Author: 年终 / Nian Zhong
Translator: Kinky || https://kinkytranslations.com/
Chapter 125: Wolf Attack
Everything in Luo Jian’s memory was extremely real, and it was completely different from the common situations recorded in data.
According to the theory Ruan Xian had seen, unsubstantiated fantasies injected, or transplanted memories would be more or less problematic. The joint therapy should prove that the doomsday in Luo Jian’s head was a flawed imagination, or artificially synthesized—fabricated things and real memories were often far from this quality of details.
Psychiatrists sent people into the mind so that they could witness those terrible loopholes with their own eyes, thereby puncturing the fantasy bubble. He and Luo Jian had the same “fantasy”. Depending on Li Han’s arrangement, there were more than two victims of this “doomsday fantasy”. This kind of joint therapy was obviously not the first time they’d done it.
However, what he was facing right now was obviously not that kind of world. Let alone this scene looking extremely real, it didn’t even have the normal memory that it should have as it was almost the same as the real world.
Ruan Xian walked in the snow one foot deep and one foot shallow. The thick snow almost reached his knees. A teenager’s body was quite troublesome as he soon fell quickly behind the rest of the team.
Luo Jian moved forward without turning his head, while Li Han occasionally looked back worriedly. It was probably because she was worried about the soul of the adult in his shell that she didn’t take any actions of substantial assistance.
The lead-gray sky became darker, and the snow that could have been a little white was gradually painted gray-blue by the night. Occasionally, the outline of a frozen corpse or the black cross-section of a stone could be seen from under the snow. The dead branches of shrubs hung with a thick layer of frost, and the only vitality came from the withered grass stubble sticking out of the snow.
Although he used his imagination to put warm clothes on himself, the skin that was exposed still felt pain as if it were being cut by a knife. The figures of Li Han and Luo Jian gradually blurred until only the patient mark on their wrist was still lit up, revealing a very uncomfortable red light in the dim air.
A faint wolf howl was mixed into the wind. Ruan Xian held his breath, took a few more steps forward, and barely caught up with Li Han, who was walking behind Luo Jian.
Li Han breathed a sigh of relief. Her gaze moved from Ruan Xian’s blood-stained wrist to the face that belonged to a teenager. After hesitating for a moment, her attitude softened a little.
“It will be fine when you enter the city.” She brushed away the snow from her sleeves. Thin ice beads hung from her eyelashes. “It’s about another half hour at most. Don’t worry.”
Ruan Xian obediently grunted and looked at Li Han’s face for a while. This ordinary girl revealed a strange temperament here. She didn’t become sharp or lean; just like a bird that had popped out of a bird cage and once again was able to breathe smoothly.
Half an hour later.
Joint therapy had a peculiar characteristic. The principle of its realization included some theories related to lucid dreaming. Just like people’s dreams, the perception of time flow in the mental world was completely different from the real world and was usually much slower.
The half-hour memory in the snowfield was just a blink of an eye in the outside world. Even if this treatment only took two hours, if Gong Siyi wanted, the three of them might stay in this cold spiritual place for two days or even two months, depending on the external conditions of the joint therapy.
This was also the only thing that the outside world could interfere with. Ruan Xian sighed at the ungloved hand.
Luo Jian’s memory was obviously extremely bad, and the damage suffered here would affect his body. If enough time passed, even friends would have conflicts, let alone strangers with different personalities that didn’t seem to get along. Fortunately, Gong Siyi had no greater authority than to adjust the passage of time. As long as he delayed the point of conflict with Luo Jian, then he would have enough time to spend with him.
This was an opportunity that Gong Siyi personally provided.
After all, as far as Luo Jian’s current performance was concerned, the other party had no intention of making a move on him.
“After entering the city, what are we going to do?” Seeing the shadow of the city in front of him get clearer, Ruan Xian tightened his voice a little. “Sorry, I’m a little nervous. This is not the same as the propaganda I saw…”
“Go into the city, eat, and sleep,” Luo Jian replied coldly. “Think of it as a vacation in a different environment.”
“Aren’t we here to find flaws? Do we have to eat here too?”
“As long as your subconscious knows that you’re still breathing, you have to also sleep and eat.” Luo Jian stopped in his tracks. His voice was dry. “It follows your biological clock. Get it?”
“Talk less and save more energy. If you die too early, it’ll be very troublesome on my side.” Luo Jian put up his collar and rudely interrupted Ruan Xian. From beginning to end, he never once looked at him.
The night became thicker, and a large amount of off-white smoke gushed out of the various sized chimneys. The snow-covered steel frame revealed a glow of orange and yellow light, whose light seemed to carry temperature. Just looking at them would make people feel a little illusory warmth.
Luo Jian took them to the outskirts of this spooky city and found a dark storefront at random. He rubbed the snow on his soles on the blanket outside the store, crossed the dead tree in front, and gently opened the door.
“Lao Luo.” The person behind the counter nodded at him.
“Three cups of hot water, add some salt.” Luo Jian pulled the scarf that was covered in ice around his neck downward. It was so stiff that it looked like a plaster model.
Ruan Xian was the last to enter the door, and he closed it carefully. Without the cold wind, the room was a lot warmer, and the fingers that were frozen unconscious began to tingle slightly.
The woman behind the counter was holding a rough handmade pipe, with heavy bags under her eyes, messy gray hair, and no patient mark on her wrist.
It could be someone who lived in Luo Jian’s memories.
“Three people, huh.” She knocked on her pipe. “Why did you even bring a kid?”
“Auntie Yan, three cups of hot water.” Luo Jian didn’t answer her question. “Add some wine to my cup and some juice powder for Xiao Han. You don’t need to add anything for that kid.”
“Women don’t like men who are too harsh on children.” The elderly woman took out three dirty cups from under the counter. “Lao Luo, you can’t go on like this.”
“He’s not a child.” Luo Jian took the steaming water and emphasized again.
“Tch.” The woman glanced at Ruan Xian a few more times. “It’s a pity. I was just thinking how a person like you could abduct such a good-looking child. Dare I say it’s a fake? What, he…?”
“Never mind that. Do you still have a bed here?”
“Yes. There’s also dinner. Do you want it?” The woman smiled, revealing yellow teeth due to her smoking.
Luo Jian nodded. “We estimate that we’ll stay here for two days. If there are guests from other places—”
“No. You know what this place is. I haven’t seen a new face in months, and you’re willing to come over to support the show.”
“What about the wolf attack?”
“Same as always, coming in regular waves. Oh, the last time was less than a week ago. I’m guessing they’ll come back in the next few days. If you don’t plan to enter the city for the time being, you better watch out.” The woman exhaled a puff of smoke. “Are you going into the city? I have to go tomorrow, and I can buy the things you want. Turnips, onions, or potatoes? Recently, a shipment just came in.”
“I’m just here for a change of mood, and I have no other plans for the time being. Just take a look and get whatever you can.” Luo Jian shrugged.
“Look and get, ah.” There was a hint of disappointment in the woman’s tone. “Okay, then let Xiao Ma take care of you first.”
A short young man peeked out from the back of the store in response. His gaze wandered around and finally settled on Ruan Xian with a friendly smile. Luo Jian rolled his eyes as if he was too lazy to explain anymore.
Xiao Ma looked ordinary, with a standard popular face. He had an unobtrusive scar at the base of his ear, which was mostly covered by black ash. He slapped a towel around his neck, with beads of sweat on his forehead. For some reason, Xiao Ma’s entire body revealed some weird sense of incongruity, like a puzzle piece was misplaced in a box.
Ruan Xiao glanced at him but couldn’t find anything unusual, so he had to temporarily give up.
Dinner was a simple bacon and potato soup with a lot of chilies to keep out the cold, which made the entire pot of soup red. Li Han swallowed in small sips while tears pooled around her face from the spiciness. Ruan Xian dipped the dry and hard noodles in the soup and chewed slowly.
‘It was an illusion after all,’ he thought. Although the food in his mouth had a taste, it lacked a lot of “details”. The difference was as subtle as listening to a song on the spot and repeating the melody in the brain. Fortunately, there was still a sense of satiety, and he didn’t intend to be too picky about this issue.
The woman behind the counter went out at night, while Xiao Ma was busy cleaning the store. There weren’t any electric lights in the house. A strange smell wafted in the air; he wasn’t sure if it came from the burning oil lamps or the wood-like chimney outside the house.
Luo Jian’s arrangement was more monotonous than he thought—After finishing dinner, Luo Jian pulled a bunk out from the corner and fell asleep without the slightest willingness to talk to others. Li Han asked Xiao Ma for chalk-like white stones and painted casually on a rough stone slab.
Ruan Xian sat down by the only window in the house.
A lot of wooden strips were nailed sideways on the window, obscuring his vision, so he could only see vague lights outside and boundless darkness. He stared at the darkness for a while before lowering his gaze and looking at his left wrist, which was wrapped in blood.
Those wounds showed no signs of healing. The flesh was turned out, slowly seeping blood. The flowing blood also didn’t drip on the table but was like a living thing that crawled around his wrist.
Xiao Ma was wiping the table with a rag, acting as if he didn’t see the blood.
Ruan Xian covered the wound with his sleeve. At the moment, it could only bring out a little paralysis and didn’t affect his flexibility in movement. This was enough. He took a breath, raised his elbow, and made it easier for Xiao Ma to continue his cleaning.
But as soon as he raised his elbows halfway, his movements suddenly froze.
…The scar on the base of Xiao Ma’s ear was gone.
Ruan Xian narrowed his eyes and looked carefully at the young man in front of him. As if perceiving this sight, Xiao Ma turned his head and smiled at him again.
This time, Ruan Xian discovered the sense of dissonance.
Under his careful gaze, Xiao Ma’s features flickered slightly and began to blur, like a wax figure with no fixed facial features. When he turned his gaze away and just glanced casually, Xiao Ma looked the same as a normal person again.
“What’s the matter, little guy?” Xiao Ma himself seemed unaware of what was happening to him. “I still have some baked apple slices here. Do you want to eat them?”
Ruan Xian thought for a moment, glanced at Luo Jian, who was asleep, and Li Han, who was immersed in her own world, and nodded slowly.
“Thank you.” He tried to make himself sound like a shy child or an exceptionally reticent adult.
Outside the artificial dream world created by joint therapy.
Tang Yibu set aside half of his energy to listen to the conversation between the two in front of him. The communication between Yu Le and Luo Fei was very simple, so this half was enough. As for the remaining 95% of the other half, Tang Yibu was thinking about the amazing situation he was in, and the other 5% was dedicated to being nervous about the date.
He couldn’t help but raise his head again and look at the brilliant lights outside the alley.
Round patrol electronic eyes floated on the streets. After the curfew, except for those who did supervision work, only those who had reached a certain level of citizenship were allowed on the streets. The city swayed a little more than during the day, and it seemed more orderly. People were talking and laughing as they walked in the floating light, and the air was clean and fresh, with just the right amount of humidity.
Less than 30 seconds ago, an electronic eye floated past them, scanning their pupils one by one. One of them had told Luo Fei, who was holding the booklet, of his rapid heartbeat and abnormally high temperature. It checked each side of the light screen floating in the air while completely ignoring the handwritten book in his hand.
The light screen showed a scenic wildlife documentary. Luo Fei followed the light emitted from the light screen while his face remained flushed as if he was dripping with blood.
There was no unexpected emotion on Yu Le’s face. He was responsible for answering Luo Fei’s questions in a whisper and making a surprise attack when the other party was in a bind, such as now.
“I say you’re not young anymore. Don’t be like a kid under ten years old.” Yu Le crossed his arms and pretended that he had never been attracted to that booklet. “This can calm you down, and I think that’s the case with your collection.”
