Author: 年终 / Nian Zhong
Translator: Kinky || https://kinkytranslations.com/
Chapter 181: Subject
Tang Yibu fell into a brief state of confusion.
He curled up his legs, bent his spine, and squeezed into the space connected by the seat. His head was pressed against Ruan Xian’s thigh, and although his posture wasn’t stretched, it wasn’t uncomfortable.
After making sure that he did not continue to cry, Ruan Xian took away the hand covering his eyes. At this moment, after rotating ninety degrees, only the back of the front passenger seat was in front of him. There were many scratches and mud spots in the thick transparent partition. Tang Yibu counted them one by one, even though he could easily capture the exact number with a glance.
His eyes were a little dry and painful. Reality was still rumbling forward outside the track.
Tang Yibu thought that his father would agree with him decisively on this matter, but all he got was silence and blankness. At the same time, he was also experiencing a strange situation—his tear ducts began to secrete tears on their own, and it couldn’t be stopped, as if the relevant nerves were out of control.
He wasn’t happy.
Since meeting Ruan Xian, Tang Yibu’s every move had been carefully thought out and pressed. At the beginning, he did have the intention of seducing Ruan Xian. After all, an emotional connection could make their cooperative relationship more stable. Tang Yibu could see the emotional void and emptiness of the other party. He had always been good at seizing any opportunity he could.
Then he became interested in this person.
At first, it was just a little spark, but then it turned into a vigorous fire. This interest began to feel like a faintly burning fire, but he was willing to risk his life for fresh data.
Those kisses and hugs could give him pleasure, but this was likely the credit of his human body. Besides, it was beneficial for one’s health to stay in a good mood. Tang Yibu could also see the sobriety of the other party—his Mr. Ruan wasn’t bewitched by him. That person’s feelings were cold and selfish, and they maintained a perfect relationship by taking what they wanted. It wasn’t bad to continue like this.
However, before confirming Ruan Xian’s identity, his interest still showed a tendency to lose control. It grew bigger, like a snowball, and finally turned into complete possessiveness. At the same time, he began to care too much about the other party’s mood and his own image.
After confirming the identity of the other party, all the complicated emotions that had been messed up were completely broken. He just cut through the mess quickly and made the most reasonable decision.
Tang Yibu had seen enough cases and had also asked people like Yu Le for examples. Possessiveness, dependence, carnal desires, body impulsivity, hormonal index abnormalities… Even if these factors were all mixed together, they couldn’t be determined as “love”.
Ruan Xian was just the human being he was most interested in and most obsessed with. He originally thought so.
There was no missing data, no errors in logic, and everything was in order, just like fuel would burn out and the flames would be extinguished, or the tide would recede, revealing the stones on the beach.
Perhaps it was precisely because the spark disappeared, the ocean retreated, that other things were exposed from the smoke and sand…
He couldn’t describe it accurately. Those unknowns weren’t conspicuous, but the sense of their existence was extremely strong, like the corners of an empty house covered with cobwebs.
Tang Yibu only knew that he was extremely unhappy and couldn’t even explain the unhappiness. There was no data in his database that could be used for reference, and it made him feel real fear.
He stretched out his hand and tentatively touched Ruan Xian’s knee, pretending to adjust his sleeping position. The sea water rattled outside the window. Yu Le removed the sound insulation layer between the seats. For a while, there was only the sound of people breathing in the car.
Why don’t you agree with me, father?
The complicated feelings that they wanted to kill each other that night reappeared. Tang Yibu wanted to ask these words, but he didn’t have the strength to open his mouth, so he had to close his dry and painful eyes and use light sleep to stabilize his emotional state.
Ruan Xian was right. He had just recovered from a serious injury and all kinds of hormones in his body were still unbalanced. Besides, his father took the initiative to expose himself to the Mainbrain, so it stood to reason he wouldn’t leave him immediately. He still had a lot of time.
He just needed a ten-minute nap.
However, Tang Yibu slept very heavily, and he didn’t wake up until the car touched the shore. The dryness of his eyes became more obvious, and he didn’t like that feeling at all.
