“Shit,” Alan said. He looked around and took stock of his surroundings. In Cyberspace the NYSE server was a large open arena, with the console at the center. His base was at 12 o’clock, the army base at 3 o’clock and the Haxlard base at 9 o’clock. He was in front of the army base.
The remaining ten marines, including the one in advanced power armor began firing at him. The Haxlards charged him as well.
“Retreat, get back to the Citadel!” Lambda shouted. He pounded on the shield; it displayed cracks but kept him trapped.
Alan took Lambda’s advice, sprinting back towards his base. A few enemy shots hit him and damaged his shields.
Back out of Cyberspace there was additional chatter on the security channel.
“The cyber security experts are here. We’re locking the building down, they say that the hack must be coming from inside.”
“What? Okay, we’re also to clear this channel, they’ve brought their own. Maintain your positions.”
The channel went silent.
Panicked, Alan sent a message to Thiago, Icewolf, and Kitana.
Alan: I might need some help here.
No one responded.
Alan heard people coming down the hallway.
Alan ran too slowly. The Haxlards moved to cut him off. They reached the Citadel entrance before he did.
Alan would need to fight for his life.
He turned on the chasing marines, trying to deflect and dodge as much of the laser fire as he could. Would he die here?
Alan looked at his shields, they were 50% energy.
Alan attacked the marines.
Four players in power armor came running down the hallway into the server room. They brought out black boxes and connected them to the server.
Additional connections formed, one then two then a dozen. Alan knew he had to stop them before he was overrun.
He finished off the last of the marine programs, facing off with the enemy AI.
His shields held at 25%.
One swipe to the right, one to the left, and the two guards fell to the floor dead.
The players scrambled for their weapons. One ran for the door, trying to shut it.
Alan cut through them; it took two strikes, one to eliminate their shields and another to cut through their armor.
Alarms began blaring. He’d have more company soon.
The connection to the server finished, legions of marines programs emerging onto the battlefield to the south.
Alan chased the enemy AI, but he was too slow. The marine kited him, running around in circles, too fast for Alan to hit with his laser swords.
The Haxlards advanced.
His shields fell to 10%.
The players fired their laser rifles at Alan. His armor’s energy were already decreased due to the constant use of invisibility. They fell to 70% as he charged forward.
The players scrambled out of his way, but Alan wasn’t aiming for them.
He cut through the wires connecting the black boxes to the servers.
Alan began running back, away from the Haxlards towards the sniper rifle that had dropped. It would weigh him down, but would beat the zero damage he was currently outputting.
A blade appeared out of nowhere. The Haxlard assassin. Mechanically Alan deflected the blow. He kept running.
The programs that made it into the server stayed there, but the bases they came from vanished.
Lambda managed to break free of the shield. He ran at the Haxlard army from behind.
Alan finished off the players in the server room. They hadn’t put enough points in combat abilities.
A grenade was tossed into the room.
Alan reached the sniper rifle. He picked it up. A garbled mess of code and in-game description popped up.
He pointed it at the advancing Haxlard assassin and squeezed the trigger. An error message popped up.
He dodged an incoming slice, but took a few shots from the marine AI. His shields fell to 0%.
Alan threw himself across the room. He injected the battle stimulant Thiago had given him into his bloodstream.
He knew the side effects would be bad, but they would be worse if he died in-game while engaged in a hack, his mind half in another space. Part of his mind could be left behind.
The grenade exploded.
There was a flash of light as Alan was thrown against the wall. Heat and pain coursed through him. Then rage and adrenaline.
Alan stumbled, his head felt weird. A sword pierced his side.
Alan screamed in pain as he thrust his two swords forward into the Haxlard assassin.
He pulled them out then beheaded the assassin. Their white mask fell to the floor.
Alan charged the marine AI as a red haze began to fill his vision.
Laser fire poured into the smoke covered server room.
Alan let out a battle roar and threw one of his laser swords forward with all his might like a javelin. The blade pierced one soldier and went through another, nailing them to the wall behind.
Alan swung his last sword with a berserker’s fury, charging forward, all finesse forgotten.
He cut and cut and kept cutting.
The marine stepped back out of Alan’s reach.
Alan threw a sword forward and grazed their leg. They stumbled, and that was all it took for Alan to catch up and stab the program.
Light stings hit Alan’s back. He turned around, the marine programs were firing on him.
Alan let out a laugh as he picked up his laser swords and charged the swarm of enemies.
Red. There was so much red. It tinged every corner of his vision, filled his every thought. It was beautiful.
Alan finally felt alive. He was a god, an unstoppable force. Whenever he swung his blade enemies fell like flies. No one could stop him.
His blade met another. Alan was pushed back. He let out a roar and began a frenzied assault. Again he was beaten back.
“Alan, that’s enough.”
Alan was thrown down, knocked on his ass. Lambda stood above, holding him down like a hurt puppy.
Alan looked around. There were no enemies left.
“Your defense is twice that of Eve’s,” Lambda said. “500 from the armor plus 100 base. Still, it was close.”
Alan checked his health. It was at 10%. “Eve. Is she alright?”
“No, but you should be able to revive her with her wings and the data you have on your capsule. You don’t even need the wings, really, though she’d revert to an older backup without them. We need to get back to the Citadel,” Lambda said.
“But the loot.”
“I’ll gather the loot,” Lambda said. “I’m faster and stronger. You need to get to safety and healed up, if there was another sniper out here they could finish you off for good.”
Alan nodded and jogged back to his base.
“Kitana?” Alan lowered his blade. The crimson hue of his vision dimmed slightly.
“Yes, I received your message. We were about to retreat, too many reinforcements.” Kitana looked around at the dead bodies that littered the server room and outside hallway. “I see that you’ve been busy.”
