Access Denied Ch5

Author: 年终 / Nian Zhong

Translator: Kinky ||

Chapter 5: Returning Light

For the first time, Shu Jun had a novel experience.

One second, he was still standing a few steps away from the sofa, and the next moment, he was sitting on it. The water cup that was originally in his hand fell to the ground, splashing water all over the floor.

Time seemed to have been cut off.

…Can VR games also have frame drops? What was I going to say just now?

There was a strange impression in his mind—although there were frame drops, he seemed to have heard something important from Zhu Yanchen just now. However, he couldn’t remember any details, and his memory only stopped at his own words, “I’m ready.”

Shu Jun picked up his cup in confusion. His head throbbed as he straightened up. As he tried to remember more, his stomach began to churn, as if he had just swallowed a live snake. Eventually, he didn’t have time to stand up and threw up on the sofa.

He was supposed to vomit nothing but ended up regurgitating a large amount of black liquid mixed with lumpy pieces resembling internal organs. Some of it splattered onto the sofa, adding gray spots to the bright chocolate color, and the gray continued to erode the surrounding colors.

The same erosive substance as the Erosion Swamp.

It took a while for Shu Jun to stop vomiting. His chest and stomach were in pain, and his head was buzzing. He raised his eyes and tried to put the double image of Marshal Zhu back together. What he had vomited out was corrosive, and Zhu Yanchen had removed most of his protective equipment, so it might be dangerous. He had finally managed to grab a lifeline, so he couldn’t just start pitting it.

“Sorry.” Zhu Yanchen’s voice came from a high place, sounding ethereal.

What are you apologizing for?

Shu Jun shook his head as if his ears were submerged in water, making him even more dizzy. Someone helped him onto a bed and gave him an injection in his arm. After resting for a while, Shu Jun could finally distinguish Zhu Yanchen’s mouth from his nose.

He chose the question he wanted to ask the most. “Gas masks?”

“I took protective medicine while you were showering, so there shouldn’t be an issue within half an hour,” Zhu Yanchen said as he retrieved the syringe and put on a protective suit. “How do you feel?”

Good question.

After ten years of fighting, he had lost quite a few teammates to the Erosion Swamps. If one only got a little bit of erosion on them, there was still hope, but once they were swallowed up by the Erosion Swamp, it would be no different than falling into a sulfuric acid pool. Now that he had become the person who vomited sulfuric acid, he should first celebrate the fact that he was still alive.

He wanted to smile bitterly but had collapsed so much that he couldn’t even smirk. “I feel okay. I just learned how to travel through time, so I’m a little motion sick.”

Zhu Yanchen lowered his gaze. “……”

Interestingly, Marshal Zhu didn’t question the “time travel”, so he must know something. Shu Jun gasped a few times, finding it difficult to speak as a pile of questions got stuck in his throat.

“A’Yan,” he finally managed to say without sounding interrogative.

Zhu Yanchen paused, still expressionless. It was unclear whether he was affirming or dismissing it as nonsense. He took out a row of medicine bottles from his briefcase and skillfully mixed them together, looking like a professional nurse.

Shu Jun saw that he was on an IV. Marshal Zhu hid behind the gas mask again as he cleaned Shu Jun’s wounds.

With the IV attached and little strength left in his body, Shu Jun’s mind began to wander. Perhaps this “Zhu Yanchen” was indeed the real Smoke and wasn’t controlled by AI. This could explain many things, such as his location, his knowledge of the game, and his skilled medical care.

It was a comforting thought, much more reliable than the idea of NPCs interfering with reality.

Looking at the rapid change of expression on Shu Jun’s face and his gaze drifting towards him, Zhu Yanchen’s expression changed slightly, but it was difficult to tell if he wanted to laugh or was unhappy. “Your brain will reject specific information. Even if I tell you again what I just told you, you won’t remember… It’s hard to explain now, so you should rest first.”

Shu Jun turned his mouth towards the glass of water on the table. Zhu Yanchen understood and poured him two sips of water. Shu Jun was visibly shaken, but he still bravely spoke up. “I was feeling great before I came here, but your words just knocked me down. I think you need to give me a logical explanation.”

At the end, he raised his voice for fear that the other party wouldn’t be able to hear him. “A’Yan.”

Zhu Yanchen neither admitted nor denied it, and Shu Jun didn’t have time to inquire further because the bombshell he threw was even more provocative—

“This was a last-ditch effort* from you earlier.”

*Returning light and reflecting shine (回光返照) Idiom referring to a dying flame or a person’s final burst of energy or strength before their demise. In a figurative sense, it can mean a temporary recovery after a decline or a last-ditch effort to salvage a situation. || Note: This is also the title of the chapter.

Afterwards, the person added in a tough tone, “Rest first and don’t think too much.”

Don’t think too much. Shu Jun almost choked on his saliva.

Feeling inexplicably trapped in the game, his mind lagged, and his mouth spewed poison. The important NPC seemed to be his love interest, but his actions made no sense. Now, he was told that he was about to die and to take a break first, despite the absurdity of the situation.

