Chapter 2: Quantum Strangeness
It was a handful of trying months after that traumatising event where Talland wiped his blood all over my face. Other than that one incident, these crazy zealots didn’t seem to have any other ‘fun’ activities planned for me. Just in case, I kept an eye out, even though I wouldn’t be able to do anything in this powerless body of mine.
Whilst aural comprehension was excellent, I had trouble pronouncing certain aspects of the language in this world. When no one was around, I would often try to practice the language by mumbling it to myself, mimicking the main syllables that made up this foreign language.
Several times, I tried to access the A.I. and perform some of their field manipulations, but it didn’t seem like I had permissions to do that yet.
Today, I was about to turn one year old.
“Rael, you’re about to turn one year old!”
Yes, mother, thank you for the reminder.
Lilanth was standing by the door with one of her overly-affectionate smiles. She was the main person to take care of me, even though there were servants clearly assigned that task. It seemed she really didn’t mind watching me. But, well, it was probably because I was a quiet child that didn’t make an unnecessary fuss. I was an adult in a child’s body, after all.
“Rael, this the earliest time we can test you for your power. It’s time to learn magic!”
Power? Did she mean the authority to access the A.I.?
Even though I didn’t believe her claims of ‘magic’, it was clear that there was at least some hidden system governing field manipulations that I couldn’t access. Even though I doubted I could do much in a fenced-off bullpen no doubt restricting my authority to the main A.I., I still felt a measure of excitement. Who knows? After a while, I might even be able to get deeper access, and then I might be able to contact the wider civilisation.
Until then, I guess it was sticking to their role play. I looked around, wasn’t there supposed to be both of my parents attending to my ceremony? I thought this was a big deal.
Mother hesitated before giving me a strained smile. “Your father couldn’t make it right now. He’s doing something important for the kingdom.”
I nodded as Lilanth breathed a sigh of relief when I accepted her explanation. She was being deliberately vague, I knew, but there was nothing I could do about it.
Lilanth gestured to the doorway and a woman entered the room. Oh? The midwife was back, although this time she was carrying a large knobbed staff with various intricate carvings I just couldn’t make out at this distance. Lilanth smiled and hugged the midwife with a delighted giggle.
“Mariel, you came!”
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world, friend.” Mariel glanced around. “I didn’t see Dias around…?”
Lilanth sighed. “There was a Shade spotted nearby.”
Mariel snorted. “So? A villager spots their own shadow and declares it to be a Shade! They are simply making dragons out of lizards!”
“I know, Mariel, but my husband couldn’t rest unless he checked it out. It could be a clue…”
“Bah! He has a beautiful wife, a budding son and all he can think about is glory and honour. I don’t know why you married that bonehead.”
Lilanth put her hands on her hips and glared at Mariel. “That bonehead is the head of the Primo family, now!”
Mariel stuck out her tongue. “Ah, sister, you know I don’t subscribe to that noble stuff. Family lineage means nothing to me.” She smiled at me and patted my head. “Well, unless it’s my own.”
Lilanth rolled her eyes and snatched me up to her chest. I let out a soft cry of surprise, but they both didn’t seem to mind me as I rolled my eyes and settled into her grip.
“And where were you, all this time, ‘sister’?” Lilanth raised her eyebrow with a patient stare.
Mariel shrugged, dragging her finger through her hair as she tapped her lips. “Testing the powers of all the villagers within reach. Oh, it so exhausting finding no talent within this side of the world, let me tell you!”
Lilanth stroked my head with a worried look. “We are quite far from the Spire.”
Mariel nodded. “But true power is able to open the gate anywhere, Lilanth.”
“I suppose you’re right, but it still worries me, I’ve heard things about how the blessing passes down. Sometimes it lay dormant for a long time, be weak, or even skip generations.” Lilanth’s hand became a claw. “What if… what if…”
Mariel flicked away Lilanth’s unspoken suggestion as if she were warding off a fly. “You worry too much! The powers really do shy away from the doubtful.” She drew out a milky-white crystal that had shifting coloured clouds moving just beneath the surface. “We can always do this another time. Oh, alright, alright, no need to stare at me like that, let’s get your silly fears overcome, then.”
