Author: 年终 / Nian Zhong
Translator: Kinky || https://kinkytranslations.com/
Chapter 157: A Dream Within a Dream
The carnival of colors finally stabilized. The armored off-roader a few steps away was gone. The iron bead was still trying to bite Tang Yibu’s heel. Under their feet was no longer wet grass, but cold and hard masonry. The building had fallen into disrepair, and a sapling had even sprouted from a crack in the floor not far away.
The arc cage that was originally used to restrain the four people was ineffective. The small machinery used to build the cage fell to the ground, full of rust marks. Tang Yibu was the first to stand up. He quickly untied the rope around Ruan Xian’s body, then quickly removed the shackles on Yu Le and Ji Xiaoman’s wrists.
“Xiao Tang, explain.” Yu Le rubbed his wrists and squinted at the young couple not far away—they each took a can of canned peaches and were talking and laughing, as if they didn’t care about the sudden change in the environment.
He looked around again and found no trace of the two children anywhere. “…What kind of loophole are those two children?”
Tang Yibu touched his chin and pondered for a while, then picked an easy-to-explain statement. “You should have heard of ‘a dream within a dream*’.”
*Known as a false awakening, it’s a vivid and convincing dream about awakening from sleep, while the dreamer in reality continues to sleep. Basically, you’re still dreaming but you don’t realize it, and you continue your day as if you’re really awake.
Yu Le and Ji Xiaoman nodded.
“The situation on this island is very similar to a dream. The essence is to direct information to the brain to induce perception. If human sober perception is defined as reality, then the world after being disturbed by perception isn’t very different from the joint dream world. There are also differences—dreamers don’t need to move, and the environment we live in is more like the real world covered by dreams. The body still needs to move normally.”
Yu Le obviously understood this time. He frowned and said nothing.
“But someone has added another layer of perceptual interference between ‘reality’ and ‘dreamland’.” Tang Yibu gestured. “The method of the cellphone observation isn’t invalid, but the opponent’s observation and computing power are more powerful. The observer can adjust according to the angle, movement, and filter of the cellphone, then calculate the display result in real time.”
In this way, the illusion could be shaped seamlessly. Even with the computing power as strong as himself or Mr. Ruan, it was difficult to find the flaws all at once.
Ji Xiaoman nodded. “In other words… Since the two children got in the car, what we saw on the phone wasn’t the real situation.”
“Is it like a wall with two layers of wallpaper?” Yu Le clicked his tongue. “We thought we could see the wall by tearing off the wallpaper, but some fucker added another layer of wallpaper underneath. Is that what you mean?”
The captain of the ruins pirate pondered for a while, and then began to feel something was wrong. “This isn’t right! You might as well say that he, like everyone else on this island, directly screwed with our brains… Why is it divided into two layers? Why make things so complicated when the result is the same?”
“Both of you are only partially right.”
Tang Yibu shook his head, lightly nodding his chin with his fingers.
“First, from the moment we set foot on this island, everything we saw wasn’t the real situation, including what was displayed on the cellphone. Second, Yu Ge’s analogy about wallpaper is very appropriate, but the wallpaper in between is not for us. It has probably existed for a long time… At least several years.”
“Unreasonable.” Ji Xiaoman immediately questioned. “The person who’s observing needs to know the details of the car, and if this interference is aimed at the whole island, the mental strength of normal people won’t be able to sustain it at all… This is simply… No, wait…”
She began to realize the horror of this incident.
This island was originally closed, and the environment had been shaped by a collection of perceptions of its inhabitants. Few people could realize that the world they were in wasn’t actually reality. There were many clever people who could see through the truth of the so-called ability to “interfere with reality”. They knew that their brains were being affected by machinery, and even found a way to break through, thinking they had woken up from a nightmare…
But what was waiting for them was just a second “dream” that had been tampered with by someone.
Ji Xiaoman still wanted to refute it, but the more she thought about it, the more reasonable this theory became—normal people could only affect the perception of a few people, and as a product of common perception, nightmarish scenes would only appear in densely populated areas such as camps.
To extend Yu Le’s metaphor about wallpaper, the “nightmare wallpaper” that covered reality was originally riddled with holes.
