Volume 1, Chapter 3
“Fucker! Why am I so unlucky?” Finished training, Tang Long ate his hard-won food while complaining nonstop. “How did those bizarre instructors get ancient drills and why did they use them? Does this age still value physical strength?”
Tang Long was not whining for nothing. He had already stayed at the base for three days, every day rucking,1 swimming, doing sit-ups and push-ups and inverted pull-ups, et cetera types of physical exercise. But it was not for the sake of measuring Tang Long’s physical strength. If Tang Long did not complete the frightening goals the droid instructors set down, he would be whipped. For instance, push-ups. If they ordered him to do 100, and he could not complete them, he would be punished by being whipped and going without food. Tang Long was already highly surprised he was able to survive.
Realize that in this age, outside of athletes who had very difficult training regimens, most soldiers did not need to train their physical strength. Nowadays, one only had to move a finger or think a little to fight wars. Why was his training so bitterly difficult?
Tang Long always had an hour break after eating. It seemed the droids also knew the lesson of not exercising too much after eating. Tang Long decided to use this time to have some fun.
“Ahh. If I had a cigarette, then I really would be a happy immortal,” sighed Tang Long, wiping his mouth and standing up. He was just saying that as he had not smoked before. Even if he wanted to try it out, he could not, as he was the only living person in the ghostly base.
“Hehe. I didn’t think I, a private, could actually carry a gun,” said Tang Long a bit stiffly, touching the laspistol at his waist, as he looked out into the pitch-black hall.
He did not know how it happened, but ever since he blew open the cafeteria, the hall’s power supply stopped working at times. The droid instructors did not investigate him after the explosion in the cafeteria, but in fact gave him a laspistol to carry. Tang Long, fortunate for the gun on his person, thus was not quite as scared in the darkness. He, of course, did not have the courage to unholster and randomly shoot. When he now thought of the consequences of shooting the instructor several times on accident yesterday, he felt his calves cramping.
Tang Long stared into that pitch-black darkness, grit his teeth, and placed his finger on the trigger. He still certainly did not unholster his pistol, and walked out of the cafeteria in this fashion.
He definitely did not want to leave the bright cafeteria, but now, not only did his own room not have electricity, he also did not know when the cafeteria would lose power and close the doors. The automatic repair bots had long ago fixed the bombed-open door. On the entire base, the only place with power was the recreation room. Tang Long had gone to the place once, which had every third-person video game. And because of this reason, Tang Long had the courage to slip through the dark hall to get to the recreation room.
“Damn! Changed again!” Tang Long cursed indignantly. He realized that every time he relied on his memory to take him to the original entrance of the recreation room, it would change such that he did not know where he was. It forced him to circle the hall in the darkness, searching one place after another.
Tang Long also did not know why the recreation room could not actually sense when a person was in front of the room and open up. He had to push in order to enter. It could only be explained by the lack of power. He did not know, however, that the military base’s power failure rate was only 0.0001%. If someone wanted to bring about power failure, that person could only destroy the entire base to do so.
Tang Long, with one hand on the pistol and bent at the waist, carefully explored the wall, while at the same time encouraging himself to be brave. “I really don’t know which idiot installed this base’s manual opening device so low. It’s forcing me to exercise my abs after stuffing myself…. Aha, found it.” Tang Long felt something protruding, quickly yelling with joy.
When he found the recreation room the other time, the break had already ended because he inspected every room. So after that, he shot the corner of the wall, but again, due to the automatic repair bots, he had to shoot open a big hole and shove spent lasrifle rounds inside. In this way, the automatic repair bots would not remove the marker.
Tang Long, impatient, wanted to break yesterday night’s shooter record. Right after opening the door, he wanted to rush in, but the sight in front of him caused him to immediately scream “fuck” and collapse onto the floor. A completely bony skeleton stood in front of the door.
Tang Long began panickedly scooting back, while also unholstering the pistol from his waist. He raised his arm, aimed, and was about to shoot. However, in the split second before he pulled the trigger, he saw a green light flash in the skeleton’s eyes. He was most familiar with that radiance, one that popped up in his dreams and scared him awake. Thus his heart skipped beat, and he quickly suppressed his fingers, stammering, “Instru … Instru … Instructor, sir.”
