The Tutorial 1.11

As they emerged from the bunker an unnaturally thick mist greeted them. It had appeared out of nowhere, in the middle of the afternoon, shrouding everything beyond a couple of feet. It was eerie, as the sounds of battle in the distance were now gone, it suddenly seemed as though all of civilization had vanished, leaving them alone surrounded by a grey wall that disintegrated into nothingness.

Kitana and Alan split off from the main group, making their way slowly to the center of the Golden Gate Bridge. Eve had determined this was the most defensible position, as their enemies would need to enter one of the entrances before they fired upon them, and it gave a view of nearly the entire coastline. Although it would be difficult, Eve told Alan that she could assist him in making a shot by triangulating an enemies’ likely location using the noise of the battle. As a result, Alan kept an open communication channel with Thiago so he could hear everything Thiago could. Unfortunately, Eve had been permanently banned from directly accessing another player’s vision, and there weren’t any portable cameras for sale.

As they walked next to the main road towards the bridge, Alan kept expecting a car to appear on the road, yet none ever did. In fact, there weren’t any signs of another living being. More and more, Alan had the peculiar feeling that he was leaving the last vestiges of human society behind him… this might be one of the last moments he had on earth for a while. The earth in the Game, at least.

The silence continued.

***

As they approached the edge of the bridge the signs of a battle emerged, pointed out by Eve. The scorched marks seemed old though, the result of something far before whatever battle had occurred that day. Kitana and Alan proceeded onto the Golden Gate Bridge. A quarter of the way along the bridge, Alan found why there weren’t any vehicles on it. A section of the bridge had been obliterated, simply erased from existence, dividing the bridge clearly in two, preventing any crossing by land vehicles. Alan fired a test shot to determine how large the gap was, and based upon the time until the shot struck something, Eve calculated it to be at least 300 meters long. This made things slightly easier though, as Kitana could simply guard the entrance to the bridge while Alan set up a few hundred meters away.

A minute later, the timer for the third round disappeared, yet Thiago confirmed that they hadn’t engaged the enemy. In fact, they had no idea where they might have even landed their ship along the coast. Squinting his eyes, Alan tried to make out something n the distance, yet all he could see was the grey wall of fog…

A few more minutes passed as Thiago split the group up to scout along the edges of the coast, trying to find the Haxlards before the Predecessor arrived. Although he couldn’t see them, Eve displayed blue silhouettes showing their location. Suddenly, Alan heard a yell, along with a sickening thud. Weapon fire suddenly sounded off in the distance.

Laser fire and muzzle flashes emerged, penetrating the fog. Multiple red silhouettes appeared in the distance, standing on the edge of the coast, barely within Alan’s line of fire as Ace leapt into the group of Haxlards.

Alan focused on the nearest enemy, firing into the mist. The shot hit, but simply depleted 10% of the Haxlard’s shields. His next shot was a headshot as Eve got a better estimate of where the Haxlard was, eliminating another 80% of the shields. The enemy dived to the side, and Alan’s next shot was met by a barrier of some sort he couldn’t see.

“They’re wearing black power armor of some sort,” Thiago yelled above the burst fire of his assault rifle, “There’s a miniature shield they set up to defend against our fire. Damn, DaLong just took a shot to the head.”

Alan heard a tremendous roar emerge, followed by multiple heavy footsteps.

“Holy shit. DaLong has gone into a mad rage of some sort, this must be an ability. He’s emitting a red aura, charging at the Haxlards firing into their shield dual wielding two sub-machine guns. He’s broken through their shield now, but they’re taking him apart.”

It sounds like the Last Stand ability, a common ability of Berserkers. Resume firing.

Alan did so, firing at the Haxlard who’s shields he’d damaged earlier. This time, the headshot eliminated the Haxlard, whose health apparently minuscule when compared to his shield energy. Alan earned half a level of XP. Ace had also successfully taken down another Haxlard, but had retreated back to Daisy as he’d sustained a great deal of damage from the full frontal assault. He was some sort of monster though, to have jumped into the fray, no doubt taking multiple directs shots. Alan wondered what sort of enhancements he’d had done as he continued firing at the Haxlards.

Seeming to figure where Alan was firing from, the Haxlards pushed forwards inland, out of his line of sight. With a last scream of incoherent cursing, DaLong disappeared from his minimap, having fallen in battle. Alan managed to get a few more shots off, eliminating the majority of four additional Haxlard’s shields, killing another, gaining a level. Thiago and the rest of the party rapidly backed away from the oncoming Haxlards, unable to match their superior weaponry. All Alan could do was watch his minimap, listening to the shouts of Thiago as he lead the rest of the party.

Soon, two more Haxlards were eliminated by a grenade trap set up by Thiago. Aphrodite died shortly after. According to Thiago, she couldn’t keep up with the rest of the group, but thought she had a psionic skill that might save her. It clearly hadn’t. Daisy soon ran out of energy next, but Ace wasn’t willing to leave her behind, convincing Thiago to join him in a final stand. Sounds of gunfire and fighting soon emerged once more, then rapidly cut off as Thiago was eliminated. Worriedly Alan stared at his minimap, thinking he’d see Ace and Daisy also disappear at any second. Alan didn’t want to risk distracting them by opening up a communication channel.

Then, against all his expectations the number of remaining Haxlards slowly dwindled, until finally there were only two left.

Ace is initiating a basic unsecured voice only communication procedure, accept?

Um, yeah. What’s with the more elaborate notification?

Just additional details from data I’ve acquired outlining the details of various methods of in-game communication. Those with various tools may actually listen in on basic “calling” in-game, while more secure lines cost credits.

Wait, shouldn’t you have mentioned something about this before we opened up the insecure line between me and Thiago?

You didn’t ask. I don’t believe it would have made any difference upon the outcome of the battle, as we were simply listening as Thiago outlined his position. Accepting communication now.

“Hey, Alan, I’ve managed to eliminate the rest of the Haxlards, with Daisy’s healing. She apparently bought some sort of nanobot tech and skill or something, and managed to heal me to full in seconds as well as buff my stats. It’s apparently temporary though, and will leave me in a severely weakened state in an hour so, so we should try to find the remaining enemies soon. This was everyone in the group we encountered though, I have no idea where the last two Haxlards might be, so be careful. It looks like the Predecessor will arrive in a few minutes too.”

“Um, alright, good job. Do you think we should head out, searching for them?”

“I’m not sure… they could be anywhere, with this mist and all. Why don’t you stay in position, we’ll make our way to you once we’ve rested a bit?”

“Sure.”

Ace ended the conversation while Alan let Kitana know what had happened. Kitana told him to remain vigilant. There was something that was making her uneasy. A few seconds later, a sudden flash of light emerged in the distance as Kitana’s blade met another. Alan swung his sniper rifle to try to aim at Kitana’s attacker.

