Author: 年终 / Nian Zhong
Translator: Kinky || https://kinkytranslations.com/
Chapter 191: Collective Consciousness
Professor Ruan remained silent, which Ruan Xian took as acquiescence. He made a gesture to Tang Yibu, signaling the other party to cover for his call.
Tang Yibu nodded while holding a piece of peach in his hand and replied with an OK gesture. Ruan Xian followed Professor Ruan into the car, ignoring Yu Le and Zhong Qing, who also came, and turned on the light screen.
Guan Haiming’s image appeared. From this angle, Guan Haiming could only see Ruan Xian and the dark car window behind him.
“Mr. Ruan.” Guan Haiming looked completely normal. Although he was a little pale, Ruan Xian could see that he was in good spirits. Compared with the hurriedly terminated call last time, this time he looked unrushed.
“Dr. Guan.” Ruan Xian didn’t say much.
“…I have been trying to contact you.” Seeing that the other party had no intention of continuing, Guan Haiming picked up the conversation. “You shouldn’t have been near the forest refuge for some time, right? These days, this was the first time you had appeared in the coverage of the communication signal.”
“Are you not in a rush this time?” Ruan Xian pointed out. “And we’re in the city of the Mainbrain. You have to make sure that this communication line is secure.”
“It’s absolutely safe. I used the Mainbrain’s own communication network algorithm. The message vibration frequency is also bound to the surveilled vibration boundary of the Order Supervisors, so the vibration itself won’t attract attention.” Guan Haiming smiled. “As for why I’m not hurried… This is one of the reasons why I’m looking for you.”
“Nn,” Ruan Xian responded simply.
Professor Ruan stood quietly beside him, hiding himself at the edge of the screen while silently watching his student. Lao Yu and Zhong Qing, who had a confused face, were huddled in a chair to one side.
“I’ll talk about my side first.” Seeing Guan Haiming about to open his mouth, Ruan Xian deliberately glanced at Zhong Qing and took the lead. “I saw Luo Jian in the Glass Conservatory. I did find something about your teacher.” He aggravated the word “teacher”.
As Professor Ruan’s favorite disciple, Guan Haiming reacted quickly. “We’ll discuss teacher’s matter later. Here’s the thing, Mr. Ruan. Recently, martial law has been enacted in some petri dishes. Do you know about this?”
“No.” But he could guess that since they made a lot of noise on the Android Show. In order to hunt them down, it was normal for a few nearby petri dishes to be under martial law—The Sea of Ruins, which was a little further away, might fare better, but the Underground City and the Glass Conservatory would be hard to escape.
“Shouldn’t it be more difficult for you to communicate with the outside world?” Ruan Xian raised his eyes. “It’s already passed midnight. Is something wrong with Major Ding’s ‘refresh’?”
“The Mainbrain believes that the fifteen-minute gap in the transfer of information is a security risk. In response to martial law, it stopped daily updates of the nearby Order Supervisors and focused on behavior monitoring.”
Guan Haiming showed a somewhat complicated smile.
“Since you left, I have never stopped communicating with Major Ding. Although he forgets every time there’s a refresh… In short, I have long mastered the way to convince him quickly. Now that the ‘refresh’ is paused, I don’t need to be tense between the fifteen minutes before the refresh time. He’s willing to help me spread the communication signal for the time being. That’s all.”
“For the time being.” Ruan Xian emphasized.
“Major Ding is… a very interesting person.” Guan Haiming sighed. “He can’t be persuaded by me. He just thinks it’s more exciting. Think about Xiao Ding. He’s still like ‘himself’, so how can he be soft on the survivors. Whether he wants to chase excitement or intends to cast a long line to catch a big fish by pretending to cooperate, all I need is to be able to pass the information out.”
“Which means I can contact you more freely going forward.” Ruan Xian glanced at Professor Ruan, who was pretending to be dead again. “I see. Is there anything else?”
“It has to be determined based on the content of your message.” Guan Haiming didn’t plan to say more.
“I know where Professor Ruan is. He’s still alive and in… Well let’s just say not in bad condition,” Ruan Xian said. “I think he has the ability to contact you. Now it seems that he just has no intention of doing so.”
Guan Haiming frowned slightly.
“Teacher may be working on a plan that requires absolute confidentiality,” After a while, Guan Haiming said, very slowly. “Although it was extremely difficult for him to unilaterally relay news, the possibility isn’t zero.”
“You really trust him,” Ruan Xian stated without emotion.
“I have my reasons. Thank you for the information, Mr. Ruan. I’ll keep in touch. There are quite a lot of risks out there. If there’s anything I can do to help, please feel free to ask.”
Guan Haiming nodded politely. “I’m relieved to know that teacher is okay. Please feel free to contact me if you have any news.”
