Chapter 185 - Supposition (2)
“For the last time, no, I’m not sure this will work. Since we started this stupid fucking rule that bans both of us from using battle mode, I haven’t been sure of a lot of things. This entire project would cost a mere ten seconds of actual time, you know.”
“Sure. And you’d be a stranger again. How long would this take, a year? A hundred? Your memories of me would long since be relegated to your soul, and you’d have this clinical look of separated interest in your eyes again.”
“That’s what that is? Damn, I never thought of it that way.” I pause my qi control for a moment, focussing my mind on Rhea’s words. I never really looked at this issue from that perspective, but spending massive stretches of time in my own head does indeed rearrange my memories quite a bit. All my short term and recent memories would be taken up by the problem, forcing me to dredge all remembrances about Rhea up from one of my mental databases or vaults. “Okay. A little uncertainty might not be so bad once in a while. We could do it together, maybe? Split it up in stretches of a couple of weeks while synced at the same speed.”
“Why the hurry. I’m already immortal, and you dying of old age is also unlikely. Our worst case predictions give us decades before things become truly critical. We’ve got time.”
I focus back on the task. “Yeah, okay. We got time, but I’m starting to feel antsy. I’m too used to having years to think about even inconsequential stuff. Everything is just going too fast right now.” The silent boil of worry in my gut is something I’m no longer used to. I’m not sure if Rhea had this in mind when she suggested that we stick to realtime, but all these unaccounted variables and roughly estimated chances I see in the future are making me anxious.
“I’m willing to soften the requirement to ‘potential danger’ if you can’t handle it?” Rhea is looking at me while holding a sheet of finely crocheted patterns. The thread is made from one of the plants Valerius had been cultivating. It's a qi infused variant of a local weed that produced surprisingly strong fibres. We throw the folded fabric over once again before I pick the surprisingly small bundle up.
“I think this is good, though. It's been a while since I felt this uncomfortable. I haven’t voluntarily stepped out of my mental comfort zone for the past couple of centuries.”
“So you see this as… uncertainty training?” I can see the sparkle of humour in Rhea’s eyes as we walk over to Tree.
“Yeah, I guess you can say it like that.” I smile back at her while taking a deep breath.
The atmosphere inside this little dimension has changed a lot. It’s been less than a month since Rhea and I kicked out everyone, starting the qi diaspora. The power level inside Tree has only risen slightly, as the immense increase in power inflow is largely absorbed by the three foundation realm cultivators living here. None of the marked mutants I kidnapped are strong enough to constitute true power drains as of yet, but Lola, Rhea, and I are absorbing immense amounts of qi while we cultivate.
“This really blocks everything, right?” asks Rhea again as she touches her new sunhat.
“Who knows. It blocks everything I know of. The entire electromagnetic spectrum, mana radiation, qi radiation, loose qi, loose mana, as far as I know, it even blocks gravity on an extremely small scale, smoothing out spacetime in a few metres around the wearer. If there is something like soul radiation, the sheer amount of power we stuffed inside these should be enough to disrupt that too.” I touch my own hat, a floppy cap of roughly woven grey fabric. “All subatomic particles are either absorbed or deflected.”
“You forgot about the sound, please lecture me more.”
“How could I forget! All sounds outside the audible range are filtered, disallowing any manipulation through mechanical waves. All audible sounds above hundred and twenty decibels are also muted. Did I forget anything?”
“Is this how not entering combat is affecting you? You just jump at any chance to enter lecture mode?” She looks at me with a smirk plastered across her face.
“Let’s just go already. This wait is killing me,” I deflect while shuffling on my feet.
“Okay,” is her reply.
The bundle of folded cloth grasped between us, we both step through Tree’s portal at the same time. We pop into existence in the middle of empty air under a cruising drone, and gravity immediately asserts its hold over us. We start falling like a brick, and I take in the sights.
The continent that I have labelled the Chaos Continent truly lives up to its name. I caught a glimpse of its general layout during my brief stint of spacewalking, but it’s a rather disorganized place. Ordinary looking stretches of jungle are interspersed with purple hellscapes of brittle and bubbly rock before giving way to endless banks of fog. We flew over a tundra made from slow-motion green flames not too long ago, and I can see the edge of a fractal pattern mountain range not too far away. It’s literally like the neatly organised levels of the normal dungeons are laid out right in the open. Below us is a massive crater, a perfectly hollow void of naked ground and sharply cut rock. This is bordered by a forest of blue crystal on one side and a roiling ecosystem of smouldering coal and fire on the other.
