T/N: Chapter 4 is a bit longer than the previous ones, so I’ve split it up into two parts. Check back for the second half next week!
Day 01 21:26
If this precious child wanted to sleep away from home, then he’d need to prepare a change of clothes and other necessities.
Bubu scampered into the flat to get ready, and Song Ran turned on the light for him. Originally, he considered going inside to help, but thought better of it because no other adults were present. It was inappropriate to trespass on other people’s homes, so he politely leaned upon the door, supervising Bubu as he scurried back and forth like a rabbit between the bedroom and bathroom.
Each time he passed by the living room, Bubu subconsciously turned his head and glanced in the direction of the door, sincerely warning, “Big Brother isn’t allowed to slip away!”
Song Ran promised, “I absolutely won’t.”
The child’s movements were a little clumsy and ponderous; Song Ran took advantage of the opportunity to survey the neighbour’s living room.
Just as he had assumed, 8012B’s interior decor was a textbook example of minimalism; it seamlessly matched the style of the doormat. The main colours were black, white, and grey, with neat straight lines everywhere. Even the decorative paintings used Mondrian-esque abstract blocks of colour—if 8012A could be described as an amusement park of children’s dreams, then 8012B was an adult’s office space, where not even the slightest trace of a child’s presence could be detected.
Because of its excessive simplicity, upon first glance Song Ran had thought that the furniture was all cheap goods from Ikea. Only after a careful second examination did he discover that the entire ensemble was very stylish, and should have considerable value.
After that, he was dumbfounded by his own assumptions.
How could it possibly be cheap?
Last week, he had passed by West Fuxing Street while cycling. Unable to restrain his curiosity, he quickly glanced over the price tags displayed by the real estate agents, and ended up braking so hard that he popped a tire. In Jadewater Bay, the price was over 150,000 yuan per square metre. On top of that, every single unit had a sprawling floor plan. The only way to purchase one was to hand over a check with seven trailing zeros.
Once, Song Ran had dreamed of seeing five trailing zeros in his bank account, before the rational part of his brain rudely reminded him that such a dream was merely pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking.
Sure enough, the class disparity was an insurmountable chasm.
Song Ran silently cursed.
“Big Brother! Stay there!”
Bubu jubilantly dashed to the doorway, carrying over a big pile of fragrant bottles and jars, which he shoved towards Song Ran as if dumping rubbish. Then he turned around and ran back into the other room. Song Ran stared at the bottles and jars, discovering to his dismay that the labels were written in neither Chinese nor English. He didn’t recognize a single word.
Just now, what made him unexpectedly develop the misconception that ‘Bubu was so pitiful’? Compared to Bubu, wasn’t he himself more deserving of sympathy?
The kindly youth’s heart received a tremendous blow. His HP had been swiftly depleted, and needed a health potion to recover.
From the living room came a soft electronic alert sound. He looked in the direction of the sound, eyes drawn to a futuristic-looking device.
This should be… an appliance, right?
Its exterior appearance resembled that of a big silkworm cocoon that had been laterally halved. It was pure white, with a round chassis, smooth surface, and was approximately 80cm tall. Previously, when its back faced Song Ran, its colour made it blend in perfectly with the wall. Now it smoothly rotated 180 degrees, revealing a row of flashing ice-blue indicator lights on its front.
An azure-blue italicised logo was printed under the indicator lights: SwordArc Q7.
What was this thing?
Song Ran hadn’t yet understood the situation, when the big cocoon began to slowly move towards him. The original ice-blue indicator light had already dimmed, changing to a bright red hue that signified danger.
Right at this moment, little Bubu popped up out of nowhere.
Valiant little Bubu was carrying a massive pile of clothes in his two short arms. Rushing unsteadily towards the door, he shouted, “Big Brother! It’s gonna fall, it’s gonna fall!”
The clothes formed a small mountain, blocking Bubu’s line of sight.
He was completely unable to see the path in front of him. Sleeves and pant legs dragged all the way across the floor. Finally, both boy and clothes crashed headlong into Song Ran’s embrace.
“All done!” Bubu crawled upright, plucking a patterned sock off his head. He said excitedly, “Let’s go sleep!”
There was another electronic alert sound.
Song Ran saw with his own eyes that the white cocoon had stopped moving. The colour of the indicator lights reverted to ice-blue as it made another one-eighty and returned to the corner, whereupon it entered standby mode.
He became even more perplexed.
“Let’s go, let’s go!”
Bubu could wait no longer. He urged Song Ran along while forcefully pushing him towards the door, as though they would get locked in the dark room if they tarried even a single step.
In Song Ran’s home the sound of water could be heard repeatedly coming from the bathroom, where the adult and the child sat in the bathtub, nude and piling up mountains of bubbles.
Following Bubu’s instructions, Song Ran correctly differentiated between the children’s shampoo, children’s conditioner, children’s body wash, and children’s moisturizer. He grabbed Bubu’s ankles, rubbing each toe squeaky clean. In return, Bubu used his two small hands to help Song Ran rub out a head of white hair that could even be used to cosplay Sakata Gintoki.
Bubu hadn’t played games in the bath before, so now he completely let loose, scooping up water and splashing it all over the bathroom. It was as if he were trying to create a tremendous uproar in the Heavenly Palace. The overwhelmed Song Ran channelled the spirit of Buddha; he suppressed the obstinate Monkey Sun beneath the Five-Finger Mountain1A reference to Journey to the West and rinsed him. Then he wiped Bubu clean and dry, wrapped him in a small bathrobe, and pressed him into a chair to blow-dry his hair. Only after all this did he carry Bubu into the bedroom.
The little rascal was so riled up that he could not sleep. He rolled back and forth on the bed, still in the nude, and rolled himself into a Bubu sushi.
