SPACE 4. In the X…..
“What…..what the? Wah!”
Ark cried out as something wrapped around his ankle. Something had emerged from a vent in the wall to wind around his ankle. Then there was an increased sense of power as his ankle was tugged and grabbing onto the rail with both hands couldn’t stop him from being sucked into the vent.
“Ugh! Don’t make me laugh! I won’t go that easily! Fading Steel-II!”
The side of his bag automatically opened and Fading Steel-II emerged. Ark who was dragged into the vent turned his body with a pleasant smile. And he aimed the muzzle at the guy pulling him inside.
–Don’t be a fool. Do you want to die?
“Heok! Such a thing! Y-you…..”
-Shhh! Be quiet!
He (?) approached and covered Ark’s mouth.
At that time a loud roar was heard from outside the vent. It sounded like the mystery creature that attacked the Phoenix members! It was the sound of something crashing into the ground at a tremendous speed. His heart really jumped as he hid in the small vent from the ghastly monster. Then he heard the sound of snapping from below. And signs that the monster was getting further away. Judging from the sounds heard, the monster seemed to have hit the bottom of the elevator shaft and entered the 5th floor.
–We somehow managed to avoid it.
A sighing voce was heard from behind him. Ark’s mouth was then unblocked and he was asked.
–Who are you?
That was what Ark wanted to ask. Well he survived thanks to that guy dragging him into the vent but he still wanted to ask. However Ark could already grasp 50% of the person’s identity. Surprisingly the person in the small vent was a Charenjok! The octopus type alien Charenjok. How did the octopus…..a question appeared in his head.
“Are you one of the Charenjok who disappeared from the prohibited area?”
–Prohibited area! Where did you hear that from?
The octopus grabbed Ark’s collar and shouted.
“I asked Elder Bakum of the Charenjok who lives near the lake.”
–Bakum? You met Elder Bakum?
“Yes, he is the reason why I entered Charem. I’m very friendly with the Charenjok. While visiting the northern lake, I managed to encounter the Charenjok living there. I heard from the elder that Charenjok have gone missing in the prohibited area and I requested to investigate the area. Then I was swept into Charem while investigating.”
-That’s right. Is that how you managed to obtain the Charenjok’s token?
“Eh? How do you know that…..?”
Ark’s eyes widened. He had a battle with the Sufferers before riding the elevator. He had used the Charenjok’s token and then placed it in his bag. So how did the octopus know about the Charenjok’s token? The octopus removed his hands and sighed.
–It is like you said. I’m a Charenjok who went missing from the prohibited area.
“I didn’t think the Charenjok were still alive.”
–Heh, I also thought I was dead when I was sucked into that black hole. But…..you must’ve seen it as well if you came through the black hole. The net spread in front of the huge drain. I was caught in the net and captured by the androids in charge of those facilities. And…..I was given this.
The octopus pointed to a collar around his neck with a bitter expression. The black ring fastened tightly had an octopus head and 8 characters carved on it.
–This makes it so I can’t leave the designated area. If I try to take it off or step over the boundaries then it will explode. In other words, these collars are evidence of slaves. Elder Bakum refused to seek asylum with the federation and chose to live in the Outlands. I was caught as a slave but I would rather choose death. But I couldn’t risk all the colleagues with me dying.
“Colleagues? Then all the Charenjok that disappeared in the prohibited area are alive?”
–Yes, all the Charenjok that didn’t encounter the lobsters in the prohibited area are still alive. Lord Java turned us into slaves and made us clean the pipes of this place.
The octopus sighed with a depressed expression. Once again, the octopuses were really a species optimized to clean pipes as proven on R-14. Their flexible body meant they could enter everywhere and they had the ability to heal minor wounds. It seemed they were forced to clean plumbing no matter where they went. It was a cursed ability.
–I was living as a slave with no chance to escape when this happened suddenly. A black spirit spread after people died…..and they became alive again. It was the appearance of the Sufferers.
“Do you know why it spread?”
–I don’t know. It just happened all of a sudden. The dead woke up and started killing others and the infection spread. Lord Java and some people managed to escape but I was stuck here. The area my collar is set to is the central control tower. Therefore I’m confined to this tower unless I want my head to explode. But the pipes don’t spread throughout the whole building. And nobody knows the pipes as well as I do. I managed to avoid the damage by hiding in the pipes. I was going around to check the situation when I discovered you on the 4th floor.