Tang Yibu habitually looked at Ruan Xian, but the latter didn’t respond to his gaze as usual. Ruan Xian was frowning in a daze; his gaze was locked on π who was sleeping under his seat.
Tang Yibu suddenly felt unhappy, like there was a lump stuck in his throat.
Without the guidance of Professor Ruan, Yu Le consciously took the steering wheel and turned the car towards the stone-walled cave facing the sea. The rear of the car spewed out a messy stream of steam, covering up the traces of the ruts with debris and dust.
White buildings could be seen in the distance, looking quite dazzling in the sun. There was a little shadow of the dead wall on the horizon that he wondered if it was an illusion caused by fatigue.
“Looking at the performance of the two of you just now, if I understand correctly… We will still act together next.” Professor Ruan’s three-legged robot jumped on the back of the chair, ignoring the weird atmosphere between the two. “Mr. Yu, Miss Ji. If you want to quit, now is the best time.”
“That’s that. The two behind have no problem?”
“Most of the information has been given to the Mainbrain. If the two of you move about freely, there will be a natural risk of being discovered by the Order Supervisors and having your head taken for brain analysis. However, risk is risk. It’s smaller to act with us. Both of you are experienced, so you should know how to hide.”
“Ha.” Yu Le gave a dry huff and rubbed the steering wheel. “You didn’t answer my question. I could tell that’s not what Xiao Tang thinks.”
Tang Yibu stared at Yu Le solemnly, without the slightest embarrassment of being named.
“Let’s make a deal. I’ll go with you. Such an exciting opportunity to fight for a bike to turn it into a motorcycle doesn’t happen in a few lifetimes. Laozi’s life was originally given back by Xiao Tang and them, so I won’t suffer any losses if I lose it now.” Yu Le took out his handmade cigarette and stuffed it into his mouth but didn’t light it. “My car and supplies are convenient, right? The price is also affordable, so let this little girl go.”
Tang Yibu raised his eyebrows.
“I’m not young anymore. I was originally a fucking death row prisoner. I’m just a rotten soul before being sentenced to death. Ji Xiaoman is still young and doesn’t understand anything. She just wants to save her mother.”
Yu Le thought for a while, then squeezed the unlit cigarette back into his hand. “It’s not good for her to wade in this muddy water. Let her go?”
Ji Xiaoman clenched her metal fingers and sat quietly in her seat.
Tang Yibu began to recall every moment of getting along with Ji Xiaoman, so as to confirm whether the girl had been exposed to any information that should not be exposed to—thinking like this, compared to Yu Le, Ji Xiaoman was indeed freer from it than him. She joined later, and she didn’t intervene much in their specific actions in the Glass Conservatory. Although the events of the Underground City would more or less reveal some resilience-related information, the degree of exposure wasn’t serious and shouldn’t attract the attention of the Mainbrain.
Yu Le’s negotiating conditions weren’t just on a whim. The leader of the ruins pirates obviously had thought things through.
“I’m not leaving,” Ji Xiaoman said in a low voice, touching the prosthetic limb of her left arm that was wrapped in her sleeve, as if to confirm something.
“Little profiteer, don’t you want to save your mother?” Yu Le clicked his tongue.
“No, I don’t trust him.” Ji Xiaoman knelt on one knee in the car seat, straightened her waist, and looked over the back of the chair at Professor Ruan. “Tang Yibu and Ruan Li… Mr. Ruan aren’t the type to casually agree to cooperate. Looking at their attitude, they are more likely being forced to act with him. When we were in the forest, we were also at risk of being seriously injured by an attack. Lao Yu, weren’t you hurt?”
“That’s just a bullshit injury…” Yu Le glanced at his leg. As soon as he muttered, he was interrupted by Ji Xiaoman’s fierce gaze.
“I’ve seen a lot of people in the Underground City, so I can read people.” Ji Xiaoman took a few deep breaths and continued. “At present, I don’t trust Ruan Xian… Professor Ruan.”
She didn’t say this very confidently. Although Professor Ruan’s three-legged little machine had no eyes, Ji Xiaoman still had no intention of “looking” at it.