The skeleton nodded, revealing its hidden, white teeth, and spoke emotionlessly, “Very good. You have already controlled your desire to shoot. Hey, if you had shot me, who knows what the penalty for the offense of killing an officer would have been?” Speaking this, the droid’s eyes glowed even greener.
Seeing that strange green glow, Tang Long felt his scalp tingle, quickly climbing to his feet and respectfully standing to one side, unmoving.
“Tang Long, what are you scared of?” The droid instructor also placed its hands behind its back, the sound of bones rattling causing Tang Long to get goosebumps.
Although Tang Long did not quite understand the purpose of the question, he still puffed his chest out and loudly answered, “Permission to speak, sir! I am afraid of crawling, soft-bodied insects! Also … also ghosts!”
Speaking this, Tang Long secretly glanced at the droid. He was drilled by the instructors’ exceedingly strange exercises for three days now. He already had the military motions conditioned into reflexes.
“Oh? Soft-bodied insects and imaginary ghosts?” The droid instructor very humanly folded its arms across his chest, rubbing its metallic chin with its snow-white skeletal hand.
Tang Long completely missed the proof of the droid’s intelligence. He really did not dare to look at the bony, skeletal instructor. Only once he heard the “ka ka ka” sound of the metal weight from beside him moving away into the darkness did he dare open his eyes. With lingering fear, he gazed into the darkness at the hidden and indistinct metal skeleton.
After he had glanced, Tang Long bounded like a rabbit into the recreation room. He wanted to use video games to get rid of the ominous feeling.
But right after Tang Long started playing, a sharp whistle sounded from outside. This was the whistle ending the break. Tang Long unwillingly left the game console. When he got to the door, he realized the hall had not changed into day but was still utterly dark.
His ominous feeling grew stronger, and Tang Long hesitated when he was about to leave. The video game room suddenly lost electricity, the entire base now in darkness. Scared, Tang Long rapidly gripped his pistol tightly.
While Tang Long panicked, feeling unsafe, a distant “ka ka ka” sound drifted over. Hearing the noise, Tang Long knew it was the droid walking. He quickly opened his eyes wide and stared into the darkness in front of him.
Shortly, following the “ka ka” footsteps getting closer and closer, Tang Long first saw ten green dots swaying, then the five skeletons glowing a dim white. Seeing the terrifying scene, Tang Long dropped the pistol in his tight grip to the floor. Pah. However, Tang Long did not go to pick it up. He could not move, let alone the simple action of closing his eyes. They scared him so much that he could not even act.
Tang Long gawked in just this fashion at the five unclothed droid instructors who walked before him. The droids lined up in a row and stood neatly at ease. “ATTENTION!”
Hearing the order, Tang Long moved with conditioned reflexes, as he brought his heels together smartly and sharply, after which he saluted. “Sir!” Then he did as the instructors, standing at ease. Only after he finished these unconscious movements did Tang Long sober up. However, Tang Long no longer had the time to be worried or scared.
“We will now announce the three month training goals for Private Tang Long! First: Exercise courage! Second: Exercise physical fitness! Third: Exercise evasion! Any questions?!” He did not know which droid said this since he did not see any of their mouths moving.
Tang Long heard these words and immediately threw his fear away as his curiosity prevailed. So he quickly raised his hand and asked, “Permission to speak, sir! What is exercising courage?”
No one answered him. During the time Tang Long had wanted to ask his question, the darkness changed into a deep, dark, and horrible forest environment. At least this looks a little better than the darkness, thought Tang Long as he shivered. But very quickly he earnestly wanted to return to the embrace of the darkness.
Outside of this somber setting, several things appeared that moved in the area. Tang Long intently peered out and found they were actually a variety of soft and slippery insects—disgusting caterpillars, terrifying scorpions, etc. There were also an assortment of rotting zombies like the ones seen in 3D movies. Dead insects really crawled all over those zombies, nausea inducing. Even worse, the insects constantly dropped from the zombies as they walked.
