Alan activated hypercognition and analyzed his surroundings. The hub area was like a club lounge with low tables and sofas spread throughout a large room. Eight portals, the colors of the rainbow and white, flickered into life, spread at equal intervals throughout the room. At the center was a table manned by two Administrators that felt slightly… off. But Alan didn’t have time to examine them, as all of the fifty-odd students were leaping into action. Alan wasn’t sure of the exact number as many students, like him, were deploying stealth technology and abilities.
Some players tried to make their way to a certain portal, while others rushed towards the one nearest to them. Students began upholstering weapons, firing indiscriminately, trying to either kill their target or just rack up kills. Alan got a brief glance of Thiago as well as Aurora, but no sign of his target, S.
Get out of here, into a portal, Eve sent.
But which one? Alan asked, stepping to the right to avoid a stray laser bolt. Compared to dodging the laser grid this was child’s play.
The red one; it should lead to the warrior planet, Coliseum. There’s a major player there as well as its namesake coliseum which should prove helpful.
Alan nodded, running to the red portal through a sea of laser fire. Two major groups had formed, and were intent on destroying each other, though Alan noted a number of opportunists trying to pick off whoever they could. Someone shot out the lights, plunging the room into darkness. With his specialized vision and the glow of the portals there was still more than enough light for Alan to see, and based on the continued accuracy of laser fire it seemed like the lack of light didn’t affect most of the other players either.
Alan debated stealing a kill as he saw a player dive to the floor, shields depleted, but decided against it. No need to risk revealing himself at this stage; he definitely didn’t have the time or need to get the most kills achievement. He made his way to the red portal and stepped through it, emerging onto a small hillside above a town. A handful of other rogue students were in front of him, but Alan ignored them, and they paid no attention to him. He wasn’t sure if they detected him either.
At the center of the town was a massive metal dome, similar to the Black Rose’s Simulation Dome, except bigger, about the size of two football stadiums. It had an open top and a surrounding ring of elevated seats. Eve estimated there were over twenty thousand seats, a quarter of which were filled.
There can’t be that many warrior students at the Academy, can there? Alan asked Eve as he began walking down the hill towards the dome. Cerberus’s note simply said: Red Tyrant, ruler of the coliseum.
No, they are spectators, Academy fights are streamed on the globalnet; many of the big name Arena fighters get their start here, thus there are also recruiters and scouts as well as a number of gamblers, Eve sent.
Alan deactivated his invisibility before walking up to the front gates of the town, approaching a guard in power armor with a large stun baton on his side.
“Hi, do you know how I might meet with Red Tyrant?” Alan asked.
The guard smirked. “You want an audience with the Red Tyrant? Well, he can’t greet any wannabe fan or has-been. Get lost.”
“Cerberus sent me,” Alan said.
“Cerbe-who? I said get lost, punk,” the guard said, taking a threatening step towards Alan, who took a step back. He shrugged, then entered town, making his way towards the coliseum. No use confronting every jackass he met; the guard was clearly just a hired goon.
Other than the houses, the vast majority of buildings focused on fighting, with armor and weapon shops as well as repair stations located at nearly every street corner. Various dojos and firing ranges abounded as well. Alan noted a Administrative Center too, but decided against visiting and setting this planet as his respawn point.
Speaking of death, Alan looked behind him, examining passerby for his hunter; Eve felt like he was being paranoid, but he had no idea what his assassin’s skills or abilities might be. Walking down the street in broad daylight made him feel vulnerable, but being in a settlement invisible was apparently highly frowned upon, even illegal in many cases.
Alan finally made his way to an information desk in front of the coliseum, manned by an Administrator. Next to it was a concession stand, sporting the normal gel blocks, various snack foods and beverages.
Hi, can you tell me how I might talk to the Red Tyrant? Alan sent.
Greetings Traveler, the Red Tyrant’s schedule is full for the next month. However, he does personally award winners of the tournaments their commendations and prizes, the Administrator sent.
Great, what tournaments can I sign up for? Alan asked.
There are five tournaments a day, but according to my records you’re only eligible for one, the free-for-all no-holds-barred melee. It takes place in two hours. As Cerberus’s student the registration fee is waived.
Great, sign me up, Alan replied. A message popped up in front of him:
[The Grand Melee:
Be the last one standing.
Registered players: 34
Rewards: 1 Warrior Commendation. Qualification for further tournaments.]
