I mentally hold my breath. “You ready?”
“Are you sure this is a good idea?”
“Haha, no. I am not. Are you getting cold feet?”
“We won’t die, right?”
“Alright, we are speaking in questions again. Let’s do this!” Where my face capable of moving at the same speed as my thoughts, I’m very sure I would be grinning like a madman right about now.
I bring the entire core into my mind’s eye. I ignore Database’s warning, not really caring that my qi clone doesn’t like it when his jade housing gets above a thousand degrees. Jade’s melting point, of both jadeite and nephrite, is around twelve hundred degrees, so it’s totally fine.
Instead of forcefully putting every single atom in my head, as I did with all the denser projectiles, I clearly imagine two blocks. One block is a million by a million hydrogen atoms, packed tight and artificially held into a perfect primitive cubic lattice. The other partial element I keep in my mind is the unique atomic layout of a single cubic processing element.
I use both of these to reconstruct the floating Dungeon Core in my mind, atom by atom. The outer shell is made up of near uncountable numbers of hydrogen blocks. Instead of feeling the strain of having a truly absurd number of data points inside my mind, the instances keep the mental load to a minimum. I give Rhea full access to my mind, something only possible because we used to share a cultivation point once, and she goes over the entire thing alongside me.
“Damn, it’s really stark in here,” she comments.
I’m too mentally occupied to answer in full, so I just grunt questioningly.
“Your mental space. The previous sphere of segmented processes you had is gone now.”
“The one you broke, causing me to mentally ascend for a bit?”
“Haha,” is her uncomfortable laugh. “I meant that it’s very neat in here.”
“Just because I want it to be, I’m literally trying to walk down the path of ‘something out of nothing’, you know.” I take a glance at her own mind, following the stream of qi and Will she’s using to communicate with me. I catch a dense web of trees, branches, fruits, and loamy earth. All of it is a translucent white, and I see that her mind is filled with a massively dense network of capillaries transporting information. Then the entire image I’m receiving starts squirming. “Are you mentally blushing?”
I send her the biggest shit-eating grin that I can imagine. I carefully censor the relief I feel that she hasn’t gone down some kind of spiderweb or fiber network route. “I think the outer shell is done. Let’s do the cubes next.”
“S-sure,” she replies a bit too quickly.
I keep grinning while loading the super accurate map of the processor cube from Database. It keeps complaining some more, my qi clone now nearly shouting at me that parts of its physical housing are actually reaching their melting point threshold. Asking it for a status report, I see that it’s been crawling as well, spending a lot of qi in keeping up with Rhea and me. Deciding that we’ve done enough with Database, I tell it to stop slowing down time. “Database is actually nearly melting, so we’re on our own now.”
“Got it,” is her distracted reply.
I feel her small threads of Will continue where I left off, connecting every single silicon atom to our sensor network. While she does that, I busy myself with slowly and carefully mapping out all the processing cores.
I still think the entire design is rather genius in a stupid kind of way. The inside of the Dungeon Core is made up out of hydrogen, the same as the outside. The only difference is that there is a grid of silicon atoms suspended inside the hydrogen. When dividing up the Core’s insides in such a way that every silicon atom is at the center of a cube, all the cubes are similar copies. One such cube has the unique property that every single hydrogen atom has a clear line of sight to the central silicon atom. Every single cube is laid out following a three-dimensional implementation of the golden mean, and a rather stunning application of mathematical principles. I make a mental note to give Ket access to this data later; he’ll probably cream his pants.
“Done,” reports Rhea.
“Cool, now we just got to instantiate this thing.”
“Got it,” she replies before there’s mental silence between us once again.
I make sure to occasionally keep an eye on the environment, preventing Nexus from interfering again. We toil onwards, increasing the accuracy of our Core scan slowly. After what feels like weeks of work, we are done. “I think we’re done.”
“Blerg,” replies Rhea.
“Agreed. This is not as fun as I thought it would be. Anyway, how about it?”
“It should be good to go? Are our cultivation bases safe? This still feels rather unsafe to me.”
“It’ll be fine. I can keep watch if you want?”
“Really?” she asks softly. “It was my idea in the first place.”
