Author: 年终 / Nian Zhong
Translator: Kinky || https://kinkytranslations.com/
Chapter 23: A Bloody Dawn
“There’s still an hour to go before we reach the shelter,” After about half an hour of silence, Chi Lei finally spoke again.
Ding Zepeng twitched his nose and mumbled hoarsely.
The hoverbike rustled and split the grass. After entering the complex terrain and relatively dense bushes, the last drone finally gave up tracking them and disappeared. Near dawn, the sky changed from dark blue to ultramarine, and the east turned slightly white.
“Zhang Yazhe’s choice was very wise.”
Perhaps it was because Ruan Xian wrapped his arms too tightly around his waist, as Tang Yibu’s voice revealed some suffocation, as if he was being strangled. His voice wasn’t loud as it blended in with the oncoming wind.
“If you want to forcibly take someone away in that situation, you can knock him out. Removing an important combatant and adding an unconscious male adult will only increase the difficulty exponentially.”
“I know,” Ruan Xian replied sullenly. He and Tang Yibu were originally unstable factors outside the monitoring of the Mainbrain. If he made too much noise, it would arouse the vigilance of the Mainbrain, which would be detrimental to the entire area.
He understood, but…
Tang Yibu spat out a string of words that sounded like a balloon was leaking as Ruan Xian unconsciously tightened his arms. “Please don’t continue to strangle me. I also have internal organs in my body.”
As soon as the words were spoken, Chi Lei, who was driving in front of him, suddenly slammed on the brakes. Tang Yibu turned the hoverbike sideways and stopped immediately.
“There’s something ahead,” Chi Lei said in a hiss as he threw a nut in front of him. Like hitting an invisible soft wall, the metal nut that should have flown far away fell vertically into the grass. “It’s not a full-coverage barrier. Something is targeting us—”
The dark forest suddenly became bright. The dark part between the tree trunks crept blood red, and uncountable crimson circles of light lit up in unison around them, moving in small increments like floating ghost fires. These things had surrounded them at some point, but the entire process was completely silent.
Chi Lei reacted amazingly fast as a first-class explorer of the refuge. He raised his hand and smashed a large bowl-sized device—the blue light on the edge of the disc device lit up, and the crimson circles went out in unison. At the same time, the two hoverbikes turned off, and their smooth bottoms hit the ground.
“EMP bomb. Low-level machines and equipment will lose their function for five minutes.” Chi Lei moved to the rear of the hoverbike. “231, manually restart the hoverbike. You have thirty seconds.”
“Where are we going?” Ding Zepeng jumped out of the back seat and held the suitcase tightly in his arms. His voice was filled with confusion.
“I don’t know, but we have to keep moving,” Chi Lei responded, sounding troubled. He carefully wound a line of wire into a ball in his hand.
‘This won’t work.’ Ruan Xian’s mind raced.
Fortunately, the predicted variables weren’t bad. No researcher could tolerate having powerful unknown factors wandering around their own territory. He and Tang Yibu probably had the strength to repel these things, but in the surveillance range of MUL-01, they had to dance in shackles. Chances are this wasn’t the only wave of pursuers. There had to be a suitable plan—one that kept everyone safe but also didn’t make the entire escape plan “beyond the scope of human capabilities” and attract the attention of the Mainbrain.
Ruan Xian tucked his drenched hair behind his ears and stared at Chi Lei, who was a few steps away. He had his head buried in his hoverbike, and his face was ashen. The other party didn’t seem to be very focused. Most likely, he still couldn’t stop thinking about Zhang Yazhe and the clones.
…As well as other things. Since Zhang Yazhe was able to successfully deceive the machines, the machine that had just attacked them back then didn’t follow up after they had escaped. The Mainbrain’s pursuers shouldn’t have the ability to pinpoint their location.
“Tang Yibu, three questions.” Ruan Xian glanced at the surrounding environment and kept his voice as low as a whisper. “Can the Mainbrain obtain our life and death situation in real time?”
“According to my observation, if there is no detection-type machine to probe the body, it will take at least 12 hours—12 hours after the body dies—for the black box to be completely deactivated.” Tang Yibu quickly connected the wires. A pleasant, soft ringing rang out, and the hoverbike’s operating panel lit up again. “If a person is in the signal blind zone, the parsing process will be extended to about 24 hours.”
“What extent does the S-Type Prototype allow me to be, um, damaged?”
This time, Tang Yibu glanced sideways at Ruan Xian. “Unless a special attack is made against the brain, as long as it’s not twisted into pieces and broken apart, it can theoretically recover.”
