Chapter 27: Moat Town
Translator: virtual group Editor: virtual group
Bai Chen immediately slowed down the heavy motorcycles and looked up ahead.
A reddish-brown wall was 100 meters away. It stretched out to the sides as far as it could, bending at the ends of Bai Chen’s line of sight as if it were going to surround her.
Most of the bricks on this wall were mottled and old, but a small number looked very new, as though they had been cast in the past year.
Rusted barbed wire lined both the walls and their exterior. Only one path provided passage.
On the wooden outposts that were erected between the barbed wire and walls were armed, patrolling guards, wearing dirty and messy clothes.
The one who warned Bai Chen was the guard standing on the highest wooden outpost. He wore a yellowish, stiff shirt inside, and a navy-blue coat outside. It was suspected to be a cotton jacket that appeared puffy and bloated.
This guard had an automatic rifle slung over his body while he held a black, pen-like object. This object emitted a red laser that shone in front of Bai Chen, forming a small dot.
Bai Chen stopped the motorcycle, took off her helmet, and tried to tuck her short hair behind her ears. She was deliberately revealing herself as female. This was not to charm or seduce anyone, but simply to let the other party relax a little and not be too nervous.
She knew very well that, in the Ashlands—where there was little law and order—even if firearms could reduce the harm men and women could dish out to those of the same level, they could not truly bridge the gap between the two parties.
Be it in terms of physique or aggression, men were more dangerous than women. A male stranger induced greater panic than a woman.
In the years Bai Chen roamed the wilderness, she had always been in two different states. When she needed to explore ruins, hunt in the wilderness, pass through relatively dangerous areas, and transact with certain bandits, she would hide her long hair, darken her face, and change her clothes to make herself look like a man.
When she approached a settlement with a certain level of order or interacted with Ruin Hunters from large factions—who cared more about news and information regarding the Old World—she would reveal her female identity.
After she was recruited by Pangu Biology and gained some confidence, she could finally cut an ear-length hairstyle that she preferred.
After placing the helmet in front of her, Bai Chen let the heavy motorcycle slowly continue forward. During this process, the red dot of light kept swaying in front of her, occasionally landing on her motorcycle. This meant that the other party was already aiming at her and wasn’t letting his guard down.
When the distance between the two parties reduced to 30 meters, Bai Chen tilted the motorcycle, propped herself with one foot, and shouted, “I’m here to look for Mayor Tian Erhe!”
She repeated it twice and stopped talking before waiting patiently.
One of the guards on the wooden outpost broke rank and stomped down the slanted wooden plank.
Five to six minutes later, an elder appeared on the wall. He wore a furry, dark-blue hat as if he wore an overturned, alms bowl on his head. He had very obvious white hair at his temples. His eye sockets were sunken, and his face was thin. Wrinkles were in all the normal spots, making him look very old. However, his dark brown eyes remained bright and spirited. He was none other than Tian Erhe, the mayor of this settlement.
He wore a white, yellowing T-shirt, a wrinkled, patched suit, and a large, military-green coat that did not match his figure. He also wore a pair of dark-yellow woolen pants. It was unknown how many other pants were stuffed inside, but it looked baggy.
Tian Erhe looked at Bai Chen and took several seconds to identify her. “Ah…” He seemed to recognize her, but he realized that Bai Chen was too far away when he wanted to greet her. He couldn’t shout as loudly as he used to.
He quickly turned his head and angrily said to the guard beside him, “Give me my loudspeaker! Seriously, there’s a shortage of brains here!”
The guard aggrievedly replied, “Your loudspeaker has long run out of battery. I haven’t been able to exchange for a battery of the same model. I-I can help you shout…”
Tian Erhe thought for a moment and said, “Help me shout: Bai, where have you been this past year? I thought you were gobbled up by beasts!”
“Bai…” The guard came to a realization. “Is she the Bai Chen who used to come here often?”
“Who else could it be? I’m already in my seventies. My eyesight is getting worse and worse, yet I can recognize her. Why are you, a young lad in your twenties, acting like a blind person?” Tian Erhe glanced at the guard and cursed.
Everyone in this settlement was already accustomed to Tian Erhe’s temper. The guard did not mind his tirade and only muttered, “She’s much better looking than before… I wouldn’t have recognized her if I didn’t look carefully…”
Without waiting for Tian Erhe to glare at him, the guard shouted, “Bai, where have you been this past year? I thought you were gobbled up by beasts!”
Bai Chen’s expression softened unconsciously as she replied loudly, “Somewhere else. Mayor, I’m here to exchange for some items!”
This place was called Moat Town. Bai Chen had heard Tian Erhe mention that the name of the town came from before the Old World was destroyed, and it was named this way because of the four water bodies circling it.
After the destruction of the Old World, the prolonged wars, and the multiple geological disasters, the nearby water bodies had already become a part of the Great Swamp. This gave Moat Town a natural defense, providing it with sufficient cover.
