Chapter 212: Bliss of An Empty Mind
Lan Jue sat in silence, staring at the metal on the table in front of him. He looked lost in thought. The crystal box the metal was held in remained closed.
Dwarka, the Imitation Skyfire Library.
“Ha ha ha! Hahahaha! Of course, of course it would be this way. My original determinations were correct. Completely right! Hahahahaha! Keeper, you old bastard, I knew you were unwilling to give in. Of course I have to verify it. This old man won’t lose to you again!”
The Bookworm danced happily around his apartments. The Accountant sat slumped against a chair not far off, his face pale.
The last two days – two whole days – the Bookworm had been asking him questions non-stop. No food, no water, and if the Bookworm didn’t like the answer he punished the Accountant with physical blows.
Against such oppressive power the Accountant couldn’t do much. This crazy old man’s knowledge was as vast as the oceans, and his questions were poignant and cunning. The Accountant did his best to appear cowed, but his brain was ever working on the problem before him.
Two days without food and drink, wracking your brain morning to night. The Accountant was close to breaking.
The Bookworm celebrated by himself for what felt to be a good half an hour, before returning his attention unto the young man.
“Mmn. Now that we’ve taken care of that, this kid has no further use.”
The Accountant was greatly frightened, and despite his slow descend towards unconsciousness he snapped back to life. “Y-you shouldn’t act so recklessly! Look, I’ve done all you asked, answered all your questions. Think of how my grandfather would react if you did something untoward? And the Jewelry Master!”
The Bookworm curled his lips in a hideous grin. “Your grandfather? Distant waters hold no respite for the man dying of thirst. I wouldn’t count on him, no. But that tricky gentleman, yes, we’ll wait for him to show up. Heh heh. I’ll deal with him, too! Daring to deceive me… hah!”
The Bookworm came slinking back, bearing in his hand a strange bottle. In a blink he was standing before the Accountant, the sadistic grin on his face betraying his ill-intent.
“Hey stupid… bet you’re hungry, right? Thirsty? Soon you won’t feel any hunger… any thirst. Uncle here will get you something delicious, this decoction here! It’s a wonderful draught that took me ages to figure out. I actually prepared it for use on your grandfather. However, now that I’ve worked out his game… now that I know I can beat him!… then I don’t need it. It’s yours. If you hold any grievances about any of this, keep that to yourself, and you can blame your grandfather for all of it. Heh heh heh.”
“No! I’m not thirsty! I’m sure we can find a solution to this. Your gripe is with my grandfather, why not just go after him? Ooohh-!” The Accountant struggled mightily as the Bookworm’s skinny hand gripped his lower jaw. He unceremoniously dumped the cloudy, purple liquid in to the Accountant’s mouth.
The Bookworm flicked the younger man’ adam’s apple. He heard a gulp, and knew the concoction had been swallowed.
“kah, ugh, hach, gah! You… you will not die a natural death! My grandfather will avenge me!” It was about this time the Accountant began to feel a strange sensation in his brain. It was like an explosion through his mind, and the world before him went dark. He’d fainted.
The Bookworm’s sinister expression slowly receded. For the briefest of moments, it was replaced by a strange smile. “You old wretch. Bastard!” He suddenly looked much more like his age, hobbling pitifully with a crackling voice. However, his eyes remained as clear and cutting as ever.
The bookworm cast the bottle away over his shoulder. The thoughtful look that that invaded his eyes began to change. He looked to be simultaneously concerned and excited.
“Professor.” A deep voice called from outside the door.
“Come in,” he replied.
The door opened at his command. Su He and Lan Jue entered.
Upon seeing them, a distinct chill overcame the Bookworm’s expression.
Lan Jue smiled at him. “Have you looked it over?”
“What do you think,” the Bookworm replied curtly.
“The Keeper asked me to give it to you,” Lan Jue said. “Factual proof. You both were right, and neither were wrong. 1. You say you wish you could go back, and now’s your chance. Back then, no one had made any efforts to deceive you. The Library needs it’s master.”
The Bookworm’s eyes flashed. “Do you presume to come here and test my IQ, young man?”
Lan Jue’s eyes flashed to the Accountant, passed out in a nearby chair. He gradually lowered his head. “The Keeper also asked me to tell you, that he’s not long for this world. His hope is to return to you what’s rightfully yours, before he passes.”
The Bookworm’s whole body shook suddenly as though he’d been struck. When his spoke, his voice bore an icy chill. “Child, twice now you’ve come before me. And twice you’ve lied. Lie a third time, and what do you think the result will be? I don’t care who you are, or where you’re from – no one would be able to talk me out of the things I’d do to you.”
Lan Jue sighed. “Whether or not I am lying, you only need to dial a single number to find out. Determining the truth from lies is not difficult in this instance.”
The old man almost staggered. He recovered by quickly turning his lithe frame around, walking to the window, and punching in a number on his communicator.
