Chapter 66: Midnight
“I found something.” Shang Jianyao held the long strand of white hair and quickly walked back to the living room.
To allow Qiao Chu, Jiang Baimian, and the others to see it clearly, he turned the flashlight around and shone it at his hand.
The yellow beam of light spread out slightly, reflecting Shang Jianyao’s extremely gloomy face.
Long Yuehong almost jumped up and shot him.
Shang Jianyao seemed to have expected Long Yuehong’s reaction, but he only added, “Look at my hand.”
Long Yuehong slowly exhaled and looked over.
In the yellowish beam of light, fine dust danced, and a strand of white hair swayed gently.
“Where did you find it?” Jiang Baimian asked.
Shang Jianyao pointed at the wall with a hanging LCD screen. “On the pillow in this bedroom.”
“There’s only one strand?” asked Jiang Baimian.
“In theory, yes. Unless it can devour its companions and evolve on its own,” replied Shang Jianyao seriously.
“Do foundational classes teach such stuff these days?” questioned Jiang Baimian casually, seemingly distracted by various possibilities.
Bai Chen—who was listening quietly—tugged at the old scarf around her neck and said, “Left behind when the Old World was destroyed?”
Hair didn’t rot easily in such an environment.
“It doesn’t make sense that there’s only one strand left.” Jiang Baimian voiced her doubts. “Besides, didn’t we come to a preliminary judgment? This city has periodically been ‘maintained’ to certain levels. Some of the situations in this room are also confirming this, just like how we discovered traces of rat activity in the dining room and kitchen earlier. But apart from bite marks and scratches, they didn’t leave anything behind.”
Long Yuehong couldn’t help but mutter, “This sounds more and more terrifying…”
A city that had long died was still periodically clearing away junk to ‘maintain’ itself!
Without knowing the reason, this was even more terrifying than the ghost stories on the radio!
“The rats might have been eaten by the active Heartless here. They also need food.” Bai Chen voiced her guess.
Jiang Baimian tersely acknowledged it. “That’s possible. However, will the Heartless help the mice clean up? They only have survival instincts left.”
Shang Jianyao switched off the flashlight in his hand and said seriously, “What’s impossible? Don’t they all know how to sing?”
“…” Jiang Baimian rolled her eyes at him. “Why would you call those roars a song? Besides, even if they have a certain instinct to clean up the environment—although I’ve never seen Heartless anywhere else do that—let’s assume that they do. In short, they should be frequently conducting ‘maintenance’ and not just after a long period has passed. After all, they don’t have many thoughts and only act according to their instincts.”
Judging by the streets, buildings, and rooms’ conditions, it had been a long time since the city was maintained.
Shang Jianyao tried to ‘reason.’ “Humans have the instinct to be lazy. How often do you clean your room?”
Jiang Baimian was momentarily speechless. She looked at Qiao Chu and said, “I’m just a little more casual when carrying out missions in the wilderness. This is a sign of social camaraderie. In the company, if you cook by yourself, you will clean up every day—perhaps more than once a day. If you eat in the canteen, you will clean up once every three days and do major cleaning once a month.”
Since their discussion began, Qiao Chu—who had been silent all this while, suddenly asked, “Are you from Pangu Biology, United Industries, Orange Company, or Future Intelligence?”
“We are from Pangu Biology,” Jiang Baimian replied truthfully.
Qiao Chu touched the silver rifle on his knees and nodded slightly. “There’s no need to discuss that strand of hair. It’s not a big deal.
“Eat, rest, and wait for midnight.”
“Alright.” Shang Jianyao and the others gave up on the discussion and found their seats. They ate compressed biscuits and energy bars while drinking water from the waterskins.
After filling her stomach, Jiang Baimian stood up, walked to the dining area’s window, and looked down at the overgrown lawn.
She originally wanted to lay out her request directly, but she became a little embarrassed after looking at Qiao Chu. “I’ll go down to relieve myself.”
“You can relieve yourself with the bathroom here.” Shang Jianyao looked eager as if he wanted to share the method he had discovered with his companions.
“There’s no need… It’ll affect your rest.” Jiang Baimian rejected his kindness.
Sitting in the chair, Qiao Chu—who seemed to be resting with his eyes closed—opened his eyes and said, “You can go to the corner of Unit 601.”
Jiang Baimian instinctively shook her head. “It’s best to be careful in such a strange place. If we don’t mask stronger scents and have it close to us, it might attract unnecessary trouble.”
