Chapter 156 - Toiling
“No! You incompetent asswipe! The prototype can't just disappear!” A student dressed in a long white coat throws pieces of paper and small tools at a figure on the other end of the table.
“Stop blaming me everytime your stupid fucking wet fingers drop something!” The victim of the assault deflects most projectiles and starts throwing items back.
“IT’S A MASSIVE PIECE OF METAL! Where could I have dropped it you mongrel!”
“HOW SHOULD I KNOW! I turned around, and it was gone, you snot fuck!”
The fighting duo is inside a large room, white stone outlining large windows that hold large glass panes. The view is spectacular and otherworldly, showing a growing hubbub of white buildings and training grounds with a golden tree and two mountains floating off into the distance.
None of the room's occupants appreciates the view, however. Most of them are doing their own thing while ignoring the two men that argue like a married couple. A few are cowering behind their own work tables, and some others are actively betting on the outcome.
The room is filled with all kinds of weird looking things, from complex metal contraptions to tools and chemical supplies. The walls are lined with cupboards that are slowly being filled with more stuff. People are walking in and out of the laboratory, dropping off freshly made materials or taking away items now and then.
A loud bang causes everyone to freeze. The two fighting students stare at the large metal object with wide eyes. Fog wafts from the rime covered muzzle and starts covering the floor in a cool mist.
“It’s back! Oh, my baby, who took you?”
“Hey, you’re not going to admit I didn’t steal it then? Tsk, should have known, slippery greaseball. Hey, miss Re-Haan sent me a notification… wow… Alright, you all got to see this.” The beastkin closes his eyes for a moment, causing the space around his head to warp with wafting heat.
“-helping me maybe? Her leaf has a little bunny face on it!” A round image pops into view, showing two people standing on a wooden sailboat.
“Did you try taking the fruit from your tree? Maybe you can make use of the products directly?” The entire room is silent as everyone stares with fascination at the display in front of them. The moving image is pretty grainy, and the beastkin is starting to sweat from the effort, but everyone can easily see the frozen section of sea and monster just ahead of the boat.
Re-Haan produces the flaming apple to very little murmurs. The room explodes into discussion when she pulls the large cannon from thin air and starts blasting the sea with it.
“-where is it? Has anyone over here seen my prototype? I was about to test it.” A blue-skinned female barges in furiously, stopping as she sees the projected image.
Teach’s voice sounds from the image. “Throw that thing away now! What the fuck are you doing, you crazy woman! Don’t go pulling grena-” The newcomer pales as she sees the pillar of rising seawater caused by the explosion.
Everyone looks between the fading pillar of water, Re-Haan’s smiling face, the duo of students, and the trembling newcomer. The blue female coughs once before speaking. “Hey everyone. You know, I laughed at some of you when Database and Tree had to intervene and imposed penalties. The ultra high-pressure steam boiler or that optimal exothermic reaction test that got forcefully stopped? Yeah, I would like to apologise for laughing in your faces at that time. And a free tip, do not mess around with nitric acid compounds too much, they tend to explode. Bye!”
A short moment of silence happens as the beastkin gasps while letting the imagery fade. His rival sneers and speaks. “Okay furball, I guess you are good for something after all. Anyway, the missus was borrowing our cannon, no need to start throwing stuff at me.”
“You started thro… no, don't let the grease stain get to you… You bare assface, let’s review the data then. She kept it on default. Cold and a water carrier. Hmm.”
“A single shot used. Energy usage in a real-life situation is half a per cent higher than in the simulations. Now why woul-”
“Qi containment field. It drew the extra power.”
“I was about to say that you cur!”
“Then do so instead of whining. We need to figure out how to load it again when it’s empty.”
“Replaceable charges. Database is building a rough prototype as we speak. I designed it while you were playing with moving pictures.”
“That design is a total rip off of that gun thing Selis was waving around! The desert bird thing. Making a large central storage area with qi cables feeding multiple cannons is much more sustainable and much safer.”
“Okay, I gave you too much credit for the moving picture thing. You did see the rectangle with moving images that Teach has installed on the boat, right? It wasn’t in the final design so he must have made it. At least that object won’t spout such idiotic drivel. A single weak point? One lucky hit and all the cannons are toast!”
“So, fragile and explosion-prone packets of compressed and volatile qi is a better solution? And that screen is half a million points.”
The discussion between the two devolves into name calling and personal attacks again as the rest of the researchers collectively decide to ignore the duo. A few brain- and gutcores start working on producing more cannon barrels after a softly murmured discussion, registering their tasks on Database. Another group starts planning and performing some actual tests concerning the reloading problem.
