Author: 年终 / Nian Zhong
Translator: Kinky || https://kinkytranslations.com/
Chapter 7: Refuge
The sun was about to set. Ruan Xian looked up at the building in front of him and felt the sense of doom for the first time.
Earlier, while Chi Ge and Xiao Ding were unconscious, Tang Yibu moved them to a nearby cave. After waking up, the two of them didn’t look for Lao Zhang anymore, but directly dragged out three hoverbike-like machines from the bushes next to the cave and went directly back to the shelter. The exploration couldn’t continue with one of them having a deep cut on his back while the other had a broken ankle.
The floating hoverbike was extremely fast, but despite this, it still took them nearly three hours to reach their destination deep in the woods.
The appearance of the refuge was so shocking that Ruan Xian didn’t even have time to pursue Tang Yibu regarding the matter of tying him to the back seat of the car with the luggage.
“Ruan Ge, I saw you shooting at the ventral cockroaches. Do you know how to shoot?” Ding Zepeng’s ankle was swollen and looked like the size of a steam bun. He grimaced as he hopped on one foot and had a heartless smile on his face.
“It’s a hobby.” Ruan Xian allowed Tang Yibu to untie the rope on his body, still surveying the refuge in front of him. “Let’s not talk about this. Xiao Ding, this is…?”
The thing in front of him wasn’t so much a refuge, but closer to a ruined abandoned building pierced by a giant tree.
The giant tree seemed to be born in the building as its thick trunks ran through the entire building and its canopy covered the roof. The abandoned building looked rickety, and the windows without glass were dark, like the eye sockets of a skeleton. It looked unlike a habitation for humans. The sturdy tree roots were flanked by crude houses covered by strings of insulation panels, looking like a nest of mushrooms in the shadows.
“Spectacular, right?!” Ding Zepeng began to unload the cargo in the back seat of his vehicle. “Hey, Qiu Jie*, why are you out?”
*Sister (姐) When used after a name, it has the same meaning as [ge] (哥) but is used for women. Used to address older women who you are friendly with/respect.
Ruan Xian finally retracted his gaze and looked at the only exit of the cement-colored building.
The three of them stepped across the calf-high roots of the tree and drilled out of the doorway. It was headed by a woman with short hair, wearing a slate white coat, looking as if she was in her 30’s or 40’s.
“To pick you up? Your physical data isn’t normal.”
As she spoke, she narrowed her eyes and faint fine lines gathered at the ends of her eyes. “Asshole, did you fall again?”
“Heh, I was too careless.” Ding Zepeng wiped his nose. “Qiu Jie, take a look at Chi Ge. He’s still bleeding a lot…”
The woman tapped a metal ring on her wrist and several light screens appeared in front of her. “Chi Lei’s condition is okay. 231 should’ve bandaged him. As for you… Were you injected with a soothing agent?”
“I was dragging my leg to run and almost fainted from the pain. 231 gave me a shot.”
“The dose is a little high. 231’s medical instructions need to be adjusted. It’s still difficult to adapt the model. If Lao Zhang could find two more medical machines, that would be good. Speaking of which, where’s Lao Zhang? Is he coming back every two days again?”
“We haven’t contacted Zhang Yazhe. I have to tell the boss that the range of activity of the ventral cockroaches has increased. They originally wouldn’t come to the southwest district.” Chi Lei interjected. His face was still a little pale. “Lao Zhang went to pick up a survivor near the wild cemetery. There’s been no word from him for nearly a day. We had 231 go scout, but only brought back this kid.”
Seeing Qui Jie’s gaze swept over, Ruan Xian immediately stood upright and subconsciously adjusted a suitable smile. He habitually waited for a polite surprise, or a disgust hidden behind a frown.
Qiu Jie laughed. “Oh, it’s been a long time since I saw such a handsome young man. Qiu Yue. I’m in charge of medical care here. Just call me Qiu Jie.”
