“Yesterday, the cell phone signal broke again, the last repair was a waste.” The two people chatted about the events on base while eating barbecue and enjoying the snow outside the window.
Thank goodness that Luo Xun’s team made a trip at the beginning of the month to collect nuclei since there would be no chance to do so at the end of the month.
“I heard that this year’s spring festival will the same as last year – having the radio play music but there’s no chance of that happening this time.” Yan Fei looked at the roads – the wood shelves where loudspeakers had been hanging were long gone. Likely stolen for firewood, not to mention to speakers? Those disappeared long ago.
“Right, I’ll try the radio!”
The two turned to the unused radio – because of mobile phones, unless there was no signal, the base would regularly send text messages to all survivors with phones. From water security to latest items available on base, people could check information. Thus they were accustomed to using their mobile phones instead of listening to the radio.
So the two added some background music to their barbecue dinner date…In fact there was some useful information on the radio. For example, how to stay as warm as possible at home, carbon monoxide poisoning, dealing with frostbite and other precautions.
While the pair ate lamb kebabs, the news changed from safety during bad weather to information about ability teams.
The couple stared at each other before listening carefully to the news.
Previously in an effort to limit the expansion of ability teams and reduce the numbers, the barracks took a series of measures, such as increasing the monthly fees for teams including crystal nuclei and so on. That had been why Luo Xun’s team had risked a trip at the start of the month. Now that December was coming, the base made a final decision – because of the frequent extreme weather, the fees would be delayed until February of next year. Teams that have already paid would be exempt in February. However each team still had to take the corresponding number of tasks each month…
According to the previous rules, lower ranked teams like Luo Xun did not have to do anything further, those were only required of the upgraded teams.
The two men smiled at each other. “Changed again.”
“Yeah, there is quite some time until February but the number of people going outside base will increase significantly.”
Luo Xun had no opinion. “Even without these rules, when spring arrives there will be many people exiting the base. This year’s snow was beyond anyone’s expectations. Last year people prepared themselves for winter but now there is little left to eat. The amount of food on base is limited, even we feel the squeeze, no to mention other homes.”
Luo Xun’s family had growing crops. Other people could only rely on exchanging points and cores for food these days.
The base issued a new notice a few days after the new year. According to the lunar calendar, both the new year and lunar spring festival were in January. In order to appease people and increase solidarity, the military let everyone have a breather this month, of course fireworks were not allowed.
On New Year’s day, Luo Xun and company were in their rooms doing their usual activities or listening to music, talk shows and other programs.
Li Tie and friends harvest was good and a few of them had moved all they could home. A large box was filled with hard drives filled with information, a lot of it was even unknown to them.
Sometimes they also threw some files labelled ‘important’ into their hard drive…*cough* everyone had curiosity. They did not have malicious intentions and had little time to carefully examine these things.
During the spring festival, Li Tie’s department gave them three days off. Xu Mei and Song Lingling woke up early to make noodles – they had saved some grain in advance. Right now there was no flour being sold on base, only rice at the exchange windows. Many people had no place to buy flour even if they had the means. Even Luo Xun’s team only had enough for everyone to have a few dumplings.
They were going to divide the flour into two parts and eat again as part of the lunar new year at the end of the month.
Li Tie and some others helped ground the mutton for stuffing. In order that no one heard anything, they deliberately went to 1603 with two large boards – one to chop mutton, the other to chop vegetables.
Early in the morning Luo Xun, Yan Fei and Zhang Yi went to trade vegetables with other teams at the previously agreed spot. It was New Year’s and these teams were ready to buy more food to let their team members eat their fill.
The trio smacked down a group of eight who wanted to rob them. By the time other people came to spy on the situation, they were directly bombarded.
No way around it, they were dragging boxes of stuff behind them. People who were blocking and trying to rob also wanted to celebrate the new year!
Right after they handed over the goods, someone secretly brought out a gun in the snow filled passageway. If not for Yan Fei being on guard, Luo Xun who was holding the cores would have been shot!
*Shing* Zhang Yi launched a wind blade directly at the gunman. The man howled in pain and fled, leaving the hand holding the gun behind.
This sudden situation caused the people who just finished trading to freeze and halting laugh. “Did not expect robbery in plain sight.”
Luo Xun politely and kindly smiled. “We are used to it, every time we come out these is blood. Law and order outside cannot be compared to the new town.”