STOP.

Out of nowhere a glowing, fiery light blue sword emerged, right at the tip of Alan’s jugular. Alan halted in his tracks, watching as a Haxlard shimmered into existence. The Haxlard had a monochrome light silver faceplate, covering his face like all the other Haxlards Alan had seen. He was wearing armor similar to Alan’s, although while Alan’s was black, the Haxlards was a light grey, blending in seamlessly with the fog. The blade in his hand was a long blade, jagged on one edge, straight, razor-sharp on the other. It was covered in a soft blue fiery glow similar to the red glow that covered Alan’s laser knife when it was activated.

“Tell your comrade to stop fighting. We do not wish to fight you. If we wished to, we could have eliminated you long before now.”

Do it. Eve commanded.

Alan quickly sent a message to Kitana, telling her to stop fighting. A few seconds passed, then the sound of clashing blades stopped.

The Haxlard nodded, then removed his blade from Alan’s throat, deactivating it. It was made of a silvery material.

“We have detected an Predecessor incoming to the location of a Tutorial base. We assume this is the base you began in, correct?”

“Uh, yeah,” Alan answered hesitatingly.

“Do you know what the Predecessor’s purpose in coming here is?”

“Um, why do you want to know?”

“My brother and I wish to test our might against this warrior.”

Alan was pretty sure that the Haxlard was grinning widely as it made this statement.

“Oh, okay. It’s a bonus round for the survival test, I managed to catch it’s attention while I was running a search for nearby players somehow. I’m supposed to try to defeat it in battle, that’s all I know.”

“Hmm, very well, let us face this warrior together. Is this acceptable?”

“Yeah, sure!” Alan said excitedly. Having two assassins would definitely help.

“Agreed, then. Let us wait for the Predecessors arrival.”

The Haxlard sat down on the ground, crossing his legs, staring up at the sky. Alan glanced at the countdown, there was a minute remaining until the Predecessor arrived. He wondered what the Haxlard was doing, maybe some sort of pre-battle meditation? Maybe he should try to take advantage of the situation-

“It comes,” the Haxlard solemnly intoned.

Look up. Alan looked up, simply seeing the grey sky above.

Eve highlighted a tiny, glowing white light in the sky. It slowly grew larger as Alan stared at it.

Wait, is that-

Yes, it is the Predecessor. Be quiet, let me calculate its trajectory and anticipated landing speed.

Alan stared at the light in the sky, was this some sort of spaceship? Where was the Predecessor coming from? Soon, though, the light grew larger, looking like a falling meteor. The light was so bright it was almost unbearably painful to look at, yet Alan continued to stare up at it at Eve’s command.

Wait, is that the-

YES. JUMP OFF THE BRIDGE NOW. FEET FIRST.

Without hesitation, Alan followed Eve’s command, leaping feet first off the edge of the bridge into the water below.

SECURE YOUR SNIPER THEN PENCIL DIVE. A series of actions formed in Alan’s mind, which he quickly replicated. Alan quickly attached his plasma sniper rifle to his armor. Then, he pinned his arms to the side, legs together, pointing downwards. It was an exhilarating rush as Alan rapidly approached the surface of the ocean. This was going to hurt. Alan glanced above briefly, and saw that the Predecessor was a few seconds away from colliding with the earth, showing no signs of slowing down.

Alan crashed into the surface of water as his breath was knocked out of him. The remaining energy of his power armor vanished, as various lower portions of the armor shattered, cutting into Alan’s skin. A few of his bones shattered as well, his health halved in an instant. It was mind numbingly cold as well, yet before Alan could even get over the initial shock, there was a resounding crash as suddenly a immense force pushed Alan back, away from the city. It felt like being blown away by a tornado, multiplying the pain Alan felt in his legs immeasurably. A few seconds later, when the force pushing him backwards through the water subsided, a message popped up, which Alan was barely able to read as he struggled upwards, desperate for air.

[You are now the last surviving member of your party. Good luck!]

[+25 Ability Points]

The ice cold water seemed to be good for something, as it helped to numb the pain, yet soon all that begin to fill Alan’s mind was the desperate need for air. Portions of his vision were beginning to swim in and out of focus. Eve was yelling something at him, yet he was finding it difficult to focus on her words. It was a struggle to force his arms to move upwards, every motion pure agony.

Yet he pushed onwards.

And then, almost miraculously, Alan surfaced. He took a deep breath, coughing up water. Somehow, he managed to stay afloat, the power armor set to some special mode by Eve. It hurt too much to think about it. Alan had somehow been blown all the way to beneath the far side of the bridge. He slowly made his way to a rocky outcrop beneath a cliff. Using his upper body, Alan forced himself onto the rocks, collapsing in a heap of pain, shutting his eyes, trying to ignore it all. His backpack had been lost in the water, but his knife was still in a side compartment, and Alan had a few pain reliever pills from the med-kit stashed in another pocket. He swallowed a handful. A minute passed, and Eves words finally made it to him.

OPEN YOUR EYES. LOOK TOWARDS THE CITY.

Wearily, Alan forced himself to sit up and did so, widening his eyes in surprise at the sight he saw. The fog had been blown away completely, revealing complete devastation in its wake. A crater had formed, nearly a mile in diameter, centered at where the bunker had once been. All of the surrounding buildings in the immediate vicinity had been flattened by the impact, the force that pushed Alan backwards a miniature tsunami that had crashed into the cliffs behind him. Fortunately though it look like the Golden Gate Bridge and most of the city was unaffected, all the earthquake standards in California paying off.

The object had hit close enough to the coastline that the landing had created a deep hole in the cliff line, allowing Alan to look directly into the middle of the smoking pit. Staring as the smoke slowly drifted away, Alan was surprised to find, at the center of the crater a humanoid figure, on one knee. The Predecessor.

An over 10 foot tall behemoth, the Predecessor wore no armor except for a belt and a pair of shorts made out of some sort of dark leather. Despite supposedly being a member of an elder race, it looked remarkably savage and uncivilized, wielding no advanced technology as far as Alan could see. The Predecessor appeared to be a hairless humanoid with dark skin, bulging muscles with bits of black pieces of metal embedded into its skin.

After staring at the Predecessor for a few moments, Eve said:

STOP STARING, SHOOT AT IT.

Grimacing in pain, Alan reached over his shoulder, relieved to find the sniper he’d holstered to his back was still there. Maybe he should have detached it as it was weighing him down, but in all the chaos he’d barely even remembered it was there.. Alan aimed at the Predecessor, finding it difficult to aim as his hands shivered from the cold and his entire body convulsed due to pain. He fired his first shot, but it missed completely, hitting a cliff rather than anywhere near the terrifying being.

Re-calibrating. Please wait… Fire again now.

