The Academy 3.2

“Wait, you got to sit next to Luna the entire flight? The Princess? You should of told me bro, I would of gladly switched seats!” Sidestep said.

Alan stepped off the shuttle, trying to get a better sense of their surroundings. “Calm down Sidestep, we’re not exactly here to pickup girls.”

“Ah, my foolish friend, that is but the least of what you can do with girls. I for one plan on doing much more than lifting girls up. Although, many of them seem a bit too hefty for my taste. You can have those,” Sidestep said.

Alan rolled his eyes, looking to Aurora for help.

She shrugged. “In a way he’s right, unfortunately. We are here to make allies, if not friends, and romantic bonds can be quite durable. For now, we should try to get a sense of who else is here and what exactly it is we need to do to get to the next stage.”

“Alright,” Alan said. “I’ll head over there.” He pointed at the bunker.

“Wait a second Alan,” Aurora said. “I think it would be best if I introduced you to some of the more influential figures. I’m glad to hear that you’ve met Luna and S, but there are a number of other people—”

“I’m good, thanks,” Alan said, turning round, walking towards the bunker.

“Fine, Alan, but update us with what you find,” Aurora called out after him.

“Okay,” Alan yelled back. He started maneuvering his way through the cliques of people that were forming, various factions figuring out what they were doing next. Alan re-scanned the initial messages he’d gotten:

[Welcome to Incipe! The area immediately surrounding the Student Center is a safe zone. Thus, should you die there will be no penalty unless you leave the area. You may not enter any unsafe area against your will. Any unjustified acts of violence or breaking of laws will be appropriately punished by the Academy, ranging from a simple detention to expulsion depending on the nature of your crime.]

[Your respawn point has been updated to the Capsule Room in the Student Center.]

[Phase One:

Complete the initial quests given. Once you have completed these quests you may continue on to the second phase of your education, personalized class-based instruction.

Reward: Admittance and transportation to Phase Two]

[Introductions:

Get to know your fellow classmates, then proceed with your class to the designated assembly area.

00:24:45 remaining

Reward: Access to testing facilities]

[Hit the books:

Study up! Study with the personal, one on one tutor programs or in a review group until you are ready to pass the tests you are required to take.

As a Rogue Machine Lord, you are required to pass tests in the following subjects:

Life, social and physical sciences, Mathematics, Computer Science, Cryptography, Artificial Intelligence and Metaphysics.

Note: Aids such as personal AI’s and intelligence augmentations are allowed during the tests.

Penalty for failure: Remedial study sessions and work assignments.

Reward: Knowledge and the ability to explore Incipe further.]

[Basic Survival:

Once you have finished studying, you have two options: ten days of intense physical training and guidance under wonderful Trainers or wilderness survival on Incipe, gathering 100,000 credits worth of materials from the natural resources of the planet.

Penalty for failure: Failure to meet trainers expectations or gather enough resources will result in a week-long intensive remedial course.

Rewards: Training or gathered resources.]

These tasks, at least, seemed simple enough. What confused and worried Alan was the fourth message, the one that, as far as he could tell, no one else had received.

[Unknown trigger. Error: Unable to decipher quest text. Error: Corruption.]

[˜b =e Y÷È«G.:

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G²•x|¶ì#‰šOÚï‹ÃÁq6Ë> ËUv”ýqÝwçðHqý.•ÂÍ29÷@7- •;Öä`Êît

ªÏK§^[1]֏O“úù›LNTÇ­Yž+]ÂýÕTÁ­ŽØHý‹õáRñ@ùfö¢$†Î±\N¬¼Yy¤îÕ
ø; T³œéô…h…E&ù%j:qû|¸ï)ÇGήmgø‚ú§rã)<ÏgvyâÅaùNAUÊÀùçr:à`¡¯{§¦k Ž½‹æzß­ºZ­ÀV

—*ù^(x↔­ýÍd6á9XÓé}Iûc¬8

\Mqî\ø•¸T+¼‘ÄÍ%çŏbA»O #úŠf)ÜV24¼®WÞÿÙÓ•ÍñKRvØ ˆúaôºa$(1Ò¾*rÍ]ÈßZ§= µœ-!—ò˜

S]

Alan attempted to message the Chancellor, but was denied access. He hoped to find someone in the Student Center that could tell him exactly what was going on.

