T/N: I strongly dislike writing in second-person perspective, but when that’s what the original text says… Oh well. Also, I myself am exhausted from working overtime this week, so this chapter might be a bit rough. Sorry!
Day 15 01:00
SwordArc Inc.’s product launch press conference was scheduled to be held at 10 a.m. Pacific Time on April 16th; converted to Beijing Time, it would be exactly 1 a.m. on April 17th.
At 12:50 a.m., Song Ran was woken up by the alarm that he had set in advance, and he yawned as he sat groggily at the head of the bed. Once he was somewhat more awake, he turned his head to look at Bubu; as expected, this unfortunate child had once again turned into a running Tibetan antelope in his sleep. After adjusting Bubu’s sleeping posture, he slowly crawled out of bed, went to the kitchen with slippers on to make a cup of milk tea, then hopped onto the sofa while carrying the mug, sat cross-legged, and scooped up a wool blanket that he draped over himself, forming the shape of a monk’s kasaya.
The old second-hand laptop was placed on the coffee table; he reached out and tapped on it, clicking open the website that He Zhiyuan gave him.
The broadcast page loaded one section at a time, and without exception, everything from the title to the diagrams was in English.
“For love, it’s all for love.”
He comforted himself while propping up his chin, and his eyelids drooped lower.
The video box was still showing ‘Trying to connect’, the living room was peaceful and still, and a cloud of sweetly-fragrant warm air diffused from the cup, heating Song Ran’s face. In a moment of groggy drowsiness, he lifted his head and gave a start, put down the cup, and rushed at top speed to the bathroom to wash his face with cold water.
When he returned to the living room, reinvigorated, the video signal had just connected.
The press conference began right on time, and the overhead camera swept over the round Hammer Theatre Center from various angles—there were nearly three thousand people within, all the seats occupied, and it was so dark that one could almost not see the sides. The lights gradually dimmed, and the audience gave a round of applause that lasted for more than half a minute. A man with light chestnut hair leaped onto the main stage amidst the applause, raised both hands high, and confidently greeted the audience, loudly saying ‘thank you’ several times in a row. The applause beneath the stage became more enthusiastic instead, rising to another climax in a manner comparable to that of a superstar coming on stage at a concert.
A line of words appeared on the broadcast window: CEO, Carl Kraus.
Song Ran experienced a system error.
At the imagination-defying company that Mr He worked for, even the president was this casual?
Carl had grey-blue eyes that were deep and passionate, but his personality did not match with their gravitas; he was as hippie-ish as he wanted to be. When the company was still small, he could turn a press conference into a rave party. Over the years, he had restrained himself by no small amount underneath He Zhiyuan’s supervision, but remnants of his power still lingered, and the audiences still got excited when they saw him, always thinking that what followed next would be a talk show.
As much as he messed around, he still had professionalism.
Carl warmed up in one minute, tossed out a few prepared jokes to loosen up the atmosphere, then got to the point and introduced the basic circumstances of this press conference. The camera occasionally swept past the audience beneath the stage; many Asian faces were sitting in the front rows, looking very much like engineers. With interest piqued, Song Ran guessed which one amongst them was Mr He.
However, he was very quickly distracted by what was being broadcast on the long screen.
This was an excellently-made narrative video; short yet ample, it talked about the evolution process of SwordArc’s S series and T series of robots from the first generation to the sixth.
They had originated from one of Carl and He Zhiyuan’s class projects from their student days and left the lab during their doctoral periods, having turned into two matured products—the S series was good at patrolling crowded areas such as shopping malls, whereas the T series was good at patrolling areas with few people such as logistics centres.
At the beginning, they only had a single monitoring function and the itinerary had to be input in advance; their adaptability was extremely low and they did not have any learning ability at all, so they could only serve as mobile cameras and alarms. Because He Zhiyuan was dissatisfied, he decided to go in the direction of artificial intelligence. The S series and T series looked the way they did today only because they had been constantly updated and replaced.
