Henrik wasn’t in his quarters, so Randidly left his new creation with one of Henrik’s assistants with a note. Randidly was filled with confidence in regards to this new Porpoise model that he had designed. He suspected that Henrik would miss some of the more deft usages of Randidly’s new runes, but even the more obvious side effects of his new model would undoubtedly win Randidly enough attention to begin working on more interesting applications of the runic system that Randidly had created.
Idly, Randidly wondered whether Ghost would be shown the creation. Undoubtedly he would. Would it be a simple thing to copy his runes? After some thought, Randidly decided that the details could be copied, but the execution of creating them was not something that many would be capable of.
Randidly was aware that there were other drone creators working, but they were all scientists who were trained towards mass production. Their transition to hand making all these different drones was not a smooth process. They simply couldn’t understand why these drones would behave so differently based upon how much attention they received. It wasn’t scientific, it was an art form. To them, this was almost disgust-inducing.
But it served to make “Baloo Erickson’s” accomplishments that much more impressive, so Randidly didn’t mind.
After three days of hard work, lost in the runes, Randidly felt he had calmed down quite a bit and had considered a lot from his previous interactions with Neveah. With a placid mind, he opened up a communication with Neveah.
Neveah, I was thinking. First, thank you. I cannot deny that you assuming my identity has freed me up for some things. You are also right that people will gossip about things I may or may not have done and there is little I can do about it. But that doesn’t give you a free pass to do whatever you want.
Neveah seemed to sigh. I know. But I want this.
Randidly almost chuckled. It’s a selfish thought. One of the first selfish thoughts I have heard from you. Which is why it struck me so strongly when you asked.
...Yes. It used to be… us. Now… Neveah seemed profoundly sad, and Randidly responded by flooding her with his impression of their connection.
Don’t go severing us too quickly, Randidly sent over mentally. How about this; honestly, I don’t give a shit whether people think I’m marrying someone. If it becomes a problem later… I’ll just burn my way through any obstacles to get what I want. But… you cannot use my identity to lure the girl in. If you tell Tia you are fake, I don’t care if the two of you decide to go through with the marriage.
Shaking his head, Randidly continued. I would think that it would be best to be completely honest, but considering your physical form… I’ll leave that decision up to you. If you refrain, I guarantee it will cause more trouble for you down the line. Still, as long as all parties close to the issue know that the real Randidly Ghosthound is not getting married, you may enjoy the spectacle of it.
Neveah sent her assent to his request, and then she brooded for several seconds. Finally, she asked. Should I tell Mr. Firefly I am a fake?
If possible, don’t do that. Randidly thought back. He walked out of his workshop and looked up at a small camera installed at the corner of the roof. If he knows… others will know too. If they know, this ruse is meaningless.
Neveah understood, but before she let go of the connection, she said. Also, you have been working, so you likely haven’t heard. Something happened late last night. You should check a news feed.
Ghost watched the humans in the room dispassionately. Alan Howard leaned forward, rubbing his arm. Likely because the technology was new, some of its implementations were still rough. The point where the needle had been attached to his skin for the past half hour.
Alan looked up sharply at the doctor. “Was it a success?”
After consulting some readings on the medical devices around Alan, he nodded. “It will take some time for your body to acclimate to the serum, but considering your prior physical stats… you will likely experience a 20% increase in ability.”
Ghost’s six fleshbags hummed beneath him. The serum was finally some fruit borne of research Ghost had started due to looking at some of Dr. Karman’s old notes. Still, he wouldn’t have been able to push it so far or so fast without the discovery of Randidly Ghosthound’s Elixirs. They weren’t able to get a sample, of course, but by studying the effects on Ezekiel’s and Affina’s body with nanobots, they were able to get something with an approximate effect.
The only trouble was, the elixirs were an absolute increase. The serum decreased in effectiveness the higher a person’s strength was. It was particularly frustrating for Ghost to feel outdone by a single human when he was a hyper-powered AI built by the greatest genius the world had ever seen, but Ghost’s analytics all pointed to the Ghosthound having a powerful catalyst that caused the results.
