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Striving for Science

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Chapter 11: Departure

"How did Mr. Shen know?" Sun Jia paused for a moment, then chuckled. It seemed that when he was delirious, his mother must have called him by his nickname many times.

Thinking about how his parents had suffered for him over the years, enduring hardships and even being reluctant to eat more meat, Sun Jia's smile turned bittersweet. "Yes, when I was young, I was called Miao Miao."

But even when his parents had called out his name day after day, he hadn't awakened from his stupor. He had drifted through seven or eight years in this state, wearing down his mother to the point of aging prematurely, and his father had exhausted himself to the point of illness. If only he could have been...

Raising his head, he noticed Shen Changan's strange expression, as if he'd heard something very surprising. Setting aside his regrets and melancholy, Sun Jia quipped, "Mr. Shen, does my nickname sound strange?"

"No." Shen Changan shook his head, his expression returning to normal. Changing the subject, he said, "Mr. Sun, are you leaving today?" He turned his head and spotted Sun Jia's parents waiting outside the gate.

"Yes." Sun Jia nodded. "Before leaving, I wanted to come by."

Dragging his suitcase through the busy staff of the Forestry Bureau, Sun Jia suddenly smiled. "When I was very, very young, I had a playmate I got along well with. But for some reason, one day he disappeared without a trace. I looked for him everywhere but couldn't find him. I asked the other kids in the courtyard, and everyone said they hadn't seen him either. I don't know where he moved to."

Shen Changan looked at the tree with its yellowing leaves and remained silent.

"I'm leaving now, and I don't know when I'll be back." Sun Jia handed a note to Shen Changan. "If... I mean if, by any chance, he returns to this place and asks about me, please give him this note. It contains my online contact information. Even if my phone number changes, these accounts won't."

"Alright." In Sun Jia's presence, Shen Changan carefully slid the note into the waterproof compartment of his wallet. "Rest assured, if he ever comes back, I'll give this to him."

"If he's forgotten about it, don't give it to him." Sun Jia's smile was pure. "I am very grateful to have his company in my childhood, but people grow up. The beauty of childhood isn't eternal. I don't want to disturb his current life with the friendship from back then."

"I understand." Shen Changan grasped the meaning behind Sun Jia's words and smiled at him. "Well then, I wish you a safe journey."

"Thank you." Sun Jia set down his suitcase, walked beneath the large tree, and reached out to touch the rough trunk. A nostalgic smile graced his lips. "When I was a child, I used to play under this tree with that playmate. He even taught me how to climb trees."

Patting the tree trunk a few times, he sighed. "I hope this tree doesn't have any major issues. By the time I return, it will have regained its former appearance."

Yellowed leaves fell gently, with one landing in Sun Jia's palm.

Holding the leaf in his palm, Sun Jia chuckled softly. "Goodbye."

A light breeze rustled the leaves, creating a soft swishing sound.

"It'll be alright." Shen Changan watched Sun Jia under the tree and suddenly spoke up.

"What?" Sun Jia turned to look at him.

"I mean, when you come back next time, this tree will surely have recovered," Shen Changan smiled. "Since it managed to survive its first hundred years, it will naturally endure a second hundred years."

"Yes." Sun Jia placed the leaf into his pocket casually, lifted his suitcase, and bid Shen Changan farewell once more. He strode toward the gate with big strides.

Shen Changan watched his departing figure, observing the elderly couple warmly holding Sun Jia's hand. Then, the trio slowly vanished around the corner of the street.

"Ah." Chen Panpan sighed. "It's better for their family to go somewhere else. In a small place like ours, any minor incident becomes the talk of the town. Sun Jia is already twenty-six this year. Even if he's regained his senses, he would still have to live under the scrutiny of others. It's better to start afresh in a different city."

"Everyone's just here to watch the commotion, huh?" Du Zhonghai leaned on the second-floor balcony. "You guys are all gathered around the tree, making a fuss as if it's already dead.  You are scaring it half to death before it's even dead."

"Director Du, we're not chewing on the tree bark so we won't scare it." Chen Panpan playfully quipped, "We're not taking the blame for this."

"Someone always has to shoulder the blame," Du Zhonghai waved them over. "Come up here, I need to inform you about something."

The three trotted upstairs. Seeing that everyone else was in the meeting room, they quickly sat down obediently.

"Your recent efforts in promoting cultural and spiritual development have been commendable, but you shouldn't become complacent. Keep up the good work." Du Zhonghai held a brief meeting, summarizing everyone's achievements over the past month.

"During the ghost incident on the highway, it was Xiao Ding and Xiao Shen who dealt with it last night. The two of you should draft a detailed report. I'll send the report to the Publicity Department the day after tomorrow to debunk the ghost rumors." Du Zhonghai rubbed his protruding belly. "Today's meeting ends here. Does anyone have any questions?"

Everyone shook their heads in unison. Every time Director Du held a meeting, he would talk a lot of nonsense. It was already very difficult for them to control their urge to play with their mobile phones, so they didn't have any questions left to ask.