“I just haven’t seen anything like this.” Luo Fei sounded a little frightened. “People can really do this… My god, this kind of thing doesn’t even appear in war documentaries.”
“Oh, I know that.” When he was bored, Yu Le also found some documentaries to pass the time. However, the excessively brutal and gory bits were all trimmed away, leaving only dry text summaries. He didn’t know if it was to maintain this illusion of “world peace” as many conflicts had been deliberately downplayed or just simply glossed over.
Over time, fewer people remember them, and things that no one remembered weren’t much different from them ever having happened.
“It’s too barbaric,” Luo Fei muttered, turning the page with trembling hands. “So barbaric, my god.”
At first, Yu Le found it funny, and from time to time he would glance at Tang Yibu, who was dumbfounded, but as Luo Fei’s breathing or amazement became stronger, he began to be unable to laugh.
Luo Fei didn’t exaggerate; he really couldn’t understand what Tang Yibu wrote. As an adult, Luo Fei undoubtedly showed an expression of shock, like a mouse who saw a cat for the first time—he was already frightened before he could figure out what he was looking at.
But the horror was mixed with a lot of subtle emotions and blended into a certain expression that Yu Le didn’t like very much, so he deliberately sneezed, pulling Luo Fei’s attention away from the book.
“Doesn’t Pear Blossom communicate with people in other places?” The other party’s level was a bit low, which made Yu Le begin to feel uninterested again. “Then I have to consider whether to contact you. The book you brought me last time really wasn’t interesting. I was hoping for something exciting and fresh for a change.”
“You wrote this?” Luo Fei’s tone was extremely serious.
Yu Le glanced at Tang Yibu, who was still in a daze. The android didn’t even move his eyes, and he didn’t have the slightest reaction of wanting to participate in the dialogue, so he just scratched his head. “Sort of.”
Luo Fei began to look at Yu Le up and down with a strange gaze, which made Yu Le a little irritable from being stared at. He immediately regained the initiative on the topic. “Like I said, it’s not that there’s no blood here. The Android Show isn’t finished. Isn’t that thing also very exciting?”
“As you know, the audience for the Android Show needs to be strictly screened. It can be regarded as only accessed by the very top of this society that basically have zero possibility of committing crimes, not to mention that it costs a lot of money to watch the show itself. At least I can’t afford it.”
Luo Fei touched the booklet in his hand with a complicated expression.
“The Mainbrain thinks that this society is perfect enough. If you can’t make money, most people who are placed in the lower and middle classes are considered inferior products with insufficient intelligence or personality… ‘We’ don’t have too much discernment and touching things that shouldn’t be touched will only lead to trouble.”
“The information on the Android Show is strictly controlled, so it’s impossible for us to get access to it. Those who are able to watch the show don’t need Pear Blossom. However, looking at your work… Have you ever seen the show? Your current job—”
“You have also seen my age. In the past, the show wasn’t as strict, so I have seen a bit of it. At that time, you haven’t even grown hair yet, so it’s not surprising you don’t have any impression,” Yu Le said jokingly, as he casually carried the topic.
Luo Fei thought for a while but didn’t question this statement. “Then I’ll ask directly, Mr. Yu, what do you need?”
“How can I know without seeing your inventory? Laozi even showed you his true skills. It’s not too much to ask for a recipe, right?” Yu Le deliberately made his attitude seem harsher.
Yu Le had full experience of being a wicked person. Prisons were like barren grasslands with prey and drinking water. People had to rely on silent intimidation with gestures to live in peace. He used to be able to frighten criminals with that hostility, not to mention the young man in front of him who was sweating after reading a piece of text.
Luo Fei’s expression froze for a moment. After a while he said, “We have our rules, but I can recommend you… You can call your female android over.”
Yu Le grinned. Right as promised. It was like a dream, letting the other party show all their cards at once. They only needed a breakthrough.
As a result, before he even took a step, Tang Yibu moved decisively in the direction of the store as fast as he could. Yu Le bitterly retracted his outstretched foot and took the opportunity to adjust his standing position. Not long after, the expressionless Ji Xiaoman followed Tang Yibu over. She put her hands in her wide coat, looking terribly serious.
The pockets of the jacket were bulging. Yu Le glanced at Ji Xiaoman thoughtfully, noticing that her face was extremely stiff. His gaze immediately swept across the snack crumbs at the corners of Tang Yibu’s mouth. For a moment, Yu Le was a little envious of comrade Ruan, who was locked up in the prevention shelter.
Yu Le swiped the light screen casually. The money in his account had indeed decreased by a little.
Not so long ago, he only had to worry about how to stabilize people’s hearts through discipline and how to beat Fan Baiyan to death. These nanny-like piecemeal tasks were all handled by his deputy, Tu Rui.
‘Lao Tu, I really blame you. Taking care of children is so fucking troublesome.’ Yu Le wiped his nose in amusement.
“Let’s go.” He retracted his gaze.
“Tang Yibu and I want to get some weapons.” As he walked through the bright lights, Ji Xiaoman walked on Yu Le’s right side and whispered to him. “I bought a memory cocktail and made a simple modification. In order to get a discount, I bought the snack package… This saves more money. I didn’t hold back and hacked into your account again. Sorry.”
Yu Le raised his brows and couldn’t help laughing—she was very decisive when hunting mechanical life, and she was also slightly indifferent to the life and death of others. This girl seemed to have a great sense of guilt for hacking his account. If he was in her position, he was afraid that he would immediately steal all the money.
Compared to a certain someone who had an upright face and hadn’t wiped his mouth clean, Ji Xiaoman had a strange personality and was quite honest.
“It’s good to know that the money wasn’t all eaten by that android,” Yu Le responded in a low voice. “Don’t worry. Spend it if you think it’s reasonable. I just ask that even if you charge food, don’t let that kid get the biggest share.”
He didn’t know if it was intentional, but Tang Yibu, who was in a daze this whole time, coughed hard. Ji Xiaoman was quiet for a moment, then suddenly stretched out her hand and quietly stuffed a snack into Yu Le’s hand.
“I left you a piece.” Her tone was a bit stiff.
“Yo, the profiteer is enlightened.”
“In the end, you’re still an oaf.” Ji Xiaoman quickly snatched the snack back.
“Here.” Luo Fei stopped walking and pointed to the shop in front of him.
This was a smaller bar. Compared to the one Luo Fei recommended to them the first time, the one in front of him had a more retro taste. The gloomy decoration was particularly unobtrusive among the bright storefronts, like an empty gap, with very few guests.
The only conspicuous thing in front of the store was a pear tree, which was in full bloom, making it look like the branches were covered with thick snow.
The habits left by the Sea of Ruins were very stubborn. Yu Le first estimated the structure of the building in front of him in his mind. He kept the key details and subconsciously went through all the retreat methods in his head before stepping inside.
The tables and chairs here were all wooden, with rare traces of craftsmanship. He didn’t know if the rough shape was unskilled or deliberate—there were even oil lamps burning on the wooden tables. The light shook like a living object, and even the shadow of all things trembled on the wall.
Behind the counter stood a beautiful woman with smooth, black, and bright straight hair, hanging from her shoulders to her plump breasts. She was holding a delicate, fragrant pipe in her hand, but it was a pity that it looked more like some kind of ornament. She didn’t take a single puff, but just smiled brightly at them. Her smile was full of absent-mindedness.
“Geez, Feifei.” She winked at Luo Fei.
“I brought guests.” Being greeted affectionately by a beautiful woman, Luo Fei didn’t show the slightest unnatural look. His tone was very respectful. “It’s the person I mentioned last time, Auntie Yan.”
“I see.” The woman had a lazy tone, as if she hadn’t woken up yet. “And you brought him here? Let me see the stuff.”
Luo Fei put his hands on the booklet. “He said he wrote it himself.”
The woman casually flipped through a few pages, rolled her eyelids and glanced at Yu Le. Her reaction was much smaller than Luo Fei’s. “I know a lot… Ah, have you checked this person’s background?”
“Checked. No problem for the time being.”
“Well, then the usual rules.” The woman raised her hand with a smile. “Prepare something for this gentleman to get to the top.”
“Mr. Yu, this way, please.” Luo Fei pointed to the only table with a guest.
Leaning on the seat close to the recliner was an elderly woman. Her gray-white hair was simply groomed and the bags under her eyes were quite conspicuous and looked as if she had pasted them on. She also had a pipe in her hand, but the style was as crude as the shop itself. In addition to the temple patch commonly used for tasting memory cocktails, she was currently wearing additional equipment, like a breathing mask. Her shriveled chest was undulating soothingly, and it looked as if she was sleeping.
Yu Le’s gaze moved along the pipe connection of the breathing mask and stopped on the large glass jar in the middle of the table.
The cocktail device they had seen before was about the size of a cup, but the one in front of them was more like a beverage can in an old-fashioned cafeteria. It was fixed directly on the table, and there were four breathing masks sticking out. In addition to the one being used by the woman, there were three more placed end to end in front of the empty spots.
The blue light in the jar was much brighter than that in the cup, and it swam around as if it had life. There were already metal balls floating slowly in the liquid. Under the dim lighting of oil lamps, the electric light cruising between the metal balls revealed a full sense of unreality.
“Here, put this on, and Auntie Yan will explain it to you.”
“Can I bring my people in?” Yu Le didn’t immediately take the breathing mask that Luo Fei handed over. “I saw the promotion of the bar. It seems that androids can also use this thing.”
“That’s usually for… Uh, fun.” Luo Fei scratched his nose. His tone was a little uncomfortable. “In theory, it’s indeed possible. After all, this thing only requires the mapping of thinking data and algorithms, but this can’t be used as a protective measure. Without the connection to the Mainbrain, the android’s mental level is so low that, let alone protecting you, they’ll be even more vulnerable than you. In the event of an unexpected situation, the human brain can last for a while, but the cybernetic brain is likely to burn out.”
As he spoke, he glanced at Tang Yibu and Ji Xiaoman. “Androids aren’t cheap these days. There’s really no need.”
“I agree,” Ji Xiaoman said coldly. “I need to be out there to keep you safe, Mr. Yu.”
While Luo Fei looked at Tang Yibu, Ji Xiaoman quietly shook her head at Yu Le and nodded. Yu Le immediately understood—No one knew what special reactions an android would have under the action of a memory cocktail. Tang Yibu was really an android, but Ji Xiaoman could easily reveal her flaws.
Besides, they needed someone to keep an eye on things outside.
“Well, I do want to have some fun along the way. If I see something good, I want to take a shot at it.” Yu Le’s face was full of regret. “Then let Xiao Tang go with me. It’s too boring if there’s no one to accompany me.”
He shrugged. “Anyway, according to you, androids aren’t a threat to you.”
Luo Fei looked at the counter, and the woman known as Auntie Yan nodded quite casually. He didn’t say anything more, and handed the breathing mask to Tang Yibu, who was dutifully pretending to play dumb.
“You’d better choose a gentler image.”
After Tang Yibu took it, Luo Fei opened his mouth a bit stiffly.
“According to the computing power of androids, it should be fine. Anyway, you have no such thing as a subconscious mind and willpower. Just choose whatever you want—cats and dogs are fine. Remember to choose something harmless. The image of a young man is too aggressive.”
Tang Yibu nodded politely and smiled, indicating that he understood. Ji Xiaoman leaned against the table and put her hands in her pockets, making a gesture of holding something.
Yu Le breathed a sigh of relief and rolled his eyes secretly. He dawdled on the recliner for a while, then carefully put the patch on his temples, and finally put on a breathing mask.
It was completely different from the memory cocktail he tried last time.
The feeling brought about by the memory cocktail was more inclined to the “past”, like remembering a dream when you woke up in the morning. Now it was as if he had entered the dreamland itself. Although everything around them had a weird sense of unreality, it really felt as if it belonged to the present.
