Qi Jun drew a deep breath and let out an awkward laugh. "Looks like this app isn't very smart. Why don't you quit and try a new match?"
"It's fine, I can win this," Jiang Ying said, unflustered. "No problem."
Qi Jun stared.
There was no need for this. There was really just no need for this.
"Where do these questions come from?" Qi Jun asked, feeling a bit curious.
"They're all pulled from hot topics and discussions on Weibo," Jiang Ying explained. He understood a lot about the inner workings of the app. "The makers of the game are worried about lawsuits, so they wouldn't just make random questions up when it comes to the entertainment industry."
Jiang Ying's opponent had already started typing. This time, he had been matched with someone named [Mooncake], and his opponent had chosen the stance that Jiang Ying's acting was actually okay.
[Mooncake]: You there?
[Mooncake]: I'll start. Jiang Ying's acting is actually pretty good. He's got plenty of anti-fans saying his acting is shit, but he has his moments. If you really pay attention, there are times when his performances are very sincere and believable.
[Boss Crab]: ???
[Boss Crab]: Sounds like bull to me. Anyone with eyes can see Jiang Ying's acting sucks.
[Boss Crab]: SlightSmile.jpg
Qi Jun continued to watch speechlessly.
"Are you… actually excited about arguing for this?" Qi Jun asked, baffled by the bright gleam in Jiang Ying's eyes.
This person, who usually loved himself so dearly, was apparently more than willing to roast himself just to win a game.
"It's not like he knows I'm Jiang Ying," Jiang Ying chirped.
[Boss Crab]: Jiang Ying's acting skills are so bad that… no, they're not even skills. A grade schooler reciting homework could deliver their lines better than Jiang Ying reading lines off a script.
[Boss Crab]: His delivery is the worst, and he can't emote to save his life. Don't you know? If a TV drama has Jiang Ying's name in the cast, its ratings are sure to tank. If a movie has Jiang Ying's name in the credits, its tickets won't sell. You get what I'm saying, right?
[Boss Crab]: Don't assume he can act just because his dad is a legendary movie star. When it comes to this family… acting skills probably skipped a generation.
[Mooncake]: You don't have to be that harsh. Jiang Ying has lots of fans…
[Boss Crab]: Don't go off topic, the system will deduct points for that. Does having a lot of fans have anything to do with acting ability? I'm telling you, even his fans think he can't act. He really, truly sucks. And he doesn't even try. It's like he doesn't even want to act well.
[Boss Crab]: In 'Whispers of Love', he had to do so many takes of a rainy scene that the director almost started crying. He's put out so much garbage that a troll account could feed its followers new content every day just by roasting him for his bad acting. There's an anti-fan Weibo account that does nothing but diss Jiang Ying, and that account already has over fifty thousand followers.
[Mooncake]: Are you a motherfucking anti?!
[System Notification]: 'Mooncake' has insulted the opponent's mother. 20 reputation points have been deducted. The loss of 100 reputation points will result in a ban.
[System Notification]: 'Mooncake' has left the match. 'Boss Crab' is the winner.
"The debates in this 'Subject Fight' game mode are way too easy," Jiang Ying said. "The freestyle fights are more interesting."
Qi Jun, who had watched the whole thing go down, didn't know what to say. He could only reluctantly offer a word of praise: "You're pretty impressive."
"There was nothing special about that," Jiang Ying said modestly. "Besides, I didn't say anything untrue. Anyone with eyes can see that Jiang Ying's acting sucks."
"So you do… have some self-awareness," said a new arrival.
Qi Zhu had entered the room at some point. He'd just removed his sunglasses and face mask when he heard Jiang Ying's 'modest' remark.
"Oi, I'm the only one who can talk shit about me. You're not allowed," Jiang Ying snapped. He slapped his phone down on the table, hiding the screen that still showed the interface of the 'Fight!' app. Then he turned to Qi Zhu and added, "Didn't you say you weren't coming? And why the hell are you wearing sunglasses at night?"
"You didn't ask if I was coming, and I didn't say I wouldn't come," Qi Zhu said, taking a seat next to Jiang Ying. "And I'm famous. I have to be careful at all times."
"So what you're saying is I'm just a low-tier celeb, destined to become a washout. And our relationship is bad, so how can you allow yourself to be seen having dinner with me?" Jiang Ying speculated. "We just can't be seen together."
"You two, your relationship…" Qi Jun started, then stopped and swallowed the rest of his words. The relationship between Jiang Ying and Qi Zhu had always been something of a mystery. Outsiders couldn't really remark on it.
More and more people had shown up, and the reunion was in full swing now. Everyone gathered around and more or less started having one big conversation. Their middle school was one of the best in H City, and many of their graduates went on to do great things. But only three kids from their class were currently mixed up in the entertainment industry: Qi Zhu, Jiang Ying, and Qi Jun.
Their homeroom teacher had also been invited to the reunion. As soon as Zhang-laoshi entered and saw Jiang Ying sitting inside, he called out, "Disciplinary Committee Member Jiang?"
"Oh, I'd forgotten all about that." Qi Jun suddenly remembered. "Jiang Ying was on the disciplinary committee, huh? Man, he had piles of notebooks full of dirt he'd collected on us. He took down every trivial little thing. Who copied someone's homework, who dozed off in class… he knew more about that stuff than any of our teachers did. Shit, was that how everyone found out I was writing love letters to girls in the class next door?"
"That's one of his few hobbies," said Qi Zhu, who hadn't spoken for a while since arriving.
Qi Jun glanced over at him, curious.
The kids in their class had always been close, and they didn't feel like strangers to one another now. When they got to chatting, no one bragged about their present lives. Everyone was more preoccupied with reminiscing about the past.