“Drew?” Rhea asks as the wind whips her hair into a wild tangle.
“Yeah, sorry. Let’s do this.” Instead of letting my thoughts stray some more, I synchronise my actions with Rhea. We perform the well-rehearsed movements beautifully. We throw the tightly wrapped bundle up and away from ourselves, throwing it at an angle. Our throwing manoeuvre causes it to spin rapidly, making it unfold like an artificial jellyfish. We both will the air to arrest our falls, and it solidifies under our feet.
“One thing bothers me. Why are the qi levels here so low? We’re measuring higher levels at even the furthest points away from any qi spewing dungeon on the Order Continent.” Rhea has lifted her hands up into the air, sending controlled lines of power to certain points of the unfurling cloth.
“I think it’s because of how these cores are configured.” I spare one hand to motion downwards, indicating the open-air dungeon core below us. The floating black rectangular object hangs in the air, unmoving, right in the middle of the circular crater. “They seem to be from a mass-produced origin. I’m assuming they are universal units that can serve a lot of purposes.”
Frowning in concentration, Rhea is silent for a bit. “Why, though? Why would someone ever use something as powerful as a reality manipulating supercomputer to manage a dungeon? Doesn’t that seem overkill?”
“Who knows. A lot of junk toys used to contain electronics that only a couple decades earlier, would have cost thousands.”
We are both still for a bit. The finely woven web of formations, formulas and runes hangs but a few meters above us. I look down again and see we are drifting slightly. I will the wind to bring us back to the ideal position, just above the central point of the empty sphere below us. The floating dungeon cores are obviously responsible for eliminating any matter in a perfect sphere around themselves. We theorised that making a shielding formation in the shape of half a sphere, just a tad bit larger than the empty zone around the core, would be ideal.
Making the entire weave spherical took some doing, and a bit of experimentation. The creation of the oversized doily was rather easy. The best method of deployment was what we've been stuck on for the past few days. Once again, I suppress the surge of irritation that comes when I think how easy it would have been to just spool some qi through my brain and brute force the problem over a couple of subjective months. No, instead of taking the optimal route, Rhea insisted that we do it in realtime, together. Infuriating.
“No reaction yet. Can you think of blowing up the moon?” I ask while smoothing a few creased areas with applications of qi.
“Yes. But maybe we shouldn’t talk about that?” Rhea looks around nervously as if she expects an enemy or an eavesdropper.
I tip my cap. “I installed a sound dampening system. Not a single bit of information - besides light - escapes from us. Only we can hear us talking.”
“No. If the automated security system is good enough to barge its way through these kinds of defences without setting off any alarms, we’ll be dead no matter what we do. We’d need millennia of constant cultivation in that case. If these are post-ascendancy containment systems, or maybe even protection against inhabitants of a layer above that one, we’ll never win anyway.”
“I guess… Anyway, it's done. Should we start?” Looking resigned, she continues checking the perfectly spherical formation for faults.
“Let’s boot it up!” I happily tie the two most central threads together, connecting the mana collection formations to the qi generation nodes. Power immediately flows through the faintly conductive wires. The formation works less on physical principle - as common plant fibres just aren’t that conductive - and more on the interpretation Rhea and I give it. My drones work through physical rules mostly, but because this entire shield won't need to function when there is no-one near it to give its symbols meaning, we managed to cut a lot of costs.
I lower myself in the air, watching with a smile on my face as the thing starts spinning. The soft hum resulting from wind rushing past the threads turning into a higher pitch slowly. Then all its formations are suddenly powered fully, and it becomes a white blur as it reaches operational speeds.
“Should we get Bassik? I can’t sense the data streams coming from the moon.” Rhea is still on edge, a nervous cast to her entire stance.
“No need. I’m flexible in other ways,” I deadpan.