***

Alan quickly got a sense of the new facilities in the so-called Student Center. It was a fairly straightforward, similar to any university campus, with a cafeteria, dorm area, simulation classrooms, labs and capsule room. He had fully explored the space that he had access to and had found no one, not even an Administrator, though he could access the one in his Home. They weren’t any help. This didn’t seem to alarm anyone else, and people started trickling in, gathering in the designated assembly area, a gym-like room on the ground floor with plenty of space for everyone and hardwood floors.

But Alan couldn’t help but feel uneasy. This message was another example that the Game clearly had bugs, and though Alan supposed this was to be expected in such a massive project, it did not reassure him at all as the Game essentially governed the known universe. Alan had been too scared to even try to experiment with his Data Interaction ability, as he had no idea what it was supposed to do or how it even worked. He was missing something, he just wasn’t sure what.

Hey, Eve, what do you think about all this?

All what? I have detected your abnormal pulse and heightened fear. What is causing this stress?

What do you mean what? This Data Interaction ability that just reads error, and the corrupted quest message that popped up!

I see no Data Interaction ability under your abilities. Are you certain this ability exists, Alan?

Alan froze. When the Game had told him Data Interaction was a hidden ability, it had mentioned that it would be hidden from other players. Alan had never imagined it would be hidden from Eve as well. Did that mean she was a player? Eve responded to these thoughts coursing through his head.

I am not a player, nor can I become one as your AI. While these bugs seem unlikely, it is not impossible that they exist. However, my research has uncovered no known bugs within the Game. They were patched out long ago.

Alan reopened the undecipherable quest.

Then how do you explain this!? Look Eve, I have the quest window open before me and the error message is right there, don’t you see it?

Alan, you currently have a blank quest screen open. I am concerned for your well being. I would like to suggest a series of psychological examinations that may better—

Stop. Act and make decisions on the assumption I’m not crazy, okay? Enough. We should get to the assembly area; Aurora seems rather peeved, and we haven’t found anything useful in the facility.

Very well.

***

Alan quickly found Sidestep and Aurora chatting, though Kitana was missing.

Sidestep waved at Alan. “Hey, find anything interesting? Let me tell you, you missed meeting some fine looking gals. They had the right kind of assets too, if you get my drift.”

“That is enough of that, Sidestep,” Aurora said. “You know what you need to focus on, and it is not hitting on girls. I expect you to complete your exams within the standard two weeks.”

“Um, right, two weeks,” Alan said. “You guys didn’t by any chance get another quest, did you?”

“What?” Aurora asked. “Everyone gets the same two standard tasks: the exams and then the physical training or wilderness survival.”

“Um, of course. It’s, um, probably nothing, just something additional for me as I expect the exams will take me a lot less time,” Alan said.

“Right…” Aurora stared at Alan, giving him an undecipherable look.

“Hey, Alan, I certainly didn’t expect to see you here!” A voice called out. Alan turned around, surprised to find Thiago, wearing the usual white suit. He was accompanied by Kitana, Ace and Daisy. Ace was wearing a set of power armor emblazoned with a United World Government soldier insignia, designed for strength rather than agility or stealth, while Daisy had on a white leather outfit with a medic’s symbol on it, a white circle.

“Oh, um, hi Thiago,” Alan said, “I didn’t expect to see you here either. I assume you’re here to study. Um, what program are you in?”

“I’m in the rogue program like you, while Ace is in the warrior program and Daisy is in the healer one,” Thiago said. He then turned towards Aurora, bowing low. “And this lovely lady must be Aurora, daughter of Elissandra, I’ve heard so much about you from Kitana.”

