Alan returned from the Administrative Center with Kitana, his in-game name now GuardK. Thiago never specified who should receive which letter; besides, this better hid both Alan and Kitana’s identities. At least, that was the argument he had used to convince Kitana to go along with the naming scheme.
The air force base, renamed to Washington International Spaceport, had gone through a few rounds of construction since Alan had left for the Tutorial. Aircraft hangars had been remodeled to allow for spacecraft to enter from above, installing metal hatches that swallowed ships like hungry hippos. Small shields now covered many hangars as well.
As Alan and Kitana walked back to the dropship through a maze of security measures and scanners Alan checked people’s message logs. Thiago continued to negotiate trade deals, trying to get the best price. He hadn’t agreed to anything yet, only delivered the supplies the United World Government had requested. Aphrodite talked with friends in New York City, as far as Alan could tell trying to figure out the latest fashion trends. Power armor was in, oddly enough. Kitana was discussing possible arena runs with a gladiator commissioner. It seemed like it paid well.
Alan still felt bad about this invasion of privacy, but it was better to be safe. He looked up at the bright blue sky. It felt good to be on Earth, even if he wasn’t really here.
Back at the shuttle Alan found the cargo bay open. Aphrodite was talking to a worker in overalls and a mechanized suit while Thiago took inventory of the boxes of trading goods.
Alan walked up to Thiago, peering into the open metal box. Inside was a stack of solid gold bars.
1 million standard units of gold by my estimation, roughly 1.5 tons of gold. Worth 5 million credits by standard market rates, Eve sent. And this was one box of fifty.
“Go guard the entrance,” Thiago said, looking up from a scanner he held in his hand. He was scanning individual bars, making sure they were pure.
“I can take inventory faster than you,” Alan said. He activated Phantom’s Enhanced Visual Prosthesis, his bionic eye implant, and examined the bars of gold.
All 24 karat gold, Eve sent.
“It’s all pure gold, a million standard units worth,” Alan said.
Thiago continued to scan the rest of the bars; it took him five minutes to finish. Thiago looked up at Alan and asked, “How did you know that?”
“An implant; I can save and share my logs that verify my scans with you,” Alan said.
“So you’re a human x-ray machine?” Thiago asked.
“You might put it that way,” Alan said.
Thiago tapped his foot. “Fine, you can help me verify the inventory, I’ll send you the manifest. But I’m holding you accountable for any missing materials.”
“Alright,” Alan said.
Thiago opened an in-game menu and sent Alan a message.
Manifest received, Eve sent.
Damn. That’s a lot of moola, Lambda sent.
Alan scanned the manifest as he opened and scanned container’s contents, verifying his results with Eve.
It was a virtual treasure trove. Each box held a million standard units of precious metal, around one and a half tons: gold, platinum, and palladium were names that Alan recognized immediately. Other metals that had similar properties to platinum and palladium were there too: ruthenium, osmium, iridium and rhodium. According to Eve, all were used in power armor and spacecraft construction.
There were boxes of more exotic metals as well, custom alloys that were worth more than any pure element: Crimson bars that glowed like soft rubies, used to craft Crimson Guard armor and weapons, darksteel, the Revenant’s attempt to synthesize soulsteel, used to craft Revenant power armor, and aetherchrome, used in armor to help bolster psionic abilities, no doubt part of Sidestep’s armor.
Finally, there were power crystals. When Thiago had mentioned power crystals, Alan had thought of sapphire energy crystals, the small blue crystals that were used to power handheld laser weaponry. But these were emerald energy crystals, medium sized green crystals that had the energy to power high-energy siege weaponry, intermediate shields that protected entire buildings, and small fighter craft capable of spaceflight. There were hundreds, 100k credits each.
These materials are worth roughly a billion credits total by standard market measurements, Eve sent.
Like I said. Damn, Lambda sent. I thought that it was weird for you and Kitana to be hired as guards, but maybe that really is your main mission. Damn. We could probably successfully steal this, but then the Black Rose guild would hunt us down to the ends of the universe. No wonder they hired you, the Mercenary Bloc are known to never betray a mission, because if someone does go rogue, not only are the employers repaid for losses incurred, but the traitor is always dealt with harshly. Unspeakable horrors, let me tell you.
Well, we aren’t stealing this, Alan sent. The soulsteel knife we have in storage is worth just as much, isn’t it?
You have a soulsteel knife? Lambda asked. Why didn’t you mention that sooner, this changes things entirely.
Huh? Alan sent. Eve, didn’t you fill Lambda in about everything?
Eve paused, then sent, I have provided him with the information I thought necessary for him to operate effectively.