Song Ran gave him free rein to roll about while he himself sat on the side of the bed, rubbing his own hair dry.
As he was rubbing, he recalled that strange white cocoon. He casually asked about it, and Bubu sat up like a carp leaping out of the water. “You’re talking about Little Q?”
Song Ran asked, “Seeing-eye dog?”2The pinyin for ‘dog’ (犬) starts with Q
“Not that kind of Little Q! It’s… ai-ai-ai-ya!”
The Bubu sushi was wrapped too tightly; he had just sat himself up when he immediately flopped back onto the bed. Without waiting for Song Ran’s reaction, Bubu started laughing by himself first, happily giggling for a long time before he crawled out of the roll. He hugged the comforter, saying with great pride, “Little Q is the robot that Dad assigned to protect me.”
The answer was too sci-fi. Song Ran found it hard to believe.
“That’s right, it’s a robot. It’s Dad and Uncle Kraus’s creation, and it’s even older than me.” Bubu forcefully nodded, speaking with great familiarity as he elaborated, “Little Q is already on the seventh generation. Altogether there are three models, big Little Q, small Little Q, and medium Little Q. Because I’m very small, the small Little Q is more than enough to protect me, so Dad sent me a small Little Q.”
Upon hearing this, Song Ran’s face was full of question marks.
What big, small, medium… It didn’t make any sense that he had lived for twenty-three years, yet could not even understand a four-year-old child’s words.
Song Ran asked again to confirm, “It’s really a robot?”
“Really!” Bubu nodded so much his chin almost stabbed into his chest. “When Dad isn’t at home, Little Q protects me instead. If I get feverish or cough, Dad will know about all of it. Dad’s job is to make Little Q more capable, so it can know who’s a good guy and who’s a bad guy. This way, if a stranger breaks in, Little Q can get rid of them!”
Get… get rid of?
Song Ran recalled the image from a little while ago of the big cocoon approaching him as its red lights flashed menacingly, and his hair stood on end. “Get rid of… how?”
“That… that, I haven’t seen before either.” Bubu rested his chin in both hands. “Anyway, it will knock them out for a few hours or so, I guess.”
Startled, Song Ran dropped the hand towel that he was holding.
Because of the phrase “will knock them out for a few hours or so,” Song Ran had fantastic sci-fi nightmares all night.
First, he was besieged by a few hundred big cocoons that were all flashing their red indicator lights. Frightened out of his wits, he ran for a few kilometres, but when he turned to look back, he discovered that the big cocoons had changed into Baymax from Big Hero 6, immediately followed by Spiderman, Batman, Iron Man, and the Fantastic Four, all of whom took turns appearing. Finally, it mysteriously cut to an animated cartoon world filled with hopping Pokémon. No matter where he went he could hear a constant stream of Pikachu, Pikachu, Pikachu…
Song Ran roused from slumber, and groggily stared at the ceiling for a while in a daze. He could still hear the lingering echoes of Pikachu, Pikachu, Pikachu…
Wait a moment, wasn’t this dream too realistic?
He suddenly reacted in the next second, rolling out of bed. In his haste, he didn’t even have time to put on slippers before dashing out of the bedroom. He pulled out the children’s cell phone from Bubu’s small backpack and pressed the ‘receive call’ button. At the same time, he forcefully slapped the electronic clock on the coffee table—3 a.m.
He bonelessly flopped onto the sofa. “Hey.”
Esteemed Mr He, do you remember that there’s a time difference between us?
The other party had heard him. Completely unsurprised, he laughingly asked, “What, you couldn’t bear to allow Bubu to sleep by himself?”
“Exactly, who told me to be so soft-hearted.”
Song Ran rudely retorted, placing particular emphasis on the word ‘me’, in order to stress the contrast against this biological father’s cold heart of stone.
But He Zhiyuan was not angry; he merely smiled.
The screen in front of him currently showed the home monitoring function, displaying a bedroom devoid of people. Originally, he had still been slightly concerned, but now that he had confirmed his child was sleeping at the flat across the hallway, he let out a sigh of relief. With a click of the mouse, he turned off SwordArc’s nighttime patrol function and leaned back into the sofa. “Bubu tends to sleep poorly in unfamiliar beds. Is he sleeping well in your home?”
“You asked the right question. Bubu is sleeping particularly well! With suuuuuch a noisy ringtone in the middle of the night, I’ve already been woken up eight hundred times, but he hasn’t stirred at all.”
Since Song Ran’s sleep was interrupted, he was in a foul mood. He closed his eyes while lying belly-down on a pillow, and could not be bothered whatsoever to conceal the barbs in his voice. “Mr He, right now it is 3 a.m. over here. I’m practically tired to death, and Bubu is also sleeping very comfortably, so if you have something to talk to him about, can you have a little patience? At the very least, wait until tomorrow morning…”
Speaking up to this point, he suddenly froze up.
Right, it’s currently 3 a.m. No matter how senseless Papa He was, he wouldn’t have any reason to pick this time to call Bubu. Could it possibly be that…
Song Ran was slightly confused. “You knew Bubu didn’t return home?”
He Zhiyuan replied, “Yes.”
Song Ran was even more confused. “This… how did you know?”
“I have surveillance cameras in my home.” He Zhiyuan smiled as he explained, “It’s on the big cocoon that you saw.”
After hearing the first half of his statement, Song Ran showed a ‘so that’s how it is’ expression on his face and nodded repeatedly. As he continued to listen to the second half of the statement, he startled so badly that person and pillow tumbled to the ground together.
How could the other party know even these details?
He and the big cocoon had only faced each other for ten seconds at most; Papa He had no reason to find out!