Chapter 2: Black Street

Chapter 2: Black Street

What was a “black street”? As buildings increased in height with the advancement of technology, areas with a high concentration of skyscrapers blocked sunlight from narrow alleys at the bottom of these clusters. These streets were dark most of the day, so people called them “black streets.”

The area where Fang Zhao now lived was surrounded by mass housing blocks more than 100 stories tall. There were gaps between these towers, and beneath these gaps lay the “black streets.” People who lived on black streets were also called “those who lived in the gaps,” a euphemism for the poor.

Conditions were rough on black streets. In addition to the lack of sunshine, it was a dangerous setting.

After the original owner of Fang Zhao’s body signed with a record label, he moved off-campus. Living alone was more conducive to creative work and was more private, but he had limited funds, so he could only afford to rent a container-style room on a black street. The original owner wanted to move out after he was paid for his work, but before he could submit his work, it was stolen by a trusted friend.

The original owner had four childhood friends: Fang Sheng, his ex-girlfriend Xi Hong, Zeng Huang, and Zeng Huang’s fiancée, Wan Yue.

The five of them grew up together. They lived in the same building as kids. Unfortunately, when they were in secondary school, an explosion occurred in the building and only a tenth of the residents survived. Only children who were boarders survived.

The government paid out a substantial amount in compensation and a strong welfare system was in place, so the five of them could afford to finish university with cash to spare. They attended the same primary school and secondary school and went on to attend college in Qi’an City. They attended different universities, but they stayed in touch. However, they weren’t as close as when they were children.

After the apocalypse, a global alliance was formed. The entire planet was a unified whole. There were no countries.

The alliance comprised of 12 continents—eight major continents and four special continents.

Fang Zhao lived in the political and financial hub of one of the eight major continents, Yanzhou, the capital city of Qi’an.

The original owner of the body was the best student among the five. The university he was admitted to was the best music school in Yanzhou: the Qi’an Academy of Music.

Since the beginning of the New Era, the composition department at the Qi’an Academy of Music accounted for nearly half of Yanzhou’s 100 most influential composers. Among them were composers who had global influence. The academy was a dream school for many.

Final-year students of the composition department were mostly signed by record companies before graduation. The original owner of the body was one such student. Half a year before graduation, he signed a six-month trainee contract with Silver Wing Media, one of Yanzhou’s three major entertainment conglomerates.

During the first three months, the original owner of the body ran errands for senior musicians and attended classes scheduled by the company. The second half of the internship was devoted to preparing for the annual new talent competition. How the trainees performed in the last three months determined if they would stay on at Silver Wing as full-time employees and shaped their futures. Silver Wing would allocate resources based on their performance in the new talent competition.

But the pieces the original owner had toiled on for the new talent competition were stolen by his childhood friend Fang Sheng.

Fang Sheng shared the same family name with the original owner – they were distant relatives. He was a good brother and partner, but he stabbed the original owner of the body in the back at a critical juncture. Caving to the painful blow and the pressure, the original owner committed suicide.

Fang Zhao stopped searching his new memory and noticed that it was getting lively outside. The movement of people could be heard everywhere. The apartment was located on the second floor. Right beneath it was a large shop where people could be heard opening shop and moving things. Residents of the building across the street had also opened their windows and were staring outside.

Even though it was quite dark, Fang Zhao still examined the street like taking in a rare piece of art.

Things had changed so much since the apocalypse, which was both alien and intriguing to Fang Zhao at the same time.

This was the new world.

A golden age had emerged after the near-apocalypse, also known as the Period of Destruction.

Those old friends who survived the end of the war must have been delighted. The 100-year war, which cost billions of lives, resulted in the prosperous times everyone had hoped for.

The noise and the dark should have gotten on his nerves, but Fang Zhao was an untapped bundle of energy. The world he had longed for was afoot again.

Closing his eyes and taking a deep breath, Fang Zhao greedily took in the fresh air of the new world.

Inspiration rumbled in his head, ready to burst out. His blood had risen to near-boiling temperatures. Every single one of his hairs was trembling in excitement.

But that wasn’t enough.

To create a masterpiece, that bit of inspiration wasn’t enough.

The noise grew louder, and it was bright outside. It was getting louder and brighter at an increasing pace.

Fang Zhao stopped searching his memory and locked the window. Based on the memory he inherited along with his new body, Fang Zhao knew that the busiest and also most valuable period of the day on a black street—daytime—was about to arrive.

He scanned the house and his gaze landed on the bracelet on top of his nightstand for two seconds. Fang Zhao darted over and fastened it to his left wrist. This was an item that 90 percent of people in the new world owned, something like a personal computer terminal.

Virtual currency was the norm, so Fang Zhao needed the bracelet to buy things. It also served as the key to his apartment.

After he fastened his bracelet, Fang Zhao paused before the door and turned back to scoop up the stray dog, who was staring at him, and brought him along.

