Embers Ad Infinitum

Chapter 5: “Star Cluster”

Chapter 4: Rumors

Translator: virtual group Editor: virtual group

Shang Jianyao held the piece of canned food but didnt respond, nor did he put it down. After a few seconds, he asked, “Can it sing?”

“Huh?” Chen Xianyu had lived for so many years, but this was the first time he suspected that there was something wrong with his ears.

At this moment, Long Yuehong entered the Rec Center with two yellow plastic lunch boxes and saw Shang Jianyao. He greeted him with a beaming smile. “Lets have dinner together later!”

“Are you treating me?” Shang Jianyao put down the canned food and stood up.

Long Yuehong shook his head without thinking. “No, Im not. Dont you still have a sizable allowance?”

Although Shang Jianyaos parents did not leave behind an inheritance, the company gave him a certain amount of compensation. When he went to university, he had an additional monthly 1,200-points allowance—something every university student had.

This allowed Shang Jianyao to have adequate food and clothing, though barely. The allowance stopped one month after college students started their work assignments.

Shang Jianyao did not show any embarrassment from being rejected. He smiled and said, “Shouldnt you share your happiness with your friends?”

“Are you trying to imply that treating you to a meal is the best way of sharing?” Long Yuehong had become more and more accustomed to Shang Jianyaos train of thought over the past two months.

Chen Xianyu chuckled and interrupted them as he listened to their conversation. “Thats right, Yueyue. You were still upset this afternoon, but youve already cheered up at night. You must have encountered something good.”

“Dont call me by my nickname…” Long Yuehong mumbled before he said with a smile, “My mom said that I dont have to wait until next year to get married via assignment. She and my dad have a few colleagues whose daughters havent gone to university and have just started working. Shes planning to introduce us to each other to see if we can develop a relationship.”

Company employees only had one chance to get into university. If they failed, they would be centrally assigned a job (after they started working, they would be recommended to attend university if they performed well). Usually, they were only 18 years old and not at the age when they would be forced to participate in a central marriage assignment.

Young people at this stage all yearned for the freedom to love. After all, this was definitely better than a random allocation. It was not purely based on luck but based on feelings.

Of course, not many people could truly fall in love freely. This was because, after starting work, they would leave home at 7:30 in the morning and get off work at 6:00 in the evening without leaving their positions at work. In between, they only had a one-hour break for lunch and dinner time. At 9:00 pm, the Rec Center would close, and the street lamps would go off.

Everyone would have to return home and get ready to sleep. Therefore, there were very few chances for young people to come into contact with members of the opposite sex. The time they could come into contact with each other was also limited.

Relatively speaking, whether it was in a normal school or university, free relationships appeared more frequently.

As Long Yuehong spoke, he suddenly felt a little depressed. “I dont know if theyll like me. Im only 1.75 meters tall after genetic enhancement. My looks are average, and my grades are only average. I wasnt earmarked by any department…”

“There seems to be something going on over there…” Shang Jianyao interrupted Long Yuehongs wallowing in self-pity and pointed at an old table a few meters away.

Quite a number of employees were gathered there as if they were discussing something.

Out of curiosity, Long Yuehong went over with Shang Jianyao. He scanned the area and saw an acquaintance. He then blurted out a question. “Auntie Ren, what are you guys talking about?”

Auntie Ren was a middle-aged woman in her forties. She wore a polyester shirt and had beautiful facial features. Her hair was tied into a simple bun. Her name was Ren Jie, and she was Long Yuehongs neighbor. She was an employee of the companys Strategy Committee, and she was only a D3.

Ren Jie glanced at Long Yuehong and sighed. “Were talking about a recent rumor.”

“What rumor?” Long Yuehong asked curiously.

At this moment, Chen Xianyu retracted his gaze and looked at the pile of military-grade canned food in front of him. He couldnt help but rub his stomach and gulp. He seemed to recall the feeling of eating military canned food back when he was starving.

“It really can sing… No, it makes my stomach and soul sing.” Chen Xianyu made the connection and sighed with emotion.

Meanwhile, Ren Jie surveyed the area and whispered, “Apparently, the company wants to strip everyone of their right to give birth.”

“Huh?” This topic exceeded Long Yuehongs expectations. He couldnt immediately understand what it meant.

Ren Jie looked at the smiling Shang Jianyao and continued, “The company might get couples who want children to submit their biological material under the guidance and help of doctors. They will then build a largefertility center in the Research Zone, which will do in vitro fertilization, artificial uterus development, as well as baby growth support and intervention.

“In short, when you get your child back, they might be several years old. Sigh, they say they want to free women from pregnancy and relieve the companys lacking labor force.”

When Ren Jie said that, a woman in her twenties couldnt help but say, “Isnt that a good thing?”

“How can that be a good thing?” said Ren Jie, her face darkening. “Its the gods, uh—the heavens that grant us the sacred right to give birth to new life. How can they pass this right to machines? How will you build a relationship with your own children then?”

“Yes, yes.” A man sitting diagonally opposite her stroked his hair and said worriedly, “Its said that the Old World was destroyed because of a series of forbidden and unethical experiments.”