Ark asked with a frown. He was reminded of something. After a battle he was resting while raising his hacking proficiency when he felt something strange. That strange feeling had occurred on the 4th floor.
“Then when I felt like I was being watched……”
–It was me. I saw the Charenjok’s token on your head at that time.
“Then why didn’t you say something?”
–You were with the soldier belonging to Lord Java. You might’ve had the Charenjok’s token but I didn’t know who you were and what purpose you came here for. So I thought I would follow you secretly and watch for a while. I missed you when you entered the elevator but then I heard the deafening roar. Therefore I entered the vent to check the situation.
This was the process the octopus went through to help Ark.
-Now it is your turn. How did you end up with Java’s soldiers when you were sucked into the black hole like us?
“I managed to escape outside the water tank and accidentally met them. Their purpose is to recapture the management system at the top of this building to release the seal. I can’t escape from here until the seal is released so I accompanied them.”
-So that’s what happened.
“But the thing that attacked my colleagues and I…..what is it?”
–I don’t know. I know it is a huge being different from the other things inside here but I haven’t seen it directly. I don’t even dare approach it.
He understood that feeling. Ark had gasped with fear hanging inside that dark shaft as he heard it approaching him. It was obviously something with a high level. It really felt like when watching a horror movie and then a ghost like Sadako jumped out of the TV. The atmosphere itself was frightening. It was the same in this case.
‘I only survived thanks to the Charenjok…..’
|-Multiple Communication Network
Network Name: Phoenix Channel: 1 main connection)
Connection Staff: 0
Ark sighed as he saw the Nymphe screen. The multiple communication network was like a chat room system where team members could communicate with each other. There was a distance restriction but he could communicate with all members connected to the channel. But currently there were 0 people connected. If he considered the previous situation then the only possible situation was that they all died.
‘I’m left alone in a place like this……’
The control tower was infested with Sufferers and he had to get to the top by himself. Once again, this was the original outbreak site. The Sufferers in this area showed the symptoms first so they were higher level. And a huge, unidentified monster wandering around this place was many times more dangerous. The thought of being left alone in this place made him gloomy. Right now the chances of survival wasn’t high.
‘In addition, there is all the loot on the Guardian that I collected!’
The Phoenix were wiped out so he could look for it. If he sold all the items in the Guardian then he could get 10 gold for it! But they were items that he went around for 3 days collecting without any breaks. The thought of all that japtem flying away…..
‘No, that isn’t the problem now!’
Ark sighed and shook his head. The Phoenix’s main duty was to recapture the management system. If that mission was accomplished then he would have to wait in Charem until he died. It wasn’t the time to worry about japtem. But the Phoenix members he trusted were killed in battle. Judging from the environment around him, Ark was currently on the 10th floor. Ark had no choice but to climb the remaining 30 floors by himself.
‘The elevator that connected to the 39th floor was smashed….that means I have to climb 30 floors infested with Sufferers. This isn’t a place where Sufferers would gather together like in the contaminated areas…..but I’m still climbing 30 floors alone.’
Currently Ark could only deal with 3~4 Sufferers at once. Of course this wasn’t an open place like the city so he could avoid facing dozens of opponents at once. But there was no guarantee he wouldn’t find more than 4 while going up the 30 floors. Furthermore, it had taken the Phoenix members 1 and a half days to move 5 floors. When he was alone he would need to pay attention to avoid being attacked by more than 3~4 Sufferers. He couldn’t guess how long it would take him to reach the top. The probability of success was only 10%. This quest was already almost finished since he lost the Phoenix squad.
‘But that doesn’t mean it is impossible!’
Ark finished organizing his thoughts and asked the octopus.
“Do you know the complete layout of all the pipes in this place?”
“Could you tell me the layout? Like I said before, the reason I came here was to win back the management system. If the pipes connect to the management system then this problem can be settled.”
The octopus had survived for 1 month in the Sufferer infested central tower. It meant the pipes was a relatively safe place. The long, deformed limbs of the Sufferer meant they couldn’t navigate through the narrow pipes. In other words, if he moved through the pipes then he didn’t need to worry about surprise attacks from the Sufferers.
‘If I can reach the top floor with the pipes……’
–I don’t care about what happens to Charem.
The octopus replied in a testy voice. He grasped the collar around his neck as he said.
–Lord Java is the one who made me a slave. So why should I worry about his city? Although I’m now living in the pipes, it isn’t that different from my normal life.
“But you won’t be able to endure this situation for long.”
