48 Hours a Day
Chapter 297 - Note
Although a fighter jet worth millions had crashed at sea and sank to its bottom, NASA was relieved to see Zhang Heng returning in one piece.
Two deadly incidents had occurred on the same day, and if another accident were to take place, it would certainly catch the unwanted attention of the public even if had nothing to do with the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle. In fact, ever since Congress approved the Apollo Program, public opposition had been gaining traction by the day.
Taxpayers started to question the sensibility of the astronomical expense required to fund the program, or whether the so-called ‘space race’ and moon-landing were simply political dick-measuring among the superpowers. Political significance seemed to far outweigh the project’s practical relevance, where all that money could have been used to improve the livelihood of the common man. Such funds could have been easily used to increase unemployment benefits, decrease interest rates, and even help colored communities in a time where they faced great oppression.
Then, there was the press. Media would have had a field day, unceasingly pursuing NASA and the players if they caught wind of the accidents. Fortunately, unlike Anthony, Zhang Heng miraculously survived.
The moment he reached the shore, he did not meet with the other players but was instead, sent directly to the infirmary. Although Zhang Heng appeared to be unscathed on the surface, the medical team still ran full physical tests on him just to be on the safe side. When they confirmed he was in good health, they brought him to a conference room where an inquiry had been set up to investigate the cause of the accident. It was more like a discussion session, where a team of investigators listened as he related his experience. This included reigniting the engine, measures the pilot had taken, and the condition of the fighter at the point of failure. They even questioned him about how he escaped.
Because he was found on a cruise ship, Zhang Heng made no attempts to hide the truth and told the investigators everything, including the part where his jet was sucked into the tornado. He did, however, leave out the part about using Betty’s Shell to control it. Trying to be as transparent as possible, he told of how the tornado spat him out, subsequently granting him a safe landing on the water.
The whole story sounded more like a ridiculous myth to the investigators’ ears, and although Zhang Heng’s narrative couldn’t be completely ruled out theoretically, their professional experience told them that the chances of such a remarkable thing happening were just too small. Equally small was the probability of both engines failing in midair at the same time, and the part about the jet being caught inside a tornado was even more far-fetched. Before the investigators called upon him, they had done their homework – at that time, the waterspout was just off the coast and many around the area had seen it. Moreover, the stories of eye-witnesses on the cruise ship matched Zhang Heng’s statements precisely.
So, as incredulous and impossible as it sounded, the investigators had to accept the only explanation they had at the end of the day.
Moreover, they also paid particular attention to the faulty ejection device. The fatal incident that morning that cost Anthony his life was directly related to the ejection seat failing to launch on the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle. Less than a few hours after the first incident, the ejection seat on the T-38 malfunctioned as well. Naturally, a suspicious connection hung between the two.
NASA had already sent divers to recover the jet-trainer, intending to conduct a detailed investigation when it was brought back ashore. On top of that, they even looked into the possibility that Zhang Heng might have intentionally damaged the plane himself.
By the time the interrogation was over, it was already dark. Zhang Heng was informed that until the final report was out, he was grounded and wouldn’t be allowed to fly. He didn’t object the decision, knowing that it was somehow a blessing in disguise. Staying on the ground would ensure his safety, and before the culprit was caught, he did not wish to endure the same ordeal again.
After a hearty dinner, Zhang Heng returned to aerodynamics class.
He only just sat down when he received a note. On it was a simple sentence – You suspect Bruno too, right? Meet me in the corridor tonight at three.
Bruno was the alias of that listless young man. Yin Xiong passed Zhang Heng the note, but Livingston had actually written it. As Zhang Heng received it, Livingston nodded at him covertly. Zhang Heng wasn’t surprised. Two consecutive ‘accidents’ had taken place on the same day – one successful and the other a failure. The other players would surely worry about their lives, desperate to find out who was behind all this.
For the moment, it appeared that everyone had reached a consensus that Bruno was the most likely suspect, and that they weren’t about to let him decide their fate. So they decided to take action.
That basically meant that Bruno would be prematurely kicked out of the game. Even if he wasn’t the culprit, the players wouldn’t want a potential threat staying on either, not especially after that argument. Never mind the fact that many were vying for his spot in the first place. Since Zhang Heng managed to survive, they did not really need Bruno around.
The four players joined forces and planned to ambush Bruno. That meant he had almost no chance at winning. Livingston had also invited Zhang Heng to join the cause. Of course, it wasn’t because he valued Zhang Heng’s strengths but to keep him from ratting to NASA about the ambush.
It was, undoubtedly, a very wise decision.
With two serious accidents happening in one day, and from the manner of questions being asked, it seemed that the investigators too, suspected the accidents could have been premeditated.
They couldn’t risk such things happening again, not even if it looked like a genuine accident. Lives and reputation were at stake here, and with the recent public backlash, it couldn’t have come at a worse time. Only through complicity could the secret be kept under wraps.
Zhang Heng didn’t take too long to decide, agreeing to go along with Livingston’s suggestion.
Regardless of whether Bruno was the murderer or not, getting rid of him would definitely benefit Zhang Heng. Even if the other four players restrained themselves, he would still have to find a way to kick Bruno out to protect himself. Since they were all on the same side, Zhang Heng had no reason to disagree, something that Livingston had previously expected. In the subsequent physical training session, Livingston got up close to Zhang Heng quietly, explaining briefly about the plans tonight. To avoid alarming Bruno, the pair quickly separated after the message got across. Livingston even made it a point to gather everyone, informing them that the discussion would continue tomorrow at noon.
Bruno, on the other hand, seemed displeased with the suggestion. Even so, he approached Zhang Heng after training ended. He tried to explain that he had nothing to do with the jet trainer’s accident and, at the same time, wished to be an ally of his. Bruno clearly knew that he had fallen out with the other players and sorely needed support.
According to him, he and Zhang Heng were the ones with the highest scores, and working together would exponentially increase the success rate of qualifying for the moon-landing mission.
Zhang Heng only said that he’d consider it. When the hour hand on the clock struck three, he opened the door as promised.