Calculating Cultivation

Chapter 82: Leaving Into The Unknown

I double checked my one spatial ring I had that worked. It had been downgraded to a small room in terms of size, but it was more than enough to store the solid energy bars that had been packed away for trade and a variety of equipment that wasn’t based on arrays or formations.

Speaking to the man named Smith I had spent the last cycle learning about the equipment I would needed to survive. The two main things were keeping an atmosphere to breathe and the right temperature.

While material science might not be the strongest point of cultivation society, they were still incredibly far ahead of what I vaguely remembered about Earth. Supposedly the suit was rated up to one standard star. No idea what a standard star equated to, but that was what the suit was rated for. And it was a complete environmental enclosure. The power for everything came from battery packs, where the life span was measured in cycles, so quite a long time.

The most expensive piece of equipment I had purchased was a small hover craft. It was big enough to have the cockpit, a storage area that could be accessed from outside in the back, and multiple power reactors. While I could address the basic technical issues, any serious problems, I would be completely out of my depth. Like a car, I knew how to replace the fluids, but had no chance at rebuilding the engine or drive train.

Besides learning how to use the equipment, the rest of my time was spent working on my cultivation and getting used to being weak once again. I never felt strong, but now, I felt weaker than ever. I had gotten used to the feeling over time, but it was rough. Like there was something missing.

I had eventually felt a small trickle of energy. Calling it a trickle would have been too much, but a drop every once and a while, fueling my cultivation, and my body so it all didn’t completely collapse. It was like trying to suck up an ocean through a pump, but there was only a small dried out pond. My capacity was much larger for energy compared to what was available.

No internal structures had been built to process the non-existent energy. I could barely see force acting upon the world. It was a struggle to progress in my cultivation. The longer I stayed here the more I realized that I was abandoned by Qiang You. Well, more like an investment he had gotten what he wanted and didn’t expect anything more from me.

The list he had given me was a statement saying that I wasn’t to come back unless I was ready to pay back my debts. I couldn’t stay at this outpost. It was a place to die, not a place to thrive. The threat of a Temporal Hunter could be real, or it might not be. The outcome was the same, banishing me from cultivation society so I wouldn’t be his headache anymore. That was why I focused a lot of time on the equipment I would need to survive and travel.

“Smith,” I greeted the man. He gave me a nod. It didn’t escape my notice that the people’s names here weren’t in the style of the rest of the Forever City and their cultivation society. I had asked and he had traveled here from another society he didn’t want to talk about and was hired to do various tasks in the outpost. I didn’t blame him for not sharing. We all had a past, and I could see him wanting to leave his behind.

“Zhou, another lesson?” he asked, and I shook my head. I had enough understanding of the basics of how my equipment worked that I wouldn’t be completely helpless if something broke down. I didn’t learn the fundamentals but knew the general purpose of the parts and how to replace them. Like knowing how to replace a fuse, but not understanding how electricity works.

While I had learned how cultivation technology worked from Bones over the years we were togeather, that was completely separate from the principals that all this equipment worked on. There was no direct background energy to power source conversion.

“I am planning on leaving tomorrow. I have all the equipment I need, and know enough about how to repair it,” I replied, and he set down the small force projector he was repairing and looked at me. I knew he was thinking about how this was it. Once I left the doors would close behind me and wouldn’t be opened unless there was something major to recover outside the outpost.

“Well, I will miss a paying customer, but I understand.” I waited since Smith knew what I wanted. He let out a sigh and slowly got up from where he was sitting. “You know I am not going to trade it.”

“And you aren’t going to get a better offer,” I replied. It felt good to stretch my bartering instincts once again. I pulled out five energy bars from my spatial ring and set them on a table to the side. I knew he wanted them.

They weren’t regular energy bars that were common down in the Forever City. They were specifically made to last up here in the Mechanical Layer and not break apart. Each of them was worth around 10,000 credits. It was a large portion of the wealth I had brought along with me, but I needed the item Smith had.

“Seven,” he finally said, and I shook my head. That was way too much. What he had was incredibly valuable, but I would be crippled financially if I traded anymore. I had already reached my bottom line.

“Five is my limit like I said before. You have been here a long time and no one has made an offer. And you aren’t going to get another one in a long time if ever,” I countered.

“I have gotten offers, but not enough,” he said. I inclined my head slightly at that, not wanting to argue with him. There was a silence between us, and he was looking at the energy bars I had laid out. That much would see his personal wealth increase quite a bit.

“Well I have clearly offered the most out of the people who have passed through. If you aren’t going to take my deal, then I will be off,” I said and lifted up one of the energy bars to put it back away in my spatial ring.