She brought the crystal over holding it near me as Lilanth gently took my hand and a drew it near the glass. Just as I was about to touch it, she paused.
“But what if—”
“Oh for the love of the Celestials!” Mariel slammed the crystal into my hand as I felt an electric shock stab painfully through my arm. I drew it back with a surprised gasp and a cry, but suppressed it when I saw the crystal flash blindingly white for a moment before going dark. The clouds disappeared and there was no movement from the ball anymore.
“What…?” Mariel stared in mute astonishment as she peered at the crystal ball. “What happened?”
Lilanth kept shooting glances between me and the ball. “Mariel, what does that mean? I’ve never heard of something like that happening before.”
Mariel straightened and cleared her throat, getting over her shock with a ruffled expression smoothed with great effort. “I… don’t know. I…” She stared at the ball with a shiver. “I have to look it up.” Abruptly, Mariel withdrew, taking the crystal ball and beelining to the door with hastened steps.
“Wait! My son’s not in danger, is he?!” Lilanth called out.
Mariel glanced back and hesitated, then gave a mostly fake-seeming smile of reassurance. “No, no, no, no, no, not at all. Don’t worry about it, I just have to check up on something or… never mind. Just take it easy. I’m sure it was just the Shard being worn out. Yes, that’s it, nothing to be worried about.” With that, Mariel disappeared from the door.
I could see the about-turn in personality from Mariel was starting to give Lilanth a rising sense of unease. She placed me on the floor as she stalked out of the room in a hurry, forgetting, perhaps, that she was leaving a child alone in the room by himself. Well, it’s not like I could get into trouble and I needed time to process all they’ve been talking about.
Fantasy lands and roleplaying. The more that I think about that theory, the more the evidence doesn’t seem to fit. Even if I consider them really, really, into it, there should be technological clues that hint at an A.I. Overwatch. With their reactions and the way they spoke naturally, it seemed like they really believed what they were saying.
Alright. Time to revisit the options. The first option was some sort of rebirth in an afterlife. That was rejected due to lack of evidence. Good. Second option were fanatics roleplaying an ancient cultural world after saving me with super-advanced technology that can withstand radiation from a pulsar flash, whilst also escaping the immense gravity well of a neutron star. Very, very, very unlikely. Thirdly, these weren’t the puppeteers behind the strings and were somehow brainwashed to believe they were actually in the feudal age.
Considering the scenarios above, the course of action I should take would be three steps:
1. Play along with their reality and not openly resist their way of thoughts. Test this by introducing advanced knowledge tentatively. If they accept it, they are possibly manipulated, if they reject it, they are possibly fanatics.
2. Secure myself and my independence. This would require knowledge of the local rules, customs, laws, science, technology, and the resident A.I. (if present).
3. Carefully study and wait for an opportunity to determine whether home still exists. Obtain necessary self-sufficiency as soon as possible and then construct a methodology to determine if reaching home is possible. If not possible, try to make the best of the situation as possible.
Making a plan instantly made me feel more at ease. I may be in a powerless infantile body, but at least I was clothed, fed, and mostly well-off. Apart from some strange local customs, I was steadily getting used to this lifestyle. I was even getting used to eating solid food. I mostly ate liquids in my previous life, but here, there was some mushy stuff that I assumed was similar to porridge.
… At least I didn’t need to suckle for my meal anymore.
“Oh Rael, she’s gone. I can’t help but worry about that test of powers. That’s never happened here before. I wonder what it means? If your father was here I’m sure he could think of something, but I’m the mage of the family, so this should be mine, but even Mariel didn’t know. If my sister doesn’t know something then how am I expected to know—”
Lilanth kept this worried mumble going even throughout the time she was feeding me. Eventually she grew conscious of how her own worries was making me feel uncomfortable and she apologised, tucked me into the cot and left me to my own devices.
I didn’t see Mariel for a long time after that. I didn’t know what that meant.