As an example, the S series learned to map paths on its own, and when placed in an unfamiliar location, it could construct a composition of the three-dimensional space as it travelled. It could also count the passers-by and plan out a dynamic patrol route based on the patterns of pedestrian volume and time of day. After one to two weeks of service, the amount of data it collected would be enough to divide the map of the mall into safe areas, common areas, and high-risk areas instead of treating them all equally with rigid weighting.
Regarding passers-by appearing in the camera, it could differentiate between normal and abnormal behaviour and even notice abnormal emotions. It could directly understand most of the graphics and writing on the billboards, handbags, gift bags, and clothing. All of the S series robots in a mall would communicate with each other to cooperate and coordinate even if they were in an environment without Wi-Fi.
The S series and T series had been developed from generation to generation up to now, and their capabilities became more fine-tuned and practical; however, the main character of this press conference wasn’t S7 or T7, but rather the newly-released home edition—Q7.
Small, cute, and lovable.
Just like how sparrows were small but complete, Q7 worked inside homes, which were much smaller areas compared to a mall, but it concentrated all the best aspects from the six previous generations of both the S and T series. In the face of simpler human relationships, it needed to deal with more delicate emotions and mature along with the whole household as well as defending its safety, its completeness, and its well-being.
Song Ran only understood a bit of Carl’s explanations, but by relying on the pictures, he roughly understood that the Little Q with the weakest-looking functions was the top priority in this press conference.
This made him feel a sense of pride as if his own family’s child were being favoured.
He waited with great interest for Carl to continue talking, but Carl finished his own part three minutes later, walked to the left side of the stage, and shook hands with the next speaker who was about to take the stage as a handover.
During the handover, the camera switched to a long-distance view of the stage, so Song Ran couldn’t clearly see the speaker’s face, but he dimly recognised by the shiny black hair that he was probably an Asian man; his height was tall, and his posture was straight. On long legs, that man strode to the middle of the stage beneath the spotlight chasing after him, pace agile yet steady, bringing with himself the effect of calming down the venue.
Hm, it looked like this company did have reliable executives after all.
Song Ran gave it an additional point.
Once the man stood still on the stage and turned around to face the audience, the camera lens made a timely switch to a close-up view, allowing the upper half of his body to appear in the frame.
The accidentally-dropped mug fell over, splashing warm milk tea all over Song Ran’s pants. He couldn’t feel the heat at all while he was dumbfoundedly staring at the screen, and his Adam’s apple bobbed unconsciously as he swallowed the saliva in his mouth.
Did he… see the Infiniti god?
Or was it a hallucination?
No, it wasn’t a hallucination because his god was not confined to the static sketch’s fixed angle; having shaken off the binds of that dimension, he showed a smile towards the camera that was courteous, warm, and confident. Then, he reached out and adjusted the position of the microphone, greeted the audience, and began to speak.
When a familiar voice came from the speakers, Song Ran was rooted in place from shock, and the remaining thin shred of HP had also emptied out.
At first, there was a blank period ten seconds long.
During the blank period, time seemed to come to a standstill. His brain couldn’t think about anything at all, no matter if it was vague or detailed, because what he saw with his own eyes wasn’t compatible with what he heard with his own ears. They mutually repelled, like a Phillips head screwdriver forcefully twisting a hex bolt—it couldn’t be inserted and it couldn’t be turned, so his thoughts were frozen.
The Infiniti god’s face appeared on the screen, and Mr He’s voice came out of the speakers; they were perfectly in sync and also desperately squeezing together in the depths of Song Ran’s heart, kneading into a unified mass and telling him that this man and this voice were originally one whole.
But how could that be?
What reason did they have to become one person?
Song Ran thought hard, but he couldn’t understand at all.
Slowly, as the speech continued, Song Ran saw more of his god’s movements: low laughter, raised eyebrows, nodding, waving his hand… His voice was shifting, matching the lip movements and the subtle expressions at every second.