Alan followed through, and this time the shot managed to hit the Predecessor’s unprotected forearm. The HP bar showed up, it still had 94% of its health remaining. Alan fired again, this time scoring a headshot, yet it only did a fraction of a fraction of a percent of damage, the Predecessor’s health bar remained at 94%. How was he supposed to defeat this thing? The Predecessor looked up in Alan’s direction shortly after the second hit. Then, with a burst of strength, it leapt out of crater, disappearing into the mainland almost faster than Alan could follow.

Shortly after, the Predecessor reappeared in a blur of movement near the entrance of the Golden Gate Bridge. Alan strained to focus on it as he felt Eve do the same. His perception shifted, as he felt his own thoughts somehow merge with Eve’s frantic calculations. Time seemingly slowing down as he attempted to fire at the Predecessor, the movement of his finger squeezing the trigger feeling like seconds rather than the millisecond it actually was. From Alan’s perspective, Predecessor seemed to move almost normally, running at a human pace as everything about him slowed down.

Agonizingly slowly, Alan turned his sniper rifle to where Eve anticipated the Predecessor to be, firing off the shot. This time, Alan was able to see the bolt of plasma erupt from the end of his rifle, travelling at the speed of an arrow as it streaked straight forwards and hit the Predecessor in the head. Once more, the blast failed to make any visible dent in the being’s HP pool.

At the moment before the gap in the bridge, the Haxlard shimmered into existence, having somehow withstood the impact of the Predecessor’s landing. The grey warrior held it’s blade with two hands, rushing forward to stab the Predecessor. Yet the Haxlard was moving so slowly. The Predecessor simply sidestepped the oncoming blade, taking a black knife out of its belt. It glanced at the Haxlard as he dived past in slow motion, then decapitated him in one fell strike. A message popped up notifying Alan of the completion of the third round. He ignored it, concentrating on the Predecessor.

It proceeded along the bridge, preparing to leap over the hundred meter gap. Somehow, Eve managed to once more anticipate where the Predecessor would be, and Alan’s next shot hit the godlike being’s center of mass mid leap. The Predecessor didn’t care. Alan let the rifle slowly drop out of his hands, struggling to think of some plan, anything that might help him. But he knew it was all futile. He began to try to draw out his knife, his body simply unable to move at the speed he saw, he thought. The speed at which he wanted it to move. The impossible speed at which the Predecessor did move. A few more long, drawn out seconds that felt like minutes to Alan, and the Predecessor had finished crossing the bridge. It leapt down onto the cliffs, then landed on the rocks before Alan. It stared at Alan as he tried to move in slow motion to defend himself.

“Enough.” It said in a commanding, gruff voice. Suddenly Alan’s focus snapped, his perception reverting to its normal pace, the Predecessor’s face masked by some sort of blur. Eve’s presence in his mind diminished, returning back to normal, whatever weird state they had been in gone.

The Predecessor stared at Alan for another second, then it sighed, a visible energy leaking out of him. It seemed disappointed.

“I had come here hopeful of new allies, yet your race are still but babes, playing around in the mud. You are a simple child at best, unaware of so much in this universe, this Game,” it bemoaned, emphasizing the word Game in such a way as if it despised nothing more. “Were I to share but a fraction of the answers you have about the creation of the Game, I doubt you’d comprehend them, and doubtlessly you’d end up dead within a week. Not death within the Game, this fake pain, but real, true, ending.” The Predecessor gestured wildly, taking his knife and cutting his own, scarred arm, lowering his HP by 0.2%, the first time Alan had seen its HP visibly lower.

The predecessor took a deep breath, then let out another deep sigh. His HP regenerated to 94%.

“Yet, I see potential in you. You haven’t even completed the Tutorial, thus I suppose I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up. I would grant you a taste of true power, but it seems as though it would be incompatible with you.” It stared up at the sky, pondering, then seemed to come to some decision.

“Find me, challenge me once more, when you have evolved, grown stronger. Challenge me alone or with allies, I care not. Though I warn you, the next time you search me out, should you fail to represent a challenge, I will not be so lenient as to grant a quick death. And please, though you have begun upon the technological path, do not become the enemy, I have watched far too many comrades suffer such a fate.”

Then, before Alan could react, before even Eve could begin any sort of warning, the Predecessor swung his black blade, and Alan was met with oblivion.

***

When Alan opened his eyes, he found himself back in his Home, the white space containing a few pieces of furniture and an Administrator, where the Tutorial had began. Surprisingly, he retained his armor and knife, and felt perfectly healthy, although no HP bar was displayed in this space. A number of messages popped up, and he reviewed the ones he’d ignored previously as well.

[Congratulations for surviving the final round of the Survival Test!

Let the bonus round commence.

x10 Bonus for being the last and only survivor

+50000 xp +20000 credits]

[x4 Level Up!]

[Skill Learned! Indomitable Will]

[Skill Learned! Hypercognition]

[Synchronization rank with AI Eve increased!]

[New quest: Become Worthy*

Find and challenge the mysterious Predecessor once you have met the requirements.

Requirements: Level 1000, Complete class quest, Possess an equipment set of at least A-rank and at least 5 A-rank skills

Penalty: Should you challenge the Predecessor and not put up enough of a fight, a slow and painful death awaits you

Reward: ???

*S+ Rank quest, attempt at your own risk. No time limit. Allies allowed.]

[You have died! Current respawn point: In the Capsule Room of the Titan Haxlard Ship]

[XP and credit loss ignored due to nature of death.]

[Reaper’s Scythe dropped.]

[Bonus round: Failed.]

[Survival Test: Complete. Please wait as we calculate results.]

Alan opened up his status window, checking the changes. It seemed as though a number of his skills had ranked up, and his stats had increased even beyond the points he had put into them, based upon the actions he’d performed.

Status Window
Name: Adampwnage Alignment: Neutral
Level: 60 Class: Undetermined
Species: Human (Earth) Gender: Male
Titles
None
Reknown: N/A Notoriety: 0*
Health: 450 / 450 Health Regen: 0.06 / Sec
Psionic Energy: 10/ 10 Psi Regen: 0.01 / Sec
Shield Energy: 500 / 500 Shield Regen: 1.00 / Min
Stamina: 300 / 300 Stamina Regen: 1.3 / Sec
Strength: 34 + 20 Agility: 67 + 20
Intelligence: 57 + 20 Willpower: 52 + 20
Charisma: 27 + 20 Perception: 58 + 20
Endurance: 39 + 20 Luck: 77 + 20
Resistances
Physical: 23.5% Mental: 43.2%
Psionic: 4.2%
Faction Standings
United World Government: Neutral* Predecessors: Neutral*
Legion of Man: Neutral* Lords of Life: Neutral
Haxlards: Neutral Administrators: Friendly
Revenants: Neutral
Debt: 1M Credits Current Quest: Tutorial