The man did not know what to say and could only awkwardly smile while loading his things and leaving.
“All done?” The metal box was empty as Yan Fei spoke to Luo Xun.
Luo Xun nodded and checked his phone. “Finished, let’s go back.”
“The canteen does not want to buy food?” Zhang Yi picked up the bloody gun and then kicked the hand to the roadside. The item was the booty, it would sell at least for a few bags of instant noodles.
“The canteen bought the day before yesterday, they will likely need more after the new year.” Luo Xun put the phone back in his pocket and patted Zhang Yi’s shoulder. “Add buff.”
The reason that Zhang Yi was accompanying them? Of course for his wind ability! If not for him saying something last time, Luo Xun would not know that Zhang Yi had the ability to temporarily give people near him wind ability: reduce their weight and speed up walking on bad terrain.
Zhang Yi helplessly waved. At most he could give himself and three or four people. Too many people would make this ability useless. Because he was afraid of trouble, he had not mentioned anything before. He knew that once Luo Xun was aware he would squeeze out labor. Now look at this – sure enough!
The group returned home and the meat stuffing had been seasoned. Xu Mei was rinsing chinese cabbage with everyone. She greet them quickly. “Check if the noodles are finished? We’re finishing up the stuffing.”
“Good.” Luo Xun said while washing his hands to check the dough.
Yan Fei placed the bags of nuclei on the nearby shelf and said to the group, “The nuclei are divided, everyone grab their portion when they go home.”
The radio music filled the room while Yu Xinran played with Puppy getting carted around wildly in the house. Everyone’s laughter almost drowned out the music but the atmosphere warmed their hearts.
The base also worked overtime for holiday preparations – cleared the streets of the heavy snow.
Sprinkling salt was unrealistic because it was unproducible. Today’s salt was all from the last few special transits. Although there was quite a bit, no one dared to waste any.
Fortunately there were a few shovel snowmobiles in the base. With overtime and manual workers, some major roads were finally free of snow.
Listening to the radio broadcast, the surrounding streets would be cleared of snow in a few days. Everyone was encouraged to contribute in maintaining their homes, a group neighborhood effort.
The mutton dumplings were fragrant. Everyone had a full belly on New Year’s day when returning home.
After three days, Li Tie and the others went back to the barracks for work. Luo Xun and the two ladies made duck stuffing with appropriate vegetables while listening to music.
Yan Fei got up to pick up the phone, he raised an eyebrow at the caller ID. “It’s Han Li.”
“Han Li? Didn’t they leave this morning for work? Why are they suddenly calling?” Luo Xun grabbed the phone to hear. “Brother Luo, we are packing our things and will be coming home.”
“What’s the matter?” Luo Xun’s heart pounded but he did not voice his conjectures.
“…We do not have jobs anymore.” Han Li’s voice was down and filled with self-depreciation. “We’re coming home to help farm…the Otaku squad is true to its name.”
There were little details but Luo Xun could guess most from the words, he laughed. “Then hurry back, Xu Mei said that you can sew your own socks from cotton.”
“Oh, oh!” Han Li understood Luo Xun’s meaning and smiled while hanging up. He left the workplace of a year.
When he came back Li Tie winked and asked, “You spoke with Luo Xun and the others?”
Han Li nodded. “Yeah, Luo Xun said to come back to sew socks.” He could not help but laugh while the men packed their things.
To the side, He Qiankun was rapidly typing on the keyboard. Han Li and Wang Duo were moving around in front, shielding him from other’s sight.
All four gathered around He Qiankun’s table while pretending to slowly pack up their things. They breathed a sigh of relief when the drive was pulled, they could finally speed up and finish packing. After saying farewell to their former colleagues and bosses, they left.
The new arrivals who had replaced Li Tie and friends stood at the door watching the bereaved people leave. There was a mixture of happiness, excitement, disdain and even some melancholy.
In a separate area, several engineers hired by the military and had accomodations had little reaction when hearing that the students had been fired. Their work was nothing but a handyman – duplications work that was not difficult. Anyone could end up doing that sort of job.
Some people frowned, “Replace a few skilled, know programming counterparts for some knives, how long would it take for them to learn? Wasn’t it a loss not keeping the five men?”
A manager who told Li Tie the news overheard and smiled. “There was no other way, who told them to live so far away, it’s not convenient for them to come quickly…” He whispered, “The new guys were specially arranged, a couple are the sons of base leaders. Yang Gong, take care of them.”
