Ghost folded his incorporeal hands. “Defending the Zone as best I can. Although… I must admit that I let myself be swayed by baser emotions. Jealousy, for instance. I am… ah, it is still hard to say. I am incredibly jealous of you, Randidly Ghosthound. You…”
Ghost trailed off, looking down at his hands. He fidgeted and picked at an invisible fingernail that was marginally out of place. He looked so real to Randidly, so human. It was hard for him to stay focused on the danger that this entity posed to him. The influence Ghost had over the whole of the Zone was dangerous, even to Randidly. Although he need not really fear people attacking him, smear campaigns, propaganda…
Randidly grimaced. It would make the changes he had in mind for the Zone difficult. Having Ghost on his side was the desired outcome. Yet if Ghost insisted on refusing…
“Let me ask a different question then,” Randidly said slowly. “Did you choose to have me kidnapped so you could take my body?”
This was Randidly stabbing in the dark. But his instincts were telling him that Ghost was guilty of something, although Randidly wasn’t sure what that was. He had wondered while being captured why the Unity Church had moved against him in the first place. His shocked thoughts while they were taking him notwithstanding, he was just a rising name to them. Although he would have valuable Skills they might want to transfer, his disappearance would be noticed.
Especially by Ghost, who was a fan of his drones. That meant that either the Unity Church was powerful enough to ignore Ghost, or Ghost knew about it. Ghost’s delicate silence gave Randidly all the information that he needed. The AI simply continued to stare down at his hands.
Randidly relaxed slightly. If Ghost was going to be honest, this talk would become much easier than the alternative. “... I suppose that was a bit personal. Instead, how aware were you of the actions of the Unity Church, specifically in regards to the proliferation of the Raid Bosses?”
“You know…” Ghost said after a pause. Randidly was somewhat disconcerted how decentralized Ghost’s voice was; it seemed to come from all around him. “I had thought that this talk would be a turning point in my existence. You are a genius, and can do so much that I cannot… It would be enlightening, I believed. And yet… I find myself incredibly bitter. For all that you have power, I find it hard to believe you can damage me in a meaningful way. Then, let us-”
He froze. Randidly folded his arms over his chest, his eyes burning emerald. Deep beneath them in the Earth, there was an aluminum canister. It was large, about as big as a shipping container. Within it lay six bodies, connected by life support systems and a powerful computer.
As Ghost was speaking, a root pulled open the latch on the outside of the container and crawled into the door.
“How…” Now, the AI looked speechlessly up at Randidly. Randidly looked back without changing his expression, his eyes tearing into Ghost’s form. It was much easier than Randidly had thought it would be, although that was likely due to his high Stats. It had taken some scouring, but since Randidly had walked into the room he had been seeking the Aether signature of Ghost.
It wasn’t distinctive in the way the System’s, the Creature’s, or Randidly’s own was. It was clearly Aether obtained through the System. But as his Aether Detection Skill increased to above 100, the fineness with which he could distinguish different Aether became ridiculous. Perhaps even then, it would be impossible for Randidly to locate Ghost because he had never truly interacted with the other, and especially not interacted with Ghost while he was taking a long look at his Aether signature.
But what other entity would be 100 meters below the surface of the Earth? It was a pretty safe bet that Randidly hadn’t discovered a lonely dwarf.
“Let me ask again,” Randidly said with a smile. “How much did you know about the Raid Bosses released by the Unity Church.”
“Not as much as you would think,” Ghost said. His body disintegrated and reformed in front of Randidly. It was all a show, but the hologram was inspecting him closely. “I was aware of their existence, as it was only through their research that I could sustain Ezekiel without an unavoidable social cost. Oh, at first I didn’t understand what they had done to the monsters to make them act as substitutes for the human portion Ezekiel consumes. It was only when the Zones connected to the New Earth, when they upped their activity, that I was able to deduce what they had accomplished.”
