumped off the boat, after the cooks and sailors.

Gu Nianzhi smiled wryly; it was pointless to think about it now. She followed behind Zhao Liangze as he ran towards the fourth floor.

The third floor was submerged entirely in seawater as soon as they arrived on the fourth floor.

The hull gradually sank into the sea. The armed pirates continued to watch them with bloodthirsty expressions.

One of the pirates had lifted a rocket launcher to his shoulder, and was now taking aim at the fourth floor!

Zhao Liangze carried Wen Shouyi on his back as he held Gu Nianzhi in his arms. "Are you scared?"

"No." Gu Nianzhi lifted the sniper rifle in her hands and said coldly, "If we're going to die anyway, let's take out a few more of them."

She aimed at the pirate with the rocket launcher, and pulled the trigger.

A sniper rifle was faster than a rocket launcher.

The bullet struck the pirate between his eyebrows. He stiffened, and fell into the sea with his rocket launcher.

The pirates on the speedboat saw what had happened, and leapt to their feet in anger. They pointed at Gu Nianzhi and Zhao Liangze and began firing at them, yelling furiously the entire time.

Zhao Liangze immediately dropped to the floor to avoid the bullets. He pulled Gu Nianzhi down beside him.

Just then, a fighter jet emerged from the eyewall of the hurricane and shot towards the cruise ship like a sudden streak of lightning.

It flew close to the surface of the sea, as swift and elegant as a gray pigeon.

The jet did a barrel roll and banked 90 degrees as it circled the cruise ship.

Rat-a-tat-a-tat-a hailstorm of bullets swept across the speedboats.

On its next pass, the fighter jet unloaded shells over the speedboats.

The latest MiG-35 fighter jet, versus speedboats of unknown make and origin-it was a complete massacre.

The pirates had been carrying grenade launchers with them in the speedboats. As soon as the shells from the fighter jet landed on the speedboats, the grenades exploded all at once.

The speedboats exploded, one by one, sending towering columns of fire, smoke, and seawater into the sky.

The pirates who had not been killed by the bullets or the explosions jumped into the sea.

The fighter jet was not about to let them off the hook.

Huo Shaoheng pulled on the control stick; the jet flew upwards, offering him a wider field of view.

Yin Shixiong manned the machine gun in the fighter jet. His face was cold and ruthless as he unloaded clip after clip of bullets on the pirates who were trying to swim away.

As soon as a pirate poked his head out of the water, he was immediately greeted by a string of bullets.

It all happened quickly; within 10 minutes, the eight speedboats had sunk into the sea.

Gu Nianzhi looked up, her eyes glued to the fighter jet that had shot out of the hurricane. She watched as it performed a barrel roll, a loop, and then go after the pirates with its turrets blazing. Her heart pounded in her ears.

She knew at once that her Uncle Huo must be piloting the fighter jet.

He was the best fighter pilot in the Huaxia Empire!

She had seen him practice-it was definitely him!

Gu Nianzhi broke away from Zhao Liangze and got to her feet. She jumped up and down on the deck as she shouted at the sky; her soft, gentle voice had grown agitated, but her shouts were no match for the howling wind.

Huo Shaoheng saw the slender figure jumping on the deck, and his lips curved into a small smile. He was about to tell Yin Shixiong to lower the rope ladder when he suddenly saw tiny red dots appear on the radar-two planes were approaching from the north!

Huo Shaoheng quickly pulled on the control stick-the plane flew upwards and back, ready to engage in a dogfight.

The planes closing in from the north did not attack the jet; they merely circled the cruise ship once, before flying away.

The two planes had been UAVs, or drones.

Huo Shaoheng looked towards the sea, and saw what looked like a large ship in the north. He took a closer look, and saw that it was actually a warship!

It was accompanied by a cruiser, a destroyer, and several top-of-the-line speedboats. All of them carried the American flag as they rapidly closed in on the cruise ship.

There was someone standing on the fastest speedboat. Huo Shaoheng was stunned to see that it was Gu Nianzhi's professor, He Zhichu!

Yin Shixiong had seen him, too. He asked anxiously, "Sir? What do we do?!"

The warship, on the other hand, had discovered Huo Shaoheng's fighter jet on the radar and set a missile lock on it.

Huo Shaoheng quickly made a decision: he pulled on the control stick, turned the jet around, and flew it right into the hurricane!

As soon as the jet entered the thick, churning fog near the eyewall of the hurricane, the US warship lost its missile lock on the jet. The heavy clouds and pouring rain were too much for its radar lock-on system.

"Sir! Those ships..." Yin Shixiong was so worried he had forgotten to be sick from all the turbulence.

The jet trembled violently, like a patient suffering from uncontrollable shaking chills, as it pushed through the hurricane. Several dents appeared in the fuselage.

