After yet another heavy snowfall, Xiang Aoting left for a few days.
When he returned, he brought the message that the mission was about to begin, and Shi Jin finally learned the specifics.

“What we need to do this time is to collect information.” Xiang Aoting projected the decrypted data on the screen and continued to explain, “The man in this picture is Liu Yuan, nicknamed ‘Pockmarked Yuan,’ and he’s engaging in the human trafficking business.
He’s your main target.
He used to be one of our informants, but he turned traitor.
We suspect he persuaded some military intelligence personnel to support him because they’ve discovered all the undercover agents we’ve sent out.
That is why we had to ask for external assistance.”

Human trafficking? Military personnel colluding with a traitor?

Shi Jin’s face was full of revulsion, and no wonder—there was no policeman who did not loathe human traffickers.
They were much more hated than murderers.

“Pockmarked Yuan belongs to an illegal underworld organization called ‘Werewolf.’ Its main members have been hiding abroad for many years.
Besides trafficking, they are also involved with various black businesses.
Recently, we heard they have sneaked back into China one by one; it seems they received some big business.
This is our chance.”

Shi Jin more or less understood what he meant.
“The government wants to know who is behind Werewolf and Liu Yuan?”

“Exactly.” Xiang Aoting nodded, satisfied with his thinking speed and deduction ability, and continued, “This mission is confidential.
To prevent further leaks, all the personnel involved in it were transferred from other places.
You are the only outsider, and your role is the most important.
We need you to disguise yourself, pretend to be trafficked by Pockmarked Yuan, mix with the Werewolf members, and collect as much information as possible.”

Shi Jin wrinkled his eyebrows.
“Disguise me as who? Besides, the main victims of human trafficking are children and women.
Will Pockmarked Yuan even look at me?”

Xiang Aoting remained silent for a moment.
Contrary to the statistics, Pockmarked Yuan’s favorite target group are young men, about seventeen or eighteen years old and pretty-looking.
He prefers naive, hardy country boys who had just left their villages to find work in a big city.”

As Shi Jin kept listening, his face slowly became expressionless.
He looked at Xiang Aoting cooly.
“Don’t tell me, Pockmarked Yuan is…”

“He is not only a trafficker but also a part-time pimp.
Because of his sexual orientation, he prefers to kidnap and sell young men.
Usually, the men abducted by him are trained for a time.
After he tires of playing with them, he sends them to T Country, then they are sold to other parts of the world.”

“…” Fuck, why is it this type of mission again?

Xiang Aoting also felt this task was somewhat unbearable.
He patted Shi Jin on the shoulder and consoled, “Don’t be scared, there is reliable evidence that Pockmarked Yuan became impotent, and the other members don’t dare to be too unrestrained in China.
We will try our best to ensure your safety.”

Shi Jin did not feel comforted.
He asked gloomily, “How?”

Xiang Aoting retracted his hand, saying, “I applied to participate in this mission.
It’s already been approved—I’m your handler.
I will save you as soon as you’re in trouble, so don’t be afraid.”

Shi Jin did not expect his brother would take part in the mission.
His mood became complicated—Xiang Aoting was a pilot, and he would never get involved in this kind of undercover operation usually.
He must’ve strived hard to get permission.

“You did not have to do this, Fourth Brother.”

“You’re wrong.” Xiang Aoting turned off the projector and said with a serious expression on his face, “We are brothers, and older brother has to protect the younger, so everything is how it should be.”

Shi Jin sighed and said to Xiao Si in his mind, “That’s it, I’m sold.
He truly is an honest and dependable older brother.”

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Xiao Si carefully recalled everything that happened but could not find even a sliver of evidence against Xiang Aoting, so it couldn’t refute.

Two days later, the exact date of the mission was set.
Pockmarked Yuan appeared in a small town in H province and seemed to be ready to take the Green Train to move inland.
It was a good moment to approach him.

Shi Jin received a call from Xiang Aoting halfway through the meal.
He looked at Lian Jun and wanted to explain the situation, but Lian Jun forestalled him.

“Pay attention to your safety,” he ordered, putting down his chopsticks.

