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Unveiling Hope in the Ashen Wasteland

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In the desolate expanse of the ashen earth, a belief permeates the hearts of all: buried within the peril and famine lies a relic, a key to a path leading to a new world. The fervent hope that discovering a unique key and unlocking a mysterious door can transport them to a place where the land flows with abundance, akin to milk and honey, where radiant sunlight washes away the cold and gloom. A place void of desolation, monsters, contagion, anomalies, and all manner of perilous threats. In this promised land, children revel in joy, adults bask in happiness, and everything is adorned with beauty. The inhabitants are free from the shackles of barrenness and the looming specter of danger. It is the utopia they dream of in the midst of a dystopian reality. Every scholar of ancient artifacts, every relic hunter, and every historian on the ashen soil is aware of this place – the New World. It beckons to them like a distant, shimmering mirage, promising salvation and a chance at a life free from the hardships that define their current existence. Amidst this backdrop, our story unfolds. A seasoned relic hunter, driven by a haunting past, stumbles upon a clue that could lead to the coveted key. As the protagonist embarks on a perilous journey through the desolate wasteland, they face treacherous landscapes, encounters with remnants of a bygone era, and the ever-present threat of rival treasure seekers. Along the way, the protagonist's quest intertwines with the lives of others – each with their motivations, secrets, and dreams of the New World. "Key to the New World:Unveiling Hope in the Ashen Wasteland" is an enthralling tale of hope, sacrifice, and the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity. As the characters navigate through a world teetering on the brink of collapse, the narrative delves into the depths of their souls, exploring the essence of their desires and the sacrifices they are willing to make for the promise of a brighter future. Will the key be found, or is the New World merely a mirage, a fleeting illusion in the desolation of the ashen earth? The answers lie within the pages of this captivating tale, inviting readers to join the journey and discover the mysteries concealed in the heart of the wasteland.

Chapter 1

The 495th floor, Zone C, with its exterior painted in grayish-green and adorned with various graffiti, served as the venue for their activities. Six or seven girls, each with expressions ranging from excitement to anticipation or nervousness, entered. Their clothing, though simple in style and monochromatic in color—primarily blue, black, white, and green—accentuated their exquisite features, embodying the essence of youth.

Glancing at the sole LCD display on the entire floor, the leading girl couldn't help but murmur softly, "I wonder what kind of husband the company will assign to me."

"Primarily, it depends on their personalities," the girl beside her, dressed in a green top and blue pants, remarked, biting her lip.

As the second generation beneficiaries of genetic enhancement drugs, they were unconcerned about the appearance and height of their future husbands, as all were above a certain standard. The leading girl cast a sidelong glance at her companion and said, "You forget, aside from people our age participating in the unified matchmaking, there are also those whose wives have passed away. Some of them are in their forties or fifties and haven't undergone embryo-stage genetic enhancement, resulting in various deficiencies."

To ensure an adequate number of newborns, their company stipulated, "Those who are 20 years old or have completed higher education and remain unmarried will have spouses arranged by the company. Non-compliance will be uniformly punished by the 'Order Supervision Department.' The first violation results in a reduction of energy supply and deduction of corresponding contribution points, while the second violation leads to expulsion from the company, left to fend for themselves in the gray wasteland."

Similarly, those who were widowed and childless were obligated to participate in unified allocation three years after becoming widowed and before turning 60.

"Moreover, even if not among these individuals, don't you all hope for your future husbands to be from M-level families?" Another girl joined the discussion, injecting a touch of humor.

Internally, the company was divided into three tiers: D-level employees, ranging from D1 to D9; M-level management, from M1 representing director-level positions to M3 corresponding to board members and chief scientists; and finally, without a letter designation, a single title—'Big Boss,' an exceptionally mysterious lady.

The girl in the green top and blue pants smirked and said, "When have you heard of people from ordinary floors being matched with spouses from the 346th to 349th floors?"

