Author: 年终 / Nian Zhong
Translator: Kinky || https://kinkytranslations.com/
Chapter 237: Predator
After these words, the Mainbrain’s offensive suddenly became violent, as if it wanted to crack his defenses in one go. Ruan Xian expected this reaction, but it was more difficult than he thought. The good thing was that his physical body was now replaced with a system signal. Now all he could feel was the pain in his brain, as he could no longer feel his body.
Before connecting to the machine, Ruan Xian had already curled his body into a stable position, holding the mechanical box tightly in his arms. He couldn’t feel the burning pain on his body or the wounds caused by the cleaning machines, which was a good thing in some ways.
He had successfully hacked into the system of the Mainbrain. From the judgment of ordinary machines, his body was now associated with the hardware of the Mainbrain. They wouldn’t move him and the mechanical box casually—as long as Tang Yibu stabilized M-β, he wouldn’t be killed so easily.
Ruan Xian looked at the virtual hands of the program, then turned his gaze to the projection of Tang Yibu’s mental core. The golden light mass floated warmly. Although he couldn’t see Tang Yibu’s face, Ruan Xian still had a weird sense of solidity.
This made the pain in his brain lighten by a few notches.
Realizing that it was facing “Ruan Xian”, the virtual image of the Mainbrain could no longer remain stable. During the frequent attacks, the image of “Tang Yibu” was horribly distorted. Compared to the human form, it was more like a broken photo or a distorted mass of flesh. It seemed the Mainbrain wasn’t sure what kind of image could shake him, so it kept changing its form.
Ruan Xian wasn’t distracted by it. He focused all his energy on instant defense. Without a ready-made program like Professor Ruan’s and exterior support, he didn’t dare be distracted.
It wasn’t time yet.
Tang Yibu didn’t look at what was happening to the body of the Mainbrain.
As long as he stopped M-β and R-β by himself, Ruan Xian wouldn’t die. Tang Yibu knew this well, but still didn’t want to see it.
“Go to Mr. Ruan.” He leaned on the edge of the Mainbrain’s body and patted π’s shell. “It’s best to clean up those cleaning machines. Destroy them one by one.”
The wreckage of the armored off-roader fell at his feet. Its shape was deformed due to the high temperature. Since the iron bead had transformed, it could now tolerate the high heat and could still move freely. It rubbed Tang Yibu’s hand and squeaked softly, while its three small eyes flickered at the wreckage all over the ground.
“Yes, we don’t have a car anymore.” Tang Yibu added, “…I’m a little sad too.”
“Let’s go. It’ll be very dangerous here soon.”
The iron bead rubbed Tang Yibu reluctantly again, then stretched out its four limbs and firmly clung to a black cube that was spinning fast and moved towards the direction of Ruan Xian. As soon as π stepped on the hot metal cube, it tentatively took a bite, but it didn’t even leave a toothmark behind.
After a few disappointing clicks, the round figure of the iron bead disappeared among the ocean of floating cubes.
Tang Yibu adjusted his breathing for a while. His only kind was behind him, with his creator burning quietly and slowly at the center of this suspended cluster of cubes.
M-β finally landed in front of him.
Its form was still like that of a hairless tiger, but it could be seen that the Mainbrain had restricted its mouth. R-β was riding on its back, looking at him with eyes similar to Ruan Xian.
Just as he was observing the opponent, the opponent was also evaluating him.
“You didn’t make any upgrades.” R-β opened her mouth. The voice was pleasant to the ears. “Without the S-type Prototype, you—”
She couldn’t finish her sentence.
A palm-sized black cube obeyed Tang Yibu’s command and broke away from the cube formation, directly shattering R-β’s skull. Upon seeing this, M-β took a step back, lowered its body, and let out a low growl.
“This is the body of MUL-01.” Tang Yibu spoke while staring at the recovering skull that was splattered like a rotten tomato. “In other words, the external equipment that it can control—I can also use as well.”
There was no physical transformation, no cutting-edge weapon—he didn’t even fish out Professor Ruan’s attack program, but now he had the fastest and most robust weapon in the world.
Dozens of black cubes separated from the body of the Mainbrain. The blue arcs of light were disconnected from the surrounding cubes and coiled and flashed on all sides of the cubes. They obeyed Tang Yibu’s command and rotated around him.
Compared with the huge body of the Mainbrain, these dozens of calculation cubes were almost negligible. At the moment, the Mainbrain was concentrating on Ruan Xian, so Tang Yibu took the opportunity to have them “rebel” and take them for his own use.
However, he just stood at the edge of the body of the Mainbrain, quietly looking at the enemy in front of him without any intention of taking the initiative to attack.