Shi Jin swallowed back the words he prepared to say and nodded, then gave out his own order: “You have to eat properly while I’m away.”

“You talk too much,” replied Lian Jun.
He moved his wheelchair from behind the table, then took out a small pendant and put it in Shi Jin’s hand.
“I heard you returned the cucumber pillow to Rong Zhouzhong.
This is for you.
Remember to carry it with you.”

Shi Jin looked down.
He saw that the pendant he was given was shaped like a cartoon chicken drumstick, and couldn’t help but laugh.
He said willfully, swaying it, “Jun-shao, I don’t like to eat chicken legs.”

Lian Jun glanced at him and waved his hand.
“Go, don’t delay.”

“I’m going.” Shi Jin put the pendant away.
He stepped forward and hugged Lian Jun for a moment, then let go and retreated swiftly.
He then turned to wave at him, saying with a smile, “When I return after completing my mission, I want to eat a roasted whole lamb!”

Lian Jun’s tensed muscles relaxed slowly.
He waited in silence until he could not see Shi Jin anymore, and then his cold voice echoed in the room: “Don’t dream.
I can’t eat it, so you are not allowed to eat it either.”

H Province, next to S Province

Shi Jin, wearing an old, faded coat and a tacky black knit cap, and carrying a luggage bag on his back, squeezed into the Green Train.

His lips were blue from cold, he held an old mobile phone and kept his head down all the time, but his eyes kept glancing around.
Judging from his awkward body language, it was the first time he traveled by train.

People like that could be seen often, so nobody paid any attention to him.
He found his seat and sat down, smiling tentatively at his neighbor.
Unfortunately, his neighbor was a middle-aged office worker who answered his smile with a look of aversion.

That made Shi Jin even more awkward.
He turned his body to the side and took out his old mobile phone.
After dialing a number, he whispered with a bizarre local accent: “Ma, Ah’m already on da train.
Aw, don’ worry, Ah shore can dig up enough fer Brother’s bride price.
Make ‘im rest and ta not move so his broken leg heals faster.
Sister-in-law said she can wait for ‘im to git better afore they gits murried, so it’s all good.”

Xiang Aoting on the other end of the line: {…}

Shi Jin gave his phone a shake, looking at it dubiously, then spoke louder: “Ma? Can ya hear me? Is there no signal?”

{…I can hear you.} Xiang Aoting adjusted his mood and asked, {Have you seen the target yet?}

“Weird, no signal?” Shi Jin rose from his seat and moved as if searching for a signal, turning this way and that.
After a moment, he stopped and said happily, “Now Ah can hear ya, Ma, go ‘head and speak.”

This strange accent really affects communication.

Xiang Aoting let out a cough, then asked again, {Have you found the target?}

“Yeah,” confirmed Shi Jin.

{We suspect Pockmarked Yuan is going to C City to meet with other Werewolf members.
There are six stops between S Province and C City, the total time of travel is sixteen hours.
Try to get ‘abducted’ by him during that time,} instructed Xiang Aoting.

Shi Jin turned bashful.
“Ah knows, Ma, mah brother’s murriage is mighty important, he’s almost thirty and an old bachelor.
Ah’m still young, Ah don’t hafta git tied down yet.”

Xiang Aoting: {…}

After the first status call of the mission, Shi Jin was pleased with himself, but Xiang Aoting took damage.
He became aware that he honestly did not know his youngest brother as well as he thought.

Pockmarked Yuan was a mean-looking, middle-aged man with a waxy complexion, thin lips, and almost no eyebrows.
He was sitting in the corner of the carriage.
When Shi Jin came in, he was sleeping and did not notice him.
It wasn’t until Shi Jin searched for a signal that he was attracted by Shi Jin’s voice and opened his small eyes.

Shi Jin was not well-dressed, his speech was simple, and he tended to cringe, but underneath, his appearance was pleasant.
To not look like a delicate young master, he made the exposed skin rougher and several tones darker, but he couldn’t change his facial features—good-looking was good-looking.