“Ah, you old coot. You finally agreed to get in contact with me?” The Keeper’s voice crackled through the line.
The Bookworm’s voice was harsh, mean. “I heard you’re dying.”
“Does that please you,” the Keeper replied.
The Bookworm sneered. “Oh yes. Of course I’m pleased. Terribly pleased. When are you going to kick the bucket? I’d love to come participate in the funeral.”
The Keeper’s voice came back thin, and weak. “About three months. I’m glad you’re happy, Bookworm. Sad would also be fine, though – everything passes. You know it’s a nice feeling, with everything leaving your mind. I’ve spent the last little bit trying to hold to that, an empty mind. It’s a wonderful sensation. Putting all of that away keeps the heart in a positive place.”
The connection was cut off.
Lit by the light from the window, with his wrist raised and stone still, the Bookworm looked like a thoughtful statue.
Lan Jue hadn’t moved. In fact, he seemed somewhat lost in thought. He’d heard the exchange. And despite his earlier conversation with the Keeper, he had to wonder; was this all a trick, or was his old friend…
Silence prevailed within the Bookworm’s apartments for a time. A gloom came over Lan Jue’s expression.
The Bookworm spun around, speaking quickly to Su He. “Help me pack. We’re leaving for Planet Skyfire immediately. I’m curious to see how this old man dies. Such splendid news! Best would have been if he’d died years ago, but this will do. I hope he dies before my very eyes. I’ll curse him. I’ll shame him. I’ll make his death a misery, his last thoughts will be of sorrow and regret!” The elderly scientist roared at them from across the room. Moister had begun to gather in the corner of his eyes, seeping through the creases and wrinkles. His whole body shook ever so slightly.
“Yes, Professor.” Su He left at once to prepare.
An hour later, everyone had made their way to the public airship hangar in the heart of Dwarka.
Upon seeing the beautiful azure make of Zeus-1, the Bookworm’s brows wrinkled. His eyes flashes, and then were covered by streams of cascading data.
He waved a hand towards the ship, and a white light appear before the bow.
“What are you doing?” Lin Guoguo balked. Lan Jue held her back.
The white light glided over the length and girth of the ship. Once it reached the tail, it vanished. The strange light in the Bookworm’s eyes also faded in to nothing.
Hi lips curled in to another unwholesome grin. “Who designed it?”
“I guess I did,” Lan Jue replied.
The old man chortled, but his face went slack as quickly as quickly as it changed. “A cute little toy, but it’ll do.”
Both Lin Guoguo and Xiuxiu shot him uncomfortable looks. Lan Jue silenced them with a glance, before they could voice their displeasure. The small group climbed on to the plane. Lan Jue carried the unconscious Accountant slung over his shoulder.
He never asked the Bookworm what had happened to his fellow Avenue denizen. The tears he’d seen when the Bookworm spoke to the Keeper was all the answer he needed.
The Bookworm scuttled in to the master control room, with Su He close on his heels. The older man was emotionally unstable, everyone knew, and so Su He had to postpone his own vacation until after his Professor was settled on Skyfire.
“Please buckle your seat belts. We’ll be taking off shortly.”
Zeus-1 slowly rolled onto the runway. As it did, a pale light surrounded it until, suddenly, an electric blast fired from the engines and launched Zeus-1 in to the skies.
“Hey kid,” the Bookworm said. He had chosen a seat nearby, and craned his neck to look at Lan Jue.
“Your command?” Lan Jue replied with a smile.
The Bookworm gave him a sidelong glance. “Do you want to improve this bucket you’re riding in?”
“Of course,” the Jewelry Master said. “Why? Do you have any suggestions?”
The old man chortled. “I was an aerodynamics engineer in my youth. Even today, the majority of the East’s navy employs my designs. The reason I’m telling you your ship is no good, is because of all the waste. Improper use of the materials and power gems you’ve installed have led to this. None of what you’ve tacked on is employing it’s highest potential. I can improve overall performance by thirty percent as is, but if you add a few materials we could double its output.”
Lan Jue was surprised at the accusation and subsequent offer. Zeus-1 was the single most advanced ship of its class, he thought to himself. A top-of-the-line battleship couldn’t compete with it. If the Bookworm was speaking true, what sort of levels could Zeus-1 reach?
“What sort of price are we talking?” From the Bookworm’s face, Lan Jue knew this wouldn’t be free.
“There’s always a price,” the Bookworm cooed. “I can hardly be expected to work for free. These last few years I’ve been busy with my own research and designs. Unfortunately, I’m in need of testers. Su He has told me that you’ve attained the rank of God pilot years ago. A first-rate pilot. If you’re willing to help complete my research, I’ll help you put together a blueprint for this leaky bucket.”
- Remember, this is in reference to the fight the Keeper and the Bookworm had years ago that they bet on, wherein the loser (bookworm) left. This is proof that neither lost. ↩