Sidestep blinked forward, laying a hand on Thiago’s shoulder. “Yup, she is. I’m Sidestep by the way, her guardian. I try to make sure no one gets… too close.” He and Thiago shared a brittle smile.

“So anyways…” Alan said. “I assume you guys are here as part of the United World Government?”

“We are,” Ace said, motioning to Daisy and himself. “Thiago paid for his own tuition.”

Suddenly, faint presences began to appear at the edge of Alan’s consciousness, similar to a friendly Administrator or the machine presences in the Abyss Labyrinth. Alan turned around, staring at the wall before him, Eve running dozens of possible scenarios through his mind.

“Um, right,” Alan said absently. “Well, it was nice seeing you guys again, I’m sure we’ll talk again soon.”

“Um, okay Alan, but the introductions task still has two minutes remaining—”

Alan activated his upgraded power armor’s Advanced Stealth Mode, disappearing from sight, as well as hypercognition. One of the presences formed a connection with him.

I greet you, Traveler. If our presence has alarmed you I apologize, for our detection was not foreseen.

Um, right, who are you?

We are the Trainers.

Right… so then, you’re here to train us?

Yes, the training will soon commence.

Odd, I thought training was optional. Got any pointers for me then?

Follow instructions, and know that your limits are known to us.

Right, that sounds pretty familiar, though if your standards are the same as my AI’s, that’s not exactly encouraging. Nothing else then? Just wait here with everyone else? How do I even know you are what you say you are? I see nothing around me.

Take a few steps forward and deactivate your stealth protocols if you wish to observe us. It is difficult to locate your presence.

Um, you know there’s a wall in front of me, right?

The Trainer remained silent. Alan sighed, then took a few steps forward. He passed through the wall. Alan swore that it had been solid moments earlier, and that he had even leaned against it…

Alan emerged outside, into the forested area. Looking around, he saw nothing but trees and grass. A second passed, then Alan had Eve deactivate his armor’s stealth mode. As soon as he did so, other figures began appearing, mechs resembling Administrators, all a uniform height around six feet. Each Trainer shimmered, somehow camouflaging with their surroundings. There were hundreds, all facing Alan.

One for each player, Eve told Alan.

Alan glanced around, narrowing his focus, trying to detect the Trainer he was connected to mentally. After a bit of trial and error, walking in a direction and seeing if the connection changed, Alan managed to find the right Trainer. It nodded approvingly.

Now wait. You may reactivate your armor’s stealth mode if you so wish, it told Alan.

Alan glanced at the countdown, there were 10 seconds left. He deactivated hypercognition, and re-activated his armor’s stealth ability. Something was about to happen, he just wasn’t sure what. The timer hit zero, and then the wall simply vanished, leaving gaping, open mouthed players staring out into the forest.

Trainers shot forward, each appearing before a student. They traveled at speed that was on-par with Sidestep, gliding forward using some sort of hover-technology. They each then gave a simple command: “Follow.”

Alan watched as the players came to their senses, taking off after their Trainer. Each Trainer moved at various speeds, in varying directions. Alan watched as Sidestep’s Trainer shot past the rest, Sidestep hurriedly teleporting right after it; they were gone from Alan’s view in seconds.

Alan waited for his own Trainer to tell him to follow, but it stood still. Glancing around, Alan saw that a number of the other Trainers also remained in place.

Follow, it suddenly sent. The Trainer began jogging west, deeper into the forest. Alan hurriedly followed after it, noting that a number of other Trainers were guiding other players in the same direction. Alan felt his mind wander as Eve began trying to plot out and gather information about all the other players: the directions they headed, the rate at which they moved, how they moved and other such data.

Alan’s Trainer somehow seemed to detect this lapse in attention, and it suddenly disappeared from Alan’s view. Alan stopped in his tracks.

Follow.

What? But I can’t see you.

Can you not sense me?

Alan frowned. He could sense his Trainer, but all he had was a sense of the strength of the connection, like a sensor constantly telling him if he was getting hot or cold.

I’m sorry, I don’t understand…

What is your ability? What is the nature of the Game?

