Author: 年终 / Nian Zhong
Translator: Kinky || https://kinkytranslations.com/
Chapter 67: The Female Shopkeeper
The road wasn’t wide as it spiraled downwards. It’s second half was submerged in thick fog. Many young people were leaning idly on the side of the road to smoke. Yu Le drove the car extremely slowly, and Ruan Xian could see the yellowish smoke coming out of people’s noses and mouths. They quickly dissipate into the fog and became part of the turbid air.
It stood to reason that he and Tang Yibu didn’t need to follow Yu Le to Summer Street, but to be separated in this maze-like city, even Ruan Xian couldn’t be sure that he could find Yu Le again. The air was stuffed with a pungent smell mixed together, and the gurgling sound of gas and liquid passing through the pipes and thumping noises made by metal could be heard everywhere. The low-quality light screen made a harsh noise, accompanied by people shouting in the distance as a pot of porridge was bubbling, like a carnival full of drunkards.
It was much more troublesome here than in the Sea of Ruins. If he were to spread out his perception, Ruan Xian wasn’t sure that he wouldn’t just faint immediately.
When he was looking out the car window, Tang Yibu had opened another can of canned peaches. He carefully scooped up a piece of yellow peach with a spoon and placed it next to Ruan Xian’s mouth, with a solemnity on his face as if he was surrendering his prey. The iron bead happily picked up the lid of the can and tried to hide it under the seat of the car.
“I’m not hungry yet.” Ruan Xian patted Tang Yibu on the arm. “You can eat first.”
Tang Yibu put the peach into his mouth, still staring at Ruan Xian, looking extremely harmless. Ruan Xian couldn’t help but stretch out his hand and pat Tang Yibu on the cheek. “Eat with peace of mind. I will take some myself when I’m hungry, but you have to lower your body a little bit. Someone on the side of the road has already noticed us. I don’t think it’s a good idea to expose supplies in public.”
Hearing this, the android put down the half-eaten canned food and began to look at the back of He An’s head.
After they entered lower city, He An no longer spoke. He rested his elbow on the car window, propped his face with one hand, and gazed out the window at the dense fog.
“Xiao He is really sincere. You told us about how cybernetic brains are expensive, which means you’re not afraid of our motives.” Yu Le broke the silence this time. “Why would you tell us?”
“A’Yu* and I are City Defenders here. If you make a move on me, you will never get out of this city.”
*When put in front of a name, it’s a way of addressing someone with endearment.
He An continued to stare at the shadowy buildings and blurred lights in the fog without looking back.
“The gentleman in the back, although you claim that he’s not an android, the thugs don’t care so much—if they see golden eyes, they’ll just cut off your head. Even if it’s a human head, to them it’ll only be a bit of wasted time.”
Tang Yibu clenched the half-empty can of canned food; his expression becoming more solemn. “Why?”
Tang Yibu spoke indifferently again, obviously not wanting to talk to He An. “Why do they want cybernetic brains?”
“Do you still have to ask?” He An grinned. “Who doesn’t want others to follow what they say and ‘love’ them from the bottom of their hearts? They don’t need to think about harm and betrayal. There’s no worry that the other party has a side that they won’t understand. These days, there are few people who can edit the natural human brain, but there are many capable people that can modify cybernetic ones.”
He paused for a bit. “After the end of the world, the old-fashioned cybernetic brains were discontinued. The numbers are limited, not to mention those that aren’t broken. If I were you, I would dye my eyes or simply wear old-fashioned contact lenses.”
“In other words, androids here are relatively rare.” Ruan Xian tried to summarize.
“According to Ruan Xian’s theory, it’s the opposite. There are plenty of human shells with cybernetic brains inside.”
He An finally turned his head. His expression began to turn blank. “Intact old-fashioned cybernetic brains are rare, and there will always be imitations. However, there are no processing conditions here, so the imitations are very rough. Life support and personality simulation aren’t very good, and their intelligence is only a little higher than that of a dog’s. If you see an unresponsive humanoid creature, nine out of ten times it’s an imitation brain, while the remaining ones are broken old cybernetic brains.”