“Yeah, I’m holding the map in my mind, so I’m the only one that’s needed. You could start work on figuring out how to cool Database down?”
“It really is nearly melting, wow.”
“I’ll just sit here. I’m wondering about something anyway.”
“About what?” she asks while mentally pulling back. She slowly hands over the threads of augur she is keeping in place, and I add them to my own control. She also sends me some metadata concerning the thickness of the Core’s outside shell, and I add that to my mental model of the alien supercomputer.
“We left some qi inside the thing when we fled last time. It could do some pretty gnarly things with that power, so I think it might have a trick or two up its sleeve once we set the qi injection in motion. I think it’ll start attracting the beasties for miles around even without any orders from up above.”
“You just want to test out your sword! And here I was worrying about nothing,” she scowls at me, a pout audible in her communication.
“And that’s the last bit! Thanks.”
“No problem. This is pretty crazy, though. We don’t really know what could happen?”
“If Nexus is going to react in the way I think it’ll react, then this is a window we really can’t miss.”
It’s silent on the mental line for a bit. “You’re right. I’ll start the assault.”
“Cool. Be safe.”
“Naturally. I’ve got lots of sleep planned. The universe won’t watch itself end, right?”
“You got it,” I smile back at her while sending her a kissy face.
She sends one back, and I can feel her mind reaching out to Tree, asking to be let inside again. I give a mental shove, and she slips from the current dimension, stepping into Tree with minimal effort. The qi in the air got in the way for a bit, but is easily overpowered with a small application of Tree’s power. Teleportation is going to get really costly when the qi gets thick in the air, maybe this core sucking up all the energy isn’t that bad of an idea after all.
“Let’s get this party started, then,” I hype myself up. My foot is still mid-kick, firmly pressed against the Core through my thin sole. I start moving a bit of qi from my heel towards the black surface. As the qi moves in slow motion, and I’m no longer mind-linked with Rhea, I release my hold on my thoughts.
I compared a braincore to psychic powers, espers, or psions before, and it’s really quite fitting. I never really had anyone else to figure this stuff out with, and the mental world of a non-braincore is too different, but I think I’m getting a hold on this mind-play stuff. Good thing, too. I really didn’t want Rhea to figure the real reason I wanted to go and visit a core.
I’m scared to death of these things.
They can warp reality to whatever they see fit? These fucking things have tried erasing me out of existence a couple of times now. They tried just to make me disappear. Vanish, not even leaving a grave, ash, or a bloody mist behind. Just gone. Just like this particular example did with Rhea’s fingers.
For a while there, I thought that I was suffering from commitment phobia. On the Cultivation World, the culture, people, and customs were just too alien for me. Based on the concept of face instead of honor, I was constantly suffering from culture shock and never really felt like I fit in. Always schemes behind schemes behind pretty pictures, from the poorest beggar to the highest immortal lord.
Here, this world is different. It has more of a Western fantasy feel, the culture having touches of both face and honor, but leaning towards the path of inner integrity. And now I’ve got people I like, people I care about. And I will not see them removed. I will bet my left testicle that the fucking moon up there, that bastard Nexus, has got some more aces up its sleeve. I refuse to believe that a bit of qi in the atmosphere is capable of disrupting its entire communication network.
I can already see it. My entire student body, all of them raring to go. They launch, using whatever contraptions, tools, and techniques that they came up with themselves. Then they vanish one by one, Willed into nothingness by an overload of calculating power.
And I will not have it.
I’d much rather sit here, on top of the very thing I’m afraid of, working to cripple the most potent tools that Nexus has planetside while at risk of immediate erasure myself than to have that happen. All the Cores working together, while there is qi for them to burn around them? Yeah, that’s a worst-case scenario on a lot of levels.
I’ve thus set things in motion. Taking Rhea with me and letting her come up with the idea of revenge was something I came up with a while ago now. I’d forgotten it since then, of course. I’d fooled myself into thinking this plan is so super unimportant; I’d never need to think of it again. That’s the only way in which I can avoid leaking ideas when mentally linked with someone. That’s the only method I’ve found to keep something from someone you are somewhat sharing a cultivation base with. I’ve just got to deem something so unimportant: it’ll never even cross my mind.