Impulsively, after Tang Long saw this horrifying sight, he immediately screamed with fear. The instructors, of course, swiftly took out their whips and lashed out. The whips chased Tang Long as he ran for his life, but they were unable to stop and calm him. Tang Long shrank towards the corner of the wall as if his life depended on it. He greatly wished to cram himself inside of the wall.
“As a soldier who is actually scared of imaginary things, what do you think you’re doing! Listen up! You will live in this environment for a month! The mess hall will still open and close at the same time! If you don’t eat during break, then for that meal you’ll go hungry! Also! You will only have ancient metal weapons to defend yourself from the attacks of the images. You should know this is the FEAR game’s improved virtual reality system. If you get hit by them, you will suffer a very realistic injury.”
While it was impossible to tell which droid said those words, the five skeletons left behind a steel dadao2 after they finished speaking. They disappeared into the darkness.
Although Tang Long was quickly losing consciousness, due to those dreadful things not moving closer to him, he was able to preserve a scrap of his mind. He also heard the instructor’s words. As a gamer, he definitely knew the FEAR game. This game had had the improved virtual reality system installed a long time ago and put on the market. It directly used the mind’s senses to transmit information to the brain, resulting in a hyperrealistic world.
During its testing, of the one hundred gamers were invited to participate, ninety had nervous breakdowns due to fear. Further, these one hundred people all turned into vegetables due to the effects of the virtual fear. The psychological consequences were so strong that they could not be cured. People pointed to the video game as the cause of the mental disorders. For instance, if a monster cut off the player’s hand, the brain thought this was real. It would abandon the function of the intact limb, resulting in a useless hand even outside of the video game.
Because the video game felt more real than real, it was dropped before completion. Afterwards, the model was used to produce airplane, racing, and other games. At the same time, due to the hyperrealism system failing gamers, its death followed. Naturally there were still people using the software and making erotic games. Pitiably, everyone was still scared of the effects the scary software had on those gamers, the exhaustion and death of many of them. This virtual reality system was also improved, but after improvements quite a lot of the hyperrealistic feeling was lost. They changed into the standard third-person game. In the end, the government strictly prohibited the distribution of realistic virtual reality systems. Not only were they dangerous, they also made it difficult for people to differentiate the virtual world and reality. Eventually these banished systems became known as “death consoles” and the unfinished FEAR was named the “Game of Death.”
Tang Long never expected the droids to dig out the Game of Death. If he weren’t careful, in a few minutes his life would be over.3
When people encountered a dangerous and greatly terrifying situation, they had two responses: one was losing their self, the other was surpassing their self.
Although Tang Long faced his innermost fears, he also knew that fear only led to death in this world. Following the voice coming from above, “There are still ten seconds before the game starts. Please get ready, player. 10, 9, 8, 7 …” Tang Long violently sprang towards the dadao that already had big and small snakes wrapped around it.
He knew the hair on his entire body stood on end right now, and his heart had a fuzzy feeling encompassing it, especially when he felt the slippery bodies of the soft insects. He felt as if his hair was going to fly off his scalp at any time. But with his life at stake, what did it matter?
When the voice counted down to one, Tang Long picked up the saber, then turned and ran. Those initially unmoving bodies began to emit scary sounds and rush towards him.
“You five metal bastards! I’ll fuck your thirty-six generations of ancestors! If one month later I don’t dismantle you into scrap metal and sell you off, I won’t be Tang Long!” Tang Long’s cursing could be heard throughout the forest, which also carried the words, “Go to hell! Kill! Shit!” This thundered in the forest along with screams.
While Tang Long was facing enormous danger, billions of light-years away on the planet Ladd, in an apartment in the middle of the city, a woman uneasily and anxiously picked up a holographic communicator. The lady still retained her charm, though she looked restless as she waited for the phone call to connect.
A middle-aged man’s projected avatar appeared. When he saw the woman, he was slightly surprised, but before he could get a word in, the lady worriedly yelled, “Tang Long hasn’t contacted me for three days already! What can I do?”
