Author: 年终 / Nian Zhong
Translator: Kinky || https://kinkytranslations.com/
Chapter 208: Mechanical Life Expert
Tang Yibu’s figure disappeared from the window. Seeing the reaction of the patrolling machines outside, he probably slipped away undetected. Ruan Xian was sullen. He didn’t want Tang Yibu to really be here.
The Mainbrain—or rather the puppet controlled by the Mainbrain—had already left the room after doing its part as the army of patrolling machine made perfect arcs in the night sky. With the room now empty, Ruan Xian could finally take a breather.
The room wasn’t very big. More than half the space was occupied by machines that provided the doomsday “dreamland” he was in. From a design point of view, there was nothing in line with human aesthetics. The machines were crowded with beige pipes, and there were many soft white materials vibrating slightly, as if they were living things. There were soft branches hanging from the ceiling that Ruan Xian couldn’t tell what their purpose was. The liquid tank he was in was semi-covered with a gray dome in the shape of a squid’s head. Ruan Xian touched it. The four walls of the liquid tank were neither smooth nor irregular, and they didn’t look man-made.
This special machine was like an alien beast and occupied most of the space.
…Or rather, it was “alive”.
Ruan Xian stretched out a wet arm and stroked the outer wall of the machine closest to him. The hard metal felt like the shell of a crab and prevented him from seeing too much.
The nerves that had just been relaxed by seeing Tang Yibu tightened again—if this was the current level of mechanical life research of the Mainbrain, he was closer to being exposed than he thought. During the months he spent in the dreamland, he hadn’t uncovered much information related to mechanical life. At most, this word appeared in the corners of his memory and belonged to a certain period of news that didn’t last long, or it was on a boring, brief announcement.
Being in the body of illegal memory operators, he at most came into contact with people of the lower and middle class. At least from Ruan Xian’s impression, he hadn’t come into contact with many people who were associated with mechanical life. Similar products were rarely seen on the streets. Like other cutting-edge technologies, it was far from reaching the point of popularization during that time.
Yet now he had to pretend to be a mechanical life expert.
Ruan Xian took a deep breath, hugged his knees, and buried his head between them, curling up into a ball. This posture ensured that his expression wouldn’t be captured on camera—this time, he was truly getting nervous.
Strategic games were his area of expertise. Ruan Xian was also very good at deceiving people. However, most humans could be deceived because of various desires. From this point of view, the Mainbrain would be the worst kind of target.
As always, he managed to survive, and now the next step was the hardest part.
The nervousness made his blood cold, like it was clotted in ice. His lungs seemed to be squeezed as if he was suffocating. Ruan Xian felt a strange pleasure—before, he didn’t resonate with the crowd that liked extreme sports, but now he understood. The weird machine attached to the walls in the room seemed to be moving towards him while his brain was spinning like crazy trying to solve the problem at hand.
At the same time, he tasted a new kind of fear.
If he were to change places with himself a few months ago, he would have been happy to immerse himself in this unfamiliar situation. Right now, he began to strongly worry about something that had never bothered him before—if something went wrong, would he die here?
When he first implemented his plan, this worry was still suppressed in his heart, but now it was getting stronger.
He had never resented death. In fact, he’d imagined his own death many times. Ever since he fell into this crazy world, he had always liked to toe the line of death. It wasn’t to seek self-destruction or a cry for help, as he never had any subtle thoughts in his behavior.
Perhaps the reins of the past were too tight. Once relaxed, he began to act entirely on his likes and dislikes.
If he really could bear that laughable devil’s curse, he wouldn’t die. If he died accidently, it was only an expected possibility, which he could accept. Life wasn’t a special thing, nor was death.
At least that was what he once thought.
The strong smell of medicine in the liquid tank choked his nose. Ruan Xian could smell the strange smell emanating from the suspected mechanical life in the room. The metallic smell of the monitor, the smell of lubricating oil on the sliding door, the feeling of a thin needle piercing the skin. It smelled a little bloody. All kinds of flavors mixed together, heavy and astringent. There was only one smell out of place—a hint of the sweet aroma of persimmons remained. Ruan Xian latched on to it from the swirling torrent of smells and felt a little better.
Now that his “life” had become a little special, he suddenly couldn’t accept an unexpected death.
“I’m in love.” Tang Yibu announced this not long ago.
Even in such a bad reality, Ruan Xian couldn’t help but raise the corners of his mouth. The android wouldn’t come to this conclusion casually. God knew how long Tang Yibu was entangled with this matter.
What a wonderful feeling.
Ruan Xian took a few deep breaths and finally adjusted his breathing. Just then, a mechanical assistant floated in. It was carrying a tray that had fluffy bath towels, clothing, and a hot light green drink. As soon as Ruan Xian looked over, it spoke on its own.
“Your memory experience has been accidentally interrupted. Forcing a reconnection will damage your brain. You’ll have a night off, so please decide tonight—submit to the Mainbrain and contribute to its cause or lie here and continue this memory experience.”
The bath towels were warm and ridiculously soft. The clothes seemed to be the uniform here. Except for the necessary underwear, there were only two loose white garments. Ruan Xian took the time to express his despair—he grabbed the light green drink and poured it down his throat.
The thing inside that cup was a bit sticky. It was like water with too much added honey, and it tasted sweet and warm. After he drank down the cup, Ruan Xian sighed. His body subconsciously relaxed. Most likely, there was a soothing agent in the drink.
Before the Great Rebellion, illegal memory operators weren’t wealthy, and the Mainbrain didn’t arrange a wealthy host for him. His diet was extremely poor. Thankfully Ruan Xian was used to eating just plain nutritional supplements before, so food out of a garbage disposal would’ve been good enough for him.
