Currently, He Zhiyuan was sitting in his office at SwordArc’s headquarters. It was precisely 12 p.m., the sun was shining brightly, and the tropical plants outside the French windows were also blooming vibrantly. At the same time that the big cocoon turned off its nighttime patrol function, the monitoring signal also stopped, and the display cut back over to a nine-second-long video clip.
The video clip started playing from the beginning. It initially showed a youth wearing red-and-white plaid apron leaning against the doorway of 8012B, staring with great uncertainty at the camera lens. As the lens gradually pulled closer, the youth seemed a little worried and backed up a step. Suddenly, Bubu appeared from the left side of the screen, rushing over while holding a pile of clothes. The youth hurriedly crouched down just in time for the child to collide into his embrace.
Besides the video, the database had also added three new corresponding log entries.
First entry, red, suspicious entity registration warning, April 03 21:17:36.
Second entry, yellow, danger level reduced—no aggression predicted, April 03 21:17:40.
Third entry, green, new safe entity registered, April 03 21:17:45.
The recording time of the final log entry coincided with the moment Bubu threw himself into Song Ran’s embrace.
The video ended there.
From the initial designation as a suspicious entity to the later designation as a safe entity, SwordArc implemented a total of twelve judgement criteria. Within the set of criteria, the three items with the highest priority were: number one, the child’s behaviour (as judged by voluntary physical proximity); number two, the child’s emotion (using infrared thermography imaging, estimated by happiness/state of well-being); and number three, observing object behaviour (whether their score was below the maximum permitted risk threshold from start to finish).
Song Ran was unaware that, in those short nine seconds, he had not only received a new identity number, but had also entered the big cocoon’s list of safe entities, and furthermore was subjected to the collection of a set of basic data.
Hair colour: black;
Appearance: a screenshot from the original video had been saved in high resolution, clearly showing his facial features. In addition, a set of facial recognition information had also been extracted from it.
Safety coefficient: 0.672.
His safety coefficient was not very high yet, so he was temporarily categorized by SwordArc as a ‘takeaway/express delivery-person’, with activities limited to one square metre at the doorway to avoid triggering the defence mechanism. In the future, each time he appeared within the big cocoon’s field of vision, the data related to him would be updated, and the initial safety coefficient would correspondingly increase or decrease.
Once his safety coefficient increased somewhat, he would be categorized as a ‘property management/maintenance worker’, which would permit him to enter 8012B’s living room, kitchen, dining room, and balcony. He would also be able to perform more complex movements and be allowed to linger for longer periods of time.
Corresponding with the incremental rise in status, the number of rooms he would be allowed to go into without triggering the defence mechanism would increase, and the restrictions on both permitted actions and the maximum amount of time he could stay would gradually loosen.
Out of all the various kinds of safe entities, the one with the highest rank is named ‘family members’.
They were SwordArc’s core protected subjects, and had full permissions within 8012B. Should a strange entity appear in the household and come into contact with ‘family members’, their behavioural response would have the highest weight among all of SwordArc’s criteria for calculating the safety coefficient.
Current number of 8012B’s ‘family members’: two.
Song Ran bemusedly crawled back up, retrieving both the pillow and cell phone from the floor in the dark. He hadn’t yet asked how exactly the other party possessed such an omniscient eye, when He Zhiyuan spoke first. “How should I address you?”
“S…S-S-Song Ran, the Song from ‘to extol’, Ran from ‘naturally’.”1颂然 takes the characters from the words 歌颂 and 当然
His conditioned reflex was to give a self-introduction.
He Zhiyuan tapped on the keyboard, rapidly updating SwordArc’s database. He picked up his coffee to take a sip and commented, “It’s not a very common surname.”
“Yes, the local police station almost didn’t allow me to apply for a residence permit.”
Song Ran gloomily followed up as his eyelids drooped lower and lower. He was about to fall asleep again.
He Zhiyuan laughed, “Uncommon surnames also have some benefits.”
Song Ran opened his eyes again. “Like what?”
“Like being unforgettable.”
“You must be joking! That also counts as a benefit?” Song Ran was rather disappointed. As soon as his eyes closed, he fell back onto the sofa. “No matter where I go, I’m always asked if it’s a pen name. This kind of annoyance, you people with a normal surname like He cannot understand…”
He Zhiyuan couldn’t help breaking out into laughter.
