It turned out that becoming friends with Randidly Ghosthound was one of the best decisions that Gary Firefly had ever made. Everything he touched seemed to go well. He had inquired about Rand’s Stats and Skills and had been refused with a bright smile. Still, Gary didn’t really care about the details. It was enough that this young man produced results.
Within the past three weeks, since Gary had met Rand, the young man had given him enough high-Level carcasses that West Providence had paid Senator Firefly’s personal military company ten million dollars in order to acquire more materials to experiment on. As they pushed the bounds of weapons, they needed to be sure that their results were enough to overcome the rising Endurance of these high-Level monsters.
One time, Rand had actually asked what Gary did with the bodies, the young man had been thoughtful. Then he had informed Gary, in his strange abridged speech, not to put too much stock in such tests because they didn’t account for the monster’s Skill.
This was a revelation to Gary. Luckily, only Rand was there to see it, and the socially awkward kid just grinned about it. It was with great pleasure that Gary Firefly met with the representatives of West Providence.
“Your research is going well?” Gary asked, knowing how these idiots would answer.
This particular representative was a young woman with her blonde hair up in a ponytail. She beamed at him. “Yes, excellent. With these examples, we believe we have a prototype that will revolutionize the military sciences. Very soon, we expect the borderlands to be open to us-”
“Of course, of course…. That’s good to hear.” Gary said, “Perhaps I was being foolish. I abruptly had a queer fear last night you didn’t account for the monsters’ Skills when you performed the experiments… but undoubtedly my fears are unfounded. I cannot wait for the good news. I hope you don’t mind if I inform Congress of the projections of your-”
“Wait, wait…” She was shaken now but in the bright-eyed, optimistic way of youth. “Account for the Skills? Of course, when the monster died they stopped- Senator, where are you going? If you don’t mind, I’m sure my supervisor would love to hear-”
“I’m terribly sorry, I’m sure you understand. I have another meeting,” Gary said, smoothing his shirt down.
His meeting was a visit to his newly planted orchards. Rand wasn’t exceptionally talented at planting, but the System made up for a lot of deficiencies. Within a week of the castle’s arrival, there was now an orchard on the hill beneath it. After these three weeks, Gary felt no choice but to believe that this Randidly Ghosthound was from another Zone. Ghost himself had agents watching Rand’s every move, corroborating the stranger’s story implicitly.
Gary was just pleased that Rand had come to him, and damn the stupid orchards. What was a silly dalliance before being in control of your own destiny? Due to Rand’s actions, Gary’s faction was better respected by West Providence, which got him the high-end prototypes to field test. This, in turn, earned him the support of the military who wanted to control who had access to these prototypes.
After watching Father Foster’s movements, Gary also had a thought to sponsor a refugee camp for those who would be liberated from the frozen time in the borderlands. It was unclear how many would survive, but Senator Firefly liked the sound of spinning himself as a humanitarian force with the election coming up in two months. There wasn’t looking to be any real resistance in his district, but he knew some of his supporters would be facing tough slogs, with Father Foster gaining more mainstream support.
Which was why, when he arrived at the orchard, he approached Randidly with a smile. The young man basically seemed to spend most of his time with Gary’s aides and Ms. Terrygate, who had taken on a motherly role for the kid. There certainly was something childlike about Rand, and the way he reacted so surprised at even the most common thing.
Shoes, for instance, left Rand aghast, and even after the concept was explained to him, he shook his head and said he “wasn’t allowed.”
“Rand, how are you?” Gary asked, finding the kid picking apples with at least three of Gary’s most athletic aides, all of them sweating. Without looking up, Rand answered while he continued to pluck and throw apples over his shoulder towards the three aides.
“Good, good, good. This is fun.” His hands worked independent of each other and flicked his wrist only lightly to throw each apple. But each sailed over towards the area where the three aides held baskets and caught the apples. In fact, the dropped apples were only because the aides kept competing with each other to catch the apples.
As Gary arrived, they all paused for a second and looked at him, as though they were caught committing a crime. It was only when three apples hit the ground due to their inaction that they snapped back to it, taking turns now.
