At this moment, the Bookworm looked for all the world like the Big Bad Wolf from the red riding stories. “I guarantee that, in this area, you won’t find a better person in all of the East – nay, all three alliances. The Keeper, the old wretch, is a master of weaponry and simulation. When it comes to design, though, I leave him in the dust. Blocks behind, mind you.”
Lan Jue listened respectfully. “And what does your experiment require me to do?”
The Bookworm was suddenly alive with the vitality of a man twice his age. He shot up from his seat after popping the safety harness free, and made his way to a spot with a little more open space. He reached out with his right hand and, as if in response, a silver light appeared before him. Before his eyes the light split, spread, until it created a hovering silver portal.
From the other side of the strange fissure, an enormous mechanical manipulator 1 forced its way through. In it’s ‘hand’ was something that looked similar to the sim pods they used to enter DreamNet. It deposited its payload, then vanished.
As the sim pod was placed upon the floor a loud and startling sound of suction filled the cockpit. The pod fixed itself to the floor, essentially becoming another part of the ship.
Upon seeing the pod Su He’s face blanched. But he quickly shut his eyes and, when he opened them again, it was as though he’d never seen the machine before.
“This is it. My experimentation process takes place entirely in a simulation. I call it the God-Pilot Rating System, G.P.R.S. As you probably are aware, the difference between a Sovereign- and a God-ranked pilot is immense. It is not wildly uncommon for a pilot to break the threshold in to God-hood, however the Three Alliances never communicate this information. And, once someone has reached God-ranked, there aren’t any systems of differentiation, or rankings. This makes it very difficult to determine who is strongest and weakest among the known God-ranked pilots. I designed and created this testing apparatus to remedy this problem, using it with pilots to place them in a new rating system. It was built with nothing but the most modern, top-of-the-line technology. And let me tell you this, I was one of the master researchers of DreamNet. If my research leads to success, this system will feature within DreamNet itself. But more than that, it possess a very special ability… this item you see before you may just solve DreamNet’s problem of being unable to allow pilots to employ their discipline in a simulation. That is to say, with my design, even in a simulation, you’ll be able to fight to the best of your capabilities. You can fight with your mecha, and your power, as a cohesive unit.”
Upon hearing the news, Lan Jue’s face clearly displayed his shock. He understood the implications at play. There was no amount of money that could measure the importance of this DreamNet upgrade. Giving sim pilots the ability to use their discipline safely for practice was practically the beginning of a new epoch!
After all, the cost of manufacture for a mecha suit was quite high, and training in reality always came with the possibility of injury to the pilot or damage to these expensive pieces of equipment. If what the Bookworm claimed was true, and a simulation was better able to mirror real life, this would give young pilots more opportunity to train. This, in turn, meant better pilots in the long run.
Lan Jue couldn’t help respect the old man, who’s stoic features were trained on the younger adept. He unclipped his harness, saying “Elder, even if you didn’t promise to improve my ship, I’d still help you with this. Would it be alright if I ask how much a pod like this will eventually cost?”
The Bookworm nodded. “Because of the many items needed in order for the pod itself to resist Discipline power, it’s quite expensive. At least ten times the cost of modern sim pods. However, we might have found a way to get around that. It has to do with the various levels of Discipline and Adepts, and using pods specific to them. In this way we can solve a pressing issue. After all, the destructive power of a first-rank Adept and a ninth-ranked Adept is enormously different. Moreover, ninth-ranked Adepts usually won’t be in dire enough financial straits to be unable to purchase one. What’s you’re looking at is one of the latter models, capable of sustaining against anyone but a paragon. Virtually indestructible. But I warn you… if you do decide to participate in this testing program you must complete it in its entirety. Otherwise, the program will believe you’re still testing and won’t let you exit. There is no way for me to open it from the outside. The entire testing process takes about three hours, and we have more than enough time before we reach Skyfire.”
Lan Jue’s eyes flashed in anticipation. “No problem. It’s my honor to help you complete this test.”
The Bookworm nodded. He slapped his right hand against the side of the pod, and slowly it’s doors opened to reveal the small cockpit within.
The exterior of the machine didn’t look any different from the sim pods already in use, but for a small keyboard similar to the one found on the outside of mech suits. At a glance, no one would be able to tell this machine was any different from the hundreds of others scattered throughout the Alliances.
Lan Jue wasted no time in climbing in.
The Bookworm’s voice followed him in. “After the door closes, the test will begin. Don’t hold back, pay attention to the pod’s reactions. I’ll be able to watch from outside as well.”
“Alright.” Lan Jue shot the Bookworm a big thumbs up to indicate he understood.
The pod door slowly began to close. It shut with a hiss, completely isolating Lan Jue from the outside world.
Su He swept his eyes towards the Bookworm. “Professor… are you sure this is alright?”