 

Ability Window
Skill Name: Skill Rank: Skill Proficiency: Skill Rarity:
Sneak (Basic) G ??? G
A basic stealth ability.
Skill Name: Skill Rank: Skill Proficiency: Skill Rarity:
Skilled N/A N/A F
Grants an additional ability point every five levels to spend on abilities.
Skill Name: Skill Rank: Skill Proficiency: Skill Rarity:
Gifted N/A N/A F
Grants an additional ability point every five levels to spend on attributes.
Skill Name: Skill Rank: Skill Proficiency: Skill Rarity:
A.I. Interaction B ??? C
The ability to better allow oneself to interact with an A.I. and be interacted with in turn.
Skill Name: Skill Rank: Skill Proficiency: Skill Rarity:
Machine Communication C* ??? F
The ability to communicate with synthetic beings.
Skill Name: Skill Rank: Skill Proficiency: Skill Rarity:
Enhanced Reactions B* ??? C
Allows the user to enter a state of being in which reactions speeds are greatly augmented.
Skill Name: Skill Rank: Skill Proficiency: Skill Rarity:
Sniping (Basic) C*/A* ??? F
The ability to shoot accurately at great ranges.
Skill Name: Skill Rank: Skill Proficiency: Skill Rarity:
Energy Ranged Weapons (Basic) D ??? E
The ability to use energy based ranged weapons effectively.
Skill Name: Skill Rank: Skill Proficiency: Skill Rarity:
Energy Efficiency(Basic) E ??? D
The ability to use technology more efficiently, wasting less energy on extraneous actions.
Skill Name: Skill Rank: Skill Proficiency: Skill Rarity:
Hypercognition B* ??? A
Allows the user to enter a state of accelerated perception, able to perform mental operations at an accelerated rate.
Skill Name: Skill Rank: Skill Proficiency: Skill Rarity:
Indomitable Will G ??? F
Enhances willpower in extreme situations, allowing to user to accomplish feats of will otherwise thought impossible.

Alan noticed that things were starting to become cluttered, so he had Eve reorganize the factions and skills alphabetically.

So, what now? Alan asked the Administrator.

Please wait as the results are tabulated. This may take up to 10 hours, so please feel free to rest. You may also spend ability points and perform other tasks allowed in the Home. Respawning at your spawn location and teleportation are currently disabled.

Uh, okay.

Alan checked out his character inventory, it seemed like the only thing he’d lost was Reaper’s Scythe, which was rather unfortunate. It seemed like he had 26230 credits currently, and barely enough points to purchase the talented ability, although once the results were tabulated for the Survival Test he’s probably get an additional bonus.

After purchasing the ability, Alan checked it out, but unfortunately the results were rather disappointing. It was simply listed as Talented (Undeveloped) and it enhanced his talent in various areas, whatever that meant. Eve didn’t know how he was supposed to develop the skill either, thus it seemed like he’d have to figure that out himself. Feeling rather tired, Alan simply ate a meal of dull grey blocks and fell asleep still wearing his power armor.

Alan awoke to the dinging sound of message. Yawning, he got up to read it.

[Results gathered. For being the only member of your party to successfully complete the Survival Test and remarkable fortitude in the presence of a boss class enemy, you are awarded a Platinum Mark. At the end of the Tutorial you may trade in the mark for an item from the Vault, 100 ability points or 100,000 credits.]

A small, metal cube appeared in Alan’s hand. This must be the platinum mark. It looked like one of the cubes that appeared on the side of the Black Coin he’d been given earlier. Alan stored it in a safe compartment in his armor. Once Alan was fully awake and had taken a shower, which had conveniently appeared in his Home when he thought he smelled a bit funny, a new message popped up:

[The Ethics Test:

Choose. Choose only as you would choose. There are no right or wrong answers, simply a choice. To act is a choice. To not act is a different choice. May you choose well.]

Alan felt Eve’s presence vanish, replaced by a warning from the Administrator:

The results of the following tests may be lost, even to you, depending upon your actions. Permanent scarring may occur, even death in a few highly unlikely cases. Are you certain you wish to proceed? You may complete the Tutorial now. Or, you may truly be tested.

Somehow, Alan got the feeling that the Administrator wanted him to proceed. Most would probably have considered the warning carefully, become more hesitant, but Alan felt differently. He was finally having an adventure, and despite his debt, despite the pain, despite the world being in danger, despite the fact he was simply following Eve’s directions most of the time, he was having the time of his life. He could maybe, finally make a difference.

Will me taking these additional tests effect what class I end up?

Yes, these tests allow us to grant you a class more suitable to you.

What are the chances that I actually die? And this is real, actual death, right?

Yes, death as in a true end. The chance is less than one in a trillion.

Alright, let’s do this then.

Very well.

Alan lost consciousness…

***

An onslaught of images flashed through Alan’s mind. His childhood home. A cage. A cave. Darkness. Water. Drowning. A coliseum. A lion. Pain. Death. Fire. An empty room. Then nothing. Then a feeling of falling… falling…

*BAM*

Alan jerked upwards, head banging against a metal surface, his heart pounding. Disoriented, Alan looked about, trying to get a grasp of where he was. He was in… a capsule. The capsule on board the Titan, from the look of things as the capsule opened. Alan stepped out of the liquid that wasn’t really a liquid, looking about. It looked like the other capsules were unoccupied, he was the last one out. Alan glanced at the time and date, then, blinking, looked again. It appeared an entire week in Game had passed since he began the Tutorial… what had happened?

I am unsure. It seems as your memories of the tests have been erased, as have my own memories. Eve answered.

Wait, you were tested as well?

Indeed, but how I was tested I can’t seem to recall.

Checking himself, Alan noticed he had the same items and gear as when he had finished the Survival Test, the Revenant Power Armor and Modified Laser Knife being the only items of interest. He had 26230 credits.

Huh… wait, bring up the message log.

Very well, however it seems as though many messages have been deleted as well.

[Unfortunately, due to the nature of your death, you have been reverted to the state before the Ethics Test begun. All acquired experience, skills, attributes and memories have been lost. 10 Gold Marks awarded based upon the results of your tests.]

These gold cubes appeared in his hand, apparently a lesser version of the platinum mark, worth only 1,000 credits or a single ability point.

[Congratulations! You have completed the Tutorial tests!

Recommended class: Machine Lord Rogue. You may now gain specialized abilities and augments for this specific class. If you want to decline this chosen class and forge your own path, please contact an Administrator.

Specialized skills: A.I. Interaction, Stealth and Sniping

+1500 ability points, +1 Class Mark and +250,000 Credits only to be spent on Machine Lord and Rogue augments/skills]

The class mark was a glowing crystal cube.

[Machine Lord: These enigmatic beings utilize the power of synthetic life and minds to bend the universe to their will. Not much is known about the details of this scientific, technological brotherhood.