Yu Le looked at himself subconsciously. His clothes hadn’t changed, and his hands were in a familiar state. Luo Fei, who was beside him, looked exactly like when they had just met. The woman who had been sleeping in the recliner was standing opposite of Luo Fei, talking with him and taping her pipe.
Inside the house were around four people, mostly dressed in ordinary clothes, reading books by the crackling fireplace.
Judging from the environment, they were standing in a small western-style building that was simply decorated. Yu Le could only see the spiral steps upstairs, and he couldn’t judge how many floors there were. The lightning in the living room came from lights and flames, and the curtains were tightly drawn. He strode to the window, opened the corner of the curtain, and saw only pure darkness that seemed to be painted on the glass.
If the glass here hadn’t been specially treated, then there may be a void outside of “this building”.
“Tang—” Yu Le turned around and tried to communicate with Tang Yibu, but he looked blank.
Tang Yibu, who was supposed to be by his side, disappeared.
Yu Le’s scalp went numb. He clenched his fists, and instinctively flashed to the nearest shelter. As a result, before he could figure out whether the shelter in this illusion could block an attack, he took aim at the guy who was suspected to be Tang Yibu a few steps away.
Tang Yibu had shrunk quite a bit that Yu Le had to lower his gaze to look at him—a young boy about 11 or 12 years old was looking at him with a smile and an inexplicably happy mood in his golden eyes.
“…” The corners of Yu Le’s mouth twitched.
“Luo Fei asked me to choose a harmless image. It’s inconvenient to communicate as an animal. Some people will be wary of the elderly, but few will be wary of children.” Tang Yibu jumped onto the table, swinging his legs casually, as if he was really a teenager. “I have also studied the looks that people like—”
“How fucking cute. Just shut up.” Yu Le pinched the bridge of his nose, feeling a headache coming on. “I’ll be regarded as a fucking pervert. With Ji Xiaoman and you looking like this, my reputation… Haa, laozi likes women with big breasts and ass, not those with handlebars1 and washboards2, let alone little brats who haven’t grown up. Fuck, who can make sense of this?”
1Slang for men (because they have a “handle”).
2Slang for flat-chested girls.
Tang Yibu spread out his hand with a helpless look. Yu Le’s fist felt a bit itchy, but he had to admit that despite Tang Yibu looking like a beautiful boy that would break from a single touch, he really couldn’t beat him.
So he had to resign to secretly flip him off.
Tang Yibu pretended not to see Yu Le’s gesture and followed him obediently while carefully analyzing the people in front of the fireplace with his gaze.
In theory, it was safer here than in the real world. After all, the electronic eyes of the Mainbrain couldn’t penetrate into the human mind.
It didn’t take long for Tang Yibu to figure out how this place worked—the memory cocktail was packed with memory fragments that had been purified in advance and stuffed directly into the guests’ brains. It was more like multiple people sharing an instant process of memory generation, like stepping into an ongoing dream.
Bluntly put, the former was like watching a random video clip of an adventure, while the latter was more like participating in a holographic adventure game.
There were troubles too.
Although Tang Yibu had full confidence in his mental endurance, the A-type Prototype didn’t have a powerful healing function, so he couldn’t attach it to his spirit. Here, he would not have much of an advantage in terms of combat power. If he was “killed”, the possibility of damage to his cybernetic brain wasn’t low.
The most troublesome thing was that in order to kill someone, he had to make sure they realized that they were fatally wounded…
After all, it wasn’t the real world, so poisoning wouldn’t work and hunkering down in the shadows for a surprise attack wasn’t useful either. Only a frontal assault could be done. All medical knowledge was invalid, and only by inducing the “subconscious to think that they will die” was the only way to cause death.
Tang Yibu would subconsciously assess the extent of his injuries and would instantly come to the conclusion that it “may lead to death”. Although he could control his thoughts as much as possible, he didn’t want to take any risks.
It was better to use the fragile appearance to deal with a crisis relatively peacefully. Even if the situation was different, Yu Le, who was tall and sturdy, would be a more conspicuous target, which would allow him time to escape.
Tang Yibu thought about it quite realistically with a smile on his face that couldn’t be picked out. As if perceiving Tang Yibu’s thoughts, Yu Le glanced over coolly.
“You’re thinking crooked again, aren’t you? I don’t plan to act with you.” Yu Le habitually cleared his throat and turned up his volume. “…Hey, what about the things I want to see?”
“Auntie Yan will take you to the study.”
“Hmm? Isn’t Auntie Yan the one—” Yu Le tutted in surprise.
“The one behind the counter? That’s just a remote-controlled humanoid I use. Isn’t it beautiful?” The older woman scratched her off-white hair and knocked on the wooden pipe in her hand. “I can manipulate it here and use it as a distraction… What’s with that look? It’s according to my appearance when I was young. Haa, another superficial man. Forget it, come here.”
She looked down at Tang Yibu’s appearance, and there was a bit more disgust in her eyes when she looked at Yu Le.
“This is what the kid surnamed Luo asked for. I’m not interested in this kind of thing.” Yu Le explained with a stern face. “Xiao Tang, you can go explore by yourself first. Tell me about the situation later.”
This meant go take care of yourself and investigate on your own. Auntie Yan seemed to be accustomed to this reaction as she didn’t have anything special to say.
Under the guise of being Yu Le’s android, Tang Yibu didn’t have many options. He curled his lips in dissatisfaction and walked obediently to the spiral staircase.
The western building had only two floors. A spiral staircase connected to a thickly carpeted corridor, and the curtains on the windows were still tightly drawn.
Tang Yibu looked out. It was no different from when Yu Le explored the first floor; it was still a chaotic darkness. There were small tables next to the windows with long tablecloths that draped to the floor and vases of flowers placed on them. The original snow-white flowers were dyed light orange by light.
There were many doors on the opposite side of the window, each of which was tightly locked.
Tang Yibu paid attention to the keyhole and tried to find a way to pry open the lock, but found that the more carefully he looked, the more blurred the scene in front of him became, so he had to give up. There was no one else in the corridor, and there was nothing remotely resembling surveillance equipment. Tang Yibu walked around briskly and quickly explored the floor.
The place wasn’t big. Most of it was based on someone’s brain. Using dream-related principles to build out a mental space and then briefly open it to others, if the equipment was in place, it was indeed a good idea and several times safer to gather under the nose of the Mainbrain.
However, the theory was quite simple, but the actual operation wasn’t as easy…
Based on Yu Le’s reaction last time, it was conservatively estimated that the speed of time passing here should be different from the outside world. To get online for a short period of time in the outside world without arousing the suspicion of the Mainbrain wasn’t something that a layman could do casually.
Pear Blossom’s way of gathering was cleverer than he thought. However, to start from scratch and create an illusory space in these layers of cobwebs was tantamount to battling directly against the Mainbrain.
It seemed that Professor Ruan had indeed been here. Tang Yibu lowered his gaze.
Considering that they were newcomers, this was probably not an important meeting place. Whether or not Pear Blossom was doing something small in private other than reading and propaganda, they wouldn’t be stupid enough to lead strangers to their intelligence location.
Yu Le wasn’t a fuel-saving lamp*, but his ability to spy was passable. At present, he’d better behave harmlessly and exchange information after he got out. Then… He still had his date.
*Metaphor describing someone who’s not easy to deal with.
Tang Yibu leaned on one of the small tables, glanced at the flowers in the vase, and began to be silently nervous again.
Fortunately, this tension didn’t weaken his vigilance. More than ten minutes later, as soon as a figure emerged from the stairs, Tang Yibu leaned down and hid under the small table covered with a tablecloth.
A pair of high-heeled shoes belonging to a woman stepped on the velvet blanket. Tang Yibu slightly lifted the folds of the tablecloth and saw the familiar wooden pipe. Auntie Yan stopped in front of a door with her back to the small table. She quickly took out a bunch of old metal keys and fiddled with them one by one.
Tang Yibu surveyed Auntie Yan’s standing position for a bit. The moment she opened the door, he slightly drilled out of the tablecloth and moved carefully to her blind spot. The carpet in the corridor and the figure of a teenager made this matter a lot less difficult. At most, before pushing open the door, Auntie Yan simply looked around, which made things a lot easier to deal with.
The door was the most easily exposed link.
Tang Yibu followed her like a ghost. He minimized his sense of existence, like a thin page glued to the other party’s shadow. Auntie Yan’s movements were familiar and decisive. Tang Yibu held his breath and moved like a cat, adjusting his movements to the rotation of the other party’s body, and flashed into the door with Auntie Yan like a gust of wind.
Then he was really greeted with blowing hail that was blisteringly cold. They blew up a few snowflakes and slashed at his cheeks mercilessly like knives. Tang Yibu was pretty sure that they didn’t enter a room but into another world—the door that led them here by Auntie Yan had closed and disappeared within a few seconds.
At that moment, they were standing in a dilapidated steel city, with huge chimneys spewing billowing smoke not far away. The air was filled with the unique smell of charcoal burning, but it was so subtle that it lacked a bit of realism.
There were few people on the street, and all the buildings closed their doors and windows tightly. It was extremely dark, and there were only a few houses with lights on, reflecting the icicles hanging from the eaves. Auntie Yan was holding her wooden pipe as she stepped across the muddy and snowy road. The dark and heavy sky was glued to the top of this dilapidated city, with a vague tendency that it would crush the earth. Under this suffocating pressure, the woman’s back bent down a little.
Tang Yibu recognized this place.
It was the long-destroyed Petri Dish No. 1024 that stood in front of him.
Tang Yibu had spent some time there and could almost say that he had witnessed its destruction. The cold winter was like a chronic poison; a drug that soaked its victims in despair before slowly killing them one by one.
The last fire was extinguished, and the burning smoke dissipated. Before MUL-01 did a cleanup and reset, Petri Dish No. 1024 was destined to turn into a frozen city of death. Now, its ghost was floating in front of him, as if it was struggling before death.
It was impossible for a person’s mind to lead directly to reality. He himself dared to follow only because Auntie Yan’s real body shared a device with him, and he wasn’t in an unknown and dangerous situation because of the different device configurations.
The premise was that he followed her closely.
Tang Yibu wiped away the snow that melted on his face and didn’t have much time to recall the past. He rubbed his frozen red hands and imagined the robe he used to keep out the cold.
Not long after, Tang Yibu had a wide-standard black robe on his body. The thickness was just right, though the sleeves were a bit long, covering most of his hands. If you pulled the hood with plush edges down slightly, you could only see half of his chin from an adult’s point of view.
Tang Yibu tied up the collar but felt that something was missing.
He went through the main points of disguising as a human child in his head again and added two more furry cloth ears to his hood. Although he couldn’t see what kind of animal it was, the depressing look on his robe dissipated quite a bit, and it was more like a style that normal children would wear.
Coupled with a hand-woven scarf with an unsightly pattern that covered the lower half of his face, this outfit should minimize people’s suspicion. It stood to reason that he should also change the color of his eyes to ordinary brown, so that the risk of being seen through would be minimized.
However, he was slow to visualize exactly what he was doing—once he put his mind on his eyes, the memory of Mr. Ruan kissing them would appear on its own, accompanied by the soft touch of lips and moist, warm breathing.
The other party really liked these eyes.
Forget it. The security brought about by this detail was only icing on the cake. Tang Yibu pulled the edge of the soft hood down again.
Now wasn’t the time to count how much influence Mr. Ruan had on him.
Auntie Yan walked in front by herself. Her thin back seemed like it could be blown away by the blizzard at any second. Tang Yibu followed quietly in the dark; the snow on the ground almost reached his ankles.
He watched her walk near a chimney, and then entered the largest club in Petri Dish No. 1024.
