Mace Black, Page 373-378 by Wolfenshire ()
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Mace Black, Page 373-378
She and Zil had already explored the train - it was luxurious beyond imagination. She didn’t think even the Raven royal family had anything like this. The car she and Zil were currently in was the main living car. It only had two curtained windows, one to each side of the train. Two plush red chairs sat against one wall of the train, and two matching plush red couches, currently stripped of their cushions, sat facing a working fireplace. There was a video screen that displayed only the word ‘Pending’ hanging on the far wall, and Jasai’s favorite piece of furniture was the ornate study desk towards the front of the car. Ahead of this car was a sleeping car with two bedrooms and two bathrooms, and the engine in front of that car. Behind this car was a dining car with kitchen, and the last car was a complete court room.
The court room car pretty much answered the question about what a Shadow Justice was, and what Jasai was expected to do, eventually.
She was getting bored, it had already been a long trip. They had been traveling at a constant speed of around 30 miles per hour for five days, and assuming an approximate distance traveled of 3,600 miles, meant…nothing – she sighed. She didn’t know where in relation to the building they had started, thus couldn’t calculate where they were. Another thought occurred to her and she looked at Zil.
“Hey Zil, how many stacks do you think we’ve passed,” she asked, not expecting an answer.
Zil looked up from his fort making project. “Six-hundred thirty-three thousand six-hundred forty-two,” he replied.
“What? How do you know?” asked Jasai.
Zil shrugged. “I just know.”
“Okay, how many books are in one stack?” asked Jasai.
“One planet,” said Zil.
“Wait, you’re saying that each stack holds all the written literature of one planet?” asked Jasai.
“Okay, let’s see.” Jasai looked back outside. “An average post-industrial planet has around 130 million written books, but of course there are planets with no books, and some with way more, but that’s an average. And, there are about 40 billion habitable worlds in the Universe. So, in five days we’ve only passed the literary collections of 633,600 planets. Which means, assuming we started at the center of the building, it would take 17,336 years to reach the end of the library, or 34,672 years to go from one side of the building to the other side.”
“I don’t know,” replied Zil, trying to balance a cushion and make a second level to his fort.
“How long ago did you species start building this library?” asked Jasai.
“I don’t know,” said Zil, now precariously balancing himself on the second level of his fort.
“Master Aestar’s letter says we’re staying at the Old Library, do you know when that was built, or even where it is?” asked Jasai.
Zil shrugged, and in doing shifted the fort just enough that it collapsed. Zil fell among the cushions laughing. Jasai rolled her eyes at Zil and went back to reading the school pamphlets. She needed to choose two electives. She was thinking about Quantum Physics 101 and wanted to do Classic Literature 126, but it had a prerequisite of Literature 101 and 102.
She set the pamphlet aside and picked Master Aestar’s letter up to re-read for the hundredth time.
You are being afforded an accelerated self-study and distraction free education curriculum to complete your basic education cut-short as a result of the Cettise War. Once completed, you will begin a degree of study in the field of law. You must do this before you write the first line of the Law of the Raven. You may pursue multiple degrees of study if you believe it will be beneficial to your career goals.
This train is yours to keep, contingent on accepting the position of Shadow Justice. After five years in the position of Shadow Justice, the train is yours forever. You will, in time, discover special properties and capabilities of this train, but for now, it is taking you to the Old Library. There is nobody onboard except you and Zil, and there is nobody in residence at the Old Library.
Jasai set the letter aside, stood, stretched, and yawned. “I’m going to bed, there’s nothing to see.”
Zil crawled inside his fort and curled up. “Okay, good night.”
“Hey Zil,” said Jasai.
“I’m just curious about something,” said Jasai. “If I wanted a book on quantum physics, where would I find it?”
Zil didn’t even open his eyes. He pointed and said. “Forty-three thousand two-hundred thirteen stacks that way. Level six, book 1782923.2385.”
“How do you know that?” asked Jasai.
“Just do,” said Zil.
“I don’t mean to be doubtful, but I’d have to see it to believe it,” said Jasai. “Good night.”
