Author: 年终 / Nian Zhong
Translator: Kinky || https://kinkytranslations.com/
Chapter 202: Instant Selection
It would be false to say that Ruan Xian didn’t feel touched.
He wasn’t abnormal to that extreme. Although it wasn’t to the point where he would shed tears because of the suffering of others, he still retained at least some type of sympathy—this feeling wasn’t a human patent. Compassion was a kind of survival skill, and all intelligent life would have a bit of emotion, such as elephants, whales, or wolves.
The pain from others wouldn’t make him feel happy.
Then again, there were a few “normal people” who were slow to notice the suffering of others, making the concept of “normal people” difficult to define. When Ruan Xian left NUL-00 with such a subject, he also had a few thoughts in this regard.
Now he was looking at those “normal people” and successfully feeling discomfort.
The child who was beaten up was just the beginning.
Ruan Xian had to admit that he would agree with the strategy of the Mainbrain, who was gradually showing him many scenes that happened that day. The rhythm and harshness of the arrangement were just right. If it weren’t for the brain lesions that helped him successfully block some of the stimuli, Ruan Xian was certain he would’ve had a minor emotional breakdown.
The Mainbrain version of Tang Yibu took his hand and showed him everything. Its perspective was equally as horrible that there were no borders under its scope of observation.
Miserable images continued to appear as if they were inexhaustible.
Most people couldn’t grasp the sense of distance within their mind. They would believe that “knowing” was the same as “understanding”, but when the picture was presented in front of them, that was a different matter. Even if Ruan Xian knew this truth in his heart, he couldn’t help but have this subconscious arrogance.
The price was to be continuously stimulated.
Sticks, blades, explosives. Bombs fell as screams and begs for mercy pierced his ears. Dirty spoons that gouged up food from the bottom of a pot, flies buzzing on moldy bedding, smoke and maggots on corpses that were close enough to stick to his face.
Ruan Xian wasn’t surprised that the Mainbrain chose a classic suffering to start with. If the Mainbrain could figure out information about his friends and family, Ruan Xian suspected that this start would be arranged again. It was best to start with the tragedy of the people around him, so that the strength would be stronger.
While unhappy, his mood remained stable, and he even took it quite seriously.
Inducing people was a mental job, not to mention the effort it took to arrange such uncomfortable scenes rationally. This process would reveal the position of the inducer as well. Ruan Xian tried to peel back the sorrows and joys of his kin and catch the thread that strung this string of black pearls.
To be honest, there wasn’t much condemnation in these images. The Mainbrain had no intention of taking advantage of the opportunity to preach truth. Everything in front of him was more like a calm explanation of the facts.
Ruan Xian tried his best to empty himself so he wouldn’t analyze those pictures with a stance. This was something that was easier said than done.
In daily life, the amount of information that everyone could obtained was ultimately limited. It was impossible for humans to have as many eyes as the Mainbrain—it grew in every camera, hid in every satellite, and parasitized more and more into the system every day, so it could see extraordinarily clearly. Therefore, when ushering in a strange perspective, as a member of the human race, Ruan Xian had to tighten his nerves in order to try to put aside the influence of his position and the experience that he had.
Calm down and don’t judge prematurely. He repeated it to himself over and over again.
He wasn’t even aware of when the hotdog in his hand had disappeared. Ruan Xian followed the Mainbrain as they stepped over scorched earth, garbage piles, and mirror-like marble slabs and looked at the scene in front of him. Hour after hour, the Mainbrain had no intention of stopping while Ruan Xian felt sick to his stomach by the surging of negative emotions.
Even comedies could give one a headache after watching them for too long, let alone this kind of thing.
Compared with healthy people, he had more layers of armor when facing this, but even he was still affected at this point. If this was a soft-hearted person in his place, they should’ve collapsed at this point or gone crazy.
He had a clear idea of the Mainbrain’s intention. Fortunately, before his “death”, he left a subject for Tang Yibu. Ruan Xian thought casually that his head seemed to push into an extruder as he felt a pain close to being crushed.
How long had those extremely real images been going for? Half a day? A day?
This was undoubtedly some kind of torture, and this torture had just begun.
