Chapter 39:

Unexpected Visitor

Red-Black Course

When Zain returned to the real world, a white-suited figure had already appeared before the young man. “Congratulations, player!” Bryan let out a fake grin as he offered his hand for a shake. “I must say, I’m impressed with your performance!”

“Aren’t you supposed to say that to the first-place contestant?” Zain replied with a condescending smirk. “My performance was nothing to be impressed about.”

Without a moment of hesitation, the disguised warden continued. “I did talk to him before, but that man only nodded and left already. A man of few words, I must say… then again, his helmet would already tell us that much.”

“And you approached me because you thought I’d be easier to talk to?”

“Well, aren’t we talking right now?”

“You have a rotten sense of judgment, Bryan,” Zain gave a taunting remark, to which he knew the warden didn’t take lightly, seeing that the grip strength increased by a few times even if the smile wasn’t wiped off his face.

“Well, you sure are confident, challenger…”

“Zain, but I thought you’d already known that from the contestant list?” the young man mockingly raised his eyebrows before the hesitation.

“Ah, yes,” as if waiting for the moment, Bryan nodded. “I was about to mention that. But you see, if I recalled correctly, you only filled in your name, Zain, while we needed all contestants to fill in both your name and surname. Surely you must have forgotten? After all… every citizen in the world has a full name registered.”

A bit further away from him were Mitch and Mike, both of whom had also woken up just now, and upon listening to the conversation, both ended up looking at each other with panicked expressions. Since just filling in a name was easy for them, the two didn’t think that it would be a problem that could occur.

Both Mitch and Mike tried to take out their helmets to rush towards Zain for an excuse, but before he could, a small signal from Zain’s hand hidden behind his back showed up – a thumbs-up signaling that he would be okay.

“… Kuroshi. Zain Kuroshi,” Zain answered. He had no parents nor name before, so it would only be fair that he took after the one who gave him this name in the first place.

“You don’t look Japanese,” Bryan let out a grin.

“I never said it was Japanese,” replied Zain with a grin of his own. “How did you know?”

“When you get to a status like I do, there are certain… experiences you naturally get,” tugging on his collar and puffing out his chest with pride, Bryan answered.

What status, a bozo? The young man thought, clenching his fist to resist a sarcastic laugh. It took him for a second to finally calm himself and answer:

“Well, Sir Bryan, if you have nothing else to say, I’ll be on my leave.”

“Ta-ta now, Mister Kuroshi,” Bryan let out a polite smile, waving his hand to signal goodbye.

As the man’s silhouette finally disappeared, Mitch and Mike immediately jumped to Zain, each panicked to no end:

“What did he say? Did he show anything suspicious?” Mike frantically asked.

“Relax,” laughed Zain. “Even if he did, he wouldn’t do anything to us yet. I know that guy; always tries to show off but has nothing to his name. We should be fine.”

“Yer sure ‘bout that buddy?” Mitch showed a rather worried expression. “He’s still a warden.”

Zain looked puzzled for a moment but soon relaxed his muscles. Mitch wasn’t the same muscle-brained brute that shared the same prison with him a year ago anymore. He had changed for the better, and he had his own livelihood to worry about.

“Don’t worry,” lightly punching Mitch’s arm, Zain answered with a grin. “I won’t let them hurt you or your family.”

“A… I dun mean dat,” Mitch’s face was as red as a ripe tomato when he heard those words, but within him was a surging wave of appreciation and gratitude that had never shown up before.

“Sure buddy,” Zain teased once more. “Now let’s go home.”

However, as soon as the three left the vacant lot, Zain had already noticed a strange presence. A dangerous one.

“Five to our left, three to our right, and two behind us,” the young man whispered. “Do not look back or turn sideways.”

“W-wat?” Mitch almost froze in terror, while Mike was trying his best not to move his neck. “W-What should we do?”

“Damn it,” Zain clenched his fist, now in anger. “You two are seen with me already, so there goes splitting up as an option. Mike, can you scan for robot officers nearby?”

As the words left Zain’s mouth, Mike immediately tapped on his glasses’ rim again. “Five, no, seven, 300 meters east from us. Another ten to the north, and five to the south.”

“Westward is the only option, then,” Zain nodded. “Let’s go. But act as if you didn’t know anything.”

“Okay,” both firmly sounded, and the three continued their trip home as if nothing had happened.

Of course, that didn’t stop the mysterious group from tailing them, nor did it stop the robots patrolling from afar, slowly but surely closing in on them.

“Uh… the robots are around 50 meters from our location,” Mike tapped his glasses while sweating buckets.

“And it seems like the regular stalkers are closing in too,” Zain let out a sigh. “Now, which are you more confident at, Mitch, Mike?”

“What do you mean?”

“Either we run away as fast as we can, or I put on Bitleo and beat the crap out of them. The choice is up to you.”

“Why, isn’t it obvious?” Both sounded at the same time. “We…”

But their answers couldn’t be more different.

“Run away.” Mitch gritted his teeth.

“Beat the crap out of them!” Mike threw a punch in the air.

“Wait…” both then sounded in unison once more, baffled by the other’s choice.

“Uncle, what do you mean? We can’t just turn tails and run!”

“We’re runnin, and it’s final!” Mitch argued. “Yer parents left ya ta me, how am I s’pose to look dem in the eyes if I let anything happen ta ya?”