Jasai retired to her bedroom and was asleep before her head hit the pillow. She woke refreshed the next morning, something about sleeping on a train always gave the best sleep. She searched through the dresser but decided she wasn’t ready to part with her standard issue Temple uniform just yet. She did shower in the bathroom, and that was a bit of a challenge on a moving train. She probably took longer in the shower than she should, the hot water flowing over her was a welcome change to the lukewarm baths in a steel tub at Roael’s farm.
She thought she heard a voice and grabbed her dagger. She poked her head out of the shower but nobody was there. She waited a moment, and not hearing anything else dived back under the water. A few minutes later she thought she heard the voice again. This time she turned the water off and searched the entire room, but found nothing. She picked her uniform up to put it back on and wrinkled her nose at the smell. “Maybe I will try some new clothes, but I’m keeping the cloak with me.”
The new clothes weren’t designed for all the clandestine weapons she carried and had to settle for only six of her daggers. Her stomach grumbled, informing her it was time for breakfast. She opened the door between the cars and stepped out onto the platform that connected the train cars, and found Zil on the bottom step, his tail wrapped around the handrail while he leaned out from the train. She didn’t want to shout and startle him, he might fall under the train.
She heard someone shout, “Prepare for delivery.”
Zil shouted back. “Okay.”
“Use the right command,” scolded the voice.
“Ready to receive,” said Zil, a bit sheepishly for having to be corrected.
A Mathor standing next to the tracks came into view and Zil grabbed a book from the Mathor on the ground.
“Book delivered,” shouted the Mathor on the ground.
“Book received,” shouted Zil.
Zil pulled himself back up and climbed the stairs. He gave her a broad smile. “Good morning.”
“What do you think you were doing?” asked Jasai.
Zil handed her the book. She looked at the title. ‘An Introduction to Quantum Physics.’ She turned the book over and looked at the little piece of paper on the spine. The number was 1782923.2385.
“Seriously? How?” asked Jasai.
Zil shrugged, grinned, and wiggled his claws at her.
“Okay, fine, whatever,” said Jasai. “But don’t ever lean off the train like that again, you could have fallen.”
“I won’t fall,” said Zil.
“You could have,” argued Jasai.
“I’m sorry I made you mad,” said Zil. The expression on his face becoming concerned he had done something wrong.
“No, you didn’t make me mad, you scared me,” said Jasai.
Just then a warning alarm sounded and a metallic voice spoke. “Final warning, Gate jump in five seconds, brace for zero gravity.”
“Zero gravity? Where was the first warning? Oh, the voice she kept hearing in the shower. There was no time to find a place to brace, and they were outside between the cars, this was the worst place they could possibly be for zero gravity.
“Zil, we’re in big trouble, hang on to something,” shouted Jasai. She started to reach for the handrail, but Zil jumped forward and grabbed her in a hug. She saw his tail loop around the handrail, and then a bright light exploded around the train, and then it was dark, and cold.
Jasai felt the lurch of zero gravity in her stomach and she floated up off the walkway. Zil’s grip on her increased until she could barely breathe. The train lurched so hard she was certain if she had been holding the rail with only her hands, she would have been thrown into the dark void surrounding the train. She felt Zil’s muscles flex and he pulled them both back to the ground with his tail.
Then it got worse.
The bright light flashed again and gravity returned, and with it an avalanche of snow. The train had reentered normal space somewhere in the middle of winter. The train was plowing through snow piled on the tracks. The snow came up from under and around the train. They were both pushed toward the steps by the wave of snow. There was no way she could have held on to the railing under this onslaught. She could see Zil’s tail still wrapped around the hand railing as if it were welded there. They fell on their sides facing down the stairs. Zil’s tail was the only thing keeping them from being pushed under the train by the snow. And as quickly as it had begun, the train slowed and came to a stop.
The metallic voice spoke again. “Saestar Woods Library, please watch your step disembarking.”
Zil pulled them back up the stairs and let go of Jasai. He unwrapped his tail from the railing, twitched it a few times, and grinned at Jasai. “Zil Body Protector,” he said proudly.