No matter how realistic the images and the sounds and smells were, as long as the heart was strong enough or the stakes were high enough, people could become extremely hard-hearted. The Mainbrain would never bet on the possibility of its own character, which meant it had a backup plan.
So he had better follow its script.
“Stop it,” he said weakly. “I can’t stand it anymore. I want to take a break.”
Most likely, it was waiting for him to say this.
Usually, people who came into contact with a large number of corpses needed psychological intervention. Naturally, the Mainbrain wouldn’t provide Ruan Xian with such services thoughtfully. On the contrary, it used Tang Yibu’s appearance and turned itself into a piece of driftwood along a torrent.
Although it took longer than expected, the Mainbrain was satisfied with the results of this state.
Unless they were downright pathological or antisocial, those scenes were enough to defeat anyone. It did a preliminary screening of Ruan Lijie’s brain and found some lesions, but those lesions were mixed with a lot of mechanical tissue. MUL-01 found it difficult to assert what the results would lead to, but it was very clear. Although Ruan Lijie’s “sympathy” wasn’t as strong as others, he still had such emotions.
The human mind was usually more fragile than it thought.
Lovers who love each other to death could still break up when put to endless torture—decades ago, torture could end in debilitation and death. Even with the advancement of today’s medicine, one couldn’t perfectly avoid this.
Even if his internal organs were removed, it could find a way to keep him alive. There were shortcuts before, shortcuts after. The most important thing was to obtain information through physical torture.
Besides, as it had expected, Ruan Lijie was starting to collapse.
Even if Ruan Lijie knew that he wasn’t Tang Yibu, he would subconsciously trust and seek comfort because of this familiarity and how he had finally cracked.
“Good.” The Mainbrain’s tone was gentle. “In fact, this is only one day, and those scenes are only a small part of the daily data.”
At that time, there were nearly 10 billion people in the world, which meant it still had plenty of ammunition.
Ruan Lijie collapsed next to the metal bucket, puffing hard with his nose. The metal bucket was stuffed full of unburned fuel—shredded paper, rags, dead leaves and twigs, and among them a lot of things that shouldn’t be there. The wreckage of electronic products lay in the ashes, burned and deformed. Their batteries should have released toxic smoke. No matter who had been here to keep warm, “today” would definitely not be a good day for that person.
The Mainbrain retracted its gaze without emotion and waited quietly.
It had always been patient, like a scarecrow stationed in the field or a chef who was slowly boiling clams. It only needed to wait for Ruan Lijie to open his shell slightly, exposing the weakness that could be attacked, and then it would take good care of it.
“I don’t want to watch anymore.” Ruan Lijie panted for a while. “These are all things of the past, and I won’t change even after watching it… I won’t betray Yibu.”
His tone was erratic, as if his mind was a jumbled mess.
“We are doing the right thing. We are doing the right thing…” He repeated in a low voice, trying to comfort himself.
“I can let you stay here for a long time. A month, a year,” the Mainbrain continued gently. “But I won’t do that.”
If the fire wasn’t mastered properly, the pain could instead turn into a catalyst for feelings. One had to know how to take it for what it was. Ruan Lijie was showing signs of faltering, so it was time to proceed to the next stage.
Ruan Xian was really uncomfortable.
In addition to his mental discomfort, he was hungry. Since coming to the Mainbrain’s side, all he had was a glass of cold milk and ate a few snacks that didn’t top off his hunger. Ruan Xian began to regret dropping that hotdog. Even if it was an illusion, it could at least soothe and comfort his brain.
But these discomforts now had helped him as he was extra convincing when expressing his irritation.
The Mainbrain seemed to be planning to change its strategy. Ruan Xian also believed that he had already seen the worst part—if he saw too much, he would start to experience mental numbness. For the Mainbrain, the loss would outweigh the gain.
“I’m hungry,” he said bluntly in an irate tone.
Since the other side wanted to use looks to trick him, he could go along with it and take the opportunity to increase the number of exchanges. As long as he asked the right questions, he was confident that he could fish for the information that he wanted. But since the other party was the Mainbrain, it was impossible to tell whether it had already calculated this…
A decision had to be made as soon as possible, he thought as his stomach grumbled.