Shi Jin ended the call, aware Pockmarked Yuan’s eyes turned this way and stayed on him for a long time.
Inwardly, he was satisfied, but he pretended not to notice and returned to his seat.

When the train started, the carriage became quiet—few people got in at this station, and no one spoke.

Shi Jin leaned back in his seat and looked out the window, glancing at the bag overhead from time to time.
He gripped the old mobile phone tightly.
He behaved like a cautious little mouse that left its burrow for the first time.

The sky dimmed, and the smell of instant noodles and boxed meals floated through the train carriage.
Seemingly sleepy, Shi Jin let out a yawn but bought nothing.
Instead, he got up and took down his luggage bag, removing tightly wrapped pancakes from inside.

As the night grew deeper, people in the carriage fell asleep one after another.
Shi Jin also drifted off, listing sideways in sound sleep.
In the early morning when the train stopped, and people got on and off, Shi Jin left to visit the bathroom.
When he came back and was passing Pockmarked Yuan’s seat, he deliberately raised his hand to scratch his neck, showing a delicate clavicle for a second.

The weather turned cloudy, and the frequency of train stops became dense—they were nearing the bustling inland cities.

Shi Jin started a conversation with a good-natured old man, revealing almost all of his information as they talked.
Fortunately, the old man did not seem to be a bad person.
Seeing his naivety, he repeatedly warned Shi Jin not to be so trusting when outside and bought him a hot meal.

Shi Jin was grateful to him.
His face was full of embarrassment, but he wolfed down the meal.

Several hours passed.
The next train stop was C City.
However, Shi Jin had not come in contact with Pockmarked Yuan yet.

Xiang Aoting called and asked about his situation.

Shi Jin huddled in his seat, tearing off a piece of pancake.
“Ma, tawk a bit faster, da battery on this is runnin’.
Ah’ll call ya when Ah gits there.
Ah knows, Ah hids da money well, it’s all good.”

Hearing him mention money, Xiang Aoting’s heart began to beat faster.
{Pockmarked Yuan already targeted you? He stole your money?}

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“Yes,” replied Shi Jin, not saying that it was shortly after he told the old man that he would get off in C City.
Pockmarked Yuan was impatient, but also more careful than he expected.
Well, it was good the horny scumbag took the initiative though.
It saved Shi Jin the effort of approaching him and reduced the possibility of exposing himself in the process.

Xiang Aoting was relieved.
For a moment, he couldn’t decide if Shi Jin was lucky or that he accurately analyzed Pockmarked Yuan’s character and manipulated him.
He asked a few more questions and hung up.

Half an hour later, the train arrived at C City, and Shi Jin grabbed his luggage bag and got off.
He meandered so that Pockmarked Yuan could keep up.
He followed the crowd and was jostled and bumped into several times, apologizing voluntarily every time.
Finally, he stumbled outside the railway station and wanted to make a phone call.

He reached into his pocket, but it was empty.

Shi Jin was not surprised at all, but his expression turned panic-stricken.
He nervously patted himself up and down.
Still not finding the phone, he put his luggage down and crouched to rummage through it.

“What’s the matter, young man?” A tall and thin figure appeared next to Shi Jin.

Shi Jin exclaimed triumphantly in his mind, not showing anything on his face.
He looked up warily and pursed his lips, shaking his head to show nothing was wrong.
He grabbed his bag and went to leave.

Pockmarked Yuan hurried to stop him, saying with a genial smile, “Don’t be afraid, we are acquaintances from the train.
I was sitting in the corner, remember? I saw you having trouble, so I came over to see what’s wrong.
Living away from home is difficult.
We have to help each other if we can.”

Shi Jin looked at him suspiciously, as if trying to remember, then began to lower his guard.
His eyebrows wrinkled, and he said in non-standard Mandarin: “Ah cain’t find muh phone… Gosh dang, what now? My Ma is still waitin’ fer me to calls her.”

“Don’t worry, you can borrow Uncle’s phone.
Calm down and look for it carefully, maybe you’ve just forgotten where you put it.” Pockmarked Yuan comforted him, reaching for his own mobile phone.