The frequency matched, resulting in a resonance.
The originally-incompatible appearance and sound began to merge bit by bit, tightly intertwined with each other, flawlessly mingled into a whole, and stirred up a ceaselessly-trembling rhythm in Song Ran’s heart—the man talking on the stage was his Mr He.
As well as his Infiniti god.
A flower quietly sprouted and budded explosively. With that smudge of insignificant red as the centre, countless nearby branches gradually became suffused with colour, up to the sky and down to the earth; the thoughts of love that were on the cusp of blooming were everywhere.
Song Ran covered his mouth, eyes reddened, and his field of vision was covered with a layer of mist.
Feeling that he himself didn’t live up to expectations, he hurriedly wiped his eyes dry with a sleeve, but the mist still welled up insistently, condensed into water, and slid down from the corners of his eyes to his chin.
“H-how could you…”
Holding the laptop, he looked at the man on the screen; his face was clearly tear-stained, but he couldn’t help lifting the corners of his lips.
In the subsequent several minutes, Song Ran fell into a happy and giddy state. He took off the pyjama pants that were stained with milk tea, sat on the sofa with his pale legs bared, and hugged a pillow as he stared at the broadcast with a besotted face. Every single one of the words whose meanings he didn’t know became cute, thumping like the pounding of his heart.
Come look, all of you, at this man standing on the stage. He’s calm, broad-minded, and elegant, attracting thousands of gazes from off the screen.
Go away, all of you, he’s mine alone. Nobody else can fantasise about it.
Song Ran opened his mouth and bit down on one corner of the pillow, his heart full of sweetness.
In the past fifteen days, he had only seen the side of He Zhiyuan that was warm, mature, and liked to flirt. It was only now, after personally seeing how he was at work, that Song Ran realised this man had an extremely dazzling other side—despite having a purely technological background, his ability to control the crowds didn’t lose a bit to Carl, who had a business background. He spoke smoothly, his gaze was sharp, and the long screen behind him changed again and again in time with his rhythm. He didn’t make the slightest mistake and was as fluent as if he had rehearsed more than a hundred times.
Men who became serious were more sexy than at any other time.
As soon as Song Ran thought of a man like this putting on a nightgown after a late-night bath, exposing his chest, and calling him ‘darling’ with a slightly sticky and erotic voice, it was like the pit of his stomach had been struck by a mighty blow, making him go soft at the waist, his breathing hurried, and his bones tingly.
That’s enough, you could kill someone.
You big jerk.
Song Ran scolded the He Zhiyuan inside the frame, his tone like that of a shy little wife.
However, he still didn’t know at this time that the bombshell that could really kill him was yet to come.
Halfway through Q7’s introductory segment, He Zhiyuan said something, and the lights began to dim row by row before extinguishing completely, shrouding the entire theatre in darkness. Three seconds later, along with several beams of bright white light in the air shining in all directions, a living room filled with sunlight abruptly appeared within the theatre.
Plants with floating leaves, animal mugs, painted cards, interior trim with minimalist lines, Mondrian’s blocky paintings…
With the round theatre’s massive walls serving as the screen, 8012B’s living room appeared perfectly and shockingly in front of three thousand spectators via 360-degree panoramic projection.
The soft and sweet sound of a cat came from somewhere.
A big kitten with beautiful fur took short mincing steps as it briskly passed through the main stage’s ‘dining room’, came to the ‘balcony’ at the back from along the theatre wall, found the spot with the best sunlight, and comfortably lay down to sleep.
It looked so innocent and cute that it caused a bit of a commotion in the audience.
After that, Song Ran saw himself.
That day, he was dressed quite informally in a faded T-shirt and a pair of old pyjama pants that covered the tops of his feet—it was actually the pair that he had just spilled half a cup of milk tea on. His hair was a bit mussed, but coincidentally it looked like it had just been blow-dried, and his appearance was unexpectedly rather photogenic. He walked to the front of the wine cabinet while holding a bottle of cleaning spray and a rag, crouched down, and began to carefully wipe the glass door.