Um, I don’t know?

It is simple. The Game is a simulated universe, created to mimic the actual physical one. But as it was created, designed with a common fabric, this allows for all of space to be tied together with a unifying, underlying force that encompasses all.

Wait, you mean, like, the Force? Or like how God is supposed to be part of everything?

I am a Trainer, not a Teacher. I do not understand the fabric of this reality, nor its properties. I am simply aware of its existence, and use these channels to communicate or detect other’s presence. Follow.

Alan concentrated on his ability to detect other presences, struggling with this other sense. It was a disembodied awareness that was hard to understand, as it did not translate in his mind like any of his other senses. It was a sixth sense, and thus indescribable with normal language; Alan tried to form words in his mind to describe the feeling, but it was like trying to explain color to the blind or music to the deaf. He did not see these presences or feel them or hear them, they simply were, part of the nature of reality that somehow manifested itself within Alan’s consciousness. When Alan closed his eyes it made no difference, the sense remained in his mind, a dim awareness of everything around him.

Alan began to wonder if Eve created his minimap with this sixth sense, as the range of it was identical to the range shown on his interface. As he thought about it more, Alan realized this was the best analog he could come up with, for it really was like a minimap found in a video game interfaced directly with his brain.

A message popped up:

[ You have gained a new ability, Detect Presence! +25 Perception]

Alan recalled the Lord of the Abyss’s words about presence, and briefly wondered how he could hide his presence.

FOLLOW.

What, but I just-

The Trainer took off at a sprint, racing into the dense jungle foliage. Scrambling, Alan began running after it, concentrating on following the Trainer’s presence.

Eve frantically tried to categorize and analyze threats that appeared, ranging from unknown plants to small critters to large beasts to possible resources. Alan focused on where his foot would land next, completely unused to the uneven jungle footing.

The mad dash forward continued for a few minutes, the Trainer finally slowing down as a number of other players and Trainers began popping into view, all waiting in a large clearing. With a quick glance Alan noted that Aurora, Thiago and S were among the other players. There were perhaps eight others, three of which Alan was only aware of because of his new Detect Presence ability; while he could tell where these players were located, he could not tell what they looked like.

Panting, Alan stepped forward, trying to figure out why everyone had stopped. Before him he saw a thicket of tall pine trees, so dense that it was impossible to see a few yards beyond the forest’s edge, the tall trees blocking out all light. Bizarrely, there seemed to be strands of a translucent substance stretching from branch to branch, tree to tree; it shined in vivid colors as light hit it. The strands seemed to be placed at steady intervals, with almost perfect geometric precision, like-

A spiders web, Eve supplied, but it is spherical rather than circular. Designed to trap from all directions, rather than one.

The Trainers then spoke as one, though Alan’s Trainer spoke into his mind.

“The first to reach the center may claim the prize, and shall be awarded one Rogue Commendation. Begin.”

Half the players suddenly started sprinting forward, the other half waiting to see what would happen. This time, Trainers followed players rather than the other way around.

Alan chose to remain waiting, watching matters as they progressed.

What’s a Rogue Commendation? he asked his Trainer.

Ten are required to complete the Second Phase of your education. Enough questions, I am no Teacher.

Alan nodded, moving up to the edge of the forest to follow the players’ progress. Most elected to try to maneuver around the strands of webs, moving about with surprising dexterity.

Alan watched as Thiago tripped, trying to move too quickly in his suit. He fell forward, and his right arm momentarily touched a web. Immediately, Alan detected a dozen new presences. They converged upon Thiago, small brown furry creatures racing along strands of webbing, moving faster than Alan could follow. They leapt out at Thiago together, who managed to deflect a few. But as soon as the first creature physically touched him, Thiago fell to the floor, unconscious.

The creatures began rapidly spinning webs around Thiago, cocooning him in white webbing, but before they could drag the cocoon back into their lair Thiago’s Trainer grabbed him, and darted back towards the Student Center. The creatures retreated to their original hiding places, their presences disappearing from Alan’s awareness.