“Listen to your uncle, Mike,” before the boy could retort further, Zain had already interrupted. “Sometimes, it’s best to not fight things head-on.”

“Spoken like a true champ,” Mitch grinned and patted Zain on the back.

“Still not saying you can touch me,” replied Zain with a playful tap of his own. “But of course. I had the best environment to train me.”

The young man paused for a moment, before gesturing three fingers. “On my mark. Three… two… one…”

Which each count, the group took a step forward, and when the count was one, to their left was a small alleyway.

“Run!” Zain shouted, grabbing Mike and Mitch and flung them into the alleyway, before disappearing into the alley himself. From afar, more shouting could be heard, which brought a smile to Zain’s face:

“Shit, hurry! We’re gonna lose them!”

Mike and Mitch, after Zain’s assistant, ran like they’d never run before. Though neither was exactly the athletic type, the urgency in their steps could still be heard clearly thanks to the puddles splashing with their every step, as well as the short panting the two sounded. And the alleyway wasn’t such an easy road either – the steel staircases, broken debris, and leaked pipelines alike made the already tight space akin to an extreme obstacle course. And with both Mitch and Mike not having the slimmest of figures, it was another struggle for them as they tried their best to navigate through the urban maze.

However, luck wasn’t on their side. When the two almost made it out of the alley, another set of voices sounded from the exit ahead:

“Hurry! They can’t be far away!”

“Shit!” The frustrated exclamation was Zain’s as he hurriedly caught up with them.

“Do we fight now?” Mike grunted.

“No,” replying to him was a light shake of the head from the makeshift hero. “Too tight of a space. If I went all out here, it’ll attract even more attention, and not to mention there should be civilians nearby, too.”

“Then what do we do?”

Zain paused for a moment. But just before the figures could peek their heads in, the young man let out a cunning smile.

“… The only thing keeping us down is our imagination.”

Before either Mike or Mitch could react, Zain had already taken out his nanobot pendant and held it tight in his hand.

“Bitleo, Camo Mode.”

The chunk of nanobots dissolved in a flash, spreading themselves thin as a layer of paper and covering the entire space for three people. Then, to Mitch’s surprise and Mike’s awe, the bots disappeared on the spot, as if nothing was in front of them.

When the group of thugs came into the alleyway, they only looked around even though Zain’s group was standing right in front of them.

“… Where are they?” One of the thugs asked.

“They can’t be far! Keep going!”

The group soon disappeared before them as fast as they appeared. And following it was a huge sigh of relief coming from the chubby boy:

“Phew! I thought we were goners!”

“Wat didcha do?” Mitch asked in curiosity.

With a smile on his face, Zain raised his finger forward, lightly touching the space in front of them. When his finger was shown tapping on a small ripple in mid-air, Mitch couldn’t help but gasp in awe.

“Thanks to someone her filling my head with nothing but comic books for the past week, I learned that there was a certain hero that could be invisible by refracting light. Camo Mode was an idea from that, but with the added benefit of being soundproof too.”

However, before Zain could disassemble the camouflage wall, another figure entered the scene – one that neither Zain, Mitch nor Mike could ever predict.

Stroking his beautiful blond locks, the tall, well-built man took a look around.

“Zain, I know you’re still here. Come out, I just want to talk.”

“Look, I know you don’t trust me because of what happened that day,” the man continued as he saw no response. “And I’m not asking you to forgive me or anything. I just need to let you know about everything that’s been going around the prison.”

Still no response. Naturally, as Zain would have to be insane if he had accepted the offer so easily. Especially after he’d been double-crossed by this very man as well.

“… I’ll leave this here. I know you guys have a scanner with you, so you can even check to see if it’s really safe or not. I’ll be waiting.”

The man then left a metal sphere before leaving the premise entirely. Only after a few rounds of waiting did Zain disassemble the nanobots and got the rest out of hiding, before taking a glance at the strange object.

There was no reason for him to check its content. However, in the end, something within Zain urged him to do so.

“Mike?” Turning to the boy, he asked.

“… Nope, nothing unusual,” Mike shook his head. “It’s just an old address box.”

“Address box?”

“Think of it like a smartphone, but only for storing addresses,” Mike explained. “Its encryption is famous for being nigh unbreakable so the product sold well for a while, but this one was left unlocked for us.”

As Zain touched the sphere, a holographic map opened up, detailing the address and meeting point by a glowing red spot on the far-left corner.

“Number 290-A, Old Chateau apartment complex…” Zain mumbled.

“Are ya really thinkin ‘bout goin?” Mitch hesitated for a bit.

“He was right about us being here,” answered Zain. “If he wanted to, he could just tell his subordinates… if he has any, that is.”

“You noticed too?” Mike added. “About how he’s not in his officer’s uniform?”

“Yeah,” Zain nodded. “And look.”

Following the young man’s gesture, Mitch and Mike turned to the outside of the alleyway. And their mouths nearly dropped to the floor as they saw the pile of unconscious thugs lying about in all sorts of places.

“Wait, how did we not notice that?” Mike asked in disbelief.

“Soundproof, remember? Though I’ll have to adjust later,” Zain shrugged. “Not ideal if we’re shut off information too.”


“I don’t know why, but it really looks like Jack wanted to talk. So let’s pay our old warden foe a visit, shall we?”  

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