In the never-ending harsh winter, this used to be the only place where people could have some fun. When people gathered, the air would be much warmer. They lit a fire indoors, played some silly, simple games, and drank spicy bean soup cooked in cans.
Now, the fire in the room was still burning, and the bean soup was tumbling in the pot. There were not a lot of people. Auntie Yan entered and sat down at a table with the most people. There were about six present, and each had a serious expression.
If he walked in through the main entrance, he would be exposed in an instant. Fortunately, he had spent a lot of time in the real Petri Dish No. 1024 and knew the structure of this building well.
Tang Yibu walked around the back of the building and squeezed into an exceptionally narrow dark alley. The old hole he knew well was still in place.
This hole has existed for a long time, and the alley was blocked by a wall. No matter the cold wind or wild cats and dogs, no one could get in. For an adult, the entrance of the hole was also slightly too narrow. Supplies were limited, and in the end, no one cared about it.
It was just right for his current body shape.
Tang Yibu squeezed into the interior of the building and struggled out of the pile of dry branches and withered grass. This was the back kitchen of the club. Imagining that the food was time-consuming and exhausting, he simply opened a cabinet and grabbed himself a few cans of cold beans.
The back kitchen was emptier than the hall. Tang Yibu stuffed a can of beans into his pocket, and with a spoon in his mouth, crept close to the hall, hiding in the corner full of cardboard boxes.
“What took you so long?” A man with a beard spoke impatiently.
“Luo Fei brought a newcomer, so I have to keep an eye on him.” Auntie Yan slowly exhaled a puff of smoke. “A man who’s quite a looker came over with a pornographic book. Based on his age, he most likely saw the world before the Great Rebellion.”
She knocked on the pipe and glanced at the man. “He brought two androids, a little girl and a young man, who both look pretty good, but they’re not the most popular faces… The details are like that. I don’t think it looks like a person who’s from the Order Supervisors, so I’m thinking about observing him more.”
“Be careful, I’d rather have a stupid kid like Luo Fei than let an Order Supervisor in.”
“Does that even need to be said?”
“How is Luo Fei’s situation?”
“Still the same. He really thinks we’re just a book club.” Auntie Yan’s tone wasn’t contemptuous or sarcastic, but her smile was a bit bitter.
“Keep talking about your situation.” The man she was talking to decisively skipped the topic. “The news from the center this time…”
“There’s no news. Business as usual. It’s true that there are new people coming in, but there’s no intention of testing at the hub. I specifically asked. There may be more observations. The wolf didn’t seem to act either, so there’s no need to worry for the time being.”
“There’s no wolf attack on my side. Recently, the monitoring of the Mainbrain has been a bit loose. This isn’t a good sign…”
They didn’t intend to break their words apart, so Tang Yibu couldn’t understand the meaning of those words. He curled up and hid himself as much as possible in the pile of cardboard boxes, listening more carefully.
“If the pattern remains the same, the attack should be in these two days. I’ll go back and keep an eye on it.” Auntie Yan was silent for a moment before she spoke again.
“This is by far the most stable hub. There must be no mistakes.”
“Nn.” Auntie Yan spewed out a smoke ring. “What about the Android Show? How long has it been without news? If the professor hasn’t given instructions, there’s no need for us to gather so often.”
“No instructions,” the other man interjected. “According to the professor’s meaning, we must insist—”
“Insist? Except for us old antiques, who remembers how the world was before? When we’re all dead, the most rebellious person to them will be equivalent to Luo Fei—shouting slogans and doing harmless little tricks in private; getting back what they should have and thinking they will reap major benefits.”
Auntie Yan sneered.
“In my opinion, saving lives takes precedence. Since Professor Ruan hasn’t come back with news for so long, we shouldn’t face the wolf attack and settle down for a while first.”
“I agree with Xiao Yan.” The oldest looking one spoke. “Everyone could see that there are fewer ‘people’ outside. This hub, although powerful, in the end, still has its limits. Sooner or later, this hub will collapse when the wolf eats this place. Since Ruan Xian hasn’t sent news, we should also adjust according to the current situation and protect ourselves. Blindly following instructions will not yield good results.”
People, wolf attacks, the hub, Android Show… and Ruan Xian.
Tang Yibu carved those seemingly unrelated words into his mind, slowly exhaled, and pursed the spoon in his mouth.
This place wasn’t a simple “spiritual world”, or “joint dreamland”. It was operating according to a strange set of rules. His own knowledge wasn’t enough to sift through this information.
“I object. At least I don’t think I’m smarter than Professor Ruan. We have to be ready at all times.”
The table of people suddenly clamored. Auntie Yan let out a long sigh and stood up. The irregularly shaped wooden chair scuffed across the floor, making a harsh sound.
“You guys are giving me a headache. I’ll go back first. After all, I still have to take care of the hub,” she said wearily. “Anyway, there will be no results for a while, so everyone can sort out their ideas and get together another day. If you come to an agreement, you can find someone to tell me.”
Having said that, she ignored the reaction of the others, grabbed a gray wool shawl from the table, and walked in the direction of the door.
“Auntie Yan, the weather—”
“I’ll go and get the things to be repaired. It will be dawn in a few hours, so I can probably make it back in the morning and sleep then.” Auntie Yan waved her hand without looking back.
Tang Yibu clenched the canned food in his pocket. He glanced at Auntie Yan’s direction, then bent down, and quickly got out of the building from the opposite way.
A simple carriage stopped at the side door of the building, and several people were loading bulging bags onto it. Tang Yibu smelled potatoes stained with wet mud and slightly rotten onions.
They were once the main food in Petri Dish No. 1024, and the smell they emitted was no different from what he remembered.
But the carriage, horses, and people were another matter.
The people looked okay, dressed in bulky, tattered cotton coats or down jackets bunched up with nylon straps. Their figures were clear, but when they turned their heads, their faces seemed to be separated by layers of frosted glass.
Their facial features were like colored mist, so Tang Yibu couldn’t tell their true appearance. The situation of the horse was even more exaggerated—its body structure was slightly shifting and changing. It looked like a horse when you glanced at random, but it didn’t look like it when you carefully paid attention to it. It became more like a blurred human face.
They carry the blurred features characteristic of a remembered scene to a much greater degree.
Auntie Yan turned a blind eye to the distorted monster in front of her. After all the bags were loaded into the carriage, she got into the position of the driver and began to whip the vague horse with a wire-altered whip.
Tang Yibu rubbed his hands, jumped into the body of the car with a hearty step, and buried himself in a pile of gray bags. The strong smell of onions almost choked him and he had to spit out his spoon.
After holding the spoon firmly again, Tang Yibu squeezed the side full of potatoes. The snow followed the wind through the top of the dilapidated carriage, and thick snow quickly accumulated on the sack, almost burying him.
Looking out through a little gap in the snow, the ghost of Petri Dish No. 1024 was soaked in the deep night.
The current time in the dream was about 4 in the morning. According to Auntie Yan, it would take them at least half a day to reach their destination. Fortunately, the passage of time in the dream was different from the real world. Tang Yibu wrapped his clothes tightly and twitched his nose.
Next, he should have enough time to investigate the “hub”, find the thread connecting those words, and then use it as a small surprise for his date.
It was just that the environment was really bad, so he should find a way to regain some energy. Tang Yibu put the canned beans in his arms, clenched the spoon, and fell into a state of half-asleep and half-awake.
At the same time.
Ruan Xian touched the baked apple slices on the paper with his fingers. The fruit that had lost most of its moisture felt a little stiff to the touch and rather odd. Coupled with his fingers that didn’t match his actual age, the scene in front of him had a weird sense of incongruity.
It was roughly estimated that it should be the latter half of the night. Li Han was tired of painting, so she lay in a corner inside a simple sleeping bag that was to the side of a pile of broken wooden boxes that had little practical use, then fell asleep. Luo Jian kept sticking to his corner, breathing very lightly. Most likely he was still tense.
Xiao Ma skillfully stuck a metal latch on the inside of the door and dragged out a recliner that was half down, then took out a dirty blanket off the ground. He tied a metal rope to his wrist that was attached to the bell on the door.
The size of the bell was almost the same as that of a ping-pong ball. Neither the movements of Xiao Ma nor the blowing of the wind against the door were enough to shake it. It seemed as if it was used to guard against other things.
Within a few minutes, Xiao Ma also fell asleep. Only the oil lamp in front of Ruan Xian was left in the room. The lights were dim, and without the assistance of the S-type Prototype, it was difficult for him to see the contours of the other three.
The flames continued to quiver as Ruan Xian played with the apple slices without any intention of sleeping.
He hadn’t experienced this feeling in a while—even if he knew that the chances of something happening to him were extremely low, once he entered an unfamiliar environment, it was always difficult for him to sleep, unless there was a fuse with relevant interest and comparable strength—and said fuse that was surnamed Tang wasn’t around at the moment, so he had long lost his desire for sleep.
Since there was nothing else to do, he could think about his next plan. For example, how to use these strange conditions to sidetrack and dig out some information from Luo Jian’s mouth. This current boring situation was likely to cope with the “stranger”, being him, present.
However, if Luo Jian just wanted to deal with him simply, he didn’t have to choose such a dangerous memory. After all, Li Han was also here. If he wanted to kill him without a trace, this inconvenient environment wasn’t suitable. Once he saw that something was wrong, he could easily find an empty room to hide in, and Luo Jian may not be able to find him before the treatment ended.
Still, this wasn’t a reason to relax…
As far as the current situation was concerned, either the other party just wanted him to suffer so he would refuse joint therapy the next time it was proposed… Or maybe this memory had some special meaning that Luo Jian “has to” choose it. If it was the latter, all the previous inferences wouldn’t be valid.
After all, compared with most memories, its details were too rich, which meant most likely this was an extremely important memory for Luo Jian. The other party’s choice of it may also be based on some reason that had nothing to do with Ruan Xian.
Unfortunately, the information he had currently wasn’t enough to draw a precise conclusion. Ruan Xian took a bite of the dried apple and looked out the window again.
In the crevices of the wooden boards that sealed the windows, dozens of blood-red spots of light flickered in the darkness.
He tightened his back abruptly. Those ominous lights looked like mechanic police dogs that he encountered in the forest petri dish. Ruan Xian subconsciously extinguished the oil lamp in front of him while mentally tracing his blood gun repeatedly in his mind.
The cold metal slowly spread across the palm of his hand.
Items outside Luo Jian’s memory must be created by outsiders. The more complicated things were, the more difficult they were to create—the creator needed to refine every last detail. Clothing and food were doable, and simple cold weapons weren’t difficult to make, but to bring in a complex machine out of thin air, the imaginer must be familiar with its structure and operating principles. Otherwise, they would only produce an empty shell.
He made the blood gun himself. Although there was no steady supply of blood bullets, in theory, he could rely on the limited “blood” in his cognition. There was no Tang Yibu here, so he only needed to be responsible for attacking.
Here, Ruan Xian’s blood gun stabbed into the left wrist of his wound. Suddenly, the bell hanging on the door began to ring violently.
Luo Jian woke up quicker than Xiao Ma. After the rustling noise, a metal bump sounded. “Xiao Han, get up!”
In the darkness, Ruan Xian hid the blood gun under his cloak to keep out the cold.
“Wolf attack.” Luo Jian’s voice was a bit hoarse after another sound of fabric rubbing.
At the same time, something outside—whatever it was—began to slam the door frantically. The fragile little house started making shrill sounds. Several places that weren’t sturdy were torn apart, and the things outside poked their heads in, gnawing on the cracked walls.
It wasn’t a “wolf”.
Ruan Xian didn’t know what those things were, as they were pure black. Even in the dim night, they were strikingly black. If everything in front of him was a dimly hued photo, those things were like the darkness that came through after a nail pierced the photo. The last time he saw this kind of blackness was at the dead wall that divided the petri dishes.
