Chapter 64: At Night
“Eighth Research Institute…” Jiang Baimian repeated the term in a low voice. Clearly, she had never heard of such an organization.
Bai Chen, Shang Jianyao, and Long Yuehong were the same. The gazes they directed at Qiao Chu had even greater hints of admiration.
Great strength with a mysterious background had always been an element that effectively left people infatuated.
The helmeted Jiang Baimian’s lips quivered as if she was organizing her words. She wanted to ask about the Eighth Research Institute’s location, which technology it had inherited, its relationship with the Old World, and why it had sent a commissioner to this city ruin deep in the Great Swamp.
Without waiting for her to speak, Qiao Chu turned around and walked to the right, leaving behind a light sentence. “Remove your exoskeleton and conserve electricity.”
“Alright.” Jiang Baimian agreed immediately.
This was also what she wanted to do. The electricity stored up by the solar panel was all given to the jeep today, and it was already nighttime. Although they still had a spare high-performance battery, they had to make sure that they had sufficient energy in such a strange Old World city ruin. It was better to be prepared.
While Bai Chen helped Jiang Baimian remove the military exoskeleton, Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong sized up their current location.
The first thing they saw was an LCD screen. It was several inches larger than the ones in the Rec Center on the 495th floor. It hung on the wall in front of them and was abnormally eye-catching.
“This is good stuff…” Long Yuehong sighed, eager to give it a try.
If he could take it back to the company—no, move it back to the company—he didn’t know how many contribution points he could exchange for it, even if it was already broken.
Although these were mostly items that needed to be handed over, the company would still give them a certain level of reward.
Qiao Chu walked to the rightmost window and glanced at Long Yuehong. “In the buildings you saw just now, there’s such a display behind most of the glass windows.”
Long Yuehong recalled the high-rise buildings he had seen and blurted out, “That many?”
He then asked Qiao Chu in confusion, “Why did you suddenly say that?”
Beside him, Shang Jianyao smiled and interrupted, “It means that we have to pick something more valuable, even if we are picking up trash!”
“This is a rich mine.” Bai Chen added in a customary term used between wilderness nomads.
‘Rich mine’ referred to an area with plenty of resources and that there was no need to worry about not finding anything to pick up for a certain period of time.
In such a situation, one had to carefully choose because the number of items they could bring with them every time was limited. Otherwise, they would be failing to meet the expectations of such an expedition.
This was like entering a gold mine. One definitely had to stuff more gold into their bags, not ordinary rocks.
Long Yuehong thought for a moment and agreed with Shang Jianyao’s words. He then continued studying the surroundings.
Under the LCD screen with many stains on its surface was a long, short wooden cabinet. It looked gray. Its original milky-white color was barely recognizable.
On the short wooden cabinet was an emerald-green cup, two electronic equipment—the size of a palm—with wires inserted, and a transparent, long-necked bottle.
About a third of the dirty water remained in the bottle, and some black chips floated above it.
This matched Jiang Baimian’s previous judgment.
If nobody had ‘maintained’ this city since the Old World was destroyed, the water in the bottle should have evaporated. The windows were tightly shut, and the rooms were dry. It didn’t seem like rain had entered.
Opposite the wall that faced the hanging LCD screen was a coffee table—the same color as the short wooden cabinet. On it were some dirty water glasses and a black pack of tissues.
On the left side of the coffee table was a trash can filled with holes. Inside was a blue, translucent plastic bag. On the other side of the coffee table was a very dirty-looking, cloth-covered sofa. It was unknown if the sofa was originally violet-blue or dark-gray.
Between the coffee table and the short wooden cabinet was a faded, folded stool. Its surface was pink, and the outline and pattern seemed to form a cartoon pig. On the right side of the coffee table was a relatively wide area. Qiao Chu was standing there.
Behind Qiao Chu was a row of wooden railings covered in dust. Several large, glass windows stood on the railing’s outer side, acting as walls.
Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong had never learned what such windows were called in textbooks. However, they felt that it was quite an image after hearing Qiao Chu call them floor-to-ceiling windows.
On both sides of the floor-to-ceiling windows was a sink area with a stone platform on one side and a few brownish-red pots on the other.
The soil in the pot was yellowish-brown and had a certain level of dryness. The plants planted inside seemed to have been reduced to ashes long ago. They were buried deep in the soil, leaving no traces behind.
In front of Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong was an aisle with several rooms inside.
On their left was a small round table. Above it was a tablecloth with a few simple flowers embroidered on it. The tablecloth’s original white color was now almost gray.
Around this round table were four ordinary armchairs with mottled cream-white surfaces. One of them had a clear crack, and the wood inside looked severely rotten.
Across the round table—near the door—was a half-open room. Shang Jianyao immediately saw the same electric cooker as the one back home.