"Hey, do you guys remember how we weren't allowed to order takeout back then? And Jiang Ying once used Qi Zhu's name to order something? In the end, they both had to stand out in the hallway as punishment."
"Right, right, right! And there was the time Jiang Ying recited his self-reflection essay like a rap. We were already telling him to debut back then!"
"How long ago was that crap?" Jiang Ying complained. "You're still making fun of me for it now?"
The focus of the conversation changed after that, and Jiang Ying glanced over at Qi Zhu. When he saw Qi Zhu sitting next to him, Jiang Ying was reminded of the fact that he still needed to clear Boss Crab's name. That made him feel restless, and when he felt restless he always wanted to start some shit.
"Tsk, you shouldn't mess around on your phone over dinner," Jiang Ying scolded, adopting a tone he'd copied from his older brother. "What are you looking at that's so interesting?"
Qi Zhu lifted his head and looked at Jiang Ying for a long moment. His expression was still rather blank, but there was a touch of thoughtfulness and sympathy in his eyes. "It really is quite interesting. More so than dinner."
Jiang Ying furrowed his brows and got a faintly foreboding feeling. "What is?"
A split second later, the phone he'd placed facedown on the table started to ring. It was Assistant Chen.
Jiang Ying still remembered the promise he'd made earlier that day. As soon as he took the call, he preemptively spoke up in his own defense: "I didn't do anything. I'm at my reunion."
Assistant Chen was silent for a moment. "…I know."
"Then what is it?" Jiang Ying asked, confused. Chen Shu didn't call very often; he preferred to contact Jiang Ying over WeChat. He only called when Jiang Ying trended for something bad.
Tentatively, Jiang Ying ventured, "I'm trending?"
"Explosively," Assistant Chen confirmed. "It's like this. To make a long story short, T.ATW's rapper Chi Yunkai was just on a reality show where he had to use an app called 'Fight!' during one of the segments. It randomly assigned him an opponent to argue with.
"You probably haven't heard of this app, it's been out for years already. It's basically just for arguing. I'm pretty sure all the people on this app are just losers with nothing better to do."
Jiang Ying was silent.
Assistant Chen seemed to be getting more and more riled up as he spoke. "The showrunners probably didn't expect a question like 'does Jiang Ying's acting suck or not' to come up. For Gu Wei's sake, Chi Yunkai really did his best to defend you. But he was matched up against a really fierce opponent. One of your anti-fans, probably. This 'Boss Crab' was relentlessly negative about you, and the whole game was broadcast live. Everyone has seen it now. Honestly, if I ever find this 'Boss Crab', I would squish him like a bug."
Jiang Ying remained silent.
"I always knew you could fight, and I always knew your fans could fight. But I never imagined such a tough anti-fan would appear one day." Assistant Chen heaved a sigh. "Anyway, that's how it is. I'll be going now. I need to talk to PR about this."
"…okay," Jiang Ying said.
Wasn't his Boss Crab account getting a little too much attention as of late? It seemed he could trend every single time he fought on that account, and it was never for anything good.
He still hadn't proven that Boss Crab wasn't a fan of Qi Zhu, and now Boss Crab was going to be accused of being Jiang Ying's anti-fan.
"What's on your mind?" Qi Zhu reached out and waved a hand in front of Jiang Ying's eyes.
Jiang Ying came back to his senses. "Nothing."
"Have you seen what's trending?" Qi Zhu asked. He held out his own phone to Jiang Ying. "This app seems pretty interesting. I feel like you would like it. It suits you. You should consider downloading it."
"Never used it. Don't like it." Jiang Ying quickly turned his head away.
"Whoa, Jiang #2, isn't this what you were just… ouch!" Qi Jun didn't get to finish his sentence after catching a glimpse of Qi Zhu's cell phone screen. He was abruptly cut off by Jiang Ying fiercely stomping on his foot.
Jiang Ying couldn't really taste much of his dinner after that. When he checked his phone again, he saw that some of his biggest fans were already sending him messages to wail and rage.
[Gege, that 'Boss Crab' really went over the top.]
[We didn't become your fans because of your acting ability, but we won't stand for someone dissing you like that.]
[Gege, we have some new information. Boss Crab is one of Qi Zhu's fans. Those people really are out to get you.]
"Idols shouldn't get too close to their fans," Qi Zhu chided disapprovingly.
Jiang Ying glanced at Qi Zhu and narrowed his eyes. He got the sneaking suspicion that this guy was taking pleasure in his suffering.
In Jiang Ying's fan group on Weibo, the big-name fans were trying to comfort their fellow shadows.
Big Shadow: Don't worry, sisters. This kind of person who can only trash talk someone behind their back is garbage. If he wasn't a coward, he would face our gege directly.
Shadow 1: Exactly. He would crumble under our Jiang Ying's toxic assault.
Shadow 2: Qi Zhu's fans are just too much.
"Here, have a drumstick."
Jiang Ying continued scrolling.
"Here, have some vegetables."
Jiang Ying was so engrossed in his phone that he completely forgot to eat. Qi Zhu served a few things into Jiang Ying's plate like it was the most natural thing in the world. He even mimicked Jiang Ying's earlier tone and chided, "You shouldn't mess around on your phone over dinner."
The trending topic was quickly removed, but it was too late to stop netizens' rich imaginations from running wild. So the situation continued to escalate. Boss Crab was branded a Qi Zhu fan with even more certainty than before, and at some point Jiang Ying's fans and Qi Zhu's fans started to feud.
"Ah, what the hell is going on," Jiang Ying grumbled as he flopped into bed. "So annoying."
He didn't know which of his words activated the smart speaker again, but Gossip Buddy suddenly began to speak in its mechanical voice: "Life is beautiful, don't let the little things get you down. Buddy will play a song for you. May 'Good Luck Comes' bring you good fortune and happy days."