“So Angeta finally got into the foundation realm! Good for her,” Rhea slowly drawls as she moves for the first time in hours.
I see her lazily lower her sunglasses. Usually, she doesn’t need the things, but I’ve been cranking up the intensity of the suns inside Tree slowly. The lands around Tree have been growing at a rather prodigious rate. This is due to all the qi being imported from all the towns and thanks to the increase in the hustle and bustle and thanks to a massive injection of rowdy dragons. The expansion has shown no signs of stopping yet. All that new land needs more light, so now the moon is a perfect sunbathing spot. At least for a couple of hours in its orbit. I usually don’t send Databases’ physical housing, the large white ball she is sitting on, this close towards those bright balls of fusion. I’m working out some stuff, and the usual process that kept the moon in a proper orbit hasn’t worked for a while now, so the orbit is a bit wobbly at the moment. At least she is getting a proper tan.
“Finally,” I reply out loud. “Maybe now they can grow some backbone. I’m pretty sick of Selis’ death threats, and Tess and Ket have started sending some pretty gnarly messages too. They got super cranky after switching places, pretending like it’s my fault.”
“Now you are just projecting, Drew. They aren’t cranky,” the dragoness replies while stroking my arm. “You are just angry and interpreting their valid complaints as unreasonable.”
“Selis writes elaborate torture porn, Tess does sociological tricks and torture while Ket promises all kinds of experiments that will boost my pain receptors. I am not projecting!” I angrily shout, projecting my voice even louder than usual.
The sensation of Rhea’s wandering hand shifting over to my chest comes across clear as day, if distant in a rather abstract way. I want to say something about it, but as I’m working on a tricky bit, I don’t want to spare the effort. She then glides off her own chair, and I feel her press her body against mine.
I refuse to be distracted, not even pretending to be happy at the increased amourous affections the stupid dragon is putting on full display. It’s not really me that she is clinging all over, after all.
I glare at the small cylinder of super dense stone in my hand. Sitting inside the middle of Database and taking up the place my qi clone previously occupied is getting boring. It’s awesome training, but I’ve been at this for over two months now, and I’m going stir-crazy.
Cabin fever? Try stuck-inside-a-moon fever on for size. I sigh while going over the reasons I decided to go on this self-imposed exile again. I’ve got to keep the bigger picture in mind.
The first reason is that my qi clone had started showing signs of diverging. It had started out as a rather simple construct of my power. All the external and ambient qi coming from the crystals hanging above the towns was affecting it. Not quickly, but in a couple of hundred years, the qi clone would have diverged too much to be useful to me.
Secondly, I need to train my augur or liquid Will. My expansive rocket production facilities - which are now repurposed for a task I’ll get to in a second - have finally managed to produce results. The projectiles shot at the rockets from the defensive satellites orbiting the planet finally got to a low enough density. I started training over a month ago when the least dense projectile was only three times heavier than ordinary matter. This allowed me to make the matter my own, properly integrating it into my core by flooding it with qi. The very thought that I’m sitting inside my own core is still hard to truly conceptualise, but I’ll get over it.
I take a deep breath, immediately regretting it as the air is pretty dank in here. Taking a slower deep breath while opening some vents, I think back to why I’m even doing this. The black, square Dungeon cores that are controlling the Dungeons are made from super-dense matter. This matter, a couple of thousand times heavier and denser than anything mundane, is arranged in cubes. Those blocks all have central information atoms that are visible to all atoms inside the cube.
And I need to know what material those central atoms are made from. I’m not too keen on seeing Rhea slowly being denied existence again. Seeing her hand being eliminated from existence block by block still haunts me sometimes.
I blink away the distracting thoughts and get back to what I’m doing. I briefly notice that Rhea is looking at my qi clone with a twist to her mouth before ignoring the stream of sensations coming from that portion of my energy. I then keep glaring at the pencil size stone in my hands. It’s around ten times the density of the normal stone. What should have felt like a metal pen now feels like it’s made from lead’s heavier cousin. I then breathe out, saturating the small space with even more qi while worming my augur into the last bits of the object. My qi is sucked up by the thing at a rapid pace, the sucking sensation rather uncomfortable.
