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227 Practically Strangers

 Huo Shaoheng leaned forward slightly. He lifted his eyes to look at Deputy Director Liao, his freshly polished pistol gleaming in his hand. He got out his phone, turned on the Record function, and pointed it towards the deputy director. He said nonchalantly, "What did you just say? I didn't catch that. Say it again."

Deputy Director Liao stared at the phone in Huo Shaoheng's hand. The sweat was now pouring off his forehead like a waterfall.

He didn't have the balls to say it while he was being recorded!

"What's wrong? You were so talkative just a minute ago. What, are you scared of a phone?" Huo Shaoheng smiled as he shook his head. He placed the phone on the coffee table between the two sofas, and crossed his legs. He gestured towards the walls behind him with an imperious wave of his hand. "Deputy Director Liao, it's too late for you, actually. You're on my turf, now. I've been recording your every word and action, ever since you stepped into this room."

"What?! How dare you film me without me without my permission? That's illegal! That's a violation of my privacy! Any recordings of me made without my consent constitute a violation of my privacy, and infringe upon my civil rights!" Deputy Director Liao waved his arms about in a display of indignation, but the look on his face was one of terror.

Huo Shaoheng said nothing. He remained seated on the sofa as he quietly watched Deputy Director Liao gesture wildly in a mixture of fear and anger. After a moment, he nonchalantly twirled his pistol and said unhurriedly, "Deputy Director Liao, this has nothing do with you. Why are you sticking your nose into this?"

Deputy Director Liao decided it was all or nothing. He was already being recorded, so there was no way he could play it safe and try to please both sides now. He clenched his jaw and said, "General Huo, are you saying that you would rather break the law and give up your mother, if it meant protecting Gu Nianzhi?"

"That's a strange question. Who told you to ask me that?" Huo Shaoheng frowned heavily..

"What... what do you mean, who told me to ask that? I'm asking you because I want to know, of course," Deputy Director Liao replied nervously. "You have two choices: either you hand over Mrs. Song, or you hand over Gu Nianzhi. I don't see another option. Do you?"

"Of course I do." Huo Shaoheng sat up straight. "Mrs. Song is my mother. Why should I hand her over to a stranger? As for Gu Nianzhi, she's my mission. Ask around: when have I, Huo Shaoheng, ever abandoned my missions?" He suddenly stood up; in the next second, his pistol was already out of its holster and pressed against the deputy director's temple. "...You represent an obstacle to my mission if you try to take Gu Nianzhi away from me. I'll shoot you dead, right here, right now. I'm not kidding."

Deputy Director Liao was scared witless. He closed his eyes and gasped out, "General Huo, please, forgive me! Don't be angry! Someone... someone asked me to do this! Please don't be hasty, General Huo!"

"Someone asked you to do this? Who? Tell me, and I'll let you go." Huo Shaoheng leaned against the coffee table, his gun still pressed against the deputy director's temple. He patted the deputy director's cheek with his free hand. "Tell me who put you up to this, and I promise to delete all the audio and video recordings of you."

"Really?" Deputy Director Liao had not expected this. A moment ago, he had fallen into a metaphorical ravine; now, he spied someone above him, lowering a rope to save him. He said gratefully, "Do you mean it, General Huo?!"

Huo Shaoheng raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. He gave the deputy director a look that said "what do you think?".

Deputy Director Liao felt that he could trust Huo Shaoheng with his life. He immediately said, "You're right, I don't actually have anything to do with this. I was forced. You know, the Bai family..."

"The Bai family?" Huo Shaoheng smiled. "Oh, I know they're involved with this. I'm more interested in finding out who told you to arrest Gu Nianzhi. I don't think the Bai family came up with that idea on their own."

"...Very perceptive of you, General Huo." Deputy Director Liao hesitated, then decided there was no harm in spilling the beans: the major general had evidently guessed most of what he was about to say, anyway. He took a deep breath and said in a low voice: "It was your family, of course. They're the ones who truly understand you."

"Family?" Huo Shaoheng lowered his pistol and put it back into its holster. "I have a big family. Can you be more specific?"

"Well, I heard this from someone else..." Deputy Director Liao said in embarrassment. "They said it was your cousin sister..."

There was only one person in Huo Shaoheng's family who could claim to be his cousin sister: Huo Jialan.

Huo Shaoheng closed his eyes and sat on the sofa. He said impassively, "I see. Well, it turns out that my family doesn't actually understand me. I'd say we're practically strangers."

Deputy Director Liao: "..."

"My missions have kept me busy, and I haven't returned to my family home to take care of my mother for many, many years. I've been a bad son, which is why I want to make up for it by spending time with my mother over the New Year holiday. As for Gu Nianzhi, protecting her is the mission assigned to me by the military. It is my duty to my country to keep her safe. I'm trying to be filial and patriotic at the same time-what more can you ask for? It seems that my family doesn't understand what it means to be responsible, which is why their words cannot be trusted," Huo Shaoheng said eloquently, emphasizing his duty as a filial son and as a patriotic soldier. Deputy Director Liao could not come up with a counter-argument.

Deputy Director Liao stood up. "Well, General Huo, I've already told you what you wanted to know. Now, about those recordings..." He looked around the living room, as though trying to spot the hidden cameras and microphones.