–I guess. My food is already running out. But if the management system isn’t recaptured then won’t Java also die? Therefore I don’t care if I die. I’d rather die with Java then to live like a slave.
‘This damn octopus!’
Ark angrily stared at the octopus. But he could also understand the octopus’ words. If Ark accidentally entered Charem and was captured as a slave then he wouldn’t be able to endure it either. Like the octopus said, he wouldn’t be free even if Charem was saved.
‘Is there a way to convince him?’
Then something Ark forgot about popped into his head.
“Wasn’t another group of Charenjok dragged here a while ago?”
–Other Charenjok? Another group of Charenjok disappeared in the prohibited area?
“Yes, that’s why Elder Bakum wanted me to investigate the prohibited area. We assume that some young Charenjok went looking for their parents in the prohibited area and disappeared. I actually thought the children were dead until I met you just now. But if other Charenjok survived then there is a possibility that the children are alive. If the android managing the water facilities captured them then Java might’ve turned them into slaves. Maybe Java brought them into the safe zone or they might be held somewhere in the water facilities.”
The octopus’ heads turned red hot. He was upset. Ark looked at the octopus and continued.
“If Charem’s problem isn’t solved then those children might end up as the Sufferer’s prey. One of them might be your child.”
–I-I am a bachelor!
The octopus snapped angrily. Ark had misunderstood. But he just continued talking without any signs of embarrassment.
“But they are children. If Charem is left in this state then they would 100% turn into Sufferers. In this situation you need to save Charem no matter how unscrupulous Java is. No, I’ll personally persuade Java to release everybody. You know that I have the Charenjok’s token. Please believe me.”
The octopus nodded.
–I can’t pretend after hearing such words. I understand. I will help. But I can’t enter the place with the management system either. That’s because this collar doesn’t allow me to go beyond the 39th floor. If I try to climb anymore then POP…..you understand? In addition, there are a large number of security devices on the 39th floor. But I know someone that might be able to help.
“Someone who might help?”
The octopus nodded and turned around before suddenly asking.
–I am called Tuntun. You are?
Ark smiled and replied.
“I am Ark. I’m a friend of the Charenjok.”
“This place is?”
He followed Tuntun for a long time. The long pipes finally ended and a wide space appeared. Several hundred pipes crisscrossed in a complicated pattern 20 metres above the wide space.
–I found this place while living here. This is a hiding spot for the Charenjok that Java doesn’t know about. And now…..the Sufferers also doesn’t know about it? We took advantage of this place to hide from the Sufferers.
Tuntun said as he indicated to 30 octopuses. They were the octopuses that had gone missing from the prohibited area. However, there weren’t just octopuses in this hiding spot. A translucent shiny mass shaped like a slime was a NPC? A monster? Anyway, those things were running around this place.
“What is that?”
–Is this the first time you’ve seen it? It is a life form called the Mumu. They are a primeval being living on different planets in the galaxy for millions of years. But they have almost no intelligence.
Tuntun was a surprisingly well informed octopus.
“Why are they here?”
–It has a habit of going around and eating whatever is on the ground. So Java decided to catch a few of them. Anyplace that they move over will become clean. They are a substitution for robot cleaners. Well, it is no different from us being turned into exclusive pipe cleaners. Those guys received the same treatment…..anyway, their circumstances were similar so they also moved to this hidden spot. We tried but we only managed to save 3. Originally there were 100 of them but they were caught by the Sufferers.
A slime like alien life. It was abrupt but there really were many types of guys out there. While Ark was looking at the Mumu strangely, some octopuses approached and asked.
–Tuntun hyung-nim, who did you come with?
–I’ll explain later. Where is that guy?
–That guy? Do you mean Jay?
–I saw Jay around that corner just now……
Ark stared at the place that the octopus indicated.
“Is the useful person that Mumu?”
The octopus had pointed towards a huge Mumu in the corner.
Tuntun suddenly yelled and ran up to the huge Mumu.
–This guy again! Shoo! Shoo! Go away! This guy isn’t for you to eat!
The octopus kicked out and the Mumu immediately moved to the side. Then a man was shown. The man wore a white robe and couldn’t stop trembling. Tuntun slapped his cheeks and shouted.
–Hey! Wake up! Gather your spirit!
The man painfully lifted his eyelids. The eyes looked around idly before staring with surprise at Tuntun.
“W-who? Tuntun? Why…..?
–It’s me. You were almost eaten by the Mumu just now.