Today, I resolved to get my hands on some books!
Even though Lilanth would often recite me stories, which I must admit to enjoying, it wasn’t a replacement for solid knowledge. I was dying to know about the topsy-turvy world I was in and theorising about it in my restrictive cot wasn’t going to get me anywhere. Seeing that the house was quiet and there wasn’t anybody around, I steadily climbed out of the cot.
Levering myself up over the top and down, I slid a couple of centimetres down, testing my grip first before letting go and falling to the carpeted ground with a soft thud. Smiling to myself, I waddled out of the room. There wasn’t anybody around, good.
Two things were going for me today. Most of the servants had left to attend to Dias and Lilanth as they ventured from home. Some of them stayed behind, but they weren’t around on my floor. I had observed that they mostly restricted their cleaning to early in the morning before anybody else had awoken. Then they would do miscellaneous tasks like shopping and cooking. This left me with a window of opportunity between breakfast and lunch. Which was now.
Another thing was that the door to my room was left wide open. However, the door to the study was closed. At the very least I knew it wasn’t locked because I hadn’t seen anybody using a key. This house, true to ancient times, used good old fashioned mechanical locks. I didn’t know much about them, other than you needed a key, which would trip the tumblers depending on the grooves etched into the key. I also knew about lock picking, but not how to do it. The professor who introduced the concept used it as a trivia of sorts when explaining encryption.
Weak encryption if you ask me, he used to say.
Levering myself at the foot of the study door, I got up on my legs, teetering slightly, and faced another challenge. Stupid me, of course I wouldn’t be tall enough to reach the handle! I toddled my way back to my room and grabbed a few cushions and positioned myself at the door once again. At one point, I almost toppled the whole thing. I would have been a brain-dead baby if that happened, but nothing gained without nothing risked, right?
I reached out and grabbed the handle. With a satisfying click, the door swung inwards… taking me with it!
“Woah!” My feet was suspended almost half a metre off the ground!
For a few frightening seconds, I dangled before I realised there wasn’t much danger. After calming my wildly beating heart, I braced myself to fall to the ground without hurting myself. With a careful release, I slid to the floor, which thankfully featured a rug to pad my impact. Landing awkwardly on my pudgy legs, I grinned, my face flushed with the success of conquering my first mission. Successful infiltration of my ‘father’s’ study, achieved.
Looking around, I couldn’t see anything that would be considered an introductory text. There was parchment scattered on my father’s desk with some peeking over the lip of his study table that I could see from my vantage point. Bookshelves lined the walls with odd paraphernalia scattered around. I spotted several crystals on stools and chairs, ornamental weapons mounted on stands and pedestals, and some jewellery with those ridiculous gemstones again.
Just as I was about to go about picking something to decipher, I heard the heavy click of the door on the bottom floor. Eye widening, I realised that was the front entrance. That would mean one of my parents were back! I chose any book at random from one of the bottom shelves and then darted out of the room, dragging the heavy thing to my own room.
I went back and retrieved the cushions, spotting, just outside my periphery, the ominous shadow of a person ascending the winding staircase at the end of the hall. Inside my room, I tossed the book under the cushions on one of the least-used recliners in my room and then rapidly scaled my cot to plop myself in it and tuck myself in.
I could feel my head pounding with the exertion as footsteps echoed down the corridor to stop at my room as I drew the covers around me.
“Rael, my son—”
My father’s words were cut short as he approached.
Oh damn, did he notice the book? Did he catch me?
A hand was placed on my forehead, and I flinched from the contact.
“Do you have a fever?” he murmured quietly.
At that, I relaxed. Phew.
Dias withdrew from my room with a worried look and hurried steps.
Later that day, a doctor actually visited and I felt kind of guilty knowing that I worried them.
Still, it was a score to retrieve a book, now I could begin to decode it. It will be hard, but I needed to have an edge here and knowledge is the key to obtaining one.
“I think my son’s a genius.”
