The Tutorial 1.7

Alan woke up, then almost immediately turned over and went back to sleep as he always did. Except, this wasn’t his bed, it was some sort of military cot. He recalled the game, and everything else that happened, but still briefly considered going back to sleep.

No.

Alan forced himself awake, to sit up, to look about him. He was no longer the Alan that would sleep in at every chance he’d get, content with living a normal life, getting a normal job. He needed to start pushing himself, to try harder than he’d ever tried before, if he was going to have any chance of succeeding. He was in the Game now.

Alan was back in the underground bunker, although most of the lights were now off. The motionless forms of most of the others surrounded him. It was around 5 a.m. in the morning, explaining why everyone else was asleep. The countdown for the first round had been replaced with a new countdown, which was counting down from 12:32:17 although it didn’t display who their enemies would be.

Surprisingly, despite the grievous wound that had been inflicted upon him, Alan felt fine. He ran his hand against his chest and instead of finding any scars or wounds like he expected, he found the beginning of… muscles? Huh, that was surprising. As Alan stepped off the cot though he definitely felt the soreness spread throughout his body. Did the Game really need to be that lifelike? Whatever.

Alan glanced at his HP bar as he stretched, it was full. Also, apparently he was now level 27.

Hey, Eve, do you know what happened after I passed out?

Kitana bandaged you up and brought you back to base, where Daisy healed you completely.

So, you were still active even though I was unconscious?

Yes, it appears as long as you are alive I should retain awareness.

Interesting.

These messages appeared while you were unconscious.

A slew of messages appeared before Alan.

[x2 Level up!]

[As you have been knocked unconscious, your loot has been transferred to the Administrator in Underground Bunker 11. Contact them to receive your items.]

[Congratulations for surviving the first round of the Survival Test!
x3 Bonus for all members of your group surviving and helping to defeat the boss!
+7500 xp +3000 credits]

[x5 Level up!]

[The next round begins in 24 hours, prepare as best you can! Explore! Fight! Build! Plot! Experiment! (Rank: ???)]

[Nearby settlement found! Investigate the City of San Francisco at your own risk. (Rank: G – C)]

[Enemies abound. Numerous sightings of various races and factions in the vicinity of Underground Bunker 11. Scout out possible enemies and discover what it is they want. Defend your base against scavengers. (Rank: F)]

Huh, so I guess these last three messages are quests of some sort?

Affirmative.

Alright, well, I guess I should go spend my ability points.

Alan walked over to the Administrator in the corner of the bunker, who gave over another vial of blood, apparently the only loot from the boss, which was rather disappointing. The Administrator brought up the ability point purchase menu when asked.

Alan had 78 points to spend, the additional 3 coming from his Skilled ability. He was fairly certain he wanted to get the Gifted ability as well, as since it gave him an additional ability point to spend on stats every five levels it was best to get it as early as possible. That left him with 28 points to spend.

Hmm, Eve, any ideas on what might be a good ability to spend the points on?

What is your definition of good?

That was actually a rather pertinent question. Before he began playing it, Alan had thought the Game would be more like a sort of fantasy game, and had decided upon playing some sort of rogue or warrior character. It seemed like it was instead a sort of military sci-fi shooter, at least based upon what he’d seen so far. None of the marines he recalled were wielding melee weapons, although Kitana seemed to be doing fine.

Additionally, everything was so lifelike, sometimes on a frightening level. Alan had been genuinely afraid of dying in the last moments before he collapsed. The level of pain was unbelievable as well, it seems like the creators of the Game hadn’t mitigated that much at all. If he ended up getting hurt that much every time he went into battle, he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to handle it…

That meant he should probably try a ranged character of some sort. A standard assault class might be best, but fighting in the front lines would probably often result in Alan getting shot, or worse. So, that left becoming a sniper. In fact, that probably made the most sense, what with Eve’s abilities to calculate everything, she’d be able to make all the calculations a spotter would ordinarily do. Her ability to recognize nearby enemies would be quite helpful too. Of course, a sniper would only be useful in an open field of battle, and was rather vulnerable in enclosed spaces. Maybe he could get Kitana to teach him more swordplay, or better yet be his bodyguard.