“Fine! You drive a hard bargain, five it is,” Steve said. I paused and set the energy bar back down on the table next to me. “Give me a moment.” Steve went into a back room while I patiently waited. I didn’t trust in his good nature, but violence in the outpost was something that was heavily punished.

Any crime was basically a death sentence. Since everyone here had to live togeather long term and depended on the Forever City for supplies and support, it was in all their interests to not create trouble. If there was a mess, this placed would be cleaned up without hesitation, and the beings here replaced.

There were ancient stories of such things happening that had become myth, but no one doubted them. While the Forever City might seem distant, these outposts exists under its protection.

Steve came back with a hand sized box and held it out towards me. “A compact energy wave compass.” It was made out of stylized blue and gold metal, like nothing else in the outpost. It was not technology from the Forever City or made by any cultivator. It was made by another super organization. Steve had no idea which one, but it was designed to work on the Mechanical Layer.

If it was taken into the Firmament it would explode due to how sensitive it was. Steve had showed me the device after I had taken to learning repair work and listed out its value for someone like me. It detected waste energy.

While it was called a compass, it was really an astrolabe. Three rings connected on axis points, each one getting smaller than the next. This allowed the rings to spin. Inside each ring were incredibly tiny components and there was a hologram in the middle of the rings that gave a better visual display.

The actual function of the compact wave compass was a detector. It would lock onto waste energy that rippled outwards. It could also be adjusted to ignore certain sources of energy to a limited extent. It was a way to find other things out there. The biggest downside was that it locked onto waste energy, nothing else.

I took the device from Steve and watched as the rings spun around and the display in the center indicated a direction down and off to my right. It was the downwards angle that was interesting. There was even a small bar in the display indicating relative strength, with the amount being used for comparison adjustable.

With this I wouldn’t just be running around hopelessly in the utter expanse of nothingness. I closed the case up. “Good luck out there,” Steve said as he pocketed the energy bars.

“Thanks. With this, I should hopefully find something,” I said.

“Well the hover car you have has the best deflectors and spatial compressors that could be managed. I shudder to think about walking anywhere. Better to just kill yourself,” Steve said with a shudder. I winced at the thought.

It was easy to think of the Mechanical Layer as a bubble of existence like the Forever City or the continent I grew up on. But it was a layer of reality. It extended infinitely in all spatial directions. Even with all the time I had spent running around the Forever City, there were multiple ways to get around and it ultimately wasn’t that large, even if the area was larger than the surfaces of several Earths.

It could still be transversed in time periods measuring years by just running around. But a layer was infinite. The outpost existed in a bubble of reality, but it was less defined unlike the bubble that held the Forever City.

What this meant was that stuff outside came in and fell out. The biggest issue was the space between things. The distance between the Forever City and the continent was massive, hence the cylinder ships that were used and going through the Astral Plane to avoid traveling through the Firmament.

Due to the various conflicts, balance between solid matter and energy, anything outside the bubbles of reality and civilization was a nightmare throughout the Firmament. That was why cylinder ships traveled through the astral plane. The vast majority of it was empty. What matter there was tended to break down. Almost nothing lived there due to the threats coming from Chaos. Finally, there was a lot of ambient energy.

It made it the perfect layer for travel, while protected bubbles in the Firmament balanced the need for safety and energy. And with an infinite timeframe, the successful civilizations apparently had a similar scheme as well with variations. But the core premise still existed of what layers were used for.

Stolen from its rightful place, this narrative is not meant to be on Amazon; report any sightings.

The Mechanical Layer was the great filter for all the trash getting sucked down to the lower layers. No one knew how stuff naturally moved between layers, or at least the people I had talked to. The underlying physics was kept secret or wasn’t common language. Regardless, the Firmament was a much more intense place in terms of competition between super-organizations.

It was viewed as the best environment to be in. While the further one went from that layer, the bigger a trash heap it was viewed as. Chaos was too wild and dangerous. With rules governing reality, only being suggestions. In the opposite direction, the Material was viewed as poor, since there was no energy. That basis for all super-organizations.

“Thanks Steve, for everything,” I said with a smile. It had been nice to interact with an actual person who wasn’t completely crazy.

“Good luck, Yuan Zhou. Hope you find valuable items and make it back,” he said. It was amusing in a way that I still had a route back to the continent. My return trips had been paid for. But once I left the outpost, I would be completely cut off unless I found a way back on my own. This was a brand new start.

I reached the airlock and got in the hover craft. The outer doors opened and there was a swirl of sand. I set off through them and they closed behind me. There was no way back now. The doors could only be opened from the inside. I was truly on my own, flying off into the unknown.

Picking a direction away from the outpost, I began to put distance between us. The hovercraft shook occasionally, but the intense winds and sand did nothing. After an hour of traveling, the sand disappeared and there was a big area of nothing, the view was amazing.

