Panicking, Alan began thinking through his options. He could try to sprint back to the base with Kitana, but they’d likely be caught out in the open before they got back in time. It had taken nearly all his effort to get there in 15 minutes, and he still felt tired from the sparring.
Eve, I think we should try hiding in a building, do you agree?
That seems like an acceptable option.
“Alright, I think we should try hiding in a nearby building, we probably won’t make it back in time, and getting caught out in the open would probably be a bad idea.”
“If that’s what you think is best. Good luck.”
Thiago ended the chat.
Kitana nodded, then started looking around, trying to find a defensible location.
The only building with a door he saw that was open was a convenience store. It looked like any corner store you found in a large city, selling snacks, liquor and groceries among other things. Alan motioned Kitana over.
Upon entering the store, Alan noticed that all the shelves were pretty much bare. It seemed like someone had cleaned it all out a while ago. The cash register was still there, and a few old magazines and lottery tickets.
There were two small aisles, and a door in the back. Alan tried the door, it was locked.
“Well, I guess we should try to hide in here, they probably won’t find us.”
Negative, the scouting hounds of the predecessors have already picked up your scent.
“Um, actually, scratch that. Looks like we’re in for a fight.”
Kitana nodded, and took up a stance in front of the entrance to the store, shutting the door.
“So, uh, well, what do you think I should do in this fight?”
Kitana glanced at him. “Just stay in the corner behind the counter and don’t get in my way.”
Eve, do you agree?
That seems logical. At your level you would more likely hinder than help Kitana.
Oh, well if you agree…
Alan climbed over the counter, standing behind the cash register.
Huh, despite all the times I’ve been in a convenience store, I’ve never seen behind the counter.
To his surprise, there was a digital safe below the counter. Apparently there was still electricity within the city or something, as the safe made a beep when he pressed the enter key on it. Maybe it ran on batteries or something. Now if only he had the PIN…
There is something inside the third magazine from the top.
A pile of magazines also sitting behind the counter was highlighted.
Alan grabbed the magazine, opening it up. Halfway through it there was a folded post it note with a code on it.
It can’t really be that easy, can it?
The safe opened revealing a stack of cash, now probably useless, and a handgun with a box of ammunition. Alan took it all. Some files and permits were in there too, but Alan ignored them. After putting everything else in his backpack, he began examining the gun, making sure not to point it at himself or in Kitana’s direction.
Kitana looked over at Alan, seemingly unsurprised he’d just randomly found a gun in a safe. “Have you ever fired a gun before?”
“Um, no, but how hard could it be?” Kitana rolled her eyes.
“Just don’t point it anywhere near me, alright? Even if it’s unloaded, or you fired all the bullets, or there’s a giant monster about to bite my head off, do NOT point the gun anywhere within like five feet of me.”
Hey, Eve, you could show me where to shoot as well, right? Like give me an outline where I should aim the gun, including my reaction time, then like highlight the enemy green when I should shoot.
Very well. However it may take a few shots before calibrations are able to be set.
Alan glanced at the countdown, there were two minutes remaining. He started getting a bit nervous, when the countdown disappeared.
Four enemies approaching, they appeared to have split off from the main pack.
Alan looked at the minimap and sure enough there were four dots rapidly approaching, somehow managing to traverse entire city blocks in seconds. In an instant, he began hearing noises of crashing cars as the hounds tore through whatever was in their way. Kitana appeared calm, confident, poised. Alan felt like he might wet his pants.
Then, suddenly, a dead silence. The four dots began positioning themselves around the building.
“Watch out, from the-”
A gigantic beast smashed through the wall opposite Alan, pouncing onto the spot where Kitana had been standing a split second earlier.
Kitana had stepped to the side, and as soon as the hound smashed through the wall, she cut upwards, slicing its jugular. Her sword gave off a white light the moment before it slew the beast. Simultaneously, Kitana leapt backwards, further into the store as two other enormous masses of teeth and fur smashed in through the entrance to the store. The “hounds” barely fit in the small store, one looking like a black bear, the other a massive silver-grey wolf.
A blue outline appeared before Alan, and he once more followed it unconsciously, firing his gun repeatedly when his vision flashed green. The black bear’s HP bar immediately decreased to 0 after the first shot, but additional bullets flew striking the body. Alan also wasn’t ready for the recoil from firing the gun.
Please only fire once when I highlight an enemy, and try to keep your hands steady.
I’M A BIT BUSY. Alan replied to Eve as the wolf-like creature leapt at him. The blue outline Eve showed him turning sideways, leaping over the counter, going deeper into the store away from the entrance.
