Chapter 514: Solving Problems

    Chapter 514: Solving Problems

    Lan Jue's eyes glittered. That's right! According to the time frame announced earlier, DreamNet's upgrades were either complete or very nearly so. He was sure this would turn out to be a huge boon, since now users could integrate their Disciplines into the virtual world. Students would be able to integrate their abilities and mecha combat just as though it was happening in real life.

    The Wine Master grinned in self-satisfaction. "The real suits are being manufactured, but we've already begun to port the schematics in to DreamNet. Ten days at the most, and they'll all have been uploaded and ready for use. When the time has come, you can begin training your Skyfire's Star Division right from the comfort of a pod."

    "Stop! This Division is not mine." Lan Jue glowered in irritation. "I'll also be bringing the A.R.C. students from the university, so they'll need suits as well. When will we be getting the new pods?"

    "Already here," the Wine Master answered. "I'd originally planned to put them in the arena here, but since you've decided on West Hill I'll just have them delivered there instead. I've already spoken with the Gourmet, and he's agreed to help you with the Division. You should make a visit to the Pharmacist yourself sometime soon. The other members of the original Star Alliance will be your right hand, and any problems you run into will be their problems, too."

    Nodding, Lan Jue praised the Paragon. "Very thoroughly prepared! It looks like my manipulation wasn't hastily thrown together, at least."

    The Wine Master's brow rose. "Manipulation is an art. I'll gather everyone together once the time comes for the Clairvoyant's departure. After we bid him farewell, the training can begin. Ah, yes. Also, to stir up interest in the Division, we've put out information about the alien Core. We've come to call them animulae."

    Lan Jue was excited by the implication. "So you're saying that the Keeper and Bookworm's experiments are finished?"

    Nodding, the Wine Master explained. "After purification through the Tear of Neptune, the animula's energy can be directly infused into a human. We've found that cells which have been exposed to this process are revitalized, thus leading to a complete internal renewal. We've taken a cue from our animal brethren and call this mechanism exuviation. At present, the first stages of research are complete. You've seen for yourself how it's transformed the Bookworm. Exuviation was particularly effective on him - he's probably lengthened his life by at least fifty years. It isn't an easy procedure, though, and one needs a lot of experience if they want to reap stable healing benefits.

    "A major concern is how this applies to varying skill levels. We've only tested the animula on a Paragon, how will a lower level Adept react? Can the exuviation procedure be used on non-Adepts? Only once these questions have been answered can a final determination on its use be made.  Unfortunately, we have a critical shortage of testing material. The sample you brought back with you is nearly used up. If we wish to refine more animulae, then we're going to need a great deal of the base material - the monster Cores."

    Lan Jue immediately picked up on the Wine Master's unspoken implication. "You plan to announce the current progress for exuviation?"

    A smile spread across the old man's face. "I do! If this process ends up being everything it promises, the benefits to humanity would be priceless. But all of this is predicated on having enough supply. In order to get what we needed, we entered into deliberations with the Eastern parliament. After some discussion, it was agreed that experimentations would continue in return for the Eastern military having a say in the distribution of the first batch of animulae."

    Lan Jue shook his head, and fixed the man with a steady stare. "Wine Master, you really are a cunning old fox."

    In tones that were equal parts pride and apathy, the Wine Master replied. "All of this wasn't solely my doing. The decision was reached by everyone. If I'm a cunning old fox, then we have an avenue full of them."

    "All this work on one person's promise," Lan Jue replied with a sigh.

    Assurance was in the Wine Master's answer. "But this promise is real. The life of a human being has its limits, Paragons included. About the only exception are Paragons that keep rising in rank, like your master. Only the smallest fraction of Adepts will ever achieve something close to that, but everyone deserves a long life. We only get one. 1 If exuviation works, then money and man hours are a small price to pay. Fighting for the people has always been an honorable endeavor, and those who pay the highest price are cheered the loudest. The Eastern government has already passed a bill which promises to staff the experiment with soldiers as long as they're needed. From what we've found through trials, the data points to life extension of at least fifty to one hundred years - and we're not sure yet if repeating the process is dangerous. But we have the subjects, we still need the materials. We went to the other Alliances, but the problem is the same - not enough of the raw stuff needed. I guess in a way, the appearance of these monsters isn't a total tragedy."

    Lan Jue felt something within him stir, noting the excited glint in the Wine Master's eyes. "So you're saying, that if this experiment succeeds and the aliens don't attack... we'd start a war anyway."