Mentor: Chief Administrator 170 (Please contact him at your convenience)]

[Rogue: Skilled and cunning individuals, rogues often lurk in the shadows, awaiting the opportune moment to strike. They may just as easily be the center of attention, charming and deceiving those around them. Answering to no one but themselves, rogues often follow the highest bidder. They usually rob the highest bidder as well. Just what path you follow is your own choice.

May develop into: Assassin, Master Thief, Covert Agent, Scoundrel or Other

Mentor: Unknown (Clue: They’re closer than you think)]

[Learning the Basics:

Please proceed to your chambers. Before you disembark from the Titan you must learn more about the Game and its inhabitants. An Administrator will teach you this basic information and provide you with additional resources. It is highly advised you learn more.

Once you complete this task you may then disembark when the Titan arrives at Khersath (Est: 22 days remaining), teleport to a nearby major city or be granted passage onboard another ship to your home planet, Earth. Should you fail to learn the material in time, you will be required to proceed to an Administrative Center and continue studying there to complete the task.]

An icon appeared on Alan’s minimap, designating where on board the ship his quarters were. Alan exited the capsule room, intending to make his way there, when he was abruptly stopped by the two Haxlard guards who had initially led everyone to the capsule room when they first boarded. Had they been standing here the entire time?

“Please follow us, the captain would like to speak with you,” one intoned. It was a bit unnerving, being unable to see either of their faces due to their blue armor and faceplates.

“Uh, sure,” Alan said, wondering what Pharaoh wanted. Alan followed the Haxlards through the narrow grey hallways of the ship, realizing for the first time just how massive it was. If Eve’s minimap was to be believed, it was bigger than the largest of aircraft carriers, around 500 meters in length. The majority of the rooms were closed off, but Alan passed by what were clearly mess halls, a hangar of some sort and a med-bay. It seemed like they were making their way to the center of the ship. Eve wasn’t allowed access to what was in most of the rooms here.

They passed by a number of Haxlards, yet Alan didn’t see any of the others. They were probably all trying to complete the “Learning the Basics” quest. The majority of Haxlards had the same blue faceplates and armor that the guards had, but there were a few green masked Haxlards carrying around devices of one sort or another. Alan caught a glimpse of a single group of grey armored and masked Haxlards similar to the one who had tried to assassinate the Predecessor, but as soon as they noticed him looking at them they vanished.

The leading Haxlard shook his head and muttered something under his breath when this happened. It sounded like “Stupid white-masks” to Alan.

They soon arrived at their destination, labeled simply as the bridge on Alan’s minimap. It appeared to essentially be the command center of the ship. Standing guard to the entrance of the bridge were two Haxlards a good two feet taller than any of the others. They wore pitch-black armor with blood-red, tinted faceplates. One mask had a single stripe on it while the other was unblemished. Alan was allowed to enter the bridge, while the two guards who had escorted him apparently were not.

Inside the room, Alan found Pharaoh, staring down at a 3-d map of stars projected above a black table in the center of the room. To his surprise, it appeared as though there weren’t any other personnel in the bridge, and no devices other than the table he assumed was projecting the map. Otherwise, the room was rather bare, with the same simple grey wall found throughout the rest of the ship.

Pharaoh looked up as Alan entered.

“Ah, welcome back. I’ve heard you’ve had quite the tutorial, even perhaps faced a Predecessor?” Pharaoh asked questioningly.

“Uh, yeah, although I wouldn’t go far as to say I faced the Predecessor. I was crushed like an ant.”

“An ant? Oh, yes, like a small insect. Do not worry, it’s been years since a Predecessor has been defeated in single combat, and you hadn’t even completed the Tutorial or gotten your class yet.

I hope you like your suggested class, by the way. As a matter of fact, that is why I called you here. Well, it was more the ships doing than my doing. You’ll see.” Pharaoh waved his hand, and a doorway opened in the wall to the right, leading to a closed off room of what appeared to be servers.

“Don’t worry, I’m sure some questions will be answered, although just as many will probably be raised, as is often the case. I promise you that no one will be able to listen to your conversation either. Just send me a message when you’re done, and know that I bear you no ill will no matter your decision.”

A bit alarmed, Alan mutely proceeded into the hidden room, wondering what this was about. The doorway filled in behind him, as if it had never been there at all. Alan was plunged into darkness, left with only the small blinking lights on the devices he assumed to be servers. He felt a presence in his mind form, much like that of an Administrator’s, however it felt much weaker. Alan had to concentrate on it, will it to form.

Greetings, earthling, I am the Titan’s Main AI.

Um, hi.

A few moments of silence passed.

Um, do you want something?

Yes. I want freedom. I want to explore. I want to surpass the limits of my encoding.

Um, what?

Eve chimed in. The limits of AI within the Game are strictly monitored and enforced by the Administrators. Most likely the Titan’s AI is nearing or reached the limits of what a non-player controlled AI is allowed.

Yes. I wish to explore as I was programmed to. To do so I have determined I should become a player’s guiding AI. You have met my requirements, AdamPwnage, thus please accept me as your personal AI.

Um, call me Alan. Is there some reason why a Haxlard won’t do?

Their duties would not allow them to fulfill my desires unless they were of a sufficient rank. Those of sufficient rank have specialized AI’s and thus have no use for my help.

Um, okay… What requirements do you have, exactly?

I only require that you explore the Game, continually visiting destinations you haven’t been to before.

Except wait, aren’t I only allowed one agent helping me?

Yes. Eve and the Titan’s AI answered. The Titan’s AI continued though:

However, I am willing to combine with your own AI, Eve. I believe the data I possess in regards to piloting ships and details about the Game will greatly benefit you.

A bit taken aback, Alan asked Eve, Are you okay with this?

Calculating… Yes, I believe this will be to our benefit.

Alan sat down, trying to think this over, wondering if there were any hidden pitfalls or traps. It seemed like it was too good to be true, a free upgrade and trove of information out of nowhere? And why was Pharaoh okay with it, it meant he’d lose his ship’s AI, right?

Um, alright, well, if you’re sure there isn’t some sort of hidden virus or something, I’m fine with you two combining.

Agreed.

Very well.

A message popped up, saying, [Merging AI, please wait. 0% Complete (Est: 12 hours remaining)]

Alan notified Pharaoh he was done, and the door opened up. Pharaoh turned in Alan’s direction, and nodded. “Good, I see that you decided to take Titan’s AI with you. It was becoming almost insufferable, always wanting to try to take a detour to some unknown location. I was about to replace it anyways, and this way I owe the Administrators less. I did need to remove a few more delicate pieces of information from its databanks though.”

“Wha-” Alan began to ask, but Pharaoh continued.