Ruan Xian’s expression stiffened. He stretched out his hand, pointed to the dark corner, and threw out a final question. “Is that hill far enough from the city? Can you block and rewrite the information transmitted to MUL-01 over there?”
“The distance is enough. However, if the other party has high intelligence, the information blocking might be detected. By the way, now’s a good opportunity for us to retreat…”
“Chi Ge, go to the other side of the hill!” At the moment when Chi Lei successfully started the hoverbike, Ruan Xian shouted, showing an obvious sign that he had no intention of retreating. “Follow me!”
Chi Lei stepped onto the hoverbike and looked at him with red eyes. He pulled his face down and was silent for a few seconds, as if he wanted to refute it out of habit. However, when he spoke, he just spit out a few simple words. “Lead the way.”
Tang Yibu smacked his lips and took the lead in starting the floating hoverbike. He rushed towards the dark hill in the night.
A few minutes after they set off, there was a buzzing mechanical sound behind them. The machine that had just flashed red lights burst out of the trees, revealing its true form under the moonlight—the familiar four anthropomorphic mechanical legs, in the shape of a large hound. Those things chasing behind them resembled police auxiliary machines, but the aperture color was different.
Their backs were slightly arched, and several shooting drones protruded from the metal, leaving dazzling grooves.
“Mechanical police dogs,” Chi Lei muttered. “Xiao Ding!”
Ding Zepeng spun around on the galloping hoverbike and sat down in the car seat. He fished out a long gun and neatly tied the suitcase to his waist while tying the gun belt to his abdomen. The entire process took less than ten seconds. After stabilizing his posture, he didn’t shoot indiscriminately—every time he shot, a mechanical dog or drone would fall out of the high-speed chase.
However, the speed of the mechanical police dogs was still faster. In less than five minutes, the leading ones leaned out their muzzles and tried to set fire to Chi Lei’s hoverbike.
Unfortunately, the ammunition flew halfway through the air before hitting the bullets that came flying at them, causing an explosion like fireworks. Ruan Xian didn’t turn back like Ding Zepeng. He wrapped his arm around Tang Yibu’s waist and turned to his side. The blood gun in his hand ejected dark bullets and shot down all the incoming ammunition.
In the slightly harsh explosion and wind, Chi Lei quietly followed Tang Yibu’s car like a colorful ghost.
“This way!” When he reached the steep side of the mountain wall, Ruan Xian took the lead and jumped off the hoverbike. He threw out an energy tank and used a bullet to detonate it, causing the nearest rows of mechanical dogs to explode.
Tang Yibu held Ruan Xian’s clothes tightly in one hand and climbed onto the cliff with the other. Chi Lei and Ding Zepeng closely followed. After Ding Zepeng climbed to the top of the cliff, he fired a few more shots, destroying all the drones that tried to climb up.
“Chi Ge, is there still infrared camouflage?” Seeing that Chi Lei was as quiet as a rock, Ruan Xian asked specifically.
“There are four more.”
“That’s enough. We still have six on our side. Not counting the heat of the hoverbike, just start two at a time, and it should be able to cover four people.” Ruan Xian motioned for everyone to get into the cave.
“What if we get blocked in?” Chi Lei finally frowned and returned to his usual skepticism.
“I know a way.” A place where the air was flowing would smell completely different from a dead end.
“Isn’t this the boss’ favorite hill?” Ding Zepeng put the suitcase behind his back and put one hand on the rock wall.
“Nn.” Ruan Xian walked at the end. “Large machines can’t get into this kind of hole. The cave structure here is complex and suitable for all types of breakage. It’s close to the refuge, so blowing up the entire mountain peak will cause panic. The Mainbrain should be able to calculate this account.”
“…But it won’t give up so easily,” Chi Lei sighed softly.
“I know.” Hearing the sound of metal friction coming from behind, Ruan Xian pulled the corners of his mouth.
Seeing the group entering the cave, the mechanical dogs changed their strategy. They used incendiaries that could drain the oxygen. The bombs exploded one by one, causing gravel and sand to slide down the mountain wall. However, under Ruan Xian’s leadership, the four people were slippery like loaches in a gutter, burrowing around the well-connected caves like ants in an ant’s nest. Seeing that there were fewer and fewer mechanical police dogs that could keep up with them…
Ruan Xian suddenly motioned everyone to stop and hide in the shadow of the rock wall.
His sense of smell and hearing were feeding back news at the same time. Ruan Xian turned his head and looked at the thick darkness behind them.