I turn my focus downwards and see that my qi has traveled halfway through my sole, making its way towards the Core’s outer shell. I could start slowing down the qi rushing through my brain, but I really missed the quiet and stillness that comes with a proper deep crawl. It also allows me to go over what this mental link thing is.
Whenever Rhea moved her liquid Will, I knew. Not just because I sensed it, no. I knew why she moved that Will. The entire train of thought, all the mental musings and emotions cumulating into Rhea moving that strand of power was just there, ready for my perusal. This sheer lack of privacy kind of bothered me at first, but now that I’ve found strategies to counter the leakage of the most critical info, I’m honestly fine with it.
I also got the feeling Rhea was sanitizing her thoughts somehow, and she is probably also hiding a few things. That’s fine with me, as we all need our secrets.
Except for Nexus. That stupid moon has caused me enough terror and can just go die. The fear of losing even a single one of my students - at least one of the people that I’m familiar with - is the single impetus why I’m out here alone. Checking inside Tree, I see that Rhea has stopped crawling and is nanoscopically slowly shouting orders at the busily milling crowd.
I tear my focus away from there, knowing full well that if I want to come out with my life and cultivation base intact, I will need to use my entire focus.
My qi hits the outer layer of the Core, and I hold my breath. Previously, it had just seeped through the threads of augur that Rhea and I had wormed into the Core. But now I’m theoretically holding an atom-perfect map of the entire thing inside my mind, so it should go differently.
In a rather anticlimactic manner, my power spreads out in a semi-circle. I push away my relief at seeing my qi act like I’ve slathered the entire thing in liquid Will. Instead, I start the process of slowing down the qi rushing through my mind. My sense of the world around me trembles a bit as part of my brain slows down unequally. I stamp down on my feelings of discomfort and smooth out the tornado of power in my skull.
The qi bloom under my feet continues its march forward, its progress seemingly slowed by the fact its front grows exponentially. The circle grows, and I start streaming qi through both legs in order to speed up the supply. I also begin to sit down. If I’m risking my life anyway, I might as well do it in a relaxed manner.
I spent a few relative minutes like that, slowly speeding up the world around me. The moment my qi penetrates the outer shell of the Core, I shift a large portion of my attention to observing the outside world. Nexus still seems incapable of penetrating the qi contaminated atmosphere with its data broadcasts, but I start weaving the patterns Rhea’s eggheads came up with through the air anyway.
The Core doesn’t really react in any significant way to the presence of my power. It seems that the core is in a dormant state, and even though my power has the ability to supercharge its workings, it’s just potential. You can give someone a super power-up, but if that person decides just to sleep, it’s not going to affect anything.
Processor cube by processor cube is taken over by my qi, and I very carefully don’t think about the fact that I’ve only got a fraction of a fraction of the entire Core truly mapped out. I don’t even entertain the notion that I’m faking my own qi by only doing a fraction of the work, and I ignore the resulting ripple of instability that comes from not thinking that thought.
Instead, I focus on slowing my crawl in a controlled manner. Watching the entire thing get saturated while the world is slowed down by a thousand times is not my idea of fun. I keep the expansion of my qi going at a sedate clip of a centimeter a second, and before I know it, the entire top area is clad in my power, and the advancing qi no longer slowing due to a growing front.
Things settle into a routine for a bit then. The qi trickles its way through the Core, and I make damn sure that not a single thread of data coming from Nexus manages to reach the black rectangle. The shining lights deep inside it start showing signs of moving erratically after a while, but it’s a rather sedate change from my still slowed perspective.
I even manage to spare some time looking at the jungle around me. The closest piece of greenery is still a good bit away, and I’m not even looking at the damp forest, but my peripheral vision is so good at this point I might as well be looking at it through a pair of binoculars. The main change I see is the size of everything. Qi allows for more of everything, and this usually shows in everything growing bigger. The sheer number of animals also seems to have increased. Funnily enough, although I see a lot of small and big beasts crawling around, not a single one dares to step inside the empty void cut out of the jungle by the Core.
Then the last corners of the Core are filled in, and things immediately change.Previous Chapter Next Chapter