Author: 年终 / Nian Zhong
Translator: Kinky || https://kinkytranslations.com/
Chapter 182: The Real Ghost
Unlike petri dishes, the city of the Mainbrain had no border walls. The greenery around the urban area was very well done, and the houses on the outskirts of the city were also exquisite and unusual, without the slightest trace of roughness.
There were almost no moving cars on the road, as most of the vehicles were gliding in the air. The armored off-roader sped on the flat road silently. Probably because he was dissatisfied with the weird and stiff atmosphere in the car, Yu Le turned on the stereo, filling the car with an ambiguous and harsh third-rate song.
Ji Xiaoman vigorously pulled out the parts box from under the seat and began to feed π. The iron bead’s interest was higher than everyone in the car combined. It chewed the parts loudly, as if enjoying crispy fried beans. The sound of crunching was mixed with explicit lyrics, which made the original strange atmosphere weird again.
After completing his instructions, Professor Ruan jumped back to the last row by himself, continued to wrap himself in light screens, and hid the car in perceptual camouflage.
“I’m suffocating,” Yu Le said, among the series of shrill female voices. “Tu Rui isn’t even this boring when he’s angry and he’s the most rigid person I’ve seen in my life. I don’t have the feeling of starting any great revolution. The feeling now is more like we’re transporting corpses.”
As he spoke, he glanced at Tang Yibu and Ruan Xian, who were holding their arms in a similar posture. “Especially you two. Xiao Tang, aren’t you quite able to babble nonsense? Why haven’t you said a word?”
Tang Yibu took two breaths and loosened his arms that were crossed around his chest. He took out a bag of preserved fruit from the small freezer on the side and began to stuff it into his mouth as if to vent his anger.
“Just a little emotional problem. Don’t mind,” Ruan Xian said. “Where are we about now?”
“It’s heading northwest.” Yu Le glanced at the light screen next to the driver’s seat. “It’s kind of going back—isn’t the Underground City southeast of the Sea of Ruins? The Glass Conservatory is almost to the east of the Underground City. After we left the Glass Conservatory, we went south. The city of the Mainbrain is located between the coast and the dead wall of the petri dishes.”
The former great ruins pirate was sensitive to direction, so he gestured at the light screen for a moment.
“Now that you have passed the pile of cliffs, do you see the black line on the horizon? That must be the dead wall of the Glass Conservatory. It’s estimated that when we bypass the city, the wall will belong to the Underground City, but if you continue on, you won’t be able to come back to the Sea of Ruins…”
“Going further is an uninhabited forest reserve with mountains. After crossing the mountain, you have to go a little bit north, so that you are closest to the Petri Dish 1036.” Tang Yibu spoke as his mouth was full of preserved fruit. “…Commonly known as the Forest Petri Dish.”
Then he stared at Ruan Xian with burning eyes.
Ruan Xian sighed, and still bit the bait. “The road is only this part of the Mainbrain’s city?”
“It looks like it. The coastline and the dead walls are all connected, but this is not the only place in between.” Yu Le took over the conversation casually.
Tang Yibu swallowed the preserved fruit in his mouth and glared at the back of Yu Le’s head, almost as if he could burn a hole in it.
However, the conversation had already started, and the bustling, white-toned city outside the window was refreshing that the atmosphere had improved a bit than before. Although Professor Ruan’s small form was weird, as long as he forcibly pretended it was some sort of humidifier or something, he could barely edge out a sense of comfort.
“If the Mainbrain finds us…” Ji Xiaoman stroked π’s shell and spoke tentatively.
The iron bead was lying proudly on Ji Xiaoman’s lap, with a slight cooing sound like boiling water in its throat.
“That’ll be a catch.” Yu Le laughed dryly. “However, Professor Ruan may be fine. After all, he can pretend to be a mechanical pet or something, which is different from those of us who have arms and legs.”
After speaking, Yu Le glanced at Ruan Xian from the rearview mirror. “I didn’t mean to target you, Xiao Ruan, but even if you say you are Ruan Xian, we have no concept. How to put it. Your temperament is not at all like the one we know.”
“If it was like that, we would have had our last meeting a long time ago.”
Ruan Xian didn’t show much rejection of conversation. Yu Le’s statement gave him a faint guess—Professor Ruan wouldn’t waste moves in chess. Every action of that person had a purpose. He specifically led them down this path. It was impossible just to cover up their whereabouts. They should be heading to a certain destination.
“Unlike us, you and Miss Ji are both true to your nature and have the potential to strike without regard to the consequences. Not to mention Professor Ruan’s previous performance, Yibu is also a threat… It’s a good idea to hold me hostage.”