“…Someone is chasing us.”
Ding Zepeng was so shocked that he stopped breathing. Chi Lei’s brows were twisted so much that they could clamp mosquitoes to death. Only Tang Yibu was indifferent.
“It’s not an ordinary machine. It’s a human, or an android with human organs. He’s surrounded by the mechanical police dogs… No, he’s commanding them.” Seeing the incendiaries once again piercing through the darkness not far away, Ruan Xian settled his mind. “This way, hurry!”
Tang Yibu glanced at the familiar rock crevice in front of him and raised his eyebrows at Ruan Xian. They had just been here a few days ago.
Ruan Xian didn’t respond to Tang Yibu’s scrutiny. Without hesitation, he took out the rope ladder from under the roots of the old tree, measured the position of his footsteps for a while, and fixed it closest to Tian He’s body. Ding Zepeng wanted to come over but was stopped by Ruan Xian’s gesture.
Ruan Xian took out his pocket and divided the infrared camouflage that he had into two. “See the cave on the stone wall over there? You and Chi Ge hide over there. Turn on all the infrared camouflage and keep quiet. When the pursuers leave, return to the refuge immediately.”
“Ruan Ge, but you…”
“I’m not going back,” Ruan Xian responded calmly, as he was extraordinarily fluent in spitting out lies. “I remember what happened before I was injured. Xiao Ding, I still have my mission. This time I’m just dropping by to help.”
“A mission?” Ding Zepeng wiped his nose and honestly accepted all orders. “Then—then remember to come back and visit sometime.”
Chi Lei didn’t say anything, and simply glanced at Ruan Xian deeply.
Seeing that the two of them were hiding in an orderly manner, Ruan Xian listened carefully to the approaching footsteps of the visitor, stepped on the rope ladder, and stared closely at the cave closest to the rock crevice. Tang Yibu squatted on the edge of the rock crevice and had a face that was close to curiosity as he watched the excitement.
Several mechanical hounds burst out of the cave and rushed in like lightning. Ruan Xian took a deep breath, lowered his head, and yelled at the empty rock crevice. “Xiao Ding, Lao Chi, run! They are catching up—!”
Before he finished speaking, several incendiaries were dropped. The bomb exploded in the crevice of the rock. For a while, the dark rock crevice was filled with burning light, and bursts of smoke and tongues of fire rose up, like the entrance of hell. The powerful impact from the bottom lifted Ruan Xian up, and he was airborne for half a second before he slammed into the ground.
“According to the report, the remains of two human male bones were found at the bottom.” A cold and inorganic voice rang out among the sounds of the rock crevice collapsing.
Hearing the sound of the bottom of his boots grinding over stone debris, Ruan Xian quickly rolled over and climbed up while holding Tang Yibu. He didn’t specifically look back to see what the man looked like but ran wildly towards the farther exit with unsteady steps.
There was a muffled sneer from behind him.
“There is one left,” the man muttered. His voice was a little subtly familiar. “Chase.”
Ruan Xian ran outside in the humidity. The breathing method Zhang Yazhe had taught him was useful. This time, the knife-like pain in his lungs appeared very late. The artillery fire of drones and mechanical police dogs was blocked by the crooked rock wall. Ruan Xian dutifully played an image of running for his life and didn’t fight back.
Tang Yibu ran beside him, looking a little inexplicably excited.
“I think I know what you’re going to do next,” he said, putting his arms around Ruan Xian’s waist. He quickly ran in the direction of the refuge.
Ruan Xian opened his eyes wide in surprise.
“How far do you want to run?” Tang Yibu adjusted his arm posture and held Ruan Xian in front of him.
“Go to the tallest tree over there,” Ruan Xian replied.
“You’re shaking again.”
“Nobody likes being ‘killed’.”
“But you still came up with this strategy.” The darkness faded, and in the gradually clearer air, Tang Yibu announced calmly. “Worthy of a work by Ruan Xian. You’re a machine totally dedicated to serving humans.”
“……” Ruan Xian remained silent.
As they got closer to the tallest tree, Tang Yibu deliberately slowed down, put down Ruan Xian, and feigned to be weak. Ruan Xian pretended to be indifferent to him and ran stumblingly towards the refuge.
The mechanical hounds followed one by one as they passed Tang Yibu, treating him as if he was a stump full of mushrooms in the forest. The metal beasts rushed towards Ruan Xian, who was running in front, and bullets poured from behind him like a torrential rain. His lungs and heart were instantly pierced, and his chest looked like a honeycomb.