    The Wine Master sighed in frustrated resignation. "Survival of the fittest; it just doesn't apply to the beasts of the forest. Everything in the universe follows this cruel tenet. In the end, only the strongest species will be allowed to propagate. I don't think I need to explain this to you."

    Lan Jue nodded. "Survival of the fittest, you're right. If that's the case, then humanity must be the one to come out victorious. Should one of the Division's goals be collecting animulae?"

    He answered first with a nod. "Right now, our greatest asset is actually Lyr. A few months ago the Tear of Neptune was considered trash, and neither the North nor West made any attempt to retain a stockpile. In the last few days, resolutions had passed in all three Alliances, designating the Tears as war assets. Any outside sale is a punishable offense. But this, as with all things government, was subject to bureaucracy and took time to implement. Forward thinking organizations with money were smart enough to buy up a great deal of Lyr's exports before the rules could take effect. Chief among them is your friend's Poseidon Group."

    "A-Li?" Lan Jue exclaimed.

    The Wine Master continued. "The Avenue still currently has the largest cache of Tears, but as we continue to refine animulae, they're consumed. I hope you understand how important this and exuviation are to the East."

    Lan Jue nodded. Of course he understood. Once the East perfected exuviation, it would became mecca for the best of humanity. It had incredible implications for the development of their Alliance, possibly even usurping the North.

    "The North and West have appealed to open trade with us for Tears. We're in the process of negotiations, which I imagine will involve a number of conditions. The Avenue must continue to focus on obtaining animulae so research can be completed as quickly as possible."

    Upon hearing once more of their need, Lan Jue's response was to lift the pinky finger of his left hand. Thor's Promise glinted as it caught the light, and suddenly there appeared before them a large purple alien Core.

    The Wine Master gaped. "This is...

    "On the way to meet father I ran into one of them," Lan Jue explained. "It must have been a scout. I got this from its skull after I killed it. This must be one of the animulae you mentioned - similar to the one we got from Taihua, seems to me."

    The Wine Master looked at the crystalline structure between them with open surprise, and nodded. "Spectacular. With this, research will definitely speed up. We have no way to determine how expensive something like this is, what do you want for it?"

    To this, the Jewelry Master shook his head. "Nothing. I am a member of Skyfire Avenue. I just hope somehow this exuviation process can be used on the Clairvoyant."

    But the Wine Master sighed, undermining Lan Jue's hopes. "That doesn't seem possible. The Clairvoyant's problem isn't just vitality. His body is like a funnel, and whatever life-giving energy we try to give him is just swallowed up and disappears. If we could, we would absolutely save him from the brink of death. All I can promise, is that when this is finished you and whoever you like will have access to exuviation."

    "Alright." Lan Jue didn't see the need to be polite, and instead of fighting the courtesy simply accepted it 2. The allure of a prolonged life affected everyone, he was no exception. In addition, he had a number of people he cared for, who he promised to look after. This process improved vitality, lengthened life, and keep one's spirit young - something everyone could benefit from.

    Zeus' Amazons were always his worry. Four women hell-bent on standing at his side, but he was only one man, He couldn't give them the affection they wanted. Perhaps he could repay taking their youth by extending their lives. Maybe then he wouldn't feel so guilty. Earning the right to use exuviation on more than just himself was an important point.

    "I'll take the list with me, then head over to the Pharmacist's. Hopefully she'll agree to join the Star Division." After the Wine Master's explanations and a glimpse at the big picture, Lan Jue felt a little less apprehensive about what was to come.

    Even the most unruly of Adepts would find it hard to pass up exuviation. With such an impressive carrot, managing everyone should be easier.

    Lan Jue's first priority had to be the setup of this new fighting force. Then, training. Only once they've started would he be able to see what his recruits were capable of, and what they were good at. That was when the future of Skyfire Avenue's Star Division would be planned.

    1. At least in the areas of China I've been to, religion is not really a thing. You have practicing Buddhists, but ideas of reincarnation and so forth aren't really present. The ceremonies are traditionally more than spiritual. This is compounded by the flip-flopping of the Communist party, which will alternatingly allow and forbid members from openly participating in a religion and if you want to be anyone in a powerful position - business or politics - you need to be in the party. There are a number of secret Christians I've run into, though.

    2. This is a constant concern. You have to be very diligent in the reception and giving of presents. You must vociferously deny a gift or offer of a gift, but only up to a certain point. You must also vociferously fight to give gifts, and are constantly chastised for gifting someone or paying for dinner. The trick is finding when it's appropriate to accept.
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