The display on the screen already switched to a new window. In the command line, a bright green cursor flashed steadily after the two words ‘Song Ran’. His finger hovered a centimetre above the return key, hesitant to press. After three seconds, he changed his mind. He switched screens back to SwordArc’s database, picked up his coffee, and left the office.
In fact, the ‘benefit’ he wanted to say wasn’t that it was unforgettable, but rather—the more unique a name, the easier it was to uncover traces of it on the Internet. If necessary, he had the means to capture over 90% of Song Ran’s online footprint within a single minute, generating a personal activity history that would be accurate down to the hour. In this personal activity history, Song Ran would have no privacy to speak of.
But He Zhiyuan felt that there was no need.
This youth gave him an inexplicable feeling of relaxation; with only those few candid sentences, he was willing to place unconditional trust in him.
On the other end of the earth, the unconditionally-trusted-by-He-Zhiyuan Song Ran had long ago become so sleepy that he had turned into a drooling dog. He leaned against the pillow and asked drowsily, “Mr He, do you need anything else? If not, I…”
He Zhiyuan said, “I do.”
“Oh.” Song Ran was very dismayed. “Please say it.”
He Zhiyuan sat down next to the fountain in the little outdoor garden. It was a relatively quiet place, suitable for discussing today’s subject.
“Song Ran, I have seriously considered your opinion, and admit that you are correct. Bubu is still young, and not suited to changing nannies too frequently…”
Song Ran nodded with satisfaction. “Mm-hm.”
There was nothing better than someone who was able to recognize their own mistakes and change. Turned out that Papa He had a bit of awareness of how to be a parent, after all.
“But with regard to myself, finding acquaintances isn’t an easy task.” He Zhiyuan spoke again, “You probably don’t understand my circumstances. Neither my parents nor any of my classmates are in S City. The reason why I settled here was because the company had been preparing to develop long-term in the domestic market, and S City was exactly the right place. So, there aren’t many trustworthy people around me. Although I do have some business acquaintances, I don’t feel comfortable entrusting Bubu to them.”
Then entrust him to me!
Song Ran sat up excitedly, nearly blurting out those words. He Zhiyuan didn’t give him the opportunity to say anything, and continued to speak, “I actually did find a suitable person, but our relationship… How should I put it? We can’t be considered too well-acquainted.”
In a second Song Ran’s mood soured, and he curled back up on the sofa.
Even if they’re not too well-acquainted, they’re still at least somewhat acquainted. He was a completely unfamiliar neighbour who could, at most, only be considered a cold dish that hadn’t even entered the pot. It was not really appropriate to brazenly compete with other people for the child. No matter how senseless Papa He was, he would not be so stupid as to give Bubu to himself to raise.
Even though his thought process went like this, Song Ran couldn’t hold back and stubbornly asked, “How familiar is ‘not too familiar’?”
The other party replied, “We haven’t met, but we have conversed over the phone for a few minutes before. Decent impression.”
Haven’t… haven’t met… Conversed over the phone for a few minutes…
Song Ran was stunned, and the barrage before his eyes once again exploded into fireworks—could this really be considered ‘familiar’?! How can your definition of ‘familiar’ be this exceptional, this far outside of people’s expectations? If conversing on the phone for a few minutes means that you could be considered familiar acquaintances, then what about meeting you? Sworn brotherhood, blood oath, a friendship that you could give your life for?
The streets are packed with brothers and sisters; how come you won’t acknowledge those relationships?
Song Ran squeezed the cell phone, bones popping.
Frankly speaking, he had never met a parent more irresponsible than He Zhiyuan in his entire life. If He Zhiyuan were standing in front of him, he could guarantee that his cell phone would definitely have been smashed into his damn face!
“Mr He, I’m going to speak a bit bluntly, so just put up with it and listen for a bit. If you can’t, then too bad.” Song Ran changed to combat mode and fired off some cutting remarks. “According to common sense, if you’ve only conversed on the phone for a few minutes, we usually call them ‘strangers’, not ‘acquaintances’. Perhaps Mr He’s interpersonal skills are so good that you can really make a friend who is reliable enough to care for Bubu after talking on the phone for only a few minutes, but do you think the probability of such an occurrence is high?
“How about this? That suggestion from before, just treat it as me talking in my sleep! But now I am awake, truly awake. I sincerely recommend that you stick to your original plan of finding a new auntie for Bubu after thoroughly vetting and carefully verifying the candidates. Otherwise, if Bubu got lost, you wouldn’t even know who was supposed to look after the child, right?”
