The Emperor's Runaway Lover - Chapter 5
The off-road vehicle raced ahead, driving across the endless desert, with billowing smoke and dust rising from its rear.
“Beep beep beep, the current speed is 307 kilometers per hour. Attention master, the vehicle is speeding. The vehicle is speeding. Beep beep beep, the current speed- ”
Noob, the quantum computer, hovered over Fu Yucheng’s shoulders issuing its warning with a childish voice.
“I already know, I know, you’re giving me a headache. I’m a patient just out of surgery.” Fu Yucheng rolled his eyes helpless, and reached out to change gears, turning on autopilot again.
He licked his lips, picked up a cup next to him, and took a sip of coffee.
The inferior instant coffee tasted nauseatingly sweet. However, he’d just had to take another pair of strong anti-inflammatory and analgesic pills, and although it made him better it also made him very drowsy.
If there was another accident with the car, both himself and the brat would end up getting buried in this big desert.
Fu Yucheng glanced at the boy in the passenger seat, who was staring at the vast and magnificent desert below the setting sun.
Under the extremely blue, transparent sky, the layered sand dunes appeared like still waves, and a soft gold light glowed in the bloody afterimage of the setting sun, undulating in the sky.
The vehicle was advancing quickly. The heated air rushed towards their faces with the characteristic dryness of the desert, turning the boy’s hair into a mess. However, he didn’t seem to care at all and kept staring out the window.
Fu Yucheng couldn’t help snickering in secret. This indifferent and awkward brat, at that moment, looked just like a little furry wild cat with messy, fluffy hair.
He endured it for a while, but in the end he couldn’t hold himself back. He reached out to stroke the boy’s hair. “Brat, what’s your name? How old are you?”
The boy’s body stiffened a bit, apparently unused to that sort of physical contact. He tilted his head, trying to shake off the other’s hand.
“Hey, you have pretty good hair.” Fu Yucheng reluctantly drew back his hand as if nothing had happened. He noted to himself that the brat’s hair was soft and fluffy, easier to touch than the fat orange cat belonging to the bartender’s wife.
The boy glared at him, then looked sideways through the car window.
“I’m fourteen.” After a while, he added softly, “At the laboratory, everyone called me number 29.”
Fu Yucheng was startled before immediately realizing that this awkward kid was answering to his question from a moment ago.
“Number 29, what sort of shit name is that? Forget it, let’s pretend I never asked.” He was a little speechless. “I’ll keep calling you brat.”
“Up to you.” The boy stared out of the window into the distance. His eyes slowly widened and he whispered unconsciously, “What is that?”
“What’s wrong? Don’t make a fuss every time.” Fu Yucheng got startled and turned his head around to look out of the window.
Not too far ahead and towards the right, framed by a huge sand dune, a giant snow-white skeleton lay quietly on the sand.
The skeleton was seventeen or eighteen meters long and it was half submerged in the sand. Several skinny and dirty dark gray hyenas searched back and forth around it, licking the leftover carrion on the ribcage.
“Oh, that stuff. That’s the skeleton of a mutant varanid lizard.1 Eh, looking at the shape of the lower jaw, that seems like a red lizard variant common in Kashgar, Xinjiang.” Fu Yucheng said indifferently.
The boy unconsciously repeated the words ‘mutant varanid lizard’.
Fu Yucheng raised an eyebrow, his tone a bit surprised, “You haven’t seen this stuff before? You’ve also mentioned that laboratory earlier… you didn’t grow up on Earth, you’re from an Imperial Ecoregion, right?”
The boy pursed his lips.
After a long time, he nodded very slightly. “Mmhm.”
“That’s right. These messy mutations don’t exist in the Ecoregions. No wonder you haven’t seen them.” Fu Yucheng stretched out his little finger and gestured, “The red lizard from Kashgar, Xinjiang, was only this big at the beginning. However, after mutating, the adult red lizard can reach 30 meters in length.”
The boy stared at the snow-white skeleton in the distance. Magnitude, awe, power, beauty, death; countless brutal, contradictory terms were reflected vividly in the skeleton.
