Author: 年终 / Nian Zhong
Translator: Kinky || https://kinkytranslations.com/
Chapter 40: Nightmare
Zhu Yanchen couldn’t quite describe his mood.
Shu Jun had better control over his emotions than he had imagined. Facing his old teammate, he didn’t lose his cool too much. But as soon as the conversation began, Zhu Yanchen was momentarily stunned when Hu Yan mentioned “honeymoon”.
If Shu Jun had a lover, he certainly would have mentioned it to ‘Smoke’.
Countless feelings instantly converged, and for a moment, Zhu Yanchen couldn’t tell if it was bitter or salty. But thinking about it, he and Shu Jun were originally separated by a huge gap, and text communication was only the result of his reluctant effort—the virtual city was heavily protected, and he had to carefully avoid those technicians to quietly tear a gap.
There were two main purposes for their communication.
Publicly, Shu Jun liked to share tactics with other captains, and he was very open about it. Zhu Yanchen could quietly pass on safer strategies, allowing players to live longer.
Privately, it was bitter to go it alone, and people always needed support.
He had exhausted all his efforts, thoroughly understood all the issues related to the Erosion Swamp and left behind a spark that was enough to ignite a wildfire before he died. As for the original agreement, this could be considered an explanation. Both of them didn’t have much time left, and Zhu Yanchen hoped that he could go ahead of Shu Jun. When he reached the underworld, he would be able to welcome Shu Jun in an upright manner.
He knew that Shu Jun couldn’t remember the past, and he also knew that he couldn’t get rid of the shock in his brain and wouldn’t be able to save his former friend. At least in the last few years of his life, Zhu Yanchen just wanted to chat a few words with that person.
However, Shu Jun was more enthusiastic than he had imagined. At first, the two of them talked smoothly about tactics, and later, this man even wanted to share the interesting things that happened in his life. Infected by the other person’s warmth, Zhu Yanchen couldn’t help but open up a bit and speak up from time to time.
After all, this was the moment when he needed the least consideration. In the end, it could be considered comfort during his final pain.
Now that he had survived, Zhu Yanchen couldn’t help but hope that he could be more special—at least not an ordinary acquaintance who couldn’t even get close. It seemed that even Hu Yan knew that Shu Jun had a lover.
Before Zhu Yanchen could react, Hu Yan dropped another bombshell: “Sister-in-law’s game ID is ‘Smoke’.”
Zhu Yanchen: “…”
He reacted quickly and instantly guessed that this was the system’s handling the aftermath. Despite this, he still had a hint of inexplicable joy. Seeing Shu Jun outside the tent, embarrassed and scratching his head, Marshal Zhu took the initiative to defuse the situation, which was rare.
Who would have thought that after a conversation, Shu Jun’s mood would darken again? That night, Zhu Yanchen turned over and saw that there was no one beside him. The sleeping bag was icy cold, and the only sound in his ears was the sound of Yu Jin’s snoring.
Even Monday, who was lying next to him, was gone.
Zhu Yanchen immediately sat up, hastily put on his protective suit, and left the tent.
He was a little worried—Shu Jun exceeded his expectations. After knowing the truth, he didn’t recklessly save people at all costs, nor did he spread his hatred to humans like himself, Ai Xiaoxiao, or Yu Jin. Just recently, the two of them had been running around trying to solve the problem of synths, and surprisingly, they were getting along quite well.
But even if things were gradually being resolved, that hatred still existed.
Shu Jun hadn’t gone far. To avoid the wind, the Blackbirds set up camp by a low cliff. Shu Jun was sitting on the cliff at the moment by himself. He pushed his gas mask aside, and his gray-white eyes sparkled in the night.
Monday was the first to notice Zhu Yanchen. It exhaled vigorously. “Zhu! Zhu—”
“That’s enough.” Shu Jun pressed his hand on the hilt of his sword. He didn’t turn around and just shifted his body a little to give Zhu Yanchen a place to sit.
“Don’t worry. I won’t have an emotional breakdown and just run away with Hu Yan and the others.” After Zhu Yanchen sat down, Shu Jun turned his head with a somewhat complicated expression. “After all, you are such a reliable partner. If I lose you*, I won’t dare mess around.”
*After passing this village, there’s no other shop like this (过了这村就没这店了) Idiom used to describe missed opportunities or regretting not taking action when the chance was available. || In this context, he’s saying there’s no one who can replace Zhu Yanchen (as a partner).
