Chapter 48: The main culprit
All at once, the guards in the dining hall uniformly stood up and loaded their guns. The previously relaxed atmosphere instantly grew tense again.
Mo Ye, who has been accompanying Han Li, turned around and rushed to the exit of the dining area. Then he turned back to look at Han Li as if he remembered something.
Han Li nodded to him. “Go!”
Mo Ye dashed away.
As Wu Yun and Zhou Yu were leading Li Qian and Zhou Qing back to the dining hall, they heard hurried footsteps and a shrill scream.
Zhou Qing’s research assistant, Xiao Zhao, was running crazily with panic written all over his face. He was being pursued by two researchers in white lab coats. The two researchers lowered their heads as if there was something that was about to burst out of their mouths.
Xiao Zhao was near tears when he saw Zhou Qing, Wu Yun, and the rest. It was like he’d been thrown a lifeline. “Professor Zhou! Helpmehelpme!”
Xiao Zhao threw himself into Zhou Qing’s arms.
The two researchers simultaneously spat out the bone gnawers from their mouths. Without a second thought, Zhou Yu and Wu Yun both fired and hit them straight on their foreheads. They fell to the ground.
“Xiao Zhao! Why are you here? Why didn’t you stay in the dining hall with everyone else?” Zhou Qing asked sternly.
“We sat in the cars for a long time and I wanted to use the washroom! There were two guards who accompanied me into the washroom, but when I came out, they both fell to the ground! I realized that something wasn’t right, so I immediately shouted for help and rushed out of the washroom, but I found that the hallway leading back to the dining area had been sealed! Then, all of a sudden, those two researchers came out of nowhere. I thought something looked off, so I tried to avoid them. But the more I hid, the further they chased me. One of them also threw up that disgusting worm, but I happened to trip and avoid it! Then I started running again until I met you!” The panic on Xiao Zhao’s face had not yet receded.
But Zhou Yu pulled Zhou Qing behind him.
“Who are you? Are you saying that even when Wu Yun and I aren’t able to perfectly dodge the bone gnawing worm, you were able to run all this way while staying perfectly fine?”
Xiao Zhao could barely lift his head up against the intensity of Zhou Yu’s stare.
“I really did dodge it… Or are you just trying to kill me?” Xiao Zhao shook his head as he walked backwards while crying.
Li Qian was more soft-hearted. He was just about to take a step forward when Zhou Qing grabbed him. “Don’t move.”
Along with Xiao Zhao’s retreat, the lights behind him suddenly dimmed, and Xiao Zhao disappeared into the darkness.
Zhou Yu alerted everyone through the radio transceiver. “Be careful of Professor Zhou’s research assistant Zhao Xiaotian!  He’s been infected by a bone gnawer!”
“What should we do? Go after Xiao Zhao? Or go back to the dining hall?” Wu Yun asked.
“Go back to the dining hall, of course, and get everyone out of here.”
They continued in their previous formation, with Wu Yun taking the lead with a gun, Zhou Qing and Li Qian in the center, and Zhou Yu behind them covering their rear while aiming his gun in the direction Xiao Zhao had left in.
But when Wu Yun was taking Li Qian and Zhou Qing through a node in the passageway, its doors suddenly closed. Seeing that Li Qian was about to be hit on the shoulder, Zhou Yu reacted by kicking him away, leaving himself locked behind the other side of the corridor.
“Zhou Yu! Zhou Yu!” Wu Yun banged on the door.
Zhou Yu spoke into the radio, “The door closed because someone is monitoring us and controlling the system! Wu Yun, take Li Qian somewhere he can go on a computer and take back control of the system!”
Wu Yun gritted his teeth. He knew that it was impossible to open the door with their strength. “Okay! I’ll take Li Qian to a computer! Stay on the line!”
“Of course.” Zhou Yu turned around and stared into the darkness.
Zhou Yu was almost sure that someone was behind the bone gnawing worms infecting the observation station, and not only that, but that the perpetrator was the person currently sitting in front of the computer, watching their ongoings through a screen.
Wu Yun led Li Qian and Zhou Qing forward. Every single laboratory was locked. They couldn’t enter any of the rooms.
“Fuck…” Wu Yun gnashed his teeth. He was worried about Zhou Yu’s safety. The longer he stayed in that dark corridor, the more dangerous it was.
Wu Yun picked up his radio and instructed the people in the dining hall. “Evacuate everyone from the observation station.”
But the response he got back was that the exit of the observation station was locked.
