#146 – A World Of Monochrome Pink
“The place is intimidating,” Chang commented. “My visual enhancement doesn’t help me in any aspect. I feel like I’ve gone back to the time when the red fog first arrived. I see nothing but the red.”
“Besides”—Shui caught up from the back—”Brilliant camouflage consists of multiple elements. Smell the air, listen to the wind.”
“Oh?” Chang’s nose twitched, detecting the particles flowing in the air. A stream of tacky sweetness caught his attention. He knew what it was, and he remembered what its host did.
The leaf structure was bizarre though, almost all of them were in a roll shape – as if they were trumpets. If wind passed through them, they would blow out a deep sound. On its own, that sound was quiet, but when there were dozens of them, any other noise would be covered entirely.
“It’s barely noticeable, but it decreases the transmission of other sounds. This plant is not only emitting sound, but also absorbing it.”
Shui Qing picked one trumped-like leaf from the shrub in front of him and spoke through it. As expected, the microfiber in the leaf roll absorbed most of the sound wave, reducing his volume significantly.
“This jungle… We can’t pass through it, can we?” Zhizhi, Yin Qing, and Dr. Huang slid down from the centipede one after another. Their footsteps were hesitant when they came closer.
“I’d say it is impossible…” Chang said reluctantly. “We’ll be basically blind and deaf once we go in there. Not to mention how well the species in the jungle are capable of camouflaging themselves. We will have to be prepared for a sneak attack every second in there.
“Wait a moment.” Chang paused as if he had thought of something. “Jing, how about your detection ability? Can you still sense anything?”
“I can.” Jing slid down from the centipede, eyes closed. “The jungle is rich with life, the density of it almost higher than what I can handle, but I know where those lives are, every single one of them.”
“What a relief.” Chang breathed a sigh of relief. “I guess we can make it through as long as we’re careful enough.”
“No worries.” Shui took out the compass. “With Jing and compass as our eyes and ears, we can make it.”
“We also need to stay close together, so that Chang can see us. That way we’ll be able to go through with minimum trouble,” Shui Qing stated with excitement. “Once we pass the jungle, we’ll be arriving at He Bei province. And this jungle is a natural barrier against the migrating animals, so we’ll be able to slow down once we have it behind us.”
“Indeed, this place is both a disaster and fortune at the same time. Let’s try it,” Chang said. “Jing, shall we?”
“Now you think of me.” Jing’s face loosened up at Chang’s word. For the longest time ever, she hadn’t felt valuable or acknowledged. “I know that you can’t leave me.”
She climbed back on to the centipede, shouting, “Come on, guys!”
“Coming!” Chang sprang from the ground up on the animal.
The centipede’s shell was smooth and reflective, so as soon as it slid in to the jungle, it looked tinted with pink.
When they went in deeper, unlike what they saw outside, the color here was more saturated – red, blood red.
The camouflage color of this jungle mixed well with the fog. Everyone, including Chang, lost their sense of direction. They had a taste of what blindness felt like.
Although the fog outside of the jungle blocked sight, it still allowed to see the contours of buildings and objects – Chang could still see the outlines of the world.
However, here – he could see nothing. His retina enhancement lost all of its advantages.
RED! RED! RED!
Except for everyone’s clothing, Chang saw nothing besides the color red.
“Damn it! I hate red,” Sanpang stated while stomping on the centipede.
“I didn’t hate it before, but I’ve changed my mind now.” Yin Qing’s thoughts drifted away and she asked, “Are we going to die here?”
“How should I know?” Sanpang felt pins and needles on his scalp. In this monochrome world, ‘death’ was the last word he wanted to hear about, for it was keeping close company with them. So he elbowed Jing, who sat beside him, eyes shut. “We aren’t going to die, are we?”
“How would I know?” Jing was interrupted and her body tilted to the side. She frowned. “Stop interrupting me. It’s tough enough just trying to identify what is in here given the density. Please stay away from me.”
“Ha! I thought you’re good at what you do,” Sanpang said. He had a rough idea what Jing was capable of, but she never talked much of it. “You can sense living organisms almost effortlessly, so what can’t you identify? I…
“Sh*t!” Sanpang was about to lecture Jing, but he was lifted in mid-air. His face turned pale and he screamed out, “Help! Sh*t, help!”
