Embers Ad Infinitum is a web novel completed by Cuttlefish That Loves Diving, 爱潜水的乌贼.
This lightnovel is presently ongoing.
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Chapter 48: Subhumans
Subhumans? Upon hearing this term, words like ‘vicious,’ ‘evil,’ ‘deformed,’ ‘dirty,’ ‘source of contamination,’ and ‘human haters’ instantly appeared in Long Yuehong’s mind.
Although he had never encountered Subhumans, the textbooks and the people around him all said the same thing.
Jiang Baimian seemed able to sense Long Yuehong’s thoughts and sighed. “Subhumans and humans are essentially the same. At least there’s no difference when it comes to reproduction.”
Without waiting for Long Yuehong and the others to speak, she continued, “The people in Blackrat Town relied on catching and eating rats to survive the first winter after the Old World was destroyed. It is said that the rats in that area had gone crazy back then. All of them burrowed out of the ground, covering the mountains and plains. Some of them were covered in ulcers, some had red eyes, and some attacked the living beings around them indiscriminately.
“Uh… I’m going off-topic. Let’s talk about the people in Blackrat Town. After the first winter, a large number of residents died because of the contamination in the area they lived in. They chose to depart and migrate here.
“Unfortunately, the nightmare didn’t end there. Their bodies gradually mutated. Furthermore, perhaps it was because they had eaten too many mutated rats, but they actually became more and more like rats. Ha, I’m not an expert in this field, nor have I done any research. I’m just mentioning it in pa.s.sing.
“In short, their hair turned black and plentiful. Their bodies are always hunched, and their nails have become harder and sharper… After several generations of reproduction, the current residents of Blackrat Town are generally less than 1.4 meters tall. They like to live in caves and are very good at digging. Correspondingly, their choice of food has become more varied. At the same time, they are afraid of strong sunlight. Hence, they can only move about in the morning, evening, and nighttime.
“They also have many good mutations. For example, they are very talented in machinery and electronics. Some of the Old World’s appliances are already badly damaged. After fiddling with them for a period of time, they can make them barely usable. Of course, the premise is that there are the necessary wires and components.”
At this point, Jiang Baimian exclaimed, “I almost forgot to remind you not to say the words ‘Blackrat Town’ in front of them. This is a name given to their settlement by some wilderness nomads. Its meaning is filled with discrimination, and the people in Blackrat Town are the kind of people with relatively high self-esteem. Within the company, people don’t have much hate for Subhumans, but we can’t avoid the disdain, contempt, and aversion. Therefore, we have also used this term.”
Bai Chen—who was driving—couldn’t help but ask, “Then, why did the company rope them in?”
As a former wilderness nomad, Bai Chen had encountered the Subhumans’ animosity and was attacked several times for no reason. Furthermore, some Subhumans had nightmarish appearances, so Bai Chen seriously lacked a good impression of Subhumans. Sometimes, she even treated them as dangerous creatures with intelligence.
Jiang Baimian fell silent for a moment before saying, “The residents of Blackrat Town don’t have a deep grudge against humans. They usually treat themselves as normal people. If it weren’t for their sensitivity and inferiority complex and the company’s employees’ bias against Subhumans, the company might have gradually absorbed them. They mightn’t have treated them as peripheral va.s.sals.
“Actually, they can’t be considered va.s.sals; it’s more of a cooperative relations.h.i.+p. We will use weapons, ammunition, old clothes, and a certain amount of food to exchange for the valuable things they have gathered. At the same time, they will transmit important information about the Blackmarsh Wilderness to the company via radio. Yes, the company collects old clothes from you for similar transactions.”
At this point, Jiang Baimian paused.
“The company will also recruit volunteers from Blackrat Town for certain experiments. In this regard, the residents of Blackrat Town are very enthusiastic. They are willing to give up everything in exchange for the chance of their descendants becoming normal people.”
Jiang Baimian did not embellish her descriptions with her feelings, but Bai Chen still sighed with emotion when she heard that. “In the Ashlands, the company’s bad reputation is always a.s.sociated with its biological experiments. Before I came into contact with you, I heard many rumors. I was filled with fear for such experiments, afraid that I would be captured by Pangu Biology one day and be sent to a secret place to be a sacrificial lamb for diabolical experiments.
“I was afraid that I would be tortured to the point of having a mental breakdown, suffer from physical deformations, and become a monster. I was afraid that I wouldn’t even be able to die as a human. To think the people of Blackrat Town actually volunteered for the experiments…”
After hearing Bai Chen say this, Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong realized that the company had such an image in the eyes of outsiders. It was like the major antagonist in the stories aired on radio.
This was completely different from what they had known since they were young. They had always believed that the company was a utopia, while the outside world was filled with suffering.
Jiang Baimian smiled. “I can tell that you’ve been suppressing such fear in your heart for a long time. That’s why you said so much in one breath.”
She then raised her left arm and bent her elbow. “This electric eel-type biomechanical limb was the result of the experiment. Likewise for the genetic modification. How is it? Do you find it less terrifying after witnessing this with your own eyes?”
Bai Chen remained silent and did not answer.