Those floors were where M-level managers resided, enjoying ample energy supply, with living spaces per capita exceeding ten times that of ordinary employees' floors. Additionally, these four floors had their own independent systems for elevators, purified water, ventilation, sewage, and education. Their children, under normal circumstances, would not come into contact with those of ordinary employees.

The only exception was during higher education, as the entire company had only one university, located on the 350th floor. Children of ordinary employees had to take exams to decide between entering the workforce or attending university, whereas the children of the management could bypass exams for higher education.

Within the company, everyone aspired to be part of the management, and no one was unwilling to establish connections with them. As for the "Big Boss," ordinary employees not only lacked contact but were also unaware of her appearance. They only heard her voice through broadcasts during year-end, year-beginning, or major events. Consequently, few entertained the fantasy of being appreciated by the "Big Boss" and swiftly ascending to the management level.

Of course, few did not mean none.

The leading girl chuckled at the comment, saying, "That's why I've always encouraged you to pursue free love in school. Look at Chen Bei; her husband was reserved by the 'Material Management Department' as soon as he graduated. There must be some background in her family!"

"Meng Xia, how can you say that? Why didn't you pursue free love?" other girls simultaneously teased.

"You all know me, don't you? My specialty is talking big," Meng Xia admitted without a hint of embarrassment.

After some laughter and banter, the girl in the green top and blue pants curiously asked, "Meng Xia, do you know the level of Chen Bei's husband's family? You two seem quite close."

Meng Xia glanced around and whispered, "He's the director of the Operations Cluster in the Security Department."

"Wow..." The girls exclaimed in admiration just as a group of young men entered the activity center through the main door.

After sizing each other up for a few seconds, both groups shifted their gazes somewhat shyly, as one couldn't predict whether their future spouse was among the others.

A man, approximately 1.75 meters tall with a neat buzz cut, surveyed the center's old tables and the long benches and chairs around them. He then turned to his companion, a taller man around 1.85 meters with straight eyebrows, bright brown eyes, distinct facial contours, slightly tousled black hair covering half his forehead.

The man called out, "Shang Jianyao, what do you think? What kind of wife will the company assign to me?"

Shang Jianyao's companion, wearing a dark blue two-piece suit that accentuated his muscular arms, answered with a touch of both masculinity and strength, "Firstly, you need to be assigned before you can discuss what kind."

"Haha, it won't be that unlucky, right? There are only two more men than women this time." The man, standing at 1.75 meters with relatively ordinary features, laughed.

His expression gradually sobered as he rambled on, "What if they don't find me appealing? I'm only 1.75 meters after genetic enhancement, not particularly handsome, and my grades in all subjects are just average..."

Shang Jianyao solemnly stated, "That's not the key; the key is your name."

"My name? What's wrong with the name Long Yuehong? My dad's surname is Long, and my mom's name has the character 'red,' which has profound meaning." Long Yuehong puzzledly muttered to himself, "Besides, the company's random assignment supposedly ignores height and appearance. It's said to eliminate blood relationships randomly... Ah, could they mistake me for a woman because of my name and assign me a husband? What do I do then?"

Shang Jianyao assessed Long Yuehong with a glance and remarked, "Organ transplantation, neural reconstruction, artificial uterus—all perfect solutions."

Long Yuehong forced a chuckle and said, "Haha, how could that be possible? I mean, they couldn't possibly make a mistake with my every piece of information, right? I'm male according to everything they have!"

"Your line of thinking is strange; wouldn't a normal person consider filing a complaint?" Without waiting for Shang Jianyao's response, Long Yuehong continued, "So, why is the key my name?"

"Names represent a person's fate, and random assignment is about fate." Shang Jianyao earnestly replied.

Long Yuehong's expression froze for two seconds before he retorted, "I knew you wouldn't offer any constructive ideas!"

As soon as he finished speaking, he shifted the topic, asking, "Shang Jianyao, what kind of wife do you want to be assigned?"