This was the Mainbrain’s handiwork.
Their shapes looked a bit like wolves, and their blood-red light eyes were embedded in a similar head structure. Their eyes moved everywhere on the head of the dark shadow, converging towards places where there was sound.
“Don’t attack. Run!” Luo Jian only shouted one sentence, and then quickly left. As soon as he left his spot, the place where he was standing was packed with a group of strange wolves.
Li Han ignited charcoal and skillfully ignited the roof. The structure of the roof was special as it didn’t raise much smoke. The fire instantly tore through the darkness.
Those strange wolves sucked up all the light and were busy devouring everything that was closest to them—tables, chairs, firewood piled in the corners, and Xiao Ma, who hadn’t had time to escape.
Ruan Xian ran behind Luo Jian at the first opportunity, keeping an eye on the strange wolves with his spare attention.
Seeing Xiao Ma being attacked, Luo Jian remained unmoved. He stretched out his hand and grabbed Ruan Xian’s collar and ran towards the back door of the store, half-dragging him along. Li Han followed closely behind; the soft-hearted girl also ignored the screams of Xiao Ma.
Despite Xiao Ma’s leg being torn off by the wolves, the wound didn’t shed the slightest trace of blood. Only a vague red smoke spread out. Before Ruan Xian had time to take a few more glances, he was taken away from the room by Luo Jian.
He was distracted and gave a horrified look.
Luo Jian took them directly into the storage room behind the store. He quickly pushed away the debris and opened the lid of the cellar, which emitted a choking musty smell. “Quick, go down. Hurry up.”
This sentence was almost said in exasperation.
Ruan Xian took a deep breath, grabbed the rope by the pothole, and quickly slipped down. As soon as they landed, Luo Jian quickly fastened the metal door at the entrance of the cellar. The thick metal door had many layers, with varying degrees of erosion, making it obvious it had existed for a long time.
The cellar was very deep and was covered with the smell of mud, moss, and snow. There was an air filter installed here. The cold wind from outside seeped into their clothes, causing a biting chill that froze and numbed their feet.
After going deep underground, the chaotic sound became much weaker, leaving only faint tremors. Luo Jian somehow managed to get a candle and made a small light. In the swaying candle, his expression was particularly ugly.
“What are those things out there?” Ruan Xian played his role brilliantly. “Isn’t this your memory? What are you remembering?”
“It’s all the work done by Pear Blossom. Look, it’s all messed up monsters, so it’s normal for my brains to be messed up.” Luo Jian’s tone was stiff. “There are no such things in the real world. Do you understand now?”
Li Han pursed her lips and didn’t speak.
Ruan Xian didn’t answer directly. He wiped the wet walls of the cellar with his fingers, and his tone was uneasy. “How long will we stay here?”
“It’ll be fine at dawn,” Luo Jian replied in an extremely perfunctorily manner.
“I mean, when will the treatment end?” Ruan Xian stared at Luo Jian’s face tightly.
Despite the tension, Luo Jian still showed a relaxed expression. The muscles on his face twitched twice. “It’s early. It also depends on Gong Siyi’s mood. Joint therapy is like this, or can you tell me an alternative treatment that’s easier and more comfortable, and we can do that, yeah? Xiao Han, follow me closely and stay on the path.”
“I read some information before the treatment. Even if Xiao Ma is someone in your memory, he should bleed when attacked, not turn into something strange like that.” Seeing the other party wanted to change the subject, Ruan Xian pulled the focus back.
“Didn’t I already tell you? It’s because I’m crazy. The things in my head are messed up.”
“If you keep talking nonsense, I will leave you here.” Luo Jian obviously didn’t want to entangle with this topic for too long. “Kid, I thought you were ambitious, but it turns out that the time when you were most serious was when you were a kid—just shut up if you have no idea. We have dealt with this situation hundreds of thousands of times, and we don’t have time to play commentary games with you.”
Luo Jian no longer spoke and led them into the darkest place. For some reason, Ruan Xian felt that the world around him was becoming clearer.
The slope first went downwards, then up. Ruan Xian made a rough estimate that they were getting closer to the surface.
Finally, they reached the end.
Unlike the Shade Refuge, the underground fortifications here were extremely rough and not much different from mines. The cold wind that penetrated into the ground became colder, indicating that the surface was just above their heads and there should be an emergency exit nearby.
“Go to sleep.” Luo Jian put the candle holder casually on the ground and sat down by a small mound of soil. “It’s still a while before dawn.”
Having said that, he sighed and stared at the void in front of him.
Then Ruan Xian saw Xiao Ma.
At first there was a vague outline, and then it gradually became clear. Unlike in the store, Xiao Ma appeared in front of them out of thin air. He was panting, and his hair was stuck to his forehead by sweat. His facial features distorted even more, and his figure appeared even more unnatural.
“Lao Luo.” Xiao Ma wiped the sweat off his face, as if he was unaware of what had happened just now. “Did the wolves come again?”
“Nn, but it’s alright now.” Under the swaying candlelight, Luo Jian’s eyes looked a bit sad. “Thank you for your hard work, Xiao Ma. Hurry up and take a break.”
“Okay.” Xiao Ma laughed humbly. His facial features were frighteningly distorted, and his voice was a bit indistinct. “Oh, pay attention to your side… Pay attention… attention…”
Halfway through speaking, the young man’s figure shook suddenly, spreading out in the air like a flame that was blown out.
Li Han twitched her nose loudly, while Luo Jian lowered his head, expressionless.
“Just now that was—”
“Shut up!” Luo Jian roared at Ruan Xian with a touch of anger.
“Lao Luo, don’t do this. He doesn’t know anything,” Li Han persuaded, her voice trembling a little.
Luo Jian took a few hard breaths and slammed down on the ground. The flame of the candle was shaken by the wind, illuminating a slate in front of the small mound.
“I lost my temper. Sorry.” After a while, Luo Jian apologized in a blunt tone. Turning his back to the humble, lonely grave, he didn’t seem to want them to see the expression on his face.
“It’s okay. Wait until dawn. When things calm down, we can talk about it.”
Ruan Xian hid himself in the darkness.
“Now, I just want to ask one question. Why can’t we attack those… things? I checked some information about joint therapy before I came in. Even if they are things in your memory, as long as you know enough about them, they can be destroyed.”
If it was a real wolf pack that struck, Luo Jian didn’t have the slightest need to stop the attack. Even if they were monsters born of insane fantasies capable of reaching such a clear and stable level, Luo Jian, as the master of this spiritual world, knew them well enough.
Usually, understanding meant being able to control it. Unless…
“Forget it. Yes, I lied. That stuff is from the Mainbrain. Not my memories.”
“…The Mainbrain?” Ruan Xian frowned.
“Nn. In my memory, it has always been real wolves who attacked the village.” Luo Jian looked at the top of the cave absent-mindedly. “So I imagined a time when the wolves didn’t come and enter the city. But they still came, howling, so we call this a ‘wolf attack’.”
Li Han nodded in silence.
“It’s probably not mentioned in the pile of things you read, as they’ll only appear in abnormal memories that are too clear.”
Luo Jian grimaced and made a bitter smile. “These days, it’s impossible to be completely free of ideas. Just think of them as an antivirus program for the human brain.”
“The doomsday doesn’t exist, but I have such a clear delusion and will share it with others. The Mainbrain has to find a way to dilute it. Why do you think this is called ‘therapy’?”
Ruan Xian understood.
When he attacked Gong Siyi before, the system put forward a suggestion to erase his memory. There were also means to erase recent memories according to the time spent at the Shade Refuge. But for the past that wasn’t within the immediate degree and had been deeply rooted in one’s mind, it was difficult to solve with a rough one-size-fits-all approach.
Thus, the method taken by the Mainbrain was more likely setting up key plots for people’s thoughts and memories, and then using a program to dilute these abnormalities at regular intervals. The way to dilute it was probably…
“They made you forget Xiao Ma.”
To say completely forget wasn’t quite apt. Ruan Xian could probably imagine the technique the Mainbrain was using—the spiritual world was mainly derived from human memory. If the things in it were erased, people needed to recollect those long-standing memories to recall and imagine again.
But people do forget.
Time and time again, with the destruction and recollection of long-past memories, every reconstruction represented a loss of details.
First, the less important scenery, like the withered grass on the side of the road, the dead trees, and the clouds on the horizon. Then there were the decorations of the buildings, the contents of paintings, the rusty candlesticks, and the dusty cobwebs in the corner. Last would be the person, how they were dressed, their body shape, their voice, and finally their appearance.
All of this until there was only a vague impression left and the person could no longer think of it systematically.
Ruan Xian suddenly understood why there were so few people in this city.
“Sort of.” Luo Jian lightly touched the topic. “If you resist, even if it’s just a little, the system will recognize you as a threat.”
“Can’t they identify you as a patient?”
“We don’t know the definition of resistance set by the Mainbrain, and no one ever explained it.”
Seeing that Luo Jian didn’t mean to explain anymore, Li Han replied on his behalf, and there was an uncontrollable anger in the young girl’s tone.
“If the Mainbrain thinks you resisted, then it’s considered resistance. There’s no room to make sense of it. You can only hide. After all, being stomped on by those things, as a human you will instinctively struggle, and can’t help but become hostile. Who could control their emotions at that point?”
“And it’s impossible to win against them… That’s a program made by the Mainbrain. No one can stop it before being killed.”
Ruan Xian didn’t ask any more questions.
These two people were hiding something from him. While their explanation seemed reasonable on the surface, there were still holes.
If it was true as Luo Jian said, as the spiritual world that needed to be disclosed, it would require to be repeatedly scanned by the Mainbrain. Then, before the “disinfection” was completed, it was impossible for Gong Siyi to use such a dangerous environment for joint therapy more than once. This was equivalent to making a joke out of his future career.
It was likely that Gong Siyi was busy monitoring their emotional index at this moment and guessing whether they were struggling.
Ruan Xian subconsciously rubbed the rough cave wall with his fingers, and the cold and hard stones stung his fingertips.
Judging from the previous dialogue between Luo Jian and Auntie Yan, there was a wolf attack just a week ago, and the frequency was quite high. If the scans were such a common occurrence, it would be impossible for them not to be mentioned in the joint therapy information he was given.
It seemed that his previous thoughts may have been right. For some reason, Luo Jian had a reason to choose this memory. At the same time, this memory had already attracted the attention of the Mainbrain, so it was scanned repeatedly with the Wolf Pack program.
“Miss Li, you guys used to come here a lot, right? Nothing will happen to us, right?” Ruan Xian changed his perspective.
“Um, it’ll be fine.” Li Han smiled reluctantly at him. The patient mark near her wrist was still flashing red. “Believe me, we have been here—”
“Xiao Han!” Luo Jian, who had his eyes closed and was pretending to be asleep, interrupted Li Han’s words.
Li Han closed her mouth instantly.
“When you guys wake up, I’ll take you guys somewhere else.” Luo Jian took over the leadership and closed his eyes again. “Save some energy first.”
Li Han looked downcast and nervous as she moved a few steps in the direction of the candle. Her eyes were watching the dancing flames without rest.
It seemed that this joint therapy was more interesting than he thought. Ruan Xian nestled into the dark shadows again.
But he still didn’t feel sleepy at all.
There was still something wrong. He seemed to have missed a certain detail. Ruan Xian broke apart all the memories after the start of the joint therapy and went through them over and over again in his mind in order, but there were so many details that he couldn’t determine the source of this feeling.
Ruan Xian began to unconsciously play with the studs on his left ear.
[…Follow your intuition. You need to abandon your logical habits as a researcher.]