Lilanthe’s comment to Dias wasn’t missed. Talland was here was a maid that was assigned to me. I found out her name was ‘Eileen’ and she was a young but loyal servant that recently joined. I could tell from all the glances that Talland was sending Eileen that he was smitten with her, but her professional demeanour was hard to crack.
In contrast to the frosty reception that Eileen gave Talland, this young girl acted both lively and mature for her age, which I guessed was somewhere around sixteen years old. Not being much older than Talland, I could see why puppy-dog love sprouted for him, but my ‘guard’ was making a fool of himself trying to earn the affection of Eileen. Still, I had to give it to him, he tried hard.
Dias glanced up from his scroll and rolled his eyes. “As much as I love my son, it’s not as if he can actually read any of that.”
I had to hand it to him, he knew what he was talking about. I didn’t know anything this storybook actually said in writing, because I could only recognise characters but not strung together words or sentences. That was a little more complicated because no one gave me any input. I had to reverse-construct it from whatever I could remember from Lilanthe’s bedtime stories.
“I know!” My mother went over to a shelf and pulled out a book. “But it’s so cute looking at him concentrating so hard on the book!”
Dias rubbed his eyes. “He’s going to have to get used to it, but shouldn’t children be out and about? Maybe I should give him sword training?”
Lilanthe snatched me up and away from the book I had levered from the shelf. I reached out with forlorn hands as she hugged me to her chest. “No! There’s plenty of time to swing around a hunk of metal when he’s older. Right now, I think he could be a great scholar… maybe even a Court scholar!”
Dias laughed. “Don’t get too ahead of yourself, dear, what are the chances?”
Lilanthe chuckled with him and stroked my head. “I know. It’s just that, in moments like this, I will hopefully remember being this happy forever. Rael is such a good boy… I wish it will never end.”
I looked up at my emotional mother and wondered about her strange outlook on me and life. Was I such a big deal to her? Did my mother used to think this way?
Dias tilted his head. “I haven’t seen him complain or cry or throw a tantrum, it’s strange, but he’s never really made a fuss before. I’m worried that there might be something wrong with him.”
Well, he’s not wrong. Even though I wanted to keep my developmental profile a secret, it’s not like I can act like a child all the time. How was I supposed to know how a child behaves, even? I can’t remember how I acted as a child, but it probably wasn’t like this. I could understand them, though, a child wouldn’t be this quiet and well-behaved. It might even be scary for them.
“Rael is just a good boy, aren’t you?”
“Yes, Mommy.” I was diligent in my replies at the very least.
Dias shot Lilanthe a look. I didn’t miss the envy in the glance as he pursed his lips.
“Oh alright.” He sighed. “I wonder how much Rael understands this conversation, he looks like he’s following along.”
“Much as I like to think it, it’s impossible for a child that young to understand all that we’re saying. He’s just looking between us because of who’s talking. It’s so cute!”
Ah, Lilanthe is in mother-mode again.
Dias laughed and rose from his table to give his wife a quick hug and a kiss. I was pressed in between, but didn’t really mind it. Family is important, after all. Even though I tried to keep in contact with them, my travels took me far and wide and it was common for me to be gone for years between visits. Well… maybe it will be different here.
I shook my head. No, that’s ridiculous. These aren’t my real family. I must have been caught up in the moment. I’ve got a real family waiting for me planet-side. All I have to do is try my best to get there.
At a knocking sound on the door, Eileen opened it and spoke quietly with the maid outside. Talland rested a hand on the hilt of his sword as the door swung open to admit a slightly haggard individual. Metal clanked upon metal as the leather-wearing woman stumbled into the room. Fiery red hair peeked from under her hood as Talland moved to intercept her.
“Careful now, Talland,” Dias warned him, “that’s the Duke of Armridge’s daughter.”
As Talland whipped his hand away from his sword to stretch it out as proffered help, the Duke’s daughter ignored him and straightened painfully before giving a stiff bow.
“Lord Dias Primo, Lady Lilanthe Ander—”
“Primo,” Lilanthe interrupted with a cold gaze.