Others achieved a double harvest in career and love, but for him, he had received bombs instead.

Zhu Yanchen saw that Shu Jun was shocked and began to conduct a comprehensive blood test. Shu Jun vaguely caught a glimpse of the black blood, but he already had too many questions and didn’t rush to ask about it.

Instead, he picked the biggest question and threw it out. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“Saving you,” Zhu Yanchen said.

As if he was afraid that Shu Jun would keep asking, he added, “…I have no intention of hiding it from you. When your condition stabilizes, I’ll take you somewhere. Then you’ll understand everything.”

Inside the city.

“Is there anything wrong with Zhu Yanchen?” Xia Liang tied up her hair in front of the makeup mirror.

The election for the Head of State was just around the corner, and intelligence agencies from all over the world were working hard. Unsurprisingly, the news that “Marshal Zhu was attacked by a mutant and his whereabouts are unknown” spread instantly. Everyone knew that “unknown whereabouts” was a nice way of saying that a person who entered a heavily eroded area wouldn’t survive for more than 48 hours without any preparations.

As long as the person surnamed Zhu stayed hidden in the safe house for a week, the United Government wouldn’t be able to find him and would be forced to announce his death. The leaders were supposed to choose between Yi Ning and Zhu Yanchen, but with Zhu Yanchen’s sudden death, the entire process would have to start over, which would take another three months.

According to their agreement, Zhu Yanchen just took advantage of this time to go experiment outside.

It had been more than 200 years since humans couldn’t penetrate the heavily eroded areas. Whether Zhu Yanchen could survive outside for three months would depend on his luck. According to Zhu Yanchen’s own statement, winning was the true victory, but even if he lost, he had already made arrangements.

In this world, one must be extremely lucky to be born with a golden spoon*, but some people insist on risking their lives. Xia Liang naturally hoped that Zhu Yanchen would live longer, as he was a top-level contact. With a well-planned operation, Zhu Yanchen had always been calm and steady, but he unexpectedly took the wrong first step…

*Metaphor for being born into a wealthy and privileged family and having everything handed to you on a silver platter.

Before the mutant that was supposed to “attack” Zhu Yanchen arrived, Marshal Zhu had run away with an unknown mutant that came out of nowhere. Xia Liang didn’t believe Zhan Yanchen was really kidnapped, but to prevent the original planned kidnapping scene from going wrong, Marshal Zhu brought a lot of weapons dedicated to restraining mutants.

The result wasn’t much different. No matter who staged the kidnapping, the timing of the fake death message was accurate within a few hours. She didn’t need to cover for him too much, but the unnecessary variables were annoying her.

How did I end up with such a troublesome boss?

After venting, Xia Liang used her pinky to even out her lipstick. She poked the phonograph on one side, and a pre-recorded cry came from the device.

Despite the troubles, as a “former ex-girlfriend” who parted amicably, the show must go on.

She hoped that the work done by Zhu Yanchen for the Blackbirds wouldn’t go wrong. Xia Liang was uneasy as she thought about it and cursed. She pulled out a loose red robe from the closet, activated the projection button, and disguised herself as an old man with a hunchback, then slipped out of the room through a secret passage.

The center of the city was some distance from the border stronghold where the players lived.

“Dong Lao*.” Seeing Xia Liang, who looked like an old man, coming over, the guard hurriedly saluted.

*When adding (老) after a name, it’s a way to show respect for the person’s age and wisdom and can also indicate a close relationship between the speaker and the person being referred to. || In this context it’s a form of address so translated would be like Elder Dong.

This old man had a mysterious origin and was a general under Zhu Yanchen. Although the news of Marshal Zhu’s disappearance blew up, the official news of his death didn’t come out, and it was too early to be rude to the Marshal’s confidant.

The thoughts of several guards were written on their faces. With just a glance, Xia Laing knew that these people were Yi Ning’s supporters. She didn’t bother to talk to them and went straight to her destination. The guards exchanged glances, and one of them followed.

The players’ depository was underground, with rows of hibernation pods densely packed. These contraptions drew from the pre-doomsday game pods, and the servers were the technological heritage of the pre-doomsday. Their living weapons were sleeping in them, dreaming of a beautiful dream of a “real world outside the game”.

Shu Jun’s hibernation pod was stuffed with someone new.

“Dong Lao, the management of this place has been taken over by Marshal Yi Ning.” Seeing that Xia Liang was about to act, the guard reminded her in a timely manner.

“What are you guarding against?” Xia Liang rolled her eyes and pinched the voice modulator disguised as an old man. “General Zhu isn’t dead yet. I don’t think the handling of losses has been taken care of, has it?”

“Marshal Yi’s side…”

“What, even if he takes over management here, he still needs to officially register tomorrow, right?” Xia Liang ignored the guard and pressed the hibernation pod.

