Randidly wasn’t able to learn the Illusion Skill that Simon provided for the Zone, as he originally pledged to a different Champion to receive the Soul Bond Skill. But he was determined, and he had a lot of Mana to work with. Although he had a lot of negative emotions towards Lyra, he did learn from her how one could learn Skills the hard way.
Unfortunately, Randidly was not Lyra. Fortunately, Bruya’s skill with illusions had progressed to the point that her illusions would persist some time after she cast them. As long as he didn’t move too quickly, or use too many Mana based Skills that would interfere with the projection, it would likely last for a month or two.
Honestly, they weren’t sure how long it would last. The test they had conducted had only been a month and a half ago. However, it was more than enough for Randidly’s purposes. Besides, if there was an emergency, heading back for it to be recharged would not be difficult.
What was annoying was that Neveah had taken to Illusions like a fish to water. In her broken, but improving, English she mocked him relentlessly.
So two days after he had left the rest of his group, Randidly was at a mid-sized Village on the Western side of Zone 1. He had watched for the past two days and believed that this was a place that they wouldn’t look too closely at citizenship. Or rather, they needed labor so badly that the Tier of the citizen who did it didn’t matter.
Besides, who would want to work smelting steel for the new drone initiative? If they didn’t pull from the populous without citizenship, they probably wouldn’t be able to fill the factories.
His face was nondescript, and his hair was brown and to his ears. His eyes were also brown. He kept his body largely the same but added a bit of a belly to give him a more approachable vibe.
It was a dingy, smoky area about a mile out of the town proper, and there was a steady flow of grubby looking people walking towards the door to the factory. There was a gate there, and a man standing on a small platform. It had only opened a few days ago, the day before Randidly came to observe, and only now was it gaining momentum, it seemed.
There was a whole complex of freshly constructed factories next to the smoky factory they were entering, but they required at least preliminary citizenship in order to enter into those areas. The men and women around Randidly whispered that those factories are where they started to produce drones. Within those buildings, the designers and builders were quickly learning their art.
But as it had only been open for a few days, they couldn’t have earned many Skill Levels. If a person received enough money to buy a preliminary citizenship, then they began producing drones…
“It might seem like a lot now, but $10,000.00 will come more quickly than you think,” The man on the platform was saying. “We will buy the steel ingot from you for $1, more if you smelt a rarer metal. There are a few related Skills I can let you in on, for a fee.”
There was grumbling from the crowd, but several people went over to the attendant standing next to the platform, willing to pay for information about the Skills. The more quickly they raised those Skills, the more money they could make.
Randidly walked past this area, into the factory proper. He had done a lot of listening to figure out how he wanted to do this, and the faster it could be done, the better. The factory operated 24/7, but a lot of the workers went home at night, basically near the limit of even their System enhanced strength. More than that, they wanted to take the time to take some deep breaths.
Steelmaking was simple, if labor intensive. Iron ore was taken first to be melted, heat applied until only the raw metal remained. Afterward, the molten metal was taken to a blast furnace, where a great deal of the impurities in the metal were removed in a highly pressurized environment. Then, to make steel, a small amount of carbon was added to the iron, giving it its increased strength.
As the process was done in a pressurized environment, and controlling the amount of oxygen was very important, this made the labor exhausting even when an individual had a high Endurance. Pre-System, people wouldn’t be forced to do this all manually, but now, there was no reason not to make these people do it, especially when they were very cheap labor.
“10,000 ingots of steel, huh…” Randidly said softly, walking up to the trading station. There, he traded 5 of Zone 1’s dollars in order to purchase enough iron ore and compressed carbon to make 20 ingots worth of steel. In addition, he rented one of the smelting stations for $1 a day. The man outside made it seem like it was a simple thing to make the steel, but the owners of the factory made you pay for it, every step of the way.
Randidly also wondered where all this iron ore was coming from. It was true that the System injected a lot of minerals into the environment, but was there truly this much? And who was mining it?