She generously stretched out a hand and shook hands with Ruan Xian, who was a little stunned. “Which refuge did you come from?”
“My name is Ruan Lijie.” Ruan Xian shook his head and leaned against the hoverbike, barely maintaining his balance. “Refuge… I don’t remember. Sorry, my mind hasn’t been right these past few days.”
“Memory loss caused by mental stimulation,” Tang Yibu added as he saw fit.
“It’s okay. We can arrange a quiet room for Xiao Ruan.” Qiu Yue instructed the two men behind her to help Chi Ge and Xiao Ding as she smiled reassuringly at Ruan Xian. “Now I have to go see those seriously ill. 231, put away the vehicles and cargo, then book a room for Xiao Ruan. Remember to complete registration formalities before dinner.”
After that, she tapped a few times on the light screen floating above her little arm and walked quickly back into the building.
This time Tang Yibu had no intention of using his power. He honestly pushed the three vehicles into the ruined building in turns. Several four-legged robots like high stools came out of the corners and carried sacks filled with parts.
The first floor of the refuge still looked like ruins—dusty, dim, and dirty, and the cracked floor was covered with vines and weeds. There wasn’t even a light on the entire floor, and half of it was missing. Ruan Xian scanned thoroughly and finally saw the dark elevator shaft rumbling in the depths.
Tang Yibu picked up Ruan Xian, who was looking around. “How’s your leg?”
“I’m a little used to it, but I still can’t exert too much force.”
“Nn.” Tang Yibu nodded. “There’ll be a registered medical examination later. I suggest you take a bath. The room has a bathtub, so I can help if it is inconvenient.”
Tang Yibu blinked. “Do you mind my form? Then I can help you apply for a nursing robot. They have the appearance of a human woman.”
“Really no need, thank you. I will do it myself.” Ruan Xian waved his hand weakly.
Tang Yibu looked a little confused, but he still obediently helped Ruan Xian forward until they got to a clearing that was covered with particularly lush vines. Stopping, he stretched out his hand to draw a series of complex trajectories in the air. The vines on the ground flickered for a few seconds before disappearing directly into the air.
The cracks on the floor slid silently, filled with smoke and dust, revealing a downward tunnel.
“You are nervous.” Tang Yibu pointed it out, finding Ruan Xian’s body tense.
Ruan Xian, who was busy observing the environment, didn’t have time to answer him.
Underneath the ruins was a clean and tidy underground fortress. The two went all the way down, leaving the dilapidated ruins above, and the view of smooth corridor walls filled his vision. The corridors were like a maze, with square windows at the top that projected simulated sunlight and neat doors on either side.
Tang Yibu didn’t lead Ruan Xian deeper. He quickly stopped in front of one of the doors and covered the door without a door lock with his palm.
“STR-Y type 307a231, registration room 1306.”
The door slowly opened.
Inside the door was a bedroom of about 20 square meters, equipped with a simple table and chair. The ceiling was embedded with square windows similar to those in the corridor, and artificial sunlight shone down from a fake blue sky that could be seen.
“So much ample space?” Ruan Xian stepped into the door carefully.
“No, these rooms are used for isolation, surveillance, and special hospitality.” Tang Yibu opened the small door in the room and made a “please” gesture to the bathroom, which had sounds of water coming from it. “Most humans live near the deep hall.”
Fortunately, the bathroom was equipped with a partition curtain. After Ruan Xian got into the bathtub, he was relieved to find that the nearby shelf was equipped with clothes and bath towels.
This situation was a bit novel to him.
Before, due to skin lesions, taking a normal bath was a luxury for him. He had to prepare a suitable liquid for half a day before taking a bath. In order to ensure the efficacy of the medicine, the water temperature must be kept at room temperature so as not to aggravate the bad condition of his skin.
This was the first time.
Ruan Xian stretched his hand into the bathtub in front of him, and warm water passed through them. Now that the water was full, he threw off his clothes and soaked them tentatively.