Okay, so I think I want to purchase the sniper ability, do you believe that sort of ability would be useful?
Affirmative. Based upon your low tolerance for pain such a choice suits us.

Alan rolled his eyes, then purchased the Gifted and Sniper ability for 75 points. Like before, he didn’t feel any different, but once he actually used a sniper rifle he’d probably feel different, just like the sneak ability hadn’t come into effect until he began to try to sneak about. He also probably should have made sure that the aliens had sniper rifles, but whatever, too late now. Human weapons seemed fairly effective too, or at least at this level they were. The last three points were put into improving his perception, at Eve’s request. To his surprise, Alan noticed the range which Eve could detect things expanded slightly as a result. He’d never bothered with such a stat in most of the games he’d played, instead deciding to invest in more important things like strength or agility or intelligence. It might be useful to have expanded senses as a sniper though, especially with Eve.

Alright, what next… it seemed like the next step should be to try to prepare for the next round, which meant spending some of the 3000 credits he’d earned. If Alan recalled correctly though, the exchange rate between credits and dollars was something around $10 for every credit, which meant… he had literally made $30k from surviving one round in this Tutorial! Alan could see why if this was an enhanced Tutorial Thiago and the others had paid Pharaoh, the Ultihaxlard captain of the ship they were on to participate in it. It did bring up the question though of why the ship’s AI had allowed him on, but he supposed that was probably an issue for another time.

Now that he was more awake Alan began feeling hungry. Alan walked back to his cot, opening up his bag and eating a grey block of food as he wandered around the edge of the bunker, examining the tables lined with items. The grey block tasted like grey mush. Alan noticed he could buy flavoring for 5 credits, but considering that was actually $50 and he was probably best off spending his credits on things that would improve his combat capability, it seemed a bit extravagant. Alan made sure to step lightly as not to awake any of the others, yet he sensed whenever he approached someone’s cot they would tense up a bit.

Unfortunately, the cheapest sniper rifle was 2500 credits, which seemed excessive, especially since that didn’t even include ammo costs. Recalling that Thiago had said the cheapest gun was 300 credits, which, now that Alan was thinking about it, was $3000, these items sold by the Administrators seemed rather overpriced. Remembering the message at the police station, Alan recalled that there was some sort of trading hub downtown. That also aligned with the quest of investigating San Francisco rather nicely.

Alan grabbed his bag and proceeded to the exit of the bunker. At the foot of the stairs before the entrance/exit, he found Thiago, bleary eyed, leaning against a concrete wall. Thiago stood up straight, looking over at Alan. He grinned, clapping Alan on the shoulder.

“Hey, man, nice job with that flying beast, I heard from Kitana you helped her kill it.”

“Oh, um, thanks,” Alan said hesitatingly.

“Look, I know I may have been a bit harsh last time I spoke with you, but to be honest I thought you had just got yourself and Kitana killed. I know that you’re unfamiliar with our group, but I was nominated the leader for the expedition, and to lead effectively, to make smart, informed decisions, I need to know what’s going on, and for people to follow directions, you get me?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“Okay, so is there anything else you think I should know, like the possibly exploding shield generator? Anything your AI has told you?”

Alan recalled the… abnormalities Eve had detected.

“Actually well, it’s probably nothing, but, well, Eve did say something about some of our group members having non-standard human behavior. It was probably nothing.”

Thiago froze for a second, then grinned, weakly. “Non-standard human behavior, like, aliens? I’m pretty sure I’d have noticed something like that. I’ve known most of these guys for months.”

“Um, right.”