M-β was like a real tiger. It cautiously circled around Tang Yibu for half a circle. After half a minute, it stopped, stretched out a dozen wrist-thick cannons from his exoskeleton, and blasted them in Tang Yibu’s direction. Along with the explosion, M-β rushed out like an arrow, opened its mouth in the direction of Tang Yibu, and bit.
R-β didn’t choose to watch the battle. Her body was filled with blood mist, and she attacked relentlessly with M-β.
Tang Yibu didn’t take these attacks hard. He stepped on the gap in the body of the Mainbrain and quickly climbed to the top, avoiding the explosions. He then flashed away, leaped with his back to the ground, and made a few gestures with his hands—the black cubes started to rotate at a high speed, leaving black afterimages in the air, shattering one of M-β’s front paws.
The blue arcs coiled around the surface and maintained a high temperature. The smell of burnt flesh filled the air. In the next moment, dark red blood entered from R-β’s body down the pipe, and M-β’s front paws were immediately intact again.
“…You can’t win.” Although her head was broken once, R-β didn’t seem angry, and instead just slowly finished her sentence that was interrupted.
“I really can’t beat you.” Tang Yibu fell to the ground. His entire body was tense. “But you can’t get past me either.”
R-β squinted. They had received instructions from the Mainbrain that it was imperative to get rid of the intruder entrenched at its core. However, the Mainbrain didn’t specifically leave the door of convenience open for them. If they entered the dense suspended cube array, their mobility and state would inevitably be affected.
At that time, NUL-00 would be quite a deadly opponent.
But NUL-00 didn’t seem to be at ease because of this. He was flat-faced. The corners of his mouth drooped as an increasing number of black cubes floated around him. Their rotation became more and more regular, and a faint electric arc began to slowly connect the palm-sized metal cubes together.
NUL-00 was snatching resources from the Mainbrain a little by little similar to boiling a frog in warm water*.
*Refers to boiling a frog slowly to death. Metaphor used for people who cannot or are reluctant to notice or react to an emerging threat. || In this context, it’s saying Tang Yibu is slowly taking resources from the Mainbrain, and because he’s taking a little at a time, the Mainbrain won’t notice until it’s too late.
Having the A-type Prototype meant NUL-00 should be proficient in his offensive, but instead it was clearly putting on a defensive style. They couldn’t kill him, they couldn’t get around him, and if they didn’t do anything, he wouldn’t take the initiative to attack them. He was truly a piece of sesame seed candy*.
*(牛皮糖) Referring to a sticky, chewy candy that’s a metaphor for a very difficult person (to deal with). It’s also a double entendre because the Tang in Tang Yibu’s name also means candy.
However, the Mainbrain’s command must be executed. Looking at the current situation, the longer time dragged on, the more cubes NUL-00 would steal. His computing power was growing rapidly, and the pressure on their side would only increase.
R-β glanced around.
The Mainbrain, who was currently fighting with the intruder, was obviously aware of this. When the black cubes around NUL-00 began to count in the hundreds, the border garrison finally began to act—the gap between the calculation cubes was too narrow that dozens of laser snipes were futile. They put on thick heat-resistant suits and mounted oxygen tanks on their backs, and began to move in the direction of the center.
R-β breathed a sigh of relief and continued to fight NUL-00 with M-β.
Tang Yibu knew what the Mainbrain wanted to do.
While machines would be confused by the rules, humans wouldn’t. As long as the stationed Order Supervisors were close enough and possessed extremely destructive weapons, they could naturally kill the unsuspecting Mr. Ruan.
It was time to act.
“This is a formal warning.” Tang Yibu stared closely at M-β, who was spinning around him, looking for flaws and waiting for the opportunity to attack. The sound echoed under the gradually darkening sky through the amplifier on his collar. “I am the prototype of MUL-01, NUL-00. Please don’t get involved in a battle you shouldn’t be involved in.”
“Your target is my love interest. It’s not too late to retreat now.”
The blood-red sunset sank into the other side of the desert. The computing cube next to Tang Yibu was like a weird swarm of bees. In the cobweb-like blue light arcs, those golden eyes were particularly dazzling.
A commotion broke out in the garrison that was heading deeper towards the center. Still, one of them took the lead and continued forward. As soon as the man stretched out his arm in an attempt to make way, the black cubes squeezed together violently, crushing his arms to dust and splattering blood everywhere.
“I warned you,” Tang Yibu continued. The black cubes around his body began to spin even faster.
“I’ll kill anyone who dares to retreat.” A familiar voice joined the conversation. Zhuo Muran jumped off the aircraft wearing a complete combat exoskeleton on his body. He made a long face.
“Don’t worry. Without support, NUL-00 could only peel off the outermost layer. Did you see him control any of the cubes in the inner layer?”
Tang Yibu clicked his tongue. A change in their plans had really appeared. Zhuo Muran shouldn’t have come this fast.