“I don’t like Su Zhao and Kang Ziyan very much, and I don’t think they are good people, but they were indeed involved in this matter because of him. Whether they were androids or clones, Professor Ruan didn’t seem to mind that they died in the incident at all. Yu Le, you know my mother’s situation. I don’t have the courage to believe that such a person will care about her. What’s more, he has no obligation to help me at all.”
“There is nothing that’s free that’s good in this world. At least I haven’t seen it.” Her voice trembled a bit. “I don’t believe in him. I only believe in transactions… I’m not leaving. I want him to owe me.”
Yu Le sighed silently while Professor Ruan didn’t answer.
“That’s all.” After holding back these words, Ji Xiaoman turned around decisively. It seemed as if she hadn’t come out of the effects of her broken impression. Her lips were pale and bloodied, and her eyes were red.
“Then it’s settled.” Regardless, this decision wouldn’t make him suffer, so Tang Yibu didn’t want to spend too much time on this matter. He glanced at Ruan Xian, who was still stubbornly staring at π.
The feeling of being choked by something became more obvious.
“Your plan.” Ruan Xian spoke while looking at π.
“Gwah?” The iron bead barked sleepily.
“Go west first. Pass through the city of the Mainbrain and avoid the limelight for a few days.” Professor Ruan reacted quickly as he replied in a calm tone.
“Plan,” Ruan Xian repeated.
“A reluctance to cooperate isn’t good for anyone,” Professor Ruan replied calmly, as if he was practicing Tai Chi. “Your mood isn’t good, so now isn’t the time to discuss. Regardless of whether we will cooperate in the end or not, it’s always a good idea to hide for a few days. It’s not bad to let you see the world of the Mainbrain.”
“What if I think it isn’t bad?”
“I don’t think the maker of NUL-00 would agree with that approach.”
Tang Yibu looked around at both sides of the conversation and stuck to Ruan Xian’s side.. He habitually wanted to hold Ruan Xian’s hand and realized that he had just declared that he wanted to return to another mode of getting along. Tang Yibu uttered a half-hearted cry alone as he held his two hands together while his arms were hanging awkwardly in front of him.
Ruan Xian didn’t answer again. He was mute for a while before he finally turned his head and smiled kindly at Tang Yibu—that smile was no different than from twelve years ago.
Tang Yibu thought this may be a signal of reconciliation, but he felt that there was something missing between them. Something he couldn’t put his finger on; like a toothache, where the tooth seemed “non-existent” when it was healthy, and after it started to ache, he began to realize the weight of the “non-existent”.
He twitched his nose and didn’t even manage to squeeze out a fake smile.
Although Ruan Xian once told him “don’t be afraid”, this feeling of incomprehensible logic made him more and more afraid.
“Our thoughts are basically the same. Where are we going?” Yu Le solved the problem. “I’m not saying that this car is definitely targeted. It wasn’t as chaotic as the Underground City. We’ll be discovered as soon as we hit the road.”
“Transportation is necessary. The risk of borrowing transportation equipment in the city is too high, and walking is too slow. As long as it is properly controlled, perceptual camouflage can barely be usable. Just plan your time wisely and allow a chance for me to recover my energy.”
“I see. Like the feeling of being forced to jump through rings of fire,” Yu Le murmured.
“It’s best to take the opportunity to replenish the supplies in the car,” Professor Ruan continued. “I have been dealing with MUL-01 for many years, so I still have a lot of experience. Don’t worry. But regarding the city of the Mainbrain, I have to give you a precaution—don’t talk to anyone.”
“What the hell?!” Yu Le sighed.
Not only was Yu Le taken aback this time, but Ruan Xian also frowned.
“Any unnecessary communication with residents will attract the attention of the Mainbrain. There are some words you must remember and not say out loud when communicating with each other when people can hear them.”
“I’m curious.” Tang Yibu scraped the dim and damp rock walls around him with his eyes, and finally found a target to divert his attention.
“Please also explain the reason. It’s not like we haven’t spent time in the Glass Conservatory—” Ji Xiaoman was more careful with her wording.
