As Alan was leaving the flight training room he ran into a familiar face, emerging from one of the capsules. It was Amelia, the pilot from Earth. She had changed from her Earth flight suit into a light blue jumpsuit.
“Hi,” Alan said. “Are you here testing the simulations?”
Amelia gave Alan a confused look. “Well, yeah. Not like I’ll be able to fly the real thing anytime soon. Most factions require you to log a year of flight hours before you’re allowed to touch a ship, even in the Game.”
“Oh, who pilots the United World Government’s ships then?” Alan asked.
Amelia shrugged. “That’s classified. But remember the UWG was only able to afford one spaceship capable of putting up a fight. And it looks like they might even lose that one…”
“What do you mean?”
“Haven’t you been keeping up with the news at all?”
“News? What news?”
“War has broken out! The Legion of Man have allied themselves with a number of non-NATO countries, helping them seize their control points back from the UWG. This happened a few hours ago and has been on the front page of every Earth news source. Where have you been?”
A message appeared:
[The War for Earth Updated:
The war for Earth is no longer secret. Lines have been drawn, and crossed. You may now freely recruit other humans from Earth. You may choose a side to support or remain undecided.
Note: Any player involved in the war that kills you can choose to remove you from the war. You may not remove players from the war until you have chosen a side. Any War Contribution Points received are tied to the side you are on.]
“Um, I’ve been training,” Alan said, rapidly going through news that he had Eve brought up. “I need to go figure this out.”
“Alright,” Amelia said, giving Alan another odd look.
Shit, Eve, why didn’t you update me about this? Alan sent.
It does not change our current circumstances, as we are not yet officially allied to the United World Government or Legion of Man. Also I believe that Amelia may suspect we are not allied to the United World Government now. Be wary of her in the future, Eve sent.
Oh, right, she was sent here by them, wasn’t she? Alan sent. Wait, why didn’t you update me about that?
I assumed you remembered. I cannot dictate every social communication for you, especially now that I am actively combating the bunny virus rampaging through our system.
Let’s hope this Institute has some sort of solution then.
Alan was escorted by a guard back to the capsule room. As he walked he sent a series of messages to his guildmates, trying to figure out what they knew and their opinion on the matter. The news articles he found on the globalnet simply stated that war had broken out, and added no detail to the current situation on the ground. There were a few sites that claimed to have additional information, but they were located behind pay walls of thousands of credits.
Alan: Hey, what are people’s thoughts on the war that’s happening on Earth? Does the Black Rose Guild have a stance on it or additional information?
Aurora: The Black Rose Guild remains neutral in all wars until they are hired. Information on wars is granted on a case by case basis. As a member of the guild you are not to choose a side. Did you not read the guild manual?
Sidestep: Yeah, it’s only like 3000 pages. Haven’t you memorized it by now Mr. Robot?
Alan: Right. Also, are people’s involved in the Champion’s Tournament? I’m currently looking for a team.
Kitana: I have formed a team with Ace and Daisy. They are aware of our inability to choose a side in the war, but I believe they still wish to talk to you Alan.
Sidestep: I suppose he could join our team, Aurora, what do you think?
Aurora: Yes, that should work. I was going to have to choose between S and Luna, this way I won’t cause offense to either.
Recalling that S was his assassination target, Alan hurriedly replied.
Alan: Great! Also, what are S and Luna up to? In fact, what is everyone up to?
Aurora: I have no idea. They’ve kept their movements secret as they’re part of the Game of Assassins. If I recall correctly you are playing as well. Let me be direct: you are not my target. Am I yours?
Aurora: Very well, we should meet then, to coordinate our fighting strategy for the tournament and perhaps exchange information. Normally in these types of tournaments players try to hide some of their trump cards, as the broadcasts are publicly available, but as we are members of a mercenary guild we must try to show off to a certain degree to entice potential clients.