“… Got it.” Jiang Baimian laughed self-deprecatingly. “You’re even more scared after seeing me like this.”
She exhaled indiscernibly. “You’re right about one thing. Most of the volunteers don’t enjoy a good ending…”
The atmosphere in the jeep became tense, and n.o.body spoke for a long time.
After a few seconds, Jiang Baimian turned to look at Shang Jianyao and grumbled jokingly, “Why aren’t you joking at a time like this?”
Shang Jianyao replied seriously, “As a person determined to save all of humanity, I never joke about such topics.”
“… That’s true.” Jiang Baimian sat up straight again. After a while, she pointed ahead and said, “Turn left and enter the mountains.”
Upon arriving, they saw a stretch of mounds in the Blackmarsh Wilderness. Some of them could even be called hills, and Blackrat Town was located in the hills.
After driving along the b.u.mpy road for a while, Jiang Baimian couldn’t help but roll down the window.
“Seriously, the combined distance traveling up and down is greater than the distance we traveled. From a single trip out, we’ll definitely have to repair the undercarriage cha.s.sis when we return…”
Amidst her complaints, Jiang Baimian suddenly shut her mouth. She tilted her head and carefully sensed for a while before she gradually frowned. “There’s pitifully few electric signals coming from Blackrat Town.”
The electric signals had already entered her perception range; it also meant that Blackrat Town was very close.
Shang Jianyao instinctively raised the Berserker a.s.sault rifle and placed it by the window. “Could it be a result of the abnormalities north of Yuelu Station?”
This place was not close to Yuelu Station, but it was not too far either. They were half a day’s journey from it.
“Maybe.” Jiang Baimian nodded, and her tone was clearly more solemn than before.
“Team Leader, do we need to wear the exoskeleton?” asked Long Yuehong calmly, no longer as shocked as he had been in the past few days.
“Yes.” Jiang Baimian did not underestimate the unknown. She then instructed, “You’ll be the one wearing it.”
“Why isn’t it Shang Jianyao?” Long Yuehong blurted out a question.
“Shang Jianyao needs to follow me into Blackrat Town. The exoskeleton can’t enter. Uh, it can actually enter, but it won’t be of much use,” Jiang Baimian explained simply.
Shang Jianyao had no objections to this. He maintained his silence, highly vigilant against any anomalies that might suddenly appear.
After Long Yuehong wore the exoskeleton, the jeep continued driving.
Two to three minutes later, Jiang Baimian ordered, “Stop the car.”
She then pointed at the woods and bushes ahead. “Blackrat Town is over there. Long Yuehong, take point.”
“Yes, Team Leader!” Long Yuehong opened the door and alighted.
After the four of them entered the relatively dense forest, they walked for several minutes before they suddenly smelled a familiar scent.
It was the smell of blood!
“This is bad…” Jiang Baimian immediately muttered to herself as if she had already thought of a possible development. With a grenade launcher in hand, she quickened her pace and walked to the other end of the forest.
There was a grayish-yellow mountain wall. Trees and weeds hid a deep, dark cave, and an even thicker stench of blood effused from it.
“That’s Blackrat Town,” said Jiang Baimian in a deep but not low voice.
At a glance, Long Yuehong understood why the exoskeleton wasn’t useful in Blackrat Town.
The entrance to the cave was only 1.4 meters high. No matter how one contracted and adjusted the exoskeleton, it could not reach this height. The cave’s interior was clearly shorter as well.
Due to this, the person wearing the exoskeleton wouldn’t even fit when they entered Blackrat Town—which was essentially a cave. Their combat strength would naturally be reduced.
Before they approached the cave, Shang Jianyao and Jiang Baimian looked to the left simultaneously and saw two corpses under a tree.
The two corpses were very short. Their bodies had the tendency to curl up, and their clothes had been stripped clean.
Their nails were sharp and stiff, clearly yellowing. There was a large amount of black hair on their bodies. At a glance, they looked like giant rats that resided in a seriously polluted region. However, the hair wasn’t dense. Through them, one could see the rather pale skin below.
The two corpses had wide eyes and lingering expressions of horror and hate. Their bodies and surroundings were dyed with blood, looking no different from normal humans.
Frankly speaking, apart from having thicker hair, a shorter figure, strange nails, and slightly paler skin, Shang Jianyao didn’t think that the two dead residents of Blackrat Town were fundamentally different from him.
This was not the first time Long Yuehong had seen corpses. Although he was still a little scared, disgusted, and didn’t want to look at them directly, he could control himself.
He hissed. “Don’t tell me they’re all dead…”
Jiang Baimian subconsciously turned her head and looked at the deep cave. For a moment, she didn’t have the courage to enter. She looked like she was able to imagine the scene inside.
At this moment, Bai Chen—who had crouched down to examine the corpses—looked up and said in a deep voice, “They died from gunshots.”
Jiang Baimian narrowed her eyes slightly and muttered to herself, “Who could have done this…?”
With that said, she took a light breath and walked towards Blackrat Town’s entrance.
Without needing to be instructed, Shang Jianyao followed closely behind her.
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