Ren Jie nodded and turned to Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong. “Jianyao, Yuehong, whats your take in this? Do you guys also think that giving birth to life is the key to being human and that its a sacred right bestowed by the heavens?”

Shang Jianyao nodded without hesitation. “Yeah.”

When Long Yuehong saw Auntie Ren looking at him with bloodshot eyes, he hissed. “Yeah, yeah.”

“At least the two of you are sensible.” Ren Jie smiled.

At this moment, an employee smiled and said, “Arent you guys too serious? Its just a rumor. My uncle works at an organization directly under the board of directors, but he has never heard of it before!”

Ren Jie replied very seriously, “Im just reminding everyone. When the time comes, we must object if anyone comes to ask for our opinions.”

Some remained silent, some nodded, and some peoples imaginations went wild as they asked, “If this rule is really implemented, will marriage as well as central marriage assignment be canceled?”

The man, who had previously mentioned the rumor regarding the Old World, said with an accent, “No, it wont. Director Ji said before that a harmonious and healthy marriage is the key to maintaining employees mental stability in the current environment.”

Director Jis name was Ji Ze. He was a member of the companys board of directors, a vice-president, and an M3 executive. He often spoke on the radio, and he would greet everyone through the Rec Centers display at the end of the year.

While everyone was discussing, a ringtone suddenly came from the area beside the Rec Center.

Ding Ring Ring!

Except for a few people, most people seemed to hear the bugle to charge and stood up at the same time.

This time, the ringing came from the Supplies Allocation Market, reminding everyone that there were only three minutes left before the cafeteria opened.

Upon seeing his neighbors start to move towards thestaff cafeteria, Long Yuehong glanced at Shang Jianyao beside him. “I cant believe you agreed with Auntie Ren.”

Shang Jianyao looked ahead and said, “Try asking it in another way.”

Long Yuehong frowned and thought for a while. “What do you think of the fertility center system that liberates women from pregnancy?”

Shang Jianyao replied without hesitation, “Isnt that a good thing?”

Long Yuehong was speechless.

As they spoke, the two of them arrived outside the Supplies Allocation Market.

There was no door here, so one could clearly see the situation inside with one look.

On the left was a market with long tables and counters. Many employees who did not want to eat in the canteen were picking and choosing items while calculating in silence. On the right was the staff cafeteria. There were doors and windows, and a fragrance was wafting out of it.

The cafeteria door opened not long after, and the employees on the 495th floor walked in orderly with their cutlery or empty hands.

Shang Jianyao did not bring a lunch box with him. After entering, he separated from Long Yuehong and went to the right to get two wooden bowls and a tray. He then carried the cutlery and followed the people in front of him to different counters according to a fixed route.

“Half a pound of sweet potato rice.”

“One serving of stewed cabbage.”

“Two mixed-grain buns.”

“A serving of boiled potato.”

After walking past the four counters, Shang Jianyaos bowls were filled to the brim—stewed cabbage with boiled potatoes and two yellow steamed buns. The sweet potato rice filled up the other bowl that it appeared to be on the brink of cracking.

This cost him 14 contribution points: 5 points for half a pound of sweet potato rice, 2 points for the mixed-grain bun, 2 points for the boiled potatoes, and 3 points for the stewed cabbage with some oil droplets.

Finally, Shang Jianyao came to the counter that smelled the best. This was the counter for meat.

He looked from left to right, then right to left. He hesitated and said, “Give me a portion of braised pork. Give me more gravy.”

The woman in a grayish-blue uniform at the window counter held a spoon and scooped three thin pieces of red braised pork with alluring colors that were the length of fingers. She poured them into the bowl of sweet potato rice.

The gravy—the color of soy sauce—quickly spread out and moistened half the bowl of rice.

“Its a good thing you came early. Any later and it would have been gone.” The woman lived in the sameblock as Shang Jianyao. She was very amiable to him. “Thirty-two points.”

Shang Jianyao looked at the three pieces of braised pork and took out his electronic card before swiping it against the machine. He thanked her and took a bowl of free soup. After walking around the canteen for a while, he found Long Yuehong and sat opposite him.

“Wow, what a spread,” Long Yuehong exclaimed from the bottom of his heart when he saw his dinner.

Shang Jianyao ignored him. He first moved the portion of sweet potato rice that had been mixed with the gravy to the side, then picked up a piece of braised pork and took a small bite.

After taking in the sensation of the meats fragrance erupting in his mouth, Shang Jianyao quickly lowered his head and ate a mouthful of sweet potato rice that was not stained with the gravy.

He ate at an ever-increasing speed. By the time he finished the three pieces of braised pork, only half of the sweet potato rice and stewed cabbage remained. The boiled potatoes and mixed-grain buns were completely gone.

Finally, Shang Jianyao poured the stewed cabbage into his bowl and mixed it into the sweet potato rice and gravy. He finished it in one mouthful.

“How satisfying.” Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong put down their cutlery and sighed.

After finishing the soup, Long Yuehong casually asked, “Are you going to the Rec Center?”

Shang Jianyao shook his head. “Im returning to listen to the radio broadcast and turning in early.”

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