“Anyways, like I was saying, I’m the sort of leader here, which means it’s my job to delegate tasks. We’ve been having a rotating guard stand here, making sure nothing enters the base. Nothing has happened so far, but since you’re up, you should stand guard for the next few hours, I’ve barely gotten any sleep.

Maybe you can even stand outside, to get a better view of what’s going on out there. There have been flashes of light, intermittent fights throughout the city, and we’re not sure if that’s just normal for the Game, or something special is happening. Honestly, I was feeling rather cold and didn’t want to get surprised out there so I came inside. So, yeah, go outside and stand guard for the next few hours.”

“Okay, but I want-”

“Oh, also, we’ll be deciding what we’re all doing later at 7:30 a.m., deciding tasks then, do you have any preferences?”

“Um, as I was saying, I want to go downtown to see if I can purchase some things. There was a mention of a trading hub by someplace called the Metreon.”

“Hmm, alright. The first priority will probably be repairing the shield generator, though. Goodnight. Oh, yeah, feel free to take the jacket by the exit.”

“Um goodnight.”

Alan stepped outside, grabbing the jacket. He’d never stood guard before, but how hard could it be?

Luckily, over the next few hours the only enemy Alan had to fight off was boredom, and that was easily solved by having Eve go through her database and give him tips on how to be a proper sniper. To his surprise, it seemed like a lot of the information came easily, even naturally. Probably because of the ability he got.

Around 8 a.m., when Alan began wondering if they were going to include him in their discussion, or of he was left outside purposefully, Aphrodite stepped out of the bunker, stopping right in front of Alan, a bit too close for his comfort. She smelled nice, with a faint scent of lilac. It seemed like the Game didn’t require showers or hygiene maintenance, at least.

“You can go down, now, I’ll take over from here.” Aphrodite smiled dazzlingly.

“Um, alright, thanks,” Alan replied, stepping down the stairs a bit awkwardly. He didn’t have the most experience with girls, at least not ones that looked like models.

It turned out, according to Eve at least, the shield generator had a malfunctioning part, thus it was determined Alan would head off downtown with Daisy and Ace to try to find a replacement part and buy/trade for whatever else seemed useful. Daisy was coming along because it was her shield generator, thus she needed to buy the part to fix it according to the Administrator, while Ace apparently had connections with the US military, who were supposedly in control of the city. Everyone else would be sent out in rotating pairs, scouting/gathering information, returning to rest and guard the base. Aphrodite with Thiago, DaLong with Kitana and MadMerlin with KingArthur.

An hour later, after a brisk walk from the base, Alan found himself approaching downtown San Francisco. They hadn’t encountered any enemies on the way there, though traffic seemed to pick up as they reached downtown. There were a few cars that raced by on the roads every so often, and a few other people walking about, mostly in military fatigues. Eve pointed out a few possible sniper nests in the skyscrapers and office buildings. Some of them were likely to contain actual snipers. How Eve could tell, Alan had no idea.

To get downtown there was a security checkpoint, however it didn’t seem very restrictive. Once Ace let the guards know they were undergoing the Tutorial they were just waved past without anyone even checking their weapons. As they neared the downtown mall and the crowds began to swell to the hundreds, Alan started to worry that it might end up looking like a normal mall. He needn’t have worried, however. The transformation was glorious.

Gone were the clothing shops, filled with designer jeans or cute dresses. In their place stood equipment shops, with armor of all shapes and sizes, sleek laser weapons, giant metal swords. There were stores that sold implants that promised to turn you into a mighty warrior or master spy, robotics stores with bots that could aid you in battle or repair your gear and information brokers with info about the hottest war zones or best quests. There was even a small space ship dealership. It seemed like most of the shoppers were military of some sort. According to Ace, San Francisco was a major supply port and send off point for the US military in the Game, like it had been in World War II. That explained all the soldiers in uniform walking about, but didn’t explain all the civilians.

Ace just shrugged. “They’re probably here to try to join the military or catch a ride off planet. Anyways-” He stopped mid sentence with his mouth open.

