Author: 年终 / Nian Zhong
Translator: Kinky || https://kinkytranslations.com/
Chapter 38: A Missed Encounter
Shu Jun had been to the command center before. The assistants would lead him there, but this was the first time he explored downward. Zhu Yanchen was walking in front. Obviously, the two were sneaking around like thieves, but that man didn’t look guilty at all. He simply strolled through the corridor as if he were taking a walk in his own backyard.
Zhu Yanchen remained silent the entire time. Feeling heavily pressed by the purifiers, Shu Jun got lost in his thoughts in order to divert his attention.
After hearing many things from Ai Xiaoxiao, Shu Jun didn’t know how to deal with Zhu Yanchen. He could understand why the other party didn’t explain things to him—Zhu Yanchen originally planned to try his best to help him, and he had succeeded. Bringing it up again later would reveal a hint of deliberation.
However, as a partner, bringing it up could still earn some goodwill, but Zhu Yanchen remained silent.
It seemed Marshal Zhu preferred to remain silent on many issues. Although they were old friends in name, Shu Jun always had an inexplicable sense of guilt—despite the favor of saving each other’s lives were fairly equal, Zhu Yanchen’s obvious and hidden care wasn’t lacking. Shu Jun considered himself quite thick-skinned, but it wasn’t to the point where he would brazenly think it was “reasonable” and take it for granted.
If Zhu Yanchen was an extrovert, Shu Jun would have confidence in getting along with him even if he didn’t recover his memories. Unfortunately, Marshal Zhu was like a steel walnut. He couldn’t even creak open that three-foot iron gate, making it difficult for him to get close.
“Is your heart okay?” The endless white corridor in front of them prompted Shu Jun to start a conversation. After his complete physical examination, Ai Xiaoxiao had called Zhu Yanchen back for a follow-up heart check, and he didn’t know what the result was.
“Very healthy.” Zhu Yanchen slowed down by half a beat.
After that, there was another long silence. Shu Jun had thought of several topics in his mind, but he found himself having some hesitation, unable to chat freely.
“…What about you?” After a long silence, Zhu Yanchen probably felt that the atmosphere had become a bit awkward, so he took the initiative to say something.
Shu Jun could tell that Marshal Zhu was struggling to find a topic. Ai Xiaoxiao had shown the examination report to Zhu Yanchen—if he really had a problem, Zhu Yanchen would know before even he did.
“I’m fine too.” Despite Shu Jun’s sincere tone, the conversation was still unproductive.
Zhu Yanchen seemed to have realized this, and his footsteps quickened. Shu Jun quickly changed the topic. “Speaking of medical treatment, Luo Duan seems to be recuperating here. If there is time, I want to go and see him. Even if I can’t remove the brain fragments immediately, I can suppress the erosion in his body.”
“…Mm.” For some reason, Zhu Yanchen’s tone was stiff, and he sounded a bit sullen.
“I understand your concerns.” Shu Jun quickly added, “Although I don’t have much private contact with Luo Duan, he is indeed reliable, and there’s no harm in communicating with him beforehand.”
After all, the current situation was really awkward.
Even if they succeeded in obtaining a sample of the brain fragment and Ai Xiaoxiao developed a drug to counteract rejection, it wouldn’t be wise to “awaken” too many players at once—there was still no solution to the problem of a player’s lifespan, and players who had been deceived might not be willing to believe in Zhu Yanchen. In the event of a large-scale conflict, it would only benefit the Erosion Swamp fisherman* in the end.
*Referring to the idiom (鹬蚌相争，渔翁得利) wherein two parties quarrel while a third party profits from it.
They had to be careful and take it one step at a time, because if they made a mistake, it could result in a complete wipeout.
In terms of tactics, Luo Duan wasn’t as good as Shu Jun, but when it came to scheming, Shu Jun knew he was far behind Luo Duan. Luo Duan wasn’t the impulsive type either. If he could win him over successfully, it would be advantageous for the plan no matter how he looked at it.