“…It’s almost dinner time. We must go to the basement to complete the registration.”
An hour and a half later, Tang Yibu spoke, relatively tactfully.
Ruan Xian gathered his wet black hair together and finally managed to pull himself out of the hot water. After a series of stimuli, comfortable relaxation was particularly rare, and he almost fell asleep in the bathtub.
“There will be housekeeping robots to clean up.”
Ruan Xian first changed into the clothes prepared by the refuge, and then opened the shower curtain as he dried his hair. Tang Yibu stretched out a hand, politely supported him, and wrapped a bandage around his neck again.
“You’re under observation. In theory, you’ll live here for a week. The arrangement of the refuge can be viewed through the mirror. In the refuge, you don’t need to act with me at all times.”
‘There’s no repeated warning,’ Ruan Xian thought. Tang Yibu didn’t seem to be worried about him leaking information at all. This wasn’t a good sign—it meant that Tang Yibu was very confident in his control of the situation.
However, the facilities here seem to be safe and sound. He estimated that people should have been living here for a long time. If he could get enough support, he still had the opportunity to get rid of Tang Yibu and settle down here temporarily.
“I see.” Ruan Xian brought his waist bag with the food cannister and lantern, then glanced into the mirror.
He was stunned.
Over the past two decades, Ruan Xian had occasionally guessed his own appearance. His face was once covered by rashes and pigmentation caused by disease. Compared to pursuing the extravagant notion of “beauty”, he only wanted to be a normal person at best.
Even if he relied on his observation and reflexes to get acquainted with everyone in the institute smoothly, he occasionally heard expressions like “wheelchair monsters”.
“They aren’t malicious. Young people are always curious about the geniuses of their same age.” Fan Linsong once persuaded him like this. “I can’t help it, but Xiao Ruan, don’t take it personally. Do you want to try an artificial skin? The effect is average, but your current condition, the possibility of recovery… alas.”
He refused at that time.
Artificial skin could indeed make him more like a normal person, but the artificial face couldn’t connect to too many nerves, so he would lose most of his expressions. He wouldn’t even be able to make a natural smile.
Just like a robot.
Ruan Xian supported himself in the bathtub with his left hand, stretched out his right hand, and held down the cold mirror. There was no longer the terrifying-looking patient in the mirror; there was only a strange young man in a dark gray uniform.
Ruan Xian saw his real face for the first time.
It no longer had the appearance of illness. The slightly raised tail of the eyes was exposed, revealing pupils that were deep, like an ancient well, just like his mother—the mother who was a famous beauty in her hometown when she was young, who was famously known for her attractive eyes.
Although he was very similar to his mother, the parts that followed his father added a lot of heroism. From the perspective of public aesthetics, this seemed to be a face that couldn’t be faulted, but Ruan Xian couldn’t feel the slight joy. He was stared at by those familiar yet unfamiliar eyes and bitter emotions slowly filled his heart.
He stared at the face similar to his mother’s in the mirror, and the happy smile brought by the hot water completely disappeared. For a while, his expression was consistent with that of Tang Yibu, who was beside him.
“Let’s go.” Ruan Xian retracted his hand from the mirror and looked away.
The number of people who needed to be “isolated, monitored, and specially treated” was apparently small, as Ruan Xian didn’t meet anyone else along the way. A larger room opened at the end of the corridor, and the main tone was as clean as the corridor. The entire room was divided by a half-person-high isolation barrier, folded into a maze-like structure, and the width of the path could only allow two people to walk in parallel.
The staff at the entrance knocked on the table. His face was covered by a thick mechanical mask. For a while, Ruan Xian didn’t dare judge whether it was a human or a machine.
“Stretch out your arm.”
The voice behind the mask was a bit muffled and held a lot of impatience. Through thick gloves, he drew out a needless syringe, and his tone was as if he was endorsing a book. “This is the rule. Please understand.”
It seems that this was a human.