“A while ago, when I was working in Western Sahara, I ran into a varanid lizard fighting a sandworm and almost hit it with my car.” Fu Yucheng offered, trying to get the boy interested. “Wanna guess who won?”
The boy just glanced at him, and didn’t ask.
“Hey, you brat, you are not cute at all.” Fu Yucheng muttered, spiritless. “Of course the lizard won.”
“Oh.” The boy nodded. He stared at the fading skeleton in the distance, deep in his thoughts.
This varanid lizard skeleton must have belonged to a majestic behemoth before its death. And yet, at this moment, the former desert king had left nothing but an empty skeleton behind.
In the abdomen of the skeleton, a foraging hyena raised its head, looking at the transport truck with its turbid yellow-brown eyes, suddenly letting out a long, hair raising howl.
Fu Yucheng frowned. “So ugly, I hate hyenas. Most of the Earth’s creatures went extinct, but hyenas, rats, and cockroaches are all alive and well.”
“What’s a rat and a cockroach?” the boy questioned.
“Well, these are the few non-endangered animals on the planet. You won’t see them in the Ecoregion. Don’t worry, you’ll have a chance to see them first hand. It’ll be a little treat.” Fu Yucheng grinned wickedly and stepped on the gas.
A billowing smoke rose from the rear of the car, and the varanid lizard skeleton was quickly left behind until it completely disappeared from the rearview mirror.
The RV drove for four full hours at a speed of nearly 300 kilometers per hour, and the huge bloody sunset gradually began to slant towards the horizon.
Not too far ahead, an ashy, old-fashioned boundary monument came into view.
“Finally, almost there.” Fu Yucheng tilted his neck slightly, feeling stiff, but not daring to move much due to the pain in his lower abdomen.
“Beep beep beep, arrived at the Twilight Boundary Monument. The vehicle is about to enter the Twilight Belt.” The green light on Noob flashed three times.
The cement-cast monument was three stories high, without any superfluous carvings or decorations. It stood like a silent tombstone, quiet and majestic.
The boundary monument was clearly old. The edges showed signs of weathering, and it looked very battered. On the side, clearly visible, there were two big, flamboyant words written in blood-red ink. The calligraphy was in a crazy style that had fallen out of use.
“That’s the famous Twilight Boundary Monument. The words on it were written by Admiral Mo Hanchuan. It’s over a hundred years old,” Fu Yucheng explained while turning the steering wheel. “The Twilight Belt starts past this boundary marker.”
“Twilight Boundary Monument,” the boy murmured.
“You haven’t learned about the historical lock date? You should know about it.”
The boy shook his head. “We don’t learn this stuff at the laboratory.”
Fu Yucheng glanced at him before continuing his explanation. “About two centuries ago, due to a terrible accident, Earth was tidally locked by the Sun, just like the Moon has always had the same side facing the Earth. Henceforth, Earth will always have only one side facing the Sun. No more day or night. The day when the Earth got completely locked by the solar tide was September 25, 2116.
“That day is called the lock-in day.
“After the locking, the side of the Earth facing the sun is what was once the Eastern Hemisphere, where it’s always daytime. It’s called the Eternal Day side. And the side facing away from the Sun, which is the former Western Hemisphere, is called the Eternal Night side.”
The boy listened attentively and couldn’t help but ask, “What happened afterwards?”
“The huge temperature difference between the day and night sides caused the moisture on the surface of the Eternal Day to evaporate and flow to the surface of the Eternal Night, causing rainfalls there. Over the years, the ecology on the surface got gradually split in two by the extreme climate. The entire surface of the Eternal Day became a huge desert, now the New Sahara, and the Eternal Night has become an ice-bound ocean, the Devil’s Antarctic.”
“So that’s how this desert came to be,” The boy seemed to realize.
Fu Yucheng nodded. “Before the lock-in day, most humans migrated to the Dyson Cloud of the Central Empire near the Sun.2 You must have come from the Imperial Ecoregion. The millions of humans who remain unwilling to leave Earth can only live in the Twilight Belt, unable to adapt to the extreme climates of the desert or the ice ocean, a lingering life between the two worlds.”
“What is the Twilight Belt?” the boy asked.
Fu Yucheng shook his head helplessly, “Ah, brat, you really don’t know anything.