“Three days?” The middle-aged man obviously heard these words and was startled, but immediately spoke, “I think he is playing games somewhere, so happy he forgot everything. Perhaps this is why he forgot to call home.”
“Impossible! You also know Tang Long is a very good kid. There is no way he wouldn’t contact us for three days. He … might have gotten into trouble …” choked out the woman.
The middle-aged man quickly consoled, “Our son is clever. Nothing could have happened. If there really were problems, the police would have let us know earlier…. Okay, let’s report this first. Tang Long has an identification card. They can quickly search for where he is.”
Tears having long ago flooded down her face, the lady just realized there was also such a method to find whether her son was safe. Naturally, the woman immediately pressed the holographic communicator. Not long after, next to the middle-aged man’s avatar, a female officer’s avatar appeared, wearing the uniform of a police officer. She showed a smile, asking, “Hello ma’am, this is the Commonwealth’s Police Department. Is there anything I can help you with, ma’am?”
The lady knew this was a virtual person, and counted as a computer manipulation. Therefore, she impolitely asked, “My son is missing. His ID number is ‘Ladd0125, Tang Long, 34140631221.’”
The woman had thoroughly memorized his ID number when she helped him get his identification card.
“Okay. Please wait a moment, ma’am.” The female officer still held her smile, as well as keeping the same expression. After just a few seconds, she said, “Found it. Tang Long, male, Planet Ladd 0125 District, born in the year 3414 of the Universal Era. Three days ago, he enlisted in the Commonwealth Army on the planet Keira. Currently, he is conducting military training.”
“What?!” The lady and the middle-aged man listening in simultaneously revealed shocked, skeptical expressions. They did not consider their son would become a soldier after leaving for just three days.
“Impossible! This is impossible! Why did he enlist? Not possible …” The lady refused to believe and shook her head. The middle-aged man had a bit more courage, quickly rousing himself from the shock. He soothed the woman, “If he’s a soldier, that’s fine. Anyways, there are no wars right now. At most he will serve the required three years. Also, Tang Long, that kid, messes about all day. His body is so lacking that military drills will be beneficial for him in the future.”
The woman only could not accept this at the beginning, but she also quickly cleared her mind. For her, as long as her son was safe, she could lift the heavy burden off her shoulders. And according to her husband, it was a time of peace. Enlisting in the Army and exercising was still a good outcome, as they could always visit.
Wiping away her tears, she asked the female police officer, “Which training barracks is he at?”
The female officer hesitated for a moment before replying, “I’m sorry. This is classified and cannot be checked.”
The middle-aged man was dumbfounded for a moment. He had never heard of an instance where a training barracks was treated as classified information. If the training barracks was secret, then it wouldn’t be strange if the parents of the recruits were to protest. As a result, he found it odd and inquired, “That’s not possible. Can you check carefully?”
Video conferencing had been possible for thousands of years. As a result, it wasn’t strange that the middle-aged man could speak with the female officer even though he was on another phone.
“Okay.” As the female officer finished speaking, she motionlessly maintained the smile on her face. This time, she was silent for quite some time. The married couple restlessly watched the female officer.
After some time, the female police officer shook her head and reported, “I’m sorry. The training barracks he has been assigned to is Level SS classified. Even the Commonwealth Supreme Commander does not know its location. May I ask what else I can help you with?”
The middle-aged man’s jaws dropped, unclosing. He was a relatively influential businessman. As a result, he knew that the highest level classification for state-secret advanced weaponry only reached Level S. But now his own son was at a training barracks that had Level SS security classification. What kind of training barracks was that? The acute intuition of a businessman told him that his son had been sent into a very dangerous maelstrom. As a result, he quickly stopped his wife who had more questions, expressing that there were no other problems to the female police officer.
The lady saw that the female officer disappeared before she could finish questioning her, and could not help but unhappily ask, “What’s going on? What’s Level SS? Where is Tang Long?”
