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“Maybe this book’s a bit advanced for now. How about starting with your anatomy textbook first?” Dr. Hu suggested warmly, placing the hefty book back on the shelf.
“Interesting as that is, could you give me a quick rundown of what it’s about?” Lin Feng asked, his curiosity bubbling over.
“Oh, so it’s the feline DNA in you that’s got you curious, huh? In a nutshell, the book delves into future possibilities of combining human and animal DNA. It’s about taking the best traits from each and leaving the rest behind. Just a heads-up though, it’s packed with lots of scientific terms and details about medications,” Dr. Hu explained.
Lin Feng’s eyebrows knit together as he processed Dr. Hu’s words. Could the author of this book be the same rogue scientist responsible for a viral outbreak? Then again, zombies didn’t exactly align with the concept of DNA fusion. It seemed more like mutants like themselves were the focus of Dr. Hu’s description. Could there have been an accidental leak from a lab? And what about the widely accepted theory that the origin was connected to bats?
“Could you explain a little further?” he probed.
“Even if you had this book, the scientific jargon would make it indecipherable for you,” Dr. Hu said, a hint of amusement in her eyes. “But I do have something else you might find interesting,” she continued, extracting a neatly clipped newspaper article tucked between the book’s final pages.
“I was so captivated by the topic that I saved the article right here in the book,” she elaborated.
Lin Feng quickly scanned the headline: “Zongyun Pharmaceuticals Breaks New Ground: Is Human Evolution on the Horizon?”
He skimmed the article, quickly realizing that specifics about the groundbreaking research were conspicuously missing—suggesting that no concrete results had yet been obtained.
He then caught sight of another headline: “Discovered: Mysterious New Mineral in Antarctica—Unexplained Properties?” Accompanying the headline was a photo of a team clad in heavy coats, displaying a radiant red crystal amid a blizzard. In the blurred background, a few shadowy figures seemed to be huddled together, possibly engaged in some enigmatic activity, their actions obscured by the swirling snow.
“So, Sherlock, any revelations?” Dr. Hu teased.
“No smoking gun, but there’s a whiff of a connection between this so-called future tech and our current calamity,” Lin Feng surmised, returning the clipping.
“Don’t get lost in conjecture. First things first, master this anatomy book. An exam is looming, and failure is not an option—unless you fancy some furious tail petting,” Dr. Hu quipped, patting Lin Feng’s alert ears with the book in hand.
“An exam, really?”
“Absolutely. You’re not alone; your classmates will accompany you on this educational journey. And you’re going to be class president, so your grades should set the benchmark,” Dr. Hu concluded with a note of finality.
“Basics of Histology”
“Physiology of Digestion and Absorption”
“I can’t take this anymore.”
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With a dull thud, an anatomy textbook slid down the wall, its pages splayed open, exposing an image of dissected tissue.
“Lin Feng, come on, you can’t just toss books around like that,” Song Zhe said, picking up the book and offering it back to him.
“Choosing books over brotherhood, Song Zhe? When did you go from slacker to scholar?” Lin Feng was incredulous at his friend’s transformation.
“Look, we’re building the skills we need to survive,” Song Zhe shot back, his cheeks reddening as he sneaked a glance at Dr. Hu Han, who was deep in her reading.
Lin Feng sighed, thinking he’d much rather face the dangers outside than be cooped up here with academic texts.
“I’m with you on this!” Anna chimed in energetically, raising her hand. “Reading kills my warrior vibe!”
Finally breaking away from her book, Dr. Hu looked up and adjusted the glasses that Song Zhe had brought back from the ward, along with some of her notes. “The information in these books is crucial for your survival,” she explained calmly. “If you ever get bitten, understanding the correct way to amputate could save your life.”
“Don’t make it sound like a horror movie,” Lin Feng shot back, tossing the book aside again. “We’ll be fine as long as we steer clear of zombie bites, right?”
“Come on, Lin Feng, give it another go,” Liu Mengqi chimed in, balancing her medical book and a notebook on her desk like a pro. “It’s not as snooze-worthy as you think.”
“I’m all set over here, what’s the next chapter?” Yan Aoxue said, setting down her super-annotated book. Was she secretly a human printer or something?
“Why can’t you two take a page from their books?” Dr. Hu sighed, pinching Anna’s and Lin Feng’s ears between her fingers.
“Couldn’t agree more,” Song Zhe nodded.
“Quiet, you traitor– my ears!” Lin Feng’s feline ears twitched, clearly in pain.
“A warrior will never give in to your tyranny—Ah!”
With a couple of swift smacks, Anna was flipped onto the bed, her buttocks stamped with a few red handprints.