“Hu…. I’m a goner….. I can’t lift a finger anymore….. Then I don’t mind being eaten by another life form…… Yes…..I won’t die…… I’ll be born anew in another life form…..huhuhu.”
–Stop talking nonsense and wake up! The person you’re waiting for has come!
The man raised his body and looked around restlessly. Then he ran up to Ark and shook his shoulder.
“Food! Do you have something to eat? This is a request! It doesn’t matter if it is fermented soybean paste as long as I can put it in my mouth!”
He was puzzled when the man suddenly ran up but now Ark could understand almost all the circumstances. Tuntun and the Charenjok could avoid the Sufferers in the pipes but it wasn’t a good situation. This wasn’t simply because they were confined. The Charenjok could navigate through the pipes in order to gather food. If they travelled through the control tower then they could obtain 3~4 food a day. It needed to be split between 30 octopuses so of course they would starve. In fact Tuntun was looking for food on the 4th floor when he discovered Ark. But the Charenjok was a species surprisingly good at fuel efficiency. Their satiety fell at a much lower rate compared to other species. In comparison, Jay’s satiety fell quickly and he was in a critical condition and lost all of his spirit. But Ark didn’t exactly have food. While the Phoenix members possessed abundant supplies, Ark wanted to raise the proficiency of Steel Stomach so he only stocked fish in his bag.
“If you don’t mind something like this…..”
Ark pulled out a Bellos’ egg.
“Ah! F-food! I’m going to eat! Ohhhh!”
Jay snatched the egg and swallowed it. And…..
“Phew, I’m alive! But what type of egg is this? Was this egg bio-engineered to be huge? Some planets….ugh! T-this….all of a sudden…..huh? Did I eat the egg of a Bellos? Ahuk! T-then…..ik! Ik! I-it is coming out! Ack! P-please excuse me for a moment. P-please…..ugh! No more!”
Ark quickly retreated. He had already guessed what would happen. Ark and the Charenjok all turned their heads away! Once again, most of the ingredients in the Outlands were toxic so they caused stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhoea etc. Ark wasn’t affected thanks to Steel Stomach but to the NPC it was like drinking expired milk! Ark would only get a stomach ache but the NPC……
Bujik! Bujik! Bujijik!
It was an embarrassing scene that was hard to describe. Although it was better to be embarrassed than to starve and die.
“Phew, I’m sorry to show you a sight like that. Anyway, I’m alive thanks to you.”
Jay smiled awkwardly and lifted his pants.
“By the way, I didn’t think I would see a person here. Are you part of the rescue team sent by Java?”
“It was a rescue team but……”
Ark ignored the pile of X in the corner and explained the circumstances. The expectations on Jay’s face changed to despair.
“All of the squad members are dead?”
“Phoenix…..I’ve heard of them. They are a multinational mercenary unit hired by Java. I heard that their skills are the best among the Charem guards…..if even the Phoenix members died…..it is the end. Dammit, do I have no choice but to die here? Ohh!”
Jay looked around with a hopeless expression.
“But I haven’t given up yet.”
Ark replied in a firm voice.
“If I manage to retake the management system at the top then the problem of Charem will be solved. Fortunately Tuntun knows the complete structure of the pipes in the control tower. But Tuntun only knows up to the 39th floor. And I heard there are a lot of security devices that are hard to bypass without a special security card. Like I said, I don’t have contact with Kalbern who possesses the special security card anymore. Tuntun told me that you could help with this matter.”
“Ah, that’s right!”
Jay suddenly raised his head at Ark’s words. He raised his body with a determined expression and replied in a calm voice.
“Yes. In fact I am the supervisor of the research institute in Charem!”
Jay’s identity was becoming clear! Just now he had placed the X in the corner and…..Jay belatedly realized it and tried to make some excuses.
“No…..I’m not always like this. I’m full of intelligence…..I’m a person who leads with my charisma. W-what’s with those eyes? You don’t believe it? What is that? It is true. I’m like an aristocrat when I’m in the laboratory. Tuntun, say something. Eek? Y-you don’t believe me either? Y-yes. I’m not an aristocrat. But…..no, that’s not it. It couldn’t be helped. There was no toilet. I mean…..yes, I’m sorry. Please don’t spread any rumours.”
But Ark had no interest in Jay’s X or anything else. Ark was only concerned about how Jay could help with the quest.
“Can you help me?”
“Huh? Ah, yes. The top floor. Yes, you want to go to the top floor? I can help you with that problem. Like I said, I am Charem’s head of research.”