Ruan Xian threw himself on the ground, burying his face in the grass. The shelter uniform on his body was stained red with blood, and it quickly spread into the nearby grass.
The injury with this much loss of blood was assuredly fatal.
“The heart has been completely destroyed. There’s no record of this sample in the database. Is it saved and copied?” Behind him, on the right, the cold mechanical voice sounded again.
“No need.” The voice of the visitor didn’t even pant for a moment. It obviously had its own mode of transportation. “I know this person. Brave but not resourceful, average resume, just make do with luck and a little marksmanship. His pickup was probably arranged by Zhang Yazhe—the new leader of the refuge is probably Zhang Yazhe, so it’s good to take this opportunity to knock him around a bit so that he doesn’t take himself too seriously and thinks that anyone who dies can be sent back.”
“Yes.” The mechanical voice replied flatly.
Good. Ruan Xian quietly breathed a sigh of relief. At present, the other party’s judgement was exactly the same as his conjecture.
“Lift the blockade here. A-07, A-08, go clean up the rock crevice just now. Remove the smell and traces of burning. Don’t attract the attention of the refuge. B-45, automatically generate a draft report. Also, summon a few ventral cockroaches and have them eat this place clean.” The man’s coat brushed against the blades of grass, making a resulting sound. “Prepare to return.”
Ruan Xian held his breath and continued to pretend to be dead. His uniform was stained with blood and in tatters, but the body under the uniform had already recovered. All the bloodstains on the surface were recycled as much as possible. He felt pain as blood pumped through his veins, returning them back to his limbs. Not daring to tremble or scream, Ruan Xian forced himself to cling to the soil, imagining that he had already died and was rotting like a leaf full of insects.
The drone was still buzzing slightly in the sky. A mechanical police dog stepped on Ruan Xian’s back. The heartbeat hit his eardrums and the sound of the blades of grass rubbing against his ears was thunderous. He grabbed a little air from between his teeth, for fear that the sound of his heartbeat would attract the attention of any machines.
Calculating the time, Ding Zepeng and Chi Lei should have run to the foot of the mountain. As long as they maintain the infrared camouflage, according to the abilities of those two, returning to the refuge won’t be a problem. Even if the survival of the two was investigated afterwards, everything could be explained by the known information about the refuge.
The boots stepped on the grass in a soothing rhythm, and the sound gradually moved away. The roar of machinery in the distance became louder. The man was about to leave.
Go quickly. Ruan Xian repeated desperately from the bottom of his heart.
But those terrible boots suddenly stopped, and then took a step back, which sounded like he had turned around.
“Interesting. Why does sample 897 still have a life response?”
“Warning, warning. Implanting a sensor device other than an auxiliary chip into the sample is an infraction and violates the confidentiality regulation No.—”
“Article 64, I know. With just one sample, the Mainbrain won’t be too dissatisfied.” The man responded coldly. “I’m willing to be punished. Isn’t it just an extension of service period by a few years? Now re-block this mountain for me. If something goes wrong, I will go back and have a look.”
Then the sound of boots disappeared, and the rumble in the air quickly moved away.
After confirming that the other party couldn’t detect him, Ruan Xian quickly sat up. Tang Yibu was already standing in front of him, looking at him with a smirk.
“Now, I guess you’re going to have to follow him.” The android said with interest.
The other side.
Chi Lei and Ding Zepeng separated the bushes in front of them breathlessly. There were still a few drones hovering over the hoverbike, so it wasn’t wise to retrieve them. Fortunately, the machinery that was patrolling around the hill just stopped moving and no longer radiated the surrounding area with an isolation grid.
Their grappling hooks were still intact, and if they used the forest to swing and leap their way back to the refuge, it would take less than half an hour to get back.
Hope was at hand, but unfortunately, the rumbling of machinery shattered that meager joy once more. The patrol machinery that should have stopped moving suddenly moved again, and Ding Zepeng almost slammed into the isolation grid that lit up again.
“They just cancelled it. What happened?” The young man squeezed the handle of the suitcase tightly as his face was covered in sweat.
Chi Lei’s brows were tightly locked, and his expression had never been so gloomy. He dragged Ding Zepeng back a few steps, raised his head, and looked at the rumbling sky. The rising sun had already appeared, and the little stars in the sky had become blurred.
A person with a grappling hook was swinging under a medium-sized aircraft and landed quickly towards the two of them. Chi Lei didn’t hesitate to take out his gun and shoot, but all the bullets hit an invisible barrier and bounced away from the figure. After the visitor stepped on the ground with his boots, the medium-sized aircraft split in two and stretched out six pairs of guns that floated symmetrically behind him. It looked like two open black shells.