Please check into the waiting room before the match starts, the Administrator sent, highlighting a side entrance on Alan’s map. As soon as the tournament starts players will be teleported into a randomized location in the coliseum and the battle will begin.
Alan thanked the Administrator then wandered about the small town, mapping it out and trying to identify any trainers or items that stood out. None did, so Alan made his way back to the coliseum and into the waiting room, a plain looking room with about fifty seats and ten screens, two changing rooms and a medical facility adjacent to it.
Once there he watched the matches, a series of player vs. monster battles, culminating in a massive raid fight of fifty players against a five-headed mutant hydra that could control the elements.
Alan also tried to gather information about his opponents, but as far as he could tell they were mostly straightforward combat roles, though there was a medic that was apparently participating. A few players were trying to set up initial alliances, but Alan ignored them, there would only be one winner, and he had his own plan.
He also accessed a terminal to see if he could discover anything about S, but nothing turned up. He debated asking Aurora for more information, but for all he knew she might be the one hunting him, so he decided against it. How was he supposed to find S in the entirety of the Academy System, let alone assassinate him without detection? That was probably just part of the challenge.
He also learned that the rules on Coliseum were a bit unique. Apparently dueling wasn’t uncommon, and the basic rule was basically might makes right. If you could beat someone up short of killing them, it was generally allowed, even rewarded. He’d have to watch his back when he got out of here.
Finally the wait ended, and a countdown began. The room was now three-quarters full, with 70 players registered for the tournament. There was a flash of light, and the battle started…
Alan stood still, in the same spot he had been initially teleported to, advanced invisibility activated. He felt a bit bad, but the rules had been clear: the last man standing won. So, he calmly watched as the rest of the warriors eliminated each other, alliances breaking down as the number of remaining players dwindled.
The coliseum floor, which had been a dense jungle in the player vs. environment fights was now a simple dirt pit, with line of sight throughout the entirety of the battlefield. There was no cover, which made spotting enemies and shooting at them very easy, assuming your opponent had no stealth abilities. Fortunately for Alan, his armor had such an ability; unfortunately for everyone else, no one seemed to have detected his presence.
Eve doubted that most of the players could even see through his basic stealth ability, but to be safe Alan had used the advanced setting initially, which masked his sound, smell and other signals in addition to his sight. Still, many of the warriors were far more durable than Alan had anticipated, capable of taking multiple headshots or even stab wounds before falling.
It had been twenty minutes since the fight started, lowering the amount of energy Alan’s armor held, from 2000 to 1725. He’d had to stop using the advanced stealth mode five minutes in because he still didn’t meet the basic requirements of the armor. Like Eve expected no one noticed him, even when a brawl happened right next to him, laser swords clashing a few feet away.
Finally, there were only two other combatants left standing. The medic had used a strategy similar to Alan’s, simply running away and healing himself, but was now having trouble dealing damage to the other warrior, a bald martial artist that looked like a punk with studded earrings and fought with a pair of metal knuckles that glowed blue. Alan, like many others, had underestimated this player, as they were armor-less, assuming he’d be an easy target to take out later. Instead, he moved fluidly through the chaotic battle, avoiding any direct blows, taking out enemies with one or two punches, even if they were heavily armored.
The medic was currently getting the shit kicked out of him, but each time the punk-monk dealt a crippling blow there would be a brief flash of light and the medic would stand up, good as new. The medic wielded a single laser pistol in one hand, a healing tool in the other. Eventually, it seemed like the medic ran out of psionic energy, he took a blow and fell to the ground without standing up.
The crowd roared with excitement, and the punk-monk smiled as he slowly walked over to the medic’s fallen form. He kneeled over him and with another punch caved in the medic’ chest, eliminating him.
The monk stood up, staring at the crowd that cheered him on. He smiled and waved; a minute passed. He looked over to a shielded part of seats and shouted, “What, haven’t I won?”
Alan took the opportunity to deactivate his invisibility, unloading his twin laser pistols into the monk’s skull from point blank. He fell to the floor, disappearing in a swirl of light. Silence fell over the crowd; a second later booing began. Alan heard it grow in volume before he was teleported away, but he didn’t care: he’d won.
Alan found himself in the shielded area of the seats, in a VIP area. Sitting before him in an ornate, throne-like chair was a Predecessor. It wore a suit of dark red metal, holding a spear of soulsteel in one hand. Eve could not identify the type of metal its armor was made of, or its properties.