Huo Shaoheng calmly said, "He Zhichu must be here to save them."

He could not let the US military trace the jet. The last thing he wanted was for the US military to mistakenly assume that the Cuban military was trying to provoke them.

Yin Shixiong fell silent after that. He concentrated on navigating the fighter jet out of the eyewall of the hurricane with Huo Shaoheng.

Everyone on the ground was stunned when the jet reappeared on the radar of the Cuban Air Force.

Had the two men actually returned alive?!


The soldiers rushed out, whooping and jumping with surprise and joy. They lined up to welcome the MiG-35 fighter jet as it slowly approached the ground.

The fuselage was riddled with holes, but nobody cared-the pilots had returned from the hurricane, alive and in one piece!


Gu Nianzhi watched the plane fly back into the hurricane.

She stood alone at the bow, her gaze fixed upon the direction in which the jet had disappeared. She was so entranced by what she had seen she did not notice that the cruise ship was still sinking; in fact, the seawater had reached the fourth floor.

The seawater had already crept up to her ankles, but she did not know it. Finally, someone walked over to her and pulled her into an embrace. "...Nianzhi, are you okay?"

A jolt ran through her. She wrested her gaze away from the sky, and was surprised to see He Zhichu's shimmering, almond-shaped eyes looking at her with concern.

Gu Nianzhi blinked, still in shock. She had not yet gotten over the sight of the fighter jet.

"Nianzhi?" He Zhichu called again. He wiped the rain from her face, and kissed her forehead. He pressed her head to his chest and patted her comfortingly on the back as he murmured, "It's okay, don't be afraid. I'm here now..."

Gu Nianzhi's nerves had been stretched to breaking point. Combined with the disappointment of not having been able to see Huo Shaoheng in person, her frayed nerves finally snapped like a bowstring that had been drawn too tight.

Her legs gave out, and she fainted in He Zhichu's arms.

Zhao Liangze stood up with Wen Shouyi on his back. He looked at He Zhichu. "Professor He, let's get going. The ship is about to sink."

He Zhichu nodded in reply. He scooped Gu Nianzhi into his arms and carried her to the speedboat.

The small speedboat bobbed next to the upper deck of the cruise ship-the seawater had already closed over the deck of the ship.

The speedboat swiftly carried them across the water, towards a US Navy warship.

Zhao Liangze squinted at the warship. He asked, "Professor He, you called the US Navy?"

He Zhichu's face was white as a sheet as he watched over Gu Nianzhi. He said, without lifting his head, "It was an emergency. I had to ask them for a favor."

Zhao Liangze suspected there was more to it, but let it go at that. Whatever the truth was, he was impressed with He Zhichu; he had proved to be a reliable and trustworthy man.

He pointed to Wen Shouyi, who was lying unconscious on the ground. "She took a bullet for Nianzhi. We bandaged her, but she'll have to go into the operating room ASAP."

He Zhichu finally looked at Wen Shouyi. It was a quick, perfunctory glance; in the next second he had already turned back to Gu Nianzhi to help her wipe the rain from her hair.

The US Navy warship was equipped with functional operating rooms. There were also highly-skilled medical officers standing by.

The surgeons quickly removed the bullet lodged in Wen Shouyi's chest, near her left shoulder. Once the bullet was out, she was lifted into a helicopter that would take her back to Washington.

Zhao Liangze carried Gu Nianzhi, who was still out, to the helicopter. They would be returning to Washington as well.

He Zhichu did not approach Gu Nianzhi again. He sat beside the window in the helicopter, cool and indifferent.

The helicopter flew them directly to He Zhichu's estate, near the Potomac River in Washington.

Zhao Liangze had wanted to take Gu Nianzhi back to their apartment, but was dissuaded from doing so by He Zhichu. "I already have a doctor on stand-by at my place. You and Nianzhi should stay at my house for the night. You can take her back to your apartment in the morning, once you're sure she's okay."

Zhao Liangze nodded. He was worried for Gu Nianzhi, and he knew that he would have to take her to the hospital for a medical examination anyway.

Wen Shouyi and Gu Nianzhi were placed in the same room, to make it more convenient for the doctor to set up the testing equipment.

Zhao Liangze laid out a thin mattress before Gu Nianzhi's bed and slept on it, too worried about her to leave her unattended.

He woke up early the next morning to check Gu Nianzhi's monitors. Everything was normal: she did not have a fever, and had not been injured in any way. Zhao Liangze finally relaxed.

One of the maids working in the He residence walked over to tell him breakfast was ready.

Zhao Liangze went to the bathroom to wash up, before following the maid out the room.

Soon after that, He Zhichu entered the room.

The first thing he did was to check on Gu Nianzhi. He saw that nothing was wrong with her, and breathed a sigh of relief.

He sat beside Gu Nianzhi as he watched her sleep. His thoughts began to stray.

