The facility where the drones were being researched and produced was a hundred times nicer than the place where Randidly was before. So much so that Randidly was getting a little annoyed as he walked around. Included on the premises were a cafeteria and a gym that could support weights up to a ton.
Partially, this was for the workers, but also it served as a convenient way to test the drones. Foreman Davey, who now wanted Randidly to just call him Davey, showed him the different locations, and then the workstation where Randidly would do most of his work.
“The problem is demand is still lagging a bit behind what we expected,” Davey said, shaking his head. “So the prices for the drones are still low. So much so that Ghost is subsidizing their production. You’ll get an extra 20% of your selling price from the government. That should change soon though, the government finally made a deal with the Unity Church.”
Randidly nodded without comment as he scanned his workstation.
This place was three rooms. The first was a typical lab, with different materials for cutting equipment and electrical appliances. Another was a library, with two computers and several bookshelves filled with leather-bound volumes. Davey told Randidly that these were all primers that he should read through before starting to try and create a drone.
“There are just so many parts to each, and industrialization won’t get us what we want,” Davey said with a sigh. “ Sure, we could mass-produce the things, and have, but they are weak. Around Level 20, monsters can overpower them without breaking a sweat. It’s not a matter of materials either, but of some quality that is imbued in by a Skill. Skills become so important after 20. We have a few people here who have the Drone Assembly Skill, and its reached near 50. Their drones have 30% higher performance in the field. That’s what we are after. But in the numbers of a mass production, so we need a lot of laborers to fill it out. You have no idea how happy I am you bought your citizenship so fast.”
“Is there anything else I need to buy?” Randidly asked, running his fingers across the books.
“No, the materials here were included in your starter package,” Davey said, then he flexed his hand and produced a folder. “Plus these three basic blueprints. The System did some fucked up things to electronics, simplified them to an absurd degree. The fact that they continue to function is ridiculous. They are more runes than circuitry. So you’ll have to throw out everything you know about electronics and learn that. It’s something of a grind, especially when your Intelligence is below 80 or so. If you have any questions, let me know.”
Randidly, with his Intelligence of 325, smiled politely.
For the next three days, Randidly lost himself in the books. Making materials was one thing, but assembling the drones was quite another. Materials had inputs and outputs, but they were static. The drone was a series of parts and connections between those parts. If the parts failed, the drone was broken. If the connections failed, the drone was broken. If the parts were connected in the wrong way, the drone was broken. If the power couldn’t flow to the parts and to the connections, the drone was broken.
The three days wasn’t just spent reading, but also refining his image for As the Sun Stills, or whatever new Skill it would become. At nights, he returned to the forest and added the finishing touches to his underground base below the forest. This was a much more difficult task now that Randidly was staying on the drone compound, as everything was monitored, so he created an underground tunnel from his room to the base to avoid suspicion.
With his starter package, Randidly had obtained three blueprints: the Skylark, the Porpoise, and the Bull. As far as Randidly could tell, these were named randomly. The Skylark at least flew, and was an observation drone. The Porpoise was about the size of a large dog and was mainly designed for overland transport, with an interspatial watch hidden inside it. The Bull was smaller, maybe the size of a beaver, and contained explosives. At its front was a drill. Apparently, you just sent it to dig under the enemies and blow them up.
As Davey had said, the electric circuitry of yesteryear was replaced with a variation of runes. Although they were different from the runes that Randidly knew, as they were discovered by a different author, very soon he understood the details of the language. Honestly, it was extremely crude, so much so that Randidly made several improvements within his first 12 hours.
He didn’t mind using these improved versions of the different power and data transferal runes, as he suspected that even Ghost wouldn’t notice. After all, the details that Randidly could correct were focused on how the runes were engraved upon the material. There was no real change to the shape, but instead, he evened out the application in many places, deepening the reserve of Mana to add to its effect.
Even with all of this, assembling his first drone was difficult.
But difficult in the way of a puzzle that you are delighted to solve.
For one thing, Randidly was a bit too strong sometimes. He had grown used to using his hands to bend the metal into the shape he wanted, and it soon became clear that this was a bad habit; there just wasn’t enough precision in his hands to get the metal in the right shapes. Especially for the two propellers in the Skylark, they wouldn’t function if they were bent out of shape.