Ruan Xian slowly rolled up his sleeves and glanced at Tang Yibu. He didn’t know when, but the guy had put on the billboard-style smile again and looked straight ahead with an innocent expression in his eyes.
“Excuse me, this is?”
“Auxiliary chip,” the man responded angrily. “Haven’t you fought in a previous refuge before?”
“I…” Before Ruan Xian could respond, he was interrupted by a shout—
“Old Zhang?!” A staff member who was also wearing a mask not far away suddenly stood up.
Ruan Xian stopped rolling his sleeves and looked a few meters away.
At the entrance of another passage, a middle-aged man was clutching his hair embarrassingly. He looked a little haggard, and his whole body was dirty, covered with dirt and grass.
“Lao Chi said he hadn’t found you yet. We have to contact the boss quickly. The boss is estimated to have to prepare a search and rescue plan for tomorrow.” The staff’s voice was full of joy.
“Don’t mention it. Didn’t I rush back here in a hurry? I didn’t even dare take a bath.” Lao Zhang coughed. “How are Lao Chi and the others? Damn, I ran into a ventral cockroach two miles from the wild cemetery and broke my communicator.”
“They also encountered ventral cockroaches. Xiao Ding broke his foot and Chi Lei hurt his back. Fortunately, it wasn’t serious.” The staff took out a syringe that was exactly the same as the one in front of Ruan Xian. “Come on, Lao Zhang, take the needle chip.”
“It’s not a serious injury.” The middle-aged man stretched out his arm cooperatively without a frown.
“How about you? Are you uncomfortable? Are there any abnormalities in memory?”
“None. At the time of the attack, 231 wasn’t around. I thought I was dead, so I directly detonated the energy tank and threw it over.” Lao Zhang patted his chest pocket.
The staff member huffed loudly behind the mask.
“…Then I was lifted up by a burst of wind and was knocked unconscious in the trunk of a tree.” Lao Zhang shrugged. “It was dawn when I woke up again, but I felt fine. It doesn’t seem like I’m hurt anywhere. Speaking of which, I have to apply for another can.”
“Huh, you opened the one you had?”
“Well, if you’re weak, you can’t survive a catastrophe. I just ate a day’s worth of this stuff and it won’t last long after it’s opened, so the rest has to be sent to the kitchen for reprocessing.”
“Understood. The unique number of the can is 09274. The holder is Zhang Yazhe. Please confirm.” The staff slid a light screen in front of them. “There’s still inventory. I’ll change the ration number to 09335. Remember to go to the warehouse to collect it.”
“Confirmation is correct.”
“Old rules. Full body scan. You can go to the scanning room.”
“Where are Lao Chi and Xiao Ding? I’ll go and report later.” Lao Zhang rubbed his hands and breathed a sigh of relief.
“Medical Room No. 2. The boss is also over there…”
“Have you seen enough of the excitement?” The staff in front of Ruan Xian finally couldn’t help but speak. “Don’t dawdle. I have something urgent to do.”
Ruan Xian stretched out his arm and received the shot in silence.
“Primary perception enhancement? Not bad. I can see that your previous refuge wasn’t good. This model of nanobot was eliminated almost ten years ago.” The staff member looked at the panel jumping frantically in front of him and snorted. “Now go to the scanning room.”
Ruan Xian silently withdrew his arm, allowing Tang Yibu to help him, and moved to the scanning room about five meters away. While Tang Yibu looked elsewhere, he opened his pockets and secretly glanced at the food canister with a smiley face.
Whether it was the number or the name just mentioned, he had a faint feeling of déjà vu, and now he had found the source of that feeling.
There was a slightly faded label on the side of the can— [No. 09274-Zhang Yazhe]
It had never been opened by anyone.
The author has something to say:
Mr. Ruan is also very good-looking now! The two are about to start living together (×).
Me thinks that Zhang Yazhe is not really Zhang Yazhe. Pretty sure he got blown to bits in the prologue.