"I'll delete them, of course. Don't worry." Huo Shaoheng got to his feet as well. His voice was still low, but the deputy director could feel each and every syllable etch into his brain. "When you get back to police HQ, tell your superiors that whoever tries to mess with my mother will be swiftly punished by me, her son. As for my mission, well, I'm sorry to say that I won't be as lenient. No second chances. In my entire career as a soldier so far, I have never failed a mission, ever. Anyone who tries to get in the way of my mission-Gu Nianzhi-will have to ask themselves whether they're willing to face the full, unmitigated wrath of Huo Shaoheng."

His words were powerful and persuasive. He had been careful to keep his little speech impersonal and business-like, to give the impression of a soldier zealously protecting his mission.

Deputy Director Liao was ashamed: he suspected he had unwittingly sided with the wrong people and needlessly victimized an upstanding soldier like Huo Shaoheng. He hastily nodded. "Yes, of course! Don't worry, I was mixed up for a moment there, but police HQ will never interfere in this matter again, I guarantee it!"

"I am reassured by your words." Huo Shaoheng smiled slightly. He shook hands with Deputy Director Liao. "You are the deputy director of police HQ, and also the person responsible for dispatching the squads. Unlike most other people, I believe you have a proper understanding of what the word 'mission' means to people like us."

It was the ol' carrot-and-stick routine. He had used the stick; it was now time to offer the carrot.

Deputy Director Liao was completely taken in by Huo Shaoheng's charisma. "Well, I see now how you became a major general at your young age. You've never failed a mission. What a record!"

Huo Shaoheng smiled as he escorted Deputy Director Liao to the door.

He stood at the door and watched with narrowed eyes as Deputy Director Liao and his men left in their police cars.

Zhao Liangze asked him over his earpiece, "Sir, do you want me to delete the video and audio recordings?"

"Of course not," Huo Shaoheng said impassively. "...I keep my promises, but not when the other party is my enemy."

His opponent had made it clear that they were out to get him. He would be a complete moron to treat them with gentlemanly honor and respect...

Huo Shaoheng and his men had been working with foreign intelligence for many years now. Keeping a card up their sleeves at all times was now second nature to them.

Zhao Liangze burst into laughter. "Understood. I'll add the highest-level encryption to the recordings before archiving them."

The recordings of Deputy Director Liao would be sealed forever. Huo Shaoheng would only use them if it was absolutely necessary.

As long as Deputy Director Liao behaved and did not stir things up again, these audio and video recordings would never see the light of day. In a way, Huo Shaoheng had kept his promise to him.


As soon as Deputy Director Liao returned to the police HQ, he went directly to Bai Changhui, who was waiting for him, and relayed Huo Shaoheng's message.

Bai Changhui was speechless.

Bai Jinyi refused to let it go. If Deputy Director Liao was no longer on board, she would just have to get someone else to help them.

The two siblings made such a big fuss, the head of the Bai family, Bai Jiancheng, eventually caught wind of what they were doing.

"Changhui, Jinyi, that's enough." Bai Jiancheng slammed a fist upon the table, furious. "Our family is going through a difficult time, and now you've practically gone to Huo Shaoheng and asked him to kick us in the ribs while we're down. What an embarrassment to the family! Are you trying to piss me off?!"

"How can you say that, Big Brother?! I worked for more than a decade to find a cure for Song Jinning..." Bai Jinyi was afraid of her eldest brother, but she refused to back down.

She had been on edge for the past few days. She had the feeling that something very bad was about to happen.

Her ominous hunch made her fidgety and restless. She would not rest easy, not until Song Jinning was back within her clutches.

"Shut up!" Bai Jiancheng gave a low snarl. "Huo Shaoheng isn't stupid. He's leagues above you, why did you pick a fight with him?! Your academic achievements are entirely worthless! While you were still daydreaming in your lab, he was already toppling governments and earning a reputation for himself overseas. The Special Forces from other countries consider him to be their worst enemy. Did you honestly think Huo Guanchen would be able to get Huo Shaoheng to give up Song Jinning?! You spent so many years studying, but you're a complete idiot!"

"...But Big Brother, I'm doing this for the sake of our family!" Bai Jinyi was upset; she felt that Bai Jiancheng was being unfair to her. "If we can get Song Jinning to tell us the data I need, my experiment will be successful. When that happens, our family will be propelled to even greater heights!"

"Forget about it. You had 16 years to work on your experiment, and what have you got to show for it? Nothing. You should cut your losses early." Bai Jiancheng warned Bai Jinyi: "Don't let me hear about you trying to pick a fight with the Huo family again. If I do, you won't have to worry about Huo Shaoheng-I'll be the first to deal with you!"

"Big Brother!" Bai Jinyi was stricken with panic. She suddenly remembered what Gu Nianzhi had said the other day: Bai Jinyi was just a pawn in the Bai family's game of chess; the Bai family would not hesitate to sacrifice her if it meant saving their king...

She immediately dismissed the thought from her head, for fear of it coming true.

Had Gu Nianzhi jinxed her?!

Bai Jinyi spat out from between clenched teeth: "...Fine. So we can't get Song Jinning back. What about Gu Nianzhi? Can't we get her?"

"Gu Nianzhi is Huo Shaoheng's mission, assigned to him by the military. A good soldier never abandons his missions, so don't even think about messing with Gu Nianzhi." Bai Yueran emerged from behind the folding screen. She nodded in greeting to the people in the study. "Hello Father, Third Uncle, Auntie."

Bai Jiancheng was Bai Yueran's father. Bai Changhui was her third uncle, and Bai Jinyi was her only aunt.