“I understand. There should be enough time.” Zhu Yanchen didn’t refuse, and the hint of stiffness in his tone disappeared.
It was understandable. After all, Luo Duan wasn’t under Zhu Yanchen’s command. At present, he only had one side of the story, so it was normal for Zhu Yanchen to be cautious. Shu Jun patted Zhu Yanchen’s shoulder understandingly, and the latter looked at him with a complicated expression.
Finally, the corridor came to an end, and they no longer had to struggle to find a topic.
There was a hall hidden in the deepest part of the command center.
Shu Jun had seen many monsters before and had prepared himself mentally. But when he saw what was in front of him, he almost retched—
In the center of the hall stood a cylindrical glass jar with a radius of about six meters from the floor to the ceiling, filled with something. Because its shape was too regular, Shu Jun had to approach it before he could discern what it was.
It was a jar full of brain tissue.
It even had several hoses, slowly floating in the liquid, occasionally emitting small bubbles. Shu Jun was a little dazed and didn’t react until Zhu Yanchen had finished the invasion.
“I have temporarily deactivated the alarm and purification systems. We only have five minutes.” Zhu Yanchen set the timer. “Be careful. If we exceed the time limit or if the concentration of the erosion substance fluctuates too much, they will find evidence.”
Shu Jun collected himself and put the cold jar in his palm. The erosion substance penetrated the almost non-existent seams, turning into flexible little hooks, manipulating the internal mechanical password lock little by little. Three minutes later, there was a crisp sound from the base of the jar, and the external interface slowly opened.
Then the erosion substance solidified into a sturdy spoon and Shu Jun carefully took out a small sample of tissue from inside. The black erosion substance hooked onto the pink-white brain, making Shu Jun’s stomach churn.
Unfortunately, this was necessary.
According to Zhu Yanchen, in order to break the control of the brain fragment, they must first obtain a healthy sample. Once this was made into an implantable fragment, the storage and logistics management were strict to the point of being outrageous. Zhu Yanchen had tried secretly but was unable to obtain the finished product.
As for those that had already been implanted, most of them dissipated together with the synths inside the Erosion Swamp or had been damaged by erosion. Zhu Yanchen couldn’t carry out craniotomy experiments with healthy synths before, but with Shu Jun’s help, they could start from the source without anyone noticing.
After Shu Jun removed the brain, Zhu Yanchen injected an equal amount of nutrient solution into the tank. As soon as they restored the mechanical lock, the countdown reached the last second.
Everything went smoothly without any surprises.
Zhu Yanchen carefully put the sample bottle into his pocket and nodded to Shu Jun. However, Shu Jun didn’t show a relieved expression. He frowned and looked around.
“Nothing,” Shu Jun muttered. “It’s just… It seems like someone is watching me. Forget it. Let’s go see Luo Duan first.”
With information from Ai Xiaoxiao, Luo Duan’s room was easy to find. Shu Jun looked through the crack of the viewing window and saw that the room was dark, with a black figure leaning against the windowsill.
It seemed that Luo Duan hadn’t slept yet.
There was no other way. Shu Jun shook his head and gave the “Suppression” command through the door. He hoped that this old opponent could suffer less. Then, with a sigh, he left this floor with Zhu Yanchen.
As soon as the two of them left, the figure next to the bed collapsed slowly—if viewed from another angle, it looked more like a black paper-cut figure, with a thickness that was almost negligible.
The suppressed erosion substance remained motionless for a while and then slowly crawled and seeped back into the wall like liquid.
The real Luo Duan still remained in the deepest layer.
With two intruders present, he didn’t dare venture too deep. The two people were wearing very common masks, and Luo Duan couldn’t tell who they were. He also didn’t want to use Yi Ning’s access card—God knew what these two guys had done. If he left traces now, he might end up taking the blame for something he didn’t do.