This island wasn’t small. There was a large area of forest between the management area and the dense camp full of dangerous mechanical creatures. It was difficult for the same person to walk the same path twice, let alone establish a collective awareness of a fixed location.
If there was really such a person, their brain function was powerful enough to cover the entire island with perceptual interference, and it could arbitrarily shape a similar “blank area” to mislead and control everyone who came here. This would undoubtedly be able to perfectly control the situation, as well as…. Hide themselves.
Did Ruan Xian do it? Ji Xiaoman slowly clenched her fists.
“This is too bullshit,” Yu Le murmured, but didn’t question further. After getting along for so many days, Ji Xiaoman could tell—Yu Le didn’t know much about highly sophisticated technology, but his senses were extremely sensitive in terms of the overall situation and strategy. It seemed that he had also found something fishy.
“No matter where I go, I always have the feeling of ‘being watched’. Yu Ge, as a veteran ruins pirate, you may also notice that the feeling that your route and time of travel are artificially manipulated. On the other hand, you happened to rescue two children who were the loophole, while we happened to meet two people with the same name, which really made me sure of my guess.”
Xiao Zhao and Kang Ge in the distance were still eating canned food seriously, looking completely uninterested in their conversation.
“After all, if they just wanted to simply interfere with us, they didn’t need to suppress our memories in the first place.”
Tang Yibu retracted his gaze, and there was a suspicious coyness in his explanatory tone.
“Even if the person on the opposite side is strong, there’s a limited physical range that he can affect. So in the process of approaching this island, if our people are keen enough, we can still detect subtleties… That’s why the other party specifically did something about our recent memories.”
“Miss Ji’s statement is also correct. It’s difficult for human brain function to do this step. I’m leaning towards the other party having some kind of self-made machine for assistance. Thinking about it like this, it’s clear that the structure of the car is also normal—in addition to the monitoring of the Mainbrain on the island, that person should also have a lot of surveillance machines. As our key observation object, most likely the car has already been thoroughly scanned.”
In order to ensure the visual effect, the Android Show would broadcast the results of visual-related perceptual interference, so no one could find the surveillance machine hidden under the first layer of wallpaper that belonged to Professor Ruan.
Professor Ruan didn’t just hide here; he built a fortress of perception here.
Combined with the strict security in the management area, things were getting more and more interesting—Professor Ruan’s demand for security had far exceeded the level of “hiding a team of people”. Their opponent’s plan was probably much more complicated.
“In theory… It makes sense.” Ji Xiaoman rubbed her temples. “But why are they targeting us?”
“It’s my problem.” Tang Yibu closed the smile on his face. “…You can understand this as some kind of test.”
If they failed to figure this out, most likely they would keep going in circles on the first layer of wallpaper and would never find Professor Ruan.
“I don’t care about these things.” Yu Le shook his head. “About that loophole—”
[Yibu, give me a hand.] Ruan Xian, who was pretending to be unconscious on the ground, finally “woke up”. He smiled softly at Tang Yibu, extended his hand, and motioned for the other party to pull him up.
[Those two people are planning to come over.] The moment Tang Yibu’s hand came, Ruan Xian once again passed a message. [Start the plan?]
[Okay.] Tang Yibu’s fingertips wrote on the back of his hand.
Yu Le took a deep breath, rolled his eyes, and was about to start asking questions when Tang Yibu made that weak and pitiful appearance again. “Yu Ge, Xiao Ruan just woke up. Can I explain the loophole later? I said everything I should say. For the sake of my good technical analysis, don’t be too harsh on Xiao Ruan—even if he can’t speak, it won’t affect anything here. I know Miss Ji is very good at fighting, but one more combatant is still a plus.”
Looking at the other party’s moistened eyes again, Yu Le let out a silent curse in his heart, and he used his professionalism to suppress the shiver that almost leaked out. Ji Xiaoman looked at the sky, pretending as if she hadn’t heard anything.
Although his inner feelings were in turmoil, Yu Le still reacted to the other party’s demand. Tang Yibu didn’t want to expose his strength, while Ruan Lijie was playing a mute. Although he didn’t know what these two bastards wanted to do, Yu Le wouldn’t dismantle his own companions in this suspicious environment.
“All right,” he said in a vicious voice. “Leave this shithole first, and I’ll listen to your explanation later.”