Questions for another time. For now, it was best to focus on working up enough money to get the preliminary citizenship. There, it was said that it was possible to obtain Tier 1 citizenship if one became a successful drone maker. Randidly’s eyes flashed, as well as they could with his fake brown eyes.
His rented work area was cramped, but it had everything he needed: furnace, crucible, blast furnace, and workman’s gloves and apron. Randidly didn’t bother with these. He might regret it, but it would just raise his resistances higher, as well as Chosen of Fire.
To start, Randidly followed the instructions he had heard to forge the steel. It was long, hot work. Very quickly, he was sweating profusely, no matter how high his resistances were. He did gain a point in each of Fire Resistance and Chosen of Fire, which was rewarding, although it wasn’t the reward he wanted.
The entire time, of melting, moving the molten iron to the blast furnace, and then blowing away the impurities with pressurized air, Randidly kept a very close watch on what was occurring. However, very quickly he was helpless. Sure, his Perception made seeing through the thin metal walls of the furnace rather easy, but... he had no real experience working with metal. He couldn’t figure out what was going on within.
At the end, he poured his molten metal into the mold and let it cool. All told, 4 hours had passed. There was no doubt in Randidly’s mind that he could definitely shorten this down to 2 hours with practice, and perhaps 1 or 1 and a half with proficiency in Skills, but it was still, far, far too slow. Randidly’s high Stats made working through this level of exertion a sinch, but it didn’t mean that he could easily speed up the time it took for the metal to melt.
But Randidly had another plan entirely. He had never really considered the typical methods of forging it to be worth his time. Still, it was definitely worth the experience of producing steel the hard way, in order to understand the process.
After the steel had cooled, Randidly looked at it.
It was about 1 meter long and was about as thick and wide as a brick. But it was pure metal, if a little… speckled.
Randidly frowned at his first ingot. It seemed… that it had not gone quite perfect. Randidly could tell that the addition of carbon to the molten iron had not been done uniformly, and there were clearly patches of different density. Randidly pressed his thumb into it. It was clearly hard, not hard enough to stop his finger at full power, but likely at the power that it truly was steel.
The problem was that there were likely numerous flaws, and Randidly couldn’t even see them. He simply didn’t know enough about the metal. Curious, he brought the steel ingot he had created to the foreman, a man named Davey.
He eyed it as if it was the suspect in a murder. “...well, to be fair, my first bit of steel wasn’t much better,” He grunted, glaring at the metal.
Randidly’s face twitched; it had been a long time since he had felt so… bad at something. Since the System arrived, he had been worse than other people in some areas sure, but that was still just differences in mastery. Here, it seemed he was… Insufficient.
“Well, I can give you the dollar for it, but only because it’s your first,” Davey finally announced, taking the steel ingot. “I would, however, recommend purchasing the information regarding the Smelting Skills; that’s really the area that you struggled.”
He gave Randidly the dollar and then was gone, following the call of a tall, grey-haired woman. Randidly considered this for a bit.
Over the next two days, Randidly continued to smelt the metal the old fashioned way, without bothering to learn about the Smelting Skill. There was even a point that he was prompted to learn the Skill, but he denied it. He had already used 5 of his 8 free Skills since obtaining a Class. He would also likely need one in order to learn to make drones down the line, he didn’t want to waste one now.
During that time, it was only by his 13th attempt that he produced a steel ingot that Foreman Davey accepted. The rest he just snorted at and turned away.
“$5 in materials, two days at $1 apiece, and $9 in revenue from selling the steel… a $2 profit from 3 days.” Randidly said, looking up at the sky. He had learned a lot about the temperament of iron in the meantime, and his powerful Perception and Control finally settled into use, allowing him to minutely control the temperature in the furnace. Unsurprisingly, he had gained 2 Levels in Fire Resistance from brief burns and 7 Levels in Chosen of Fire.
Randidly smiled at the overcast sky above him. Then he turned and walked back into the factory. He swore to himself he wouldn’t leave until he had enough money for preliminary citizenship.