“The Twilight Belt is the zone between the Eternal Day and the Eternal Night sides. A narrow ring, 40,000 kilometers long and 600 kilometers wide, like a belt on the Earth. In the Twilight Belt, the Sun remains still, forever at the edge of the horizon, like a dusk that never ends.
“The New Sahara Desert is too hot and the Devil’s Antarctic is too cold, but the Twilight Belt has a moderate climate. Just barely suitable for human survival. In order to survive, humans can always think of something.” He shrugged. “Indeed, every problem has a solution.”
At this point, the RV was gradually approaching the Twilight Boundary Monument.
The huge monument was even more oppressive up close.
The two big scarlet words saying “Twilight Land” seemed almost like fierce beasts,3 the strokes so sharp that they almost split the monument. At the bottom right of the two words there were two neat rows of small characters: “July 16, 2259 AD, Mo Hanchuan”.
“The sign saying Twilight Land looks so majestic.” The boy looked up at the boundary monument and said in a low voice, “July 16, 2259 AD, Mo Hanchuan.”
Fu Yucheng also looked at the two big blood-red words in a daze, and suddenly sighed. “That is the handwriting of Admiral Mo Hanchuan. This is almost a century old, but it’s well preserved.”
“Who is Mo Hanchuan? Was he on Earth at the time?” The boy stared at the beautiful inscription under the monument, somewhat intrigued.
“Well, he was exiled too.” Fu Yucheng paused, as if he was unwilling to continue speaking. “Anyways, it’s a long story.”4
He looked out of the window and changed the subject. “We have already entered the Twilight Belt. Brat, look out the window. See, sunset, right?”
The boy followed the other’s line of sight and looked out the window.
Sure enough, the huge bloody sunset now hung lower, the bottom of the circle exactly at a tangent with the horizon, completely still as if frozen.
“Sunset,” the boy said softly.
Past the Twilight Boundary Monument, the wind gradually rose, hitting their faces. The daylight dimmed significantly, and the temperature quickly dropped to a relatively comfortable range.
The yellow sand on the ground gradually faded, and a large brown steppe spread out in front.5
Sparse vegetation began to appear. Poplar trees, tamarisk plants, camel thorns and other bushes, tall and short, went past the car’s windows, leaving barely an afterimage behind.
The off-road vehicle stumbled on the gravel-ridden plains, and Fu Yucheng was forced to slow down and advance carefully.
“Fuck, next time I’m back, I really have to upgrade the chassis.” After a violent bump, he could no longer restrain his cursing.
“Beep beep beep, master, according to the records, this is the fifty-second time you’ve planned to upgrade the chassis. You are really efficient.” Noob’s childish voice offered.
“Shut up.” Fu Yucheng retorted with an expressionless face.
Half an hour later, the vehicle rolled over a gentle slope, and suddenly before their eyes the space opened up, showing a wide and shallow fluvial valley.
“Damn, I’m dead tired.” Fu Yucheng breathed out. “We’re finally here.”
Raising an eyebrow, he made an elegant sweeping gesture towards the boy,6 “Welcome to humanity’s habitat: the trailer park.”
The boy’s eyes grew big and he looked towards the huge valley spread below the slope.
The river bed was half dry, leaving only a narrow and shallow stream in the middle, shining with a faint sparkle of water.
The wide valley floor on both sides of the riverbed was filled with tens of thousands of vehicles. At first glance, from a height, they seemed to be packed like sardines in a can.
These vehicles were bizarre and dazzling. There were all sorts of SUVs, commercial and luxury vans, large trucks, shipping containers, and even ancient city buses.
Most of the vehicles were very old, and although many were painted in bright colors and covered by tacky and dramatic graffiti, it’d be hard to hide the feeling of decay they gave out.
Besides being worn-out, they all had in common that they had undergone extensive modifications in order to become inhabitable RVs.
The boy looked around, a little dazed.
After a while, he murmured, “This place is a human settlement.”
“Yes, this is the Parking Lot 4 settlement, in the Zambu valley.7 This trailer park has more than 12,000 RVs. The total population this year has exceeded 50,000.”