“Are we going to be trapped in here as food for the bone gnawers?” Li Qian asked.
The darkness had a terrifying effect, especially when nothing could be seen. Concentrating all his attention, Zhou Yu could sense something moving towards him.
All of a sudden, he took out his spare flashlight, which had been pinned to his thigh. The light beam shone right on Xiao Zhao’s pale face.
He grinned at Zhou Yu, looking eerily like the late Professor Lu.
Before he could bend down, Zhou Yu dodged to the side and turned off his flashlight. He fired his gun and the bullet went whizzing into the wall.
Zhou Yu kept his breathing under control and moved cautiously. Where was Xiao Zhao now? Which direction was he in? Zhou Yu pricked up his ears to listen.
Suddenly, he felt a disturbance in the air as an attacking force came right at him. Zhou Yu crouched down, brought up his gun and shot in that direction, then quickly changed positions.
In the dark, he heard something drop and the sound of blood and muscles tearing apart.
He turned on the flashlight again, which happened to shine on Xiao Zhao’s face. His eyes were bugged and his mouth was almost split open. A bone gnawing worm was outside of it, already dead.
Zhou Yu calmed down his breathing. He knew that this was not the end, but the beginning.
When he stood up, the node of the passageway in front of him suddenly opened and the darkness was abruptly replaced by light. Zhou Yu almost couldn’t open his eyes.
But the light was cold. The brighter it shone, the colder his heart became.
Only the passageway in front of him opened up, which meant that Zhou Yu’s sole choice was to advance, not retreat.
Meanwhile, Wu Yun was extremely anxious. He came to the door of a laboratory, raised his gun at it, and fired several shots.
“It’s useless. If the door of a lab can be opened that easily with a gun, then it wouldn’t belong to Juli Corp.”
Zhou Qing replied.
“Wait! We still have Mo Ye! Mo Ye is strong! Maybe he can break down the node doors! And as an A rank organism, he might be able to manipulate those worms like he controlled the sand whales!” Wu Yun immediately contacted Han Li.
“Mo Ye seemed to sense that you were in danger, he already went to look for you!” Han Li’s answer made everyone feel relieved.
“But… where did Mo Ye go? ” Wu Yun frowned. “Should we equip Mo Ye with a radio in the future?”
“Let’s not rely on Mo Ye for everything! Is there anything we can do for the time being? What if we blow up the access door with Wu Yun’s explosives, will that work, Professor Zhou?” Li Qian asked Zhou Qing.
“How many explosives do you have, Wu Yun?” Zhou Qing asked.
“Three. We can try blowing up the door of a lab!”
Zhou sighed. “That’s our only option, although I don’t think there’s much hope for it.”
Meanwhile, Zhou Yu was holding up his gun, frozen in place.
He knew that even if he didn’t step forward, the hidden enemy would come to him.
More than ten seconds later, the passageway remained as silent as if the whole world was asleep. Zhou Yu’s heart was pounding. He told himself: Even the worst outcome won’t be anything new to him.
It was like a test of his patience, but nothing unusual happened.
Zhou Yu kept an alert posture at all times. The arm he used to hold the gun did not tremble even once.
He knew that in this battle, either he will grow impatient and advance first or the other side will lose their patience.
In the middle of a breath Zhou Yu was taking, there was a crash in the hallway ahead, and something fell from above.
Zhou Yu’s shoulders instantly tensed. It was a team of guards that had been eroded by the bone gnawing worms to the point where their muscles had begun to fester!
So they were still in the base!
Zhou Yu opened his eyes wide and watched one of them sway about with an unfocused gaze that was directed straight at himself.
Without any hesitation, Zhou Yu immediately pulled the trigger. But his body was far more agile than Zhou Yu had anticipated. He suddenly moved to one side and the other guards scattered out. The bullet swiped past one of the guards’ shoulders and hit the passageway door.
The entire hallway seemed to vibrate.
A total of eight people came running at Zhou Yu, all at the same time.
Fortunately, Zhou Yu had not rushed ahead recklessly. Otherwise, in such close quarters, there would have been no way for him to act!
The guards’ crazed eyes had long lost their humanity. Some of their faces had rotted to the point where their facial features were no longer recognizable. A few limbs were only hanging on by the bone. As if they saw Zhou Yu as their last source of nourishment, they shot out the bone gnawing worms like limp, ineffective arrows.
Time seemed to compress a century into a second.
