[ CHART TOPPER QUEEN ]

CHAPTER 05

last edited on ZLT: 22.03.22

This translation is hosted at ZHANLANN.COM

Countless screens of a variety of sizes filled the entire wall in the backend control room in Time Travel Organisation. A wireless in-ear monitor clipped to their ear, the staff members were busy and focused on their assigned jobs. 

The staff in charge of collating the competition figures was reporting to the manager in-charge. 

“There are a total of 60,000 participants from Everyday Planet, we predict that there will be 20,000 participants that can pass the first round.”

“Have you discovered any participants with potential?”

“Yes. There are currently 119 participants that have the potential to be a streamer. Among which, 23 come from a non-streaming related background, and three of them have worked as a streamer before.”

The findings reveal that the majority of the participants were only here because the competition seemed interesting, and wanted to try something new. 

The manager frowned. “Hm, barely manageable for a planet this small. Any interesting content that’s trailer-worthy?”

“So far… none.” The nervous staff had the urge to wipe his sweat; he snuck a look at his manager’s expression, “according to the editor, the plots so far are lacking in conflict, they have nothing to work with.”

“…”

Even the manager felt a little at loss at such a progression. He was pretty good friends with the person that came up with the idea for the elimination round. This proposal was drafted with the intention to save company expenditure — by allowing the participants to become their own “mastermind” behind their plots, the system would only need to visualise the basic scenes to accomodate their storyline needs.

This was the easiest and simplest method to filter out participants that have sufficient potential or ability to craft, and revise a plot. 

The largest shortcoming of such mission-formated story chain is that the plots lacked the twists and turns, and the ups and downs characteristic of conventional storylines. Naturally, it would also lack the element of conflict that the editors needed. 

A scan through the various missions playing out on the small screens was sufficient to see how “gentle and frail” the current plots were. ♢ CHART TOPPER QUEEN, CHAPTER 05 is hosted at ZHANLANN.COM ♢

By putting in unreasonable and punitive demands for the next player, all the participants resorted to using the competition mode as a tool for revenge, completely overlooking the element of connectivity or entertainment within the storychain mission. 

The manager clenched his teeth before he forced out with reluctance: “Allocate three more days for this. If we really cannot find any suitable content, use some plot highlights and release it as post-credit scenes. Share that if they can acheive the same thing, they will be rewarded.”

The competition training venues were equipped with basic time-conversion facilities. The three days allocated by the manager would translate into three additional months within the training rooms for the participants. Three months wasn’t particularly long, but it would be enough time and opportunity for each participant to present themselves to the best of their abilities. 

*

As the #5 in their training room, it was Ai Bei’s turn to enter the story, as a male.

There was no rule against bending genders, and so #4’s unconventional idea could materialise. Fortunately, Ai Bei wasn’t particularly concerned or affected by this. Or rather, given the prison setting she was in, being a male actually worked more to her advantage of completing the mission. 

This was Ai Bei’s third time entering into a separate space. No matter how different the spaces were, she knew that she was within the same neural world that her cranial nerves were connected to. The venue didn’t change, rather, it was the information that was fed to her brain by the system that changed.

As compared to the plaza that could fit the dozens of thousands of participants, or the training room for their team of five, it was only the scene she was sent into this time that illustrated how generous TITR were with their tech budgeting. 

The virtual world managed to completely mirror the reality. 

Ai Bei appeared in the prison visitng room that #2 was in. Across the soundproof glass panel sat a guy in a buzzcut donned in blue and white stripped prison uniform. As though telephone poles, prison officers, armed with baton, stood in alert behind every two to three inmates. 

Ai Bei sneezed softly. From a static background scene, the people around her came alive in that instant, and turned to look at her.

#2 was among them. 

Evidently he’d had it rough in here. Having the rug pulled from under him when he thought he was at the peak of his life, he fell into the abyss, his reputation tarnished and his name slandered. Cynical and nonchalent to begin with, the unprovoked defamantion that landed on him without rhyme or reason had him swiftly assimilating into the prison culture as a form of self-defense. He learnt from the most ruthless among the inmates. As compared to his hooligan days in school, he was much more wary and hostile now. His dry lips cracking, he was as though a German Shepherd puppy at constant loggerheads with anyone that meets his eye, attempting to hide his apprehension and nerves behind a threatening facade.

He walked over to the empty booth. He grabbed the telephone with one hand and brought it to his ear; he didn’t even bother to sit down. Just as Ai Bei was halfway through “what do you…”, his clear and succinct reply sounding from the telephone cut her off. 

“Get lost*.”

She looked up in confusion, her gaze meeting his across the glass panel. 

He swept a look downwards, sneering: “Don’t understand English? I told you to get lost*!”

At the same time, several numbers in bright yellow appeared in the top-right corner of Ai Bei’s vision. It was a countdown timer that started from 60 seconds. 