Perhaps it was this action that guided his subconscious, and what the android said surfaced in the depths of his mind, light as a fleeting bubble in boiling water.
Ruan Xian didn’t let go of this memory.
The first time he felt an inexplicable sense of dissonance was with Xiao Ma. After Auntie Yan left, the scar behind Xiao Ma’s ear disappeared, and his facial features began to distort. After being attacked by the strange wolves, Xiao Ma’s facial features distorted even more severely, and then just disappeared completely.
He didn’t feel this sense of dissonance in Auntie Yan, but Auntie Yan’s wrist was empty and there was no patient mark.
Rich details and dangerous memories. Frequent scans. Xiao Ma that changed inexplicably at the beginning…
“Miss Li.” Ruan Xian didn’t ask Luo Jian his question this time. He left the shadows and leaned next to Li Han. “For a change of mood, look at this.”
Luo Jian raised his right eyelid and secretly watched Ruan Xian’s movements. Ruan Xian didn’t notice it—he opened his palm and a six-petal pear blossom lay quietly in his hand.
Ruan Xian deliberately imagined one more petal and adjusted his posture to make sure Luo Jian could see it too. Luo Jian just glanced at it briefly, but the flowers didn’t change at all.
“Thank you, it’s beautiful.” Li Han smiled with a pale face, “But pear blossoms have only five petals.”
Before her voice fell, the flower turned into five petals, and even the structure of the stamens became a bit clearer.
“Ah, no wonder why I thought there seemed to be something off.” Ruan Xian put away his fingers to cover Li Han’s eyes. After her attention turned elsewhere, the stamens of the flower began to blur again. “I don’t know much about them.”
His guess was correct.
As outsiders of the memories, they could “fill in” the details of this world. Li Han, who sat by the window every day and liked to paint, would be keen knowing that pear blossoms only had five petals. She may have a clearer understanding of the details of pear blossoms than everyone present.
This kind of cognitive feedback could reverse consolidate the memories of the master of the spiritual world and make their world stronger.
What if Xiao Ma was also a member of the “replenishment”?
The Xiao Ma they first saw was most likely a “supplementary” version. As the master of the memories, Luo Jian must have known Xiao Ma, but he probably didn’t know him too well. At least he hadn’t noticed a scar near Xiao Ma’s ear.
When Auntie Yan left the scene, that was the only other person who could provide details.
In this way, it was natural for Auntie Yan to have no sense of dissonance—she wasn’t part of his memories, but another person that was involved in this joint therapy.
That was, if this was considered “joint therapy”.
Auntie Yan wasn’t a patient but an acquaintance of Luo Jian’s. She knew Xiao Ma, who only existed in memory, and she had obviously lived in a place that was related to this memory. Thinking from this perspective, it was worth pondering why she left in the middle of the night, combined with the frequent scanning procedure of those strange wolves…
Most likely there were other visitors here.
Now Ruan Xian was completely sober. He squeezed the blood gun hidden under his jacket.
It stood to reason that joint therapy couldn’t accommodate too many participants. There were too many intervening foreign minds. If the will wasn’t strong enough, the provider of the spiritual world would likely fall into chaos, which would lead to longer recuperation in light cases, and a mental breakdown in heavier cases.
But thinking backwards, if he wanted to establish a stable enough place for multiple gatherings, the most suitable place for the provider was undoubtedly a prevention shelter.
Did Luo Jian really think that he was a victim of Pear Blossoms? Did he really think the end of the world didn’t exist?
…Or is it that Luo Jian made the gesture to himself in order to keep it secret?
Ruan Xian stood up, leaning on the wet and cold cave wall.
If the idea of “this is a secret gathering place to avoid the Mainbrain” was established, the participants wouldn’t simply come to drink tea and chat. Combined with the information that Professor Ruan had been here before, perhaps the answer he was looking for was closer than he thought.
At this moment, the wall of the cave suddenly trembled badly, and the sound of collapse rang out in the distant darkness.
“Don’t panic.” Luo Jian’s first reaction was to extinguish the candle. The red text marking them as patients on their wrists was particularly dazzling. “This is normal.”
“The wolves will come.” Li Han’s voice trembled a little.
“They won’t chase us so far. There are still many active people on the ground. We just need to not show hostility.”
“If they really come…”
“We can escape. If you really can’t escape, get down, don’t move, press your hands under your body, and don’t resist.” Luo Jian’s voice was calm. “The scan may be a bit uncomfortable, but just bear it until it passes.”
Li Han hummed uneasily while Ruan Xian remained silent—he wouldn’t be locked as the primary target by the scanner as this was his first time entering the spiritual world, but it was difficult to say regarding these other two who had been frequently here. If Luo Jian were to die now, it would also be troublesome for him.
Not long after the air was quiet, the sound of collapse also came from the other side of the cellar.
It was deliberate as the three of them weren’t tightly blocked into the cellar.
Soon, red eyes of light began to appear in the darkness. Luo Jian lit all the candle holders on his body—He kept taking out short candles that looked similar to each other from his pocket, showing some weakness due to the rapid consumption of energy.
Countless white candles were placed on the ground, and the cellar became much brighter. The atmosphere was a bit out of touch with the times and had a sense of desolation with the small grave on the ground.
“Don’t worry. If something happens, I will forcibly eject you. Even if the mind suffers a little shock, it’s better than losing your life.”
“Luo Jian, don’t coax me! With the scanning program here, you can’t leave—”
“This is my memory after all.” Luo Jian smiled. “Besides, you’re talking about the worst-case scenario. Don’t worry. Take care of that useless kid over there. In case something happens to me, you know what to do.”
As the dark monstrous wolves approached from both sides, the red dots became denser and denser. The bright candlelight seemed to be swallowed up in one bite. Luo Jian didn’t risk running away. He walked to the small grave and sat down facing the rough tombstone.
Ruan Xian stared at the wolves without blinking. He didn’t let go of any details about their movements. From the trajectory of the light from their eyes and the way they gnawed on the stones inside the cave.
Comprehend, think. Everything can be unraveled.
Finally, the first monstrous wolf attacked—it ignored Ruan Xian and Li Han on the side and rushed straight at Luo Jian.
Luo Jian didn’t get down but didn’t resist. He sat among the burning candles, rubbing the small tombstone. Ruan Xian could feel a burst of cold being pulled away as his whole body felt as if he was stepping on air.
The moment he felt the abnormality, he fired directly.
The wolf that pounced on Luo Jian was bombarded with blood bullets into a rock wall, then fell softly to the ground. It let out a hoarse and unpleasant howl, only to stand up again after a while. The entire pack of wolves retreated together, and for an instant, all the red eyes pointed at Ruan Xian.
Time was limited, and he failed to completely unlock the scanner, but logic wouldn’t betray him—every pattern and detail he understood had taken effect, and he was able to hurt them, which was enough.
Ruan Xian took a deep breath, ignored Luo Jian and Li Han, who were stunned, and shot at the side of the strange wolf.
The entire process took no more than five seconds. Not a single bullet missed. After opening one side, Ruan Xian turned around and sharply pointed his gun at another group.
This time, the strange wolves no longer showed even the slightest semblance of animal characteristics. They didn’t attack anymore. Instead, they stood upright and formed a phalanx, just like a copied image. The blood-red eyes on their heads were turning frantically, looking quite disgusting.
“Now I’m the one they are most interested in.” Ruan Xian spoke with his juvenile voice, which he didn’t like very much. “Li Han, you and Luo Jian walk in front. I’ll take the back.”
He couldn’t kill them yet, and there was no point in fighting a battle of attrition.
While the wolves were immersed in their weird state, Ruan Xian retreated while shooting as Luo Jian and Li Han ran in front.
“You injured them.” Luo Jian’s voice was still shocked. “You know that they are from the Mainbrain, yet you managed to hurt them… Even if you can analyze the system, you think you have a chance of winning against the Mainbrain?!”
In the end, this was a spiritual world constructed by cognition. If the person believed from the bottom of his heart that the Mainbrain couldn’t be defeated, then he couldn’t hurt these monsters in the slightest.
Ruan Xian wasn’t surprised at Luo Jian’s concern.
“Maybe because I’m truly crazy.” He clenched the blood gun in his hand. “Are you from the rebel army?”
“…” Luo Jian didn’t answer.
In the next second, a huge paw poked out of the darkness and almost covered Ruan Xian.
The strange wolves were merging but hadn’t fully fused together yet. The densely packed eyes of light were all gathered in one place, and just the sight could make a person watching go numb. The fused monster’s behavior completely changed. Ruan Xian couldn’t eliminate the influence of the opposite giant on his subconscious—the effectiveness of his blood bullet began to weaken.
The monster, which was now huge in size, began moving down the tunnel. Several claws flickered like data failures surged forward. The sound of collapse became particularly clear. The wind from the outside was getting stronger, indicating they were close to the exit.
In the end, this was the spiritual world of the living, and the Mainbrain wouldn’t have complete control. These programs shouldn’t belong here. Luo Jian’s subconscious would gradually weaken them. As long as they can last for a while, they would have a chance to breathe.
The only question was, how long was this “period of time”?
Luo Jian and Li Han weren’t indecisive. They didn’t talk nonsense and quickly climbed out of the cellar along the soft ladder. Ruan Xian controlled the rhythm of his shooting, trying his best to aim each bullet to hit the monster’s light eyes so it would delay it longer.
The dark monster roared more grotesquely, causing the flimsy rock wall to crack and quickly shatter. Ruan Xian estimated the distance he was from the monster and the time it would take to stop attacking and climb the ladder.
“Is there any other exit in the back?” The blood gun kept drawing blood from his ready-made wound on his wrist. Ruan Xian’s shooting rhythm was getting faster, but his face remained steady.
“Yes, there is…”
“You run away first.”
The sky outside was already lit up. Ruan Xian ignored the soft ladder that was now illuminated by the snow but retreated deeper into the darkness behind him.
“…I’ll catch up later.”
Having said that, Ruan Xian no longer attacked the monster, but instead shot at the already fragile rock wall near it. This attack was more targeted—hitting a specific rock that started to crack before finally collapsing, which created a strong, solid wall between him and the monster.
As a result, the entrance of the cave that was originally used as an exit was also destroyed, separating him from Luo Jian and Li Han, who were relatively safe on the surface.
Next, he just needed to follow the wind while delaying the monster’s speed as much as possible.
Ruan Xian walked around while stumbling forward in the dark corridor. There was a constant scratching sound behind him, but he didn’t feel the slightest tension.
This was the first time he had acted alone since entering here. His mind turned frantically. With death close at hand, it inexplicably made him feel excited. The cold metal and the faint smell of blood stimulated his nerves. Ruan Xian smoothly constructed the same lantern he got when he was at the Shade Refuge, allowing the darkness to wrap itself around him just right without dropping its illumination too badly.
Perhaps this was his most liberating moment. If he had to pick one flaw…
He felt a bit cold.
Finally, the initial wall was torn apart by claws, and the monster’s cry became clearer. As Ruan Xian deduced, it ignored Luo Jian, who had fled to the surface and was difficult to track and chose to continue chasing him.
‘Very good,’ he thought.
After providing such a favor, he didn’t have to worry about digging up something from Luo Jian.
Above the snow, Tang Yibu choked on the onion smell and woke up. He wiped away two hot tears from his eyes and plucked away a little layer of snow as he looked out.
It wasn’t yet dawn, and the carriage had just reached the edge of Petri Dish No. 1024. Tang Yibu saw billowing smoke in the gradually lit sky, and the buildings in the distance were burning, spitting out thin smoke into the surreal sky. The street was unusually quiet, with only a few people who had blurred faces walking crookedly, like zombies from an old horror movie.
Auntie Yan took a breath and snapped her whip. The carriage suddenly accelerated its speed and headed straight in a certain direction.