The guard hesitated for a while, as it wasn’t appropriate to pull away an old man. Since he hadn’t entered the management interface and was only taking a look, it shouldn’t cause any trouble. He thought it was fine to let the old man take a look.

Xia Liang had already connected the perception system to her own.

Since she wasn’t logging in as a player, she could only see a thumbnail of the God’s-eye view. The players were concentrated in the same virtual city, and the Blackbirds were celebrating while the AI that had replaced Shu Jun mingled among them. According to the usual script for a death scene, the fake Shu Jun would announce that he was leaving the city to experience life and that he would keep in touch in the future—simulating text messages didn’t require much calculation, and his friends would find it difficult to detect any problems.

Groundwater seemed to have finished their meal, and their captain, Luo Duan, had even arrived home. Xia Liang glanced at him briefly, then focused her attention back to the Blackbirds. The happy Blackbirds members were still hanging out with the fake Shu Jun and hadn’t noticed anything wrong.

Zhu Yanchen was still the same Zhu Yanchen, completely airtight. Once she was sure everything was going smoothly on this end, Xia Liang logged out.

“Done.” She waved her hand, leaving a guard smiling awkwardly in place.

“We’ll escort you out.” The guards exchanged glances. The two of them then escorted Xia Liang out of the room. The room was reserved for the top-tier teams like the Blackbirds and Groundwater. With both teams on vacation, there would be no training schedule for a short time. Leaving for a minute or two shouldn’t be a problem.

There was indeed no problem with the Blackbirds, but someone from Groundwater had no intention of enjoying a vacation.

The captain of Groundwater, Luo Duan, pulled the curtains and covered himself with a blanket, looking unhappy. He was two years older than Shu Jun and was almost thirty, so he was supposed to retire soon. It wasn’t surprising that he looked like this since they didn’t perform well in the championship, so no one would question it.

Thus, no one noticed his movements under the blanket—Luo Duan turned on the light screen, rolled up his sleeve, revealing a short phrase tattooed on his arm.

[This world is a lie.]

At first glance, it looked like a poetic sentence. This tattoo had been with him for less than a year and was still new. Luo Duan forgot why he tattooed such a thing, and thought it was the product of a drunken escapade. Recently, though, he felt things were getting worse. Several times he would look at it and briefly get lost in his thoughts, like time had been stolen.

Loss of concentration was often accompanied by headaches. Recently, this headache was becoming more serious. Even when he logged into the game, his body didn’t feel comfortable.

At the cost of scrapping his account, Shu Jun won.

For some reason, this thought didn’t make Luo Duan taste the bitterness of defeat but instead made him feel an inexplicable sadness in his heart. He seemed to have forgotten something important. Just like a dream he had, he felt he remembered it, but he couldn’t recall the contents.

This world is a lie?

Dominated by a strange impulse, Luo Duan got up from bed, subconsciously walked to the VR pod, and then woke up in the hibernation pod in the game. The guards who were usually patrolling weren’t there, and there was no one around. Inexplicable discomfort surrounded him again. Luo Duan coughed twice and sat down, leaning on the hibernation pod.

No one from Groundwater was online, and the training grounds weren’t open. He didn’t know what he was doing with this impulse to go online, so he froze on the spot. Not long after, the sound of NPCs talking came from a distance. Luo Duan wasn’t feeling well, so he was too lazy to deal with them. He simply covered himself in water mist and became invisible.

One of the guards poked his head around to make sure no one was in the room. “Dong Lao finally left. How are we going to explain this to Marshal Yi? What a headache.”

“Dong Lao loves to run around and is quite elusive. He didn’t move anything, so let’s not report it.”

“Right after Marshal Zhu’s accident, Dong Lao came here to check. And now, just after the death of the Blackbirds’ captain, I can’t help but feel that this is no coincidence…”

“Who knows. Maybe he really just came to check on the damage. Marshal Zhu was always interested in the Blackbirds, so it’s not surprising that Dong Lao came to see how things are going after their captain’s death… I thought Shu Jun could hold on until normal retirement. Now it seems that the captain of Groundwater, Luo Duan, is lasting longer. I heard he can last for another six months at most. This is the first time I’ve seen a synthetic human last this long. It’s quite impressive.”

“Marshal Zhu’s team was responsible for inspection before. What should we do now…”

“Who knows.”

Luo Duan remained motionless.

It was a similar accident and a similar conversation. He recalled his previous discovery and knew that he would soon be overwhelmed by a headache and forced to forget about it. He should do as he did last time and go back before his memory was erased, struggling to leave some records behind.

The players aren’t humans. The players are being used. The player’s world is indeed a lie.

Perhaps it was because he had repeated the process too many times, or maybe it was because he was already hovering on the brink of death, but the Grim Reaper seemed to have cut him some slack. The information could stay in his mind for longer periods of time. As the guards walked away, Luo Duan reached out to touch the pod door, but his movement suddenly froze.

A black liquid that seemed all too familiar oozed out from the seams of his gauntlet, dripping onto the floor.

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