“So, you won. Without honor, I might add,” the Predecessor said, looking down at Alan, still taller even when seated.
Alan calmly stared back, removing his helmet so he could look into the Predecessors eyes. “I won. I’m Alan, by the way.”
“And, as you know, I am the Red Tyrant. Do you know the origin of this title?” the Red Tyrant asked.
A message popped up:
[Scoping out the Competition:
8/10 Major players met
Bonus: 1/10 Objectives found]
“No, I don’t,” Alan said.
“Because I have bled entire planets dry, using the blood of my enemies to strengthen myself. And not once have I resorted to deceit; each time I have gone to battle I have announced my intentions, and the universe has wept crimson tears.”
“You’re a Predecessor, but I am only human. To defeat one so mighty as yourself I have to use other tactics,” Alan replied.
The Red Tyrant smiled. “And so you must. Here is your Warrior Commendation. You will also participate in the monthly champion’s tournament. I personally require your presence.”
Alan was handed a small emblem with a spear on it, a Warrior Commendation. Messages popped up:
[The Grand Melee complete!]
[x2 Level up!]
[The Champion’s Tournament:
By winning a tournament you have qualified for the monthly Champion’s Tournament. The format is single elimination, randomized death match arena, with teams of up to three players.
Time remaining: 9:22:30:03 If you do not register with a team you may choose to be randomly placed on one.
Teams registered: 22
Rewards (for each member of the team):
1st: 5 Warrior Commendations. Rank A item choice from Academy Armory or 5 platinum marks.
2nd: 3 Warrior Commendations. Rank B item choice from Academy Armory or 3 platinum marks.
3rd: 2 Warrior Commendations and 2 platinum marks.
4th: 1 Warrior Commendation and 1 platinum mark.]
Alan took a slight gulp of air, the Red Tyrant’s presence bearing down on him.
“I’ll be there,” Alan said. It looked like the tournament would take place in about ten days, he’d hopefully be done with whatever training Cerberus had in mind by then.
There was a flash of light, and Alan found himself back in the waiting room. Surrounding him were the warriors who had just fought. Shouts rang out.
“There he is!”
“Get that rogue sonofabitch!”
“That’s the dirty cheat, let’s teach him a lesson.”
Alan activated his armor’s invisibility as he was mobbed, forcing his helmet back on. Angry warriors converged on his location as he turned invisible. Punches and other nonlethal attacks were launched. Alan managed to avoid most of them, and though a few hit, his shields held.
Shoving his way through the waiting room Alan ran outside. Warriors burst out behind him, throwing out sensors and pointing in various directions. Trying to get away from the angry mob, Alan sprinted for the Administrative Center, where he’d be able to teleport to another area of the Academy. He’d made far too large a scene here, whoever was hunting him would certainly be on his trail now.
Once he made his way into the Administrative Center, Alan sent to the nearest Administrator, Teleport me to Null Point Station.
Very well. As Cerberus’s student you are allowed three free teleportation’s within the Academy a day. You have two left today, the Administrator replied.
Alan nodded, climbing into a capsule, returning Home and selecting Null Point Station as his teleport destination. Apparently the odd, brightly colored teleport gates were an artifact unique to Aenigma, only capable of teleporting students within the Academy system. No one had any records of where they came from; he’d have to use the typical capsule teleportation system elsewhere.
Alan emerged from the capsule on Null Point Station, the Pilot training grounds. Cerberus’s note simply read: Ex-Empire Admiral, Null Point Station.
“Halt. State your business.”
Looking up, Alan saw the barrel of a rifle pointed at him. A single guard wearing a lightweight set of power armor was standing before him, with a sort of jetpack attached to his back.
To allow maneuverability in a vacuum, Eve sent.
Why would he need to be able to move around in a vacuum? Alan asked.
Look to your right.
Alan did so. To his right was a clear window, staring out into space. Alan took a second to take the endless void in; it was different, somehow, he wasn’t looking through a screen. All that stood between him and space was an inch or two of composite glass.
Can the Revenant Scout Armor maneuver in a vacuum? Alan asked.
With the right extensions. Currently it cannot, and only holds around 30 minutes of air, tops, Eve replied.
“I said state your business, or I’ll space you,” the station guard said; his hand motioned towards a small red button next to him.
“Oh, I’m here to see someone,” Alan said.
“Um, an ex-Admiral.”
“Are you here to see Cobalt-1-7? He’s the only ex-Admiral I can think of on-station. If you don’t know his name he’s clearly not expecting you. Who are you, who sent you?”