“Mmmm… Indeed. I’m glad you’ve learned to appreciate apples. Oh, by the way, did you know a lot of my friends are moving into this area. They might even help out with the orchards. I’m just trying to figure out where they can stay…”
“Oh!” Rand said brightly, turning around with a smile. “They can stay at my castle. I have a lot of empty space.”
“Well, I don’t know… and I wouldn’t want to impose,” Gary said slowly. “Besides, this might be as many as a thousand people… I doubt there is enough room…”
“Well I could just make more,” Rand said with a shrug.
Gary smiled. “Oh, could you?”
Days settled into a routine for Randidly. From morning until early evening he worked in the furnaces, making more of the sought-after Erickson Steel. Apparently, the quality had so impressed some of the buyers that demand was rapidly increasing, and now Foreman Davey paid him $6.50 per ingot. It was a small thing, but in the quantities that Randidly was selling, it quickly added up to several extra hundreds.
In addition, Randidly was experimenting with more advanced metals and experiencing modest success. He didn’t go so far as to mix his blood into the metal again, as that metal was so resilient he couldn’t shape it, but he used other recipes to make metals that Randidly would experiment with on the side.
Refine and Extract were the obvious beneficiaries of this extra experimentation, as both continued to steadily improve. In the early evening, he would return to his little hovel. Occasionally, he would receive calls through his interspatial watch, that seemed to function much the same as a phone. Randidly made a note to see if the technology of it was possible to bring also to Zone 32.
Not that the communication really mattered, as people had the friend’s list function of the System. But it was a familiar distraction. Humanity here seemed to take comfort in it.
Most of these calls were either from Griffith or Tatiana, although occasionally Foreman Davey would call, talking about a spike in demand for Erickson Steel. Inwardly, Randidly wondered how they seemed to know he was taking a break at this time. In addition, how the hell did they justify communicating with him if he spent his time in this worthless hut? Randidly wasn’t a status-minded person, and even he was starting to be irked by the thought that he would be seen living in this place. By now, most steelworkers knew of him and his Erickson Steel, and greeted him deferentially. It was nice.
It wasn’t enough prestige to catch the attention of Ghost, but it was a nice return to the respect he received in Donnyton.
But on the subject of how the other people justified his home, maybe they just thought he was that sorta guy. After all, most people seemed more thrown by his bare feet. Randidly shook his head sadly.
In the evening and through the night, he would go to the forest and work on his search and his underground space. Of all the areas of these few weeks for Randidly, the most disappointing was the search for the Creature. He must have gone up and down the Zone, searching for traces of Aether, and yet he found nothing.
The giant scans that exhausted him still caught the barest hint, but the individual scans did not. It was infuriating, but it also made Randidly cautious. The best explanation that Randidly could think of was that the Creature had prepared countermeasures for him. Although he could subvert it with his general search, the specific ones didn’t let him detect it.
Still, Lucretia was working tirelessly to expand his ability to detect Aether, and the related Skills improved as a result. It was only a matter of time. And when the clash happened, Randidly intended to be ready.
In some ways, his daytjime activities improved his focus for the night activities, because as time went on his image for the underground area shifted. Now, Randidly was creating not only a housing comlex, but also a forge, where he could make his own metal away from the eyes of Ghost.
The only other indulgence Randidly allowed himself was to continue to plant the flowers left at that small shrine into the ground, quickly turning it into a strange little grotto in the forest. Some of Randidly’s Vitality seemed to bleed into the flowers he touched, and they often grew bigger or brighter than their normal counterparts. Some of the flowers even climbed up nearby trees like vines.
The Raid Boss that was hiding within the area had disappeared, along with its spawn, but Randidly didn’t mind. It was all the better that it left, especially with the increased military presence in the area. The borders of the Zone had continued to expand, and probably close to 2,000 people had been relocated to a nearby camp run by the strange church of Father Foster.
When Randidly heard this figure, there was a very sour feeling in his chest. These 2,000 were only ⅕ of the total that had been freed by the expanding edges of the Zone. But along with people, high-Level monsters were found there. The rescue operations encountered heavy casualties. All the while, Randidly knew he could have done something about it.