Chapter 60: Destination and Intent At Odds
“Get in the car.”
Bai Chen, Long Yuehong, Jiang Baimian, and Shang Jianyao almost spoke in unison without any hesitation.
The young man in a dark shirt and trousers—with a black trench coat draped over him—went around the front of the car, came to the passenger seat, and opened the door.
He smiled faintly at Jiang Baimian. “Can you go to the back row?”
“No problem. Have a seat. Have a seat.” Jiang Baimian stood up enthusiastically and made way.
After the man removed the silver rifle on his back and sat in the passenger seat, she bent down slightly and smiled obsequiously. “How should I address you?”
The black-haired, golden-eyed man frowned indiscernibly. “Qiao Chu.”
“What a beautiful name.” Jiang Baimian was not stingy with her praise.
“Heard that? Compare that with your name.” Shang Jianyao turned his head to verbally deal Long Yuehong a blow.
Long Yuehong didn’t mind at all and echoed, “Yeah, yeah.”
Amidst their exclamations, Jiang Baimian opened the backseat door and said to Shang Jianyao, “Squeeze toward the middle.”
Before she could finish her sentence, Jiang Baimian corrected herself. “No, come down first. I’ll sit in the middle.”
Seeing that Shang Jianyao was unwilling, Jiang Baimian emphasized, “I’m the team leader!”
Shang Jianyao reluctantly alighted from the car and watched Jiang Baimian sit in the middle.
Upon hearing the term ‘team leader,’ the black-haired, golden-eyed man—Qiao Chu—subconsciously turned his head and glanced at Jiang Baimian.
Jiang Baimian seemed to have been waiting for this very moment. Her eyes met his, and she smiled sweetly.
Qiao Chu didn’t say anything else and retracted his gaze at an adequate speed.
Jiang Baimian did not appear disappointed. She leaned forward and held her chin with one hand. It was difficult for her to look away as she admired Qiao Chu’s side profile.
After Shang Jianyao sat down again, he realized that he could only see the back of Qiao Chu’s head because of his position. Furthermore, his gaze was blocked by the seat’s headrest in front of him from time to time. Unconcealed disappointment immediately appeared on his face.
Qiao Chu looked at the broken bridge in front of him and suddenly asked, “Do you guys have anything to eat?”
“Yes!” Bai Chen quickly turned around and opened the armrest compartment.
“Yes, yes, yes!” Jiang Baimian retracted her hand that was holding her chin and frantically searched for food in her pocket. Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong straightened their bodies and turned behind, attempting to get some braised beef canned food for Qiao Chu.
Without a doubt, Bai Chen was the first to pass Qiao Chu a small bag of compressed biscuits and an energy bar.
“That’s enough. Have some food too. I don’t think you’ll be resting for lunch. You’ll have to take turns driving.” Qiao Chu took the food and issued the order like a leader.
Shang Jianyao and the others had no objections.
After finishing the biscuits and energy bar—as well as the water in the waterskin—Qiao Chu put away the items. After waiting for a while, he turned his head and said to Bai Chen, “It’s time to set off. Drive towards the hilly area in the northwest.”
“Alright.” Bai Chen agreed after having her lunch, but she didn’t look away.
Qiao Chu stretched out his left hand and patted Bai Chen’s right arm with a gentle smile. “Drive carefully.”
“Alright!” Bai Chen was flattered. She immediately sat up straight and started the jeep.
Qiao Chu turned to look at the backseat and smiled. “I’m going to take forty winks. Pay attention to your surroundings and wake me up when we reach the hilly area.”
“Alright!” replied Jiang Baimian and the others in unison.
Qiao Chu didn’t say anything else and turned his head back.
The smile on his face quickly vanished, and his gaze became abnormally cold. He then took out a sky-blue box from his pocket and snapped it open.
Inside the box was a small mirror.
Qiao Chu stared at his reflection in the mirror, raised his right hand, and seriously combed his hair. After repeated inspection, he slowly put away the mirror box, leaned his head back, and closed his eyes.
In the evening, the jeep returned to the hilly area where Blackrat Town was located.
Wang Beicheng’s 23rd Company had already left by then.
Without a reminder, Jiang Baimian and the others turned into human alarm clocks and woke Qiao Chu up when they arrived.
Qiao Chu looked at the darkening sky. “We’ll rest here for the night and continue heading northwest tomorrow morning.”
“Alright.” Bai Chen found a familiar camping spot and stopped the jeep.
The four of them then rushed to set up the tent and light a bonfire. They then took out a few military canned food from the trunk.
“You guys sure have plenty of supplies…” Qiao Chu sat in the passenger seat with the door opened. He leisurely watched Shang Jianyao and the others busy themselves.
Before long, Shang Jianyao jogged over and volunteered. “I’ll get some water over there.”
Qiao Chu traced the direction Shang Jianyao pointed in and looked at the clean water source. He thought for a few seconds and said, “There’s no need. Our water can last a few days.”
Shang Jianyao did not insist and asked with a smile, “Yes, yes. It will take a while for the canned food to heat up. Do you need me to sing a song for you?”
“…” Qiao Chu sized up Shang Jianyao with a doubtful gaze for two seconds. “There’s no need.”