Ruan Xian thought it was pretty much what he expected.
Guan Haiming didn’t continue talking. It seemed that only when he claimed to be working for Professor Ruan and provided evidence would Guan Haiming willingly reveal more information.
However, Professor Ruan’s three-legged machine remained quiet.
“There is one thing that you can help with.” Ruan Xian decided to drop the topic for now. “We have a child here with a rare disease. My… colleague brought him to me so I could take a look at him, but as you know, at best I can only deal with ordinary wounds. You, as an expert, will be more reliable.”
As he started to lie fluently again, Yu Le’s mouth started twitching.
“I’d be happy to.” Guan Haiming’s voice became lighter. He lowered the alcohol music and rubbed his temples. “Let me see.”
Zhong Qing looked at Lao Yu, then at Ruan Xian, and finally at Guan Haiming on the other side of the light screen. He took a deep breath, straightened the hair on his head, and then opened all his eyes.
They were originally closed tightly, covered by soft hair, so they didn’t stand out. However, when they all opened at once, the cold, white sclera of the eyes was particularly dazzling among his black hair.
He had already moved to the middle between Ruan Xian and Yu Le. His pair of artificial eyeballs were looking at Ruan Xian, while the few strange eyes on the back of his head were looking at Yu Le. Ruan Xian could hear it. Though Yu Le didn’t react on his face, it took him quite some time to calm down his nervous heartbeat.
Ruan Xian’s first reaction wasn’t fear. He just looked at Zhong Qing with a little curiosity—he was truly curious as to how Zhong Qing saw the world through those eyes.
His research direction was more “mechanized”, focusing on nanobots and the repair of human tissues. His body didn’t really allow him to become a real doctor, let alone the lack of clinical experience he had. Ruan Xian had limited exposure to these… peculiar diseases. And even if he rummaged through his memories, he couldn’t find a similar case.
Innate deformities, drug effects, or artificial induction could achieve similar effects, assuming that it was just a disease…
Guan Haiming frowned tightly, and his expression turned solemn.
“This rare disease, I have seen before. I don’t know what the situation is on your side, but first, let that child leave.”
“I’m not leaving!” Zhong Qing’s entire body became nervous. His eight eyes that were on his head were wide open, giving an eerie look.
“You’ll be fine, little guy.” Guan Haiming was full of patience and his tone sounded extremely convincing, though he didn’t look very good as he stared straight into those augmented eyes.
“This is just something that’s inappropriate to say in front of children.”
Professor Ruan was still dutifully playing the role of an auxiliary machine and continued to remain silent.
“I won’t hurt you while we’re in this city, unless I have to.” Ruan Xian looked directly at Zhong Qing calmly. “Go out first. What Dr. Guan is about to say is not appropriate for children.”
Zhong Qing’s face had on the expression of “as if I believe you”.
“This is what it means to be collaborators. You better come out first.” A voice joined the conversation.
Ruan Xian pinched his brow. He knew whose voice it was—Tang Yibu still couldn’t overcome his curiosity in the end. He didn’t follow inside the car but pressed his face tightly against the glass to the point where his nose was pressed flat. In order to avoid Guan Haiming’s suspicion, he specifically lowered his voice, which only made it sound like it was from a kidnapper from a TV production.
Guan Haiming couldn’t see from his angle, but Ruan Xian suspected that even if he could see, he might not be able to recognize Tang Yibu, whose face was distorted from pressing against the glass.
Ruan Xian stretched out his hand and mercilessly rolled down the car window, which made Tang Yibu almost fall into the car from the car window. He rubbed his nose, and that handsome face appeared again. Ji Xiaoman stood a few steps away, trying to look into the darkness from a distance without turning her head.
Zhong Qing glared at Tang Yibu a little angrily. With all his eyes open, the glare was quite oppressive.
“Very clever design.”
Tang Yibu manipulated his kidnapper-like voice with interest as he watched Zhong Qing carefully. That look wasn’t like what one had when looking at deformities or monsters, nor was it as calm as Ruan Xian. It was more like a sculptor discovering high-quality marble.
“In fact, considering the survival rate, I initially considered a similar body schematic. The physiological structure of humans isn’t so great for combat. Bone structures of big felines are better, but unfortunately, conditions didn’t allow me to do so.”
The android sounded full of earnest regret and envy, which only left Zhong Qing dumbfounded as he wasn’t sure how to deal with such an attitude.
“Fortunately, you didn’t.” Ruan Xian opened the car door and quickly kissed Tang Yibu’s forehead. “Then we would have a lot of trouble ‘sleeping’ together.”
Tang Yibu thought seriously for a moment, then nodded in agreement.
Zhong Qing slowly turned his head slowly and looked at Ruan Xian speechlessly, then glanced at Tang Yibu in horror before he was pushed out of the car in confusion. Until his feet stepped on the ground, Zhong Qing was still pondering what emotion his face should have right now.