Without finding the catalyst, Ghost was helpless. But at least he knew that the Ghosthound was just lucky, not truly superior.
President Howard hopped from foot to foot, flexing his hands. He appeared pleased with the feeling because he flashed a wide smile. Ghost took particular note of this. A genuine smile was rare for Alan Howard. Perhaps some minor hormonal variance due to the serum? Or was the physical sensation of receiving the serum truly pleasurable? It bore watching.
Satisfied, Alan turned and looked up at the roof. “Alright, let’s walk and talk. Ghost, report on the Lake Apollo situation.”
Ghost pulled up the pre-prepared statement he had made around 7 hours ago. “As you are no doubt aware, Lake Apollo is a small lake in the Southwest corner of Zone 1. At the time of the borderlands opening it was revealed in the initial expansion. The lake is three miles wide and 7 across. Due to the particular challenges of fighting against water-based Raid Bosses, a military presence was established around the lake, but the Raid Bosses there were largely allowed to reproduce as they pleased. There were periodic monster horde attacks on the bases there, but that was considered an asset. It was the one place in the Zone where there were periodic, predictable encounters with powerful monsters. Generally, the attacking beasts would number under 1000, and between the Levels of 26 and 34. Most recruits did a rotation on Lake Apollo, to get a taste of combat before being sent deep into the borderlands or normal patrols.
“As more refugees poured into our Zone, an area 3 miles East of Lake Apollo was selected as the site of a Unity Church Refugee camp. Congress raised a ruckus, as the geographic locations of the different bases meant the camp could be directly attacked. There were three military bases around Lake Apollo, one to the Northwest of it, One to the Northeast, and one to the Southeast. As it was, if the monster horde left the lake and headed directly East, it could just demolish the refugee camp. So a 4th base was made by Lake Apollo, directly between the lake and the refugee camp. This has become the hub of all long-range ballistics testing.
“At 21:32 last night, the Northeast base detected unusual monster movements and made the normal reports. At 22:00, there were distress cries from the refugee camp. Within 23 minutes, the distress calls ceased. During that time, both the Northeast and Southeast camps dispatched special response teams to the refugee camp. None made it farther than a quarter of a mile from the bases. The Raid Bosses had set traps for both and ambushed almost all of the forces sent to assist.
“It was only after scout drones determined no humans were able to fight that the Eastmost base made its move. Using long-range incendiary rounds, it annihilated most everything living in the vicinity of the refugee camp.”
Alan remained silent as he walked through the silent hospital. Ghost watched the man carefully. It was frustrating to admit, but President Howard was his biggest supporter at the moment. Not that he was in particular danger of being decommissioned, but Ghost used to be associated with absolute assurance. His word was law. It was how the Tiered Citizenship came to be.
But now the Unity Church was becoming a growing threat. As the monsters became stronger, Ghost’s drones were insufficient to handle them. And with the military weapons that Ghost designed failing…
“Can we spin this in our favor?” Alan asked finally. Ghost wished he had eyes to roll. Of course, they would attempt to, but…
“It is undeniable that the Unity Church maintained less a fighting force in this refugee camp due to the presence of the military bases. That will become the point of contention. Who was at fault?”
“Who was at fault?” Alan asked, stopping and glancing up at a camera.
Ghost hated feeling so powerless. “As my reports indicated, Raid Bosses will increase in sophistication and strength the longer they are left alone. This one had enough tactical knowledge to sneak out of the lake, past three bases, and assault the weak point. But the generals have grown used to considering Lake Apollo an asset. Human complacency is at fault. If I am asked to speak before Congress…”
Ghost didn’t bother to finish. By Alan’s darkening countenance, he realized what Ghost meant. People in Alan’s camp were at fault.
“Yes well,” Alan said darkly. “Data isn’t everything.
The other man walked out of the building and into the cool morning air. Ghost was filled with distaste but suppressed it. After all, a communication line was coming in.
“Ah, Ghost? Yes, I would like to speak with you,” Father Foster said, her voice even. “I have… an offer, of sorts."