Author: 年终 / Nian Zhong
Translator: Kinky || https://kinkytranslations.com/
Chapter 18: Fish Tank
Even if he was lying on his side on a hard board bed, Ruan Xian could feel the darkness of this small, cramped room. The hard bed beneath him smelled of rotting wood, and the air was like water soaked with iron shavings, cold and viscous, full of rust and fishy air. There were no fake windows in the small room. Except for the ventilation device rumbling in the corner of the room, the room was close to a deeply buried coffin.
The smell of soil and roots came from all directions. The creature closest to him was commenting on the person “Ruan Xian” in a tone of disapproval.
Ruan Xian’s current feelings were strange. Gazing into those golden eyes in a daze, he could only feel that he was sharing a room with a beast, which wasn’t hungry at the moment and was even willing to turn over and reveal its soft, furry belly.
However, he couldn’t read the mind of this beast named “Tang Yibu” like he could read humans. One second it was obedient and cute, but Ruan Xian was pretty sure—once the beast felt danger, the next second it would lift its claws and tear open his throat.
“Chi Lei and Guan Haiming both think quietly highly of him.” Ruan Xian cautiously continued this dangerous topic.
“Chi Lei is a mechanic, and Guan Haiming is a researcher. It’s not surprising that these people rate him highly. After all, Ruan Xian has intelligence comparable to MUL-01, and in their eyes, he’s regarded as a ‘God’ in a certain sense. As far as the position is concerned, Ruan Xian has also been committed to helping mankind deal with MUL-01.” Tang Yibu’s fingertips moved all the way from his eyebrows across his cheek and finally stopped on Ruan Xian’s neck. “…You’re nervous.”
“Yes. According to you, I was a prop set up by Ruan Xian, and you don’t seem to like him.” Ruan Xian didn’t move. He selected the particular statements carefully to avoid directly lying.
“Not really. I don’t care about him as a person. I’m just making the closest assessment based on the facts.” Tang Yibu shook his head. “Cooperation is cooperation. At least Ruan Xian won’t set you up for the task of ‘assisting the Mainbrain’, so we don’t have any fundamental conflict of interest.”
Ruan Xian quietly breathed a sigh of relief.
A series of cold beeps suddenly cut through the darkness. Tang Yibu rolled up his cuffs to reveal a metal wristband. A small light screen was projected into the air, and simple communication symbols rotated in the middle of the light screen.
“231, come to my office. Temporary data correction.” Guan Haiming’s voice came from the light screen, and before Tang Yibu could answer, the call was cut off.
“Just in time. I’ll get some parts from him. The hacking terminal you requested will be completed.” Tang Yibu stood up. “…But a lot of data is restricted to Guan Haiming’s office. If you want to access the complete database, it’s best to start near his office.”
“…You know what’s happening here,” Ruan Xian said in a calm tone.
Tang Yibu stopped at the door.
“After all, you are pretty sure you can ensure my safety, and you’re not worried about me finding anything fishy in the data.”
“I do know the truth.” Tang Yibu opened the door. Through a small gap, a dim light came in and illuminated half of his face. “I think you have also discovered that this isn’t the paradise* that humans think it is. I will take you out of this refuge in the near future.”
*Land of the Peach Blossoms (桃源) Comes from the fable The Peach Blossom Spring by Tao Yuanming which depicts a society where there’s no war, oppression, complete self-sufficiency, and everyone is happy.
“What if I don’t want to go?” Ruan Xian squeezed the blanket in his hand tightly and sat up.
“You will leave with me, whether you want to save mankind or yourself.”
Tang Yibu showed a big smile, which wasn’t the fake smile he normally used, but there wasn’t much warmth in it either. “Don’t look at me like that. I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news. Besides, we understand each other, so you won’t take my words at face value.”
“……” Indeed. Ruan Xian moved his gaze away.
“You gave your price, and I’ll also show my sincerity. Since you insist on figuring out Zhang Yazhe’s affair, no matter what your plan is next, I’ll fully cooperate with you. With your talents, it won’t take long for you to discover the truth.”
The android approached from the door and put his hands on Ruan Xian’s shoulders. His golden eyes gleamed with a terrifying sense of purity.
“Let’s get along, Mr. Ruan.”
Tang Yibu didn’t come back all night. Ruan Xian didn’t sleep for half the night. When the bell that symbolized that it was dawn sounded, he finally drifted off to sleep.
He forced himself out of the bed and unscrewed the light in the room. The mirror showed today’s arrangement. This was the same as the observation room where he lived before.
[Ruan Lijie, please reflect in the refuge for 24 hours. The rest of the team members will perform their tasks normally. Gather at Tiger Mound near the Wild Cemetery at 13:00 today. It’s expected you’ll return at 19:00. Each person will recover at least 4 pieces of hexagonal body armor. There’s a signal blind spot inside the Wild Cemetery. Members are requested to increase the concentration of auxiliary chips in their bodies to help the refuge narrow down the positioning range and ensure the integrity of memory backups.]