“What about a Gold Coast hula dance?” asked Shang Jianyao.
Qiao Chu frowned and said, “There’s no need. I want some time to myself. Call me when the canned food is heated up.”
“Alright!” Shang Jianyao replied enthusiastically.
After he turned around and walked to the bonfire, Qiao Chu took out the sky-blue plastic box again and opened it.
As he looked at his reflection, Qiao Chu’s expression changed a little. He sighed softly. “Sigh, how troublesome…”
Just like that, the night passed quietly. The sun rose in the Blackmarsh Wilderness’s east once again.
After breakfast, Jiang Baimian finally used her team leader’s authority to snatch the role of driving after a secret competition. Shang Jianyao, Long Yuehong, and Bai Chen could only squeeze in the back row, aggrieved.
Qiao Chu flipped his wrist and looked at his mechanical watch. He then relied on the compass on the watch to determine his location.
“Drive in that direction. Don’t stop.” He pointed northwest.
Jiang Baimian did not question him. She drove the jeep and circled around the hilly area before heading straight toward the direction Qiao Chu had pointed out.
As time passed, the surrounding terrain became increasingly flat. The soil also became darker and muddier. In the end, mud was the only thing to see, and the harder paths became fewer and fewer.
They were heading deeper into the swamp.
Compared to Bai Chen, Jiang Baimian lacked experience in this regard. She almost drove the car into the bottomless mud twice. Thus, she had no choice but to give up the driver’s seat and return to the middle of the backseat.
Bai Chen drove the jeep seriously and laboriously like a child awaiting an adult’s praise.
The jeep undoubtedly slowed down significantly. It did not cover more than 30 kilometers even when noon came. All kinds of plants could gradually be seen growing in the surrounding swamp.
Compared to normal plants, their colors were either dim or bright. They looked rather strange.
Jiang Baimian still remembered her duty as a team leader and casually reminded Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong, “Seeing such abnormal plants gather means that we have entered a polluted zone. However, the plants here aren’t grotesque or dangerous enough. The level of pollution shouldn’t be too high.
“In such an environment, ordinary people can also move about. However, it’s best not to exceed three days if you do not have protective equipment. People who have undergone mature genetic modifications can last about ten days. But the premise is that one has food and water prepared.”
Qiao Chu turned his head again and glanced at Jiang Baimian. However, he quickly retracted his gaze and pointed to the side. “This way.”
“But…” Bai Chen subconsciously wanted to suggest something.
The routes she chose were those with relatively lower pollution levels and were suitable for driving. If she rashly changed course, she might encounter swamps that had expanded beyond their edges. She might even sink the vehicle and people on board.
“Go this way,” Qiao Chu emphasized again.
“Alright.” Bai Chen chose to listen.
After the vehicle changed course and entered an area that Bai Chen was not familiar with, the jeep slowed down significantly. Bai Chen needed to determine the road’s situation based on her experience as she drove.
After about 25 minutes, everyone in the car finished their lunch. They were about to get Jiang Baimian to replace Bai Chen when the scene in front of them suddenly changed.
In the endless dark swamp, thick vines with rotten soil drilled out from the bottom, forming a low ‘forest.’ They were greenish-black in color, and each of them was as thick as an ordinary python. Their surfaces had countless red spikes.
These strange vines intertwined together and covered every area visible to the naked eye in front of the jeep. Apart from the dark swamp itself, everything else became an embellishment to serve as contrast. Even the sky seemed to have turned gloomy, gray, and depressing because of the cover provided by the low ‘forest’ or other problems.
Upon seeing this spectacular but terrifying scene—be it Jiang Baimian, Bai Chen, Shang Jianyao, or Long Yuehong—they all felt an indescribable sense of shock.
Amidst their shock, a question arose in them almost simultaneously: “Why are we here?”
At this moment, the corners of Qiao Chu’s mouth curled up as he revealed a gentle smile. “There’s no need to be nervous.”
Qiao Chu’s voice and words immediately dispelled Shang Jianyao and the company’s doubts, making them look at Qiao Chu with infatuation.
Qiao Chu sat up straight and began seriously instructing Bai Chen on how to drive and where to drive.
As she stared at the python-like, greenish-black, and slightly red vines brushing past outside the window, the five fingers on Jiang Baimian’s left hand twitched.
She instinctively took out a pen and paper from her pocket and recorded what she saw.
Shang Jianyao alternated between looking at the back of Qiao Chu’s head and sizing up the vines. He kept having the feeling that grave danger was brewing.
At that moment, he felt a gentle bump on his left arm.
Shang Jianyao subconsciously turned his head and saw Jiang Baimian tilting the paper in her hand over.
He focused his gaze and saw that the white paper faithfully described the current scene. In addition, there was a strange sentence at the end: “…There’s actually such a seriously abnormal area deep in the swamp. However, the chip in my left arm miraculously tells me that the radioactive fallout here isn’t too serious. Perhaps the pollution has already weakened over time?
“… Those vines are covered in red spikes as if they have just sucked blood…
“…The chip in my left arm tells me that my current location is completely opposite to my destination in the south, Qifeng Town…”