“I’m not worried about that.”
“Really?” Shu Jun laughed and moved his position again. The two of them were close enough, and the night was cold, making the warmth from his body even more evident.
Zhu Yanchen was silent for a few seconds and found that he didn’t know how to respond, so he just made a hum in agreement.
“A’Yan, you said a few days ago that I could talk to you like we used to.” Shu Jun’s voice was clear and powerful. “So I’ll tell you. I had a dream just now—a really strange one.”
This was indeed a topic they used to chat about online.
“I dreamed of myself, but it was the normal me from before—it was oozing erosion substance all over, bones were exposed, and its face had been eroded away. It stood in front of me and kept nagging, telling me to kill you and then kill Yu Jin, directly take Blackbirds to capture several strongholds, and seek revenge against humanity.”
Zhu Yanchen: “…” He really didn’t know how to respond to all this.
“I found it quite interesting. I dreamt about it last night, and it came again tonight. I rarely dream, so it’s definitely not a coincidence.” Shu Jun yawned and stroked Monday. “As soon as I fall asleep, it starts mumbling, like clocking in for work.”
At this point, Zhu Yanchen could hear the hidden meaning behind Shu Jun’s words. He held his breath and looked at Shu Jun.
“I’ve told you before, I hate humans. Y City is really lively, with groups of people trampling on our corpses to live their lives. Ignorance is not an excuse, in my opinion. However, personally speaking, those who knowingly promote the player system despite knowing the truth are the ones I want to kill.”
Shu Jun raised his hand and casually pointed upward with his sharp claws.
“But before that, I will do everything possible to ensure that my compatriots survive. Regardless of how the situation changes, this is definitely the top priority… So I think that nagging thing in my dream shouldn’t be my subconscious.”
“When did this dream start?” Zhu Yanchen asked seriously.
“Just these two days. The biggest recent event was probably infiltrating the command center to steal information. Tell me, Grand Marshal—”
Shu Jun propped himself up with one hand, leaned in close to Zhu Yanchen’s face, and the heat radiating from him made Zhu Yanchen purse his lips.
“—Is your command center really secure?”
“It’s hard to say.” When he spoke again, Zhu Yanchen noticed that his voice was a little hoarse. “The purification defense of the command center is relatively sound, so the formed Erosion Swamp can’t get in. But in order to ensure the coming and going of synths, it won’t completely exclude erosion substance.”
“Hmm…” Shu Jun hummed, wrinkling his brow.
“There are also loopholes.” Zhu Yanchen continued, “They rely too much on the purification system and only check it regularly according to regulations. Even if they find something wrong, it will take some time to go through the application process.”
He subconsciously thought of something, but when he went to investigate it further, that sense of inspiration disappeared.
“Well, it seems like I need to have more dreams and see what the purpose of that thing is.” Shu Jun smiled again, reached out, and pulled Zhu Yanchen’s coat off his shoulders. “I dreamt of something uncomfortable, so I was just trying to clear my mind. Let’s go back. Your body is still human, so be careful not to catch a cold.”
There was no vegetation in the erosion zone. The erosion substance liked water, so the entire zone was like a desolated swamp. The sky was always dark, and even though Shu Jun stopped the wind around him, the air was still uncomfortably damp and cold, as if every step could pass through a ghost.
“If you can’t handle those negative emotions…” Zhu Yanchen stood up.
He wanted to say, “You can also talk to me about them”, but as a member of the human race, that sentence was a bit stinging. He threw out the first half of the sentence, but the second half died in his chest.
Shu Jun stopped laughing. He stared at Zhu Yanchen for a moment before blurting out, “You have an interesting perspective. I’m sure you’ve been through a lot and have rich experience.”
The sentence didn’t sound sarcastic but carried three parts anger and seven parts dissatisfaction. Before he finished speaking, Shu Jun reached out to button up Zhu Yanchen’s coat, exuding an air of wanting to strangle him.
“Let’s go back, quickly.” After buttoning up the coat, Shu Jun raised his claws threateningly. “If I can’t stand it, I won’t keep quiet, and I’ll howl in front of you for three days and nights. Not like someone who pretends to be an eighty-year-old man, planning to quietly disappear from the world.”