This let him successfully “win over” Shi Jin, this naive country boy.
He took the phone from Pockmarked Yuan, looking embarrassed, and thanked him shyly a few times.
Then he turned away and carefully dialed the number.

Xiang Aoting picked up right away but didn’t speak.

“Ma, it’s me.” Shi Jin took the initiative.
He glanced at Pockmarked Yuan standing next to him and said, smiling sheepishly, “Muh battery died and Ah borrowed a phone from a nice fella who traveled with me… It’s fine, it’s fine.
Ah’ll give Uncle Wang a call right away, Ah ‘member da name of ‘is factory.”

Xiang Aoting: {…Are you using Pockmarked Yuan’s phone?}


Xiang Aoting kept silent for a few seconds, signaling the staff next to him to track the phone number, and then asked, {Can you do this? Do you need any help?}

“Ah can do it, Ma.
Ah’m goin’ to hangs up, it’s somebody else’s phone, it be rude if Ah used it too long and it dies.” Shi Jin ended the call and returned it to Pockmarked Yuan with a grateful expression, thanking him again.

The man said it was nothing, that he didn’t need to thank him so much and took the opportunity to ask if anyone was waiting for Shi Jin and why he came to C City.

Shi Jin did not hide anything and told Pockmarked Yuan the same story he gave the old man in the train—he came here to work and a fellow villager, Uncle Wang, would come pick him up.

Pockmarked Yuan nodded his understanding and said he suspected someone had stolen Shi Jin’s mobile while he was at the crowded railway station.
He urged him to check if anything else was missing.
Frightened, Shi Jin reached into his baggage.
He touched the empty place where his money should have been hidden and made a shocked expression, then panicked and started to cry.

Pockmarked Yuan called out “Oh dear, what a heinous thief,” and promptly started to comfort Shi Jin.

After a few routine lines delivered by both sides, Pockmarked Yuan persuaded Shi Jin into his “friend’s” car, saying they would drive him to his Uncle Wang’s factory.

Pockmarked Yuan’s “friend” was an unattractive young man driving an old van.
Once Pockmarked Yuan let Shi Jin in, he frowned and said with annoyance, “What are you doing, Brother Liu? Now isn’t the time to fool around.”

“Why are you shouting? Don’t scare Xiao Yuan, he’s timid.” Pockmarked Yuan sent the young man a meaningful glance, handing Shi Jin a bottle of water.
“Here, drink it.
We will be at the factory soon.”

The young man rolled his eyes and muttered “damn faggot,” then started the car, looking resentful.

Shi Jin’s face showed he didn’t understand these words, turning away as if he was afraid of the young man.
He received the water bottle, asking Xiao Si, “Drugged?”

Xiao Si confirmed.

“Then give me a buff.” Shi Jin kept his cool.

Xiao Si silently acted.

After the person and the system understood each other, Shi Jin obediently opened the bottle and drank half of the water in one go.
Pockmarked Yuan showed a satisfied expression, watching Shi Jin as he would an appetizing dish delivered to his table.

Shi Jin smiled at him shyly and counted in his mind for a while.
Then, when he felt the time was right, he swayed and slumped to the side, “losing consciousness.”


Translator’s Notes:
“The Green Train” [绿皮火车] – it is a type of train operating in China.
It’s slow but very cheap, making it popular with poorer people like, you guessed it, migrant workers.
Pockmarked “Yuan” [元, yuán] and Xiao “Yuan” [远, yuǎn] (Shi Jin’s fake name) are two different words and they are not pronounced the same way in Chinese.
[Tyethehybrid ‘translated’ Shi Jin’s lines into the Southern accent (not too heavy to understand though, and I messed with it a little).
Thank you, Muah!]
❤ (ɔˆз(ˆ⌣ˆc)

Lian Jun redeemed himself.
┬─┬ノ( º _ ºノ)

Guys, we are 24 chapters in, and this novel is 167 chapters long.
What’s more, from now on chapters are two times longer.
If you think you know any of the characters and what’s going to happen… think again because there’s a good chance you’re wrong.
Adds to the fun though, at least for me~ ( ̄ヮ ̄)

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