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Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Outcast: Volume 1 Chapter 4

Volume One: Eastwood Is All Stones

Chapter 4: The hood cannot hide your face

When the fifteen-year old Xu Le made this claim in a trembling voice and the most sincere and clipped tone, obviously he didn’t think this dream would ever come true. An orphan in the remote Eastwood Grand District could certainly become totally obsessed with the purple-haired little goddess of the Federation on an ultra-thin TV on his knees and use such a strong-worded proclamation to express his intense emotion. The real root probably had more to do with the physiological changes due to puberty.
The poor is certainly entitled the right and the courage to fantasize, only that the huge gap between different social stratums is not something that can be narrowed by individual efforts. Other than his poorness, the youngster Xu Le had nothing else to offer. He probably would never have the chance to set his foot on the capital star, not even just for a short tour….
Xu Le was not a particularly handsome young lad. He was certainly not ugly, but only possessed a still somewhat puerile, tender, and ordinary face, just like any ordinary teenage boy. He had neither an attractive face nor an adorable figure. He was, after all, just one of the common people.
The most noticeable feature on his face had to be his eyes, which squinted slightly under the dark bushy eyebrows and appeared to be a bit small, not really matching well with the pair of attractive eyebrows. Especially when he was deep in thought, his eyes would squint even more, and the once sincere and austere expression in his eyes would be tainted with an infatuated and naive look.
However, if someone could stare deep inside the pupils, behind the infatuated look, he’d for sure find some stone-solid persistence and determination, a special trademark trait of the Eastwooders.
“Between the age fifteen and fifty…every man in the Federation thinks Jian Shui-Er is super gorgeous, and each one would be willing to take her for a bride,” Under the dim night sky and the big green tree, Brother Wei patted Xu Le gently on his somewhat feeble shoulder and uttered with the utmost sympathy. “Me included. But I am too thin-skinned to say it out loud. You are indeed shameless!”
“I…I think so too.”
The young boy by Brother Wei’s side cast a sneaky glance at Xu Le. When he confirmed that Brother Le’s eyes were still fixed on the shining display of the ultra-thin crystal screen, totally preoccupied by the purplish portrait in the last frozen frame of the episode, he finally gathered enough courage and added his comment.
Xu Le raised his head slowly and glanced at the little boy.
“Little Qiang, you are only ten. You don’t know Jack!” he said with a grin.
After that remark, Xu Le stood up and leaned against the trunk of the big green tree. He pressed lightly on the side of the ultra-thin crystal screen. With a pleasant sliding sound the entire screen retracted into a thin circular shaft.
He gently stroked the smooth metal surface of the circular shaft, a trace of grief creeping in his thick eyebrows.
“This is a high-quality pirated model of the N98. It’s worth at least four thousand on the market. You got yourself a really good deal, Li Wei. It is yours now, but if want it repaired one day, I still have to charge you.”
“Stop acting like a girl!” Li Wei scratched his pale blonde curly hair irritably and snatched the circular shaft from Xu Le’s hand. “You’ve got to see that stern face of Bao Longtao today. Are you saying that the risk we took today, over one hundred of us, is not even worth the damn TV?”
Xu Le let out a grin and did not argue with him. Instead, he gave a strong pat to Li Wei’s shoulder.
“Same old deal. If I need anything, I’ll trouble you again.”
Li Wei did not reply immediately, and instead, stared at the ordinary-looking face of Xu Le, puzzled. He continued with the stare for a long time until he could no longer withhold the question.
“Where have you been hanging out during the day for the last two years? Why are you always hiding from us? I know you don’t like us hanging out on the streets, afraid that we might eventually turn into gangs…. But the school has always kept the gate open for us. Frankly speaking, for the last ten years, the government has been good to us.
“We’ve thrown away school course work for many years. How are we ever able to catch up?” Xu Le heaved a sigh helplessly.
 Li Wei didn’t fancy convincing his friend so easily. He cussed a few words in annoyance.
“You son of a bitch, I am just afraid you’ll turn autistic.”
That remark gave Xu Le a big grin, so big that his eyes squinted again, as though he had just heard the funniest joke in the entire world. But he did not stay with the topic.
“Don’t you want to give it a try?”
Obviously the ten-year-old boy did not understand the conversation between the two youngsters. Wasn’t that circular shaft a very fine-looking and very expensive ultra-thin crystal screen? It also had great TV signal reception earlier. What else was left to try?
But Li Wei’s face turned serious at these words. Holding the thin circular shaft tightly with his right hand he cautiously pushed a hard-to-spot small metal piece.
ZAP! ZAP! A strange sound resonated under the big green tree as a faint blue electric arc shot out from the tip of the shaft with awe-inspiring and soul-stirring beauty. The arc traveled with a half-meter radius and quickly circled back to the tip of the shaft.
The young boy threw himself to the ground as soon as he saw the blue electric arc and quickly placed both of his hands behind his head. Obviously in the past, orphans on the streets had suffered a great deal of torture from this type of weapons. Li Wei’s face turned slightly pale. Gazing at Xu Le stupidly, he asked in a trembling voice.
“Holy cow! You call this an electric prod?”
“It just looks scary. The attacking power is not even half of the military models. But those ones require major efforts to mod,” Xu Le said with a frown. “Make sure you only use this when you pick fights with those street punks. You’ll be in deep trouble if you let anyone from the No. 2 Substation see it.
Li Wei quickly thrust the circular shaft underneath his jacket and kept staring at Xu Le with disbelief.
“I thought this thing would just make a few sparks at most…you…you are a damn genius.”
By then Little Qiang had also got back onto his feet and stared at Xu Le as though he was worshiping an angel. Although they were only orphans and had very little education, they still could imagine what talent it would require to mod the most beautiful ultra-thin portable crystal screen on the market into such powerful electric prod!
“Ha! I am a genius….” Xu Le raised his bushy eyebrows slightly.
This reaction didn’t look arrogant in any way, and instead, made the youngster appear extremely sincere and honest.
Li Wei gazed earnestly into his eyes and finally asked, “Xu Le, you must have put in a lot of work on this thing. You did all this just…just so you could watch Jian Shui-Er?”
“Of course,” Xu Le replied with an even more sincere tone.
Li Wei felt a sudden urge to beat the hell out of someone. But eventually he only scolded, “You idiot!”
Xu Le watched on until the two shadows vanished into the dark night by the edge of the city. Feeling a bit relaxed, he reached back, pulled up the hood hanging from his leisure jacket, and put it over his head, making sure his entire face was well covered in the shadow. Then he walked down the green hill, away from the big green tree, and followed a different road, walking toward another residence district of the Riverwest State Capital.
However, the journey home for the youngster today was not trouble free. Right by the street light at the entrance of the Rolland Street, he was stopped.
“The hood cannot hide your face…I think we met four years ago.”
Under the dim street light, the figure of the Deputy Chief of the Riverwest State Police No. 2 Substation, Bao Longtao, appeared to be extra murky and fearful. He stared at the young lad in front of him, who was at least two heads shorter than him. He stared at the hood that hid the youngster’s face and uttered the cold words.

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