When Randidly presented his Porpoise to the man who handled all purchases on the drone plant, Henrik Doc, the man sighed in an extremely exaggerated manner. It seemed that everything the man did was exaggerated, from the way he dressed to the way he coifed his hair.
“This… is your first attempt, I suspect?” The man drawled, walking over to the Porpoise and flicking it. There was a clear ringing, one that Randidly was somewhat proud of. It was made of a weaker derivative of Erickson Steel, after all. Henrik seemed to care less. He opened up the side panel to reveal the hand scanner.
With the Porpoise, the basic function was to put what you wanted inside of it, put your hand on the scanner, then focus on the image of how to get from the Porpoise’s current position to the location you wanted it to go. Focusing on the image was extremely important because otherwise, the thing would run into a wall.
After scanning his hand, the Porpoise’s wheels engaged, and the thing rolled forward, to the end of the room. Then it came back, driving up to Randidly and running a circle around him five times, before heading back over to Henrik.
Randidly’s eyebrows rose. That was a strong image instruction. The more that Randidly worked with the drone blueprints, the more he realized that he had underestimated the knowledge that went into these creations. A lot of people must have worked very hard to perfect them, or one AI had spent quite a lot of time and data refining them. Any improvements Randidly thought to make often had unintended consequences.
This Porpoise, for instance, was his third attempt and came out quite a bit heavier than the normal Porpoises. But Randidly had been attempting to up the armor and the battery life of the things by increasing the integrity of the materials. It was almost a zero-sum game because the increased weight made it spend more battery moving. But Randidly believed that there was some small improvement, which made him pleased with himself.
Then, Henrik walked over to the Porpoise and kicked it on its side. Instantly, the pressure plates on the side engaged, pressing outward to lift it back to its wheels. But the motors of the thing began to whine dangerously as the plates pressed farther and farther outward. Eyes widening, Randidly did some calculations in his head. The increased weight likely meant at least three times as much power was spent righting itself after an accident.
Which turned his “improvements” into a net loss of power…
“Well, it’s unsatisfactory, but we are currently very… lax in our standards.” Henrik gave Randidly a look that made it clear that Henrik believed Randidly being allowed to work here at all was a relaxation of standards. “Here is $50 for your efforts. We will take the… drone and find a task that suits its unique… circumstances.”
$50 was almost exactly what it cost to make, so it was a wash. Still, Randidly was starting to think that he didn’t even deserve that. It was frustrating, to have failed again.
But at the same time, something had been ignited in his chest. For the first time in a long time, Randidly had wanted something and tried for it and failed. It made him want to succeed all the more.
So Randidly took another day, going back and reading more thoroughly through the books in the library of the office, getting a better understanding of what he was doing. Then he used the computer to spend $100 on other recommended reading that was available for purchase, specifically in regards to gritty details about the strength of different materials.
Staring intently, Randidly memorized every corner of the blueprints he had. He had considered purchasing more for reference, but each seemed to cost at least $1000, and those were the cheap models. There were improved combat drones, although not many, that were almost $90,000. But if Randidly could make $100 a drone in the future, that level of production might not be that far away…
It was during this time, reading a random detail of the function of the drones, that something clicked into place in Randidly’s mind. Instantly, his eyes glowed emerald. Where they had been parts before, with an understandable role, now they were a whole. A beautiful, moving whole composed of dozens of individual parts.
It was almost like a work of art. Because part of the power of the drone was its technological compression. All that work and intellect was bent and twisted and slipped together until it had been warped into a form the belied its impressive functions.
During the next hour, reviewing the three different blueprints, Randidly gained 12 Levels in Spriggit’s Tinkering. In addition, another notification popped up.
Congratulations! Would you like to learn the Skill Engineering Savvy ® Lvl 1? Y/N
Randidly selected yes.
He had thought a lot in the past few days whether it was really worth it to spend a Skill slot on a drone making Skill when he might need them in the future. Two small things and one big thing made clicking yes easy. First, it was a general Skill, and he might find other applications of its use. Second, it was often worth it to save things up for lean times, but Randidly suspected momentum and PP now was more valuable than learning some Skill at some future date, and Randidly still had several more Skill slots.
Finally… Randidly loved it. The feeling of metal, the strange tinkering workshop where he now found himself, the creation of something autonomous from himself… it was like a strange, more organic form of the Soul Seed. And Randidly was a bit shocked to find himself thinking that this was a more organic process, but it wasn’t about the outcome that was organic. It was just that when he created a drone, he could lose himself in the wonder of the work, and felt accomplished when he was done.
When he made a Soul Seed… Randidly wasn’t sure how, but it felt hollow. Like it was more the System’s work than his own. But he supposed that humans made other humans in a similar way for centuries. Was it truly just his young male instincts panicking at the first sign of children? Whereas the drones were a more innocuous offspring…
Shaking his head with amusement, Randidly rose and dusted off his most recent attempt at the Porpoise. It was a sturdier thing than Randidly had done in the past. Seeing how his changes affected the weight didn’t dissuade Randidly that he was doing something worth doing, it just gave him a better idea of what the consequences of such changes would be.
Although Randidly maintained the weight in the frame, he had slimmed down the metal components on the insides to keep the weight reasonable. The runic boards inside were thin now, but they still had a decent amount of integrity. The wheels were slightly larger, and positioned farther forward and back, to give the Porpoise a more stable base.
Feeling confident, Randidly took the Porpoise to Henrik.
Henrik hit the thing with two Fireballs, and the thing fizzled to a stop. Randidly blinked; the thinner internal circuits had melted very quickly under the barrage of heat. More than that though, this was the first time Randidly had seen someone use a powerful magic spell since coming into Zone 1.
In his chest, more and more sparks of frustration were coming together.
Then Henrik kicked the Porpoise over. Or at least he tried to. The things’ spread wheels kept its balance through the first two kicks. Henrik blinked. Without a word, he handed Randidly $75 and took the thing away.
Shaking his head ruefully, Randidly returned to his workshop and considered the modifications he had made. And as he did so, he burst out laughing.
“The problem is that I’m trying to adjust the materials while using the same runes as everyone else. That won’t work. They’ve been pushed to their limits. I might make some small improvements, but…” Randidly grinned at the ceiling. Those sparks inside of him had become a conflagration, and he could feel the intensity driving him forward. “Doesn’t that just mean I simply need to invent a new runic language to do what I want?”
Before he let himself get carried around for another week, Randidly returned to his base in the forest, checking in on things there. The flowers that he had empowered had bloomed… perhaps a little TOO largely. They were the size of dinner plates, and a sweet scent wafted from them for about a mile. Luckily the trees covered most of it, but-
Then Randidly frowned. He had planned to head then to the shanty town where his hovel was, and Maude and Jude were staying, but his attention was caught by a group of people in the small farming compound there.
Because he recognized quite a few of them.
Randidly felt a headache brewing. Why had Nathan and company turned up here?
Well… Randidly looked at his arms. At least he could get the illusion touched up.