Chapter 5: “Star Cluster”
Translator: virtual group Editor: virtual group
Long Yuehong opened his mouth, seemingly trying to persuade him. “…Fine then.”
Shang Jianyao sat for a while longer before he carried the tray to the exit and handed everything he had to the canteen staff on duty.
Outside the Supplies Allocation Market, rays of light fell from the ceiling in an orderly fashion, illuminating the paths leading to the other floors. Employees of different ages and genders gathered in twos and threes, headed to the Rec Center, returned home in groups, or watched their children running around and having fun.
Shang Jianyao walked between them and quickly left Zone C. He passed through a street where there was a designated graffiti wall and entered Zone B, which had a dense concentration of rooms.
Most of this underground building’s Residential Zone did not have the concept of a building. The employees lived in rooms, not houses. Many people who worked in the Indoor Ecosystem Zone and had seen real bee honeycombs often made comparisons.
However, the corridor between the rows of rooms was very spacious. It was paved with smooth, milky-white stone bricks, allowing at least five to six people to walk along it side by side.
This was made mandatory by the company. It was said that such an arrangement was to avoid congestion at critical moments in emergencies.
Shang Jianyao walked for a while before seeing his room. It was no different from the rooms that neighbored his room. The walls were pure black, with a certain degree of reflectivity. It looked surprisingly deep. The wooden door was brownish-red, and next to it was a small, four-paned window.
The only thing Shang Jianyao could use to identify the room as his was the white number on the door: ‘Room 196.’
495th floor, Zone B, Room 196.
Shang Jianyao reached into his pocket and took out a brass key. He inserted it into a lock of the same color and gently twisted it.
With a click, Shang Jianyao used his other hand to press on the door handle and pushed the door open.
The door opened halfway before it stopped because it was blocked by Shang Jianyao’s stove.
This was a two by three-meter-wide room with a four-meter-high ceiling. A wooden bed that barely allowed Shang Jianyao to straighten his legs while sleeping was placed horizontally right inside. There was only a slight gap—less than ten centimeters—between the foot of the bed and the wall. Of course, there was no furniture here. However, burgeoning screws were embedded in the wall. Two sets of monotonous and plain clothes hung from them.
Beside them, separated by half a plastic film, was a sink. On the other side of the sink was a stove with an exhaust duct above it. The space below was used as a cabinet.
Shang Jianyao had always been satisfied with the existence of these two facilities because not all rooms had them.
This underground building had too many floors and too many people living in it. Whether it was the elevators, the ventilation system, the sewage system, or the power supply system, all of them faced grueling tests of nature.
Therefore, not only were there many elevators, but they were also divided into different zones and only reached certain floors. Furthermore, the ventilation system and the sewage system were also divided into subsystems. Every 15 floors or a specific number of floors shared a subsystem.
This way, even if there was a malfunction, it would only affect some parts of a zone and not cause a complete breakdown.
Among them, for the sewage system’s stability, only a small number of the rooms that the company later built were connected to the pipes.
Many employees had to line up outside a public restroom in the ‘block’ to wash up. Furthermore, many of the living quarters were cold at night and early in the morning due to insufficient energy.
It was the dream of many employees to be able to wash up without heading out while wrapping themselves in blankets.
On the other side of the door, under the four-paned window, there was a sturdy red-painted wooden table. On the table were many books, a black fountain pen, and a bottle of black ink.
At that moment, the light from the ‘street lamps’ on the street’s ceiling passed through the window and scattered on the table, barely making the words on the book’s cover visible.
If it were not for the fact that the illumination wasn’t great due to his room being in the middle of two lamps, Shang Jianyao could have used the street lamps to read without wasting any of his allocated energy.
The wooden table had its own cabinet, and behind it was a chair with brownish-red paint and mottled traces. Behind the chair were two stools that looked like they were about to fall apart. They seemed to make up a so-called ‘living room.’
Behind this ‘living room’ was the wooden bed.
Shang Jianyao did not switch on the lights because he did not have much energy to spare. He had to be thrifty.
After pulling out the key and closing the door, Shang Jianyao passed through the area illuminated by the street lamps and walked to the bed in the dark.
He picked up the pillow that was stuffed with grains and placed it against the wall vertically. He then leaned against it, half-lying, half-sitting.
In such a position, Shang Jianyao could see the electric frying pan and rice cooker on the stove. Their surfaces were covered in rust as if they had been used for many, many years.
As far as Shang Jianyao could remember, they had been in his home. One of them was brought back from a city ruin in the Old World by his father when he participated in the Supplies Allocation Market’s expedition. In order to obtain this item, he had given up the other spoils that the company had allocated.
The other was exchanged at a small bazaar after his father married his mother. It took them a long time to save up their contribution points. New items at the Supplies Allocation Market were relatively expensive, and supply could never keep up with demand.
This room was not the home in Shang Jianyao’s memories. He remembered that his original home was this floor’s Zone A, Room 28. There were two rooms, one big and one small. There was also a very cramped washroom.
This allowed Shang Jianyao to have the privilege of not needing to queue at the public toilet when he was young and not have to smell the pungent odors. However, after his father went missing and his mother passed away, the company had taken back the suite and redistributed it to a qualified employee. The current room was the new one he had been assigned to when he left the orphanage for university.
In order to conserve energy, these rooms were no longer equipped with electronic locks. Instead, they were equipped with ordinary locks that had been removed from the remains of the Old World’s cities. In addition, some of the factories also manufactured locks.
Shang Jianyao’s gaze casually shifted, looking towards the wooden table by the window.
He had heard from his mother that when she and his father were newlyweds, his father had scrimped and saved to buy wood from the Supplies Allocation Market and had made it himself.
This wooden table and the clothes that Shang Jianyao’s mother sewed by herself, along with the two electric appliances, were returned to him after three years at the orphanage.
However, Shang Jianyao could no longer wear the clothes in the wardrobe.
Shang Jianyao closed his eyes and raised his right hand, pinching his temples. He then lowered his palm, maintained his current posture, and stopped moving.
The entire room became abnormally quiet, and the darkness seemed to grow heavier.
Shang Jianyao laid there as if he had entered a deep sleep.
Shang Jianyao opened his eyes and wasn’t surprised to see a spacious hall. It was bigger than the entire Supplies Allocation Market.
The hall was surrounded by a black wall that shimmered with a metallic luster and gave off an icy feeling. Above his head was a swath of darkness, and he couldn’t see the ceiling or figure out how high it was.
In this darkness, there were countless resplendent points of light. They slowly rotated as though they formed a dreamy river that was sprinkled with diamonds.
Shang Jianyao was once again shocked by this scene, unable to describe the situation in front of him with words.
He could only recall that his teacher had used a display screen to show everyone a picture of the cosmos when he first entered university. That was the first time he saw the cosmos.
Right now, he felt like he was in the middle of a star cluster.
In the middle of the hall, ‘starlight’ scattered and condensed into a blurry figure.
The figure’s hands were spread out, maintaining a strict symmetry as if imitating a balance scale. His hollow voice echoed in the hall as though he was sharing the revelation given by the stars. “Three favors for one price.”
“Three favors for one price…”