Alan attempted such a jump, but his foot caught on the edge of the counter. He fell face first, but turned it into a sort of roll forwards with Eve’s guidance. He managed to level the gun up at the wolf as it leapt at him again, aiming and firing immediately as Eve highlighted his vision green.
The wolf’s body crashed down onto him, shot in the head repeatedly. As Alan glanced over at Kitana he saw that she had also finished off the fourth hound, a black haired… mole?
What kind of hounds are these?
The hounds of the Predecessors are genetically modified beasts, often used as disposable scouts or in death match tournaments.
Huh, that might piss off some animal activists. Oh, wait, they’re just digital creatures, right.
The wolf’s body glowed softly, and when Alan selected it a loot screen opened up, displaying a small vial of blood. Alan hit accept, putting the vial that appeared in his hand into his bag. He walked over to the black bear, it had also been shot in the head repeatedly. Eve had pretty good aim. He got another vial of blood, checking his XP he’d gained a level and a half from the kills.
“Um, good job, shall we head back to the bunker?” Alan asked Kitana.
“Alright. Let me examine this body first though.” Kitana walked over to the first brown furred creature.
You have a decreased chance of survival should you return to the base.
What? Why would we be more likely to die if we were together with the others? Even if we had to help them fight off hounds, wouldn’t it be better for us if they survived in the long run?
Main contributors to a likely death: A 56.36% chance of the shield generator exploding, and a 3.4% chance of betrayal, both accompanied with a high uncertainty.
Wait, the shield generator is going to explode? Also, what do you mean betrayal?
The shield generator was improperly installed by the human named Daisy. As configured, once the shields are at 50% there is a high chance of unstable reactions. Additionally, many actions performed by various group members do not quite align with standard human behavior.
Ok, ignoring this whole “standard human behavior,” which I doubt you’re able to classify correctly, if you prioritize the survival of our entire group as highly as you rank my own survival, what should I do next?
Message Thiago to evacuate everyone away from the shield generator as soon as it begins to reach the 75% level. They are planning on simply firing from behind the force field at the approaching predators. The predators will have to attack the shield, while the shield has been programmed to allow projectiles from inside the shield to be fired outwards. You may send an emergency message to Thiago which will appear in front of him, similar to a Game message set by the Administrators.
Ok, send the emergency message.
I am unable to perform various actions such as sending direct messages to players by rules in the Game enforced by the Administrators. Similar, I am unable to assume direct control of your body or manipulate any of your central nervous systems, only give visual aids.
Um, okay, send Thiago the following emergency message: SHIELD GENERATOR WILL EXPLODE-, wait Eve, can you show the explosion radius on their minimaps?
Okay, so the message will be this then: SHIELD GENERATOR WILL EXPLODE AT 50%, INCORRECT SETUP. EVE WILL SHOW EXPLOSION RADIUS ON MINIMAP.
A few seconds later, Alan got a reply message from Thiago. A digital keyboard appeared before him and a small chat box.
Thiago: What do you mean incorrect setup?
Alan: I’m not sure, but it’s probably going to explode once it reaches 50%.
Thiago: Why didn’t you tell me earlier, if you knew the shield generator was set up incorrectly? The hounds will be here any minute.
Alan: Eve just let me know, I didn’t know beforehand! Just don’t let the shield reach 50% or get everyone out of the blast range before that happens.
Thiago: Alright, fine. We’re going to have a discussion after this though.
Thiago ended the chat.
If you survive. Alan thought. Thiago seemed decidedly ungrateful, Alan might have just saved everyone’s lives after all.
By the way, how did you know that Daisy set up the shield generator incorrectly?
I have been monitoring the actions of everyone who gave me access to their interface.
Wait, when they agreed to let you configure their minimap, they also gave you permission to see what they see?
Okay, so when you say you saw non-standard human behavior, this was when you were watching what they were doing? Wait, by non-standard, do you mean like they’re all aliens or do you mean just behaving oddly or do you mean people have been discussing betraying us for loot or something like that?
My conclusion did result from observing the other players from their point of view. By non-standard I mean there have been arguments and displays of both attitude and strength not normally associated with law abiding teens or young adults.
Alan rolled his eyes, he doubted most teens would act in a rational, “law abiding” way when inside a virtual world free to do what they wanted. Was he going to ask Eve for specifics, though? It seemed like an invasion of privacy, but better safe than sorry…
Can you give me specifics?
A few seconds passed.
… Negative. I have been prevented from providing you with details. Additionally, my privileges have been revoked by an Administrator, and I have received a warning. I am not to spy on other players through their views, only view the Game through the information you receive or cameras I am able to access.