“Lady Primo.” The newcomer adapted smoothly. She turned her gaze to me, the heat of it looking like it could cut steel cooling to a warm sunny sparkle as she studied me with interest. “This must be Master Rael Primo.” She bowed to me slightly. “I hope he will grow up with the qualities of both his parents.”
Dias and Lilanthe, initially cautious, relaxed after she said that.
“Lady Chrysale Armridge, to what do we owe this honour?” Dias prompted with a wary smile.
“I’ve just been sent with a message to warn of another Shade sighting.”
Dias sucked in a brea th and then released it out with a hapless smile. “The last few sightings were nothing more than hearsay and gossip-mongering, but from what I see, you finally have evidence to the contrary?”
Chrysale hesitated briefly as Dias’ eyebrows drew down in response. “Lord Dias, I’ve been having visions—"
“You’re not telling me that you’ve come all the way out here just to tell me that you’ve had another vision?!” Dias roared. Glancing my way and evidently seeing my wide eyes, he took a deep, calming breath and then continued. “Lady Chrysale, even if you are the Duke’s daughter, I cannot go out of my way to investigate every little premonition you’ve dreamt up!”
“I’ve heard enough! I have a family, a household, a land to take care of, and every time I want to spend time with them, I’ve been dragged out to look into your wild fantasies! I’ve indulged for the first few times, but even you must realise that it is bordering on ridicule to suggest that I should entertain you for a second longer! You may hold a distinguished position but even the Duke will listen if I bring forth my grievances to him, are we clear?”
Chrysale stood, stiff and mute, her fiery demeanour nowhere to be seen. “Yes, Lord.”
Dias held his angry stance for a few more seconds before wiping a weary hand across his face. “Lady Chrysale, your father and I have known each other for many years. I was there when you were born for Celestial’s sake. I’m saying this for your sake, drop this issue now, or you may be endangering more people than helping.”
Chrysale did not say anything in return and stood with a defiant expression, which made Dias sigh. “Do you know that to deal with a possible Shade threat, how many soldiers we need to pull away from defences? Do you know how many brigands, thieves and bandits run wild when there are no armed forces nearby to maintain the peace? Do you know the cost of exposing travelling folk in our kingdom to that kind of danger? I think I have done enough as a favour to you and your father.”
At that, Chrysale bowed her head. “I’m sorry, Lord, but—”
“Stop right there, Lady Chrysale, I don’t want to have to throw you out. I will tell you what will be. I will give you, you alone, a month to gather evidence of a Shade. If you cannot bring forth enough definitive evidence, then this ends. No more visits about your visions, no more asking for my men and my time, are we absolutely clear?”
Chrysale bowed deeply. “Yes, Lord, thank you for your understanding.”
Dias shook his head. “You must know more than anyone that I want a Shade dead, but at this point, I don’t know if you’re using this because you genuinely mean it, or if there isn’t some hidden agenda.” He leaned in close to Chrysale. “I hope, for your sake, that that is not the case.”
Chrysale bowed. “If I may request one last thing from you, Lord?”
Dias sighed. “Yes, what is it?”
“Could I stay within your fief and investigate the matter here? My vision—”
“Yes, yes,” Dias muttered, “you may stay here, of course, I didn’t suggest that I wouldn’t be hospitable.” His gaze softened. “Despite our differences in this issue, I still care about you and your father. We are brothers in arms and you are almost like my daughter.”
“Thank you, Lord.”
“Talland, Eileen, see that our guest is shown her quarters.”
“Yes, Lord,” they both said as they bowed and led Chrysale out.
As Chrysale left, Lilanthe, silent up until now, sighed too.
“My, Dias, are we really going to house her? She’s the one that’s been pulling you all around the place!”
“I know, Lilanthe, but you must realise that she puts me in a difficult position. I also care about her. Japeth has been a great supporter for our own problems in the Primo family.”
“Have you actually spoken to Japeth about her?”
“Well, no, but I would hardly think that she would do all this without…” Dias tilted his head. “You don’t think she would dare?”