Zhou Yu fired the first shot, which hit one of them. The bone gnawer in his mouth burst apart an arm’s length away from Zhou Yu. The other seven rushed to be the first to reach Zhou Yu. Zhou Yu had to make a snap decision on whom to shoot first, then second, as well as how to shoot them!
The bullets seemed to fly out of the chamber without any time to think. Zhou Yu sidestepped to avoid a bone gnawer, then dropped down. He felt something slice through the air above him at high speed so he shot up at it. Jump back up on one hand, he kicked a guy who had gotten close to him, then quickly retreated, opening up the distance between them. He determined his location through instinct and fired again.
Zhou Yu replaced the clip as quickly as possible. Just when he raised up his gun, a guard came up close to Zhou Yu’s face and was stared at him with murky eyes. Seeing that the bone gnawer in his mouth was about to be disgorged, time slowed down in Zhou Yu’s eyes. Zhou Yu raised the muzzle of the gun and shot him in his knee. The neurotoxin spread instantly. The bone gnawing worm immediately fell to the ground, but not before Zhou Yu got close enough to feel the disgustingly warm temperature of the creature.
When the guard fell, Zhou Yu sensed that the remaining two had arrived in front of him. One was on the left and the other, on the right. It was too late.
Zhou Yu gripped his gun and told himself that even downing one of them meant one less to deal with!
Just when he hit the one on the left and was about to be bitten by the bone gnawer on the right, it burst open too.
Zhou Yu’s eyes widened as he dodged purely on instinct, but it looked like it was too late to avoid the splash of blood and pus.
Then, a hand stretched out from behind Zhou Yu and covered his face. Zhou Yu moved back and knocked into someone’s chest.
His heart suddenly constricted.
There was someone else here besides him!
Was it an infected guard?
Zhou Yu drove his elbow back, but the other person simply retreated. Then, he felt something warm sweep by his earlobe.
It was a familiar temperature that made him feel safe… Zhou Yu turned with his gun raised. He saw a familiar face.
He had pale skin and elegant but not feminine features. The shape of his brows and eyes betrayed a languid demeanor, but he also had a young and pure face.
“You dodged too fast. I wanted to hold you for a little longer.”
He took a step forward and stood boldly against Zhou Yu’s gun.
“There are neurotoxins in my bullets.” Zhou Yu replied.
But the young man only pressed even closer. He slightly leaned down and tilted his head, as if to see Zhou Yu’s eyes more clearly.
“Why don’t you try it? See if you can really kill me.”
His eyes were extremely beautiful, but also brimming with power, as if the two round orbs could slowly draw away Zhou Yu’s ability to think.
For the first time, Zhou Yu found that even his usual, self-regulated breaths seemed to lose their proper frequency.
“How did you get in?!” Zhou Yu stared at him.
The young man pointed above them and Zhou Yu saw that the ventilation duct was open and the duct booster fan had been removed.
The young man pursed his lips and smiled. There was a sly glint in his eyes. He pushed back with more force against the muzzle of Zhou Yu’s gun, forcing him to retreat.
The young man knew Zhou Yu’s bottom line better than anyone, but with a willful attitude, he tested it again and again.
“Don’t you want to find out who’s raising so many bone gnawing worms?” When the young man spoke, his face was too close to Zhou Yu’s, causing his breath to pass by Zhou Yu’s lips with a gentle force that was hard to ignore.
“They were raised?”
Zhou Yu had not expected that.
The young man touched the finger Zhou Yu still had on the trigger, and with a light nudge, he removed the gun.
Zhou Yu’s eyes widened; it had all happened so naturally that he didn’t even have time to react.
The young man went up to Zhou Yu and stepped past the bodies of the guards. Turning around, he found that Zhou Yu was still standing there.
“Are you afraid of me?” The young man smiled. The light that had been so cold before now pooled in the crease of his smile, creating an air of mystery.
“Of course not.” Zhou Yu’s expression darkened as he followed him.
Zhou Yu did not know where to start his questions.
The path in front of them was blocked by the closed nodes. The young man simply smiled and placed his hand on the door. With a little force behind his shoulder, the whole thing gave.
It fell haughtily, and the sound of its impact with the ground lingered in the hallway.
Zhou Yu gasped, but the young man turned to look at him as if he was waiting for him to approach. When Zhou Yu walked up to him, he dangled the gun on his finger and extended it out to Zhou Yu.
“Although I’m here and you won’t need to use it, I think… You’ll want to kill that guy yourself.”
Zhou Yu took the gun. At the same time, the young man suddenly leaned in. His eyes were so clear that they seemed to reflect sunlight hitting the surface of a lake. It gave off a sense of familiarity.