It was better to stop here tonight. Yi Ning had no defense against him, and he could always try again another day.
He was farther away from the entrance to the main hall as he thought this and was about to turn around to go back. However, the strange voice behind him appeared again—it was like something was roaming on his spine, like a cold hand slowly rubbing his neck.
“To the right… To the right… the third door.” It whispered. “The answer… The answer…”
Luo Duan angrily pressed his temple, intending to ignore its existence as usual.
The thing was silent for a while, and when it spoke again, its voice changed, becoming sweet and familiar.
“The answer… you want… The answer.”
“Xiao Yuan?” Luo Duan stopped in horror.
It was the voice of his fiancée.
Pei Shuyuan was originally the deputy captain of Groundwater and a highly skilled warrior. A year ago, her character was swallowed by an Erosion Swamp. According to the rules of <Erosion>, she had to leave the team.
[I’m going on a trip,] she said at the time. [Anyway, you’re about to retire, so you might as well focus on leading the team. I’ll go around and find a suitable city for us to get married in.]
Afterwards, she would occasionally video call him, and their photo and text communication never stopped. It was just Luo Duan was busy and Pei Shuyuan was out traveling, so their communication times didn’t match, thus communication between the two became less frequent.
However, they had been together for almost ten years, and their relationship had long passed the stage of passionate romance, so Luo Duan didn’t have a hard time adapting.
Why did this thing know Pei Shuyuan’s voice?
“The answer…” the originally strange voice became intimate, like a whisper.
Luo Duan stood still for five minutes before finally taking a deep exhalation. He stood in front of the door indicated by that thing. The water mirror skill could project images showing there was no one in the room. He just wanted to take a look… Just a look…
If there was an answer, he would consider continuing. If there was no information, he would report to the NPC and deal with the strange thing behind him formally.
The door led to a warehouse with tightly arranged small jars full of meat chunks and a lot of dust. Luo Duan looked around but didn’t find any special clues. He breathed a sigh of relief and was about to leave when something fell to the ground with a clatter.
It was an electronic tablet with no dust on it. It must have been forgotten by someone.
Luo Duan hesitated for a few seconds before walking over. Many black threads were wrapped around the old tablet, and it started up on its own, illuminating the dim room.
He picked it up, and the screen was still on the “recent modifications” page. The first file name was quite eye-catching.
[List of Synthetic Human Tissue Retained Samples and Precautions for Preservation]
Luo Duan took a deep breath and carefully opened it.
The next morning, a staff member rushed into the basement room. The electronic tablet was lying quietly on a small table. He put it in his backpack and breathed a sigh of relief—personal items shouldn’t be left in the workplace, let alone the fact that he hadn’t set a password. If it were discovered, he might lose his job.
Luckily, it was just one night, and no one, not even the synths, usually came to this place. There shouldn’t be any leaks.
…Speaking of which, there was indeed a synth in the command center now.
He was in a hurry to get the tablet back, so he came to work early. According to regulations, they had to go to the higher floors to refresh his access card passwords before taking another elevator to go underground. It was a troublesome process—a synth saw him rushing towards the door and helped him keep the elevator door open.
The synth had a visitor name tag with the name “Bitter Rain” on his chest and had a pleasant and handsome appearance. So far, his impression of the person was quite good.
“Are you going to see Marshal Yi Ning?” Seeing that the other party pressed the high floor where Yi Ning was located, he couldn’t help interjecting.
“Yeah.” Bitter Rain smiled at him.
After that, he didn’t dare talk to the synth again—they weren’t humans but weapons, just like the propaganda said.
But he had never seen such a creepy smile.
Erosion Swamp: The air… smells of… vinegar*.
Note: The title of the chapter is an idiom: To brush past someone’s shoulder and then go separate ways (擦肩而过). It describes a missed opportunity or a chance encounter that didn’t lead to anything significant.
Given the chapter’s content, it’s pretty obvious what the missed encounter was.
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