Everyone who saw this occurrence froze, and players begun to move forward more slowly with much greater care. Still, Alan saw that many were venturing further and further into the darkness, where it was almost impossible to see where there was webbing.

A player a few hundred yards forward turned a bright light on, trying to illuminate their path. There was a sudden yell, and then the light was quenched. No Trainer emerged, making Alan uncertain whether it was because the player had been killed instantly, or if they were still fighting.

One player, wearing a bulky mechanical suit chose a different option. Two narrow nozzles emerged underneath their wrists, and out of each emerged brilliant blue flame. The player strode forward, burning all before him, stepping through unquenched flames without a worry in the world. Alan thought he could hear mad cackling.

This strategy seemed to work fairly well, with the player making steady progress easily, when suddenly a spiked carapace emerged out of the ground directly beneath them. The player was flung into the air, giant insect mandibles reaching out, biting through the armor, into their leg. The player’s HP fell by 40%.

The insect took another massive bite, and the player’s HP pool was further halved. They cried out in pain, and yelled that they gave up. Their Trainer darted forward, easily knocking the massive beetle-like creature to the ground. They grabbed the player, calmly walking out of the forest, ignoring the giant insect. The monstrosity rained blow after blow onto the Trainer, but each attack didn’t even leave a scratch, numerous 0’s appearing as damage above the Trainer’s head.

Figuring that it could do nothing more, the insect burrowed underground once more. Alan noticed a single strand of webbing that emerged from its belly.

What the fuck was all that? Alan asked Eve.

Those were guardians of the nest, it seems. Enough dawdling about, we should proceed forwards lest another reach the center first.

Are you crazy? Why would I ever go in—

To complete this challenge and gain the rewards for completing it, of course.

Alan took a deep breath, trying to settle his thoughts. Right. This was just a game. The giant, freaky insects couldn’t cause him actual harm. They would just inflict pain and cause nightmares for the foreseeable future. He had never liked bugs.

Alan began walking forward, carefully following a simple path outlined by Eve. At first he had little trouble avoiding the webbing, but it became more difficult to find a path as the trees grew denser and the light began to dim.

Eventually, Alan came to a standstill. There was no path forward. Calmly, Alan regarded his surroundings, trying to figure out what to do next. In the distance he could hear the noises of a battle, and saw brief bursts of light as energy weapons were fired off.

Try your various types of vision, Eve suggested.

Alan hesitated, wondering how the experimental cybernetic eye implant Phantom created was supposed to help him here. All it did was show him various wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation, which, while cool, wasn’t as helpful as Alan imagined it to be. Still, Alan hadn’t really gotten to use the special program Phantom had written, but it wouldn’t be helpful here…

Just do it.

Fine.

Focusing his mind, Alan began to filter between the various spectrums, seeing very little at first. Then, as he switched to Ultraviolet Vision, the world suddenly exploded in color, an electric blue web that took up the entirety of his vision, oddly illuminating his surroundings.

How— Alan began to ask Eve.

These insects had to see somehow, didn’t they?

Examining his new view of the world, Alan noted a number of strands of web didn’t in fact glow. Hesitantly, but at Eve’s behest, Alan prodded one. He waited. Nothing happened. Letting out a deep breath, Alan continued, making sure to only touch these dark strands.

A few minutes passed, Alan slowly making progress forwards. The desolate forest began to tingle with life; worker drones best compared to giant ants went about harvesting some sort of fungus. The horse-sized drones moved in and out of large holes in the ground, some carrying web-wrapped prey. Every so often one of the tiny furred assassin-spiders would flash by, surfing along a thread of the web. They blazed with ultraviolet light, burning up with energy as they moved about. There had been no sign of another player for a while. Alan felt like he should be coming close to the center.

Another few minutes passed. The amount of activity began to lessen, the trees and webbing growing less dense. Then Alan came to a stop. Before him was a clearing; he had walked through the entirety of the forest.

What? But, that means we walked through the center. There wasn’t anything there, just… Oh shit, we have to go down into the holes, don’t we?