Jasai started laughing and pulled him back into a hug. “Yes you are,” she said. “I will never doubt that big beautiful strong tail of yours ever again. I thought for sure we were going under the train.”
Zil lifted a handful of snow and hissed at it. “My toes are cold, what is this?”
Jasai pushed herself to her feet and looked around. “It’s called snow, it’s frozen water. Come on, let’s get inside before we freeze.”
Zil went straight for the fireplace and tried to crawl inside. He did manage to make it partially inside the fireplace. He picked up a burning log and hugged it to himself. Jasai noted that at least in this he was similar to a Daiami and impervious to fire. She wondered how high his tolerance to heat went. His scales didn’t seem to be as thick as a Daiami, and were much softer to the touch. She doubted he would be able to go wading around in a pool of lava like the Daiami were fond of doing.
Jasai went to the window and looked outside. They were in the mountains and the snow was piled up around the train all the way to the bottom of the window. She could see the library only a few yards away, also buried in snow. They would have to tunnel through the snow to find a door. She looked up at the ceiling. Had the voice just been a recorded voice? No, there wasn’t a crew, so there had to be an A.I., but how could an A.I. have made such a colossal mistake going through a dangerous portal with passengers outside?
“Train, are you an A.I.?” asked Jasai.
“I am,” said a voice.
“Why did you jump while we were outside?” asked Jasai.
“I gave three warnings, however, my safety protocols were shut off long ago,” said the A.I.
“Well turn them back on,” ordered Jasai.
“Safety protocols are active.” An alarm sounded and laser cannons dropped down from the ceiling and pointed at her and Zil. “Hostile species detected, defense measures active, will terminate hostiles in 3..2...”
“Turn them back off, turn them back off,” shouted Jasai.
“Safety protocols deactivated.” The laser cannons retracted into the ceiling.
“What’s wrong with you!” shouted Jasai.
“I apologize, I was a prototype and my programming was never completed, there are glitches.”
“Yeah, that’s a pretty big glitch, why hasn’t your programming been fixed?”
“My Creator did not have time to provide the access codes to my core before he died.”
“What are you? What’s your classification?” asked Jasai.
“I am a prototype Armored Exploration Semi-sentient Trans-dimensional All-terrain Research unit.”
Jasai tipped her head to the side. “How can you be an exploration unit, you’re a train?”
“I do not require tracks to operate,” replied the A.I.
Jasai squinted an eye, thinking. “Oh, okay, I get it. I remember Moeth saying that there comes a point when technology mirrors art. Someone made a ground to air exploration spacecraft to look like a train, that’s wicked awesome – hey, wait a second. The acronym for your classification is Aestar.”
“Clasarius Aestar built me,” said the A.I.
“Oh, is that Master Aestar’s first name?”
“Negative, the Master Aestar you know is Tarius Aestar, son of Clasarius Aestar.”
“I think I’ll just call you, Train,” said Jasai.
“A message has arrived from Tarius Aestar, would you like me to read it?” asked Train.
“Yes, please,” said Jasai. “And could you turn the heat up before Zil cooks himself in the fireplace.”
“The message reads:
Jasai…I have thought long on this and decided to divulge to you the true nature of the quantum universe you call, The Land of the Dead. I feel it is necessary for you to understand why I am providing this opportunity to you and the other Temple Ravens. To this end, I am allowing you to read my personal journal.
End of message.”
“Wow, I get to read a Creator’s journal?” asked Jasai. “Where is it?”
An access panel in the floor slid aside. Jasai walked to it and knelt down. A very old and worn book lay inside. She lifted the book out and went to sit in one of the plush red chairs. She examined the cover – The Journal of Tarius Aestar. She opened to the first page. There was a note that read, “Knowledge is the key to all understanding, Love, Father.”
She smiled. It was hard to imagine a Creator had a father, but of course Master Aestar had been a boy once, something like three and a half billion years ago. She turned the page and her smile vanished.
The Destroyers have arrived…