After half coaxing Zhong Qing out of the car, Ruan Xian gave Tang Yibu a generous kiss and cruelly closed the car window.
“Okay, go ahead.” Ruan Xian turned his head and addressed Guan Haiming, who was just as confused. “He’s out now.”
“That voice just now was…?”
“…Forget it. Let’s get down to business first.” Guan Haiming rubbed his temples. “I know what that kid’s disease is. The name is quite long, so there’s no need to say it. The point is, the child’s illness is terminal, so I don’t know what to do with him. I didn’t know how to say it…”
“You just say he will be fine.” Yu Le closed the expression on his face and frowned. “Just say what needs to be said and don’t be rude.”
“It’s true that ‘he’ will be fine.” Guan Haiming smiled bitterly. “What is that child’s name?”
“Then the human named ‘Zhong Qing’ is dead. At least as defined by previous medical concepts. However, there has been controversy on this point… His disease is caused by a very special viral infection plus an autologous genetic defect. We have more graphic statements about this disease. We call it ‘Rhododendron Disease’.”
“I don’t understand.” Yu Le was straightforward.
“I don’t know how he managed to keep his body in such good condition. Usually, patients die due to systemic failure during adolescence. This one looks mature.”
When talking in his professional persona, Guan Haiming unknowingly reverted to his cold and indifferent tone.
“The specific pathological mechanism is indeed complicated. Let me give some simple examples—many parasites will transform their hosts, causing them to mutate and be more likely to be eaten. For example, creating deformed bodies that are not conducive to survival, or making them more conspicuous and easily exposed to natural enemies, so as to ensure that they can reproduce normally.”
“That kid is a zombie controlled by a parasite? Doesn’t look like it.”
“I’m just expressing a general statement, not an example of preciseness. In fact, from viruses to parasites, they all have an impact on their hosts. It guides them in a direction that’s good for them and away from the direction that’s harmful—in order to obtain water, let the host drown himself; in order to stay away from a deadly water environment, cause the host to develop hydrophobic symptoms; that sort of thing.”
“The situation of Rhododendron Disease is more complicated. The pathogenic virus intercepts the gene expression of the host and transforms the body it has acquired to obtain a convenient body and the knowledge and skills to survive in the host population. Whether it’s Zhong Qing’s brain or other organs, medically speaking, they aren’t dead. They are just taken over by… a non-human creature.”
Yu Le shrank his shoulders; there was a rare dull look on his face.
“All his memories are still there, including emotions, but theoretically speaking, his brain control is no longer the human Zhong Qing… For example, if you compare an unconscious brain to a hard drive with a lot of data, now this hard drive has changed owners, but the use of the data is still similar.”
“He’s lying to us?” Ruan Xian got straight to the point.
“No… He himself may not know that he has ‘changed’. Bluntly put, if A poured all his memories into B, B would naturally think of himself as A.” Guan Haiming shook his head. “Rhododendron Disease is too rare. Except for the patient, no one knows the specific details. Usually, patients die during adolescence due to overconsumption. Zhong Qing somehow survived that stage, and now he’s relatively stable and is able to survive normally.”
“Those eyes…” Yu Le murmured.
“Zhong Qing himself should have a genetic defect, as I said just now. The virus has merely intercepted the genetic information in his body and tried to construct what it considers reasonable ‘eyes’ of its own to ensure that the body can continue to survive and create the conditions for its reproduction.”
Guan Haiming took a sip of water and continued, “Rhododendron Disease doesn’t spread from person to person, but there’s no point taking him with you.”
He put down the cup and sighed.
“His genetic data has been tampered with by a virus. In this regard, he can no longer be classified as ‘human’. The creature that now thinks it is ‘Zhong Qing’ has a mind closer to the collective consciousness of a virus.”
“Even if that’s the case, do you still think he’s a ‘human’?”
The author has something to say:
I am talking nonsense about this disease, but the animal parasites mentioned do exist, and the deformities caused are very… amazing.
There is indeed a reason for the retention of Zhong Qing by the Mainbrain, and his illness is also very serious√
Speaking of what Guan Haiming is saying, there is a real-life example. Leucochloridium paradoxum is a parasitic flatworm that infects snails, turning their eyes into “disco balls” in order for them to attract birds better. Birds, which are the final hosts of these parasites, eat these snails, allowing the parasite to reproduce in the bird’s cloaca.
When the bird shits, the parasite’s eggs are released into its feces, which is then eaten by the snails, and so begins the cycle anew. Also, I believe the author named the disease after Rhododendron (or Azalea). I went with the former because Guan Haiming specifically says the disease’s name is long, so he didn’t want to say it… Then a few paragraphs later, he said it anyway.