Jay’s laboratory was located on the 40th floor where the management system also was. When the biohazard occurred, Jay took refuge in the laboratory with the other researchers because it had high level security. They avoided the Sufferers thanks to the security but the researchers there starved to death. Once all the researchers starved to death, Jay finally tried a desperate escape attempt. He escaped using the elevator on the 39th floor that the Phoenix members used. Just before he was found by Sufferers, he was discovered by Tuntun and rescued.
“When an emergency situation occurs, all the passages on the top floor are automatically blocked off. So the Sufferers also can’t enter the 40th floor. The problem is that an A level security card is required to release the security on that floor. Tuntun knows the safe route to the 39th floor and you only need to rise one more floor to the laboratory. There will be no difficulty heading to the management system from the laboratory.”
“Can you give me the security card?”
‘There is hope!’
A light seemed to shine after Jay’s answer. Jay then became confused after looking through his pockets.
“Eh? Eh? Eh? W-where is it? I had it when I came here?”
–What are you saying? You’ve lost the security card?
Tuntun glared angrily and Jay shook his head with a pale face.
“Ah, no. That is impossible. I had it just now. Yes, it was clearly in my pocket when I fell asleep just then. It is obviously somewhere here. Obviously….heok! I found it! Inside that guy! That guy ate it while I was sleeping!”
Jay shouted as he pointed to the Mumu. Just like Jay said, a rectangular object like a card floated in the transparent Mumu. Jay yanked his hair after seeing the card inside the Mumu.
“Ugh! No! That is plastic! It will melt!”
–So stupid! Don’t you know how important that card is?
Tuntun looked around desperately and shouted at the octopuses.
–Catch that guy! If that card is damaged then it is all over! Make him spit it out!
The octopuses had listened to their conversation so they knew how important this matter was. The octopuses all stampeded over to the Mumu after hearing Tuntun’s words. They turned the Mumu upside down and even kicked the stomach but the Mumu didn’t budge.
‘Dammit, this is…..’
Ark looked at the scene with amazement. He had finally seen a light of hope in the darkness only to discover that the key was inside the Mumu’s stomach. If this card was lost then he was screwed!
‘I have to make that guy vomit out the card no matter what!’
Ark was about to take out his sword. Then the pile of X caught his eye.
‘Yes, there is that method!’
“Please open the Mumu’s mouth!”
Ark shouted as he ran towards the Mumu. And the octopus pulled down one side of the Mumu’s mouth! Ark took out a Bellos’ egg from his bag and placed it in the mouth. This was the method he came up with after seeing Jay’s X! He made the Mumu eat the Bellos’ egg so that it would make X. But unlike Jay, the Mumu seemed to have no reaction to the egg.
‘Damn, is that guy’s stomach really sturdy? But let’s see how much it can take!’
Ark shoved the Bellos’ egg and fish in to the Mumu’s mouth. Soon the Mumu’s body swelled up like a balloon!
An absurd amount of X poured out. And…..
|-You have acquired the <A class security card>|
‘Damn, it is really messy…..’
Ark could finally obtain the security card. He didn’t want to explain exactly how he obtained the security guard. Let’s just say that it really was a dirty method. But this was a game! The X and Y were only graphics…..if he thought of it like that then he could endure it. Anyway, he managed to obtain the security card.
|-You have acquired <Bullets (12) x 2>|
|-You have acquired <Armour Piercing Bullets (12) x 2>|
|-You have acquired <Low level mechanical parts x5>……|
Various miscellaneous things were mixed in the X along with the security card. The Mumu digested everything but it couldn’t digest metal objects like bullets or machine parts. It was truly an economical NPC that could pick up metal to recycle it. After the trouble the Mumu probably went around the control tower and ate the items that the guards dropped.
‘Then the other Mumu might also have items.’
Ark’s eyes naturally turned towards the other 2 Mumu. Kalbern replenished his bullets every time a battle ended but there was a limit to how much he could obtain for free. The bullets were gone after it hit someone so there weren’t a lot of bullets remaining. If the bullets completely disappeared before arriving at the management system then the combat power would be cut.
‘Dirty…..it is dirty but…..’
Bullets were the lifeline on the battlefield! So he did that! Even though it was dirty!
He fed the remaining 2 Mumu. He looked through the pile of mechanical parts in the X.
‘Eh? This is…..?’
Something he hadn’t considered was mixed in the X. The item in the pile of X…..