So Randidly began training with tools, taking his time. He lost himself in the sensation of working with metal. It was a heady experience and one that Randidly had never truly felt before in his life. It was strange to him, to take such a dead and inert substance and bend and shape it into something extremely productive and useful.
There were several times that strange Skills popped up, but Randidly rejected them out of hand. He didn’t want to learn something like Metal Bending or Electric Rune Mastery. They were useful, and would likely generate PP, but Randidly suspected he could discover a more holistic Skill to spend one of his Skill slots on.
Randidly’s first Skylark was an ugly thing, scuffed and somewhat squatter than the blueprints depicted. Even now, he was still refining the process of using tools. It was a simple thing, containing a power source, a camera, two engines for the propellers, a data storage unit, and a communicator. As most everything was made of runes, aside from the power source, it was light and relatively simple to make.
But because of that lightweight, it was very easy to damage and destroy.
It was something of a disappointment then, that when Randidly turned the Skylark on, it trembled, farted out a black cloud, and was still. An hour and a half later, Randidly realized that the connection between the power source and the engines had grown so hot that the material had melted, and the thing shorted out.
Randidly’s eyes flashed. This had occurred because he had improved the connector, enabling it to handle more energy. Where the defects in the runes on purpose? Or was it just a coincidence?
Either way, Randidly’s mouth was creeping open into a grin. This… was fun. It reminded Randidly of building legos as a child, a pursuit that had compelled him to bother his dad until Ezekiel had taken Randidly to Legoland. While there, Randidly didn’t really touch anything, but he had stood solemnly beneath the giant structures, looking up at all of the colorful toy blocks.
“What are you looking at?” Ezekiel had asked after about 15 minutes, finally looking up from his pager long enough to realize that something was wrong with his son.
“I’m going to make my house out of legos someday,” Randidly had said.
Now, Randidly had found those legos.
Before he could continue, however, he returned to the smelting factory and made another 100 ingots of Erickson Steel to sell for seed money. Now that he was a Probationary Citizen, he could access the market himself and sell it, but that would take time and attention. For the extra few dollars, Randidly wasn’t willing to invest his time into searching for contacts to sell the steel too. Instead, he simply continued to rely on Davey, who was extremely smitten to see Randidly still bringing him steel.
With more money, Randidly returned to the drone compound and purchased additional materials. Then he once more locked himself away in his small lab. While experimenting with different ways of drawing the runes, he considered his immediate plans.
His search to locate the Creature wasn’t progressing. He had scanned in specific areas across the entirety of the Zone but had found nothing. A general scan, however, caught the scent. It was faint, but it proved its presence. Perhaps there was a connection between the Creature and Ghost, but Randidly was having a hard time keeping his tension up, as Ghost seemed profoundly… inept. The political turmoil and the undercurrents of resentment caused by the ranking of people damaging to the health of the Zone, yet Ghost did nothing.
Perhaps some sort of rebellion was what the AI wanted? To drive some people out, or to locate strong talents?
Either way, Ghost seemed pretty unconcerned with Randidly, and fake Randidly, who was likely still parading around with that Senator, causing trouble. As such, Randidly felt a bit more comfortable allowing himself to stand out a bit more.
With his primary goal temporary without any leads, he defaulted to his secondary and tertiary goals: gathering information about the Zone and generally improving the conditions of humanity under the System. For the tertiary goal, Randidly made a mental note to head back to town every once and a while, both to check on the people around his hovel, but to see Tatiana-
Randidly twitched slightly, then smiled wryly, shaking his head. He breathed in, then breathed out. Making plans to see Tatiana was fine, Randidly reassured himself. They were just friends. There was nothing else there, there was no reason to feel… awkward about it. Which, for him, was extremely difficult.
But still, he could nudge people like Maude and her refugees towards improving and the surrounding area. That would do a lot towards raising the quality of life for these steelworkers and their families.
For the second goal, Randidly still believed that becoming renowned as a local drone creator would help him gather information on the Zone. If his performance was exemplary, he would get higher tiered citizenship. With that, he could travel in different circles, perhaps even go to the nearby city to talk.
Tightlipped, Randidly paused what he was doing and looked East. He could sense it, through his connection with Thorn. Something was happening in his Zone, in Donnyton. But he couldn’t solve their problems for them. He had to learn to trust them. They could handle this. He had other work, here in front of him.
Sighing, Randidly turned back to the materials. “Time to try making a Porpoise, I suppose…”