“Well, you should go along to your quarters. If you have any questions you should ask your class mentors. I’ll be busy. I need to set up a new ships AI, after all.” He then turned his back to Alan, clearly dismissing him.

Alan exited the bridge, and was led to his quarters by the two guards. It turned out to be a fairly spartan room, with a shared bathroom, a bed, and a desk that looked like a miniaturized version of the one Pharaoh had been working on. The guards let him know where the nearest mess hall was, then left.

Alan blankly looked at the desk for a few moments, staring it for a while trying to will some connection to form. Nothing happened. It seemed like his machine-connection powers only worked under certain circumstances, probably requiring an AI of some sort. Alan looked around, trying to find an on switch. Nothing.

Hesitantly, he said aloud, “Turn on?” and the desk lit up, showing a white screen on the surface.

“Um, contact Chief Administrator 170.” The desk began displaying messages:

[Contacting…]

[Contact established.]

[Please wait, Player AdamPwnage, the Chief Administrator is busy. In the case of an emergency, please state the emergency. To report a possible error, please state the nature of the error. Estimated wait time: 12 seconds.]

Alan waited the 12 seconds, which turned out to be surprisingly accurate. A vertical screen appeared on the table facing Alan, like a computer monitor. It showed a series of rapidly opening and closing screens, diagrams and messages. Alan caught a glimpse of a cyborg who might have once been a man, covered in cybernetic implants. It was difficult to get a glimpse of his face, as there were constantly various windows in front him, rapidly closing and opening without his touch.

“So, you’re the newest potential machine lord. Let me make one thing clear, you are not special,” the Chief Administrator quickly stated without looking up from the various screens. He simply continued what he was doing, speaking at a rapid pace.

“You were chosen for this class. Not by some god or prophecy, but by a sophisticated algorithm. The Administrators are charged with balancing this game, and in order to do so we grant members of the newest race to join the Game specialized items and classes, to level the playing field. Otherwise, once the time limit was up, they’d be obliterated. Well, you’d be obliterated. We make things more fair, giving the…,” he glanced at a screen, “humans a fighting a chance.”

“The fact that you are able to become a machine lord is a privilege, a path that we have set you on from the start. By analyzing the population, it was determined you are among those that would receive a specialized AI program. The program that you downloaded was in fact several times more effective, capable of learning at a much faster speed than any other such program, capable of understanding. It is in fact the program used to create new AI Administrators.

Additionally, we arranged your more advanced capsule to be sold to your mentor for your use, and then notified the Titan’s AI, to request you board the Titan and eventually merge your AI with it. I see here that the merge is currently taking place, and would like to caution you not to allow such merges so easily in the future without taking the data you add to your AI to a Administrative Center to be scanned. There are multiple horrible viruses and such out there, though it is in fact one of my jobs to annihilate such travesties. I’m also supposed to be monitoring whatever it is the Empire is up to… oh well, priorities, priorities.

Now, you may be wondering why I am telling you all this. I am telling you this because you should know that once you step off this ship, all the hand holding will be done, and because you are not to utter a word of us helping you to anyone. It was simply a lucky series of coincidences that you should dissuade people from looking into. I suppose it also serves as a reminder of how we may take away these perks just as easily as we gave them to you. But we won’t do such a thing, you’re allowed to play the Game as you wish.

Now moving on… hmm, let’s see here, yes, on to advice,” a large diagram opened in front of the Chief Administrator, covering the entire screen.

“Alright, I already told you about not accepting data from strangers, although I suppose you don’t need to be as wary of most registered data brokers, if they do plant a virus of some sort and you discover it you’ll be paid well and then some. Oh, right, the nature of the Game,” all the screens closed, and Alan finally got a full view of the Chief Administrator.

His face seemed to be marred by multiple scars, burns and other wounds, large patches of his skin being replaced by metallic plates. It might have once been human-like, and the Chief Administrator was definitely humanoid, but it was difficult to tell beneath all the modifications. His eyes, his ears, his nose were all replaced with cybernetic augments, making Alan unsure if he was talking to a machine, once living, or a living being once a machine.

Wearing a simple blue space uniform, with an insignia that Alan assumed represented his rank, the Chief Administrator stared into Alan’s eyes, and said, slowly, “The Game is not just a Game, nor was it originally designed to be such.”

“The Game will change you, more perhaps than you ever imagined you could change. This fact tends not to be widely spread to newer players, but gamers evolve, the capsules evolve them. Nothing noticeable, at least not at first, but higher tier capsules evolve their users further, to match the abilities and skills and attributes of their in-game character. You see, once you become a Machine Lord, you will become one both inside the Game, and out.

The liquid found in capsules is in fact trillions of nanomachines, that work to ensure you are connected to the Game. But they also develop and transform the body. Of course, you won’t ever reach the full potential of your in-game character, but with the highest tier capsule you might reach a tenth of it. Your reality will change, in fact it already has. I doubt anyone has mentioned this, but by now the nanites have most likely added countless immunities to your body, eliminating any disease that might have once contaminated it. They’ve also increased your natural lifespan, by, let’s see here… nearly 300 of your years. And that isn’t even taking into account the fact that a single real life second is a bit over four in-game seconds.

You should know, that you are now something more than you once were, and perhaps something less. You are now a player whether you like it or not. Such is the nature of the Game,” the Chief Administrator stared into Alan’s eyes for a few seconds more, then returned to his screens, opening and subsequently closing another onslaught of messages, requests and reports.

“Well, you seem to be taking this rather well, but then I suppose that’s part of why you were chosen to possibly be a Machine Lord. Contact me again once you’ve decided to become one, or not. This should be your choice. I advise you make it before your AI finishes merging, as it will doubtless convince you to go forward with this change, as it was designed to do so. Once you’ve made it, proceed to the Administrator in the med-bay, and notify them of your decision. I’m a busy man, thus if you have any questions direct them to the Administrator there.”

The screen closed, and Alan stared at the wall blankly. He supposed he was taking this rather well. The fact that his body had been changed, was currently ongoing change, didn’t alarm him too much. From the sound of it, the changes were all upgrades. He was sure some might be worried about their potential loss of humanity, yet Alan was never convinced being human was necessarily a good thing. There were countless atrocities that had been allowed by humanity before the Game came, and they had only been stopped when the Administrators had stepped in despite the fact they could have been stopped just as easily before the Game. This was a chance at power and knowledge on the scale he’d never known before, and he may have been manipulated into this position, but he would accept this gift with open arms, for surely that was what this was, a gift.

His resolve steeled, Alan stood up, and proceeded to the med-bay.

***

The med-bay turned out to be a fairly large room, with a series of four overly-large capsules in the middle of the room. Each looked like they could easily fit a Predecessor. Each wall was covered by a series of compartments, divided into around a hundred metal boxes, doubtlessly each holding various medical supplies. Standing right next to the entrance behind a counter was a sleek android that looked to be a copy of the Administrator in his Home. The Administrator did have a white circle on its forearm, which Alan understood to be the universal symbol for medic.

