“No way, they are never the same, you know. There were plenty of legends about it. This and that immortal finally managing to resurrect their one true love, only for them to have a completely different personality. Sure, they might have retained their memories, but just shoving retained data into a physical shell is not enough to recreate a person. Even adding a soul, and thus allowing them access to their current life of stored memories after sufficient time will create a whole new being.”
Sitting on top of one of the highest mountains in the Shi-Eit Kingdom, I take another sip of my Nine-Thousand Times Distilled Heartrending Wine. The stuff starts melting my teeth, and I realise I forgot to keep my dental protection formation going. I add some qi to the spell and let my teeth regenerate as I taste more of the fine wine. Its pH should be somewhere below zero, but it tastes too good to ignore it just for that reason. Swallowing, I return to my current conversation partner.
“We’d need to add all the bits and pieces that make a person a person. I'm not even talking about the facets of someone's personality, no. Creating a blank brain, and then putting a bunch of memories in there merely creates a shambling mess of a being. They’d have no control over their body, and be a baby in every single aspect possible except for their long term recall centres, which would be a complete and utter useless heap of hardwired neurons.”
I click another mental button, and one of the many, many cylinders placed just a bit down the slope bursts into flames. The one-meter wide, eight-meter long slender tube spews masses of fire out of its back end, leaving expanding clouds of white in its wake. Its speeds up rather fast, its small size and super lightweight allowing it a rapid ascent. I watch it grow smaller with speed, and switch my attention to the high altitude camera drones that are circling high above.
“Take just the motor functions, for example. Certain repeated movements strengthen the connections between certain neurons. Neurons that fire together, wire together. From the various sensors and inputs to the actuating nerves that steer cells, complex networks form for each type of movement. Missing a single part of that complex network will render the entire thing useless until massive efforts to rebuild have been undertaken. And that is provided you have access to the original brain, which in Rhea’s uncle’s case, seems to be the case…”
Frowning at the way Lola keeps winning her arguments without having to say anything, I focus on the rocket. The blunt nose is leaving vapour trails now. Its qi enhanced metal plating is carving lines of condensation through the atmosphere. I send this one up as the fastest one yet, and this is the first one that is even coming close to potentially experiencing damaging forces. I mean, they've all experienced complete destructive forces so far, but that’s not the point. I set the engine, a rather simple design that forces liquid oxygen and hydrogen together in a combustion chamber, to half power. This seems to be more than enough to examine the atmosphere, but we will see if it’s enough to escape certain doom.
“So yeah, I can totally resurrect her uncle. I can tape his soul to his body and force it to start functioning again. It might even stick after a while. But I will waste an immense amount of power. I will have to root through his entire body, a horrible violation of privacy, to stitch him back up. Forcing all the cells to start functioning again until the body can keep itself going is a rather simple process now that I’ve studied Rhea’s inner working so much, but the guy just won’t be the same, you know.”
The rocket shoots ever upwards, the resistance of the atmosphere lessening the higher it goes. I didn’t bother designing any form of a multi-stage system, nor did I bother with strapping any booster rockets to the thing. I kept the design as simple as possible, just a shell containing two pressure containers, a feed system, a combustion chamber, a steerable rocket nozzle, and a few steering fins. It doesn’t even have any reaction control systems or gyroscopic stabilisers.
I can control the thing through a unique identification number, a rather crude image of Tree as a symbolic link, and a few control actuators hardwired with thin silver strands into the central control system. A few magnitudes less complex than the most basic space-faring rockets I remember from Earth, way back. The only reason the things don't explode on the launchpad is the copious amounts of qi coursing through the various strengthening formations scrawled across the things.
“So, a pretty good scenario would be that I manage to thaw the oversized iguana and get him on supernatural life support. His soul will need a field of consciousness to latch onto. Also, talking to discarnate souls in order to ask their permission to be resurrected is a can of worms I want to keep closed at all costs. Just shoving a connection point to a collection of barely accessible data into an otherwise empty consciousness is a great way to spawn cosmic horrors.”