Down the hall, a blue-skinned female frets over the pile of small metal objects that are piled on her desk. She casts a glance at the complicated setup of glassware and heaters that have allowed her to produce the deceptively innocent looking objects. She has a stone on her forehead while murmuring in a panic. “No, come on Deebee! Don’t take away my raw materials rights. I didn't know!”
Tears start welling in her eyes as she sits down with a defeated slump to her shoulders. “Yes, I know I haven’t passed the explosive safety test yet, but… No! I haven't touched pressure explosives since my ban! And I didn’t even think about nuclear stuff since your warning… This is not a real explosive, just a rather quick deflagration! That’s not the same at all!”
The blue woman keeps pleading with the information storage construct, without any results. She sullenly throws her small stockpile of high explosive devices out the window. The bare stone surface of the moon opens up, swallowing the dangerous items one by one.
“There, I did it! No need fo- NOOOOOOO!” She collapses to the floor as she receives a message. Re-Haan just ordered her to go and welcome newcomers for an entire day! A whole day in which she’s not allowed to do any experiments. No discussion with fellow scientists or watching other experiments go wrong for a full twenty-four hours.
Her braincore hurts just thinking about it. She shuffles down the stairs, past all the other room filled with people doing interesting stuff and walks out in the open. She looks at the large square building and slowly makes her way over to the enclosed area surrounding the apartment complex. A wide variety of students are standing there, welcoming the wide-eyed and hesitating newcomers that trickle out of the building.
Some qi-less dumbass is standing off to the side, shouting stupid stuff about how Database and Teach are bad. The woman scoffs and sends a small thread of qi towards the beastkin, gently prying at the wooden planks of the box he is standing on. She notices more strands of qi doing the same thing as her, and she grins.
The beastkin has face planted under a chorus of laughter by the time she reaches the gates to the grassy fields of the complex. The qi she used for the small sabotage is sucked up by the moon but this is a small price to pay in her opinion.
Inside the building, a boy is waking up slowly. The last thing he remembered was Ket and that pretty girl - Tess, if he recalls correctly - taking him and the rest of the kids to Ket’s old shack. The boy was relieved to be free of that terrible smelling place and the black muck he was covered in. So relieved that he didn't really pay attention to the fact that Ket’s shack was in its previous place again. He had looked for the place for hours, if not days, and would have sworn it had disappeared.
Then Ket had pushed them through a white line in space, and he’d blacked out.
Opening his eyes, the boy doesn't move a muscle. He sees a completely unfamiliar ceiling with a small glowing object shining with a bright white light. He moves his eyes slightly, seeing an otherwise white and simple room. Then he smells the food. Cooked grains with herbivore meat in a spicy sauce.
Many questions spin through his mind. Why didn’t he smell that sooner with the scent so extremely thick? Where is he? Why does he feel a web of tubes running through his entire body? Did Ket sell him? Maybe the black haired girl? Where are his clothes and what is this soft white thing he is wearing?
The questions keep piling up as the boy gets up and starts eating. The incredibly intense sensation of taste overwhelms him for a bit, adding to the weirdness that’s going on. Observing the room, he sees a rather large bed with white sheets, a desk, a chair and a small table that contained the food. All of it white. Except for the small green stone laying on the desk. He reaches for it, but his short stature prevents him from reaching the green gem.
He doesn’t dare to stand on the chair, it’s polished white stone and white seat covering looks very expensive, after all. Instead, the boy pushes the door open. Or at least he tries to. Only after a full minute of stubborn effort does he manage to slide the door open a crack. Peeking through the gap, he sees a white hallway, doors similar to his own placed on both sides. And he sees a face, entirely black, peering through at him from behind its own door from the opposite room.
“Hey,” he tries.
“Hey,” it replies.
“I’m Corl. What’s your name?”
“I’m Willa. Where are we?”
Corl recognises that he is talking to a girl from the tone of her voice. Her pitch-black skin colour, black eyes and bright green hair tells him that she is from the far eastern savage tribes. Her accent - a rarity when changing the spoken language is seen as a rebellion against the Flight - is more proof that she is far from home.
“No idea. Let’s find out. I think I know a guy,” Corl replies, puffing up his chest and walking out of his room. The door slams shut behind him, making him jump slightly. The girl also walks out and Corl can see that she is wearing a simple white dress and is clutching something in her hand.
“You know what’s this?” Willa asks while holding her hand open. Corl looks and sees a small green stone, similar to the one he couldn't reach in his room. A simple picture of a face with an object on its forehead is engraved on its surface. Corl squints and sees a smaller face in the object. And that smaller face also has something on its forehead.
Rubbing his throbbing eyes, Corl shrugs, grabs her hand, and starts walking in the hallways direction that does not end in a blank wall. They walk down a set of stairs, looking around anxiously. The flight of stairs ends in a small hallway with a bright doorway. The sounds of a busy city echo through the stark white hall and Corl speeds up.