She stopped in front of a shop that was destroyed beyond recognition. There was a dead pear tree in front of the store, and its nearly black branches were still caught in flames. The trunk looked as if it had been chewed by something, as several large pieces were missing.
Judging from the remnants of the building structure, it was similar to a small bar with rough decorations in the real world. When he was still in Petri Dish No. 1024, he didn’t pay special attention to this place. Although that petri dish wasn’t as big as the Underground City, it was still the size of a small city. There weren’t many survivors in marginal areas. Unless there were special observation objects, Tang Yibu rarely stayed on the dangerous edge of the city.
While Auntie Yan was watching the wreckage, Tang Yibu jumped out of the carriage, pulled down the brim of his hood with both hands, and ran towards the ruins.
There wasn’t much cover here. Auntie Yan should have seen his back and regarded him as a resident here, since she watched him run towards the ruins without meaning to stop him.
Tang Yibu’s footsteps became more cheerful.
He took the potatoes and onions that came from the carriage in his arms and found a great place to hide among the pile of rubble. He planned to observe Auntie Yan from a different angle.
As a result, he saw something extraordinary.
A strange, dark thing was devouring someone’s hands and feet. The figure falling to the ground almost became a cloud of fog. The part of the thing that resembled its mouth was overflowing with red mist from time to time as it ate very happily, and the only eyes of light that glowed on its head turned.
Tang Yibu suddenly found himself hungry. He rubbed his stomach and decided to figure out what this inexplicable thing was before finding a place to solve his breakfast problem.
Happily making his decision, Tang Yibu quietly took a few steps closer and tried to observe more carefully.
This thing wasn’t difficult to recognize. MUL-01 was based on NUL-00 as its core foundation. Regardless of hardware strength, they weren’t too different from their logical construction. Tang Yibu looked at this thing as kindly as the handicraft of his twin brother.
The visualized scanner in the spiritual world carried a high probability of carrying data packets that it would regularly transmit to the outside world. It was similar to the detection birds in the forest Petri Dish.
When he was there, he estimated that there were dozens of detection birds that he abducted from the Mainbrain. As long as he aimed at single ones, Tang Yibu was confident he wouldn’t be discovered.
The program monster, who was by itself, was still chewing on a human leg and knew nothing about its upcoming tragic fate.
He had become a lot smaller and had lost most of his strength, so he could no longer simply control them as he did before. Although it would be better to change back to his original appearance, Auntie Yan was not far away, and it wasn’t as if much power could be enhanced by changing back, so Tang Yibu gave up on this idea.
His coat was buttoned up, with potatoes in one pocket and onions in the other. The can of beans was fixed in the inner pocket of his front chest, close to his heart. The spoon was firmly clenched in his hand as if he was holding a dagger; everything was ready to go.
Tang Yibu chose a suitable angle, approached lightly, and pounced on it. Before the monster scanner could react, it was hugged from behind.
It released the memory data that was being destroyed in its mouth, intending to attack this humanoid object that didn’t know the height of the sky, but it didn’t expect that its opponent was one step ahead—Tang Yibu opened his mouth and bit the back of the black monster fiercely.
Once bitten, the scanning program would be overloaded.
Tang Yibu wasn’t interested in the mood of the scanning program—or the internal computing logic—as he gleefully swallowed the gnawed pieces he had chewed off and quickly analyzed its program composition and recently stored data.
The taste of this thing was a bit like frozen pudding, but unfortunately, it had no sweetness and couldn’t bring him the slightest pleasure from eating it.
Tang Yibu let go bitterly, gave up the idea of using it for breakfast, and began to focus on detecting the dissociated data. When he saw Luo Jian from the image recorded by this thing, he wasn’t really surprised.
If more than one organization could appear in a place such as The Glass Conservatory that was so closely monitored, it was better for the Mainbrain to check it out as soon as possible rather than interfere with human civilization.
Luo Jian was here, and so was Li Han. There was also a young man who he had never seen before who was knocked down. After a brief search, he didn’t find his Mr. Ruan.
Tang Yibu frowned and sifted the data again.
Only for a brief moment, he spotted an unfamiliar short boy behind Luo Jian. From just a quick glance, it was enough for Tang Yibu to distinguish him. That was the face that was 90% similar to Mr. Ruan’s, and the indifference in his expression made up for the other 10% of uncertainty.
Feeling inexplicably better, Tang Yibu took another bite of the program monster, and then decisively pierced his finger into its “wound”. The red-light eyes on the head of the dark monster turned frantically for a while, stopped abruptly, and turned to a beautiful blue color.
As soon as he finished processing on his side, Auntie Yan let out a scream. Tang Yibu quickly poked the program monster’s head with his spoon a few times and moved it towards Auntie Yan’s direction.
Auntie Yan was lying on the ground in a weird posture, pressing her hands under her body. However, even though she made a gesture of surrender, she still failed to escape the attack of two nearby program monsters. One of the beasts tore a piece of flesh from her calf and blood gushed from the wound. The other was staring at her neck, obviously thinking about how to deal with her quickly to make her realize that “she was dead”.
Tang Yibu rode on the back of the program monster, lowered his body, and gave the order to attack its companions with the greatest force. The dark monster rushed towards its former companions like a cannonball, knocking the program monster that tried to attack Auntie Yan’s neck about six meters away.
Then he grabbed his mount by the back of its neck, reversed direction, and stabbed the one who was biting at Auntie Yan’s calf with his spoon.
After figuring out their internal programming, rewriting it became easy. Not long after, the red eyes of the three program monsters turned blue, and they lay on the ground obediently.
Auntie Yan, who survived the catastrophe: “…”
She didn’t know how to describe the scene in front of her and thought she was stimulated into insanity.
In front of her was a comically dressed… teenager, or child, who was riding the “wolf” that they were afraid of. The strange boy’s face was tightly covered by an ugly scarf, the edge of his furry hood blocked his eyes, and the top of the hood was covered with cloth ears; she didn’t know if it belonged to a leopard or bear.
What the little knight was holding in his hand wasn’t a sword, but a spoon with an unknown black liquid stuck to it. One side of his pocket was opened, revealing the purple-yellow skin of an onion. No matter how she looked at it, this boy didn’t seem like a match for those three dangerous creatures that were surrounding him in obedience.
“…What are you?” This was her first reaction amidst her shock.
Neither she nor Luo Jian could use their minds to create creatures that could compete with the creations of the Mainbrain. Taking a step back, their taste wasn’t this strange.
Auntie Yan almost forgot about her injured leg as all her energy was concentrated on Tang Yibu, who was tightly wrapped. The situation was too bizarre; she couldn’t decide whether to approach or say thank you.
“Just a good Samaritan passing by,” Tang Yibu responded modestly.
“…” With his appearance tightly covered, she couldn’t see too many characteristics of the young man’s figure. It clearly seemed that the other party didn’t want to reveal his identity.
Auntie Yan didn’t pursue it further. She sat up, concentrated desperately, and constructed a roll of bandages, which she used to bandage up her injured calf. She glanced at the young man riding on the program monster, who was just staring quietly at her as she was bandaging herself up without any strange actions.
“What do you want?” Barely standing up, Auntie Yan got to the point.
“A large army of these guys chased after the people here. Seeing your expression just now, these people are your acquaintances, right? A good person sees things to the end and send Buddha to the west*. I can take you to them.” In this way he could make the excuse to meet up with Mr. Ruan and won’t lose Auntie Yan either.
*(送佛送到西) Metaphor for doing good deeds to the end. || In this context, he’s seeing this good deed to the end by not just saving Auntie Yan in this moment but seeing it through to reunite her with her companions.
“…What do you want?” Aunt Yan’s tone was heavier this time.
“To collect a little information and address the Mainbrain along the way,” Tang Yibu answered smoothly. “I know what you’re worried about; whether I’m an Order Supervisors taking advantage of this situation in order to penetrate into your organization. I’m not interested in you at all, as this is just a matter of convenience.”
Auntie Yan wiped the mud from the wooden pipe with the corner of her coat and took a shaky puff from it, still not buying what he was saying.
“This is Petri Dish No. 1024. The club at the center of the city will provide delicious spicy bean soup. If you have a good relationship with the boss, you can also get a little onion pie that’s handmade by the boss herself. Every Wednesday, a man who yells extra loud would come to play poker, and he always loses. You can confirm with the master of this spiritual world—Seeing the fineness of the place, he should know a lot about Petri Dish No. 1024.”
Tang Yibu tugged the knitted scarf back towards his face.
“The Mainbrain will adopt a strategy that avoids suspicion. Once the Order Supervisor who had worked in a Petri Dish is transferred away, they will no longer be exposed to things related to the Petri Dish to prevent emotional problems… You should have some understanding of these rules since you can do something like this to avoid the Mainbrain.”
“Taking a step back. I believe what you say. Who do you work for?” Auntie Yan’s expression softened a little.
The question almost tripped Tang Yibu, but fortunately, their last stop provided him with a ready-made answer…
“The Red Ghost.”
“Never heard of it.”
“Well, I’m not surprised.” Tang Yibu snapped his fingers and the two programmed monsters that had originally attacked Auntie Yan slowly fused and transformed into a size more suitable for a human mount. “Are you going to follow or not? If you continue talking nonsense like this, your companions will be eaten clean by these things.”
Auntie Yan no longer refused. She stepped on the monster with a shiver and held onto its pitch-black neck.
“Let’s go.” After confirming the other party was sitting firmly, Tang Yibu lowered his head and whispered happily to the program monster of his. “You go find your companions. I’ll go to my Mr. Ruan.”
His Mr. Ruan wasn’t in good condition right now.
Ruan Xian didn’t run into any fatal danger. The huge program monster was slowed down by the various obstacles he created and couldn’t catch up for a while. He didn’t get lost, and he was pretty sure he didn’t miss the exit.
But his state wasn’t right.
Starting from the separation from Luo Jian and the others, his mood started to become clearer, and another feeling gradually grew in the dark. At first, Ruan Xian only regarded it as a side effect of energy loss; an abnormality caused by a little fatigue, but now he couldn’t ignore it anymore, and he began to feel the anger and irritability that had no origin. They were like charcoal stuffed into his head, making it impossible for him to think smoothly.
Making sure that the monster was still at a safe distance, Ruan Xian created another pile of obstacles, stopped, and gasped against the rock wall.
He was becoming upset, losing patience and composure. Judging from the symptoms, it was very likely that it was hormonal abnormality that was man-made. They wouldn’t hurt him, and the S-type Prototype wouldn’t interfere with it. He also didn’t have a cybernetic brain like Tang Yibu that could artificially adjust his hormone levels.
Someone had acted.
If placed in a normal person, these abnormalities may be regarded as part of a stress response in a high-pressure environment, but Ruan Xian had an almost paranoid desire to control his emotions, and he would never let go of such unnatural details.
Gong Siyi was more impatient than he thought.
The other party probably saw that they were in an abnormal state through their heartbeat and brain waves, and easily added firewood to himself, a “novice” with no experience in joint therapy, hoping to provoke a conflict between him and Luo Jian faster.
It wasn’t fatal at the moment, but it had a chemical reaction with his current mental state that made Ruan Xian quite uncomfortable.
The wound on the wrist that wouldn’t heal was illuminated by the text marking the patient’s information, and it became more dazzling in his eyes. Ruan Xian held back the desire to shoot indiscriminately to vent his anger and tried his best to suppress the boiling memories in his mind.
His steps slowed, but the speed of the monster was the same. The sound of rocks cracking behind him was getting closer.
[What are you doing?]
It was a certain winter after he was adopted by Meng Yunlai. A little older, as Meng Yunlai’s assistant in a sense, Ruan Xian, who was free to obtain professional equipment, turned up a scalpel.