In the distance I could see burning light, water, dirt, ground, gases, everything was swirling about. I took a moment to appreciate the view. Out of everything I had seen so far, this was the most impressive. The Forever City while impressive had left a sour note in mind. It was a place of death and overpowered cultivators. Where everything was claimed by the super rich and powerful immortals.

Looking out in the far distance, it truly made me appreciate how vast everything was. Also the pretty colors were mesmerizing. The empty space was clearly shifting. I had been warned that gravity was in flux as well. The physical laws were breaking down on this layer, which was why things were such a mess.

There were clumps of matter, gases, but no stars or planets. Just a continual area of stuff all jumbled up togeather. I pulled out the astrolabe, searching for other sources of energy. It easily pinpointed the outpost. The outpost stabilized itself on a patch of hard ground, to provide an area to work off of, if there was ever something valuable that landed nearby. Like a tiny net in a large ocean hoping to catch a fish, but not a shark.

There was nothing else that I could pick up. I set off, staying in the empty areas. While there weren’t many things that survived here, some creatures did live in the Mechanical Layer. Having a visual was important in my mind. Also, the hover craft I was in wasn’t super durable. If went through clouds of matter, I could run into something.

It was freeing in a way that I hadn’t realized to be truly gone from the Forever City. While my path back was cut, I had no complaints. It might have been the dream retirement home for immortal cultivators, but I had found it quite stifling. There was almost no room for upward mobility. The immortals had no qualms about exploiting those weaker than them.

The worst part was, that the immortals themselves were being exploited by stronger immortals. A chain of exploitation all the way up. It made me wonder what was at the very top of the power pyramid. There were super organizations, but were there ultra powerful mega organizations after that? I chuckled to myself as I sailed through the amazing Mechanical Layer. For such a rigid name, it was a lot more interesting than the Astral Plane.

That had been a constant rainbow vomit, but here I could make out actual objects. Like there was a shattered planet in the distance. Now it was covered by a wave of gas. A chunk of rock flew by and the hover craft moved itself out of the way. The more I looked, I also noted that light itself curved in weird ways occasionally, or that there was the occasional burst of light, possibly an explosion.

Was matter itself breaking down? That could be the case. I knew my hover craft was secure for traveling. Just like the outpost, it was designed in such a way that it wouldn’t just break apart. There was nothing living outside the hover craft as far as I could tell. This type of chaotic environment would not be conducive to life.

I checked the astrolabe again for any energy readings. Only the outpost showed up. That was frustrating, but not surprising. This place was infinite after all. While there was a number that showed my speed, distance was not a set thing, only relative position to an object.

That was why there was no map. And since cultivators were dependent on energy, techniques would be limited as well. That meant depending on technology like this hover craft and the compass I had. While there were probably a few cultivators that were interested in technology, it was probably viewed as a dead end for the most part, since technology had to be redesigned for the lower layers, and working out the use of energy would be superior in a fight and for survival.

One wouldn’t be a cultivator if they focused on machines to increase their strength. That would be one of the other super-organizations that existed out here. The fact that the Forever City had a path to the different layers was a testament to its strength. Most other super organizations did not have such a convenient and well protected path.

I had to give the Forever City that much credit. While it was a horrible place, its level of development was impressive, especially if you were part of the ruling caste. I guess that was why the rulers set the city up the way they had. The purpose was to create a stable environment, maximize returns, and slowly accumulate strength.

That was the way of an immortal cultivator, to wait for stuff to come to them by creating an environment where resources would flow back to them. The idea was like a gold rush. Only a few people would find gold and get rich, but the people who sold the shovels would have an enduring source of wealth they could rely on. That worked out great if you were the one selling the shovels. Not so great if you were the person trying to dig out gold like me.

A day passed, and then another, but nothing showed up. I could still see the outpost on the astrolabe’s display. After ten days of traveling, the energy signature from the outpost finally disappeared. The food was horrible processed recycled goop. But I wouldn’t change it for anything.

Twenty days since I had left, no sign of any energy signatures. I spent my time looking out the front and side windows of the hovercraft, trying to spot anything as I stuck to the clear areas. The view never got old. After the endless yellow toxic gas of the Forever City and its gray buildings, this was a breath of fresh air that I had desperately needed.

Thirty days after I had departed the outpost, things continued to be the same. While the view constantly changed, it was getting slightly old. But still I kept watch for anything that might not have energy, but be interesting to stop and take a look at. I had started focusing back on my cultivation since there was nothing much else to do. At least it was better than being stuck in a box for years and years at a time trying to get stronger.

