Chapter 199: Results and Hypotheses
For a moment the Accountant just looked at him. Soon, however, he was grinding his teeth. “You know, you’re a spoiled kid in need of a spanking.”
Lan Jue chuckled. “If you like we can head to the Reaper’s arena and you can give it your best shot? I’d be down for that.”
The Accountant’s expression changed. He adopted a faux dismissive air. “We shouldn’t keep the Keeper waiting. Let’s head in.”
The first impression when one walked in to the library was; scholarly. Most of the reading in these places was in line with modern technology, which meant it was largely populated with electronic media. Paper books were considered luxury antiques these days. It’s reputedly said that material from the famous writer Tang Jia San Shao, author of the masterwork Douluo Dalu, rivaled the cost of a high-class high-alt verti-car.
All of the books in Skyfire’s Library were paper, though one might come to expect this from the Avenue. The aggregate worth of everything gathered here was beyond measure.
The Accountant brought Lan Jue directly to the Library’s third floor. They pushed their way in to what looked like a very spartan room.
The walls were lined with book shelves, and the center of the room was dominated by a classic-style wooden chair beside a window. The window was open, allowing a cool breeze to waft through among the leather-bound volumes. The tall tree outside rustled incessantly as the air caressed its leaves.
The Keeper called out, waving towards Lan Jue as they entered. “Ah, you’re here,” he said. “Have a seat.”
Lan Jue did as instructed. Meanwhile the old man waved his helper away. The Accountant shot Lan Jue a begrudging glare before exiting and closing the door behind him.
Lan Jue watched, then raised a brow towards the Keeper with a grin on his handsome face. “What is it that’s so important the Accountant can’t be allowed to hear it?”
The Keeper coughed, his frail body jerking with the effort. “Too fidgety. Unreliable. Still a lot he doesn’t know well enough. This is to avoid an extreme reaction… so no face is lost.”
“If someone is always looked at like a child,” Lan Jue began “how can you expect them to learn to walk on their own? You shouldn’t look down on him so. He’s young, but capable.”
The old man grinned. “Didn’t he just ask you to help him find a girl? If you could it might actually help the poor child.”
“Ah?” Lan Jue stared at the Keeper, surprised.
The old man’s yellowed, rheumy eyes regarding the young Jewelry Master. “And you may call me the Keeper, not ‘old man’. Once young men reach an age, they’re nothing but walking tubs of hormones. They all need to unwind, release. Besides, I only have the one grandson. I hope that he’ll continue the family line. And here in the Avenue, his prospects either aren’t suitably talented, or the age difference is too great. Only you two are similar, and you’ve got a much more stable head on your shoulders 1. So I leave him in your hands. I ask that you help me by taking him around with you. It’s mostly for this reason that I’ve asked him to follow you to the NEU. He needs more experience out in normal society.”
“Alright. If it’ll help you feel better, I’ll look after him. With me he’ll grow up in a hurry.” Lan Jue shot his old friend a lopsided smile.
The Keeper nodded, then changed the subject. “The results of our experimentation with the sample you brought back from Taihua is ready. Unfortunately, it causes more trouble than it solves.”
Lan Jue sat a little straighter in his chair. Already he was feeling nervous. “What were you able to discover?”
The Keeper delivered his report, not unlike a professor lecturing a classroom. “This is a beast that has never been recorded in any of the three Great Alliances. The piece you brought back had an enormous amount of life still in it, and energy reserves to rival an s-ranked power gem. But where this ‘life’… this vitality in it keeps it going, it’s a virulent toxin to us. So were a man to take this energy into himself, he’d see his natural life energies increasing. However, it would also mean suffering the debilitating effects of the poison – which rapidly lead to death.”
“To these beasts, however, this poison is not an issue. Nor is this energy present created by themselves. As you’ve seen, they obtain this through a sort of phagocytosis. They assimilate the vital essence of their surroundings, and convert it in to power they can use. Through our research we’ve managed to reach a hypothesis; the most likely possibility is that the progenitor you encountered in the ocean was the only outside visitor to Taihua. When it arrived, it wasn’t that strong, however it expanded in size and power through incessant phagocytosis of the surrounding vital energies. Once it obtained a certain baseline of vitality, it began producing ovum. The gestation period between asexual conception and hatching is remarkably fast, though it relies on consumption of its surroundings to do so.”