The middle-aged man revealed a solemn expression and replied, “Don’t ask too much. Wait until I come back to explain everything. Remember this. In the future, if anyone asks where Tang Long went, just say that he has gone abroad to study. Regardless of who is asking, you must respond in that fashion, because this concerns Tang Long’s safety. All right, wait at home for me. I’m coming back right now.”
When the lady saw her husband’s serious expression, she was unwittingly startled for a bit. She had never seen such a grim expression from her husband.
After a few hours, the middle-aged man showed up by the woman’s side. After he explained the meaning behind “SS,” she was also greatly shocked. They decided to temporarily cease inquiry into their son’s business, but they also found it strange. They knew most clearly the type of person their son was. How could he, a normal teenager, participate in a Level SS affair?
In fact, Tang Long’s parents were worrying unnecessarily. In the past, the Commonwealth’s computer terminals were all sentient, intelligent computers. “Her” only friends were the five droids who had lived as long as “her.” Ever since a few hundred years ago, when humans found out about the existence of the 23rd Regiment, she was almost dissolved after that. In order to protect her friends, “she” set the 23rd Regiment to the highest level of security, not allowing anyone to inquire. Only because Tang Long enlisted in the 23rd Regiment, the first in centuries, was a trace left behind in the computer, letting the regiment get searched. However, if Tang Long’s parents wanted to search for it, they could not, because all the data pertaining to the 23rd Regiment was changed by “her” after “she” found out. And due to this matter, “she” became interested in Tang Long, the only person to ever enlist in the 23rd Regiment.
One month later, the five naked metal skeletons of the droids appeared in the hall. Following their appearance, the hall’s foreboding forest disappeared. The entire hall returned to its pure white setting.
A man, wearing a dirty and shabby military uniform, with shaggy hair and a thin body, was sitting cross-legged in the middle of the hall, head down. He held a steel saber in his hand, one that went through too many laser scans and seemingly transformed into a laser sword. A faint bloodlust emitted from his body.
The disappearance of the forest caused this man to raise his head. When the droids reached his side, he did not react. The five droid instructors regarded this soldier. Overhead, a synthesized voice announced, “Player: Tang Long. Playing time: 29 days, 21 hours, 35 minutes, and 53 seconds. Enemies killed: 18,604.
Hearing this number, the droids were slightly surprised. When they first heard the time spent, they guessed that, at most, Tang Long would have killed 8,604 enemies. This was five enemies every minute. None of them expected that Tang Long would actually have ten thousand more kills.
“Well done, Tang Long. After this month, we believe the fear in your heart is already gone.” When the droid finished speaking, Tang Long raised his eyes and glared at it. Facing those eyes, the droid that had never known fear suddenly discovered that it did not dare to meet Tang Long’s eyes. This reaction was because they were intelligent and had similar emotions as a human being. Otherwise, Tang Long’s penetrating gaze would have been useless.
Tang Long no longer had any fear seeing the skeletal droids. Over this past month, he had practically slept with corpses. Although they weren’t real, they were extremely realistic, possessing not only the smell of rotting, but also a sticky, nauseating feel. To him, this kind of skeletal droid could only frighten children. As a result, he jumped up, angered, brandishing his knife to chop down on the skeletal droid.
The past month had been quite inhumane. The attacks from the virtual freaks would not only cause him to feel pain, but when those insects swarmed onto his body, the nauseating feeling of their sticky movements also seemed too real. In addition, when those zombies were hacked to death, larvae, fluids, and putrefying flesh would splatter all over him, carrying their stink, almost causing him to vomit out everything in his stomach, including the gastric acids.
That in itself was nothing. At the beginning, although he was afraid, he had gradually grown numb. What was aggravating was that these things would even follow him even when he was eating, using the restroom, and sleeping. While using the restroom, he not only had to hack at these zombies, he also had to guard against a hand being extended from within the toilet. When he was sleeping, he had to constantly wake up. If he wasn’t careful, he would be eaten while asleep. What was especially problematic was when he was eating. The movement of the larvae in the food was enough to cause him to not eat for three days. Although he did not know his present weight, he knew that he was no more than skin and bones. As a result, the angry Tang Long hacked at the droid as if his life depended on it.