Tang Yibu frowned slightly.
“It can be regarded as a specialty here. If you need cheap labor, you can get one. As long as you can get enough supplies, you can still buy a follower or slave. There’s no need to refine energy, and you can feed it with some food. There’s nothing wrong with it except that it’s stupid.”
Yu Le’s eyebrows twitched slightly, and his expression became a bit unsightly.
“You are an old-fashioned cybernetic brain.” Tang Yibu concisely pointed out. “And it’s not broken.”
“Yes, the most valuable kind. A’Yu smashed all his net worth on me.” He An readily admitted. “In short, this is just a warning—the color of your eyes and your normal behavior that makes it look like your brain isn’t bad means you are likely to be targeted.”
“Thank you for your warning.” Ruan Xian nodded quietly.
“We’re almost here at Summer Street.” He An changed the subject. Dazzling neon lights started penetrating through the fog. The damp and dirty streets became clear with light. Many naked men and women were projected into the translucent air, making various explicit and blatant provocative gestures. “Be careful. Don’t be pulled away casually. Of course, if you have those kinds of needs, your life is hard enough, so you don’t need to tell me.”
Yu Le pursed his lips. His expression was unexpectedly calm. He turned the steering wheel, and the bulky front of the car went straight through the projection of the red-haired beauty lying on the ground, splashing up sewage. “Would a mechanic be in a place like this?”
“This kind of place is easy to buy weapons and old parts. It’s the closest to the metal disposal dump and the water tower.” He An took out a simple gas mask from his pocket and clasped it on his face. “Put me down at the crossroads ahead. You can handle the rest on your own. I gave you some intelligence to repay the favor for hitchhiking.”
Through the glass on the gas mask, he glanced around in the car and quickly opened the door.
“I hope I can still see everyone back alive.”
“Fuck, what’s that smell?” Yu Le waved his hand impatiently to He An outside the window and continued to drive the armored off-roader like a broken car.
Even though He An quickly closed the door, a lot of air from outside still poured in. The air here was different from the central city. It had a strong metallic sour smell that tumbled around and was mixed with an ominous smell of chemicals.
“It could be related to the nearby metal disposal dump,” Ruan Xian replied sullenly, twisting his nose. “It’s better to solve the shop matter quickly. Let’s leave one person in the car…”
“No. If we leave Yu Le alone, he might run away,” Tang Yibu said quickly, “But I don’t want to be separated from you, Mr. Ruan.”
Yu Le let out a teasing groan.
Ruan Xian couldn’t laugh or cry at Tang Yibu’s inexplicable sense of crisis, but that helplessness was mixed with a lot of bitterness—Tang Yibu created too many “first time” problems for himself, and Ruan Xian still remembered the emotional expression loopholes he had talked about. However, in the face of this deadly expression, he really did not know how to react.
He wasn’t sure if this was the other party’s true emotional expression or simply found that he ate soft but not hard*, so he specifically chose a roundabout strategy. In any case, no matter how good the taste was, he really couldn’t let go of his vigilance completely.
*Reminder: Metaphor referring to one that would yield with a soft approach but reject a forceful one. (i.e. Amiable to friendly persuasion but not coercion.)
After all, they weren’t friends.
Perhaps he had entrusted too much expectations, which could be very dangerous. The other party’s kindness had never been false, but it couldn’t be confirmed either. He had to maintain his sanity and be vigilant. Ruan Xian had always been confident in controlling his feelings. According to the doctor, if one were to compare feelings to water, most people need to deal with a full tank, while he only needed to control half of the glass in his hand.
‘The illusion of warmth in the Sea of Ruins would eventually dissipate,’ Ruan Xian thought. He slowly stretched out his hand and patted Tang Yibu on the back of his hand.
“You know I can’t run,” he said.
“Alright, let’s find a shop facing the street. It’s good to have someone watch the wind outside. Is that okay?” Yu Le raised his chin towards an alley not far from them, and the words “Mechanic” were spelled out in simple fluorescent strips at the entrance.
After Yu Le diligently drove the car to the entrance of the alley, the few lines of fluorescent small characters at the bottom could barely be seen clearly.