I could tell from the way Bassik, the first eye-core cultivator, reported his experiences that he could see individual threads of meaning even in the initial stage of that system. The details with which he can observe entropic differences is honestly rather baffling to me. This is not the first time the common sense of the Cultivation World is useless in the face of the absurd ways this planet’s inhabitants use qi, so I took it in stride. It took some experimentation and changes of perspective, but I can copy the way his eyeballs seem to function to a lesser extent through my braincore.
I close my eyes and imagine a single eyeball in the emptiness of my braincore. No, that’s not completely correct. I turn the emptiness of my brain core into a single eyeball. I scan both of my eyes with a small net of augur, picking and choosing features from both. I add blood vessels, the nerve cluster, a lens, and more, slowly adding detail. I carefully craft the various layers, making a symmetrical amalgamation of my own set of eyeballs.
I open my eyes and see a web of brightness woven across the heavens. Around me, I see thick beams of meaning flow through the air towards destinations around me, down below, shooting through the void of space high above. The moon - hanging low above the horizon - is a spider in a complex and ever moving web of automated conversation. Instead of the sharp and fibrous lines of communication described by all eyecores, I see faintly blurred connections. It's like I need glasses. I hum silently as I take in the sight. The downside of a slightly blurry entropic vision is well worth the immense versatility that comes with a mutable braincore, I think.
“Yeah. It’s working, not a single bit of information is coming through. It’s not even scattering off of the shield, as Bassik described before. It just vanishes. One of the additional countermeasures we wove into it must be doing its job. I can't see which one though.”
“Good,” is Rhea’s much-relieved reply. She hesitatingly takes off the wide-brimmed, straw sunhat. Her face is scrunched up in concentration. “And I can think of kicking Nexus’s ass and shitting on those fucking dungeon bricks all I want!” The genuine happiness on her face is only marred by the vicious and vitriolic glare she sends at the core below us.
She drops half a metre before I can stop her. I grab her by her arm, barely keeping her outside of the Dungeon cores area of influence. “Look…”
“Oh, shut it,” she snaps at me.”I’m not letting you go in there on your own. You barely got out last time, merely having to die sixteen…” She falters, then resumes with fire in her eyes. “You only died sixteen times, right? And with me there, you might actually stand a chance. If there is one thing us dragons are good at, it’s not dying. I can’t remember reading or hearing about one of the Flight perishing, ever.”
Knowing when resistance is useless, I grab her hand instead of her arm and start descending.
The air shakes our very bones. I spread my qi in a cloud around me, and feel large volumes of air suddenly disappearing. The wind rushing into the violently appearing vacuums behind us kicks up quite a gust. I cover the entire empty sphere around the dungeon in a thin application of my spiritual sense. I feel parts of my qi wanting to flicker out of existence, but a simple application of my will prevents any of it slipping from my grasp.
“Listen here, you little shit,” I admonish the core while floating nearer to the hovering black monolith. “I’ll leave a small sphere behind us unobserved, so use that if you need to communicate. If you start shouting at me like that Mana Dungeon idiot did, before the moon re-took control, you can just shut up, okay? And I don't see that big boy up there helping you out anytime soon.”
Rhea and I stop when we near half a metre from the black object. White lights flicker inside its blackness, giving us the illusion that the thing is an eternal void filled with stars.
“It’s pretty,” is her first reaction.
“TTHHAAAANKS,” I hear from behind.
I stifle a giggle.
“No problem. Now, please let us study your insides,” is her followup.
I can’t help but let a chuckle escape. I let the two converse some more as I observe the moon. I can barely see it above the forest of ice crystals now that we are hovering at ground level. It will lower beneath the horizon in a few hours, and I’m not keen on testing whether or not its way of beaming information down is powerful enough to go through the planet itself. I take out a large spool of thread and call up a miniaturized version of the massive shield rotating around us.
“Come on, let me in!” Rhea is trying to touch the rectangular solid. She flinches each time her hand comes close to its surface, and I see bits of her fingertips disappearing and reappearing in a high-frequency struggle.
“It won’t hurt, I promise.”
“Aw, come on. Just a little bit?”
As my girlfriend and an alien supercomputer argue about whether or not it should let her penetrate it, I crochet a half-spherical doily with a radius of a dozen meters. There are a lot of things wrong with this entire situation, and even more variables are unaccounted for, but maybe sometimes a bit of uncertainty isn’t so bad.
Previous Chapter Next Chapter