These words of his could be considered rather offensive, but after the other side heard it, he unexpectedly started to laugh in a low voice. Song Ran’s scalp went numb and his heart started beating irregularly. He flung the cell phone a clear two metres away as if it were a hot potato that had scorched his hand.
What are you doing, stirring people up in the middle of the night?!
Do you know that this party is gay? If you knew, it would scare you to death!
It seemed like the good-natured Mr He would never get angry, even after being ridiculed in this manner. When Song Ran pulled out his cell phone from the crevice of the sofa, he heard the same mild voice from before. “Song Ran, don’t you think that your way of thinking is a bit arbitrary?”
This time, it was the pillow that got hurled two metres away.
“Arbitrary? Mr He, if it weren’t for…”
“Song Ran, scoundrels who are well-acquainted with me will not become good people, and good people who are only acquainted with me in passing will not become scoundrels. Whether a person is dependable hinges upon their own moral character, not how familiar we are with one another.” He Zhiyuan activated a total defence skill, rebounding 100 percent of the damage. “I admit that my eye for people is not bad. Even if we’ve only talked for a few minutes, I can distinguish whether the other party is capable of caring for children and considering their needs.”
Fine, fine, fine, everything you say is correct! Extremely, especially, impeccably logical! An inarticulate little artist like me really can’t win against you.
Song Ran ground his teeth in sheer fury. He reached out to grab another pillow and bit down on the corner—anyway, next month when you go searching in mountain ravines for your missing child, I absolutely won’t help you!
He stared at the screen as his finger moved over the ‘end call’ button. He sarcastically and fiercely said, “Mr He, I feel that what you said makes too much sense, and that friend of yours is also too suited to taking care of children. I wish you harmonious cooperation, and may you live blissfully to old age together, full of happiness! Right now in Beijing it is 3:10 a.m., and I am already so sleepy that I can no longer open my eyes. Do you have any other extremely pressing matters that you must discuss?!”
He Zhiyuan said, “I do.”
Do, your sister!
Song Ran raised a straight, mighty, and aggressive middle finger skyward. “Spit it out!”
Then he heard the other party clear his throat, very solemnly and politely stating, “It’s like this; Song Ran, in my family there is a four-year-old child named He Yueyang, nicknamed Bubu. He is very well-behaved, and you have also met him before. Currently he is lying on your bed.”
Somehow, this premonition… felt a bit ominous?
“I am on a business trip out of the country for the upcoming half a month and will be relatively busy, so I cannot personally take care of him. Coincidentally, the nanny has also requested a leave of absence.”
Somehow, this premonition… felt even more ominous?
“Even though we only spoke over the phone once before, and our relationship is not too close, please allow me to take the liberty to ask—Song Ran, would you be willing to help me look after my child?”
Song Ran’s facial expression went slack. His hand shook, inadvertently pressing the button to hang up.
The call got cut off.
He Zhiyuan lowered his head and stared at the darkened cell phone screen. He thought, What a shame… It seemed that he went too far in his teasing.
Three minutes later, the screen lit up; the other party had called back. He Zhiyuan picked up the phone, only to hear Song Ran say in a trembling voice, “M-Mr He, can’t… can’t you say it to me directly? Purposefully digging a pit for me to jump into like this is really… really damaging to neighbourly goodwill…”
Because he had been completely startled awake, the youth had reverted to his previous stammering, occasionally punctuated by the sound of him swallowing his own saliva. The prickly and unyielding hedgehog from before had disappeared and been replaced by a harmless soft snail.
He Zhiyuan leaned against the wall, unable to stop laughing. After a long while, he said, “I apologize, I’m truly sorry.”
The other party heard the sound of his laughter, but maintained an awkward silence.
“Then, regarding your reply…” He Zhiyuan asked, “Song Ran, are you willing?”
In 8012A’s living room, Song Ran gripped the phone. His cheeks reddened more and more, before he abruptly buried his face in the pillow.
Don’t be so gentle, okay?
Are you aware of how your voice combined with this kind of tone… really makes it sound like a marriage proposal?!
Song Ran was internally conflicted beyond compare, nearly destroying the pillow with all his tugging and twisting, before he finally made a snap decision. Fiercely steeling himself, he replied through gritted teeth, “I’m willing.”