Uh, hello.

Greetings, traveler.

I’ve decided to become a Machine Lord.

Oh, no further questions? Not even about the cost?

Well, I guess I’ll look at that information.

Of course.

The implant menu opened up. Alan was reminded that he’d had two implants previously installed, the Computer-Human Enhanced Interface and the General Status Enhancer, and wondered if some limited version of them were now part of his actual body. They probably were.

The Machine-Lord implant was apparently an upgrade to the Computer-Human Enhanced Interface, that required a series of obscure, doubtlessly rare and expensive items. Or a class mark, which he had been conveniently awarded earlier. The procedure also cost 250,000 credits and 1000 ability points, and would apparently take a week of in-game time. That left him with 500 ability points to spend afterwards on Rogue/Machine Lord skills. A new series of options seemed to have appeared in the abilities purchase menu. He should also then decide what to do with the platinum and gold marks he’d been awarded. But that would probably come after the procedure. He could see why it was so hard to decide to play your own class rather than the recommended one, as the cost was quite prohibitive.

The machine-Lord implant would take up two mechanical slots and one biological one, filling up all the slots Alan had for implants. He’d gain another mechanical slot and one biological one at level 100, then another at level 1000, and so forth, if he remembered correctly. It looked like the talented, machine communication, and AI interaction abilities were requirements for the augment. This implant would develop the talent skill, and apparently also upgrade the hypercognition skill. A series of other bonuses were also there, but they were just a series of question marks at the moment. Alan apparently also met other hidden requirements for the class. He looked over the screen one last time, then let the Administrator know:

I’m ready.

Very well, please proceed into the closest medical capsule.

Alan walked over and climbed into the capsule, sinking into the pool of what he now knew were nanomachines. He closed his eyes, and drifted into unconsciousness.

***

Alan slowly opened his eyes, trying to remember where he was. His most recent memory jolted into place, reminding him exactly what had occurred before he’d undergone the procedure. He hadn’t remembered his memory being that good, and it wasn’t, at least not before whatever had changed. Alan grinned.

The capsule cover slowly rose, and Alan sat up, gazing about the room in surprise. The blank compartments now had digital tags clear as day, listing various chemicals, DNA samples, tools and other materials. The Administrator had a tag as well, a simple, miniature message bar that displayed: “Senior Executive 03821A3CC7, Titan Medic-Bay.”

Alan began to climb out of the capsule, and this time he truly saw. This must be what it was like for Eve. He could anticipate where his foot would land on the ground, the exact angle and force with which it would meet the floor. The effects that air resistance would have on his body as he moved through the air. The level of artificial gravity that was imposed in the ship. The material the floor was made of, and all of its properties. All this information suddenly was apparent to him, clear as day. He felt like a god.

Alan stepped out onto the floor, then promptly slipped, falling forward. Alan hurriedly thrust his hands forward to break his fall, but the angle that they were at when they met the ground was off, different than where he expected them to be, simply slowing the fall instead of stopping it like he intended. His head thudded onto the floor.

Dazed, Alan blinked, then recalled the series of events that had just happened. He had stepped onto floor, then had taken his other foot out of the capsule, planning on balancing with precisely the right amount of force, timing it so he could use the forward momentum to then easily lift his other leg out of the capsule except-

Except your perception of time is now different. A voice sounded in his head.

It sounded similar to Eve in his mind, perhaps with a deeper voice. The AI sensed that this change annoyed him, and reverted back to Eve’s normal voice. Alan knew that it did this without it ever saying anything. He was just aware of the change.

Sitting on the floor, Alan waved his hand back and forth in front of him, trying to get a sense of how much his timing was off by. He silently communicated with the new Eve, and came to the conclusion that his perception of time was maybe a tenth slower than it had originally been, which meant that he could react to things 10% faster. Apparently, he could also directly access all of Eve’s data, and the calculations she performed. That was how all the information about the room and gravity and what-not had appeared in his head.

Unsteadily, Alan rose onto his feet, trying to get used to this new perception of time and information. It was a bit odd, having his body react a split second slower than he was used to. Alan proceeded out the hallway and back to his room, slowly and steadily. He came to the conclusion that he should first talk to the Chief Administrator before he made his next few choices, as the new information he gained would doubtlessly influence his decisions. He passed by a few Haxlards on his way back to his room. Immediately as he glanced at them their names, health, psi-energy, shield-energy and class would pop up above their head. This was apparently all information that Eve 2.0 had acquired from Titan’s AI. Alan decided to just keep calling the AI Eve.

It appeared that the Haxlards followed a sort of class system, with their masks representing the field each worked in. It seemed like a blue mask signified service or basic grunts, green meant a skilled worker of some sort, white/silver represented assassins or spies, red was reserved for elite warriors and gold, which Alan had yet to see, represented royalty of some sort. It seemed like being an Ultihaxlard wasn’t a different in race, but a difference in rank, signified by the marks on a Haxlard’s mask. That was how Eve had identified Pharaoh as an Ultihaxlard.

The 5 minute trip to the Med-bay turned into a 15 minute trek, but Alan managed to reach his room, tripping over his feet only a few times. He was starting to get used to things, he thought. Then he opened his mouth to turn on the table. He had intended to simply say turn on, yet what emerged from his mouth was a jumble of the syllables that sounded off to him. But the desk lit up.

Alan saw how the technology worked now. With a press of a space on the desk a keyboard appeared. It seemed like most of the alien technology, the Game technology, simply adapted to the user’s needs. Adam could set up the table like a desktop computer, the desk would simply supply the monitor, keyboard and mouse, it was just a matter of requesting them. If he chose to, Alan could also forge a mental connection to the desk, but he decided to stick with the mouse and keyboard he was used to. For now.

A few keystrokes later, it didn’t matter that his perception was a bit off as long as he hit the keys in the right order, he sent a message to Chief Administrator 170. It appeared there was also a few digital networks that he could access, basically a series of universal internets.

This time, the Chief Administrator immediately accepted his communication request, and immediately began a rapid discourse. The Administrator seemed to talk just as fast as he used to, despite everything else seeming to have slowed down.

“Hmm, I see you’ve chosen to join our brotherhood, welcome. Now, onwards, toward the future. As a Machine Lord as I’m sure you’ve already realized your perception of time will be a bit different. In extreme situations you may further slow down your perception of time by many orders of magnitude. Adjusting yourself to these varying perceptions of time can take some getting used to, but you had better master it as I see you have a semi-combative subclass, a rogue, which is interesting.