Ruan Xian continued the previous topic. This was indeed the truth. Compared with himself and Tang Yibu, who were overly rational, Yu Le, who was full of personality, and Ji Xiaoman, who wasn’t deeply involved in the world, made Professor Ruan even more vigilant—the former was indifferent to the rise and fall of mankind, while the latter lacked awareness of the complexity of the overall situation, which could lead to more dangerous judgements.
“Oh, what are you talking about?” Yu Le snorted. “I only thought about it for a few seconds before tossing that idea out. How to put it. We’re people who have a connection with each other, so I don’t want to be a beast.”
Tang Yibu stared at the back of Yu Le’s head even more vigorously.
“Oh…” Ruan Xian said meaningfully.
“Seeing that my mind is like a mirror, can you tell me what’s wrong with you two? Not long ago, you were as thick as thieves and wanted to stick to each other like a plaster. Now one is screaming dad while the atmosphere is similar to that of a funeral.”
Yu Le was obviously not one who liked to suffer. He deliberately changed the music to a new one. The prelude to grievances sounded, and Carol Young’s “Tears Don’t Stop” had replaced the original vulgar song.
As the song switched, even the pleasant cooing of the iron bead changed its rhythm.
“It’s nothing. I personally created Yibu. Later, something happened, and he and I both almost got killed.” Ruan Xian admitted casually. “As for MUL-01… The one behind created the main program of the Mainbrain based on the data when I developed Yibu.”
“You didn’t answer my question.” Yu Le tsked. “I don’t care if you get involved with something you made yourself. Let me be honest, we’re all in the same boat. Emotional problems are prone to causing fuck ups.”
After that, he turned his head strangely and glanced at Tang Yibu. “…If he really has feelings.”
Following Yu Le’s gaze, Ruan Xian also looked at Tang Yibu. Yu Le’s worries were correct. His conversation looked normal, but his emotions hadn’t calmed down despite several hours passing. Ruan Xian couldn’t wait to open his skull and pull the part of the brain responsible for secreting the corresponding hormones. It was best to dig it out and throw it away.
He had tried his best not to look at Tang Yibu.
Strangely, this time he didn’t feel that dark anger anymore, and he couldn’t get angry with him. To put it bluntly, they belong to different life forms, and he didn’t expect the other party to show such a sincere response from the beginning.
The current situation was tense, and the judgment of the android wasn’t much of a problem.
But since touching Tang Yibu’s tears, Ruan Xian’s entire being hadn’t been right. His ten fingers appeared to have lost their ability to feel temperature, and there was no pain in his heart; only endless bitterness.
He said to Tang Yibu, “Don’t be afraid,” but the second he saw the other party in tears, he seemed to have returned to the stuffy room decades ago. Strange fear and confusion gnawed at his feet.
In a sense, Ruan Xian believed that he was more sober. It was only a few months ago that he spent time with NUL-00, and what he held now was definitely not the cherishing and love of his “work”.
And this made him feel more frustrated.
…Now this abnormal love was making him weak.
Now it seemed that his emotional sorting had also failed miserably. Tang Yibu caught his gaze and looked back pitifully. Ruan Xian took a deep breath—for a moment, he wanted to rush forward, break open the skull of the android, and check what was going on in that half-coconut-sized cybernetic brain.
“Mr. Ruan.” Tang Yibu’s voice was soft. He didn’t call him “father” anymore and there was no doubt that he was being coquettish—it was the same twelve years ago whenever NUL-00 encountered a problem he couldn’t solve at that moment.
Unfortunately, Tang Yibu’s show of weakness hadn’t yet been completely deployed when a sharp brake instantly wiped out Ruan Xian’s budding signs of softness.
Tang Yibu took a deep breath and showed murderous intent towards Yu Le.
“Fuck, don’t come at me.” In the midst of Carol Young’s long lyrical voice, Yu Le replied in a shrill voice, sounding as if he was extremely nervous. “Hurry up and ask that one behind you—what’s the matter with this guy in the middle of the road?”
There was a young man standing in the middle of the road where cars were coming and going. It was clearly night, but he was wearing a pair of odd glasses and was standing right in the path of the armored off-roader. This happened to be a fork in the road, and countless inspection beams were scanned repeatedly, so Yu Le didn’t dare to rush to make suspicious lane changes.
The young man stretched out an arm and waved his hand at them.
“Strange car,” he whispered, though Ruan Xian could clearly hear it.
“I have never encountered this situation.” Professor Ruan’s electronic voice came just in time. “My perceptual camouflage cannot be seen through. That child must be loaded with rare additional accessories. NUL-00, remember to monitor the surrounding signal conditions.”
“Tsk.” Tang Yibu was displeased, but as far as his actions were concerned, he still did as ask. “No new communications signals have been found.”