I might not fully understand all of this Tree-is-now-my-braincore business, I’ve at least managed to glean some rules. All the matter that was previously here was already thoroughly soaked in qi that still retained hints of my fingerprints. Turning that power into purely my own qi allowed me and Tree to make a somatic link with my core and this pocket dimension that was so strong, it became the same thing. So now this entire subdimension is basically inside my brain. Or the single most powerful link to this dimension, the main portal of information and power, currently resides inside my brain. Either way, for all intents and purposes, Tree is now my cultivation base, and my cultivation base is Tree.
And when it comes to controlling qi, there are two main lines of thought — internal and external control. Pure physical power tends to come from internal control while casting large magics comes from external control. Inside Tree is both internal and external for me, allowing me to do some pretty crazy shit. The effects of my Will are amplified a hundredfold here. Changing the structure of solid objects is easy, as I can exert my internal and external energy control on them simultaneously. Instead of just pushing on the outside of something to make it change, I’m simultaneously shifting its insides.
This only goes for the matter that is truly mine, though. Just bringing any old junk inside my core - or other people and creatures - means that I can only apply external control until I’ve made that matter mine by saturating it with my own qi.
And because I want to be able to gain a better grasp of identifying super-dense matter, I’ve been training my qi control and augur sense using the nice gradient of densities that the orbital ammunition has provided me.
The moment I have one of the little cylinders of rock totally under my control, meaning I’ve mapped it with augur, I can pour my qi inside until it’s mine. The amount of qi scales with the density, so this little piece of stone ten times the density of normal rock takes a couple hundred times more qi to saturate. Smiling at the fact that I finally managed to integrate something with double digits density, I decide to take a break.
Rhea is actually feeling up my qi clone, and while it might be an extension of me, it still feels like she is giving someone else a handjob. I dissolve the qi simulacrum, ordering it to take up its previous position. The small yell coming from Rhea sounds oddly cute, and I emerge from the Moon’s surface with a large grin on my face. She then seems to realise something and starts grinning even wider than me.
“You got jealous…” she teases in a sing-song voice.
“No,” is my curt reply.
“Yesss, you did. You got jealous of your own clone.” Smiling like the cat who got the cream, or whatever that saying is in dragon form, she saunters up to me, “it’s okay though. It’s nice to know I can still have that effect on you.”
“You were nearly snogging a puppet made from energy. I’d be worried about that instead of accusing me of nonsense.”
Rhea shrugs before changing the subject in a none too subtle manner. “So, how’s the Will training?”
“Ten. And my excavation drones claim to have gotten something good. They found the lightest artefact yet on the south pole. Want to come with?”
“Sure,” she replies while casting a glance at the pancake of Tree’s jungles up in the sky. “Only Keeneff and that Ka-Gaar ancestor he ran into are doing interesting things. A shame that… I’m sure that uncle would have…”
The mood immediately takes a nosedive. I resist the urge to touch my storage ring, the simple black band holding the doubly frozen dragon corpses and the hastily captures souls. “I…”
“South pole, was it? Let’s go!” interjects Rhea. “And I hate to admit it, but you are right. Even like this, when they are beaten down systematically, stuck in their human forms, they still refuse to really learn.”
“I thought of something for that. We could allow them to enter their dragon forms. That way, they can get the shit beaten out of them even more. Scales can take a much heavier beating than skin.” I’m glad that the intense grief and sadness behind her eyes fades quickly. I’ve laid out the options at least five times now, but she keeps hesitating on what to do with the dead dragons. Flight members actually dying was a sheer impossibility for most of her life, so I can understand that she needs a lot of time to get used to her uncle being dead.
“That could work. Will you make a portal to the outside world, so that the transformation energy can flow into their transformation organs?”
I grab her hand as we start walking towards the small building on the opposite side of the moon. I can technically pull us through time, dimension, and space towards the south pole from here, but being near the collection of portals makes it a lot less energy intensive. “I was thinking more about something like a substitute energy? You’ve got the process down, so you could be the source of the power, maybe? I’m not going to open up large permanent portals to my own core when that moon, that Nexus, is still up there.”