After the stick, would come the carrot*. It seemed this practice would never be outdated.
*Metaphor used for a combination of reward and punishment to induce a desired behavior. Though in China they use “date/jujube” (甜枣) instead of carrot.
As he thought, when he returned to the room where he was imprisoned, everything was beautiful and comfortable. The beautiful forest scenery outside the window had returned, and the bed was so soft it could bring him to tears. The cup of milk and the tray of snacks that were at the head of the bed had been replaced with a tray of a sumptuous dinner.
Ruan Xian wasn’t polite. He stuffed the food down, ignoring his image, then lay on the bed for a long whilet. Eventually, he got up. “Can you take me to your work area?”
He hesitated to say this, giving a deliberate hint of nervousness.
The mechanical assistant in charge of monitoring him didn’t ask any questions, as if it already knew how to respond to this situation. It led him out the door again.
This time, out the door was no longer the street of 2100, but a real corridor. Ruan Xian took a deep breath and clenched his fist. If he surrendered rashly without investigating anything, it would be too unnatural. What was more, he had more important things to do…
He had to do his homework on mechanical life under the pretext of “spying”.
He lost count of how many twists and turns they went through, but finally the mechanical assistant told him to stand still in front of a wall. In the next instant, the entire wall became transparent. Ruan Xian couldn’t help but hold his breath.
“You can get all the assistance you want here, so don’t worry about a shortage of research funds. MUL-01 has always attached great importance to people with talents.” The mechanical assistant turned to look at Ruan Xian. “You can research as much as you want. We know that right now you don’t agree with the Mainbrain’s approach. In fact, the Mainbrain is happy to accept different opinions, as long as the proposal you give is convincing enough.” The mechanical assistant’s tone became a bit more human.
Ruan Xian had to admit, what he saw in front of him, coupled with the statement just now, was really tempting.
At the other end of the transparent wall was a vast space, as if an entire floor had been completely opened up. Many people in research uniforms were busy in their own personal space. The equipment was an advanced style that Ruan Xian had never seen before. The light screens in the room flew about in the extremely tidy room. In order to balance out the heavy whiteness of the room, many columns covered in plants were embedded between the ceiling and floor, creating an overall elegant design.
There were places to rest and talk in the distance. Compared with a regular research lab, this was more like a mansion that had been temporarily converted to a lab, but all the parts that could get in the way were removed. The expression on everyone’s faces was quite relaxed, and Ruan Xian saw no signs of worry.
“There’s no compulsory work. More work will only bring better treatment, but as you can see, even the most basic treatment is very good. The people here aren’t working to pursue food, clothing, and warmth. They are working towards building a true future for humankind.”
However, at this moment, all of Ruan Xian’s attention was focused on one thing.
In the near-perfect setting, there were some strange creatures moving about. Most of them were covered with metal. Some of them were helping researchers, while some were using their mouths to deal with waste. A small number were soaking in the observation tank. These things looked obedient and quiet, as if they were tools with self-awareness.
For ordinary machines, there was much unnecessary dexterity in their movements. Most likely, they were mechanical life.
“You can make a mechanical life according to your own preferences, as long as it’s not too dangerous.” After seeing where Ruan Xian’s line of sight was, the mechanical assistant floated in the air and spoke. “If you want a specific variety of living material, you can apply for it to the director of the lab.”
“…I was just looking,” Ruan Xian said.
- “Of course,” the thing answered. “Trust me, Mr. Ruan, everything you want is here.”
Bluntly put, he didn’t have much interest in research at all. He only engaged in it because it was the most rational judgement. There weren’t many things Ruan Xian wanted in particular, but he was sure that the one thing he wanted the most wasn’t here.
He didn’t know what nooks and crannies Tang Yibu was hiding in now. Considering that Professor Ruan wouldn’t stop his plans even if he was alone, the android probably wasn’t free. There was probably a time limit for their meeting.
“I’ll think about it again.” Ruan Xian carefully noted the characteristics of all the mechanical beings in the room and then refused “hesitantly”.
“…I have to say that these are empty words.” Seeing the hesitation in his voice, the mechanical assistant’s voice became lively. “Mr. Ruan, in fact, I’m the director of this research lab. To be honest, I respect your dedication to your feelings, but I hope you can try to see the world from a different perspective and give MUL-01 a chance.”
On the other side of the wall, a decently good-looking middle-aged man waved to him. The man pulled down his mask, revealing a friendly expression that was full of life.
“If you’re still undecided, I can talk to you at anytime… If you don’t mind.” The voice continued from the mechanical assistant. “Don’t be nervous. If you don’t want it, I won’t go there myself. This thing will stay with you for a while, so we can continue to communicate through it.”
Ruan Xian glanced at the man’s hand—he was stroking a mechanical life, and the technique looked quite sophisticated.
“…Okay.” Ruan Xian paused deliberately for a moment. “I haven’t agreed to what you said. I have questions that I want to confirm.”
“In addition, I hope you can come in person… I’m not used to talking to machines.” He had to see the other person’s body language in order to interpret his future boss more accurately.
“With pleasure.” The man smiled heartily.
However, ten minutes later, when Ruan Xian returned to his room, he suddenly realized something was wrong—a hint of sweetness that smelled like persimmons wafted out from the bottom of the bed.
“What’s the matter, Mr. Ruan?” the person behind him asked.
“Nothing.” Ruan Xian struggled to keep his expression steady. “Please, come in.”
The author has something to say:
Tang ← Desperately wants to speak to Ruan.
Ruan: …Mood is extremely complicated.
Oh Ruan Xian, you know it’s not like Tang Yibu to give up like that.