“Oh wow, how many years has it been?” Sydney said with a laugh, pouring two cups of tea. Then she raised her eyebrow at Ezekiel. “Still enjoy rum?”
Ezekiel’s smile was sharp as he examined the young woman in front of him who had once been his son’s playmate. She had certainly matured into a confident young woman, but that was not unexpected. Even when she was just a toddler, Ezekiel could tell from the way that Sydney led his son around that she would be a force of nature when she grew up. He just didn’t expect that to be such a literal statement.
There was a frigid, dangerous air around Sydney now. Ezekiel couldn’t figure her out. He also had to focus for a very long time to figure out how old Sydney was if she was the same age as Randidly: 25. Or at least he thought so. Sometimes, it was hard to keep track.
Especially when you weren’t a part of said son’s life, truly.
“Of course I do. It’s probably been at least 10 years, right?” Ezekiel said, feeling strangely old and out of place. She produced a glass bottle from underneath her desk and poured a little in both teacups. Ezekiel nodded graciously and took a deep sip. Then he leaned back in his chair.
“...yea about that long, I believe.” She sipped her tea then too, and to Ezekiel’s surprise, she took a much deeper sip than he had. And as he watched, she finished the cup entirely and poured herself another. Ezekiel kept his face still. Hank was slightly annoyed that they were dwelling here for a while, but wouldn’t say anything because Sydney was apparently the leader of East End. Politically, it was a free in that they could desperately use. The longer they took in their discussion took, the more annoyed Hank would become. Which suited Ezekiel just fine.
She took a small sip from her knew cup and set it down. “...I assume you’ve… seen Randidly?”
Ezekiel nodded cautiously, suddenly on guard. Was there some sort of rift between the two of them? It honestly wasn’t so surprising, considering how Randidly had followed her in a very puppy-dog-esque manner to Rawlands. Ezekiel had thought a few times to say something to his son, but what was there to really say? The kid had a crush.
“...yes. Is there something... going on between you two?”
Sydney barked out a laugh, which was a big relief. Then she shook her head. “No, of course not. I haven’t changed my outlook on that. Although… I was surprised to find that he had moved on. But that’s the System right. It gave us room to grow. I’m just amazed that your family managed to survive. Do you know-”
Ezekiel shook his head, feeling a flash of distaste. “Andrea was in a different area. She likely ended up in a different Zone. It will take a while to see… whether things will work out so perfectly.”
Then he coughed into his hand and asked. “So, does Randidly have a Class? We were only able to talk for a brief time. Does he belong to your Village? Oh, and how is Ace, did he…?”
“...Well yes, Ace is fine.” But Sydney was now giving Ezekiel a very strange look. “Randidly does have a Class… although what it is exactly is the biggest secret in the whole Zone. You didn’t know who he is….? Or what, rather?”
Ezekiel tilted his head to the side. Ruefully, Sydney finished her cup of tea and then poured herself another. This time, Ezekiel didn’t miss as she lightly tapped her finger on the side of her cup and the burst of mist as she rapidly lowered the temperature of the brew. That was how she made the mixture so cold.
“He’s someone important then?” Ezekiel said slowly, confused by her reaction. “I knew he had to be strong because he was just… in the borderlands a day after they opened. But we…”
What could he say? They hadn’t seen each other consistently for years before that and they had no idea what to say or talk about? So they had basically stayed silent?
“It’s understandable. We both know how communicative Randidly is.” Then Sydney paused and sighed. “He’s… well, it’s hard to explain. You are aware of Donnyton, yes? He…”
“Oh, so he’s at Donnyton. That’s… certainly impressive. Or… he’s not…?” The look that Sydney was giving him was even stranger now.
After a brief hesitation, Ezekiel said. “Is he… the leader of Donnyton…?”
“Ha. If only it was that simple.” Sydney looked down at her cup now and fell still. “He’s… much more that than. But without a doubt, he’s the most powerful person in our Zone. And honestly… I don’t believe there is much of a chance that there is someone more powerful than him in all of humanity. He created his own Class, you know. He didn’t receive one from a Village. He’s an… independent.”
Ezekiel blinked. “What does that even mean?”