Zhuo Muran’s statement was correct. The closer they got to the inner layer, the more difficult it was for him to capture the black cubes. The hardware between Tang Yibu and the Mainbrain was still too far apart. Even if the Mainbrain’s defenses weren’t focused on him, Tang Yibu couldn’t immediately obtain resources that could rival his opponent.
It was one against three. This wasn’t good.
…Unless he could take one out in the planned time slot.
Forest petri dish, before the sunset.
When he was about to reach the tenth floor, Yu Le’s entire suit was already soaked with sweat. The tenth floor was tightly guarded, and he couldn’t control his heartbeat. Looking at Ji Xiaoman’s sweaty neck, it was obvious he wasn’t alone.
Security checks were carried out layer by layer. Even with Tang Yibu’s technical support, Yu Le still felt a little exhausted. In normal times, he could still say a few words to Ji Xiaoman, but at the moment, there was surveillance watching him, so he couldn’t make a peep.
Ji Xiaoman quietly grabbed Yu Le’s cuffs, lowered her head and stared at the ground. Her whole body was taut like an arrow that could leave the string at any time.
With a soft sound, they arrived at the tenth floor.
After layers of reporting, the two had long been free of mud on their shoes. The corridor in front of them was obviously newly renovated. The walls were brand new white, which was illuminated brightly by the lights. They slowly moved forward on the clean floor while surveillance machines embedded on the edge of the corridor turned to look at them one by one, scanning repeatedly and never stopping.
Every step forward was like the beat of their heart.
Suddenly, one of the surveillance machines found a clue. Its warning light sounded, and the entire corridor turned dazzling blood red. This time, Yu Le, a born ruins pirate, reacted quickly—he grabbed Ji Xiaoman and ran straight to the end of the corridor, easily opening all the props Tang Yibu had given them.
“What’s going on?!” When this was done, Yu Le still had some energy to yell at the communicator.
“The security system on the last level is too complicated for me to crack.” Tang Yibu didn’t sound very happy at the moment. “It’s going to be closed sooner or later anyway. You should have opened the props already. This will temporarily disrupt the door and weapon operating systems, so just rush in as soon as possible.”
“Why didn’t you fucking say such an important thing earlier?!”
“If I said it earlier, you will be more nervous and exposed yourself even faster. If the alarm is triggered as soon as you get out of the elevator, the time may not be enough for you to run to the entrance.”
“……Fuck.” Yu Le gritted his teeth.
Before the heavy partition door came down, Yu Le lowered his body and dragged Ji Xiaoman into the room at the end of the corridor. Unfortunately, when they crossed the door, Yu Le didn’t get the opportunity to catch his breath—after the partition door descended, a deafening pumping sound exploded in his ears and the oxygen in the space began to rapidly pump out.
“Hurry up, Little Profiter, hurry up!” Yu Le groped around in the dark. “Hurry up and start this damn thing or we’ll suffocate here!”
“Don’t be nervous. I’ll help you.” Tang Yibu continued to guide. “The switch is in the upper left corner of the middle row in the M area. Miss Ji should understand. I’ll take care of the palmprint lock for you.”
The room was pitch black when suddenly a light lit up from Ji Xiaoman. The little girl was pale. She turned on the lights on her prosthetic limbs to their max and hurriedly looked for the switch—there was already a cacophony of human noises coming from outside the door. The Order Supervisors had found their invasion and most likely had blocked off the door.
Finally, as the partition door began to crack open, Ji Xiaoman found the switch among hundreds of operation panels and pressed it with one hand. The light screen with the outline of a handprint floated in the air, and a complete palm print appeared in the middle. As the scan ended, the sound of pumping in all directions stopped abruptly, and there was no more movement outside the door. From nowhere came a rumbling sound of something being launched, and the dark space was illuminated by lights.
“Well done.” Tang Yibu’s interest didn’t sound high. “Open it and we have halfway won. The next act is up to the two of you.”
This time, Yu Le didn’t care about Tang Yibu’s tone. He looked at the “ground” beneath his feet and swallowed.
What was under them wasn’t a floor, but a thick layer of glass that was strung together by a huge machine in the middle, partitioning the space into transparent cylinders. They couldn’t see the top from above or the tail end beneath their feet.
The machine in the middle looked like a withered corpse of a dragon, completely lacking the regular beauty of what machines should have. It was undulating slightly, as if it was a living thing. Their location seemed to be on the main console, which was the most complex part of this thing—a variety of switches embedded in the uneven dark brown console and odd-shaped pipes stacked on the edge of the thick glass. There were three chairs in a slightly more spacious area, which looked a bit like a navigation platform.
“How can I put this…”
Yu Le stared blankly at the main seat in front of him as well as the huge and weird machine in the middle.
“If this mission was the one I imagined… This is definitely the most, uh, overrated moment in my life.”