As Fu Yucheng explained, he drove the RV slowly down the slope of the river valley.
“Due to multiple reasons, in the past few decades, the great human migrations ended in tragedy multiple times. So now, everyone simply lives in modified RVs. It’s also convenient if you want to drive to no man’s land in order to look for things. The desert has many useful, well preserved items. As I told you earlier, this off-road RV was found in an abandoned parking lot. This vehicle is considered outstanding even for the entirety of Parking Lot 4,” he said, not without pride.
The boy glanced sideways at him. “So there are other parking lots besides Parking Lot 4?”
Fu Yucheng raised his eyebrows. The kid acted cold and didn’t talk much, but his mind was sharp.
“There are 23 parking lots, totaling over a million inhabitants. They are distributed across the Twilight Belt, thousands of miles apart. They are all under the unified jurisdiction of the Fort Hurricane. By the way, Fort Hurricane was built by General Mo Hanchuan himself. It has over a hundred years of history, and a lot of prestige.
“Look over there,” he pointed outside with his chin. “Those white windmills in a row also belong to Fort Hurricane.”
The boy looked out the window.
Beyond the horizon of the distant steppes, a row of small white windmills turned slowly.
The windmills stood in contrast against the deep blue sky, extending from the far left to the far right of his line of sight, seemingly continuing without end.
“They’re far away from here, so it’s hard to see, but they’re each over 180 meters tall. Because of the huge temperature difference between Eternal Day and Eternal Night, the air currents on the Twilight Belt are very strong, well suited for generating wind power. The 23 parking lots depend on these windmills for electricity.” Fu Yucheng turned the steering wheel, and the RV slowly drove down.
The boy looked at the distant row of windmills and shook his head, incredulous. “Twenty-three parking lots and over a million people, relying on these windmills.”
“Hmm. Brat, don’t underestimate these windmills. The air currents are powerful, and the power reaches tens of megawatts. The length of the entire windmill belt is close to 1,700 kilometers. There are 1,200 windmills in total, so it’d be enough to power a medium-sized city. ”
As the two talked, the RV had slowly entered Parking Lot 4 at the bottom of the valley. Parking Lot 4 is extremely large, occupying the entire base of the Zambu river valley.
All kinds of bizarre modified RVs were parked neatly, leaving narrow perpendicular and parallel lanes, like pieces of tofu neatly placed on each side.
The boy leaned against the car window and looked outside with curiosity.
Compared to the cold and serious laboratory at the Ecoregion, the living conditions here were obviously harder. However, the air was lively with the smell of smoke and cooking.
It was dinner time. Some people had set up a stove next to their vans and to cook sweet potato rice; some were airing out their bedding on the roof of a double-decker bus; one was vomiting a mouthful of phlegm from out of the window of a truck.
A pair of dirty twin girls, sucking on their thumbs, watched curiously as Fu Yucheng’s vehicle drove by.
Suddenly, a loud noise came from the distance.
The author, in the end notes for this chapter, explains that the inspiration for this setting was an article about eyeball planets. Although it wouldn’t be as simply as a desert on one side and a sea of ice in the other, the author mentioned that they found the idea very romantic.
(I, too, find the setting very cool ^o^)
I’d like to thank everyone for their comments!! I wish I could translate faster, but boy this chapter was a bit difficult. I hope you guys enjoy it!
Special thanks to my editor Wintery once again~
- Aka monitor lizards, they’re a group of large lizards including species like the Komodo dragon.
- Full name 戴森云中央帝国 and yes, cloud, not sphere, but it seems to be the same concept. A Dyson sphere is a hypothetical megastructure that completely encompasses a star and captures a large percentage of its power output; the ultimate solar panel. Source.
- Original line 张牙舞爪.
- Original line 小孩没娘，说来话长, meaning something isn’t easy to explain in a few words.
- Although the original calls this terrain 戈壁滩 which is also the name of the Gobi Desert it should be noted that the term 戈壁 is used to describe that sort of terrain from Central Asia in general and not just the Gobi, just like the Sahara just means deserts.
- Specifically a welcome gesture with his hand 欢迎手势.
- Does anyone know where 赞布河谷 is because I can’t tell if it’s a fictional location or not.