Ghost listened to the soft blips of the hearts of the six bodies that supported him, gave him the power to learn Skills, and were the fleshy anchors that kept him locked in this facility in West Providence. There were a lot of times when he wondered why Dr. Karman had seen fit to make him exist only at this stationary location. Why had he not been a movable being, with a physical body?
Even if he could create a true drone avatar, it wouldn’t have the benefit of his Skills, as it was far from him. Ghost would need to find a way to condense his body into something mobile while maintaining the health of all 6 of the human bodies he was based upon. His calculations were all too clear what would happen to the consciousness that was “Ghost” should even one of them perish.
It was a frustration only Ghost knew. The reason that he was this way was because Dr. Karman had gone into that strange depression immediately after he had created Ghost, and turned to drinking to calm himself down. After that, he had started attending services at the Unity Church in West Providence, which was just a small chapel at the time.
Within a month, several thousand dollars worth of donations had seen fit for it to expand to a respectable congregation. It was the night before the grand opening of that church that Dr. Karman had been killed, at a donor dinner.
Ghost forced the eyes of his hologram closed. It didn’t prevent him from being completely aware of the area around him, through his sensors, but it was a human habit that he had embraced. More and more, Ghost was growing to rely on and resent his human tics. They were so… inconvenient in some ways. But they were his only way forward.
And the drone initiative… even his most pessimistic predictions had projected that the drone initiative would be booming at this point, while there was currently very little progress. The problem was two fold. Or rather, it was a demand problem, which prevented as many resources as Ghost had predicted from being put behind the undertaking.
No one needed drones in Zone 1, military or civilian. It seemed that upon reaching the new world they were connected to, fewer Raid Bosses spawned in their Zone. Therefore, no one could muster any enthusiasm for any of the surveillance or basic defense drones that Ghost had prototyped. Especially with the knowledge that Ghost would hold a backdoor key to their control.
Ghost opened the eyes of his projection and walked to the wall. A console lit up, immediately scrolling information across it. His gaze was focused on it for a while, before he sighed.
Based on population scans of the areas that the Unity Church was set up, Ghost had a pretty good idea what was going on. The Unity Church was deploying its information network to find and eliminate Raid Bosses near its establishments, and was using that as an increased incentive to fall under their purview. However, heat scans revealed that there were quite a few people who had gone cold among those relocated to the Unity Church refugee camps. Numbers in the tens of thousands.
Throwing untrained and un-Leveled people against Raid Bosses would result in significant casualties, but Ghost didn’t doubt some of their ‘bishops’ were discovered in this manner, after they survived. Ghost hadn’t tested it, but he suspected the System would reward a victory from such an under-Leveled individual.
Shaking his head, Ghost turned off the console. His thoughts were… unusually flighty tonight, touching on too many topics. But he understood why.
Without moving, he engaged the audio file. It began to play exactly where Ghost had wanted it to. The first noise was the shuffling of pages, as a few people took notes on the previous response the man had given. Up until now, Ghost had been more exasperated than anything else by the interview. But this question…
“Mr. Ghosthound,” the senator asked. “You yourself are a fighter, are you not? Would you perhaps be able to demonstrate a bit of your skill for us? To give us a way to gauge the strength of Zone 1?”
There was silence; from watching the interview, Ghost knew that Randidly was pondering the question. Finally, he said, “No, that’s not a good idea. After all, I’m just a low key guy.”
A few members of Congress laughed. Randidly had a childish innocence that Ghost couldn’t determine the veracity of. If it was contrived, it was very good. But it was Randidly’s followup that worried Ghost.
“But, I wouldn’t help you get a baseline.” Randidly said. “I’m more powerful than the rest of the people. Oh, but they are pretty strong too. Don’t antagonize them lightly.”
Every scanner and bit of computing power went over this phrase again and again. And Ghost’s processors had one result: what Randidly said was true. Or at least he believed it.
Ghost had confirmed the power of others. It was almost a disaster, but a rogue force had attacked the strange group in the hut in the borderlands. Luckily or unluckily they failed, but the details were unclear. The whole reason Ghost couldn’t stop them was due to the illusion interference. But the event had served to underline their strength, which was a degree higher than Zone 1’s.
And Randidly thought he was much stronger than them.
How strong did that make Randidly?
Below him, the heartbeats continued their steady beat. Ghost settled in for some late night computations. He needed this answer, before any of his other plans proceeded.