Aww, you still don’t trust me? Lambda sent. It’s fine, I understand baby. Still it’s not like I can do anything, I’m bound to Alan like you. So you have this knife lying in storage? That’s idiotic. You don’t let money sit around in a bank vault; you invest, you let it earn its keep. And if you don’t want to sell it, that means we need to focus more on blade work training. The exercises we’ve been doing make zero sense with a soulsteel blade.
Enough. We’ll sort this out later, Alan sent. He put the lid back on the final box.
“Everything on the manifest is here,” Alan said.
Thiago nodded, he had been watching over Alan’s work. “Good.” He motioned to Aphrodite.
She nodded to the worker next to her. They walked over in their mechanized suit, a metal exoskeleton that vastly increased their strength. The worker began loading the metal boxes onto a solid steel pallet that levitated off the ground with a soft blue glow. By the time everything was loaded it was almost touching the floor.
As a group, they began moving to their next destination, a hangar where their convoy was located. Alan scanned the surroundings, looking for potential threats. Now that he knew what they were guarding, his job seemed much more serious. Maybe he should have spent more time reading up on ways theft happened in the Game.
Don’t worry, I got you, Lambda sent. No one has stolen anything from me for thousands of years.
Didn’t I break in? Alan asked.
Only because I let you, Lambda sent. Like a spider crafting its web.
Alan shook his head. They arrived at the hangar with no incident. Inside was a large semi truck and a squad of four United World Government soldiers in basic power armor. Alan scanned everything with his bionic vision. There were no traps, though he did detect a few upgrades to the truck that would allow it to carry a greater load. It also had a small shield on it, maybe 1000 energy.
“We’re moving supplies about by truck?” Alan asked.
“What did you expect, a luxury yacht? Earth is still a backwater, spaceships and shuttles are an extravagance next to no one can afford. People make use of what is already here,” Thiago said. “The rich that could afford such spacecraft have left. The wildlife here maxes out at level fifty or so. Earth is a noob-friendly zone.”
“Why do we care about it so much again?” Aphrodite asked.
“Because it’s our home, and a valuable spaceport,” Thiago said.
One of the soldiers stepped forward. “Greetings, I am Corporal James. We will travel with your truck and ensure you arrive in New York City safely. The convoy is scheduled to depart in fifteen minutes.”
Thiago said, “Thank you, but I have my own security, your help won’t be necessary.” He gestured to Alan and Kitana.
The corporal looked at Kitana’s robes. “While I’m sure your security is formidable, it is against standard procedure. We have had incidences of bandits attempting to sabotage convoys from within. Private Roger over there will drive the truck. This is not a request.”
“Fine,” Thiago said. “Aphrodite, you sit up front with Private Roger. I will stay in the semi-trailer of the truck with our guards and the soldiers.” He looked to the worker. “Load it up.”
“Wait,” the corporal said, “I need to inspect your cargo before we depart.”
“Didn’t you say we need to leave in fifteen minutes?” Thiago asked. “This cargo has been approved by the UWG already, check with your bosses if you want.
“Yes, it would be best it if we hurry,” Aphrodite murmured. It was barely audible, but Alan was able to read her lips with Eve’s help.
The soldier paused, then opened a menu. He seemed to send a few messages, then nodded. “Begin loading the truck.”
The worker nodded, and began loading the trailer.
He’s doing it wrong, the trailer will be unbalanced, Eve sent.
“Stop, the way you’re loading the trailer it will be unbalanced,” Alan said.
The worker paused, wiping a bead of sweat from their brow. “Well how would you like your truck loaded, sir?”
Alan began directing the worker. Thiago nodded in approval. Maybe things would work out.
Half an hour later everything was loaded and they were on their way. It was a small convoy, three other semi-trucks and two military Humvees, one at either end of the pack. Thiago had managed to position their truck in the middle, the location he considered safest.
The semi-truck trailer had been rigged so that there was a hatch at the top, large enough for two people to look out and scout the surroundings. Alan stood there with Corporal James.
“Have you had issues with bandits in the past?” Alan asked, prompted by Lambda.
“A few. Maybe one in four convoys gets attacked by the bastards,” the corporal said.
“Well, we are a tad conspicuous, but it’s good training for the men,”
Alan scanned their surroundings. They were on the I-95; the freeway system was for the most part still in good repair, maintained by the United World Government. There were other cars on the road, but not enough to warrant traffic.
The speed limit had been raised to 100 mph, thanks in part to the cheaper, more powerful engines and safety features cars now had. Many cars were now autonomous, but the UWG apparently didn’t trust self-driving mode; too easily hacked, according to the corporal.