I clench the cup in my hands as I wait for the inevitable. I force myself to relax while keeping tabs on the ascending rocket.
“So, yeah, Rhea’s uncle is somehow and miraculously living again now, the damage to his body is repaired, and his chest is sewn shut and healing. I did see a rather severe wound at the back of his head, and I think I saw bits of bone in there, so let’s say that the only damage to his brain is to his occipital lobe. All the other damage to his brain is miraculously gone. No frostbite, no oxygen deprivation degradation, no decomposition, the rest is all peachy.”
The moment I’ve been waiting for happens in a glorious flash. The smooth rocket is steadily gathering speed one moment, riddled with holes the next, and a fireball in the last. The previously majestically white missile turns into a streaky fireball moments after it is crisscrossed with bright lances of fire, several gouts of fuel separating into forking streaks of flames. The sensor drones circling my launching site track all the parts and bits, sending the data directly to Database through Tree. Instead of having to mentally request for that information, I just know it. I feel the numbers, images, and coordinates arrive through the symbolic links. I know where the data is stored without even looking consciously. As I said before, super weird.
“Just this one part of his brain being severely damaged will cripple the man. Qi will allow a person recover, but there needs to be something to recover. A hand can only be regrown if the invalid person in question knows that something is wrong. A person that is born without legs, for example, will not suddenly sprout legs if they start cultivating. Nor will that part of that dragon’s brain suddenly grow back if he no longer remembers what is supposed to be there. That dragon will no longer be able to process sight if the back of his brain is severely damaged. Nor will he be able to recognise anyone without many, many years of intensive recovery and therapy.”
The tertiary swarm of drones, all of them small flyers dragging fine webs around, move into position. A couple of dozen kilometres up in the sky, every single fragment and detected items are caught before it can reach the ground. All the things the scanning drones have detected are dropped into the waiting nets of the dedicated carrier drones. These carry all the items back to the ground, where they are dumped into the big pile to my right before the cargo drones shoot back up.
“So, long story short, I do not like resurrecting people. The drastic shifts that happen in brain chemistry even after short periods of being soulless will guarantee major personality shifts. If you’ve known someone for hundreds of years, having to learn that this person is now someone totally different can be devastating. I just fear that…” Looking at Lola, I see her sleepily yawning. I smile and keep petting her, glad that she at least listens to my worries.
A brief mental command sends another rocket skywards, and I squint my eyes against the backblast of the blazing exhaust fumes. Standing up, I look at the growing pile of debris and oddly shaped pieces of stone. I drop Lola to the ground and pick up one of the pencil-sized projectiles that my drones have managed to catch. I see glittering rock and shining streaks on the smooth surface of the projectile. Small flakes of metal are scattered through the circular patches of multicoloured rock, confirming my suspicions.
"Also, I haven’t even covered the psychotic breaks that come with the disconnect from having a soul that was previously separated. The unshakable truth that your mortal coil is just an anchoring point for some entropy storage plane is not a great truth to know. Soul rejection is a super ugly condition to have, and I don't know of a single case that managed to overcome one of those episodes."
Spinning one of the oddly heavy cylinders through my fingers, I pull the entire pile of scrap metal and carved asteroid into Tree, into my core. I feel the foreign collection of stuff settle, the distinct heap of foreign items slowly being taken over by my core. I stroke the necklace that’s still around my neck. The dimensional link to Tree’s entire plane seems to be my core now, but keeping the item that started the entire slice of additional reality around my neck just tickles my funny bone. Also, the tree embedded inside the black stone is still part of Tree’s previous corporeal form, so I don’t want to leave such a massively important link to my cultivation base laying around.
“But Lola, thanks for listening. I know I keep moaning and bitching about this stuff, but it isn’t as if I have truly weighty objections to trying to heal technically dead people. Frozen sperm is as dead as they come, yet you let the goop thaw, and they start swimming for their life. So let’s just look at her uncle as a frozen single-celled organism, just to ease the few moral objections I can come up with, okay?”
