Chapter 370 The Journal
"I'm surprised," said Aldrich. "I wouldn't have expected you to be the type to care about appearances."
Fler'Gan bowed his head. "I care not for what the specimen here think. But I am not willing to tarnish reception of you, O Elder."
"At least you're a lot more polite than the other tentacle guy," sighed V.
"What is Balar doing, by the way?" said Aldrich. He had told V to keep Balar in Haven because he was not needed for this meeting.
"He's a decently fast learner. I told him if something fishy ever happened to Haven's networks to push a button that'll send me a signal," said V. "But I'm not sure he'll listen. I figured out that he loves watching TV shows and movies. So, I hooked him up to Vision+, and now he's watching like seven different things at once with all those eyes.
With how many series and IP Vision+ has bulldozed and devoured, I figure he'll be sitting there for a while."
"Well, at least he's adjusting," said Aldrich.
"Is the entertainment here truly that captivating? I do wonder...," said Valera reflectively, and this made Aldrich remember even more that he had a date to promise her. Something beyond all the fighting and planning on fighting.
"There's a ton of stuff to see now with the Net. Anybody can look up anything they want," said V. She shrugged. "Makes it real easy to hit yourself up with a dopamine rush. But a lot of folk also say it's made people into media addicts who can't think for themselves.
Anyways, I'm getting a signal to head over to the meeting site. Let's go. Can't disappoint the big boys, can we?"
"Don't go into this meeting thinking the AA are above us. We're equals now. We are in the big leagues too," said Aldrich.
"Ah, you right. My bad, forgot I was putting my talents to good, courtesy of sir major leaguer here." V smiled and slapped Aldrich's back, her hand pinging off Volantis's metal frame.
"I must say, I still do not like unwanted touching," said Volantis.
V shrunk back a little. "Right, I forgot you were there."
Dracul chuckled to himself, and Aldrich turned to him curiously. "What is it?"
The Shadow Sentinel shook his head lightly. "I am reminded of the men I used to lead. The camaraderie. It is nothing, though. A fleeting memory. Ignore me. Move on."
The group left Haven via a platform of shadows made by Dracul, traveling by air to the meeting site, eighty miles west of the city.
It was a nondescript location within a small ravine, off road where very few, if any people would ever venture. It was still tightly secured, however.
"Whole place is blacked out," said V, putting a hand to her head. She looked up, spotting stealthed drones through the party wide Truesight that Volantis provided.
They were Panopticon class 3 drones shaped like floating spiders the size of cars. They splayed their legs out in formation, generating a field of tech disruption.
"Guess that means we're in the right place," said V.
The drones protected from any unwanted surveillance while, at the bottom of the ravine, it became apparent who protected against any potential combat threat.
It was Lightspeed. She sat on a rock, her hand nursing the side of her temple like she was having a headache. The gold of her suit glimmered under the bright sun, as did her sun colored goggles.
As was the case in their past meeting, she looked less than presentable, with her long hair uncombed and frayed and a glum frown on her face.
"Took you all long enough," said Lightspeed. "This hangover's absolutely pounding me, and not in the way I like." She raised a brow at Dracul. "I thought I told you that I wasn't bringing Valkyrie after her behavior last time."
"I was informed," said Aldrich.
Lightspeed, in a rare moment of expressiveness, pointed accusingly at Dracul. "Then why bring sir baby killer here?"
The atmosphere in the air immediately dropped. Before anyone could react, shadows from Dracul's body surged out in a barrage of stakes.
Lightspeed pointed a finger gun towards the shadows, and blinking star of light shone from the tip of her finger, creating an intense circle of radiance.
The shadow stakes broke apart as they reached the vicinity of the light.
"Stop this," declared Aldrich with force.
Dracul's shadows receded back into his body, and Lightspeed dimmed the star on her finger.
"Was that necessary?" Aldrich said to Lightspeed.
"You're right. It wasn't," said Lightspeed. "Sorry. Just leaves a bad taste in my mouth, seeing that guy walking free after what he did."
"An eye for an eye. I gave back only the suffering that was given to me," said Dracul.
"An eye for an eye makes the whole world go blind," shrugged Lightspeed.
"Better to be blind than a dog," said Dracul, narrowing his inky black eyes. "Your husband's soul writhes knowing that the collar around your neck holds you from seeking justice for his passing."
Lightspeed grimaced. "You know, I always felt bad that the I-prong got a sample of me and cooked up the Lightbomb that wiped your folks out.
But now, I don't feel so bad."
Aldrich was ready to step in, cautious that Dracul's PTSD might trigger, but he remained calm.
"I am done with this pointless exchange of insults," said Dracul. "I will not speak of this matter with the likes of you any more."
"Yeah," was all Lightspeed said. She pointed at the ground, a few meters away from everyone, and fired a beam from her finger, marking out a molten spot on the cracked earth.
"Stand there. The Halo Carrier's up above in low orbit. I'll give a signal and you'll all be warped into it," said Lightspeed.
Everyone moved wordlessly, the tension in the air making it hard to put out any conversation. Lightspeed put her hand in the air, shining a bright light upwards. In the next moment, a pillar of white light shone down, encircling Aldrich and his group.
The rubble beneath Aldrich's feet began to shake, lifting up in the air with crackles of surging energy.
In the next instant, they were gone, warped out, leaving Lightspeed alone.
Lightspeed stared at the smoking indent in the earth that the warp had left. She rubbed her eyes with a shaking hand, afraid of facing Dracul.
Not because of his strength.
Because of his eyes.
Because when she stared at them, those deep, dark, tired voids, she knew she saw in them what she hated the most: herself.
"Thanatos." Emrys greeted Aldrich, hands clasped behind his back in his typical, serious posture. He looked at the group Aldrich brought and nodded, not seeing any issue with them.
"Where are we?" said Aldrich, hiding the wonder in his voice. He looked around, finding himself in an enormous chamber lit up by bright green and blue lights. The lights came from above. They flickered and flashed across an overwhelming mass of pillars of white metal that criss-crossed through the chamber, forming into a complex web of what looked like neurons.
Here, countless thousands of drones buzzed about, inspecting each of the many pillars like worker ants.
"You wanted to inspect how it is that the Panopticon would adapt to hostile infiltration," said Emrys. "So, I have taken you to the Panopticon Core, the central processing system that makes the Panopticon Directive possible."
"This...is incredible," said V, staring up at the neuron-pillars in utter awe. "The sheer amount of data flowing through even just one of those pillars is staggering. Just one is equivalent to an A ranker techno, and there's like a bajillion of them."
"8.6 million, to be precise," said Emrys. "Spread evenly across various Nodes throughout the world. Where we are is one such Node."
"So, not the main core?" pointed out Aldrich.
Emrys shook his head. "The location of the main core remains classified. In this entire world, only I am allowed to know of its location.
However, every Node is connected to the Core, so what you see here is essentially what you see in the Core."
Interesting," said Aldrich. "And this Node is in the Halo Carrier, then?"
"You are correct," said Emrys. He waved his hand, He waved his hand, and two warbots from behind him stepped forward. They were humanoid, covered from head to toe in iron and steel gray armor lined with streaks of gleaming red.
Behind their backs were sheathed twin katanas, what appeared to be their weapon of choice.
One of them stepped forward, carrying a metal suitcase in his hand that it held out towards Aldrich.
"And that is, as promised, Vanguard's journal," said Emrys.