“Actually, I’ll catch up with you guys later after you found the part, I just remembered something I need to do before I meet my contact.”

Ace fluidly vanished into the crowd, gone in a second.

“Huh, that was odd,” Alan commented.

“Yeah, that was the first time I’ve seen his expression change, and I’ve watched him fight a giant flying cat,” Daisy said, grinning.

Alan continued exploring the trading hub with Daisy, who was a surprisingly down to earth girl considering she was the daughter of a major public figure. She even seemed interested in the random, nerdy things Alan knew about, asking about the differences between the Game and other RPG’s he’d played.

The mall still retained its food court, which had all the normal, unhealthy fast food. The prices were outrageous, it cost an average of 5 credits for a meal, but then again Alan didn’t know if off planet you could get a burger with fries. Still, even with all the different shops, almost half the storefronts were empty, which he supposed was to be expected. Each time they passed by an information broker Eve suggested buying information as the information about the Game he’d been able to download online was severely limited, and the fifth time she suggested it Alan finally acquiesced.

After questioning a few security guards, actual military soldiers rather than mall cops, Alan determined the Thought Emporium were the best general information brokers. They were apparently connected to a guild of information brokers located throughout the Game, with their main headquarters in Khersath. They were more expensive than the other shops Alan saw, but they apparently also had much more information. For 500 credits, they sold some sort of general Game information package, which was good for a year. It seemed like way too much money for information, but according to everyone he spoke to, it was essential for any serious gamer that planned on leaving Earth. Apparently the information was even provided to everyone in the US military as a sort of nation deal the US had with the guild and had saved thousands of lives.

Alan walked into the Thought Emporium expecting some sort of dark ambiance and tacky hooded figure. Instead, the store had a professional metallic silver decor with stacks of computer servers and a male cyborg with a cybernetic eye and titanium right arm behind the counter.

Connected to Thought Emporium network. Eve told him.

“Um, hi, could I purchase a general Game information package?”

“Certainly. I assume that the AI that connected to the store’s server is yours, and the data should be transferred to it?”

“Um yeah.”

“Alright, that will be 500 credits. Wait, are you undergoing the tutorial?”

Alan debated lying to store owner, but considering he was an information broker, that probably wasn’t a good idea.

“Yes.”

“Okay, I only ask because there’s actually a trade hub wide discount of 80% for all humans undergoing the tutorial. In an effort to promote humanity all traders you find here should give you the discount as long as you are undergoing the tutorial. Any that aren’t are ripping you off.”

“Oh, thanks a lot!”

Alan mentally agreed to the purchase for 100 credits, and Eve was soon downloading the data. It looked like it could take a little while.

“Also, are you by any chance willing to sell any information about the tutorial so far? Trust me when I say I could make it worth your while.”

Alan entertained the idea, but then decided he should probably ask Thiago, and let him know about the cheaper equipment. Unfortunately, it seemed like most of the others had already spent their credits on the rip-off shop the Administrators had set up. Thiago also asked him to not sell any information. Since he didn’t completely trust this information broker anyways, Alan politely declined the offer, waiting for Eve to finish downloading the data.

Once the download finished, Alan pressed ok on the message that popped up, and his entire world changed. Suddenly, usernames, blue, green, purple and red health bars popped up about all around him, along with levels, titles and class descriptions. His HP bar that up until this time had only read 100% changed to 350, his stamina changing to 248. Opening up his inventory, tooltips began appearing when Alan thought about a particular item. The vials of blood in his backpack were now labeled clearly as vials of DNA. The gun had a description with the model type and serial number, along with a damage range of 12-20 and durability of 37/60. The knife had a damage range of 5-6 in comparison, along with a durability of 107/120. All the items also had an estimated value, and apparently the vials of blood were worth about 100 credits each, while the boss’s DNA was worth around 5000 credits, fifty thousand dollars!