Alan: Sorry, but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do any of that right now. I’m a bit… incapacitated, doing a quest/training for my Teacher. I’ll try to let you know if things change.
Aurora: Keep me updated.
Sidestep: Ooh, do we need a team name? How about “Focus the Noob”?
Aurora: No. Clear the channel. Get back to training.
The chat ended as Alan reached the capsule room. He pulled up Cerberus’s notes on the Institute: Zero science gets done here, just a bunch of crackpot theorizing. Celeste, knife bitch.
Alan got the feeling there was a bit of enmity between Cerberus and the Institute. Still, he chose it as his next destination, got into his capsule, and teleported there.
Waking up in a typical capsule room, Alan walked outside. He emerged into a long hallway filled with classrooms and lecture halls. It was as if he was back at university, except the students had personalized screens with notes floating before them. A directory stood next to a map, indicating that he was in the Information Sciences Hall. He looked up Celeste, who was apparently a Teacher of Etiquette and Culture. She would hopefully be in her classroom/office when he arrived.
Following the map, Alan proceeded to make his way to the Cultural Hall.
Stop… Check… Clinic… Eve sent, sounding slower than before. She hadn’t even set waypoints or a path for Alan, causing him to check a directory every so often to make sure he was on the right path. There were so many divisions and subdivisions of the Institute that it was roughly two miles to the Cultural Hall. Alan passed by multiple branches of sciences and mathematics that he had never heard of, like Dimensional Astrophysics and Pure Theory (Numberless), which was next to Pure Theory (Numbered). He could hear a heated debate happening between the two departments.
Alan looked up the Clinic, and saw that it was on the way to the Culture Hall. He entered what appeared to be a waiting room for a doctor’s office, with bright white walls and a young, black-haired receptionist. The room was empty apart from the receptionist; Alan wasn’t sure if that was a good or bad sign.
The receptionist looked up from the problem set she was working on. “Hello, what ailment can the Clinic assist you with today?”
“I have a virus,” Alan said.
“What kind? Micro? Macro? In-game? Out?”
“No, no, a, um, computer virus.”
“Well, I’m not sure I would of come to the Clinic to remove a computer virus, I wasn’t even aware people still used such archaic technology. I think you might have better luck with the Historical Cybersecurity Division.”
“No, wait, I mean a malicious program, sorry if my terminology isn’t clear, it’s affecting my ability to think,” Alan said.
“Ah, well, the translation software in the game is very specific when it comes to medical terms. You say you can’t think clearly? Oh… I see. Yes, you don’t have a console as far as I can tell, which mean that it must be an implant that is infected. A neurological implant, correct?”
“Yes,” Alan said.
“Great, well if you follow me we can have the implant removed in minutes, with little to no loss of memory and brain functionality,” the receptionist said, standing up.
“Removed? Wait, no! I just want the virus removed, not the implant,” Alan said.
“Well, if you don’t want the implant removed I don’t see how we can help you,” the receptionist said, sitting back down. Alan hesitated, wondering what he should do next. Eve slowly responded:
Never mind… Quest… Return… Cerberus…
Slightly red-faced, Alan turned around, exiting the Clinic. He started wondering if he should even be listening to Eve at this point. All of his Machine Lord abilities had essentially stopped functioning, Alan’s perception of time slowing down as it began to return to normal. The constant flow of information he got from his surroundings had stopped, making Alan feel dumb and vulnerable.
Stepping carefully, Alan made his way to the Cultural Hall. He stopped before the classroom labeled Celeste’s. As he peered in through a window in the door he could see a lesson was currently progressing. At least, that’s what he thought was happening.
There was a projection of what looked like a medieval court dinner in the center of the room, and a tall Ælven woman was pointing at an odd utensil with a triangular tip. Alan noted the two daggers she kept at her side.
Not sure how long the lesson would continue for, Alan slowly opened the door, hoping to slip into one of the back seats.