“It’s fine.” Qiao Chu insisted on his opinion.
Jiang Baimian did not want to retort and chose to obey.
Bai Chen stood up as well. “I’ll go with you.”
“We can keep an eye on each other.” Jiang Baimian nodded and smiled. “Even if you don’t want to go, I would’ve dragged you along.”
Long Yuehong tucked his thighs and looked at Shang Jianyao. “Shall we go together later?”
“Alright,” Shang Jianyao replied regretfully. “Since Qiao Chu said that it’s fine, we can completely relax a little. For example, we can stand on the railing, open the window, and aim out…”
“Stop!” Long Yuehong stopped Shang Jianyao’s abnormal train of thought—or rather, his sudden fantasy.
After this interlude, Long Yuehong and Bai Chen each occupied one end of the sofa. They curled up and prepared to rest.
Qiao Chu remained sitting on the chair with his eyes closed. It was unknown if he was resting or if he had already fallen asleep.
Shang Jianyao sat cross-legged on the railing in front of the floor-to-ceiling window. He looked in the direction of the tunnel and monitored the activity in the dark city. Jiang Baimian did not carry the grenade launcher but an Ice Moss pistol. She walked back and forth in the living room, constantly watching out for any abnormalities that happened to the people sleeping.
After a few minutes, a scream of terror sounded somewhere in the city.
In this abnormally quiet night—amidst the city ruins that resembled a deathly still forest—the tragic cries reached far and wide.
Long Yuehong—who had not fallen asleep—felt his scalp tingle as he trembled.
Gunshots sounded one after another.
Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!
This string of activity was like firecrackers, and it vanished as quickly as it sounded.
After a while, Shang Jianyao used the weak starlight to see a figure jump out of a nearby alley.
This figure was hunched, and his actions resembled those of an ape, not a human. He wore messy clothes and had some cloth tied to them. He quickly approached the building where Shang Jianyao and the others were.
He then ran towards the other end of the street that was covered in yellow leaves. From time to time, he skillfully climbed to a high spot before jumping down lightly.
Upon seeing this scene, Shang Jianyao felt that it would be very difficult for him to complete such actions, even if he had undergone genetic enhancement and systematic training. After all, the enhancement’s main direction was not this.
At this moment, the clouds high in the sky moved. Moonlight leaked out a little, barely allowing Shang Jianyao to make out the figure’s appearance.
This figure was likely a male. His black hair was messy and dirty, but it wasn’t too long. It didn’t reach his shoulder.
As if sensing Shang Jianyao’s gaze, the figure suddenly turned his head and looked upstairs.
A blank expression immediately appeared in Shang Jianyao’s eyes.
This was a Heartless, a Heartless in his prime.
Shang Jianyao did not dodge the Heartless’s gaze. He opened his eyes and quietly stared at the Heartless from a great distance.
Finally, the Heartless retracted his gaze and continued heading toward the shadows of the tall buildings in the distance before disappearing.
A smile gradually appeared on Shang Jianyao’s face as if he had obtained a decisive victory.
Suddenly, he saw a figure.
This figure also had a hunched body and was much slower than the Heartless from earlier.
Shang Jianyao looked over and saw a wrinkled, shriveled face and messy, white hair.
This figure flashed and burrowed into the left alley—Shang Jianyao’s blind spot.
In the next two hours, Shang Jianyao saw several Heartless. Jiang Baimian also noticed this and expressed her doubts about the number of Heartless here.
Bai Chen and Long Yuehong woke up later and took over their duties.
By the time Long Yuehong woke up Shang Jianyao, Qiao Chu had already left the chair and stood in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows.
“It’s almost midnight,” said Qiao Chu calmly. He then retracted his gaze from the dark city ruin and instructed coldly and gently, “Help me put on the exoskeleton.”
Before long, Qiao Chu put on the military exoskeleton with Jiang Baimian and Bai Chen’s help and booted up the system.
After picking up the silver rifle, Qiao Chu—whose body was covered in the black metal skeleton—walked to the floor-to-ceiling windows and pointed at a building a few blocks away. “That’s our destination.”
Shang Jianyao and the others looked in the direction he pointed in and saw a building—which was quite far away from all the buildings around it. It also seemed to have a large, attached compound.
At this moment, it was quietly standing in the dark city ruins. There was no light shining from inside as if it had long died.
A few seconds later, Qiao Chu turned around. As he walked towards the door, he said in a deep voice, “Let’s set off!”