“It’s completely different from the Glass Conservatory. After all, a petri dish is a place to ‘cultivate and observe possibilities’. Since you have been there, you must know that the rules of the Glass Conservatory aren’t without loopholes. It leaves room for people to make mistakes.”
“…That also leaves room for mistakes?” Yu Le almost squished the cigarette he was playing with in his hand.
“Yes. It just so happens that we have plenty of time, so I’ll explain.”
Professor Ruan’s three-legged robot struggled to climb over the row where Ruan Xian and Tang Yibu were sitting and stopped at the top of the backrest of the driver’s seat. Seeing the three-legged mechanical metal feet pass in front of it, π swallowed loudly and held back from opening its mouth.
“We’ve all thought about it more or less, right? What would happen if a certain conversation or a certain meeting could be repeated. Or to be more detailed, what happens if you can start over every day… Archive before major options, and once something goes wrong, go back to the point in time before the decision. This approach has always been popular.”
Yu Le’s expression was a little stiff, and the careless smile on his face disappeared.
“No one can do that in reality.” His voice is a bit hoarse.
“In the city of the Mainbrain, everyone lives like that.” Professor Ruan’s tone slowed down. “As long as there is enough data and the right influence is exerted, all events—whether fixed or occasional—can be calculated. From large life decisions to meals eaten in the day, the human subconscious is actually very easy to manipulate and influence.”
“But what does this have to do with archiving…?” Ji Xiaoman murmured.
“Unlike the Glass Conservatory, everyone in the Mainbrain’s city is equipped with brain-assisted machinery. To put it simply, it is tantamount to adding an expanded cybernetic brain to the brain. The Mainbrain will use people’s sleep time to make them dream of “tomorrow” over and over again and monitor the ups and downs of their emotional values.”
Tang Yibu reacted quickly.
Indeed, if you have enough data and the external stimulation given by the cybernetic brain, everything could be simulated—tomorrow’s temperature and humidity, who you would encounter tomorrow, what would happen, and what kind of butterfly effect would occur between people.
As long as the Mainbrain thought about it, it could even precisely control what a person saw in a certain period of time. All the pushed information had been carefully selected, and all hormone indexes were closely monitored and recorded.
“With the help of the auxiliary cybernetic brain, people can dream of ‘tomorrow’ hundreds of millions of times. They share the same dream, and even changes in the choices of others will be counted. After waking up the next day, they would not remember anything except the faint impression in their subconscious. But these refined and filtered subconscious minds are enough for them to have a perfect day.”
The three-legged little machine let out a few not-so-mechanical bitter laughs.
“Of course, the interests of people can’t be exactly the same, so the Mainbrain will choose the most suitable plan. For those whose interests are compromised, temporary personality adjustments are possible… Simply put, under sufficient hormonal stimulation, they will become optimistic and generous, less concerned about gains and losses, and still be able to have a good mood all day long.”
“There is no regret in that city,” he concluded.
“What about those ‘abnormal people’?” Ruan Xian questioned. “Even if the calculations are sufficient, I don’t think everyone can be pleased.”
The premise of the establishment of this set of rules was that everyone knew respect and etiquette and had a considerable sense of morality. Otherwise, irreconcilable arguments would always exist.
“The personality of a ‘black sheep’ will be corrected, irreversibly, until he or she understands the so-called enjoyment of life.” Professor Ruan sneered. “To the Mainbrain, this is the society of ‘total happiness’.”
All the regrets and mistakes that hurt one’s heart no longer existed, and all hidden talents would shine. Every encounter and parting were the most complete state. The combination of the words abnormal would only exist in history. Everyone had been calculated and cared for every day to choose the “best” possibility.
In a sense, this could also be called an ideal country, and they were more like villains who wanted to destroy this dream.
Ruan Xian took a few deep breaths, didn’t look at the expressions of other people, and continued stubbornly, “I think everyone knows enough. Now let’s talk about the words that cannot be spoken.”
“Let me give you an example, the Rebel Army, Ruan Xian, and Professor Ruan. These three words cannot be mentioned or written.”
“As I said just now, everyone’s brains are externally connected to cybernetic brains. They are equipped with… Well, just treat them as if they are equipped with a virus.”