The woman looked up, staring directly at Alan. “And here we have another earthling. This one doesn’t seem to possess basic manners. I’m sorry, but I don’t think I can help a case as helpless as yours.”
“Uh, okay? I’m Alan.”
“And why did you interrupt my lesson, Alan?”
“Uhhh, you are Celeste right, the culture/knives teacher?”
“Yes, I am Celeste. Who told you I teach the knife?”
A message popped up:
[Scoping out the Competition Complete:
10/10 Major players met
Bonus: 1/10 Objectives found
Report to Home Administrator for quest reward.]
“Um, Cerberus. Bye,” Alan said, opening the door behind him.
Celeste narrowed her eyes. “Cerberus. You tell that bastard that he needs to come talk to me face to face. None of his holographic bullshit. And tell him to stop spreading rumors about me being a knife trainer, I am a trained diplomat and can make his life hell.”
“Got it,” Alan said, closing the door behind him with a sigh of relief. He began walking back to the capsule room when he heard a voice call out behind him.
“Alan, wait!” He turned to see Daisy, walking out of Celeste’s classroom.
“Daisy? What are you doing here?” Alan asked. Without Eve, he hadn’t even noticed her.
“I was taking Celeste’s class of course,” Daisy said. “Learning about other cultures is of the utmost importance for diplomatic exchanges!”
“Right… can’t you just look that stuff up on the globalnet?”
“No, that would defeat the whole purpose,” Daisy said. “And Celeste has a wealth of knowledge, details that can’t be found on any net. For example, did you know factions of Haxlards each possess a secret hand language? Or that where you’re sat at an Ælven dinner party can determine your political future?”
“No, I didn’t,” Alan said. “I must… be going.”
“Are you okay? You sound a bit strange,” Daisy said.
“I’m fine. The news was just surprising,” Alan stammered.
Daisy nodded. “Yes, that was actually what I wanted to talk to you about. Now, I know from Kitana that you can’t declare a side formally, but you can still provide indirect aid: credits, or more importantly, information that you might have. Any—”
“Stop. I can’t help right now, sorry,” Alan said.
“Do you not care about your country Alan? The Legion of Man are a bunch of terrorists that have broken up the United World Government treaty, they’ve committed atrocious acts that go against Democracy. How can you call yourself an American?” Daisy asked, a fierce glare of determination in her eyes that Alan had never seen before.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t have enough information right now,” Alan said. “I don’t know what atrocious acts you’re talking about, but I’m sure that before the war is done both sides will have probably done unspeakable things. Hopefully the nature of the Game mitigates this, but with the degree of realism and pain I’m not so sure. War has never been fair, but the fact that no actual lives are being lost doesn’t make things as imperative as you seem to think they are.
“Also, my real body is now on Khersath, so I’m not sure what exactly I am now, it just seems stupid to care about nationalities when you consider the vastness of the universe.”
“Do you not see the reality around you?” Daisy asked. “The entire Game is divided along the lines of nationalities, with the Haxlards controlling one sector, the Ælves another. The other major power, the Empire, isn’t devoted to some place, but to some person! Everyone is partisan to one thing or another.”
“Well, I’m sorry, but I’m not sure that the United World Government is a cause I believe in,” Alan said. “I have no idea how it even functions right now… I just feel disconnected from it all.”
“Then I suggest you return to Earth and get reconnected,” Daisy said. “People may not die, but this war, which some are already calling World War III, will dictate the future of humanity. Don’t you want the future to be bright, for future generations to be able to call Earth their home?”
“Sure,” Alan said. “Bye.” He turned and walked back to the capsule room, stuck in his head.
Why can’t there be some obvious enemy that I can kill, some evil monster or great demon? Alan sent Eve. Why is this war even being fought?
Eve remained silent.
Alan entered his Home, ready to get to the Administrator and complete his quest. Or at least, he tried to. When he entered his capsule, into his Home, he found not an empty, white space with a few odd pieces of furniture, but bunnies. Bunnies everywhere.