The girls in the room exchanged knowing smiles as Anna awkwardly covered her behind with her hands.
“Okay, class is dismissed for now. It’s lunchtime,” the principal announced, stepping into the room. His indulgent smile hinted at amusement as he surveyed the animated scene.
Lin Feng glanced at Liu Tao and Chen De as they began to pack away their books and notes. “Do you guys ever find this a tad wearisome?” he asked, already reading Song Zhe’s enthusiasm as romantic infatuation. Meanwhile, Liu Tao—never an academic star—appeared frustrated but persisted in slogging through the medical texts, though not without a great deal of head-scratching.
Chen De, on the other hand, exuded patience as he turned the pages of his textbook with a single hand. Since recovering from an arm injury, he had visited Dr. Hu multiple times for check-ups, and they’d grown familiar with each other.
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“Okay, okay, I get it,” Liu Tao said, putting down his book and glancing up. “Both the principal and Dr. Hu make a solid case, right? It might be a slog, but it’s worth the grind.”
“Exactly,” Chen De chimed in, grinning at Lin Feng. “Who knows, being med-savvy might just be our secret weapon in this zombie wasteland. You’re the one always harping about healthcare.”
Lin Feng pulled a face, clearly not thrilled. “Yeah, I get that, what’s the point of learning about a bunch of muscles in the human body?”
“Enough complaining for now—lunchtime,” Chen De said, offering his sole arm to help Lin Feng, who was still reluctant to put weight on his injured foot.
As they headed to lunch, Lin Feng reflected on how his relationship with Chen De had subtly but significantly deepened. Ever since he’d saved him, their friendship had evolved from mere classmates to something deeper. Chen De had become a steadfast ally, a trustworthy subordinate he could rely on in these uncertain times. Lin Feng found himself unexpectedly grateful for this newfound closeness.
In the weeks that followed, Lin Feng found himself caught between healing and hitting the books. Despite his initial reservations, he even managed to slog through his basic medical textbook at least once.
Lin Feng looked down at his nearly healed foot and decided it was time to shift gears: they needed to think about relocating. Over the past few weeks, he’d been grappling with the mystery behind that cat girl and the suspiciously-fond-of-cats Hao Jian. For now, the latter wasn’t a threat. At the very least, he could easily squeeze an answer out of him with his superior numbers and that handgun.
Yet another concern loomed: their dwindling food supply. Lin Feng remembered that Hao Jian’s archery range included a small vegetable garden. If they could expand and cultivate it, it might just become their sustainable food source, offering a sliver of hope to last through whatever the apocalypse might still throw at them.
With the decision made, they sprang into action. Over the last three weeks, everyone had ramped up their survival training. Chen Ranran had notably matured, a far cry from the first time when she wet her pants. Now teamed up with Anna, she’d gained some practical knowledge of dealing with zombies and even participated in some daring supply runs.
Chen De had a different goal in mind: a mechanical arm. While teachers and even the principal were on board to help, they lacked the necessary equipment -such facilities were located near the school gate, where there were several workshops made open to the general public- For now, his project had to take a backseat for now.
Recent weeks hadn’t just been about training and aspirations; they’d also put their friendship and resilience to the test. In a particularly nerve-wracking moment, Chen Ranran and Liu Tao found themselves in a life-or-death situation. Liu Tao, ever brimming with misplaced chivalry, was already prepared to sacrifice himself to allow Chen Ranran to escape. But thanks to Lin Feng’s sharp eyes and quick reaction in bringing a small squad to reinforce them, they managed to avoid the worst. Ever since then, the two became close with each other, especially Chen Ranran who seemed to have taken a liking to the big lug and his silly antics. Perhaps the boy wasn’t as dense as he thought?
Lost in his thoughts, Lin Feng was jolted back to reality by a gentle touch. “So, how’s the planning going?” Liu Mengqi’s voice was tinged with a mix of curiosity and concern.
Lin Feng laughed, easily identifying the familiar touch. “You really can’t resist playing with my tail, can you? We’re still mapping things out, but we’ve gotten good enough to handle your average zombie. It’s that enigmatic cat lady who’s the real wild card.”
“I’ll say, she really gave you a good whooping.” Liu Mengqi shot back a playful smile as she patted Lin Feng’s head.
“Hey, don’t you know you shouldn’t touch a guy’s head? I just gave her a chance, that’s all.”
‘But seriously, mutating really does make a person much stronger, doesn’t it? Where did she even get all that strength from?’ a more serious look settled on Lin Feng’s face as he thought back to that perplexing encounter with the cat lady. If they ever crossed paths again, he knew winning wouldn’t be a sure thing.