Several mechanical police dogs stopped at his feet and squatted down obediently. The crimson circle of light on their heads was still blinding.
It was a sturdy, tall man. He wore a long black trench coat, slim style, and there wasn’t any intricate decoration on his clothes, like some kind of uniform. The half-face gas mask covered his face, and he had a military-like cap on that revealed a little pale skin that lacked sunlight and slightly too long black hair.
Those eyes were somewhat familiar, but they were full of indifference and numbness, plus a creepy playfulness.
Seeing that shooting was useless, Chi Lei slowly moved a few steps and blocked Ding Zepeng behind him.
The man discovered his little move and laughed unabashedly. Chi Lei was not shaken by the laughter. He still held his gun vigilantly with the muzzle pointing straight at his opponent’s heart.
He suddenly saw a little light in the bushes behind the man. He didn’t know when they got there, but Ruan Lijie and 231 were sitting in the bushes not far away, using the infrared camouflage metal boxes to reflect the light of the rising sun. The mysterious Ruan Lijie was covered in blood, was pale, and made a gesture to delay time.
It seemed that they still had some hope. Chi Lei was just about to breathe a sigh of relief…
Oblivious to the two people behind him, the person in front of Chi Lei pulled down his gas mask. The moment he saw his face, Chi Lei subconsciously stopped breathing, like he had fallen into an ice cave, while Ding Zepeng, who was behind him, fell flat on his ass and almost dropped the suitcase in his arms.
“Chi Ge, you’re still the same.” The man’s tone was smooth as he slowly pulled the gas mask down to his chin. “Seriously, your reaction is just as funny every time.”
What was revealed behind the mask was Ding Zepeng’s facial features.
The person looked a few years older than Xiao Ding, and there was no trace of honesty on his face. The temperament was like an open-edge military knife, gloomy and sharp.
The Ding Zepeng who was behind Chi Lei’s breathing became more raid. He had a tendency to breathe excessively. Chi Lei stepped back subconsciously, and his face changed from shock to blankness.
“Don’t be afraid, Xiao Ding. Don’t be afraid,” he said dreamily, not knowing whether he was trying to comfort the young man behind him or himself. “This is… This is an android. This must be an android.”
“Android? You mean the pile of garbage left over from the old world? A fragile human body plus an incomplete electronic brain is simply the worst combination. Except for the few who were given shells by MUL-01, the others are nothing more than inferior machines.”
The older “Ding Zepeng” had a bit more sarcasm on his face. He made a gesture, and a mechanical police dog passed by Chi Lei’s side and tore off his waist bag, plus a large piece of flesh on the side of his waist.
Chi Lei grunted bitterly as blood quickly stained his waist.
Dressed in black, “Ding Zepeng” quickly found the medicine box, opened the medicine that restrained the androids in disgust, and swallowed it in front of the two of them. The gesture was easy and casual, as if he was a cat holding down the tail of a mouse.
“Even if you don’t believe me, you should believe in Guan Haiming’s technology.” The man laughed again. “Don’t escape reality, both of you. It’s a pity, but I’m a human being.”
He pretended to extend his hand to the air in front of him, posing as a handshake. “Order Supervisor, Ding Zepeng. For the sake of distinction, you can call me Major Ding.”
In the bushes a dozen steps away, Ruan Xian almost dropped the infrared camouflage in his hand. He stared at the back figure in shock. Unlike himself, the man swallowed the pill firmly, and his tone didn’t sound like a lie.
If the so-called Major Ding was telling the truth… there were real humans in MUL-01’s camp, and the number of people was large enough to form an organization with a “title”.
The scene in front of him began to make him uncomfortable all over his body.
“Tang Yibu, have you finished yet?” Ruan Xian mumbled and asked in an extremely low voice.
“He’s equipped with a strong armor, not a defenseless detection bird. Once I block the transmission of information here, he will immediately notice it and then take Chi Lei and Ding Zepeng as hostages. Information blocking must be done after the armor is turned off.”
Tang Yibu gestured quickly in the air, as if he was conducting an invisible orchestra. “His armor is outside the network. I have to break it through others means—”
“How much longer will it take?”
“Ten minutes.” Even though the situation was so tense, Tang Yibu still exuded a certain unhurried sense of being an outsider.
“Too long. Let me help you. Give me an interface.” Ruan Xian quickly turned on the light screen of his electronic wristband. Tang Yibu swiped in his direction and countless pieces of data instantly filled the small light screen.