His lips inched closer and closer to Zhou Yu. Zhou Yu subconsciously began to imagine the temperature and sensation of those lips. Just when Zhou Yu’s heart skipped a beat, the young man straightened up again and said with a smile, “Let’s go.”
He turned and left, leaving Zhou Yu to look after his back. He didn’t understand why he had momentarily been so distracted.
It was silence in the corridor, only the sound of their footsteps echoed around them. As they got closer, the sound gradually blended into one.
It gave off the illusion that Zhou Yu was the only person left in the world. The young man in front of him was a hallucination born of despair.
Had he already been devoured by the bone gnawer?
The young man’s footsteps suddenly stopped and he beckoned to Zhou Yu with a smile. Zhou Yu came to his side, and following his line of sight, he saw a laboratory.
Through the double-layered windows of the lab, Zhou Yu saw a female researcher sitting in front of a computer. She watched Zhou Yu in horror, her body trembling yet frozen stiff.
Zhou Yu looked to the side and found that a gun was pressed against the researcher’s head. The face of the gun’s wielder was blocked by the door and could not be seen.
“Someone forced her to control the surveillance system?” Zhou Yu frowned.
The young man smiled indifferently and placed his hand on the first door. With a strong force, the door was unhinged.
Zhou Yu once again witnessed the power of that S rank organism. If even Mo Ye could break through the hallway barriers, then it must be a piece of cake for S rank organisms like him.
The young man walked through the first door, raised his foot, and effortlessly kicked the second door open. It hit the researcher’s desk straight on and scared her into squeezing her eyes shut and screaming.
Zhou Yu went in and saw that beside her, a member of the guard team was holding a gun and pointing it to the researcher’s head.
His face had begun to fester, and his nose bled on and off. When Zhou Yu came in, he immediately stood behind the researcher.
He didn’t say a word, but when Zhou Yu also held up his gun and stepped forward, he pushed the back of the female researcher’s head with the muzzle of his gun, warning them that he would kill her if Zhou Yu got any closer.
The female researcher cowered in fear with tears staining her face. She dared not open her eyes, fearing that her heart would stop beating.
She closed her eyes and repeated, “I’m sorry… I didn’t mean to… Help me… Help me…”
Behind her, the man who had been parasitized by the bone gnawing worm lowered his head from time to time, as if he was struggling to contain the worm in his body.
Zhou Yu slightly loosened his fingers and moved his feet in parallel, looking for the right opportunity and angle to strike.
“If I were you, I would shoot the woman.” The young man’s lips pulled up in a smile that contained a hint of ridicule. He did not value the life of the female researcher at all.
Zhou Yu’s eyes narrowed, and his gaze swept past the young man in his peripheral vision. “With your strength, you can kill the bone gnawing worm even without any bullets.”
“But I like seeing her look so terrified.” The young man cheerfully pointed his finger in the direction of the female researcher.
Zhou Yu’s expression was cold. He looked back at the female researcher with indifference. Her name was written on a nametag over her chest. “If you don’t tell me the truth, I will shoot, Doctor Lin.”
“… What…?” Doctor Lin looked stunned.
“It’s simple; the length of time a bone gnawing worm can parasitize a body for is limited. When the nutrients in a body are exhausted, it must choose another body for its nutritional intake. The host behind you is clearly in no shape to meet the needs of the bone gnawer, so why are the bone gnawers still trying to hold him together, instead of moving on to you? The organisms here possess a certain degree of intelligence, especially B rank organisms such as the bone gnawing worm. I can think of two reasons why they are holding back from attacking you. One, your insides have already been consumed by bone gnawers, or two, you have a special connection with the bone gnawers. You’re more useful to them alive than parasitized.”
“They’re only keeping me alive to operate the system… They’re keeping you trapped here so that they can obtain more food… With just me here, they’ll run out of nourishment!” Doctor Lin explained as she choked on her sobs.
Zhou Yu did not waver in the slightest. Although Doctor Lin looked terrified, her eyes revealed that she was still guarded. Not against the bone gnawers, but against Zhou Yu.
Even so, Zhou Yu was unsure of whether he would shoot a person who had not been parasitized.
Just then, the young man nonchalantly walked up to them, completely disregarding the parasitized guard standing behind Doctor Lin.
He put his hands on the table and inclined his body forward. Doctor Lin subconsciously shrank back, causing her head to knock into the gun.
“There are no bullets in the gun, correct? You must have been worried that it might accidentally go off and hit you.”