The 01 Guerillas went on a month-and-a-half-long vacation after rescuing Leah. Semiprime sent the video recording in an encrypted email to Edward, but eventually, it came to nothing. Edward never responded.
To avoid Black Nest’s hounding, the group came to a little town in southwestern France. Waldo had an uncle who lived here. With no heirs, he left the house to his nephew.
Waldo had mentioned this before, but no one took him seriously. It all changed when they arrived at the place, amazed by just how massive the house really was. For the guest rooms alone, there were six of them! The fine palace could easily accommodate all of them and then some more. There was also a huge courtyard planted with a variety of flowers and plants, complemented by a small sparkling pond at the back.
Philip pushed open the windows and admired the picturesque view. “Why would you live in your mother’s attic when you have a place like this?” he asked.
“Erm… that’s because there’s no one here to cook for me, and there are no takeaway services either…” Waldo answered candidly.
“I mean, the taxes for houses like this are over the top… SO, I rent it out for half of the year during the peak seasons, but the money is barely enough to pay for the taxes and maintenance. It just makes me want to sell it,” Waldo grumbled.
“Don’t be in such a hurry to sell it. I’ve always wanted to own a place with a view like this, a little piece of heaven I can retire to when I’m old. After I’ve saved enough money and my daughter’s gone to college, you can sell it to me,” Ponytail said.
“Ugh… I don’t know if I can wait until then. There’s a whole lot of games on Steam just waiting for me to buy,” Waldo answered nonchalantly.
“Anyway, make yourself at home, but leave the room with the best WIFI signal to me,” Waldo said as he threw himself onto the couch and ripped into a bag of chips.
“This guy is hopeless…”
The 01 team did a quick cleaning around the house; then, Semiprime drove to a supermarket at the town center to stock up on some food and daily necessities. They did not spend much of the money they earned from the casino, only using enough for their expenses and saving the rest for the operation. Initially, the group only planned to stay here for a few days, hoping that Edward would reply within that time. They would then hurry over to rescue him. Nobody would expect that they would be here a lot longer than initially planned.
As was his habit, Zhang Heng did not waste whatever time he had, learning electronic control systems from Ponytail. He even had Waldo and Philip teach him how to hack into an account and bypass the network’s security defense systems.
Zhang Heng didn’t come into contact with either of the three men in the parallel quest.
At that time, Ponytail and Edward died, Philip emigrated to Hong Kong, whereas Waldo had taken refuge within Black Nest.
It was actually difficult to blame the latter two. Aside from Philip, who had gotten tired of fighting, Waldo also sent 01 a great deal of secret information while working for Black Nest, greatly helping 01 avoid a ton of unwanted trouble. When Black Nest came to know about it, they let the matter slide, seeing how skilled he was and all. However, he was no longer allowed access to classified information and was only allowed to provide technical advice.
Including Leah, there were a total of six people in the building. If the mission failed, it would be really hard to imagine how drastically different the direction each would take in twelve years.
Leah found an old guitar lying about in the yard’s storage room. It had a missing string, though. She wiped the instrument clean and carried it in her arms. “Is there anything you’d like to hear?” she asked the lot.
“I don’t know… what about ‘La Marseillaise’?” Waldo suggested. Philip frowned. “Why would anyone want to listen to the national anthem after dinner?”
“Because I can’t think of anything else, and everyone has heard it before. It’s really popular, you know?”
“So, she’ll be playing the guitar, and we’ll all have to stand upright and put on a solemn face?”
“How about Joe Dassin’s Les Champs-Élysées? I’m sure everyone’s heard of it too,” Leah plucked the strings twice, “It’s one of my favorites, and there are only five strings left. Just enjoy the music. Alright, enough talk. Let’s begin…”
She cleared her throat and began:
“I was walking down the avenue; my heart opened to strangers,
I wanted to say hello to anyone at all, anyone, maybe you,
Whatever it is we would talk about,
It was enough just to speak to you, to be close to you, On the Champs-Élysées, on the Champs-Élysées!
Whether in the sun or in the rain, at noon or midnight
Everything you could want is on the Champs-Élysées!
Leah, having come from a professional music background, also happened to be a talented singer. Coupled with experience as the lead singer of Suffocated to Death, she actually sang a lot better than many famous singers. Her jazzy, melodic voice gave the classic French pop song a very different flavor.
If it had not been for her brother’s tragic death, she might have perhaps become a famous superstar twelve years later, taking into account her irresistible charm and how stunning she looked.
When the song was over, Philip and the others erupted into applause as patrons at La Grenouille Verte would.
Leah did a little curtsy. “Thank you, thank you. Your enthusiasm will only cause me to puff up. Hahaha!”
“Encore! Encore!” Waldo put down the device in his hand, putting his Legend of Zelda he’d been burying his head in for fifteen months on hold, a rare occurrence for a guy who was that close to becoming one with the gaming device.
“Alright…” Leah accepted the request and began the second song.
It, however, did not escape Little Boy’s observant eyes that Zhang Heng wasn’t in the house with the rest of them. A while later, she found him by the lake. The skies had sprouted a drizzle, and it was cold. Little Boy pulled her coat tighter around herself.
“What are you doing here?” she asked. “Fishing,” Zhang Heng replied, waving a fishing rod.
“Huh? But it’s raining.”
“Do you hate the rain?”
“I wouldn’t say I hate it, but I don’t particularly like it either. It gets so humid when it rains,” said Little Boy, frowning at the thought.
“Mm, that’s true.”
Suddenly, the buoy that had been bobbing calmly on the water started moving.
“Oh, you’ve baited a fish!” Little Boy said.
Zhang Heng did not react immediately. He waited until the buoy completely sank into the water before jerking the rod and reeling in the line. The large fish struggled as he hooked it out of the water.
“Too bad it’s a carp. We can’t eat that,” commented Little Boy.
“Who said carps can’t be eaten? I’ll cook it tomorrow, and you can give it a go.”
Zhang Heng bent down and put the fish in the pail.
“Shall we go back?”
Little Boy nodded, and the two walked alongside each other on the slightly muddy path. Little Boy kept opening her mouth to speak, but no words would come out. “What is it you want to say?” “I feel like everyone’s too laid back. It’s like they’re on vacation. Because Edward didn’t reply, the whole team is directionless. It doesn’t seem good for us to just kick back like that,” Little Boy confessed her worries. “Don’t worry. It won’t last long,” Zhang Heng assured her, “The real challenge is about to come.”