“I’m Alan, Cerberus sent me.”
“Alright. Indigo-3-4 reporting in, I have a Alan here to see Cobalt-1-7, sent by a Cerberus.”
Alan waited as the guard listened for further instructions. A minute passed before he got a response, enough time for Eve to manage a connection to the station network.
“Acknowledged,” the guard said. “Indigo-3-4 leaving arrival gate 4 and proceeding to flight training room with Alan.” He motioned Alan to follow.
Alan walked behind the guard through the station, it seemed very neat, orderly. Everyone they passed by walked with purpose, and wore similar looking power armor. They arrived at their destination, two guards standing at the entrance.
“You are relieved, Indigo-3-4, return to your station,” one guard said.
“Acknowledged,” Indigo-3-4 responded, turning around and heading back.
“Alan, you may enter,” the guard continued.
“Uhh, okay,” Alan said as the door to the flight training room opened, revealing three rows of capsules. Each capsule had a terminal attached, and was suspended in mid-air, outside of the station, floating in space. An odd blue field kept the atmosphere in the room.
A man looked up at Alan, a small blue medal attached to his chest. “Alan? I am Cobalt-1-7, you’ve gotten here just in time.”
A message popped up:
[Scoping out the Competition:
9/10 Major players met
Bonus: 1/10 Objectives found]
“Excuse me?” Alan asked.
“I was just about to send for someone from Aenigma to sort this out; a number of our flight simulators seem to be experiencing increasing delay. So far we’ve passed off the increase in latency as special training, but the recruits seem to know that’s bullshit. Can you check the systems and see what the problem is? It’s probably a harmless program left running by some past recruit, they seem to think pranks like these are funny.”
A new quest appeared:
[A Minor Glitch:
Fix whatever the problem is with the flight simulators.
Reward: A Pilot Commendation and Basic Pilot Training
Failure or Refusing this quest will result in a banning from Null Point Station.]
“Of course sir,” Alan said, “I’ll try my best. I make no guarantees though.”
“Covering your ass like a true officer,” Cobalt-1-7 said. ” The affected terminals are 2, 71 and 82. You have one week. After that I’ll have to hire a professional.” He clapped Alan on the shoulder, then left the room.
Alan walked over to Terminal 2, which was currently unoccupied. He opened his mind, trying to form a mental connection with the terminal, activating his mental hack ability.
In his head, a tunnel opened between his base and the terminal.
SHIT. CUT THE CONNECTION NOW, Eve screamed into Alan’s head as the tunnel finished. Hundreds of small furry creatures began streaming through the tunnel before Alan could close it. Eve dived downwards.
As soon as he cut off the connection, Alan paused to get a better look at what fearsome pest had invaded his base. They were bunnies, and Eve was slaughtering them indiscriminately, her face an alarmed mask of fear as she cut through the small fur-balls as they ran away from her to the corner’s of Alan’s mind-base-thing.
He started laughing.
THIS IS NOT A LAUGHING MATTER, Eve sent.
What are they going to do? Eat all our carrots? Alan asked.
No, but they will multiply and completely lag our systems! They are a VIRUS, Eve sent.
Alarmed, Alan examined his base. Sure enough, the numbers of bunnies was not decreasing even though Eve was slicing through at least one a second. If anything, the number was somehow increasing. He tried taking a closer look, and saw that a number of bunnies were… copulating. In his mind. The bunnies would shortly after lay a dozen eggs. New bunnies would pop out a second later.
What the fuck? he sent Eve.
It’s your mind interpreting the virus, don’t ask me. We need some sort of defense program or digital cure, and fast, at the rate they’re multiplying I anticipate I’ll only be able to process information at half the normal speed, I already feel a definite delay, Eve sent.
I don’t notice anything, Alan replied.
Try activating hypercognition.
Alan did so, and sure enough, time didn’t seem to slow down as much as it should have. There was also a small thumping sound in his ear that he couldn’t get rid of. This was a problem, something he needed to fix, both to complete the quest and clear his mind of this bunny infestation.
So back to Aenigma? Alan asked.
No, let’s check the Institute first, the Academy’s research center and healer/doctor base, Eve sent. Cerberus said there’s one major player there, so we might as well finish that class quest before returning to him; he probably has some solution if we don’t find one at the Institute.
It was hardly noticeable, but Alan thought that she was speaking slightly slower than normal. There may have also been a hint of anger.