Professor Ruan, who no longer even had a throat, cleared his throat.
“If a specific word is heard, seen, or touched a fixed number of times, the cybernetic brain will recognize the brain receiving the signal as an enemy and perform electric shock damage. In contrast, the degree of freedom of the Glass Conservatory can be said to be quite high.”
“Wait.” Yu Le opened his mouth with difficulty. “In other words, if I shout ‘Professor Ruan’ in the street, it can cause people to die, right?”
“The buffering time is enough. Generally speaking, they will usually shut down their hearing when they hear it for the first time, and then quickly go to the relevant institutions to erase their memories and reset it. Before the cybernetic brain destroys the brain, there will be a fairly intense warning that could wake people in a coma.”
Yu Le: “…They don’t know you…”
“Well, I don’t know. After all, only the Order Supervisors are free from restraints. That is the most difficult place for rebels to penetrate. Fortunately, the Mainbrain is still optimizing the social structure based on the petri dishes, so there are not many cities in it.”
“We… We can’t talk to them, because in the calculations of the Mainbrain, we’re non-existent variables, right? Once a person’s trajectory of action is abnormal…”
“It only takes up to two seconds to infer the center of the butterfly effect.” The three-legged machine nodded.
“It’s over.” Yu Le banged his forehead on the steering wheel. “I shouldn’t have disliked the Underground City. This whole fucking way, one place is more perverted than the other. Now we can’t be the Red Ghost anymore. Red is too dazzling.”
“…The concept still has merit,” Ruan Xian said softly.
Professor Ruan’s three-legged machinery suddenly turned its head towards Ruan Xian, and a large string of bubbles appeared in the glass trough of the enlarged brain.
“Just saying. Don’t mind.” Noticing Professor Ruan’s vigilance, Ruan Xian reluctantly smiled.
“Seeing is believing. You can see it for yourself.” After a moment of silence, Professor Ruan’s voice became a little stiff. “I’m going to rest. After all, I have to maintain the camouflage for a while. When the sun sets, Mr. Yu, please move towards the west first.”
“Oh,” Yu Le responded dryly.
“What do you think?” Ruan Xian hugged π in his arms and turned to Tang Yibu again.
Tang Yibu, who was still bored, reacted half a beat slower, “…?”
“The ideal country for the Mainbrain,” Ruan Xian added patiently.
“…Theoretically there seems to be no problem…” Tang Yibu thought there was no problem with the logic. From the perspective of a manager, it was difficult for him to come up with a more appropriate management method. It was like the situation he was facing now. Logically, he couldn’t pick faults, but his nerves were just roaring that it wasn’t right to the point where it made his head hurt. “But… But, um, let me think about it again.”
He lowered his shoulders, a little aggrieved.
“It’s good to have a ‘but’.” Ruan Xian’s hand on the shell of the iron bead tightened. “The subject continues.”
When he said this, Ruan Xian took his gaze back again. Tang Yibu simply turned his gaze and looked at the white city gleaming in the distance.
Time seemed to have gone back to twelve years ago, their last meeting before the long parting.
[Today’s topic is a bit complicated.] Ruan Xian, who was dying in a wheelchair, said.
Tang Yibu, who was still NUL-00 at the time, felt good. In every previous topic, he gave a sufficiently detailed and convincing answer. He had just completed a comprehensive analysis of human emotions, and his confidence had never been higher.
He even gave a perfect and comprehensive answer to the most complex “love”.
From normal to distorted, from common to rare. His report almost exploded the capacity of the electronic paper. Ruan Xian read it for a full week before finishing it, and he was unable to make any amendments.
If he had a nose at the time, he would not mind cocking it high.
However, on that day, Tang Yibu ushered in that nightmarish subject. To this day, he still wasn’t able to give an exact answer.
[The main question of the topic is just one sentence, NUL-00.]
[How do you define “harm” to humans?]
The author has something to say:
The relationship between Tang and Ruan is too complicated, and it must be peeled off layer by layer (?) To find love XDDD
The subject that Tang has is not love. I wonder how many people guessed love (^ρ^)/