“Xiao Tang, is this what you call confrontation?” Xiao Zhao finished eating the canned food and casually threw the metal can away. π, who was gnawing on his heels just now, rushed out like a cannonball towards the can that flew out. “The car is gone… Oh, this is a map change. Is this the administrator’s castle? How awesome! Kang Ge and I have never found this place before! But this place looks a little familiar—”
“What a mess.” Those two children were obviously normal, but no matter how he looked at it, these two adults were lunatics. This time Yu Le’s tone was truly not good.
However, as soon as his voice fell, the originally hard floor seemed to have turned into a swamp, and the stone slab twisted grotesquely. A large mechanical life surfaced from the floor. Unlike what they had seen before, those mechanical legs were wrapped with skin belonging to humans and had a healthy, yet creepy, yellow-pink color.
As soon as it appeared, it rushed towards Xiao Zhao, who twisted her body and dexterously avoided it.
“I recognize this!” She said happily. “Didn’t we kill this thing?”
“It was Struggler’s original showstopper.” Tang Yibu took two steps back. “Memory extraction… Things are getting troublesome.”
“You said, as long as you don’t believe it, you won’t be hurt.” Yu Le swallowed. “And π is here too. illusion can’t fool it—”
“Since it was let in, the other party must have patched up the perception interference specifically for it. This also means disbelief won’t work. I’m afraid that something familiar to everyone will appear next, so it’s better to avoid it as much as possible.” Faced with something they were familiar with; it was difficult for people to be unaffected.
Considering that they had never seen this thing, the current objects of memory extraction should be Xiao Zhao and Kang Ge. No wonder Professor Ruan wanted to involve these two people as well. Tang Yibu grabbed Mr. Ruan’s wrist and brought the other person to his side.
The brains of Mr. Ruan, Ji Xiaoman, and Yu Le were different from his own, as they retained their biological structure, while he had a true cybernetic brain. If the other party was indeed his own maker, it was also feasible to steal his own memories. Going forward, he must maintain greater vigilance.
However, Tang Yibu almost forgot that there was still someone present who didn’t have much brains—
The iron bead gave a cheerful cry, opened its modified mouth, and pounced with a bit of showmanship.
Yu Le: “……”
Tang Yibu: “…What’s going on?”
Ji Xiaoman shook her head slowly. “It was like this when it came to us. Didn’t you guys instruct it to?”
“No, it ran away halfway, and we didn’t transform it,” Tang Yibu said in a low voice, staring at the deformed shell of the iron bead that was cracking along the gap, and the mouth that had expanded several times. “I didn’t know it was with you.”
Suddenly, there was more grip in his hand. Tang Yibu turned his head and looked at Mr. Ruan, who was holding his fingers tightly with his backhand—the other party squinted at the iron bead, with a more thoughtful expression on his face.
[Bring Ji Xiaoman’s parts package.] The other party’s message came again. [We just got a better chance of winning.]
The author has something to say:
Tang: From now on, be careful and execute the plan carefully.
Iron bead: Gwah—(Attack—)
For those who are confused, basically this island has three perceptual worlds. Using the analogy provided, the “wall” is the real world. Over it is the “wallpaper”, which is the perception world that the inhabitants of the island create for the Android Show. What Tang Yibu’s party didn’t realize is that underneath this wallpaper is another “wallpaper”, which is Professor Ruan’s perception.
This is why the title is called “A Dream Within a Dream”. They thought they had “woken up” from the dream (Mainbrain’s wallpaper), but in fact they were still dreaming (fell into Professor Ruan’s wallpaper).
The reason why their cellphone didn’t reveal this is because while the cellphone broke through the Mainbrain’s wallpaper, Professor Ruan’s wallpaper had already affected them the moment they stepped onto the island. So what the cellphone was showing them wasn’t actual reality, but what Professor Ruan wanted them to see (making them think they were seeing reality).
As for how Professor Ruan was able to create such a powerful perception wallpaper (no matter how strong his mental strength is, it can’t be that powerful), Tang Yibu infers that he has help from high-processing power machines (though we’ll have to see what it really is in later chapters once everything is revealed).
You’re welcome to join the Discord channel to talk about it if you’re still confuse or want to discuss your theories.