Things were finally beginning to look like a game rather than real life. Opening up his character window, Alan found another surprise, gone was the relatively simple list of abilities and stats, replaced with a much more comprehensive list of stats, with a separate tab for abilities.

 

Status Window
Name: Adampwnage Alignment: Neutral
Level: 27 Class: Undetermined
Species: Human (Earth) Gender: Male
Titles
None
Reknown: N/A Notoriety: 0
Health: 350 / 350 Health Regen: 0.05 / Sec
Psionic Energy: 10/ 10 Psi Regen: 0.01 / Sec
Shield Energy: N/A Shield Regen: N/A
Stamina: 248 / 250 Stamina Regen: 1.0 / Sec
Strength: 29 + 20 Agility: 36 + 20
Intelligence: 47 + 20 Willpower: 22 + 20
Charisma: 13 + 20 Perception: 38 + 20
Endurance: 24 + 20 Luck: 55 + 20
Resistances
Physical: ?? Mental: ??
Psionic: ??
Faction Standings
United World Government: Neutral Predecessors: Unfriendly
Legion of Man: Neutral* Lords of Life: Neutral
Haxlards: Neutral Administrators: Friendly
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 D ??? 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 F* ??? F
The ability to communicate with synthetic beings.
Skill Name: Skill Rank: Skill Proficiency: Skill Rarity:
Enhanced Reactions D* ??? 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) G ??? F
The ability to shoot accurately at great ranges.
Skill Name: Skill Rank: Skill Proficiency: Skill Rarity:
Knife Fighting  (Basic) G* ??? G+
The ability to fight with a short blade.

There was quite a lot of information, some bringing up more questions than answers.

Eve, what just happened?

I received a great deal of data and adjusted your interface accordingly.

Great, could you explain a few things?

Certainly. There is a great deal of information you should know.

Okay, first off what is psionic energy?

The ability to manipulate physics at will, similar to mana commonly used by mages in games. Unlike mana however, psionic energy has been proven to exist and is the energy used by psychics.

Um, right, so this is basically magic, but in the Game?

Affirmative.

Great, can I learn it?

Unfortunately, as you should have noted your psionic energy is fairly low. It seems as though the implant which allows me to more fully communicate with you and aid you greatly hinders your ability to wield psionic energy.

Oh…

At this point I would like to assure you that I am and will continue to be much more useful than any psionic ability. I would also like to remind you I have saved your life on no fewer than three different occasions.

Um, right, no, I wouldn’t ever replace you Eve, I was just thinking it would be cool to shoot fireballs with my mind or bend spoons or something. That explains the MadMerlin’s display aboard the dropship though, he probably has a grasp on some sort of psionic power.

Yes. It also explains a few other things as well, such as Ace’s power level and the glowing effects created by Kitana’s sword abilities. I am also now able to better counter act and anticipate displays of such abilities as I have a better understanding of such phenomenon.

Um great. Okay, other question, what’s with the asterisks by various things on my character windows?

They imply that the information is circumstantial. Should the Legion of Man learn of your involvement warning everybody about the bomb at the airbase, I doubt they would remain neutral. The Machine Communication, Enhance Reaction and Knife Fighting skills are improved by me through the Computer-Human Enhanced Interface, emphasizing the importance of the implant once more. The G+ denotes that the skill is so common, it shouldn’t even be ranked.

Okay Eve, I get it. I’m not going to replace you. Moving on, do the shield energy and regeneration imply that I should have a shield of some sort?

Affirmative. The first item that should be purchased next is power armor of some sort. It could increase your chance of surviving an encounter up to tenfold. Almost every player wears power armor which has a built in force field whose energy depletes with each blow it takes. Interestingly, your earlier supposition about the general uselessness of melee weapons is false, as a melee weapon is capable of dealing much greater damage to shields than most ranged weapons, and the shields at the same time greatly help such melee weapon users to tank a number of hits before they are injured.