It was also covered in peeling paint, and many places were rusted.
Adjacent to the rice cooker were two metal objects that appeared to be stoves. On them were one large pot and one small pot. The large pot was iron-black in color, while the small one was pink on the outside and grayish-white on the inside.
In addition to these, Shang Jianyao also saw a tap, a metal sink, and various cabinets.
Based on his general knowledge, Shang Jianyao came to the conclusion that this area was probably a kitchen.
Long Yuehong—who was beside him—looked over and sighed with emotion. “How extravagant…”
Shang Jianyao nodded in agreement. “That’s right, that’s right.”
From what they knew, only senior employees could have a room with an attached kitchen. For a room with such a large kitchen, they probably had to search for one among the management’s residences in the Residential Zone.
As he spoke, Shang Jianyao raised his feet and quietly retreated step by step.
Qiao Chu looked over.
At this moment, Shang Jianyao had already retreated to the door and looked up.
“605…” He read out the door number.
“What are you doing?” Long Yuehong asked in surprise.
“There are five rooms on each floor, and each block has a total of 20-30 floors. Each building has several blocks…” Shang Jianyao muttered to himself. “There are still hundreds of such large rooms.”
Qiao Chu clearly did not grasp what was on Shang Jianyao’s mind. He calmly said, “Come in; close the door behind you.”
After Shang Jianyao gently closed the door, Long Yuehong came to his senses. “There are seven to eight buildings here, and there are more buildings in the vicinity… Is this the Old World?”
Shang Jianyao ignored him and squatted down to open the wooden cabinet on the entrance’s right side.
A putrid smell instantly wafted out as he found rows of different kinds of shoes inside the wooden cabinet.
Qiao Chu pinched his nose and said, “Close it!”
Shang Jianyao didn’t take a careful look and immediately slammed the cabinet door.
“How extravagant!” Long Yuehong sighed again. What kind of family is this? They actually have so many shoes!
At this moment, the sun had already set below the horizon. The sky seemed to be made of gray metal, reflecting a sliver of light.
Shang Jianyao and the others saw the entire city turning darker through the floor-to-ceiling windows. The high-rise buildings were like lone islands being swallowed by the increasingly ferocious dark ‘tide.’
Their hearts seemed to sink.
Suddenly, there was a commotion in the nearby block—followed by a bang.
Jiang Baimian and the others looked at each other and made a judgment at the same time—that was the sound of a gunshot!
Someone had fired a shot just now!
Before they could speak, a hoarse roar resounded through the area. This roar quickly spread out as responses came from all directions.
This commotion continued without end, and the sounds were all approaching the area where the gunshot was fired.
The city—which had been completely silent moments ago—instantly became lively.
The roars subsided after a minute or two, and the entire city fell into extreme silence.
Jiang Baimian—who had already taken off her military exoskeleton—frowned and thought for a few seconds. “Heartless?”
As far as she knew, Heartless lingered and loitered in many city ruins. The exact number depended on the local ecosystem and the number of remaining supplies that could support the population.
Qiao Chu was still carrying the silver rifle on his back. He faced the floor-to-ceiling windows and stared at the dead city outside. “Yes.”
“The Ruin Hunters that entered the ruins from other paths encountered an attack by the Heartless and fired, triggering a chain reaction?” Jiang Baimian tried her best to reenact the scene.
This time, Qiao Chu ignored her and stood there quietly, seemingly looking at something.
Shang Jianyao then asked, “Could the howling we heard in the wilderness come from them?”
“Impossible. How can sounds of such a decibel level travel so far?” Jiang Baimian replied thoughtfully. “However, we might have heard the Heartless’s howling in the area we were in back then. They were responding to the most exaggerated howl in the beginning. Based on the direction, the howl that echoed through the wilderness might really have originated from here…”
“From the power of the howl and the fact that it can trigger the Heartless’s response, that monster is probably very dangerous! Extremely dangerous!” Long Yuehong joined in the discussion, becoming increasingly nervous.
Upon hearing this, Jiang Baimian, Shang Jianyao, and Bai Chen’s expressions suddenly flickered as if they recalled their decision not to approach the dangerous area back then.
This was completely contradictory to their current state.
Jiang Baimian’s eyes flickered slightly, and her expression gradually turned heavy. She subconsciously looked at Qiao Chu.
At this moment, Qiao Chu had already turned around and smiled. “Since we’re already here, we can only protect ourselves first. At the same time, think about what’s most precious and what you want to protect the most.”
His golden eyes momentarily lost their focus as if they were a deep lake reflecting the sun.
Jiang Baimian pursed her lips, and her eyes softened again. “I understand.”
Shang Jianyao and the others returned to their original state of discussion.
Qiao Chu retracted his gaze and looked around. “Have dinner first; then, take turns resting until midnight.”