According to the information just now, it seemed that the only thing he had was on the date, “December 31, 2100”. Not only that, but he also couldn’t take the initiative to control his whereabouts, which made his means really limited.
He was caught on purpose holding on to the idea of finding a better solution. Unfortunately, the situation was worse than Ruan Xian thought—the initial plan went smoothly, and the Mainbrain didn’t directly destroy his body or crush his brain. However, it chose to directly attack his spirit. Not to mention stealing information, he couldn’t even touch the real world.
…On the day before doomsday.
Beside this, he had to solve another problem that was more troublesome than the last—to figure out the motivation of the Mainbrain and completely overturn the chessboard.
How to test it? Should he grab on the fishing line of the Mainbrain more? Drive it away or let it stay?
Ruan Xian couldn’t help but frown, while the Mainbrain was all smiles with Tang Yibu’s face.
“You’ll be fine,” it said. “This place is like the ‘dreamland’ you have experienced. Don’t deny it. You must’ve experienced it in the Glass Conservatory. The time outside actually hasn’t passed much. You will not really die of hunger. It’s just a psychological effect.”
Ruan Xian looked at the familiar face carefully and suddenly felt a little sour in his heart.
He thought he could treat this matter rationally and deal with this feeling calmly—he was treating it as cautiously as if he was doing an experiment, and it still ignored his control.
Ruan Xian subconsciously wanted to discuss the current problem with Tang Yibu, but when he raised his hand, he couldn’t feel the earring stud on his left ear.
The Mainbrain probably had it removed the first chance it got.
Ruan Xian sighed regretfully in his heart, and then made a decision.
“If this is really that kind of dreamland, psychological effect can lead to death.” He adjusted his breathing and spat back unceremoniously, while also deliberately adding a bit of intimacy, specifically when dealing with acquaintances.
“Don’t worry, there will be no shortage of food.”
“…” Giving him a little time to think, Ruan Xian tried his best to calculate the possible reactions of the Mainbrain and tentatively opened his mouth. “Then… We have to continue to look at those things just now?”
He aggravated the pronunciation of “we”, which made the smile on the Mainbrain more obvious.
“No,” it said. “The reason why I’m willing to guide you is because I need to make an assessment of your morale standards. Unfortunately, you still need to stay here for a while, and I can’t accompany you for the next part.”
Ruan Xian made a blank expression. He moved his lips but said nothing.
“If you have something to say to me, I believe you can find a way.” Its tone was kind, mixed with a hint of cruelty. “Don’t panic too much—you don’t look half empty, but more like an orthodox scholar. Mr. Ruan, since you passed the ethics assessment at the time, you should have the ability to see the overall situation clearly.”
It opened its arms and gave Ruan Xian a hug. Ruan Xian buried his face in the other party’s shoulder, hiding his expression as he trembled slightly.
Ruan Xian hid his smile. He succeeded.
The Mainbrain was just like he thought. Once it found that he was moving forward, it immediately backed off and played hard to get. Since he had already made his choice, he could probably guess what the other party’s next step was.
It was a long day, the last day before the destruction of human society.
To be honest, Ruan Xian didn’t know if there would be an answer. He also didn’t know whether it was the right choice to branch out and give up part of the information he knew to the Mainbrain. He only knew that his thoughts on Tang Yibu were more powerful than he expected. Ruan Xian didn’t have the confidence to hide that emotion. It would distract him and cause him to reveal himself to the Mainbrain.
The Mainbrain version of Tang Yibu shook his hand and disappeared into the street.
Ruan Xian stood alone on a street that had long since ceased to exist, looking up at the clear sky, dizzy with hunger.
This was a state he was familiar with. Just a few months ago, he was so accustomed to being alone like this, but now he couldn’t get used to it anymore. It was just at this moment, he could see the sky, but he had lost the warm computer room and the little thing that was happily entertaining him in that room.
He had never experienced the feeling of “missing” so clearly.
If this was the same principle as the treatment in the Glass Conservatory, it should still be the day that he was caught. He began to wonder if that noisy android had eaten something.
…This was his last thought of complete freedom.