Alright, now what’s with the question marks?

Your resistances and skill proficiencies have been undetermined. At the end of the tutorial a number of your proficiencies and resistances should be calculated by the Administrators, and thus displayed in your ability window.

Um, right, what were the skill proficiencies again?

Alan could almost feel a mental sigh from Eve.

As Icewolf explained, your skill proficiency will range from around two billion to one. Once you improve your skill and it has a proficiency of one, the skill will rank up. As you have most likely noted, some skills are basic skills, which may evolve into intermediate, advanced and master level skills once various requirements have been met. Other skills may of course also evolve or combine with other skills in various ways. I now have a much stronger grasp on various skill trees and talent combinations. The first combination I suggest you finish is buying the Talented ability that was unlocked once you purchased Gifted and Skilled.

Alright, just making sure, abilities and skills are the same thing, right?

Yes. The words are interchangeable in the Game.

Alan’s next thought was interrupted by Daisy, who had tapped him on the shoulder. Apparently he’d been talking to Eve for so long it had been noticeable even though they’d been communicating at the speed of the thought.

“Are you okay?” Daisy asked worriedly.

“Yes, I’m fine, just a lot of information to take in.” Alan noticed the cyborg, apparently a level 73 Techno-spy glance sideways at him.

“Um, lets grab something to eat and we can talk about it, who knows where else we can find Earth fast food?”

Actually, a number of Earth chain restaurants have recently opened up on Khersath, serving such galactic delicacies as Big Macs and Ho Hos.

Um, right.

“Alright.”

Alan and Daisy went over to the food court, Alan deciding to splurge a bit, given the 80% discount, and since it would probably be the last affordable Earth food he’d eat at the very least. He got a burger, fries, pizza, a chocolate milkshake and coke then went to town. Interestingly there were a few TV’s set up about the trading hub, showing Game news. Apparently there was a recent rumor that had sprung up about the Legion of Man, the terrorists that had attacked the air base, being located on Mars. Also some group called the Revenants had been sighted in the Milky Way Galaxy, while the Empire was preparing for war. At this point, Alan could care less about intergalactic politics. It wasn’t like he was going to influence who was going to go to war and wasn’t.

“Alright, so you spaced out a bit earlier, what was that about?” Daisy asked, after demolishing two double cheeseburgers. Alan had a feeling she only ate so much because this was virtual reality.

“Well, a lot of my interface changed, like I can see a lot more health bars and people’s usernames and classes, for instance.”

“Oh, the information you got from that broker included that as well?”

“Yeah, according to my AI there are a bunch of lucrative public events that happen every so often, and the information like levels and classes of the participants are data mined. Apparently when users participate in a war such information is made public too. Thus, while the info might not be the most up to date it gives you a pretty good guideline.”

“Interesting, could you transfer me this information as well? I’ll pay you, of course.”

Hmm, actually, could you update everyone’s interface?

I could. However, as a full update would take days, I will only update the interface with the more relevant information, such as the standard HP and damage conversions, as well as levels and classes of people they’re likely to encounter. The information will most likely quickly grow outdated anyways.

Alright, it should still help though.

Apparently everyone in the group had gotten a message asking if it was okay for Eve to update their interface again, as Alan received a series of messages. He let everyone know it was okay, and would probably help them.

A few seconds later, Daisy was glancing about wonderingly.

“Huh, that is quite interesting, and definitely a lot more game-like. Anyways, we should probably find what we came here for.”

Luckily, with Eve’s help they quickly found a repair shop that had the part they needed. Ace found them in the store, not saying anything about wherever it was he went. Ace wanted to return immediately to the base, needing to speak with Thiago or something, but Alan still needed to figure out what armor and weapon he’d buy. Ace seemingly couldn’t care less what Alan did, but insisted that Daisy return with him. Shrugging, Alan let them head back without him, he was fine by himself, possibly even better off.