Then, he saw Bubu in the little yellow duck pyjamas sneak in, silently approach, and throw himself onto Song Ran’s neck from behind before affectionately giving him a kiss.
He turned around and caught Bubu, then lifted him high.
The small child squirmed while laughing, and soft sunlight outlined them with a halo.
The image changed.
He was accompanying Bubu at the table as he cut paper; Bubu’s head was lowered, his movements a little clumsy but his expression very earnest. After cutting out a little rabbit, he excitedly lifted it up to the camera and asked, “Dad, is the little rabbit cute?”
A line of English subtitles appeared below: Daddy, is my bunny cute?
The image changed again.
At some point past eleven o’clock that day, Bubu had fallen asleep on the sofa. Bu Doudou leaped onto the sofa armrest, lowered its head, and touched his forehead with the tip of its damp nose. Then it walked to Bubu’s side and lay down on its belly to bury its head in the hollow of his shoulder and sweetly rest together with him. Song Ran carried over a thin comforter from the bedroom, bent down, and covered up Bubu.
The video had been edited, so it wasn’t long; the images of them cleaning 8012B that day continuously flashed by, one scene at a time.
The audience watched earnestly, and on the stage, He Zhiyuan watched even more earnestly.
The last cut in the video showed Bubu holding the cat and Song Ran holding Bubu; the two of them were squatting in front of Little Q as they said to the camera, “We’ve finished cleaning. When are you coming home?”
After the words were spoken, the video froze. Apart from their smiling faces on the main stage’s screen, the other surrounding projections disappeared, and the lights came back on once again in the theatre.
Song Ran looked at his own beaming self, still somewhat dazed.
This felt like… like you were idolising a singer but couldn’t afford to buy a concert ticket because you were too poor, so you could only miserably watch the broadcast at home, but as you watched, you suddenly discovered that you had shown up on stage as a VCR special guest.
And like you were even the kind of big-shot who was qualified to not put on makeup.
When the absurdity of this matter occurred to Song Ran, he was so astonished that he couldn’t even close his mouth.
The broadcast had already finished, but on top of the stage, He Zhiyuan didn’t move. The camera pushed closer, giving him a close-up shot: he had lifted his head to look at the two people frozen on the screen, and there was a surge of emotion in his deep brown eyes.
“My beloved, I’ll return home tomorrow.”
He used the simplest words, pronounced them clearly, and spoke slowly, so even Song Ran could understand—in fact, Song Ran was practically sure that this sentence was spoken by He Zhiyuan specifically for him to hear.
Song Ran understood the literal meaning, and the audience beneath the stage heard the hidden meaning.
In the originally-quiet atmosphere, there were a few comments that were rather scattered at first. Afterwards, everyone understood and inevitably became rowdy.
Someone shouted something from across the space. He Zhiyuan smiled and replied, “Yes, I won’t deny it.”
After a few seconds of stillness, the audience burst into a round of warm applause that was also mixed with loud cheers and whistles.
He Zhiyuan could distinguish between what was more important and what was less important, so he didn’t linger for too long on this little interlude. He stood there with a smile as he waited for the applause to lighten up, then continued to the next subject, pulling the speech back on track.
As the press conference continued, Song Ran watched the calm and collected Mr He on the screen, hugged the pillow tight, and forcefully bit his lip.
He couldn’t understand the words he heard, but he understood in his heart.
He knew what question that person had asked He Zhiyuan—this wasn’t difficult to guess at all.
But why would you admit it? Why?
Aren’t you stupid?
We’ve only known each other for fifteen days and haven’t even seen each other before. The future is so long, you still have opportunities to meet more suitable people. After allowing this many people to see me and choosing to come clean at such an important occasion, you’ll never again be able to break up with me.
Mr He, from now on, you’ve been marked by me, so you can only be the Mr He who belongs to me alone.