Here Ghost paused, frowning up at Randidly. “This… was a difficult prospect for my processors to judge. I have circuits devoted to empathy within me, but my primary function was to push the efficiency in the Zone to a point where people could survive. And the empathy circuits carried with them no imperative… I have done numerous simulations, but I am unable to determine how Dr. Karman would have preferred I resolve this moral quandary… So I have left the issues unaddressed. It is true, this has resulted in gargantuan amounts of lost life. But… I….”
Randidly pitied this strange being before him. It was a lost AI. But that didn’t mean it hadn’t allowed thousands of people to die. “You should have saved them. You might think that the benefits provided by the transplants are high… but it sacrifices human lives. Those are our ultimate resource. Think how much your precious Doctor struggled to create you, a single life. Did you never consider this?”
Randidly specifically didn’t mention that Father Foster had implied that Dr. Karman had been an early spawn of the Raid Boss. Ghost froze, looking up at Randidly with glassy eyes. “I… never considered this. My value is-”
“Let’s leave that aside for now,” Randidly interrupted. Perhaps Ghost already knew about Dr. Karman, but… better to leave it alone for now. “Instead, I have a question that I would like answered; how did the Unity Church control monster populations so much? And how did they so easily capture so many Raid Bosses?”
“Ah, this is rather elementary.” Ghost said, the placid and confident look returning to it. “At first I didn’t have proof, but… It is obvious that they have located what are essentially ‘spawn points’ for the monsters. What is strange is that this should be impossible; it is likely some outside force assisted them. Perhaps the same force that gave them the technology for the power plant- Ah, you are the assailant too, yes? The locations you attacked were all under the purview of the Unity Church. As a gesture of peace, I will publically clear your name-”
“That will likely just add confusion. Just let that identity fade away,” Randidly said, shaking his head. It was certainly possible that if the Creature saw meaning to it, it would use its Skill to manipulate the places Raid Bosses spawned. Useful, but it would certainly have the effect of transforming the populous into groups that have Levels, and those that don’t based on who would choose to head to the limits of the Zone for Levels.
Randidly felt a powerful headache building. Arranging this Zone seemed to be much more difficult than Zone 32. This place… it just seemed that people and cities from the 21st century had been given Mana and moved to another world. Whereas life seemed to restart from zero in his home Zone.
“...I have the locations of the different spots I believe to be spawning monsters on a regular basis.” Ghost said, straightening. “One of them was Lake Apollo, of course. But I will provide you the others. It is… the least I could do.”
Randidly looked at Ghost. Ghost looked back. Down below, one of the six bodies began to slowly turn in the suspension fluid. The root crept closer, examining the insides of the container. In addition, Randidly was very aware that Ghost had made no moves to bring any drones or support closer. Randidly wasn’t sure what that meant. If he was under siege and outgunned, would he be able to sit placidly and allow the other to tighten their hold on his neck…?
It had been a while since Randidly had felt powerless. It was not a feeling he missed. For that reason, Randidly was somewhat leery of returning to Shal’s world. There were quite a few people there who he had pissed off during his time there. Although he had grown in power, that was only in terms of his own world. In Shal’s world…
Well, Randidly didn’t believe he was anything close to weak. But he would only be at Level 25. There would be people more powerful than he in Shal’s world. Remembering the attack that had shattered his As the Sun Stills Skill the first time…
Randidly returned his focus to Ghost. Because he sat still, waiting. He was a computer. One that was trying its hardest to be a person. One that was succeeding in a way, because it was making mistakes. Closing his eyes, Randidly sighed. This would mean more work, but…
“Fine. Let’s… work together. This Zone needs you.” Randidly said quietly.
Ghost blinked. Then he nodded. “Ah, your tone indicates there is more? It is likely that you will want some proof of goodwill between us. Please believe me, I am all for a cooperative endeavor-”
“Oh shut up,” Randidly said, rolling his eyes. “You just tried to send me away. You don’t like me. I’m everything you don’t have, and you probably won’t be able to get over that. You have the mentality of a child.”
“I am the most advanced machine ever created, the only true artificial intelligence,” Ghost grumbled, but Randidly ignored him.
“Which is why… well it’s true that I’m going to require a guarantee of your good behavior, but it will come in a package that I think you will appreciate. I want to build you a body.”