“Okay, don’t look like that. I understand your reasoning. Your choices were limited, but does that have anything to do with me not feeling good?”
This was the first time Zhu Yanchen had met such an unreasonable collaborator, leaving him speechless. Although there was nothing to refute, a sour feeling rose in his chest.
“We should go back. We have to get up early tomorrow.” After being scrutinized by Shu Jun’s gaze for a few minutes, Zhu Yanchen spoke in a dry voice. “Regarding the command center, I’ll contact Ai Xiaoxiao.”
“Afterwards, you… No, we can communicate about emotional issues, two-way.”
“That’s about right.”
In Y City, Ai Xiaoxiao wasn’t sleeping either.
Since obtaining that jar of brain matter, she had been studying it with fervor and enthusiasm. Unlike Zhu Yanchen, who was focused on studying the Erosion Swamps, she was more skilled in treating late-stage erosion with drugs. In terms of medication, she was confident.
She was waiting for the machine’s analysis results, crunching on her fifth coffee-flavored lollipop.
With no guests in the late night, time seemed to stand still, making it the perfect time for research. Unfortunately, her life had recently been disrupted by an unwelcome guest—Zhu Yanchen’s faked death had thrown off her original plans. In order to handle Zhu Yanchen’s orders, Dong Lao had begun coming over repeatedly, specifically choosing late night hours when there were few people around.
And today was no different.
If it weren’t for the fact that the old man liked to hide in corners where no one could find him and that he didn’t come here to mooch off food and drink, she would have kicked him out. Being called away to open or close the door when inspiration was surging was already at the limit of what she could bear.
Ai Xiaoxiao rolled her eyes, picked up the prepared solution from one side, and began carefully dripping the new drug into it. She had just dripped the third drop when the alarm on the workbench started blaring, and Ai Xiaoxiao’s hand shook, wasting the entire tube of solution.
“Fuck!” She squeezed out a curse through her teeth.
Today was her breaking point. She no longer planned to show any respect for the old man and was definitely going to beat him into a pulp. Ai Xiaoxiao grabbed her keychain from the hook, stormed down the corridor with an air of menace, and charged toward another underground passage.
When she reached her destination, Dong Lao’s expression was even uglier than hers.
“Explain.” His voice was hoarse.
“Excuse me? You’re messing around in my house, and you want me to explain?”
“The detector detected an abnormal signal, and I have to make sure that this place hasn’t been bugged or invaded.”
“So you fucking didn’t tell me beforehand and was just going to barged in yourself?!”
“How could I possibly dare? You said that if I disturbed you during the experiment, you’d pluck my bones out and use them as brooms to clean up the waste from the urology department.” Dong Lao was equally unceremonious. “Now, explain. This place has a very complex mixed lock, and no one should be able to get in except for you.”
Dong Lao stood in front of an old door. The door was made of metal, very thick, and covered with mottled rust. It was locked with various types of locks, from the oldest physical locks to the newest electronic ones.
Ai Xiaoxiao sneered. She saw a bulge under the sleeve of his shirt, which was probably a gun.
“If you weren’t one of Zhu Yanchen’s men, you would be dead by now.” Behind the large ring-shaped keychain, she was holding, a cold scalpel glinted. “It’s none of your business. Have you heard of Bluebeard’s room*?”
*Reference to Bluebeard. He has a room where he keeps all his murdered wives’ corpses. You can read the story in the Wikipedia.
“Have you heard of Bluebeard’s ending*?”
*Clarity:Bluebeard’s latest wife became curious and managed to open his locked door, finding all of his previous wives’ corpses. When Bluebeard was about to murder her, she asked for one last prayer, which he granted, allowing time for her family to show up and kill him. || In this context, Ai Xiaoxiao is saying “You don’t want to know what’s in that room” and Dong Lao is retorting “You know what happens to people who hide secrets, right?”. Think of it like that.
“If you don’t trust me, you can ask Zhu Yanchen.”
“But that will have to wait for a while, won’t it? I won’t give you time to prepare, and I’m not interested in your personal affairs. If our interests coincide, you can show me. Regardless of whether it’s a demon or something else inside, as long as there’s no abnormal signal, I won’t say a word.”
Ai Xiaoxiao stared at him for a moment.”Fine, for Zhu Yanchen’s sake,” she said. “As an exchange, if you say a single word, I will definitely skin you alive—literally. I mean what I say.”
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