“How long will it take you to finish processing?”
“Four minutes at most.” Ruan Xian quickly scanned the screen for data. As soon as the wet clothes on his body showed some signs of drying out, they were wet again from his cold sweat.
“So a total of four more minutes is needed.”
Ruan Xian took a deep breath, leaned out his body slightly, and conveyed the time information to Chi Lei with gestures. Chi Lei’s gaze had already begun to drift, and Ruan Xian gestured three times before he pressed his cheeks tightly and nodded at a very slow speed.
“…Order Supervisor? I had heard that they were just a bunch of contraptions, but it seems you’re just the Mainbrain’s dogs, traitors to humanity.” Chi Lei’s voice was so hoarse that it didn’t sound like his own. He began to consciously pick up Major Ding’s words and try to converse.
“Ruan Xian is the betrayer of humanity. If he hadn’t insisted on going against MUL-01, the rebels would’ve been all but wiped out a long time ago, and the observation of the rebels wouldn’t have lasted so long. To be honest, you’re all paying for his caprice alone.”
Major Ding seemed to be a little interested. Without looking at more than a dozen black guns behind him, just by listening to his tone, he sounded almost like he was talking to an old friend.
Ruan Xian, who was cracking the data, paused.
“In order to preserve the so-called ‘human tinder’… he suggested that you install a black box, throw down false hope, and then ‘foster’ you here under the Mainbrain. He knew that the Mainbrain would be happy to swallow this bait and knew that you would die as a result. For example, Zhang Yazhe had just experienced his 92nd death.”
Chi Lei’s face was pale as paper.
“This is the first time you know the truth here, right, Chi Lei? How does it feel to be played around by your most respected Ruan Xian?”
With three minutes left, Ruan Xian quickly broke open the encrypted data. His fingertips and toes were becoming paralyzed by tension.
“Because—because we are humans.” Seeing Chi Lei fall into silence, Ding Zepeng swallowed his saliva and plucked up the courage to refute, but his voice was still shaking badly. “If Professor Ruan hadn’t done this, we would be killed by MUL-01 in the first place. Now at least many people are alive…”
“‘We’?” Turning his gaze to Ding Zepeng, Major Ding’s voice suddenly became indifferent. “You are just a clone of me, and your memories are all fake, edited by me. Do you really think you’re human?”
Ding Zepeng cowered for a moment, and he looked at Chi Lei helplessly. However, Chi Lei just covered the wound and stared blankly at the void in front of him.
“Your life has only two uses.” Major Ding lowered his gaze and looked down at Ding Zepeng, sitting on the ground. The dozens of guns behind him turned their direction and headed straight towards Xiao Ding. “First, when I deal with people in the shelter, this face can make them relax. Second, you have made things more fun and helped me pass the boring time.”
“My life is my own. I—”
“Excessive worship of elders, lack of opinions, lack of self-confidence, and gullibility. It’s also worth mentioning that I replaced your athletic talents from my past. You see, if you implant such a boring life fabricated out of thin air, even ‘I’ can also become such a loser.”
Ding Zepeng pulled the suitcase behind him and shrank. “No…”
There were only two minutes left. Sweat dripped down the tip of Ruan Xian’s nose. They had already broken the armor device behind Major Ding. As long as they stopped the energy system…
“This is the fifth time we have had such a conversation,” Major Ding continued cruelly. “I also deliberately let you go back and clear your memories. Although it’s unlikely… If you are lucky and run away this time, remember to say hello to Guan Haiming before your memories get wiped.”
Ding Zepeng slowly raised his head in shock and looked at the “self” in front of him. “You know Guan Haiming?”
“One-sided.” Major Ding took a few more steps closer, and the gun behind him clicked softly as it entered the calibration stage. “Mr. Guan has always been the object of my admiration, and as a fellow informant, I can’t figure out why he insists on staying on Ruan Xian’s side.”
“Because Haiming is a kind person. A kind person doesn’t treat human life like a toy.” Ding Zepeng took two steps back as he squeezed the sentence between his teeth. He looked at “himself” directly in the eyes, with a bit more anger in his tone.
Chi Lei finally moved as he turned to the two of them. His eyes were complicated and sad, and it looked as if his entire body had drastically aged.
“You’re not qualified to call him ‘Haiming’, and also you’re not qualified to be angry at me either.” Major Ding glanced at Chi Lei and found that he had no intention of fighting. He snorted coldly and continued to focus on Ding Zepeng.