“Everybody!” Chang was fully alarmed. As soon as he witnessed a tender branch wrapped around Sanpang’s waist, he sprang up and started shooting at its upper part.
BANG! BANG! BANG!
The “branch” snapped in two. The part around Sanpang’s waist loosened, as if it had lost its life. It also bled, the color of it the same red as everything in the jungle. The scene froze.
Sanpang dropped onto the centipede’s solid shell.
“I said don’t bother me.” Jing took a glance at Sanpang, her emotion warring between blaming him and worrying about his safety. “Are you okay?”
“I’m not okay!” Sanpang struggled to scratch a wound on his neck. “That thing, when it caught me, it inserted something in me. It hurts! I… I feel unhappy, ahhhhhh…”
Sanpang blinked a couple times, stammered, and then his pupils rolled up so the white part of his eyes dominated in his eye socket. This change was absurdly sudden. One moment he was speaking naturally and the next he started convulsing.
“Poison?” Chang dashed to Sanpang, almost slapping his face. “Sanpang, Sanpang, look at me! Here!”
Chang moved his index finger in front of Sanpang’s face, attempting to get him to focus on the motion. However, the man ignored his finger, or more likely, he just couldn’t see it.
“Dr. Huang! Please come! Do you know what’s going on here?” Chang called the doctor to come forward.
Truthfully, even before her said her name she was already climbing towards Sanpang.
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“It’s not poison, it’s the creatures digestive juice.” Dr. Huang conducted a rough inspection, then explained, “I don’t know what exactly pricked him, but that thing injected its digestive juices into his body. The liquid is highly acidic, and it almost destroyed Sanpang’s nerve system along with the spine. That’s why he’s convulsing now.”
“What can we do about it?” Chang flipped Sanpang over to see that the wound had been liquefied by the acid already. A strange smell rose from the hole.
“Nothing. We can do nothing. Even with proper medication and medical equipment, it would still be hard to treat.” Dr. Huang waved her hand. “The acid corrupted his whole spine, which will be gone very soon…There is nothing we can do. All I can suggest is that…”
Dr. Huang’s eyes shifted back and forth between Sanpang and Chang. She didn’t finish her sentence.
Yet everyone knew what she was unwilling to say – give up.
Sanpang was still convulsing badly, it seemed like he was still lively – but the motions were twisted and irregular, as if he was a fish out of water. He was struggling intensely, but he wasn’t far from death nonetheless.
“We can do nothing about it.” Dr. Huang looked away.
“Let’s dump him,” the clones who were ‘driving’ the centipede stated all together. “In that case, we’ll end his pain, and he won’t be a burden to us. Shoot him and throw him away. Otherwise, this will do no good to any of us.”
“…” Chang sighed and took out a medication box from his backpack. A syringe of tranquilizer was emptied, and Sanpang soon was calmed.
“You’re wasting our resources,” the clones told him, but they said no more.
Chang didn’t refute but turned his attention to Jing. “How did you not notice that branch?”
“I just didn’t. I can’t tell if it’s because the homogeneity here makes it hard to identify things or if it’s just too good at camouflage. It’s hard to tell everything apart, and even harder to collect all these similarities and sort out what is coming and what is not.”
Jing felt full of bitterness and sadness. Her face wrinkled when she tightly closed her eyes, and the tip of her brows stretched upward. Sanpang was new to the family, but he was close to Jing, with whom he spent most of his time. Thus, she felt the worst among the group about what had happened.
Chang understood the emotion underneath Jing’s skin, but he didn’t say anything, just hugged her from the back, then quickly drew back to leave her some space.
“Bro… I never thought of this day…” Chang’s fingers ran around Sanpang’s wound. “You look so much like a good friend of mine from before. Yet he at least managed to write a letter while you can’t even say anything. You remind me of a friend that I knew from school, Tao. He died soon after the red fog arrived, all of a sudden .”
Chang fondled the finger bone pendant hanging around his neck.