That seems likely, Eve replied.

Alan sighed, then looked around him. The only other presence he detected was his Trainer’s, who, despite its bulkiness, somehow managed to completely escape the insects’ notice. Alan decided to take a break, resting his legs and recharging his armor’s energy before making the next attempt. If another player managed to reach the center, so be it. It would just mean that he didn’t have to go into the underground colony that held who knew what.

***

As Alan crawled down the tunnel, doing his best to ignore the giant insect right in front of him, he was grateful that he wasn’t claustrophobic. If he was, he would have been really fucking scared instead of just scared. The fact that the tunnel seemed to be narrowing, rather than expanding, wasn’t helping things either. The brightly lit webbing, which continued down into the tunnel, was getting harder to avoid.

I can no longer guarantee your safety, Traveler. Proceed with caution, the Trainer said.

Great, I’ll start paying attention then, Alan replied, as he leapfrogged over a large tangle of web. The Trainer didn’t answer.

Alan continued crawling forwards, trying to avoid getting any more dirt inside his power armor. He’d thought that power armor, being a highly advanced technologically, should stop something as simple as dirt from getting in, but it turned out if you tilted your wrists at just the wrong angle…

Stop, Eve said.

Alan froze. He tried to scan his surroundings as best he could. There was dirt below him. There was dirt above him. There was dirt behind him. There was probably dirt in front of him, but he would probably need to check to be sure.

Never mind, Eve said.

What do you mean, never mind?

An anomaly, nothing more.

Look, is there something I should be worried about? Like, the Trainer, which we’ve seen take massive hits without a scratch, just informed us that it couldn’t guarantee our safety. Maybe we should just call this a loss, go back and—

Continue. It was nothing.

Alan sighed, then crawled forwards some more. He finally emerged into a large cavern with various tunnels that lead to who knows where. In the center of the cavern was a glistening lake, glowing with infused energy. Larvae sat at its edge, switching between drinking from the lake and eating prepared globules of food, carried to them by the drones.

If the dead bodies were any indication, there had been a battle here. Whoever had made it this far had killed a number of the large beetle-like guardians before falling to the swarms. Everything seemed to be proceeding as normal now, though Alan had no idea what normal was for a giant-mutated-hybrid- insect colony.

Based upon our travel, the center of the forest should be in the direction of the tunnel on our far right, Eve informed Alan. Alan followed Eve’s advice, as always, taking the highlighted path.

He continued past numerous gigantic beetle guards with large spiked carapaces, noting a few that were capable of flight. He continued past more larvae rooms, and rooms with resting brown-furred assassins. Now that he could get a better look at them, Alan saw that they just looked like cat-sized tarantulas that pulsed with glowing energy. Nothing to worry about.

Alan then finally came to the final room, the central room, the place where the treasure was supposed to be. It was completely filled with a webbing, branching outwards from a grey stone about the size of a basketball. Alan saw no path with dark threads, the entire room was alight.

Charge forwards and pick up the stone, Eve commanded Alan.

But, I’m sure to set off the trap, whatever it is, and who knows what kind of monster lives here. There’s sure to be a queen insect, right? I mean there’s always a queen.

Do it.

Alan took a deep breath, really wondering about Eve’s sanity, and his own. Screw it. He leaped forwards as far as he could, landing on a thread of the web. Immediately, hundreds of presences began swarming in towards Alan. He pushed forward with all his might, activating hypercognition as he felt numerous creatures leap out and bite at him.

Alan managed to dodge the first few, but they simply moved too fast. He was so close, a few feet away from the stone. Alan felt his conscious begin to fade, but he willed himself to continue forwards just a few more steps. He fell forwards, hand outstretched, and managed to lay a finger upon the stone.

Welcome to the Academy, the Trainer said. Alan blacked out.

One comment on “The Academy 3.2

  1. MrNiceguy says:

    “… you are required to pass tests in the following subjects:

    Life, …”
    Made me giggle.🙂

    Like

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