“Why? This mouth belongs to me! If the Mainbrain doesn’t want it to be used, it can just kill us all and create a bunch of androids to observe. That way, it can edit the memories at any time, saving you a lot of trouble.” Ding Zepeng was still trembling, but there was a little angry smile on his face.
“It’s certainly better to observe creatures that are close to their original ecology. Puppet shows are meaningless.” Major Ding glanced at the time on the screen and called out the operation interface of his weapon. “Don’t think too highly of yourself. You guys make this scene seem so pathetic, but to me, it’s just a daily data refresh.”
Major Ding thought for a while, and instead of activating his weapon, he took out his own gun and put the muzzle between Ding Zepeng’s eyebrows.
“I don’t like the way you laugh,” he said softly. “Never did.”
Ding Zepeng’s eyes were covered with mud stains and dust. He dug his fingers into the turf and stared at himself.
At the same time, Tang Yibu cleared his throat from behind the bushes. “The armor program is destroyed, and the exchange of information with MUL-01 is temporarily blocked. If you need me to get rid of him—”
A gunshot sounded.
The floating machine fell to the ground with a loud bang. The body that once belonged to a human fell heavily to the ground. His head was blown up by a bullet. Blood and brain matter spilled all over the ground. Memory, emotion, time, or the necessary parts that make up the “soul” slid down the grass and onto the soil.
Ruan Xian stood behind the bush with a gun in his hands.
Time seemed to be suspended. The smell of human tissue was mixed with bloody gas. He smelled the smoke from the muzzle of his gun, the heat of the rising sun seeping through the leaves, and the shock and fear emanating from his pores—others, as well as his own.
The sun had already risen, and his eyes were shining brightly, but his hands and feet were still cold. Perhaps he should vomit, be afraid, and collapse hysterically. This was normal. Even the most capable detective had to undergo psychological intervention after killing. There was no shame in this.
In an instant, he felt a lot of things, such as anxiety about the reality, sorrow for Zhang Yazhe, and worry about Ding Zepeng and Chi Lei.
But there was no guilt. He searched desperately for emotions, like rummaging through a drawer full of debris.
Ruan Xian lowered his gun. It seemed that he had broken the old chain that entangled a box with a single shot. The chain jingled to the ground as the demon floated out. It had been lurking there for a long time, scratching his heart from the inside day and night, but now it finally broke free and stretched its claws to the outside world.
“Tang Yibu, get ready to replace the intercepted data. His armor failed because of a malfunction and then he was attacked,” he heard himself whispering. “Then we leave here right away.”
He found himself taking a step, stepping over the body that had his head blown up, with the most appropriate soothing smile on his face, and walked towards Ding Zepeng, who was covered with blood.
“Good job, Xiao Ding. You bought a lot of time.” His voice was steady. “Chi Ge, you’d better leave quickly—”
“No,” Chi Lei said.
He raised his gun and fired wildly at the body of Major Ding on the ground. His face was blank. The gun was almost empty, and the body bounced uncontrollably on the ground as he fired. After he stopped, Chi Lei rubbed his hand on the barrel of the gun and raised his eyes to look at Ding Zepeng, who was shaking into a ball beside him.
“Xiao Ding, go back,” Chi Lei said wearily. “I can’t go.”
Ding Zepeng finally staggered up from the ground. He hugged the suitcase tightly and tugged at Chi Lei’s coat. His face was full of pleading.
Chi Lei took a step back.
“I have a bad temper and am suspicious as hell, but there are three people I would never doubt,” Chi Lei said slowly. The man was dyed in blood under the morning sun, looking exceptionally thin. “Professor Ruan, Lao Zhang, and you. You are my family. The refuge is my home.”
“Chi Ge.” Ding Zepeng’s eyes flushed.
“But today, my home is no longer a home. As far as my temper is concerned, I don’t have the confidence to go back to the refuge and act properly. In addition, like I said, I have a shitty problem of doubting this and that. Now I know that Lao Zhang lied to me, Professor Ruan lied to me, and you are…”
Chi Lei didn’t continue.
Xiao Ding wiped his eyes with his sleeve. Ruan Xian stood in silence as he stared at Chi Lei’s expression.
“This won’t work,” Chi Lei sighed. “I can’t work together with everyone without any problems, but I don’t want to leave this team, and MUL-01 shouldn’t want this to happen either… I want to keep trusting you guys. I have to keep trusting you guys.”
“Chi Ge, Chi Ge! Go back. Go back with me to Guan Haiming and let him wipe your memory—” Ding Zepeng suddenly panicked, realizing what the other party wanted to do.