The bright blue text flickered on the mirror, and after the instruction was Zhang Yazhe’s signature.
This was the beginning of his confinement. Ruan Xian turned off the instructions in the mirror, turned on the faucet, and splashed cold water on his face.
[Xiao Ruan, please go to Guan Haiming’s office to collect the “Explorer Basic Regulation and Analysis of Typical Cases” and finish reading it today. I’ll come back for spot checks. Zhang Yazhe.] After crossing out the public instruction, another private message slowly surfaced on the mirror.
Ruan Xian spit out the mouthwash, hung his fingertips on Zhang Yazhe’s name for a few seconds, and closed the information box again.
[Mr. Ruan, please come to the canteen before 9:00. I’ll wait for you there.] Then a bright red message floated up. It overlaid the user interface domineeringly and had no signature, but there was a big smiley face at the end of the sentence.
News from Tang Yibu.
Ruan Xian rolled his eyes, put on his shelter uniform, and stepped out of the small room. The hall was still cluttered with machinery. The other three rooms were empty. Most likely, the others in Zhang Yazhe’s team had already gone out to prepare for the task. He closed the door gently and walked familiarly around the canteen.
Tang Yibu was waiting for him at a table with a hot breakfast placed on it.
The android handed over a metal wristband with his eyes gleaming. “I received this in your name and modified the communication restrictions. In theory, as long as the band and loopholes are identified, it can be connected to any facility—but please note, its performance is limited.”
“And it’s not equipped with any hacking programs.” The cunning android winked. “Do you need it? Or do you prefer to make one yourself?”
“Don’t need. I can do it myself.” Ruan Xian put down the hard-boiled egg in his hand, put the metal wristband on his wrist, and summoned the light screen like others.
Tang Yibu nodded. “By the way, applying for it costs all your contribution points. This is your last normal breakfast. Next, you’ll only receive free nutritional supplements.”
“…I hope you can discuss it with me in advance next time.”
“This won’t change your decision.”
“But it will change the way we get along.” Ruan Xian took a deep breath, and the smile on his face twitched a few times. Lack of sleep didn’t give him the strength to make any obvious protests. In the end, Mr. Ruan picked up the only sweet potato left on the table, stared into Tang Yibu’s eyes, and with a firm expression began to slowly eat it.
Tang Yibu looked a little heartbroken. “I see.”
“Very good.” Ruan Xian took out a hard-boiled egg like magic from his pocket. “Take it.”
“I prefer the sweet potato.” Tang Yibu carefully peeled the eggshell.
“…Don’t be picky.”
Everything was ready. On the pretext of getting the “Explorer Basic Regulation and Analysis of Typical Cases”, Ruan Xian rushed straight to Guan Haiming. Unfortunately, he couldn’t find an opportunity to access the database.
There were guests in Guan Haiming’s room, and the hallway was too conspicuous. He ran into Zhang Yazhe and Chi Lei head-on.
“Here to borrow a book?” Zhang Yazhe’s tone was still a bit stiff.
“Nn.” Ruan Xian nodded honestly.
“Well, when Xiao Ding finishes his auxiliary chip injection, Guan Haiming will be free.” Zhang Yazhe’s gaze had a few moments of relief. “Don’t go in now. Xiao Guan doesn’t like too many people in the room.”
Chi Lei snorted while holding a homemade cigarette in his mouth. His cigarette wasn’t lit and it seemed like he didn’t have anything to say.
“Recently, an extra position opened up to be my assistant.” Guan Haiming’s voice came through the soundproof door, as clear as if it was right next to his ear. “Xiao Ding, don’t be an explorer. I’ll give you a higher pay.”
“Thanks, but I quite like being an explorer.” Ding Zepeng’s voice, as always, had a sunny intonation behind it.
“Since you’re not interested, why are you running to me every day?” Guan Haiming’s voice sounded a little unhappy.
“Because Haiming, you’re avoiding people, but I think you really want to talk to people… Ouch. Be gentler. Don’t strangle my arm—”
“Every time you come back from a mission, you’re injured, but you want me to be gentler? You’re still too young to be a qualified explorer.” Guan Haiming’s voice was cold. “That Ruan Lijie is in good health. He’s eight years older than you, and he also wants to be an explorer. With him on top, you can consider retreating back and preparing yourself for a few more years.”
“How can that be. Ruan Ge is still a newcomer… Ouch, Haiming! It really hurts! Anyway, I just want to be an explorer. What can you do with me?”
“What can I do? I can wash away your recent memories. Besides, your auxiliary chip hasn’t been broken, and the black box has a backup of all your memories. You can start from scratch as an assistant for a few months, and when the time comes, I’ll restore your memories… Considering your age, I don’t think Zhang Yazhe will have a problem with it.”