I could feel the slight trickle of energy coming into my body. I had less to work with, but that didn’t mean I needed to be inefficient with it. I slowly saved up the energy my body drew through the layers. My body was like a dry sponge, desperately starved for energy. I felt weak and tired from the lack of energy, but that was to be expected.

Forty days went by, and I had become a statue, only moving to handle my physical needs occasionally. The hover craft was quite small. Only a cockpit, back living area, and a tiny airlock out the back. One person could fit alright, two people would be cramped but possible.

With the recycling systems on board, my mind and body would wear out before the hover craft did. The power source fueling it, would keep going for a long time. Cultivators preferred things that lasted a very long time. Unlike my distant life on Earth where things had a planned end use date. Cultivators wanted things that would work forever, otherwise what was the point of building them in the first place?

I suspected that was a reason why guns were so unpopular. It was seen as a one-time expense. Sure, you would have a powerful attack, but there was probably a deep routed cultural stigma that I had pissed over the years. Having something last a year, let alone thousands was not something that was considered unless you lived for that long. No immortal would want to go shopping every couple of millennia.

Too bad warranty sales or insurance weren’t a thing. But no one would want that kind of long-term risk and no one would pay out an ongoing fee. If stuff was destroyed it was really destroyed, but paying out a fee of some kind was seen as a waste of money. It was a shame, since that would have been a great way to make money, but it just wasn’t possible for insurance to work without some kind of regulatory framework.

And the only thing that cultivators hated more than free loaders were taxes or fees. For such a controlled and structured society, they really valued independence. My mind kept going on tangents as I sat in the cockpit looking out at different colored gases and chunks of matter. The lighting would change as well, which would produce dazzling effects, when a source of light was obscured.

I felt like I was exploring a vast cavern at times that went on forever. “Anyone out there?” I asked out loud. At least with Bones, I had company while traveling about. I wondered if we would ever meet in the future, probably not.

While the hovercraft could plot a course half a day out, things were constantly shifting. A passage that might have existed before, would be gone if I tried to return. This entire layer was moving, and the varying spatial and physical rules governing various portions kept the different areas defined, producing weird visual effects.

On the 57th day, I spotted a large chunk water bubbling away on one side of a large chunk of rock, the steam being blasted around and freezing on the other side in a continuous cycle. Or on the 73rd day I saw a line of fire trailing through several clouds of gas, empty space, and melting anything solid it ran into. I gave that stream of fire a wide berth.

Perhaps it was just a star compressed and elongated in a weird way. Or another time there was a storm of glass shards flying about, with some flying off into the empty space I was passing through, bouncing off the hover craft.

These weird things were everywhere, and I stayed clear of the most dangerous. The hovercraft would detect them and go around as well, but something there was a manual correction needed. I kept checking for energy readings but kept getting absolutely nothing. It was the only way to detect any kind of civilization out here.

The more I traveled the more I realized the true scope of what a layer actually was. It was infinite. I knew that intellectually, but to actually see large spaces over and over impacted my mentality. The speed I was traveling at was immense as well. The hover craft only gave relational speed.

I would occasionally check with a passing chunk of rock or ice. I was going trillions of kilometers every day. Which meant I was traveling faster than the speed of light, but it didn’t feel like it, and there were no weird temporal effects. There was no explanation or anyone to ask either. I knew I would be traveling quickly, but not this quickly when I had first set out.

For all that I knew how to repair and troubleshoot problems, I was a mechanic at best. I wouldn’t be able to say how everything worked. I had some ideas that formations and arrays were being used to break the rules that governed this place. Similar to how the vehicles in the Forever City were able to travel so quickly. They told physics to go cry in the corner and there was nothing physics could do about it.

The only reason places like the continent I had grown up on and the Forever City existed, was to make the environment suitable for weak humans and comfortable for the ruling immortals. While they could survive a higher level of gravity, it wasn’t worth it. When you live your life in standard gravity, you aren’t going to want to suddenly change.

That’s also why the hover craft was comfortable for myself. Well maybe not comfortable with how small it was, but at least livable. It was designed that way to suit the human form. While there were non-human cultivators out there, the Forever City was dominated by humans, which was why human standards were used. It was a weird form of standardization that was just a natural part of cultivation society.

After a hundred and thirty-nine days, I finally picked up on an energy signature in the distance. I looked at the reading again, and there was something off to one side in the direction I was currently heading. I altered course. Finally, there was something out here besides colorful gases and rocks. The view still hadn’t gotten hold, but I was really hoping to find something, anything.

Living the rest of my life in the hover craft was not something I wanted to happen. There was a slight fear that I would be traveling forever, never running into anything. There was no edge. I could just keep going forever and not run into anything besides raw materials.

Tip: You can use left, right, A and D keyboard keys to browse between chapters.