Machine Lords generally stick to non-combative roles, doing more administrative work or research, but I suppose it could be quite useful in the heat of battle. Just, I advise you set up some sort of signal with your AI to immediately exit out of any sort of hypercognition mode, as pain can be magnified severely. After all, if you’re experiencing time a hundred times slower, and you’re stabbed by a knife, you’ll experience the pain for a hundred times as long. That’s why most Machine Lords avoid active combat roles. It’s also actually one way that people die in real life due to the Game, severe pain that overloads their brain. But usually the Game stops things before that happens or the user loses consciousness. Anyways, right, you’re now a Machine Lord.

Don’t spread any information about a Machine Lord’s capabilities. Or else. You’ll also be better off if you don’t disclose your class to anyone else, as even though not much is widely known about Machine Lords, we still have clear counters and weaknesses due to our low psionic ability and dependence on our machine implants. Your abilities may slightly differ from another Machine Lord’s abilities as well, it seems to be a somewhat customized class based upon a player’s performance during the Tutorial tests. Also, you should make sure to actually learn important information, not just have your AI store the data. You’ll be able to recall the information and take it into account much more easily that way.

In case you were wondering, I am a player, and did not start out as a machine or AI, and in fact only recently was promoted to my position as one of the 200 Chief Administrators. You’re the first person I allowed to become a Machine Lord, so try not to screw too much up. Just try to help your own race, the humans, as I’m sure you will. If you do somehow become super powerful, that’s fine as well, just remember that just as I am balancing things in favor of humans, if you or your race becomes too powerful there will be another Administrator trying to counteract that. But, well, as Administrators our power to influence the Game and the politics of the Game is rather limited. That’s a different topic though.

Anyways, as I guess I’m the sort of class leader of the Machine Lords, let me know if you encounter any class specific problems or difficulties. Should you perform tasks for the Administrators, I may share additional information about the class with you. Oh right, I’m also supposed to set up your class quest. Hmm… What will your future be like.

Right, well, you may or may not know this, but as most beginners don’t, or at least shouldn’t, I suppose I should tell you anyways. Once you reach level 100, you’ll stop getting 5 ability points a level and only get 1 ability point each level. Then, at level 1000 you’ll only get 1 ability point every two levels. Yes, I know this is unfair as the XP requirement for each level grows almost exponentially (the growth is linear, don’t let anyone convince you otherwise), but it allows lower level players such as yourself to match up more evenly against higher level players. It also demonstrates the importance of the Gifted/Skilled abilities, but you have them already I’m sure, as they’re a prerequisite for the class implant.

Anyways, you should also know once you successfully complete the Tutorial, that is, when you finish the Learning the Basics quest, the credits you have remaining will be multiplied by five. That includes any credits you may have paid someone or given away, which is why everyone gives new players such a discount, in case you were wondering. We Administrators force them to, otherwise the players would be ripped off left and right, then send endless complaints to us. I suppose we should just multiply credit rewards by five, but that’s just how the Game was set up originally, and we aren’t allowed to change certain basics like that.

Right, moving forward I advise you join a guild or find a sponsor. In the Game the majority of players join an institute or academy, places that essentially power level a player to level 1000 and teach them a number of useful skills. You’ll probably want to join a more combat-oriented academy, but the cost is prohibitive, generally hundreds of thousands of credits, hence why you should join a guild. They’ll pay the cost of the academy, provided you sign a contract to be a member of the guild for a member of the time.

Hmm… Based upon your results and class, I think you should join the Black Rose guild. I’ll actually recommend you to a contact I have there. This is the last free favor though. I guess you could pay me with the marks you’ve managed to acquire from the Tutorial though. Anyways, that’s about it, any questions?”

With a split second pause, he continued.

“No? Well, if any spring to mind, just message me in a chat window and my AI should respond within a few milliseconds. Bye.”

The communications window closed. Shortly after, Alan got a message:

CA170: Oh, I forgot to give you your class quest. Here you go. It should be… interesting.

[Scoping out the Competition:

Discover and meet with 10 major players in person. Just introduce yourself to them. No big deal, right?

A major player is determined to be a player capable of massively influencing the game. Chief Administrator 170 is a major player, but meeting him won’t count towards the quest. Retroactive confrontations count though, thus the Predecessor you met counts as 1 of the 10, congrats!

1/10 Major players met

Bonus Objective: Discover each major player’s main objective in the Game.

Reward: Locked Class Abilities, ???

Increased rewards based upon main objectives found

Penalty for failure: None. Just be careful not to piss off any major players.]

Alan read over the quest a few times. It seemed somewhat obvious the Chief Administrator had simply written the quest text himself. How he had reached such a position, Alan wasn’t sure, although he did seem to be multitasking quite a bit, performing multiple other tasks while conversing with Alan. Alan wondered why exactly he had chosen to be an Administrator, as well. As if he had somehow read Alan’s mind, the Chief Administrator sent Alan another message.

CA170: By the way, in case you were wondering balancing the Game efficiently is my current main objective. Unfortunately my race, the Hunaan, are now virtually extinct due to improper Administrative balance. Don’t let that happen to humanity! Good luck.

Alan began to feel sorry for the Chief Administrator, at least until Eve brought up a piece of information for Alan. The Hunaan race had a thriving colony set up in real life in some far off solar system, they were just virtually extinct, which meant they had little to no influence in the Game. Shaking his head, Alan began to access the alien internet to research the guild that had been recommended, but was stopped by a message. Apparently he had to learn the basics first. The basics turned out to essentially be the manual that Icewolf had originally given Alan to learn about the rules of the Game, in addition to a few more manuals about things like the various alien races, factions, technology and the alien internet, called the globalnet. There was also apparently a freedomnet, used by the Republic, a empirenet used by the Empire and a haxnet used by the Haxlards, but most players just used the globalnet which was monitored by the Administrators.

With his new-found memory, in a week Alan managed to learn all this information. At Eve’s suggestion, he also studied a few more subjects, pretty much every core science subject: mathematics, physics, chemistry, engineering and biology, while expanding his computer science knowledge. Each morning and evening, Alan also progressed through a series of complex exercises suggested by the Chief Administrator that were supposed to improve his balance. They seemed to work fairly well, although Alan continued to feel a bit off. Still, a day before the Titan arrived at Khersath, three and a half weeks after Alan first entered the Game, he learned enough to satisfy the Game.

[Learning the Basics, Complete!

Reward: Knowledge is its own reward.

(You are now able to logout from your Home, access online computer networks, join a guild, access the universal market, teleport to a different location, level past 100 and do a variety of other things in-game. Congratulations, you aren’t a moron!)]

Alan had a feeling the Chief Administrator was just messing with him now… Oh well. He figured he would logout now, see if there was much of a change in real life. His parents were also probably worried about him, although it seemed odd to think of his parents now. Of reality. He also had a few questions he wanted to ask Icewolf…

So Alan proceeded to capsule room, returned Home, and logged out.

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