“Get that kid in the car,” Professor Ruan said.
“Reason?” Ruan Xian frowned.
“His behavior clearly violate the traffic control regulations of the Mainbrain, regulations on the curfews of minors, and the regulations on nighttime activities, but there’s no corresponding alarm nearby. Either something happened to his auxiliary cybernetic brain, or the Mainbrain deliberately did it—if it’s the latter, a new warning signal should also appear. This is the Mainbrain’s territory. It’s not going to put a long line here to catch a big fish.”
Professor Ruan jumped onto Ruan Xian’s seat back. “The Mainbrain is optimizing and adjusting the entire social structure. There won’t be many bugs or loopholes, but it’s not non-existent either. If he’s allowed to run like this and the auxiliary cybernetic brain returns to normal, we will soon be exposed.”
“Oh,” Yu Le said stiffly. “During the time you were speaking, the little profiteer had already picked him up.”
Tang Yibu and Ruan Xian, who were watching Professor Ruan, turned their heads and looked in front of the car.
The young man who was trying to get himself killed in the middle of the road was pressed onto the seat of the car by Ji Xiaoman. His face was turned towards Professor Ruan’s direction, full of curiosity.
The young man looked about fifteen years old. He had short, clean hair, was wearing a long-sleeved T-shirt made of soft material that was a comfortable, warm gray color. Except for his eyes being covered by weird glasses, his facial features were quite beautiful, and his skin and complexion were surprisingly good. It was obvious he had a high standard of living.
However, his limbs were unusually thin. He had no muscles, and his shoulders weren’t even as thick as a small girl like Ji Xiaoman.
“This car is so dirty,” he commented, with interest. “There’s also a strange smell.”
“What’s wrong with you? You want to get yourself killed?” Yu Le smirked and bared his teeth.
“You can see this car.” Professor Ruan deliberately made his electronic voice sound particularly strong. He stood upright with the three-legged machine and pretended to be an intelligent detection device. “Your daily behavior test has deviated, and it is suspected that it’s an auxiliary cybernetic brain malfunction. Please also contact as soon as possible—”
“You guys aren’t the Order Supervisors that do testing.” The young man broke free from Ji Xiaoman and looked around curiously. “They don’t drive such smelly cars, nor do they play melodramatic music so wholeheartedly.”
His tone began to become weak. “I know what you are… You guys are the bad guys that the Order Supervisors want to screen, right? Right? Are you going to attack this city?”
“No.” Ruan Xian accepted the conversation as calmly as possible, trying to divert his attention again.
“Good, good.” The young man rubbed his hand excitedly. “Then you guys, take me away!”
“Even if you kill me, you’ll still be in trouble.” The boy laughed, showing his snow-white teeth. “I broke the cybernetic brain myself, but it didn’t stop. It just changed the transmission of information from every 5 seconds to every 24 hours… Only I know how to deal with its information. But if it leaves my body, or the signal stops because it’s destroyed, the Mainbrain will immediately find its location.”
“The technology of the Mainbrain wouldn’t be bad.” Seeing that Professor Ruan wasn’t speaking, Tang Yibu spoke up. “Even if you’re a genius, it’s impossible to do this with you as a child.”
“The premise is that my brain and body are healthy,” the boy said with a grin. “But I have problems with them. The auxiliary cybernetic brain I’m equipped with is a special model, so the safety system isn’t perfect like the popular version.”
Having said that, he took off the dark glasses he had been wearing on his face.
Ruan Xian immediately understood the reason for the problem with Professor Ruan’s perceptual camouflage.
According to the current level of scientific and technological development, there were very few people with disabilities. More than 90% of disability factors could be ruled out or overcome in advance. Even if it was a serious disability like Ji Xiaoman’s, as long as the Mainbrain was willing, it could allow her to grow new hands and feet.
In this case, he also had this degree of disability, which was enough to see that the teenager’s disease was rare and complicated; so complicated that the Mainbrain allowed him to be born in this city but didn’t give him a pair of healthy eyes.
The boy’s eyes were stuffed with lurid artificial eyeballs. At first glance, they look a lot like pitch-black spheres, but they would flash a faint blue, fluorescent luster as they move, like some kind of opal. But in the dark night, suddenly looking at it like this, there was only complete darkness in the young man’s eyes.
“So I can see you,” he said with a smile.
“…Lies. The loopholes of the Mainbrain aren’t so easily exploited.” Professor Ruan finally spoke. “We will not cooperate with people whose details are unknown.”
The young man turned his horrible eyes and curled his lips. “Okay, okay. Anyway, don’t kill me. I’m really harmless—”
He raised two excessively thin hands.
“I’m already dead,” he said.