He recalled what had happened the previous day. His blood ran cold.

Seven days ago, his father had become seriously ill. He had sent a message to He Zhichu asking him to return to his family home.

He Zhichu had not been overly concerned; he would go home, attend to his father, and then return to Washington before Gu Nianzhi's birthday, with plenty of time to spare.

He had returned to his family home to discover that his father's condition was worse than he had thought.

As a result, he had stayed for two more days.

Fortunately, Auntie Qin was around to look after his father. He left his father in her capable hands, and returned to Washington.

The thought of Auntie Qin made him sigh. He lowered his head to look at Gu Nianzhi, and adjusted her blanket for her.

He had set out for the Caribbean Sea as soon as he was back in Washington. When he learned that all contact with the cruise ship had been lost, he knew that something was wrong.

He did not want to think of the feelings that had surged through him when he first heard the news: the confusion, the anxiety, the pain, and the helplessness. He had tasted that bitter concoction of emotions once, six years ago; he had not expected to experience them again.

Driven by his extreme anxiety, He Zhichu had traded on his highest-level connections, and asked to borrow a warship from the US Navy for a rescue mission.

Fortunately, he had arrived just in time to save them.

If he had been late for even a minute...

He Zhichu remembered the floating bodies on the sea, and the fighter jet that had disappeared into the hurricane. His face paled once more at the recollection.

"Professor He?" Wen Shouyi's voice sounded from the other end of the room.

He Zhichu turned his head to look. He got up and walked over.

"You're awake?" He stood in front of Wen Shouyi's bed with his hands in his pockets. "How's your wound?"

His voice was gentle, and full of warmth. Wen Shouyi trembled all over, touched by his concern.

She struggled to get up from her bed. "I'm feeling much better. Thank you for saving me, Professor He. How is your father?"


He Zhichu's hand abruptly shot out and struck Wen Shouyi viciously across the face.

The slap was so powerful it sent Wen Shouyi tumbling off the bed. She lay on the floor, dazed, her head skewed to one side from the force of the slap.

"Are you proud of yourself?!" He Zhichu spat out from between clenched teeth. Without warning, he pulled out a pistol and held it against Wen Shouyi's temple. "Have you forgotten everything I said? Do you want me to kill you?"

Gu Nianzhi's eyes were wide with shock. Professor He, who had always been the very picture of calm and composure, was suddenly violent and abusive. Her jaw dropped.

She was already awake when He Zhichu entered the room, but had pretended to be asleep, not quite ready to open her eyes.

Her eyes flew open when she heard the slap, and what she saw shocked her: He Zhichu was actually pointing a gun at Wen Shouyi!

Gu Nianzhi knew that Wen Shouyi had saved her life. It was an indisputable fact.

Gu Nianzhi had been wearing a bulletproof vest, but the pirate could have been aiming at literally any spot on her body.

What if the bullet had struck her in the head?

She had not been wearing a bulletproof helmet.

The fact was, Wen Shouyi had jumped in front of her and taken a bullet that had been meant for Gu Nianzhi.

She did not know why He Zhichu was being so violent with Wen Shouyi, but she knew she could not sit idly by and watch him abuse her.

"Professor He..." Gu Nianzhi said weakly. "What are you doing?"

He Zhichu looked up. His bright, almond-shaped eyes flickered to her, and the hard edge in them immediately melted away.

"Professor He, Miss Wen saved my life. I haven't thanked her for that." Gu Nianzhi slowly sat up.

He Zhichu put his pistol away. He walked over to Gu Nianzhi, sat on the bed beside her, and put an arm around her shoulder to steady her. He said gently, "Happy birthday, Nianzhi. I still owe you a grand birthday party."

Gu Nianzhi smiled as she shook her head. "Professor He, you don't owe me anything. This is one birthday I will never forget."

He Zhichu forced a smile. "How do you feel? Are you in pain? Are you hungry? Do you want me to get the doctor to give you another check-up?"

His attitude had turned a 180. Gu Nianzhi shrank awkwardly into her bed, unsure of how to react. "I'm fine, I don't feel any pain. I'm just a little hungry, that's all." She glanced at Wen Shouyi, who was still lying on the floor, and felt a surge of pity for her. She bit her lip and said, "Professor He, what happened to Brother Huang, and all the other guests?"

He Zhichu had already heard from Zhao Liangze, and knew that Gu Nianzhi was trying to cover for Wen Shouyi.

He tousled her hair and sighed. "They found Little Huang and the others. Everyone's fine. Go wash up, I'll get someone to bring you some food."

Gu Nianzhi smiled. She pushed her blanket away, got out of bed, and went to the bathroom to wash up.

Wen Shouyi struggled to get up from the floor. He Zhichu casually walked past her; he did not even look at her.