The Bookworm scowled at his disciple. “What’s not alright? Would you like to take his place? This punk dared to try and deceive me, heh, we’ll see how long before he begs for death. In fact this probably isn’t even a bad thing for him. That old bastard asked him to come on his behalf, so he must like him quite a lot. Trusts him. I’m simply curious how much he can take, since the lying scrooge gave him this task. In a little while why don’t you go check up on the one that passed out. See how his body has reacted.”
“Yes, Professor,” Su He said. He dare not say anything further.
The Bookworm then returned to his seat and, calling forth his own inter-dimensional locker, produced a strange helmet from within. He quickly placed it on his head.
As the doors closed, Lan Jue’s world was plunged in to darkness. He dutifully, almost unconsciously affixed his harness even without any light. He wore no flight suit, since he’d assumed he wouldn’t need it on their journey on Zeus-1, and so instead was seated comfortably in his leisure clothes. He unconsciously placed his hands on the control board. He knew it all explicitly, by feel.
A helmet slowly descended from somewhere, fitting itself to his head.
“Neural connection established. Test commencing.” Suddenly, the interior of the pod lit up. Lan Jue found himself somewhere else entirely.
It looked like an arena, upon which he stood nestled in a sim mecha suit. The suit itself didn’t appear to be special in any way. Just a normal fighter. Nor was there any energy bar present – so it appeared the energy restrictions had been removed for this simulation.
“Test One: hand speed. Please avoid the incoming mortar attacks. You may not avoid the strikes by neutralizing them. If the mortars score a hit, the test will end. 2 The emotionless electronic voice filled the pod. As soon as the instructions were delivered, arcs of golden light began to rapidly approach from all directions. There appeared to be ten incoming strikes in all, all of which descending quickly right where Lan Jue waited.
It wasn’t a mass attack, this first volley. Instead, it seemed designed to restrict his dodging options. That was even more frightening than a wall of mortar shells.
Lan Jue, however, felt no pressure as the golden light washed over him.
Slowly, Lan Jue’s mecha dropped in to a crouch. Then, in a flash, he exploded off of the arena floor, becoming little more than a flashing beam of light.
Outside of the pod the Bookworm nodded, causing his helmet to wobble atop his head. “Disordered advance. Nice. Decent hand speed.”
The piercing bolts of light drew ever nearer. Lan Jue, however, was like a strange silver fish flopping from one location to another. He would wait until just the right moment, then leap out of the way.
This was a test you could participate in using normal pods as well, though the difficulty level of this far outstripped the one offered in DreamNet.
By Lan Jue’s estimation, a hand speed of even forty wouldn’t be enough to pass this opening part of the test. Clearly this test was designed for god-ranked pilots.
More waves approached. As he watched not only did they become more intense, but also appeared to be coming faster. They tore through the air, bringing with them a screeching, ear-piercing wail.
Sound interference? They were coming faster.
Lan Jue’s mecha matched the increase in speed. Flashing, racing faster, even changing location as they drew closer. Sometimes they would be little more than distant dots of light, and then sometimes they would be clear and closer than they appeared. Still, none could come close to the wild mecha, which danced between the blasts effortlessly.
On occasion, Lan Jue would also employ ghost abilities and similar high-level skills to avoid the strikes.
As the test progressed Lan Jue was pleased to discover his silver suit was capable of taking quite a beating. No matter how Lan Jue chose to use it, the suit reacted normally. There were no indications that it was being pushed too far. He felt like he could relax his inherent caution.
Lan Jue was further surprised to discover that he was able to perform his maneuvers and actions calmly, without excess effort. His reaction time, hand speed, everything was far from his limit.
Once an Adept had reached the levels Lan Jue had, their understanding of their own body reached a keen knowledge others were incapable of. Any difference could result in a significant effect at ninth-ranked. Of course his also meant that even the slightest increase in hand speed at this level was a heroic feat. Lan Jue could feel that his hand speed wasn’t the same as it used to be.
Ten minutes later.
Lan Jue’s fingers danced like specters across the keyboard. Were others able to see the scores of incoming attacks, they would be horrified. One after the other fell in terrifying volleys, with no gaps in between them!
Still, the silver light danced in between them, again and again just barely avoiding obliteration.
For this test, just one of those dangerous bolts of light would spell the end.
Outside, the Bookworm occasionally slapped the armrest of his chair, betraying his displeasure with the situation. With his helmet he was able to see everything Lan Jue did – and how he did it.
Fifteen minutes later.
Bolts of lightning had begun to race along Lan Jue’s body. The silver mecha had also, at some unknown adopted a blue hue, and it’s speed had increased exponentially from when they began. Still the blue light deftly avoided the attacks from all directions. He was too fast for the human eye to see, at this point.
“Booommm!”The sound of a detonation ripped through the cockpit. The lights vanished, and things returned to as they were at the onset of the test.
Lan Jue’s hands shook slightly. He shook them to try and bring some life back to his fingers. Beads of sweat had begun to congregate on his forehead.
For those of us who aren’t robotics engineers: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manipulator ↩
Guys, it’s GladOS! ↩