“We do try find their hideouts,” the corporal continued, “but the latest intelligence suggest they hide out with everyone else in the cities. As they hide their names and levels, it’s impossible to track anyone down unless they’ve killed so many soldiers to warrant a specialist or do something stupid like leave a voice or bio print.”
“Yeah, who would be that stupid,” Alan said. He had been worried that they’d detect his voice, but Thiago assured him that was taken care of too.
“Besides, it’s not like they’re part of the legion, they’re just Players out for a quick buck.”
“What can you tell me about the Legion of Man?” Alan asked. “I’ve been off-planet for a while; I returned for this job and to help win the war.”
“I can tell you they’ve been quiet as shit, if you’d excuse my French,” the corporal said. “No one’s heard a peep out of them since they retreated to Mars. Nowadays it’s like we’re not even at war, y’know? Just training, and more training. Trips like these to the city are the rare bit of R&R we get. The military capsules don’t even let you access the Arcade, can you believe that? By the way, where off-planet did you go?”
Deflect, Lambda sent.
Alan shrugged. “Oh, just to some alien city. Wasn’t too impressed. It was a city, like any other. So there were a few more spaceships in the air, a few powerful Players.”
The corporal turned to scan the horizon. “I’d like to get off this planet someday. It’s why I joined up. But it seems like I was too late. All the off-planet positions have been filled, or they require some degree I couldn’t even pronounce.”
“Have you considered looking into the mercenary guilds?” Alan asked. “A few might hire you, it’s how I got this gig.”
“Guilds? Aren’t they like communist unions?” the corporal asked.
Thiago banged the platform they were standing on with the butt of his sniper rifle. “GuardA, I’m paying you to keep guard, not run your mouth. Keep your lookout.”
“I’m GuardK, sir,” Alan said, “and I could keep a better lookout if I had a long-range weapon, like a sniper.”
A moment of silence passed.
“If you lose it, or it gets damaged, I’m taking this from your pay,” Thiago said.
“Sure thing boss,” Alan said. He ducked his head back into the trailer.
Thiago handed him the sniper rifle, and whispered, “And keep your mouth shut.”
Alan nodded, examining the sniper rifle that had killed him:
[Customized Blue Sentinel (Rank A):
A powerful, high-damage plasma rifle developed by Sentinel Industries. This item has been customized for easier use, requiring fewer skills to be wielded effectively. An additional auto-aiming feature has been added. Aim in the direction of your enemies and pull the trigger, the Blue Sentinel will take care of the rest.
Damage/sec: 750-1000. x4 Multiplier on Headshots
400 Energy, 10 Energy/shot, 55 Energy/min regen.
270/300 Durability. Energy Ranged Weapons (Basic) and Sniping (Basic) required.
Energy Ranged Weapons (Advanced), Sniping (Advanced), Energy Efficiency (Intermediate) recommended.]
Alan looked at the auto aim feature, then turned it off. He and Eve would be more accurate at long ranges, moving on a truck. It pained him that Thiago hadn’t even needed to aim to kill him.
He looked down the scope, doing a quick 360 degree turn, trying to get a feel for the weapon.
Stop. Scan that area again, Eve sent.
Alan zoomed in on the highlighted area. There was a line of dots, too far away to get a good look at.
They’re moving this way, Eve sent after a few calculations.
“We might have some company,” Alan called out.
“Where?” Corporal James asked. He pulled out a pair of advanced binoculars.
“I don’t see anything,” the corporal said.
“Keep watching,” Alan said, looking down the digital scope of the sniper rifle.
“Wait, I seem them,” the corporal said. He sent a raid wide message, which included everyone in the convoy, “Troops, prepare for hostiles. They’re about five miles out.”
“Should I head up?” Thiago asked.
“No, I’m a better shot, especially on a moving vehicle. Auto-aim has maybe a 50% chance to hit,” Alan said, quoting Eve’s numbers.
“And what’s your chance to hit?” Thiago asked.
“99.9%,” Alan said, as he pulled the trigger. The shot hit ones of the dots, the dot stopped moving.
“What the fuck, they’re five miles out, that’s two miles further than the longest recorded sniper kill,” Corporal James shouted. “And we don’t even know if they’re hostiles!”
Alan continued to fire, hitting whatever it was that was headed their way. A single shot was enough to take one dot out. If they were friendly, they would have sent the UWG a message by now. Or stopped. Alan would apologize if he was wrong. Eve estimated he wasn’t.
“You need to re-check those stats, corporal, and those are enemies,” Alan said. At least he hoped they were. “The record in-game is ten miles, only possible because the planet was large and flat enough the curvature didn’t block the shot. There’s this sniper developed by the Revenants that hooks up to a miniature spaceship that acts as a satellite.”
“What did I say about chatting?” Thiago called out.
“Sorry boss,” Alan said.