“That will leave a record and I’ll become suspicious sooner or later. All in all, this matter has come to this point, and I blame myself for being incapable when we were in the city—Don’t cry! I’ll see you again tomorrow. Xiao Ding, you have to promise me that you’ll forget this when you go back.”
Then his eyes turned to Ruan Xian.
“Thank you for your help, Ruan Lijie. Although I don’t think that’s your name.” Chi Lei’s voice sank. “If you can do what you did just now… If you have the ability to interfere with the communication between that guy and the Mainbrain, replace me as the person who killed him in the replacement data. This way, MUL-01 will not notice you on the scene. I’ll pay you back for your little favor.”
He stuck the gun to his temple.
“But I still believe in my intuition, Ruan Lijie.” He grinned weakly, his eyebrows were gloomy, and his expression was a bit like when they first met. “…You’re a dangerous guy.”
Chi Lei’s tone was still a little vulgar and mean, and it was difficult to tell whether he was joking or lamenting in earnest.
Then another gunshot rang out.
Ding Zepeng’s knees softened, and he knelt on the ground. He covered his eyes and only saw dark red on his fingers. Ruan Xian slowly squatted down and patted him on the back but couldn’t say anything.
Half an hour later, over the city of artificial intelligence, in the mechanical cavity of the blind spider.
Pale hands grabbed the metal armrest, and after a few waves of liquid agitation, a man stepped out of the liquid tank with one leg. He casually pulled the bath towel from the shelf, dried his dripping hair, and put on a simple bathrobe.
“Good morning, Major Ding Zepeng. Your breakfast is ready.” As soon as his wet feet stepped on the ground, the electronic sound reminded him just right. Major Ding rolled his eyes and skillfully coughed out a small amount of fluid remaining in his lungs.
A hot breakfast was being served a short distance away, no different from yesterday’s. Major Ding glanced at it with a lack of interest and began to change his clothes.
“Prompt. First, in the early hours of yesterday morning, you once again violated Article 64 of the confidentiality regulations by implanting and activating a sensor device other than an auxiliary chip for the sample without authorization. This behavior increases the risk of being discovered by the sample. Your service time will be extended for 365 days.”
Major Ding hummed casually.
“Second, your communication time with the sample yesterday was 6 minutes and 23 seconds. If you exceed the prescribed 3 minutes, your service time will be extended for 15 days.”
“Hmm.” Major Ding responded absent-mindedly.
“Third, yesterday you made an inappropriate statement about the current management mechanism, and the relevant memories have been erased.”
“Inappropriate statement? Um… after meeting Chi Lei and the others, I guess I said something like how many times they had died. That’s just to shake them up. I have no complaints about the data refresh mechanism of the Mainbrain.”
“Reason rejected. Please keep in mind the guidelines. Data refresh does not equal death. As an Order Supervisor, please be cautious. Please remember that you are enjoying the best quality data refresh service. During your service time, you’ll never be troubled by illness, aging, or death.” The machine pulled a tiresome long tone.
Major Ding looked out the window. It was a sunny day today, and there was no cloud in the blue sky. The empty city under his feet rumbled as usual, receiving countless memories, calculations, and editing huge memory data from all directions by auxiliary chips—as the real black box.
He manipulated the spider-shaped surveillance machine, turned the viewpoint, and casually opened the communication device.
“Sample No. 24 Zhang Yazhe, sample No. 29 Chi Lei, the detector has confirmed both corpses and the backup refresh is complete. Two new human corpses were found under mountain peak No. 4. The deceased had taken an identity jammer, so they were unable to confirm their identity, but no obvious effect. Sample No. 897 Ding Zepeng has returned to the refuge, priority observation, data refresh aborted. End of report.”
Having said that, he turned on the largest light screen in front of him.
A burst of soft music sounded, and the cold mechanical voice was replaced by a soothing and beautiful female voice. “Today’s weather in petri dish No. 1036 is sunny to cloudy. There will be light rain in local areas in the evening. All 27 forest sanctuaries in the petri dish have started to operate. Please pay attention, Order Supervision Personnel, and correct any wrong data in time.”
The man skillfully pressed his palm on the cold operation panel.
“Greetings, Major Ding. Welcome back. Your data refresh today has been completed and you are in good physical condition. There is still 23 hours, 50 minutes, and 13 seconds until your next refresh. Have a nice day.”
My poor baby Deng Zepeng!!!
All I can say is… WTFFFFFFFFFFFFF????
Holy shit, this was a long ass chapter.