“We’ve come to assume that the progenitor’s ultimate aim was to deploy its children throughout Taihua, and use them as gatherers and providers for its own sustenance. It condenses it in to the energy core you brought back. If this creature is permitted to continue this process unhindered, it would eventually consume the entire planet.”
“I’ve already discussed this with the Wine Master. He says he believes the beast traveled through space. We can then assume once a planet has had its vital essences depleted, these creatures migrate elsewhere to continue their voracious advance. Without any more samples to experiment with, we currently have no way of testing its phagocytic abilities in depth. We can’t tell how long or how quickly it’s transformative phases last. We can assume, however, that it is quite fast. The more beasts the progenitor creates to sustain itself, the more frightening this process becomes.”
Lan Jue nodded his head thoughtfully. “Fortunately the progenitor’s powers were limited, according to what we discovered fighting it. If we’re capable of discovering them quickly, they won’t be much of a problem. A single shot from a battleship would do it.
The Keeper chortled with grandfatherly admonition. “Beware of blind optimism. How do you know this creature is the strongest of its race? What if it only serves as a transporter? It’s best to acknowledge the possibility that there are more challenging subspecies we’ve yet to encounter. Will your theoretical battleship be able to contend with that threat?”
“You never make a point without some motive. Tell me what you’ve discovered,” Lan Jue replied.
The Keeper shrugged. “Nothing discovered. Simple deduction is sufficient. One only need recognize the stupendous amounts of energy present in the sample. Were that creature left to its own devices for much longer, killing it would have been substantially more difficult. To put it another way, the creature itself was unable to completely utilize the power it contained within itself. So what does it need so much for, precisely? The simplest explanation: to leave it room to grow.”
Lan Jue took a deep, slow breath. “If that’s the case, we’re looking at a serious problem. And other than us, everyone else remains entirely ignorant of the threat.”
“These are troubled waters,” the Keeper muttered sagely. “Our ancestors espoused these potential problems even before the age of space exploration. Inevitably, they claimed, we would encounter the multifarious denizens of an ever expanding universe. Among them may very well be creatures stronger than us, smarter than us. Creatures that wish to impede our progress and annihilate our species. In the universe as it was in the old world, the rules are the same; survival of the fittest. If a species seeks survival, seeks expansion, seeks a firm foothold in the vast galactic expanse, they must rely on their own strength and the strength of their peers. This is especially true for the human race. Our enemies are potentially limitless, their strength incredible. However, humans have their wits and drive, and our incessant forward march of progress has seen a solid foundation developed. We have bastions, and motherships. The chances of encountering anything that can contend with the likes of that are small. For that reason, we can take heart, and ease our worry. As we continue to expand, to explore… as we continue to encounter the unknown, the most important thing we can do in the present is make ourselves better. The Wine Master, Clairvoyant and I know about the DreamNet competition, and for the reason we all stand behind you in full support. Of course, this matter is yours to deal with as you see fit, but rest assured we are here should you need our assistance. Do you understand?”
Lan Jue smiled. “I do.”
The Keeper humphed once again, as he leaned back against the old wooden chair. He looked tired, somehow older after their exchange.
The expression in Lan Jue’s eyes changed. He’d met with the Keeper several times since arriving in Skyfire Avenue, but it was the first time he’d seen the all-powerful Paragon like this.
“Is something bothering you,” Lan Jue asked.
The Keeper’s wrinkled face broke in a bitter smile. “Bothering is an understatement! If it were simply a bother, it wouldn’t have perplexed me for these many years.”
Lan Jue blinked. “So…” He felt that, since he said that much, the Keeper still had more to tell him.
The Keeper sighed. “You know, I’m not the founder of the Skyfire Library. It was someone else. Many of these volumes were here before I took over.”
Of course Lan Jue didn’t know this tid-bit of information. He continued with curiosity. “So you mean, you weren’t the first Keeper.”
The old man shook his head. “No. The man who owned this place before me wasn’t called the Keeper. They called him the Bookworm. A fellow who loved books more than life, and the most renowned scholar of his day. I originally came to Skyfire Avenue attracted by the Clairvoyan’ts fame. I had questions I needed answers to. Suddenly, I found myself in possession of another man’s book repository.”
- You sure about that, boss? ↩