He sold off the various items he’d gathered so far, including the DNA the boss dropped. Sure, it may have been able to create a really powerful implant, but such a procedure would take hours, hours he didn’t have while he was undergoing the Tutorial. Once everything he’d gathered had been sold, including the combat knife, he had a little over 9000 credits, far more money than he’d ever had in his life.

As Alan wandered about the various equipment shops, it seemed like an average set of armor would cost around 2000 credits, while a proper, alien-tech laser or plasma sniper rifle would cost about 2500 credits, including the discount. Except as Alan wandered into one shop, a particular piece of equipment caught his eye. It was a sleek, black set of power armor that was a lot more lightweight than all the other sets of power armor he’d seen. Alan had no idea what metal it was made out of, but it seemed to absorb the light that touched it, creating a sort of dark aura in the otherwise brightly lit store. Quite simply put, it was the most badass piece of equipment Alan had seen since he began playing the Game.

Trying to appear nonchalant, Alan walked over to the shopkeeper, a balding middle-aged man that looked more like a high school teacher than an armor salesman.

“So, that power armor, it looks pretty nice, does it have any special abilities?”

“Ah, young sir, you have quite the eye. That is in fact a set of Revenant recon armor, capable of turning the user invisible to almost all forms of detection.”

Revenants?

A group that worships the technology left behind by an ancient race said to have lived long before even the Predecessors and Lords of Life. They are considered hostile by most factions in the Game.

Huh, interesting.

“Ah. Isn’t there, well, a certain negative stigma that is attached to the armor then?”

“Well, if you’re going to be like that, I certainly won’t sell it to you,” the shopkeeper harrumphed.

“I was just wondering if that might possibly sell it for a bit cheaper, as I doubt the army with their dress code will allow their members to wear an enemy faction’s armor.”

Alan had no idea what the armies’ dress code was, at least within the Game.

“Yes, unfortunately that has been a bit of an issue. They bought the first set easily enough for research purposes, but weren’t willing to buy the second I bought off the Haxlard. I should of known it was too good of a bargain to be true. You know what, how about this, I’ll cut you a special deal, just 50k credits!”

Alan’s heart plummeted.

“And since I’m undergoing the tutorial?”

“Well, just 10k then!”

“Um, how about 7.5k?”

“Well, I’m sorry, but I’m already selling it at quite a lost. I don’t think I can handle losing even more money, 10k is as low as I go.” The shopkeeper looked at Alan innocently.

Alan shuffled his feet a bit, then sighed. “Honestly, all I have is 9k credits, total, and don’t really have any way of getting any more quickly.”

“Hmmm, that is quite the dilemma…” The shopkeeper rested his chin on his palm, leaning on the counter.

“How about this. Recently, I’ve seen a few shady characters hanging around a particular store, the Iron Wall, located a bit outside the trading hub. I’ll give you directions. Now, all I want you do is maybe test the armor, make sure it lives up to the promises I was given. Scout around a bit, maybe see if you can find any evidence of the illicit business I know they’re involved in, and well,” The shopkeeper glanced about, “If you can’t find any information, but they manage to, say, misplace a valuable item worth around say 1000 credits and you bring it back here, who’s to say it wasn’t simply justice?”

A quest popped up in front of Alan.

“Shady Dealings:

Using the given Revenant Power Armor, scout out a local shop, the Iron Wall. Either recover damning evidence of illegal activities, or steal an item worth at least 1000 credits.

Penalty: Should you be caught, it will result in the loss of both the 9000 credits and the power armor in addition to possible jail time, resulting in the failure of the Survival Test.

Reward: Revenant Power Armor, ???”

Alan thought about whether to accept the task for a moment. He was almost certain that there were no such illegal activities taking place, the shop was probably owned by a rival businessman or something. Was he willing to steal 1000 credits worth of stuff was the real question.

Eve, what do you think my odds of succeeding are?