A sea of bunnies surrounded him, as far as the eye could see, stacked three to four bunnies deep. Alan tried to take a step forward but he was tripped by the tide of fur. Luckily, the bunnies provided a relatively soft landing, but he ended up with a mouth of fur. He looked over and saw the Administrator a few feet away, motionless as swarms of bunnies surrounded it. Trying to steady himself, Alan began forming a connection with the Administrator.
The connection moved like molasses, taking ages to travel the few feet to the Administrator. It was like the agony of waiting for a download to finish, magnified by the fact that Alan was constantly distracted by the multitude of bunnies that were slowly multiplying. Alan didn’t want to be here when the sea of bunnies rose to head level. Thus far, the virus seemed relatively harmless, Alan was certainly glad it was bunnies and not slimes or spiders, but the foreign organisms in his Home, in his mind made him nervous.
Greetings Traveler, the Administrator finally sent after the connection formed.
Hi, I finished my class quest, Alan replied.
Please wait while I contact Chief Administrator 170.
A second later, a message appeared:
[Scoping out the Competition, Complete!
Reward: Machine Lord Ability: Divided Mind.
As a Machine Lord, you are now able to split your mind in two, completing two tasks at once or tackling the same problem from two sides. As this ability improves you may learn to divide your mind into further pieces and improve the mental capacity of each divided mind. Costs 100 Computational Energy to activate.
x25 Level up!]
A stream of data flowed through the Administrator’s connection to Alan, and Alan felt his consciousness slip in and out of being as Alan attempted to absorb this new information. An odd tingling sensation ran through his skull, and then he knew. He knew how to split his mind.
A second Alan appeared. He saw through two pairs of eyes, stood with four pairs of feet. Each Alan was him, but he was controlling each body independently, able to think two thoughts at the same time. He could maintain the connection to the Administrator while other Alan formed a connection to Eve.
Well, this is weird, both Alan’s sent.
By the rules of the Game, you are unable to send a split consciousness out of your primary consciousness’s line of sight, the Administrator replied. You may not leave part of you consciousness at Home when you leave a capsule either. Your split consciousness has no physical manifestation within the Game, instead acting like a program such as your AI.
Eve failed to reply, so the part of Alan’s mind connected to the Administrator began to think over the response, but found his thoughts slightly jumbled, connections not quite forming as fast as they should. It was hard to think, like there was a faint layer of fog permeating his brain.
A consequence of your divided mind, Eve sent to Alan.
Oh, you sound normal again, Alan sent.
As we are in the capsule I can devote more processing power to other things. Additionally, we are closer, Eve sent.
Closer? Aren’t you always in my mind? Alan asked.
Yes, but you aren’t always in your mind, Eve replied.
Meanwhile, the Administrator continued its own line of conversation with Alan. For finding one Major Player’s objective in the Game, you have been awarded one Platinum Mark. The Chief Administrator has informed me that if you can find additional objectives you will be rewarded.
A quest appeared:
[Information for the Administrators:
Gather and supply the Administrators with information! Currently you will be awarded one Platinum Mark for each Major Player’s objective that you provide them. Especially interesting information will be greatly rewarded.
Rewards: Marks and Reputation]
Wait, how did you get this information from me? I didn’t tell you Elissandra’s main objective, Alan sent.
It was logged as part of the quest, which you just handed in to me, the Administrator replied.
Simultaneously, Eve sent, The virus has broken down barriers in your mind, look over to your left.
Alan looked. There was nothing he could see except bunnies.
Look closer. Alan stared, and then saw a crack of light in the floor. He waded through the sea of bunnies, making his way over. He looked down, and saw a small hole. Through it were more bunnies.
Wait, so my Home is on top of bunnies? Alan asked Eve.
No, your Home is on top of your base, the outer defense of your mind, the part that you entered when you initiate hacking, Eve sent.
