The problem with the truth, Randidly knew, was that once it was out, it was impossible to take back. If he were to tell her the truth, there would likely be repercussions that were difficult to predict. So at the time she asked, Randidly had simply said that yes, they were related to that man. He refused to say anything more.
They had fucking held hands through the whole talk. Well, less a talk and more her asking questions and him looking at the ground.
What the FUCK was he doing? Randidly didn’t have time for this.
So now, sitting in his workshop, Randidly considered.
The Creature was here, likely fueling some arm of the Unity Church or the Zone 1 government to perform experiments by taking body parts. The details of which were difficult to understand. Why on such a grand scale? Why would a gym be included in the blueprints? Why had the media found out about it so quickly?
Obviously to locate him. But who would have the power to request that?
Randidly needed more information. Part of that would come with being around people, but he needed to be around higher ranking individuals. To understand the power structure, he needed to be a part of it. Based on what Davey had told him, creating drones would get him there.
Meanwhile, there was the problem of Tatiana, both personally and what she stood for. She had obviously used that vivid language in her accusation on purpose to incite a reaction in him. Curiosity was clear in her eyes. It was slightly emotionally cruel, but some part of her worried that Randidly truly might be that cold-blooded killer.
Well, wasn’t he?
Randidly shook his head. This was wildly off topic.
Beyond just telling her the truth, there was the problem of what truths to tell. That he was that orange haired man? That he was Randidly Ghosthound? Or just that he was from another Zone?
“A waste of time,” Randidly announced. So he closed his eyes and focused on himself. There were growing feelings towards Tatiana. There was nothing he could do about that. But he could set them aside for now. Above personal issues, finding the Creature was the most important.
Briefly, he considered trying to just sneak into the locations of high Tiered citizens, but then he felt somewhat at a loss. What was he even looking for? The information he needed was likely to be disguised. Although it was a tenuous plan, focusing on drones gave him concrete goals and a path that he could follow. These other ways… that was the domain of people like Mrs. Hamilton. This was not his strong suit.
So Randidly got to work.
Besides, he enjoyed it.
Two days later, Randidly emerged from his workshop disheveled and found Henrik. This version of the Skylark left the man silent. So much so that Randidly worried about whether he had made a mistake. But then he was passed $400.00 and was told this was exactly what they needed. Specifically, Randidly’s version of the Skylark weighed the same amount as the previous version, but he had been able to boost the thrust of it by almost 200%.
Of course, it could only maintain this increased boost for brief periods. Otherwise, it would overheat. Or it would shake so much that the internal components could come out of line. But it was a bit of progress, nonetheless.
Much of the inspiration for it had come from the recently acquired drones. But he had only gone through two of them and was able to figure out several ways to adjust the runes inside of the drones. Once he went through them all…
But before he focused more directly on his plan to adjust the runic language, he needed a product that would bring predictable income to him. That would make it much easier to plan out how to proceed.
Afterward, Randidly returned to his underground base to train. Honestly, these past two months in Zone 1 he had spent a lot of time working on ancillary things. He had gotten a bunch of PP in the process, but letting the performance of his other Skills was not an option. Especially because the invitation from Helen was for around four months from now…
Shivering, Randidly got to his spearwork. It was a reassuring movement, to stab with a spear. These were his roots, not literally, and reminded him of simpler times in the Dungeon with Shal. Randidly’s lip curled upward. He wondered whether Shal would be his match when he returned to Shal’s world. It was hard to judge now, how strong his teacher was.
Especially because Randidly had the sense that something changed for Shal during the events at the end of the tournament. He thought about asking Lucretia about it, but decided against it; mostly, he didn't want to ask because it meant they would need to talk about what would happen to Lucretia when he returned to that world.
Receiving a generic request to meet from Karlito, Randidly stopped his training early and headed back over to the shanty town. When he arrived, he was extremely surprised. His old shanty was being dismantled by some locals. They were putting up a more traditional house in its place.
Karlito walked up next to him. “Did you hear the news?”
“What, that the neighborhood is being gentrified?” Randidly asked wryly, looking around. This whole area of town was shifting. A lot of the buildings closer to town were already demolished and rebuilt in a much more enduring manner. It was clear from the quality that these were being built to stand for a while.
“Well, there is that, but no,” Karlito said. He was chuckling now, barely restraining a grin on his face. While one hand held his belly, with the other he lifted a newspaper clipping and presented it to Randidly. He scanned it quickly.
To his shock, it seemed like one of the gossip column magazines that had been popular prior to the System’s arrival. He supposed there was no reason to expect that the System would change human nature. And he was distantly aware that there were movies and television being produced in Zone 1. When most of the population didn’t embrace the System as directly, they needed ways to occupy their time.
The clipping was a reactionary piece to the fact that pop icon Tia Alexandra was now engaged to-
Foreign Political Heartthrob Randidly Ghosthound….?!?
For several seconds, Randidly had no thoughts in his brain. The series of words that he had just read left him completely blank. He slowly lowered the article. Karlito was howling at this point, leaning a nearby pile of cinder blocks that were going to be used for the construction of the house.
No matter how many times he looked up at Randidly’s face, each time was enough to set him back to his endless laughter. At some point, Maude wandered over to see what the fuss was about. When she saw the clipping in Randidly’s hand, she sniffed primly.
“I would have expected you to be better educated than to read a trash rag like that,” Maude said matter of factly.
This, finally, was enough to wake Randidly. He shook his head slowly, then said. “Yea… this-”
“If you want to hear the details of the engagement,” She continued, tapping her interspatial watch and producing another magazine. “Lifeline is the best. There is an interview with Tia that explains the whole proposal. Honestly, it reminds me quite a bit about how my late husband proposed to me…”
Numbly, Randidly took the magazine.
“It was the most philosophical…” Tia began telling reporters, but then she couldn’t even finish the thought.
“You hear a lot of what he’s like, from all the refugees he works with,” Tia said, her eyes glowing with the apparent emotion she has for her fiance. “That’s actually how I met him, doing a benefit concert at The Orchard. But people never talk about how deep and thoughtful he is. The date where he proposed was simple. He just invited me to help pick apples. When I told my publicist, she fell off her chair. She said, ‘Aren’t there bugs in orchards?’
“I already knew. This was probably our 5th date, and I already knew, you know? There was just… something there. But I didn’t know if like, he knew, you know? So after we picked apples, I just asked him if he believed in soul mates. And you know what he did? As serious as can be, Rand turned to me, nodded, and said, ‘I have one.’ Then he reached over and squeezed my hand. I mean, whoo. Where did he get the confidence to phrase something so important like that?”
Tia Alexandra, 19, is probably the most popular performing artist currently working in Zone 1. Reporters from Lifeline attempted to contact Mr. Ghosthound or Senator Firefly for comment on Mr. Ghosthound’s age, but they made no comment. But based upon his appearance-
Randidly stopped reading and handed the article back. Wasn’t this… wasn’t this just Neveah talking about him!?!?
“Neveah,” Randidly growled. “Summon me. Right now.”