“I’m guessing that’s a good point. Bassik and the other eyecores that are in the know have been reporting an increase in volume, but a decrease in the effectiveness of transmissions.”
“Yeah, I read that. Pretty cool how the entire system is built around a lack of higher energies. Qi scattering information like that might explain a lot of things.”
“Yes,” she replies, and I sense that she has mentally wandered off. I sigh deeply, wishing that I could give her better options to choose from when it comes to her uncle. His brain is pretty damaged, though. Repairing and healing that organ will only go so far, and combined with the damage the frost did, I’m not sure the dragon will even remember anything.
I shake myself free from the morose thoughts and call up the unique callsign of the central drone hub on the south pole. Instead of manually controlling a bunch of semi-autonomous drones, I just plopped a central controller down that acts as a relay and recharging station. Also, it’s main cannon shaped armament guarantees that no more of those pesky ice golems can threaten the organisation.
I pull us both through the portal, and we land on the ice-covered plains the next moment. On one side, there is a framework made from girders, a veritable forest of small metal spikes jutting from the small tower. Drones walk, fly, roll, and glide past us, either returning to recharge or leaving when full. To the other side, there is endless ice. And lastly, I stop Rhea from stepping backwards, as she would have tumbled into the massive hole that is being excavated.
I suspected that all this super dense junk has some deeper meaning, so I set up a massive digging undertaking. It took the mass production lines under Tree only a few days to produce the massive number of drones scutting about. The design work I had to go through in order to make the buggers easily recyclable feels like it took longer than churning them out. Another set is working on the north pole, doing the exact same thing.
Hopping into the large crater, I quickly slide towards the results of what they have been doing. The large pile of dark and randomly shaped items resists any and all of my scanning processes. I can sink my qi, and thin threads of augur, into the ice around me. The collection of mysterious junk that has been excavated resists such scanning attempts to a large degree. I walk across the roughly hewn path? towards the place indicated in a recent report. I pull up the information reported by my drones while I make my way over there, barely even noticing as Rhea touches down behind me.
The lightest item they have come across yet. Coming across this thing was actually a problem. The average superdense item weighs a couple of tonnes minimum. This couple of hundred-kilo thing threw their programmed routines for a loop. The escalation protocol brought it to my attention, which is why I’m currently here. An object in the shape of a hammer, weighing around two hundred kilogrammes.
I bend over and pick it up, feeling the sizable heft of the all-metal thing. A rather standard ball-peen hammer with a solid metal shaft. It’s pitch black, which is not that surprising. I’ve noticed that light has a hard time escaping from surfaces that contain slightly different physical laws. This hammer seems to be black just because it’s black, though.
“This is it?”
“Yeah, here,” I reply as I toss it to her.
“Oof,” she replies, stumbling back at the unexpected weight.
“It’s twelve times as dense, I think?”
“What is all this stuff anyway?” Rhea asks while idly tapping the hammer against an eye-searing fractal cube. “You keep talking about how this is special, but what's it all for?”
“I’ve got ideas, but I’m not sure. I’m thinking that this was trash that came from an experiment or something. It all comes from space and seems to be deposited here on purpose. Not sure why. The items seem to become simpler and less dense the further down, though. So the most complex things got tossed down here the latest. Speaking of…” My sight is drawn upwards as I spot one of the sporadic shooting stars coming this way.
“Wait, is that thing coming this way?”
“So that thing is several tonnes?”
“Probably more. A couple of these bad boys are megatonnes.”
“And shouldn’t we leave? Won’t your bots get damaged?”
“We really should, and yes. This is the fourth collection of bots, I think. A shame, though. They just got all their elders cleaned up and managed to recreate the trash stack.”
Rhea then looks at the drones busily scuttling around. It’s really neat how recyclable they are. I’m just using a couple of simple compounds and alloys that don’t want to mix, even when melted to slag.
“It’s coming really close, though. And it’ll land five meters to the left?”
“Yeah, you are totally correct.” I smile gently while taking the heavy hammer from her loose grasp. She turns to look at me, reads something on my face, rolls her eyes very hard, touches my necklace, and disappears. I can only grin as I jump upwards, letting myself be buffered by the shockwave that comes from the super dense meteoroid turning my drone operation to slag once again.