“Guan Haiming, I’m going to get angry!” The smile in Xiao Ding’s voice disappeared. “I’m not in it for the pay. You obviously know that I’m suitable for this job. The explorer can help everyone to the maximum extent possible. And I bring back the most and best parts every time. How can you—”
“……Sorry. The chip is injected. You can go now.”
“Hey, hey, I’m not really angry… Haiming, don’t look like that.”
“Just go,” Guan Haiming repeated coldly.
The door opened and Ding Zepeng exited, a little aggrieved. As soon as he went out, he saw Ruan Xian and smiled bitterly. “Ruan Ge, you’re coming to see Haiming… Uh, it’s best to go in later.”
He was right. Ruan Xian nodded quietly while listening to Guan Haiming kicking things indiscriminately in the room.
After briefly saying goodbye to Ruan Xian, Zhang Yazhe and the others disappeared at the end of the corridor. Ruan Xian stopped at the door for a moment. A suppressed roar of pain came from inside, like some kind of injured animal.
The people who passed by the soundproof door were talking eagerly, knowing nothing about it.
In the end, he decided not to go in to borrow the book.
“Can’t you break Haiming’s firewall?” Tang Yibu was a little surprised to see Ruan Xian return to his room early. “Of course, if you ask me for help—”
“I don’t need such deep data for the time being.” Ruan Xian sat back on the bed and pulled up the light screen.
Although the same firewall was set up, the shallow data of the refuge wasn’t difficult to obtain. Ruan Xian spent no more than ten minutes or so understanding the firewall code, and then cracked it with ease.
“Ohhh.” Seeing a string of numbers jump out, Tang Yibu got closer.
“At the beginning of last year, the total number of explorers was 96, with 8 new people and 14 deaths in one year. The mortality rate is the highest among all occupations in the refuge. But…”
Ruan Xian waved his hand, and the images of all the death reports flew off the light screen and spread out in the nearby air.
“…These deaths have two general characteristics. For starters, the vast majority of the deceased have ‘witnesses’. Second, the ability of the deceased is often not high.”
Ruan Xian bit his lip. He seemed to touch the edge of the truth, and it was so cold and sharp that it pricked his fingers.
He waved his hand again, and more death reports flew out, densely packed in his small room.
“These are all the deaths recorded in the refuge, with a total of 127 people. The dead are basically the most ordinary people. There is only one death record for a person with outstanding abilities—he died of a heart attack during a meal in plain sight.”
No matter how dangerous their work was, those outstanding elites have gone through countless crises as if they have been deeply blessed by fate.
But was that really a blessing? This complete refuge had been operating silently for many years. Was it true that Zhang Yazhe was the only one who had been manipulated by unknown forces, and he just happened to stumble upon it by accident?
How many people have died silently and been replaced by “themselves” from nowhere?
Ruan Xian let those death cases hang in the air. As if he insisted on tearing open a painful wound, he summoned a screen of data again.
“These deaths should have caused the refuge’s labor force to continue to decline.” His voice trembled slightly. “But there will always be new survivors discovered or transferred from other shelters. The population here has been maintained at a relatively stable value… Too stable.”
For some reason, he suddenly remembered the fish tank in his foster mother’s house.
The beautiful fish tank was full of all kinds of beautiful fish. He once especially liked one of the little golden fish that would suck on the wall of the tank. It was pleasing to look at and would also help clean up the moss and algae in the water.
One day, it died.
“Just buy another one.” In his memory, a somewhat elderly foster mother patted his head. “Grandma promised that the new one would be the same as the old one, okay?”
Ruan Xian stretched out a hand and stroked the rough wall of the shelter. Then he slowly turned around and turned his back to the death report floating all over the space.
[You will leave with me. Whether you want to save mankind or yourself.] That was what the android said last night.
Now he only lacked one piece of evidence.
“Tang Yibu… I need your cooperation,” Ruan Xian spoke again. Although the soles of his feet were stepping on a solid floor, it felt like he was standing in a void.
“What is your plan?”
“I don’t think I can stop Zhang Yazhe and the others from saving Tian He.” It may be useful for him to express his own speculation, but how many people were willing to accept such an absurd and unsupported “truth”?
“…So I want to join their actions.”
“I know.” Ruan Xian clasped his arms tightly. “Staying here won’t solve any problems, but at least before leaving, I…”
Tang Yibu took a few steps closer, opened his arms boldly and hugged him tightly. He put his lips to his ears and whispered, “You found out faster than I thought. Okay, like I said, I’ll give you my full support.”
“…Thank you.” Although it’s not a heart-to-heart hug, he did need a little warmth now.
“Then can you give me the sweet potatoes next time?”
The author has something to say:
Ha ha ha ha (?
Tang: I’ll play with you, and you’ll follow me anyway. (*’へ’*)
Tang Yibu is so cute.