[Repair and modification of weapons, prosthetics, vehicles, and manufacturing of parts.]
The spelling was clumsy and ugly, far from the bells and whistles of the prostitution hall next to him. This alley was also so narrow that Yu Le pondered for more than ten minutes before he parked the bulky armored off-roader.
“Even if someone touches the car now, they won’t be able to drive it away.” Yu Le patted the gun around his waist and looked at the fruits of his labor in satisfaction. His voice changed slightly due to the gas mask. “Just that shop, okay? You can see the headlights at the door, and you can hear from back here if anything happens.”
“If someone else plans to move the car, you just scream loudly.” Tang Yibu placed the iron bead solemnly on the back seat and picked up the half-empty can of food.
The car was stuck in the alley and only the door on the front seat could be opened. The rear of the car was close to a lamppost and a pile of scrap machinery. It seemed like a seamless part of the city’s jigsaw puzzle. A glass door was less than five meters in front of the car. The light sign in front of the door repeated the sentence at the entrance of the alley creatively. Part of the “prosthetics” was extinguished on one end, making an orange word of just “prost”.
Ruan Xian put the gas mask on his face and rushed to the door of the store. His sensitive sense of smell almost killed him. The sticky and dirty air gave him the illusion that he was swimming, and he would quickly drown in it.
Tang Yibu followed his steps and was almost smashed by the glass door. Yu Le glanced at the car reluctantly and was the last one to enter the store. Fortunately, this store had installed an air filter, so the air was at least transparent. Ruan Xian put down his gas mask and took in a few breaths before he started to look around.
Two of the walls were embedded with bulletproof glass cabinets with many cracks, and there were all kinds of firearms and mechanical bombs behind them. On the other hand, there were various metal prosthetics. Unlike the lifelike advanced prosthetics in his memory, the ones on the wall had a rough and cold metallic feel, and the maker didn’t even bother to put bionic skin on them.
Countless lattice cabinets hung on the remaining two walls. Strange parts were placed in each small grid. Ruan Xian barely recognized dozens of them, while the rest were thousands of parts that he had never seen before. Not to mention the weird shapes, some of them looked more like junk than parts.
A woman in her thirties was sitting behind the counter with a sweet smile on her face. The years had left just the right traces on her, making her look like some kind of ripe fruit. Seeing someone entering the store, the woman tilted her head slightly and waved at them.
“Are you the shopkeeper?” Yu Le spoke extremely fast. “The thermal conductivity controller in my car is broken. The model is the Gray Knight KN-09, about fifty years ago. Other places also need to be repaired. The price is…”
He stopped talking as he spoke.
The woman just looked at him, smiling, like a living dummy. She waved her hand at him again, and her eyes were blank.
“…Miss?” Yu Le swallowed and waved his hand in front of the woman. “Say something?”
The woman still didn’t respond. She just sat quietly in her seat and after waving at them for about eight times, she seemed to get tired of that activity as she picked up a sweater and needle and began knitting it.
The smile on her face remained motionless.
“Fuck, that’s a bit scary,” Yu Le muttered. “This is not a fucking person, is it? Could this be the ‘specialty’ mentioned by He An? The shopkeeper must be a man who got himself such a…”
“Welcome,” a stiff female voice sounded.
The voice was a bit low, but it was still very clear, with the unique tenderness of youth. A young girl opened the dim door behind the counter and stood in front of the three of them with a little reluctance.
The girl was very young, and her beautiful facial features still had the tenderness of a teenager. She looked like she was in her early twenties at most. She had neatly trimmed shoulder-length hair, wasn’t very tall, and her figure was thin. She wore only a black vest that exposed her shoulders and neck.
Yu Le took a deep breath.
The girl’s arms were all mechanical prosthetics. The prosthetic limb of her left arm was connected to the shoulder, and the right arm was connected to the elbow, so the joints were exposed. Sharp blades were also clearly embedded in the prosthetic limbs, which were tucked into the robotic arms that flashed coldly under the lights.
She nodded at them, her voice hoarse with age.
“I’m the shopkeeper,” she muttered. “What do you want?”
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