Approximately 70% with about a 20% margin of error.

That’s quite the margin of error…

Indeed.

Screw it, he’d practice his stealth ability, and maybe this would even turn into some sort of chain quest. It wasn’t like he’d gotten any other quests that were so specific. “Survive” and “investigate,” what kind of quests were those?

“I accept.”

“Great,” the shopkeeper grinned. “Now, I’ll trade you the armor for 9000 credits, but won’t make it an official transaction until you fulfill your side of the bargain. Thus, it’s stolen property until you finish the task, so don’t get stopped by any military police, alright?”

“Uh, okay.” Alan went into a fitting room, changing into the power armor, beginning to regret his decision immediately. The shopkeeper would probably be waiting for him with a few military police when Alan returned. Still, the armor was awfully nice, Alan had to admit. Checking his stats, it gave him 500 shield energy, with the ability to turn invisible for five energy per minute. The shields regenerated at the rate of two energy per minute. It felt almost weightless, too. Eve was impressed with it as well, as apparently she was able to interface with the armor directly, allowing Alan to activate the stealth feature with a simple thought.

Not wanting to risk anything Alan activated his own stealth ability in addition to the armor’s as he exited from the changing room. He grinned when he walked out through the front entrance, as the shopkeeper had been completely unaware of Alan’s departure.

It took quite a bit of effort to weave in and out of the crowds, and a number of times he accidentally jostled into someone. Alan quickly walked forwards, hoping no one would notice anything. As luck would have it, no one did. In fact, no one seemed to be able to see him, not even the military police wearing some sort of fancy headgear.

As Alan approached the shop he saw the back of a man who had just left it. He looked a lot like Icewolf from the back, but that couldn’t be. Icewolf had told Alan that he’d be off world in a serious quest and thus unavailable in the Game for a while. Also, based upon the data he’d gotten, the man’s username was IronEagle, not Icewolf. As another man, an IronBear opened the door to the store, Alan crept in behind him. There was definitely something up with the store, if the names were any tip-off. The shop looked similar to many of the other equipment stores, although it was a bit larger. There were racks of various laser rifles and human guns, as well as Kevlar body armor in addition to some rather simplistic power armor, which, if the seal was to be believed, had been Made in the USA.

IronBear walked up to the counter.

“Hello, I’d like to pick up a special package.” He slid across a coin of some sort.

“Certainly, sir, that will be 2500 credits.” The counter was manned by a loosely humanoid shaped robot on wheels rather than a human being.

“Alright, just remember, an extra helping of freedom.”

“God bless America.” The robot disappeared into a back room, then reappeared with a large brown crate. What was in it, Alan had no idea, but apparently IronBear wanted to make sure he’d gotten the right item, as he sliced open the top, peeking inside. Alan glanced over IronBear’s shoulder, invisible to him.

There was a bomb inside. Alan scrambled backwards, just as IronBear suddenly looked about him, as though he’d felt the presence of Alan somehow even though he couldn’t see him. Maybe Alan had steeped a bit too close. IronBear hurriedly strode out of the store.

Just as Alan let out a sigh of relief, the robot shopkeeper turned and stared directly at him, and said, “And how may I help you today, sir?”

Alan froze. Then, waiting a second to make sure IronBear was far enough away, he darted out the front entrance door, ignoring the robot completely. No doubt it had some sort of advanced detection technology and had detected him as soon as he entered the shop. Luckily however the robot hadn’t noticed anything odd, and assumed he was just another customer. Thank god for poor programming.

As he was about to return to the shopkeeper with this new information, he realized that he wasn’t even sure it was illegal to sell a bomb. In fact, with people selling weapons of all sorts, what was illegal, anyways?

The bomb will definitely be deemed illegal by the military. Eve told Alan.

Oh, and why is that?

It’s the exact same type of bomb as the one used by the Legion of Man when they bombed the airbase and several other locations.

Of course it was.

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