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Chapter 11 – Changsha
Lost in her thoughts, Shen Yu barely noticed it when Tang Can stopped and parked the car. A female soldier waiting for them rushed up after they got out of the car.
"What took you guys so long?" Tang Can ignored the soldier's question and started asking whether the preparations for the trip had been completed.
Shen Yu observed the two on the sidelines but was unable to make heads or toes of what they were actually talking about. It was only after other people came up to make their farewells did she realize that Tang Can meant to bring this female soldier along with them on the overnight flight leaving North Beijin.
Shen Yu had never flown on an airplane before but she was not fl.u.s.tered at the prospect. Her experiences in college had already opened her eyes to the world, so her companions did not find out this was her first time on an airplane. The flight was scheduled for 11:20 pm. Shen Yu noticed that Changsha, a city located in the south central part of the country, was the destination on the ticket. Going there would take them farther away from Old Longtan, not closer!
When Shen Yu brought this up with Tang Can, he merely smiled and said, "We are going to Old Longtan, we're just going to the one in the South."
Flabbergasted, Shen Yu didn't know what else to say. She had thought the Old Longtan in her province was the only one in the world.
As the plane steadily climbed into the air, Shen Yu looked outside the window. The lights of the nearby city glittered like tiny stars and had an ethereal beauty. Despite the view, a feeling of sadness washed over her and she wasn't quite sure where it came from.
The female soldier's name was Zhang Fei and she was the same servicewoman who had escorted her in the military guest house earlier. Zhang Fei clearly held grudges as she was very cold towards Shen Yu but treated Tang Can with deference and politeness. Shen Yu had no interest in trying to please someone who disliked her and tried to limit her interactions with Zhang Fei as much as possible.
The plane landed at Changsha Huanghua Airport after flying a couple hours. A military escort with two vehicles was waiting for them as they got off the plane. Shen Yu was seated into the rear vehicle and there was another person sitting in the car besides the driver. He was a soldier with a tall and broad physique and a friendly personality. At this point, she was so tired that it was difficult to keep her eyes open. Nonetheless, her seat mate persisted in introducing himself and his entire family tree! Foggy with exhaustion, Shen Yu tried in vain to pay attention to her talkative companion but it was of no use. The only thing she could remember because it made her laugh was that other people liked to call him Mazha 1.
During the ride, Mazha offered her some water to help refresh her. Feeling rather thirsty, she gulped down the liquid before she realized that it didn't taste like water; it tasted like alcohol! The liquor burned her throat. She coughed continuously in an effort to bring some up but was unable to remedy her mistake.
"Why did you give me alcohol?" she lamented.
Mazha slapped his forehead with his hand. "I forgot, I forgot…" he repeated as he tried to apologize to Shen Yu. "I'm originally from the Mongol tribes and alcohol is a part of our daily lives. Army regulations do not allow active duty members to drink any liquor so I smuggle it in a water bottle. I accidentally gave you the wrong bottle…" He scratched his head sheepishly.
Shen Yu didn't know whether she should cry or laugh but at least she was no longer tired. After the burning sensation in her throat subsided, she felt energized. The feeling didn't last for long before her face started flus.h.i.+ng and heating up. Shen Yu rarely had alcohol but even people who frequently drank would find it hard to not feel the effects after drinking something that potent on an empty stomach.
By the time they reached their destination, she couldn't stand properly and was seeing double. Unfortunately, the alcohol gave her a false level of confidence and she was under the impression that she was completely sober.
When Tang Can saw Shen Yu, he couldn't understand what happened. After Mazha explained everything, he frowned so hard that Mazha felt chills run down his back. He scratched his head so hard that it turned his hair into a crow's nest.
Zhang Fei sneered at the drunk Shen Yu, her eyes full of contempt. "Is she an idiot?" she snorted disdainfully. "She couldn't even smell or taste the liquor that Mazha accidentally gave her! Slowing us down, what kind of liability is she?"
Ignoring the female soldier's obvious disdain. Tang Can instructed Zhang Fei to help Shen Yu get to her feet. Instead, Zhang Fei pushed Shen Yu away from her. Shen Yu stumbled and fell down hard.
Tang Can expression turned black with fury. The only reason why he had brought Zhang Fei along was because, as a female, she could help take care of Shen Yu in certain situations. Since Zhang Fei had no interest in complying with orders, her presence was no longer necessary. He ordered her to return back to the main camp. The female soldier started throwing a tantrum and screeched at Tang Can. She demanded to know why he insisted on being kind to someone who caused caused the untimely death of his father.
Although Shen Yu was as drunk as a skunk, she still retained some of her wits. Zhang Fei's shrieks reminded her that the woman had previously called her "the convict's granddaughter". Her heart sank as she realized that she still didn't have the whole picture. What other secrets were there?
Mazha tried to smooth things over for Zhang Fei by cajoling Tang Can to let her stay. He thought that it would be awkward for Shen Yu to be stuck with a bunch of men and that having a woman along could make things more comfortable for her.
After thinking it over, Tang Can had to agree with Mazha's reasoning and reluctantly let Zhang Fei stay. The female soldier's mood changed in a blink of an eye and regarded Shen Yu with a neutral expression. Although she clearly was not friendly towards Shen Yu, it was an improvement.
Shen Yu quickly became more intoxicated and was no longer able to stand up on her own. When she woke up the next morning, she could only remember that Tang Can later brought her to a hospital room to meet someone. The hospital room had looked like it housed a high-end guest and it was guarded by many police officers. Inside the room was an old man. Shen Yu vaguely remembered that the old man had been crying when he saw her and had grabbed her hand tightly. No matter how hard she tried to remember, the rest of the details were too blurry and jumbled up for her to make any sense of them.
After staying overnight at the district army’s guesthouse, they set out for their journey. Seeing an opportunity, Shen Yu asked Tang Can to clarify what happened last night. He explained that he had originally wanted her to write a report about the old veteran they met the past evening. Unfortunately, shortly after they met him, the old veteran died from a recurring illness. There was no point in including him in the report anymore, so he advised that she should forget about him.
Shen Yu glanced at Tang Can but did not say anything. She knew he wasn't telling her the whole truth. Uneasy, Tang Can avoided her gaze and instructed Mazha to pack Shen Yu's luggage into the car.
Their final destination was somewhere up in the remote mountains. After traveling on the highway for more than an hour, their vehicle turned down a country road. From Mazha, Shen Yu learned that they were going to a place near the Hunan province border called the "Chengbu Miao Autonomous County", which was known in history as the "Five Creeks Barbarians".
The Miao ethnic group located in the Hunan province were famous in history. The first thing that came to her mind was of the Miao group's legendary venomous insect. Out of curiosity, she asked Mazha if there was any truth in those legends.
Tang Can interrupted their conversation. "Those are just some rumors pa.s.sed through history. Nowadays, the Miao are a very friendly group of people. In fact, we have several Miao tour guides in our division. They do have some unique customs, so take care when you meet them. I can remind you when the time comes. Get your notes ready, we're bringing you up the mountain to see how us soldiers pan for gold at the placer mines!" He directed a brilliant smile at Shen Yu. "How about it? Are you excited right now? I bet you've never seen people panning for gold!"
Shen Yu was indeed intrigued. Wonder how much gold I’ll find.gra.s.shopper or loqust ↩