However, although the metal saber had an exterior that seemed to mirror a laser saber, it was actually still just made of metal. As a result, aside from the sound of clanging, the only other feeling was Tang Long’s hand going numb. The metal of the droid was far tougher than normal.
“Mommy!” Having been more than twenty days since he was last whipped by an electric whip, Tang Long threw aside the saber and rolled on the floor.”
“You attacked a senior officer with a weapon! Do 300 push-ups! There will be no food if you do not finish!” commanded the attacked droid callously.
Only with this did Tang Long remember that the five guys before him were nothing like the zombies that he had hacked to pieces. They were unkillable and inhumane droid instructors. Being able to adapt to the circumstances, he rose to his feet and stood at attention, “Yes, sir! FUCK!” He also remembered that as long as he said “sir,” he could curse at them however he wanted. As a result, as he did the push-ups, he used all of the curses that he had become familiar with.
There was nothing that he could. Over this past month, all of his enemies were unable to speak human words. What could he do if he didn’t curse at them as he hacked them to pieces? If he did not speak for a month, he would probably have become mute.
He passed the month regularly facing the threat of death. Tang Long’s physical fitness had long ago become unusual. Although the 300 push-ups almost made him stay down, he had enough strength to pull himself to his feet and stand at attention.
“Very good, you can rest now. For the next two months, starting tomorrow, we will begin training you to combine evasion and physical fitness,” announced the droid instructor emotionlessly.
Hearing this words, Tang Long quickly maintained the at attention posture and collapsed onto the floor. At the same time, the sound of snoring could be heard. After all, he had not been able to sleep peacefully for some time.
Seeing Tang Long faint, the five droids all shot out red lights to scan him. Afterwards, they surrounded Tang Long’s fallen body, standing at his head and four limbs. They did not make any further moves. The floor that Tang Long was resting on rose up into the air until it reached the level of the droids’ waists.
At this moment, the droids’ green eyes suddenly became blue, ten blue lasers starting to scan Tang Long from head to toe. After ten minutes, the dirtiness and dryness of Tang Long’s skin was restored back to a healthy color. At the same time, the blue eyes of the droids returned to the color green. However, those green glows did not seem as bright as before. Eventually, one of the droids picked Tang Long up and carried him to his room.
The remaining four droids stood at their initial positions. Although they did not move, they began to converse.
“It looks like our energy won’t last a year.”
“It can’t be helped. Who told us to use cellular regeneration on Tang Long every few days to improve his body’s metabolic functions? If we didn’t do this, how would he have been able to survive and persist through such intense training?”
“Hehe. It looks like Tang Long is quite powerful. Interestingly, no consequences resulted from him staying in FEAR for a month.”
“What are you talking about? If I hadn’t used hypnosis every night to put him to sleep, even if he did not go crazy, he would be a cripple right now.”
“Don’t exhibit your contributions! We have to improve his physical fitness and real combat skills in the next two months. The next several months will consist of strategy, warship command, and space combat techniques.”
“That isn’t enough. I’ve thought of many things I need to teach him. Psychological conditioning, spying …”
“Okay, enough. Do you want to make him a Special Forces trooper?”
“Not a Special Forces soldier. I want to train him into an almighty soldier.”
If one couldn’t see these four droids standing without a hint of movement and relied solely upon one’s ears, one would definitely conclude that a group of friends were enthusiastically discussing something.
By this point, the droid that sent Tang Long into his bedroom came out. Those four droids stopped their discussion, all of them looking back at that one droid.
“No need to say anymore. We will act in accordance with the plan. Our only student cannot be the typical soldier. We must increase his ability to command the overall situation!” This droid was clearly the leader of the five instructors.
As it spoke with its hands behind its back, the other four droids snapped to attention and saluted. “Sir!”
Footnotes:rucking is carrying a load (rucksack, up to 50 pounds/20 kilograms) on your back and running for milesA dadao (大刀) is similar to a falchion.冻过水 – idiom (Cantonese), lit. freezing over water; fig. losing one’s life