“Two little kids… Fuck me, why did two unintelligent little things like these have to come out on my tuuuuurn? DeeBee, do you really hate me so much?” Blinking against the light, the two kids stare with open mouths as they walk out of the hallway.
Neither of them is sure what to focus on. A pissed off blue woman is staring down at them. The dark blue sky contains a cluster of small suns in combination with a large circle of green forest, a tree, two mountains and a large stretch of flat water. Their immediate vicinities aren't much better. The green grass is too short to be natural, the wall surrounding the building is too smooth and white. The buildings jutting upwards behind said wall look like a giant squeezed an entire town together.
“Okay, you two. I will be your guide until you know what to do. Come, follow me. I’ll give you a tour. And we get free food, that should let me salvage a little bit of this waste of time.” The blue woman takes the two kids by the hand and starts dragging them off.
“Fighting rings, don't bother unless you're a heartcore. The gut- and braincores can win, but only a few rounds. This qi sucking place sucks for magical fighting. That’s our weapons testing bunker. Do not go in there. That’s the clothing compound, go and get some clothes as soon as possible, those white threads make it too obvious that you're newbies. Anyway, let’s get some food here… And I guess you can ask me questions.”
Having dragged her charges over to a terrace filled with tables and chairs, she sits down and starts looking at the menu, a piece of wood containing a list of foods, drinks and a link to a section on Database containing more information. “Only the cheap stuff? Can't even get a five-course meal with this induction coupon, tsk...”
Corl and Willa are still staring at all the things around them. Corl is especially intrigued by the many places where people are sparring or training while Willa is looking at all the buildings. It is silent for a few peaceful moments. A beastkin walks up to them and asks if they would like to order. The woman rattles off an order, which is immediately placed on the table, the beastkin's ring glowing softly.
“Do you know Ket or Tess? And where are the rest of my friends? And what's your name?” Corl speaks up after a while.
“Seen my parents? Were in cage next to mine. Mister Teach told me to ask for them. And why are you using the free meals for yourself? That’s not allowed, stone told me so.” Willa speaks up, frowning at the blue woman.
“Stone?” Corl asks.
“Here.” Willa puts the stone she’s clutching to the boy's forehead. The two start chatting animatedly about the stone’s information. Although largely the same as the initial version of the data packet, the contents have been updated with the latest developments. The arrival of Corl and friends caused the latest information change, lessening the information about the three core locations and encouraging the newcomers to experiment with qi under controlled circumstances.
Corl animatedly tells Willa about his experiences with qi, stuffing it into his blood. He downplays his panicked episode of bleeding black goo from his ears, eyes and… everywhere. Willa tells him about the few beastkin wanderers their tribe used to receive and how they did impossible feats of strength with their bodies and mana alone.
The blue woman is now a pale blue, all the blood drained from her face. The realisation that these two seemingly insignificant brats have connections to the original students and Teach himself had her heart racing. The fact that Corl has made up an entirely new form of cultivation and will be receiving loads of points the moment he decides to tell Database this information made her regret her hasty actions even more.
The previously delicious food now tastes like ash in her mouth. Skirting and bending the rules is normally not punished unless acts of purposeful maliciousness are performed, but she is doing a punishment mission at the moment. Taking the allotted food for herself and not even checking if they both had completely comprehended the contents of the introductory stone can be seen as willful negligence, she realises. Her braincore spinning at full speed, looking for a way out of this mess, she hears another voice.
“See kids, there they are! Look, Corl even made a new friend, how nice. And there’s also you...” Slowly, the blue woman turns her head. Staring into her eyes with a face full of sweetness, she recognises one of the original students, namely Selis, surrounded by a gaggle of kids.
“G-greeting miss Selis… How are you today?”
“Hmm. And you paid for that food with whose points? Aha. Hmmh.” Selis has a finger to her ear, undoubtedly pressing on a piece of jade, as she mumbles to herself. “You haven’t told anyone your name? What is it with you colour skins and not telling names? First Green and… Ah, I'll call you Blue.”
Blue is about to protest but is cut off by a smiling Selis. “Okay, Blue. Here is the rest of this lot. The parents of that girl will be out in a bit, older people always see the need to bend the rules, you know… Have fun with them all. Your point earning block will be lifted when all of them are students. Have fun kids, follow her from now on, bye!”
Blue stands up, panicking at the prospect of having to herd a dozen kids for the foreseeable future. Selis waves a hand, summoning a cloud of menacing ice shards. They start rotating and grinding against each other, forming a threatening display of aquatic control. Selis then zooms off, the ice forming majestic wings.
The blue-skinned woman sits down dejectedly as the kids start asking questions non-stop.
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