Shang Jianyao raised his chin slightly and declared, "I decline. The company's resources are insufficient, and humanity above the gray wasteland is in dire straits—engulfed by shadows of famine, infection, deformity, and bestial transformation. How can I, then, contemplate marriage?"

"..." Long Yuehong chuckled, "You're becoming quite the joker."

Shang Jianyao looked at him with a serious expression and stated, "I have applied to forfeit the unified allocation this time."

"Are you serious? Impossible! How could the company approve your request to forgo this unified allocation? Haha, I almost believed you!" Long Yuehong was initially surprised, but he soon breathed a sigh of relief.

As he spoke, Chen Xianyu, the supervisor of the 495th floor's activity center, left his position and approached the LCD screen to begin adjustments.

This elderly man, with graying hair and slightly unsteady steps, had once been part of the Security Department, responsible for external operations. He had risen to the position of D7 team leader. Later, due to age-related issues, he left the Security Department, ascended a level, and became the D8 manager in charge of the activity center on this floor.

Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong were curious about the old man's past. They enjoyed coming to the activity center, bombarding Chen Xianyu with questions. However, Chen Xianyu strictly adhered to confidentiality regulations, sharing only well-known anecdotes. He was like an ordinary employee born, raised, educated, worked, matured, and aged within the "Internal Ecological Zone," never having left the underground building to witness the real sky.

"All right, it's about to begin." Chen Xianyu held a remote control and pressed it firmly.

The display screen blinked a few times, emitting a faint glow.

Long Yuehong, Meng Xia, and others held their breath, awaiting the allocation results.

They weren't worried that the entries would scroll too quickly, preventing them from seeing clearly. Each floor's activity center displayed only the relevant results for its residents.

After the second hand of the old and possibly malfunctioning clock in the activity center completed three and a half turns, lines of text finally appeared on the LCD screen.

Meng Xia and the others quickly searched for their names and then breathed sighs of relief one after another.

For most of them, satisfaction or excitement wasn't applicable, but neither were they discontent. To them, this was no different from taking exams during regular times. As long as the results weren't too poor, it sufficed. After all, their fathers, mothers, grandfathers, grandmothers—all had experienced the same.

The remaining few were more puzzled, as they didn't know who their marital partners were, from which floor they hailed, or to which department their parents belonged—even after entering university and receiving higher education, their acquaintances were still limited to classmates from the same department and "neighbors" on the same floor.

Long Yuehong carefully scrutinized the results, muttering under his breath, "Why isn't my name there?"

"Because your name isn't good enough," Shang Jianyao, standing next to him, showed no change in expression.

"..." Long Yuehong wanted to refute but sadly found himself somewhat agreeing with the conclusion.

This time, there were several thousand individuals meeting the criteria for mandatory participation in unified matchmaking. The number of males exceeded females by only two. If it weren't for bad luck, an unfavorable name, and unfortunate circumstances, how could one become one of the two unlucky individuals?

Long Yuehong paused and exclaimed with bitterness, "Your name isn't there either!"

He didn't see whether Shang Jianyao had successfully been paired with any woman.

Shang Jianyao raised his right eyebrow slightly and remarked, "Didn't I already say? I've applied to forfeit this unified matchmaking."

"This, this, really? How could the company... how could they agree..." Long Yuehong was dumbfounded and perplexed, feeling as if his worldview had been overturned.

Chapter 2

He has lived for 21 years, and indeed, he had heard about certain individuals meeting the criteria yet not participating in the unified marriage allocation. However, all of them had sufficient reasons: either they were lying on a sickbed, on the verge of death at any moment, or they had joined the Security Department for external operations, uncertain if they could return.

For those in good health within the company and meeting the criteria, no one dared to violate the regulations. This stood as one of the core duties for company employees.

This matter dispelled Long Yuehong's sorrow, and he looked at Shang Jianyao, saying, "Are you prepared to accept the reduction in energy allocation?

"That's still acceptable. The most terrifying part is the deduction of contribution points. You won't even have enough to eat! For people like us who can only reach D1 level, with only 1800 points per month, having one-third deducted mea


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