Only Moat Town’s residents and the guests they previously invited could find the path that seemed to be covered in mud in the Great Swamp and reach this place despite the maze-like environment. Compared to the settlements that often had to migrate, Moat Town—with a clean water source and plenty of arable land—had been here since the Old World was destroyed.
Tian Erhe wanted to speak loudly, but his throat itched before he could really speak. He couldn’t help but cough twice. “Come in, come in.” He waved his hand in exasperation.
The guard beside him immediately shouted, “Come in! Come in! Leave the guns with the person at the door!”
Tian Erhe slapped him. “Who told you to say the last sentence? Bai is someone we can trust!”
“But she hasn’t been here for a year,” the guard replied stubbornly.
Tian Erhe fell silent for two seconds. He didn’t say anything else and turned to get off the wooden outpost.
Bai Chen didn’t resist. She handed the rifle on her back, the pistol on her belt, and the heavy motorcycle to the guard at the door.
The two panes of the iron-black door opened.
Tian Erhe was already waiting there. He sized up Bai Chen and chuckled. “Looks like you’ve been doing well recently. You used to be a lass caked in mud.”
Bai Chen instinctively closed her eyes. “A team took me in.”
Tian Erhe nodded thoughtfully. “Not bad, not bad.” He didn’t continue the topic and casually asked, “Where’s your robot? It was called… 35 if I remember correctly.”
Bai Chen’s eyes drooped slightly. After a second, she said, “It’s broken.”
Tian Erhe fell silent. After a few seconds, he took a deep breath and asked her a question as if nothing had happened. “What do you want to exchange?”
“Some car components…” Bai Chen replied calmly.
Tian Erhe smiled and interrupted Bai Chen, “Stop! Don’t tell me what they are. I wouldn’t know either. I’ll bring you there to take a look, and you can choose.”
He turned around and led Bai Chen deeper into the town.
This town was not large, completely different from the towns based on one’s understanding of the Old World.
Bai Chen looked over and saw three three-story buildings in the distance first. The buildings weren’t tall, but they spanned a long stretch. There were many rooms on each floor.
These three buildings weren’t built along a straight line. From a bird’s-eye view, they were all slanted, forming an inverted and skewed equilateral triangle.
As far as Bai Chen knew, the people who lived here were members of the town guard and their families. People with important skills could be assigned rooms. For example, those who knew how to repair firearms or those who knew about agricultural technology from the Old World.
These buildings came with private bathrooms or common bathrooms on each floor. Also flanking both sides of the triangular layout were two large public bathrooms—one vertical and one horizontal. In front of the buildings was a town square paved with cement. Beyond the town square were three small squares—which were side by side—made of compressed soil.
A row of houses were on each side of the town square. They were not far from the wall and belonged to the original residents of Moat Town. With Moat Town’s population, most residents had town guards in their family. Otherwise, a town guard could not have been maintained.
On the four squares were countless houses erected haphazardly. There were mud houses, brick houses, and tents. These buildings came from the wilderness nomads that Moat Town had taken in over the years and original townsfolk who had broken the law.
At this moment, the sun was still in the sky. Evening was still some time away.
A portion of Moat Town’s residents were still working in the fields towards the back of the town. The other portion had gone out to hunt as a team, with only a few people staying behind to guard the town.
They walked out of the densely packed houses and cast their gazes from behind the glass. The thing they had in common was that their faces weren’t too clean. Their hair was yellow and greasy. Their clothes weren’t a complete set, nor did the sizes necessarily match their bodies. However, their eyes were more spirited than the wilderness nomads whom Bai Chen had encountered elsewhere.
Bai Chen didn’t care about other people’s gazes. Somewhat unaccustomed, she asked, “Mayor, how… how have you been lately?”
Tian Erhe laughed self-deprecatingly. “Still doing alright, but I’m getting more and more afraid of the cold. Look, it’s not even winter yet, but I’m already wearing so much. Heh, I wonder if I can survive this winter.”
“You definitely can,” replied Bai Chen firmly, but her tone was a little airy. She followed Tian Erhe and walked along the path between the messy houses, heading towards the three buildings.
“There’s no need to comfort me.” Tian Erhe stroked his chin that had a hint of white stubble. “I’m already 77 years old! How many people who have experienced the destruction of the Old World can live to this age? Besides, my children are no longer around. Even if I wait a few more years and really find the New World, it will be meaningless to me. Sigh, if Nan was still alive, she would be about your age…”
“…You should at least wait until you take a look at the New World.” Bai Chen fell silent for a while.
Out of the corner of her eye, she swept her gaze across the haphazard houses around her. She saw plastic bottles, glass bottles, old cardboard, buttons, and rags stacked by their doors and windows. She didn’t know where the components came from—long and short electric cables, metal caps, gamepads with missing buttons, cracked mirror boxes, bullet shells, scopes, and rusty glasses. It looked like a junkyard or a recycling station.
Tian Erhe chuckled and sighed. “New World… Who knows where it is… Young people can believe in it. At least it gives them hope. For old folks like me, forget it.”