Wait, so that means that when I enter a capsule… Alan thought.
You are entering into a representation of your mind. Sort of, Eve sent.
The Administrator is in my mind? Alan asked.
This is all in your mind, you’re in the Game, it’s just the representation of it has layers. Like your conscious and subconscious, digitalized, Eve sent. It’s complicated, and most of this information isn’t publicly available to Players. This is all a hypothesis I’ve been able to piece together from hints and observation. No one knows how the Game really works, for now just accept it and fix the god damn bunny problem.
Got it, Alan replied.
As Alan’s conversation with Eve progressed, he stopped himself from asking the Administrator a dozen questions. They would likely remain unanswered or put Alan on some sort of watch list. If he wasn’t on one already as a Machine Lord. The fact that the Administrators were asking him for information suddenly made it seem like they were in less control of the Game than he thought.
In the end, he simply told the Administrator, Open up the Teleportation menu.
Please reform to one main consciousness before travel, the Administrator responded.
As soon as Alan’s conversation with Eve ended, he willed for himself to merge with himself. Nothing happened.
Form a connection with yourself, Eve sent.
Alan tried to do so, feeling silly as there already was a connection present, whatever overlying thoughts that were him, as each half knew the other half’s thoughts and actions. A connection oddly began to form, but it was slow, impeded by the bunnies somehow, so Alan simply walked over to the other Alan, placing his hand on himself. A connection immediately formed, and Alan oddly began talking to himself.
And then there was one Alan again, thinking clearly. Or at least trying to, going from two thought processes to one was slightly disconcerting, even if the two processes were slightly independent. Alan teleported to Aenigma, more hopeful than ever that Cerberus had answers.
“So, you can multitask now?” Cerberus asked, still a disembodied hand in front of the doorway to the so-called obstacle course.
“Yes, but I’ve run into a problem,” Alan said. “A virus has invaded my mind, or my implant, somewhere in my head. And I have no way of getting rid of it.”
“You can’t?” Cerberus asked. “You should be able to deal with anything below a C-ranked virus easily given your capabilities, and anything that dangerous would have been picked up by Academy scanners. Didn’t Wraith teach you how to hack?”
“Yes, but apparently the bunnies are replicating faster than Eve can slay them! I mean, the virus, not the fluffies, I mean bunnies, you know what I’m talking about!”
“Oh, one of those programs. Fine, to save time I’ll help you deal with this, I was planning on doing this later, but follow me…” Cerberus Alan entered the doorway.
This time when Alan entered the training room the laser grid was off. Once more, Cerberus, or at least his hand, had disappeared.
“Forwards now, keep walking till you get to the light.”
The central path, which was originally dark, now had a dim glow of light in the distance. Alan walked forwards, down the path, shortly arriving at the source of the light. It was a single white capsule, surrounded by darkness.
“Get in,” Cerberus said.
A message appeared:
[You are about to enter an unregistered capsule. Are you sure you wish to proceed? Unknown operations may be performed while in capsules not registered by Administrators.]
“What have I said about wasting time?”
Sighing, Alan opened up the capsule and climbed in. What was the worst that could happen?
Pain. And fire. So much pain and fire. There was a hole in Alan’s mind, a breach in his Home, and all that poured through it was wave after wave of flame. Everything was a charred mess. Alan’s only solace was the fact that the bunnies were being burned to ash as well.
Even now, hiding, curled up in a corner of the base, Alan could only tremble, sweat trickling down his body, his mind on fire. Cerberus hadn’t even waited for Alan, he had simply connected to Alan’s mind, punching a hole in the ceiling, and then flame had begun pouring through.
Every time Alan opened his eyes, he expected to find his skin burned, his flesh mutilated, but he looked perfectly normal. It only felt unbearably painful, as if he was burning up inside.
Alan passed out, and dreamed of burning bunnies.