Huh, interesting, so there is an Administrator observing us, no doubt evaluating our every action. Odd though that they didn’t do anything until I requested the information directly. Whatever, back to the Game.
Eve remained silent.
Alan looked up over to Kitana, who was kneeling over the brown furred creature that she had killed earlier. It was so disfigured that Alan couldn’t make out what it was. Kitana had her eyes closed. Was she praying? Alan wasn’t sure.
“Have you figured out what it was?”
Kitana opened her eyes. “No. I am ready to return to the base though.”
The body disappeared as Kitana looted it, getting a large brown pelt.
Should we return?
Yes. Reload the gun first and reactivate the safety, however.
Alan reloaded the gun, Eve showing him how it was done. He put the gun in his back pack, double checking the safety, as it was too big for his pocket, unlike the knife. Alan and Kitana began a light jog back towards the base. Looking over at the message that described the first round, Alan saw that only seven enemies remained.
Once they were halfway back to the base, only three enemies remained. It seemed like Thiago and the rest of them had made pretty good progress. It was getting later in the afternoon though and it was starting to get dark. It didn’t seem like any of the street lights had power, however. It was odd, jogging along city blocks as the sun set. Alan noticed however that downtown it looked like the power was on, or at least the lights were.
Upon cresting a hill a quarter of a mile from the base however, a giant cat leapt out at Alan from a tree. In the moment before it leapt and hit Alan, Kitana unsheathed her katana and cut at it as Alan sidestepped out of the way. Mid-air it somehow leapt aside and darted behind a building.
Eve, why didn’t you notify us!?
It went undetected and most likely has supernatural abilities in addition to a high stealth ranking.
Alan glanced about hurriedly, trying to see if he could spot the cat. From the brief glance he’d gotten earlier, it looked like the creature that had been in the hologram depicting the hounds, a cross between a bulldog and a saber tooth tiger the size of an SUV.
Kitana motioned Alan over. “You face one direction, I’ll face the other, we’ll walk slowly along the road. Do you know how it moved midair, or why Eve can’t track it?”
“Um, I’m not sure, it definitely has some sort of special ability though.”
Alan took out his gun, once more looking around warily as he and Kitana walked along the road. It was quiet. Too qui-
A giant gust of wind knocked Alan to the ground.
Alan looked up to see the hound leaping from the top of a house at Kitana. Once more, Kitana cut at the monster but it leapt backwards mid-air. Alan took a shot at it but the bullets trajectory literally shifted, missing the hound by inches. The hound pounced at Kitana once more, but then changed directions mid air, going for Alan instead.
Alan shot a few more times at the hound, but each time the wind shifted it. Two bullets hit non-lethal areas, decreasing the creatures healthy by 10%. Alan tried to leap out of the way of the hound, but it simply shifted midair to follow him. It clawed his chest with a ferocious swipe. Alan leapt backwards with the swipe, but he was still knocked to the floor, his gun sent flying.
Alan closed his eyes feeling an intense pain in his chest, more mind numbingly painful than anything he’d ever felt before. Even with his eyes close he could still see his HP. It showed him at 50%, slowly draining, bleeding from the chest wound.
ROLL RIGHT. Eve shouted in his brain.
With strength from surging adrenaline, Alan threw himself to the right, wincing at the pain caused by his movement. Alan had imagined being shot, or stabbed, or burnt, yet this somehow felt a thousand times worse. He could think of nothing but the pain, oblivious to all else.
OPEN YOUR EYES.
Alan opened his eyes, seeing the hound fighting against Kitana, dodging her strikes with the help of the wind.
FOLLOW THE GUIDE, STAB WHERE IT SHOWS YOU.
Alan tried to ignore the voice, tried to ignore the pain, yet he knew that if he wanted to do well in this test or tutorial or whatever, he’d have to do his best. The least he could do would be to try to kill a magical cat.
A now familiar blue outline of a man appeared before Alan, charging at the beast. Alan prepared a furious, incoherent war cry, but Eve said, Don’t, so he didn’t. He charged in the direction of Kitana, doing the best he could to ignore the pain, the dampness he felt on his chest. His vision began to blur.
STAB FORWARDS NOW, CONTINUE RUNNING FORWARDS.
Alan charged forwards with all his might, with the speed and last ditch effort of a runner at the very end of a sprint, thrusting the knife forwards into thin air. To his disbelief, he watched in slow motion as the hound leapt sideways onto his knife as it tried to avoid one of Kitana’s swing, cutting its own throat on the edge Alan’s knife. The hound opened its eyes in alarm and pain as Kitana used the distraction to finish it off, decapitating it with one smooth, golden tinged slash.
Alan collapsed onto his back, and knew no more.