Chapter 18: Loving angels instead
It appears my lucid trance technique still needs some work, because roughly halfway the 14 hours I have left, I fall asleep. Well, I guess it would’ve been strange if I hadn’t.
I can tell the lucid trance does less for restoring my mental faculties than regular meditation, but the upside is also obvious; I haven’t reached level 3 yet, but my breathing technique has improved, reaching an absorption of 10.5 Onkh Lavi per minute.
My breathing has slowed further, and my exhales have gotten a lot more forceful. If I ever get to blow out the candles on a birthday cake here, I’ll have to be careful not to launch that sucker across the room.
Of course, first, I’ll need to live that long...
As Suri counts down the seconds until the trial ends, I lazily stretch, grab my backpack, and walk through the door. The slam of the stone slab hitting the floor behind me doesn’t even faze me anymore.
[Congratulations. Would you like to start your five minutes?]
All business today huh? All right, I have plenty of questions...
“Yes, let’s start,” I say, carefully lying down on the bed. It feels a bit softer than I expected, less like concrete and more like wood.
“First question... I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around this ‘all are one’ business. If I understand it correctly, then in this realm, things are a whole, not a collection of parts. Like my body, has a ‘toughness’ that applies to the whole thing... So how come when I slipped from the rope, I broke a ‘part’ of my body, namely the bone? Shouldn’t like, my entire foot snap off or something? Not that I’m complaining, but...”
[I see. It’s a little more complicated than you imagine. You are one, but that doesn’t mean there are no different types of tissue in your body. Your muscles still supply movement, your skin still protects you from invasive species, and your bones still form the structural support.]
I frown thoughtfully. “So... it’s like I’m a single thing, like one big Jell-O pudding, but with different flavours in different... areas?”
[I have no idea what that means, but I’m sure it’s wrong.]
Well geez, thanks for the vote of confidence.
[When your toughness increases, it signifies that all of your tissue, all of you, has grown tougher, more resilient, because all of your tissue has ‘toughness’. However, when your strength increases, it is only your muscles that grow stronger, as they are the only type of tissue that has ‘strength’. Your bones may not be ‘tougher’ than your skin, but they are less flexible in nature. They will bend less under pressure, but as a result can break when the stress becomes too great.]
“So it’s more like I’m a kind of robot, and if my toughness increases, that’s like all of the materials I’m made of are replaced by slightly tougher ones, and if my strength increases, it’s only my motors that get upgraded?”
[That analogy is... weak, but passable.]
Did Suri just grade me a C?
“Let’s talk skills. What does the next level of meditation entail?”
[The third level of meditation is not so easily achieved. Not to say that the second level was easy, but this should require more time and effort. It involves selectively, separately numbing the senses.]
Interesting... though I don’t immediately see an application, the meditation skill has saved my life twice over already, so I’m definitely not going to stop practicing it.
“What about boost physical?”
[The second level of Boost Physical is achieved when you learn the second mode. However, trying to explain the second mode without showing how in the dreamscape... it would be like trying to teach someone how to dance in a dark room.]
Damn. Suri’s analogy game is definitely more on point than mine...
[To be honest, it is surprising how far you’ve come with the Deep Breathing and Meditation skills, in this limited timeframe, without any proper guidance.]
Well, not to brag or anything, but I’ve been breathing ever since I was born, you know? And I took this class in meditation once...
“You mentioned last time that all skills in the system are energy manipulation skills... does that mean there are no skills like ‘karate’ or ‘swimming’?”
[There are not. Those kinds of skills rely heavily on muscle memory and the specific shape and weight of the individual and the weapon, so they are impossible to codify. I can still give you tips to improve if you practice that sort of thing in the future.]
“... There’s going to be combat in future Trials, isn’t there?”
“All right, let’s move on. Do all of the void-shifts that occur on Earth transport people to Hub One?”
[It isn’t known. Hub One was built around the landing spot.]
Yeah right. I’ve thought about it before, but this place is way too deadly. Especially this last trial; though the Toxic Energy in my body made it way harder for me than it needed to be, I still think most people will have a hard time making it through this. It also unfairly favours men, as they are generally stronger.
“Then, do you know why the void-shifts always happen in places with lots of people around?”
[Sorry Emma, I don’t know.]
Right... of course you don’t.
I don’t believe for a second that that’s a coincidence; whoever built this place is clearly transporting humans here for some purpose. The question is: is Suri aware of the truth and lying to me, or does she not know any better?
“Are there ever any void-shifts that bring in life from other parts of the Entropic Realm?”
[You mean extra-terrestrial species?]
[No. It is believed that the void-shifts are mostly ‘vertical,’ if you will, meaning shifts through dimensional space, and not ‘horizontal,’ or shifts in space inside of the realms themselves.]
Sounds like a bullshit explanation, but the part about only humans is probably true.
Ugh. Time for a question that’s been heavily weighing on my mind. No pun intended.
“Suri, have any overweight humans ever made it through the second trial?”
My question seems to have surprised her, because it takes a while for Suri to respond.