I wonder idly why some of the pencil-shaped projectiles inside my core take so long to become mine when it hits me. As if on demand, the remaining bits and pieces of the next rocket are dropped off. I ignore the charred and well-cooked metal fragments and shrapnel and focus on the small dozen bits of extraterrestrial stone. Grabbing one, I immediately douse it with my augur. A chaotic mix of atomic action greets my mind’s eye, at a hundred times the density of normal matter. Why would this dumbass Nexus make such high spec ammo, for fuck’s sake?
“Right. Lola, I’m done talking about depressing stuff like death. This is the new priority number one.”
Grabbing and scanning another one, I notice a similar density. Sending small threads of augur into my braincore, I sample the bullets in Tree, and find that they are of similar density. I immediately spot a small pattern. None are the same density. Pulling the projectile I found inside the guts of the sandworm from my ring - the very first bullet I came across - I scan it, and see it’s the densest of the lot. The next batch comes down, whirring drones dropping the debris into the rapidly growing pile, and I see that all of these are even less dense than before.
My mind, tickled by this new mystery, keeps finding odd things. I’m pretty sure that I was shot by a couple dozen projectiles. Only re-entering the atmosphere at speed prevented me from being pierced by more than one of the bullets. Why are my testing vehicles being hit by multiple ones at the same time? Why are my rockets shot when they are still inside the atmosphere, way below the elevation where I was hit?
To my relief, temporary answers to those questions, at least, are found relatively easy. The entire system was at a low ready level back then. I confirmed the existence of five states of readiness with the Mana Dungeon’s core. Then why are these cores of lessening densities? Wouldn’t you want to test your intruders out first with normal bullets before you start pounding them with the good stuff that's a hundred times more massive than mere ordinary matter?
I rub my stomach while realizing another thing. At least that explains why the bullet punched through my guts with such ease. The amount of kinetic force inside that attack must have been enough to turn an entire elephant into a fine red mist. I glare at the moon, peeking over the horizon with all of its half-lit cowardice.
I straighten my cuffs, making sure that the clothing I’m wearing is functioning. Having a massive spinning circle above me is a great fashion statement and all, but shielding my self through less conspicuous means seemed too useful to not explore. The rather neat dress shirt I’m wearing has all kinds of formations woven throughout the cloth, a custom order made by Angeta. It seems to be working so far, as I notice none of the signs I’ve come to associate with lunar mental meddling. Deciding for myself once again that I will kill that softly glowing son of a bitch high in the sky, I resume analysing the bullets.
I find a few more interesting facts that correlate with my theories over the next few rocket launches. I also contemplate making my rockets a bit more sturdy and less prone to shattering upon explosion. That way, the continuation of their profile could potentially cause more retaliatory fire, thus hastening the trend of lessening projectile densities I’m seeing.
I still need to train my augur - or liquid Will - in order to figure out what type of atom is at the centre of the dungeon cores processor units, after all. This is why I’m mass producing all of these rockets, of course. I’m not just a huge space geek that really wants to go to space and dick around with space stations and space ships, no, not at all.
I need to force the defensive system to deplete its ammunition stores even more now. First, just so I can explore off-planet without being bombarded by highly lethal bullets. And secondly, so I can finally get my hands on a good gradient of the compressed matter items. Despite having my drone scan the south pole continuously over the past three weeks, I’ve not yet found more items less than fifty times the normal density. That one slab of double density gold is my only suitable training item so far. And the fact that it’s made from the purest gold ever isn’t helping either. I need to be able to identify atoms that are nearly touching nuclei, and thus need to find a way to identify them based upon something else than their respective radii. Finishing up my internal monologue, I prepare to turn around in order to face the new intruder.
“Isn’t that right, mister king?” I ask while turning around.
“Dungeon cursed shit whore, I should have known it was you…”