As he left, Fang Zhao noticed that many others were headed to the first floor, just like him. His building was like a beehive, housing a massive number of residents. Most, like Fang Zhao, also struggled to make ends meet and could afford no more than a tiny, cramped room devoid of sunlight for most of the time.

Where tall buildings were clustered, even though it was daytime, the streets below were dark most of the time. People who could afford to moved to higher floors. People are always drawn to the light.

As for those who couldn’t afford an apartment on a higher floor or were handicapped, they set their sights on noon every day, the only time when black streets were briefly graced by sunlight.

The people who were rushing downstairs glanced at Fang Zhao quickly and walked past him. They only had a vague impression of him. They didn’t know him well, so they didn’t bother to say hello.

Several of them gave Fang Zhao a curious glance when they noticed he was carrying a dog. Fang Zhao didn’t mind and smiled at them in return.

The fellow residents were obviously taken aback. They were probably surprised that this usually depressed young man was smiling.

The people who went outside around that time to get a tan were mostly elderly. The crowd that emerged from the elevator was mostly made up of stumbling, grey-haired old men and women.

As he emerged from the lobby of his building, Fang Zhao noticed that the street was already quite crowded. Major forms of transportation were diverted elsewhere, so black streets were usually free of car traffic. During the day, they were very empty, except for now.

As the sun rose, it shined on the lower levels of the mass housing blocks. People who didn’t go outside also opened their windows to take in the precious sunshine.

Fang Zhao wasn’t in a hurry to stake out his spot. Instead, he walked into the shop on the first floor. He was starving. Everything else could wait.

Because of the apocalypse, the planetary government of the New Era did not impose gun controls initially, lest another major war break out again. In the unfortunate scenario where events unfolded that way, at least people could fight right away. But eventually, the situation grew out of control. Arms became prolific and riots rampant. Several continents went through leadership changes and the planetary government was nearly toppled. That was when gun controls were implemented. Gun controls were especially strict in the past century. It was impossible for the average citizen to own a gun.

But Yue Qing, the owner of the shop, was a veteran and one of the few people on this black street that owned arms legally. The punks of black streets didn’t dare mess with people with arms, which was the main reason why this shop could operate in peace.

When Fang Zhao entered the shop, a yawning Yue Qing gave him a quick glance. He remembered Fang Zhao from yesterday, when the kid was hellbent on killing himself and oblivious to feedback. He’d thought another black street suicide was in the works, but low and behold, Fang Zhao showed up again.

Yue Qing’s line of sight shifted to the dog Fang Zhao was holding. That’s right—it was the kid from the yesterday. He saw him take the stray dog home. Several punks who were shopping at his stores started a bet on what Fang Zhao would do with the dog—whether it would become a burial item or if he would kill it and eat it. It looked like they were all wrong.

Fang Zhao sensed Yue Qing’s probing eyes, but his stare suggested curiosity and no ill will, so Fang Zhao didn’t react. Drawing from his memory, he bought the cheapest items: three thumb-length sealed strips. Their size was misleading—the strips felt like metal in hand. Low-end compressed food.

Yue Qing stopped staring and eyed the item Fang Zhao had picked. “That’s 9 dollars. You want them decompressed?”

Decompression referred to the decompression of compressed food, which restored these compressed blocks into an edible form.

“Yes. And a cup of tea please,” Fang Zhao said.

“Decompression is fifty cents, the tea is another fifty cents—the total is 10 dollars.” As he spoke, Yue Qing opened the three strips and stuck them into a decompressor. Ten seconds later, he removed the tray from inside, on which sat three items that resembled dim sum. They were each about 20 centimeters by 8 centimeters in size and steaming hot.

“Takeaway?” Yue Qing asked.

“No, I’ll eat here.” Fang Zhao took the plate and asked, “Boss Yue, can I move a chair outside?”

“Not too far out,” Yue Qing answered without lifting his head. He wasn’t afraid the kid would steal his chair. Very few people had the guts to steal from him on this street.

Fang Zhao put down the dog near the store entrance and returned inside for a chair.

Fang Zhao gave the dog one of the three compressed cakes and kept the other two for himself. If this were the apocalypse, he would not have generously shared his food with a dog he just met, but Fang Zhao was in a good mood, having been reborn into the New Era. He was willing to share. Since the original owner of his body adopted it and it did not die, he would keep it for now.

The compressed cakes tasted horrible, and the tea was cheap powder-based stuff—otherwise they wouldn’t be so cheap. But for someone who had survived the apocalypse, Fang Zhao thought the food was a delicacy. During the end of days, he had to endure famine. Later on, he didn’t have to worry about food, but he wasn’t picky.

Compared to simple and crude food items and the stress of war, compressed cakes were exquisite. Now he could actually sit and enjoy lunch in peace. That already meant the world to Fang Zhao.