"Alright, then the meeting is adjourned." Du Zhonghai closed the folder in his hands. "By the way, Xiao Shen, come to my office for a moment."

Following behind Du Zhonghai, Shen Changan entered the head's office. Du Zhonghai greeted him kindly and gestured for him to sit down. "Xiao Shen, have you been comfortable in the department lately?"

"The colleagues are very nice, and there is nothing unaccustomed to them."

"That's good." Du Zhonghai chuckled twice and asked about his personal life.

"Director." Shen Changan looked at the somewhat hesitant Du Zhonghai. "If you have something to say, you can just say it directly."

"Ah." Du Zhonghai sighed. "Here's the situation: your father sacrificed himself for the country over a decade ago, and some of his belongings and records can now be made public. Among his belongings is a letter addressed to you and your mother. They'll send someone to deliver it, and they also hope to place the original letter in the Martyrs' Exhibition Hall, to let more people know how much they sacrificed to protect the country."

Seeing Shen Changan's silence, Du Zhonghai hurriedly added, "Of course, letters are very private things. If you're not willing to make it public, they'll respect your decision."

"My father was a great hero who willingly gave his life for the country. How could I, as his son, be stingy with a single letter?" Shen Changan lowered his head. "I have no objections."

"That... after that day, your father's belongings and letter will be delivered to you. Take care."

Shen Changan returned to his seat, perhaps due to not sleeping well the previous night, his head was throbbing.

Less than two years after his father's death, his mother passed away as well. Out of concern that criminals might seek revenge, he was sent to his grandmother's house in the countryside.

He remembered the old wooden house in the countryside that was an ancient-style wooden building. There, his elderly grandmother would always tell him that his father hadn't actually died; the King of the Underworld made a mistake with his soul, leading him to the underworld prematurely.

Grandmother fed him what she claimed to be soul-summoning water, a bitter and pungent concoction with a nauseating stench. He cried and told his grandmother that his father had taught him there were no ghosts or mythical creatures in the world.

But every time he said this, his grandmother would go crazy, accusing him of being unfilial, of not wanting to save his father.

Later on, she made him kneel in front of his father's memorial portrait after drinking the water, all because some "expert" told her that if the filial piety of the younger generation was sincere enough, they could move the heavens and bring the deceased back to life.

However, a day passed, a month passed, a year passed, two years passed, and his father still didn't return. Even in his dreams, he only encountered malevolent spirits that wanted to devour his flesh and suck his blood.

His father never returned, and his grandmother went crazy.

On the day his grandmother completely lost her mind, the weather was exceptionally good. The persimmon tree outside the yard was laden with unripe green and yellow fruits. The scissors in Grandma's hand pierced into his shoulder, saying she would pick out his lifeline and give it to his father.

Luckily, that day, one of his father's comrades came to visit. Seeing him lying in a pool of blood, the comrade rescued him from his grandmother's scissors.

The smell of rust on the scissors that day was something he could never forget for the rest of his life. Fishy, pungent, and...... close to the smell of death.

After he was rescued, he was surrounded by many unfamiliar uncles – doctors and his father's comrades. There was an uncle who had broken an arm, and obviously had a rude and frightening voice, but he pinched his throat and told him boring children's stories.

Since then, he wasn't sent back to his grandmother, nor did he dream of malevolent spirits again.

"Changan, are you sleepy?" Ding Yang placed a cup of freshly brewed coffee in front of him. "Here, have some coffee to refresh yourself. Thanks for last night."

Shen Changan took the disposable cup, looking up at Ding Yang with suspicion. "Yang-Ge, don't smile at me like that. Every time you do, I feel like you're about to ask me for something."

"Hehe." Ding Yang rubbed his hands together. "Well, about last night's report..."

"Of course it would be written by you who has enough experience and more insight." Shen Changan took a large sip of coffee and smiled at Ding Yang with an innocent expression. "Thanks a lot, Yang-Ge."

Ding Yang said resentfully. "No need to be so polite."

Shen Changan's phone screen, placed on the table, lit up. He had a new message on WeChat. He picked it up and a smile appeared on his face.

Nian: The weather forecast says it's going to rain today.

Surprisingly, he managed to string together nine words and a punctuation mark. This could be considered a significant leap forward. Shen Changan swiftly responded to the message.

Changan: Thank you. My phone's weather app still shows it's sunny. Not very professional, I must say.

Around five minutes later, another message arrived.

Nian: Maybe we're using different weather apps.

Was this their way of explaining things? Thinking about Dao Nian's reluctance to talk, yet here he was using his phone to explain, Shen Changan's smile grew even brighter.

Changan: I believe you.

By the floor-to-ceiling window, Dao Nian stared at his phone screen for a while. He tapped on the screen repeatedly, then after a long time, he replied with just one word.

In front of the floor-to-ceiling windows, Dao Nian stared at the phone screen for a long time, pressed back and forth on the screen, and replied to the other party with a word for a long time.

Nian: Okay.

Author's Note:

Nian: Chatting with humans is so tiring~

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