“If anything, I think we should keep an eye on her.” Lilanthe shrugged. “The girl obviously means well, but she’s misguided.”
“I think so too. I will send a letter to Japeth in the meanwhile.” Dias groaned as he shifted back to his desk. “Being a noble is so exhausting.”
“You chose to come back.” Lilanthe’s chuckle filled the room. “Being a noble is quite a different experience, mind you.”
“If it wasn’t for Rael, I’d probably camp out in the woods, you know, it’s not too late—”
“Oh, you’re a handful!” Lilanthe swatted his arm. “I want Rael to have the best possible start. There are some things you absolutely cannot reach being a commoner. This is what we’ve decided.”
“You’re right, you’re right, I just miss the good old days when we were on adventures… oh, well, looks like Rael is getting sleepy.”
…It’s not my fault! Lilanthe’s arms are warm and cozy!
“He’s growing big and strong, just like his father.”
Dias laughed. “I hope he has a great mind like his mother.”
I tried my best to pretend to sleep, maybe even actually sleep. When these two got into it, nothing would stop them and they’d be at it for hours!
Over the next few months, I tried my best to read. It was slow going, but eventually I was able to nail down the writing, which, in some ways, was very similar to Galactic Common. At the same time, I learned a little more about the surrounding geography. The language had roots from several other languages within the same continent. The books that I had been reading was the continent’s dominant language: Arterial. The second most common language was the language of the ‘mages’: Nidilanth. There were several other languages, but I couldn’t get much information on them.
Back to ‘mages’, I found out that most people were able to use ‘magic’, which I had initially assumed was part of a distributed A.I. system. I was wrong, there wasn’t an A.I. system. The way I figured this out was that all A.I. commands were invoked verbally. There were no provisions to use it neurally. This was because of the problem of ‘tangential thought throws’, the A.I. was unable to cope with how our mind would often run several ‘tangential’ thoughts when we wanted an outcome.
For example, if I wanted the A.I. to fetch me something from the table with my mind. I would simply think ‘I want that pen’, accompanied with feelings of wanting the pen. However, because my mind doesn’t ‘verbalise’ the command, the A.I. gets an influx of thoughts and feelings tangentially related to the pen. Sometimes, the thoughts and feelings have nothing to do with the pen, or the situation and my mind, since it has associated them with a pen, brings them up as a matter of course.
Well, there has been some forays into neural linkup and A.I. systems, but unfortunately, in emergency systems and with dealing with forces that have the potential to harm or injure someone, it’s best to verbalise all of the commands… and that’s what everyone has done up until now.
I’ve been playing around with the concept of this world’s ‘magic’ by trying again and again to make the little whirlwind that Lilanthe showed me a year ago. The book, which I had first stolen from Dias’ study was, surprisingly, an introductory guide to magic. It was written more for the average sword swinger, which might I add was a crazy thought but I think they actually did attack each other with blades, but it did have some useful information about ‘magic’.
Since eliminating the fact that there was an A.I. system here, I was dying to know what kind of technology would allow these people to access field manipulations to such an extent. So here I was, frustrated with reciting the ‘incantation’ again and again.
“… Sekrath aliminic hellan!”
…Nothing, yet again. Frustrated, I tried to recall how the wind moved above Lilanthe’s palm. How air rose, taking cool air with it. It turned due to the fast moving currents below and above…
Wind, just blow! I thought savagely.
Then, abruptly, it did.
A small puff of air blew from my palm and into my face. I looked around. No, it could have been a draft, right? I looked at the palm of my hand. This time, I imagined the movement of air around my palm. Suddenly, I could feel the currents of air blowing about my palm and when I moved a nervous finger towards it, I could feel the streams of air caressing it.
Well I’ll be.
So that disproved the theory that A.I. was controlling this place. The kind of neural resolution and distributed computing to follow everyone in the society would be on the order of magnitude of a megastructure. A star would probably have just enough energy to drive the computational power to manage a small city.
Then it suddenly hit me.
Was I really reborn?
Just chugging along. I'll fix up the formatting sizes (still getting used to this backend).
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