His reply had already became one of the quests within the mission. If she could not complete it, she would fail the mission.

Ai Bei pushed the chair aside and stood up. 

The prison officer immediately trained their gazes on her. Donned in a simple hoodie, the youth in soft black hair and clean features suddenly squatted down on the floor, scrunched himself into a ball as though a porcupine, and lightly turned himself, and rolled on the ground*. 

* wordplay: “滚” (gun) means “get lost” in english, it can also mean “to roll”

The youth paused for a moment before he continued his efforts. And again, he made a forward roll in the same position. 

The youth rolled around for about three to four times. If it weren’t for the other inmates gaping at the youth, it’d really seem as though this was a PE class in school, and he was practising how to make a forward roll.

The #2 behind the glass panel was stunned after witnessing such a scene, yet he couldn’t help but burst into laughter at the same time. Their little situation persisted until a prison officer came forward to manage the commotion. 

“Enough, come back.”

He commanded as he patted the table, as though he was training a dog. The prison officer standing behind him looked at #2 as though he was mental. Ai Bei who had been trying to send the prison officer who came over back instantly returned to the glass panel. 

#2 knew that the system would remind her if she couldn’t hear the commands he made. 

Back when he was in the storyline with #3, he had been hesitant about dishing out commands for #3 in the beginning, and had always felt somewhat guilty. After doing it for so long now however, #3’s disdain and disgust became his most effective catalyst. The more she hated it, the more he wanted to make things difficult for her. Of course with that said, he still maintained the decency and humanity instilled in him as a result of his environment growing up; he didn’t and wouldn’t cross the line. 

The only thing that came out of all of that was that now, dishing out difficult commands was ever so effortless and guiltless. 

“Come back tomorrow. Bring me a game console.”

  *

The next day, Ai Bei appeared and brought along her newly bought Switch. 

If she wanted to hand the console to #2, meeting him at the visiting room as per normal wouldn’t work. The extra day he’d given her was for her to pull some strings around and make things work. 

According to the Theory of Six Degree Separation, everyone in the world is six or fewer social connections away from each other. As such, Ai Bei worked the connections that her current character had and spent a huge sum of money before she managed to get herself an opportunity to visit the prison directly instead of through the guarded glass booth. 

Outside the room, the prison officer checked through her belongings. After making sure nothing was out of order, he swept her another look. Squinting, he reminded her: “Half an hour, max.”

Ai Bei nodded. “Is he alright?”

“You can say that, the new ones are always rebellious.” The prison officer’s gaze floated, as though he was trying to hint at something else. “You friend was locked up all night last night, bet he’s not feeling the best. You better remind him it’d be best to listen to the instructions in here.”

Ai Bei knew what he was referring to. She had made an effort to learn more about the prison situation in this world. 

Here, there was this place called the black room in prison; it was a narrow and stuffy room, and often employed to punish troublemakers. The person would be sent into the black room, and they’d be stuck inside for an entire day. No matter your mental resilience, it would be a suffocating experience. 

With that thought in mind, she opened the room assigned for visitation. There was a square table in the centre and two chairs by the side. Sprawled on table in a laze, #2 raked a hand through his buzzcut of a hair. The moment Ai Bei entered, she noticed the wounds on his forehead and at the corner of his eyes; the grazes made him out to appear even more fierce than he already was with his tan skin.

It’d only been a day, but the aura of sombre and gloom surrounding him seemed to have saturated even more. She wondered what it was that he had encountered in prison. 

“What’re you stoning for, where’s the console?”

“Here.” Ai Bei handed him the Switch in her bag. 

He was a little disdainful. “Why didn’t you buy Zelda? I should have told you to grab it from my place. Forget it, sit.” Everyone had their special habits. For #2, whenever he went to a new environment, he had to buy a game console and familiarise himself with a new game before he could adjust comfortably. 

Cigarettes was a must in his life, so were games. 

Ai Bei sat down beside him and watched him play. He had his earpiece on; he became so engrossed he completely forgot that she had existed, or the fact that he’d just made a lot of things difficult for her.

It was only until the prison officer kicked the metal door did they come to, “time’s up.”

The two of them jumped as the metallic clang. The prison officer’s aggressive expression entered their vision, as though a pesky ghost from the underworld that had to get in their way. 

At his words, Ai Bei reached out to take the Switch back from him. #2 however dodged her hand.

#2 looked down at the game again, his voice cold and nonchalent, “buy me some time.”

“But…”

“Why, you want to fail the mission?”

“You sure?”

“Tch, you think?”

“Alright.” Ai Bei contemplated for a moment, “but, if it doesn’t work out, don’t blame it on me.”

The reply she received was a packet of cigarettes #2 threw her. 

TRANSLATOR & EDITOR: WYNNE. This translation is hosted at ZHANLANN.COM

Read ahead:

04 | CONTENTS | 06

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