And that was Zhang Heng’s last contact with the tower before all communications were lost. Base instantly sent out a rescue team to his last known location.
This was the second major accident on the same day, and even the steady and calm captain started to feel nervous. Undeniably, the risks were astronomical when it came to astronaut training. The Apollo 1 incident was a tragedy that NASA would remember for the rest of their days. During a launch test, the command module of a test article caught fire suddenly with three unfortunate astronauts inside. The hyperbaric oxygen atmo caused the fire to spread a lot faster than expected, and tragically, all three astronauts were charred to oblivion when ground control eventually got to the rocket.
This catastrophe caused the Apollo Program to be delayed for 20 months. After that, many other accidents continued to plague space exploration. This was, however, the first time they witnessed two people losing their lives while training on the same day. Once communications were dead, the tower had no way to know Zhang Heng’s current situation. For a twin-engine aircraft, an experienced pilot would usually be able to coax the plane back home even if one engine suffered a critical failure. Alternatively, the pilot could land the aircraft as soon as he could. However, if both the engines failed, the aircraft would lose altitude quickly, seeing how the heavy trainer wasn’t a very good glider.
In such a situation, Zhang Heng’s best chance of survival would be ejecting and parachuting to the ground safely. Ever since Anthony’s ejection seat failure, the players did not have much faith in the aircraft anymore. Not too long ago, Livingston gathered everyone in a meeting, looking for Anthony’s murderer. Logically, that should have pressured the killer into not acting again within such a short period. Nobody expected the murderer to go as far as to kill Zhang Heng within a few hours of Anthony’s death.
It appeared that this time, the assassin targeted someone they expected least. Until now, Zhang Heng’s scores always came in first for astronaut training. Killing him would indeed empty one of the seats on Apollo 11. However, the other players also believed that the killer wouldn’t benefit much even if Zhang Heng was eliminated. Other than the fact that he looked like a guy who shouldn’t be messed with, killing the person in first and third place made no difference. Seeing that space was the ultimate goal here, everybody hoped that their crewmates were reliable. It wasn’t a solo mission, anyway, and the three had each others’ lives in their hands. Logically, the killer should have targeted the second and third place instead of the best man for the job.
There was only one person who could have had the motive to kill Zhang Heng.
“What’s going on? Why are all of you staring at me like I’m the killer?” the listless young man asked while snorting.
“You said that you had no reason to kill Anthony because he wasn’t a worthy opponent for you. This time, you must have found your reason,” said Yin Xiong. “What do you mean by that?”
“You realize that you are now in grave danger. Most players hope for your elimination. Now that David is gone, chances are you’ll get first place in astronaut training.”
The listless young man rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
“You and David are the only two pilots with a solid foundation on flying. With us losing David, we’ll have no choice but to choose you as our pilot.”
“I like how you think. If I had a choice, I’d like you to be my moon-landing partner.”
“If I were you, I wouldn’t be so rude to my future commander. If you are unhappy with me, I would like to invite you to my room for an ‘in-depth’ discussion,” the listless young man sneered with an emphasis on the words, ‘in-depth.’
“Now that you’ve got what you wanted, can you tell us how you did it? You knew the sequence of the people who would get on the Lunar Landing Training Vehicle, which prompted you to mess with the machine a night before it happened. We just need to know how you messed with the plane. How did you cause a twin-engine failure? David is a better flyer than you. How had he not found something wrong with the engines before takeoff? Besides, wasn’t Mark between you and David earlier? What kind of game items do you possess?”
“What if I don’t tell you? Are you going to bite me?”
“It’s true that we need someone to fly the ship. However, we shall cross that bridge only when we get on Apollo 11. Before that, we shouldn’t place our lives at the mercy of someone’s whim. Besides, I’m pretty sure that you don’t have it as well.”
Livingston cleaned his glasses before continuing
“To protect ourselves, you must show us your game items and tell us the way to activate and deactivate them. Otherwise, we’ll have to take it from you by force. By that time, we might take other things as well.”“Hehe… uncle, you sound a lot tougher than you look. Unfortunately, you asked the wrong guy. I wish I could tell you how I made them crash. I wish I could tell you how I killed that idiot, Anthony. The truth is… this is my last time repeating myself… this is so stupid. Listen, I didn’t kill them. I don’t care how you look at me. I didn’t do it. At the same time, I can’t say that I hate the fact that they both got killed. That’s all there is to it.”
“We’re wasting our time. He’s full of lies. We should restrain and search him, ” the schoolkid suggested.
“I agree,” seconded Yin Xiong. “I will kill whoever that lays their hands on me. I will make sure of it. I ain’t kidding.”
The listless young man’s face had darkened to a somber facade, and the other players could see the furious rage burning in his eyes.
“Why? If you didn’t do it, why can’t we search you? Just like what you said, you are the most qualified pilot among us after David. If you can prove that you had nothing to do with their deaths, you can just sit aside and watch the show. Don’t you want to complete the main quest yourself?”
“I will not display my trump cards. Not before the game ends.”
Everything then came to a halt. They thought twice about roughing someone up. Livingston had some concerns as well, considering this was an air-force base after all. Even though they outnumbered the listless young man, it was still hard for them to exert such force in such a high-security area. Suddenly, Jia Lai who had been quiet all the while spoke up as he pointed at the beach.
“Ah… is there something wrong with my eyes, or is that David on the speedboat?”