He had taken out ten dots now, and they were finally close enough that he could see them on his screen, though they were still so small they looked like little action figures. They were cowboys, or at least their power armor was spray painted to look like something out of the wild west. Each figure rode on the back of a four legged, barebones mechanical bull that sprinted forwards like a cat in large leaps. They moved at around 200 mph.
“Okay, those are the Bronco Bronx, one of the more powerful bandit gangs,” the corporal said. “How’d you know they were hostiles?”
“Lucky guess,” Alan said.
Alan shot another five in seconds, headshots now that he could see their heads. Thirty seconds had passed since he had first spotted these bandits, and they had covered a third of the distance from the convoy. They began turning around.
Alan fired until the sniper ran out of power and overheated. 40 kills. Alan single handedly halved their numbers.
“Holy shit,” Corporal James said. “If this is what you can do, what can your partner do?”
Alan smiled. “You don’t want to know. She’s stronger than me.”
No, stop, Lambda sent, but it was too late.
“GuardK! Shut your fucking mouth already,” Thiago yelled.
What’d I say? Alan asked.
You gave them a power estimation of you and Kitana, Lambda replied.
Oh, right. Sorry. I’ll shut up now, Alan sent. He checked his experience. He had gained maybe a hundredth of a level. Eve estimated the bandits to be level 100-200. Earth really was a noob zone.
The rest of the way to New York City was uneventful, and by the time they neared the city traffic began to build up. The night was fast approaching, the sun began to set. New York City looked the same as it ever had, maybe few more skyscrapers and laser shields. It was just as loud too, cars and people compounded by thrumming engines and the buzz of shields. The odd shuttle flew through the sky.
The convoy reached a United World Government outpost. The guards departed from the semi-truck.
“Nice shots, GuardK,” Corporal James said. “It’s not much, but I can give you 25 points for dealing with the bandits. I’ll be sure to look further into guilds.”
“Thanks,” Alan said, as a message appeared:
[War for Earth Updated:
25 War Contribution Points (UWG)
0 War Contribution Points (LOM)]
As we have sided with the Legion of Man, United World Government contribution points are worthless, Eve sent.
Great. What are the points good for again? Alan asked.
They represent your contribution to the war, and determine the portion of the spoils you receive from winning the war. If the war is lost, they are worthless, Eve sent.
“Can I have my sniper back?” Thiago asked.
Alan handed back the weapon.
“Wait, that’s not your main weapon? What is your weapon?” Corporal James asked.
Alan just smiled; he didn’t mention the bugs Lambda had placed on Corporal James. His security against hackers had been non-existent, a basic shield with 100 energy and a swordsman with 10 health.
Once the soldiers left and they were back on the road Alan turned on the truck’s self-driving feature. He was sure it was safe. He stayed in his original position, looking out the hatch. Kitana remained in the trailer while Thiago and Aphrodite sat in the cabin.
Thiago opened up a party chat to everyone.
“Good work on the trip over,” Thiago said, “but Alan, and everyone else, really needs to watch what they say. As you may have noticed, our power level is off the charts compared to most of the players here, and that will catch people’s attention. Attention that we don’t want.
“My contact just sent me a message, they want to meet for dinner. Alan, you’re with me. Kitana and Aphrodite, stay with the goods. I don’t want any of it to be left alone for even a second, got it?”
“But I was going to meet up with friends in the city,” Aphrodite said.
“Well too bad. And who did you tell you were in town? Tell them that you had a change of plans, no one should know we’re here,” Thiago said. “We’ll talk about this later. I have a secure warehouse that we’re heading to now.”
Alan gazed out at the city, scanning the UWG outposts and players in power armor that breezed by. He also tested whether they were all hackable; they were, nothing put up any resistance. He debated putting bugs on everything.
It’d be best if we minimize the number of bugged individuals and places to around 10, Lambda sent. It’s not unheard of for bugs to be traced back. My bugs are untraceable, but there’s a first time for everything. It also takes a certain level of processing power to maintain.
Very well, Alan sent.
They proceeded into the city on the I-278. They passed by the Statue of Liberty, or at least where is should be. It was covered by a large blue shield, blocking it from view.
It’s the city’s control point, Eve sent.
And where is the North America Control Point? Alan asked.
The pentagon, Eve sent.
Thiago directed the semi-truck into a warehouse south of the Brooklyn Bridge, along the East River. Alan got out of the truck, scanning the warehouse’s safety. Its systems were the hardest to hack since he landed on Earth, requiring the effort of both Eve and Lambda to bug the place undetected and bypass the small laser turret that guarded the system in Cyberspace. Still doable.
Alan, ready to head into the city, wondered who the Legion of Man contact was.