[This is a bit of a grey area, asking questions about other participants, as they have a right to privacy as well. What do you think?]
“I’m guessing no. Doesn’t that seem unfair to you?” Let’s see how she talks her way out of this one.
[As I’ve explained before, this training camp follows the principles of survival of the fittest, to prepare those who stand a chance at survival in the outside world, and our resources are limited.]
Limited, she says. But they had enough to build this ridiculously huge facility, so that people can be ‘trained’ one at a time individually?
Anyway, it seems continuing this line of questioning is pointless. Though I might manage to catch Suri on a lie about something, that wouldn’t actively improve my situation. Might even worsen it, if my behaviour is being monitored, as I fear it is.
Ultimately, I can’t do anything but go along with what’s happening here, for now.
I say a little prayer for Fat Misty. Not that I’m religious, but hey, considering my circumstances, who knows what else is possible.
I pray she doesn’t make it through the first trial.
Because imagining her having to face this completely unfair challenge, probably not even managing to pass the first obstacle... followed by a 24 hour long wait for death... The idea makes me sick to my stomach.
I wonder if Dave and Iron Man have started the trials yet. Knowing what they’re to face, I can’t help but worry about them.
“You said the other participants have a right to privacy, does that mean I can’t ask about how they’re doing either?”
“Even if they’re friends of mine? Wait, what do you mean currently?”
[You need to receive their permission first.]
I shoot up into a sitting position. “What? But... Do you mean there’s going to be chance to meet them in between trials or something?”
[Soon. If you live. One minute of questions left.]
My cheeks are hurting from how wide I’m smiling. I guess the loneliness was getting to me more than I thought. Not that I don’t like Suri but having a voice in your head is not the same as being with another human. Not the same at all.
“Awesome. All right, what can you tell me about the next trial?”
[It’s hot and dry, with low atmospheric Lavi.]
Suri put some extra stress on those final words. I guess she’s not allowed to advise me explicitly, but this is enough; I need to find ways to improve my Lavi flows.
“I see... So, I should buy some consumables from that new shopping window? Preferably drinkable?”
[Why, that sounds like a swell idea.]
“What else are you allowed to tell me?”
[Not much. The Trial concerns a type of navigation, but you can’t really prepare for it now; you’ll have to learn as you go.]
“I see... What would you advise me to do in the time I have in this preparation room?”
[You had the right idea just now; practice your skills.]
“Particularly breathing I suppose, with there being low atmospheric Lavi and all that...”
Shit, isn’t this toxic energy poisoning just biting me in the ass again and again? I better not skimp on those consumables if I’m to survive this... At least navigating doesn’t sound that hard, I may be able to walk in a lucid trance and further decrease my Lavi consumption.
[Any last questions?]
“Can you at least tell me if my friends are alive?”
[I’m sorry; my hands are tied. Metaphorically.]
“Then only one more... Why can’t I ask ‘philosophical’ questions outside of the five-minute window?”
[Answering complex questions consumes a considerable amount of energy.]
“What? Is that really all? Energy conservation?”
[In a nutshell. Then I will end the session here.]
“All right. Open consumables shopping window.”
A menu pops up in front of me with three categories: Food, Drinks, Medicinal. It also displays my current Trial Points: 22.
[You can use gestures to navigate the menu.]
“Really? What gestures?”
[Anything. As long as I understand your meaning. And don’t be crude.]
I can’t help but smile at the disapproving tone Suri used on ‘crude.’
I pretend my hand is a gun and shoot at the ‘Food’ category. A new window replaces the previous one.
Different foods are listed from cheap to expensive, with prices starting at as little as one point for a portion of birberries or jicca nuts.
“Does that mean I no longer get those for free?”
There are more nuts and fruits listed, but at the higher end also things like yams, eggs, raw meats and even a kind of cake, which costs a whopping 10 points.
I go back to the previous menu with a wave of my hand and select the drinks menu.
The cheapest option here is a kind of waterskin, with zero Lavi content, but very good hydration. After that come things like Lavi supplementing teas, fruit juices, and even smoothies! The fruit juices and smoothies come in flasks and range from medium to high-grade as Lavi supplements, but always with a short duration. The teas are medium-grade at best but manage medium duration. The teas are sold as dry goods, with pots of hot water with cups available as a separate, much cheaper product.
Since I’m going to be traversing a hot and dry environment, possibly for a very long time as I try to find my way, I’m probably better off taking plenty of regular water, and foods that can supply a medium-grade Lavi supplement with a long duration. I was thinking nuts earlier, but the higher-grade ones are rather tough, so I decided on a yam instead.
Before I start making any purchases however, I check out the last category: Medicinal.
This is a very varied category, ranging from bandaging material and salves, to pills and fresh medicinal plants and fungi.
I carefully read all of the descriptions, surprised by some of the different functions these medicinal items have.
A pill for replenishing blood, to cure the ‘Anaemic’ status condition, a salve against light-burns... isn’t that just sunscreen? Finally, I come across an item that makes me yelp and shoot upright, the window moving with me in a dizzying manner.