He didn’t think too much about it at the time, and now that he thought about it, he didn’t know why he did it—he looked at the falling snow outside the window for a while and tried to cut his wrist with it.
The scalpel was very sharp, but the wound he made wasn’t fatal. He had a good grasp of strength. The pain spread rapidly from the blade of the scalpel, but Ruan Xian didn’t make a sound, and instead watched quietly. Meng Yunlai, who was supposed to be at a meeting, had returned home early, just in time to witness this scene.
She didn’t scream, didn’t rush forward, but just calmly asked that question.
[I don’t know.] Ruan Xian didn’t know his motivation for doing this as he looked at the wound fascinatedly.
At that time, the rotting corpse of his mother had been hanging in his mind for several years. He deduced the scene countless times and looked for a way to break it, but no matter how hard he tried, he could never understand his mother’s way of thinking and emotional expression.
Perhaps like her, if he let the crisis of death get closer, he could grasp more information.
But he knew very well that he was doing this for more reasons than just that. That pain gave him a very wonderful feeling that he couldn’t accurately describe.
[Xianxian, put the knife down.] With the amount of bleeding, Meng Yunlai could naturally see the severity of the wound. She took out the hemostatic spray and gauze for bandages from the medicine cabinet on one side, but her tone was still flat.
She communicated calmly and expressed herself rationally. In addition to that, her superficial role as his grandmother made it much simpler to communicate with his adoptive mother. This way of getting along did make him feel a lot better, but Ruan Xian always felt that something was wrong.
Ruan Xian didn’t answer her this time, nor did he follow her instructions. He slashed his wrist again, and fresh pain swarmed through him.
[Ruan Xian!] Meng Yunlai raised her voice. [I have to submit your guardianship report to the prevention agency at the end of the month, and they will check your body then. If you want to continue, I won’t hide it from them.]
He knew what this meant. He was engaging in B-level risky behavior and would likely be taken away again by the prevention shelter. The blood trickled down his wrist, accumulating into a pool of red puddles on the clean white wooden floor.
[I don’t want to stop, but I don’t know the reason.] Ruan Xian clenched the scalpel tightly.
[You can do it if you don’t let go. According to the current situation, there are still more than ten minutes left before you faint from blood loss.] Meng Yunlai sat down at the table. [I can try and help you analyze this problem.]
Ruan Xian sat still at the other end of the table, as blood kept dripping down, creating a dazzling trail on the floor. After he rested his wrist on the table, the white table was gradually covered with blood, and its smell permeated the air. An old woman and a young man sat staring at each other across the bleeding table with equally expressionless faces. The scene was quite weird for a while.
[Why did you want to do this in the first place?] Meng Yunlai didn’t look at the flowing blood.
[To study the psychological state of my mother killing herself, I created a near-death experience, and tried to collect information.] Ruan Xian answered truthfully.
Meng Yunlai sighed. [Have you ever thought of killing yourself?]
[I don’t think so. I have no reason to kill myself.] Ruan Xian felt the severe pain and cold caused by the wound, but his voice remained calm. [But I also don’t have a special reason to want to live.]
This was quite normal. Life was just a certain form of energy operation, and he currently had no good reason to change it.
Meng Yunlai showed an expression of “sure enough” just as he thought. For some reason, Ruan Xian wanted to add another wound to his wrist.
He knew that she wouldn’t ask him if he wanted to punish himself for his mother’s death, or if he felt sad, because she knew he wouldn’t. His personality tendencies had been tested over and over again, and the data was clearly recorded by the prevention shelter, so she knew what he was.
But he would still feel anger; an unrelenting, pitch-black rage that burned all the time.
[From the perspective of a scholar, you are probably attracted by these fresh experiences and stimuli, which is normal.] Meng Yunlai took off her glasses and pinched the center between her brows. [You can think of it as a kind of curiosity.]
‘That’s not true.’ Ruan Xian thought for a while, but he couldn’t find the answer himself.
[According to our agreement, I will not force you to do anything.] Meng Yunlai lowered her voice, and a little sadness flashed across her taut face. [Let’s put it this way, I have a suggestion you might want to listen to.]
Ruan Xian didn’t miss the flash of emotion on the other party’s face.
[I told you, I don’t want to lie to you. I can’t accept you or love you like an elder. That hasn’t changed, but you… Haven’t done anything wrong.] The elderly Meng Yunlai crossed her fingers. As blood flowed through the sleeves of her expensive coat, she didn’t even look at it. [You haven’t done anything wrong.]
Ruan Xian stared at her quietly.
[I’m getting old, and I don’t think I’ll live long. Ruan Xian, I’m not a selfless benefactor, but I’m not unkind either. In short, you don’t have to pay attention to the rejection and disgust of others. To be honest, if you can keep pretending, I hope you can live well.]
[Live. With your ability, you can always find something interesting. Of course, the result may also be bad, but no one can tell.] Although there was still fear in Meng Yunlai’s eyes, it softened a little. [You’re still young now. No matter how smart you are, experience won’t grow out of thin air. I suggest you disguise yourself well, live as smoothly and low-key as possible, and start collecting information from this perspective.]
She stretched out her hand and picked up the hemostatic spray. [Give me your hand.]
Ruan Xian didn’t respond to her.
[Indeed, I don’t want to give up your talents because of possible risks. You are the most talented child I have ever seen. And with the limitation of the disease in place, you… Forget it.] Meng Yunlai added with a wry smile.
[I won’t live long, so it’s manageable.] Ruan Xian completed her statement for her, and finally stretched out his arm.
[From another perspective, this is a win-win cooperation.] Meng Yunlai did a simple hemostasis for him, and then went to get a powerful wound gel.
Then she hesitated for a while, but still spoke.
[More than that.] She said, [I’m sorry, I can’t accept you from the bottom of my heart, Xianxian.]
[I know, you once told me.]
[No, the point is, I’m really sorry.] She tentatively stretched out her hand, as if trying to rub his hair.
Ruan Xian instinctively leaned forward slightly, but the hand finally fell on his shoulder.
[…I hope you can understand.] She spoke.
But he couldn’t understand.
Ruan Xian complied with the agreement with his adoptive mother, Meng Yunlai, disguised himself, and lived a stable life. Facts have proved that the growth of experience was indeed effective. Having been exposed to enough tragedies, Ruan Xian was finally able to analyze his mother’s collapse and fear from a purely theoretical perspective.
And the reason she chose to die.
But everything just remained from a theoretical point of view, and he still couldn’t find the most suitable solution. New problems also followed. He also failed to figure out the complexity in Meng Yunlai’s expression at the time, nor could he figure out the reason for cutting his wrist in the first place.
Three questions were strung together on cause and effect.
Meng Yunlai had long since passed away, and this scar represented the three most difficult puzzles in his life, and it was also the closest thing to “obsession”.
Ruan Xian himself wasn’t too surprised that this was his appearance in the spiritual world. However, the artificially injected hormone compound caused him to lose control of his emotions, and then pain, doubt, and blood swept over him. The narrow and cramped space intensified the fermentation of his emotions. He was so anxious that he didn’t know what he was anxious about.
His heart was beating furiously, his head became a little dizzy, and his steps started to become unstable.
Ruan Xian simply stopped.
With the program monster chasing after him, he wouldn’t be stupid enough to hurt himself at this time. Even if it was clear that Gong Siyi wouldn’t kill him, Ruan Xian didn’t know how long this abnormal state would last. The emotional effects were particularly serious in the spiritual world. It ate away at his energy, causing his exhaustion to become stronger.
Ruan Xian had never liked to fall into a passive situation, let alone leave his safety completely to luck, betting on whether the program monster would disappear first, or he would run out of strength first. It was better to take advantage of his own state and simply turn it into an offense.
Instead of being dragged down by the abnormal state, it was better to release this hostility in turn.
It was cold here, but the world in his eyes seemed to be burning. The patient’s marked wound began to bleed faster. Ruan Xian’s chest became stuffy, and the faint desire for pain resurfaced.
The collapsed stone was finally cracked open, melting into the vast darkness of the program monster with outstretched claws. The converging light of its eyes tightly locked onto his movements, and it seemed to want to tear him apart from head to toe to analyze him carefully.
Ruan Xian ignored the roaring darkness on the opposite side. He let go of his thoughts and focused all his energy on observing the monster.
He no longer suppressed his emotions, and he saw his anger.
Black flames rolled over his skin, burning the original intact skin to patches. Under the burnt skin, disgusting scales were revealed, somewhat resembling some kind of snake.
Perhaps this was what had been imprisoned deep in his heart that he took all this trouble to hide.
Ruan Xian didn’t care about it this time. He let his anger turn into destructive desire and murderous intent as blood bullets poured towards the huge program monster. He put defense on the back burner and was badly scratched by the monstrous claws. The skin that had been burned out of shape cracked into a larger wound.
Unprecedented pain exploded outwards from the inside of his skull.
‘He won’t die here,’ he thought. As long as he had this thought, he wouldn’t die. Now this wasn’t a desire to live, but more like a recognition of his curse.
No need to worry about it.
He only needed to be concerned about his opponent’s movement patterns, find out the weaknesses of the program’s operation, and break it. However, taking most of his attention away from defense had its price—the monster was also staring at him and had managed to pierce his shoulder with its claws.
It was getting colder all around. The pain gradually became unbearable until he dropped the lantern to the side, which illuminated his hands. There was only blood, burnt skin, and weird scales on it.
At most, he was mentally distorted and had fallen into madness, but he wouldn’t die.
Ruan Xian held his breath and broke free of the claws. The opponent’s mode of operation was becoming more obvious. Not only could he defeat it, but he could also completely destroy it. As for what the effects of this emotional outburst would be after the hormones faded, he didn’t bother to think about it.
This was the scene he was used to, struggling alone in the dark, as it always had been. However, some of his skin was still mottled as some pale skin stubbornly refused to turn into scales.
Ruan Xian didn’t know what he was struggling with. He didn’t really care about the opinions of others, and now he didn’t need to pretend to survive—he had been pretending for too long that he had lost most of his interest in his true self. It was enough to accept negative definitions smoothly and live as himself.
There was nothing wrong with being a demon. It didn’t matter if he became a real lunatic.
‘Perhaps the question he had been pursuing wasn’t that important,’ Ruan Xian thought in a daze. Besides, he just gave himself an answer. What he had done so far wasn’t much different from a game. There wasn’t anything he had to do anyway…
An inexplicable thought suddenly hit him.
He still owed the android a date.
Comically, that trivial thought stopped him for a moment. The anger was like ice that touched a soldering iron and immediately hissed and part of it melted. He didn’t know why, but every time he thought of Tang Yibu’s extraordinary, innocent face, he couldn’t help but want to laugh.
Those unsightly scales began to slowly disappear, and the heat and madness that almost burned his brain began to fade. Ruan Xian held the blood gun firmly in his hand, intending to continue to deal with the situation in front of him, when another cracking sound came from above his head…
The next moment, a strange object slammed into him. It looked like a teenager, wearing a hood decorated with animal ears. His face was facing the ground.
Ruan Xian’s movements stopped for half a second.
The young man struggled on the ground a few times before jumping up lightly. He pulled down the ugly knitted scarf, tore off the fleeced hood, and finally wiped the dirt off his face.
Tang Yibu’s trumpet* smiled brightly as he stretched out a hand towards him.
*Buzzword for alt account. || In this context, it’s basically saying his alternative form.
“I’m here to see you.”
Oh my Jesus, this chapter was hella long. It’s basically like 8 normal chapters combined. Just a note: “spiritual/mental world” all refers to the same thing. It’s the world created in the mind/memories of Luo Jian.
I really want a fanart of Tang Yibu in kid form with the animal ear hoodie. So cute!