The man known was Yang Gong breathed and uncomfortable opened a few files. He sent out a group email, “Let’s first worry about getting these things together…a week!”
The informant turned away with a cold smile…even if Li Tie and the others worked for 5 months, they did not have even half a month’s results…
Hearing that the group of five were dismissed, the Otaku squad decided to welcome the newly unemployed home. Passive resignation was absolutely different from the mental blow of getting fired.
Sure enough, when the five men came back, Wang Duo hugged Zhang Yi asking for comfort. Li Tie and the others were down, even He Qiankun’s eyes were a bit red.
They gave a brief explanation, saying that they had just arrived at the barracks when they were told to pack up and leave without any preparation time.
Wu Xin was indignant, “Why didn’t they say anything earlier? We had three days off before and we thought we could for until the end of the year! We haven’t copied several TV dramas yet!” Why was his biggest complaint about unfinished TV series?
Wang Duo was still hugging Zhang Yi then he spoke about the morning. “I secretly asked a few people, they said a few days ago after we called them, when they gave us extra days, the new people were trained to do our usual work!”
“Yes, yes, right! Today there were three people who we had never seen before, sitting at our work desks!” He Qiankun also remembered that he had things to deal with and had to find a way to distract the people at the table.
In other words, it was fortunate that they cleaned up after resignation. If they waited a day, dealing with computer matters would be more troublesome.
“Four, there were four new people these past few days. I heard that one of them was a relative of one the base leaders.” Wang Duo waved his hand.
Li Tie and the others felt their anger rise – if it had just been more convenient workers from the military, they would have accepted despite feeling unhappy. But being replaced by a new group due to their connections muscling in, really made them feel nauseous!
Luo Xun quickly interjected seeing that Li Tie’s expression had darkened. “Don’t care about those things for now, since you are back we can get busy and prepare. Once spring comes we can see if there is a way to grow a larger variety of crops.”
There was barely enough food at home for everyone, now with more people to feed, there was definitely not enough supplies.
Now Li Tie’s group had no job, it meant they did not have extra income. Now everyone’s livelihood depended on selling vegetables, which was maintainable but not good.
So, they were going to find a way…it would be best to find more growing space. Unfortunately the building was filled with people displaced after their earthen homes were crushed. There were also empty houses where the inhabitants had frozen to death. At the moment, they had to wait until spring to deal with housing.
In order to distract the group of students so they stopped moping, the Otaku squad decided to carry out group housework. Sewing socks!
The cotton was from when they went to the mall for supplies. The team drew, cut and sewed…
They would wear their own homemade socks. If they were too big, they had to endure on their own.
As for if the cut outs were not the right shape or size or pricking one’s hand…one needed to get used to it anyway. No one expected them to properly learn how to make clothes, it was for them to not be idle. Once the next batch of vegetables matured they would not have time to do these sorts of things.
The Otaku squad worked to keep all members busy, everyone accepted the common goal of staying at home. After returning to their rooms, Luo Xun said, “I thought the name Otaku squad was weird, it was actually an omen, a flag!”
Yan Fei laughed while shaking his head. “I remember the name was chosen by Li Tie…” He suddenly remembered while looking at Luo Xun. “He said they saw a post on the internet about the apocalypse, the author had a similar username, it was sent by you?”
The problem had long taken root in his mind, but he had not confirmed it for a variety of reasons, did not think it was dragged until now.
In fact he had long suspected the post because he had seen all the information before. Traces of the preparation methods were all over Luo Xun’s home.
Luo Xun froze and thought about that forum post, he touched the back of his head. “I sent it…but at the time I was not sure whether the apocalypse would actually come…”
He had not completely gone forward. Otherwise if he had been sure about the end, he would have applied for a loan, gotten more credit cards to stretch his money further before the apocalypse.
Yan Fei was understanding, even for him, if he had a similar experience, sure that the end would come, it was very bold to spend all one’s money in advance for preparations.
The two men returned home and Luo Xun prepared dinner. Yan Fei went to check the crops on the second floor and terrace. He noticed that some of the plants Luo Xun had moved had blossomed!
He called Luo Xun and the two ran over to the terrace.
“We didn’t notice before but this plant actually blossomed?” Luo Xun quickly checked the label attached to the pot…it was the mutant strawberry seedlings!