Alan looked at Kitana. Her robe had been torn, revealing long, taut legs. Alan felt blood rush to his head.
Focus, Lambda sent. I’ve gathered everything, disconnect from the server.
Alan deactivated divided mind. Or, he tried to. His other self didn’t feel right, the connections in his head were misaligned. They wouldn’t combine.
Shit, don’t worry about that for now, with any luck it will solve itself when the stimulant wears off. Disconnect from the server and focus on getting out of here alive, Lambda sent.
Alan disconnected from the server, he felt himself inside his base, in his head, but behind a wall of red. He saw a flash of himself, sitting down in the citadel, staring at a pair of angel’s wings.
Focus, Lambda sent. I don’t know how Eve put up with this, we need to figure a way out safely.
Alan turned to Kitana. “Where’s Thiago? Icewolf? Where are we supposed to go?”
“I don’t know,” Kitana said. She looked up. A soldier stepped around the corner. Kitana stepped forward.
Alan gripped his sword. A surge of bloodlust rushed through him. He need to crush, to smash. To devour.
Stop, calm yourself, close your eyes, Lambda sent. A stream of images entered Alan’s mind. A laughing baby. A litter of pups. A new dawn. A starry sky.
“Are you alright?” Kitana asked.
Alan opened his eyes. The guard was dead. “Yes. How did you get here?”
“I swam then ran,” Kitana said.
“No one tried to stop you?” Alan asked.
“I cut through anyone that got in my way,” Kitana said.
“Okay, run for the Administrative Center, we should be able to lie low there. Try to avoid fighting. Give me a minute to regain enough energy to activate invisibility. I’ll be right behind you.”
Kitana nodded. She wiped the blood off her sword, sheathed it, and it disappeared in a flash of light.
They began moving out of the building. Kitana had left a trail of bodies.
Alan looted them, Kitana hadn’t bothered.
“Wait,” Alan said. “Put on this technician’s outfit. People probably noticed your clothing.”
Kitana nodded, then began disrobing.
Alan turned around. Blood rushed to his head again.
Do you really have this little discipline? Lambda sent. You know you really acted like an idiot today. Do you need to be handheld by Eve or I at all times? It’s like-
SHUT UP, Alan sent.
It’s like I’m watching over a child. Except children actually have some semblance of self-preservation and learn from their mistakes.
I SAID SHUT THE FUCK UP, Alan sent. He punched a wall. A dent appeared.
And this is why you don’t do drugs, kids, Lambda sent. He stayed quiet afterwards.
Alan looked back over his shoulder, then forward again.
Kitana put a hand on his shoulder a minute later.
“And I don’t mind if you look. Warriors should be familiar with their comrade’s bodies.” Alan felt his heart speed up. “Just don’t touch me unless absolutely necessary.”
Ouch, Lambda sent. Alan slumped his shoulders.
“Sorry, you’re not my type,” Kitana said.
“Not macho enough?” Alan asked.
“Something like that.”
Alan activated his armor’s basic invisibility, then followed Kitana back to the Administrative Center.
They passed by what seemed like a small army on their way out of Downtown Manhattan, but no one stopped them. There were too many other problems to deal with. People were still stuck under rubble and collapsed skyscrapers. Sounds of battle occasionally sounded, looters had taken advantage of the attack to steal what they could.
Players wandered the streets, dead looks in their eyes. The city smelled of blood and smoke.
Did we cause this? Alan asked.
Two helicopters, flanked by four jets flew overhead, away from the city. They flew over New York Bay.
Then, with a clap of thunder a ship appeared in the sky, breaking through the clouds. It was massive, 2000 meters at least, over five times the length of a supercarrier, longer than a star destroyer. It was so large Alan couldn’t picture it from below, he only saw a pointed ovular shape.
A rain of laser beams fired appeared, incinerating the helicopters and jets.
Dozens of smaller ships emerged from the large one. Then, with another clap of thunder, it was gone.
The Administrative Center was a madhouse. Players yelled, a disorganized mob trying to make sure their valuables were safe, to take stock of what they had left. Other players wanted to store new items. Players names were called out as people waited for friends and family to respawn.
Alan watched as a thief snatched a box out of an elderly lady’s hands. They rushed into the crowd. There was a flash of blue light that struck them before they were three steps away. A nearby Administrator guard lowered their weapon.
An Administrator exited the main building, and then broadcasted a message. “I would like to remind every Player that it is Administrator policy to not accept stolen goods. We will not store or sell any stolen merchandise. Furthermore, due to the large number of deaths, we expect there to be a slight delay to Player respawns.
“Additionally, if a Player was part of the War for Earth and was eliminated by an enemy, they will respawn outside of the combat zone. If they had no respawn point that they designated, they may either choose to wait in their Home until the war has ended or respawn on Khersath and work off their transportation costs. We remind everyone that Players eliminated in a war are not able to discuss any information that would aid either side. Thank you for your patience.”
Alan connected to an Administrator. It took a few tries. Could I rent two capsules for the night?
Certainly, warrior. A guide will take you there now. The Administrator ended the connection.
Kitana and Alan made their way to the capsule room. They sent a message to Thiago, asking what was happening. Alan hoped he wasn’t dead. 15% of whatever Thiago stole was his, after all, and 15% of nothing was nothing.
Kitana entered a capsule. Alan attempted to open the other. A message appeared:
[Error. Please wait until mental health has stabilized.]
Alan assessed himself. He still felt amped up, but that was beginning to fade. He tried deactivating divided mind again. There was a flash of red and the skill deactivated, his mind was whole again.
Well, at the end of all that we’ve gained 1270C and a sniper rifle equipment program that needs to be decoded, Lambda sent. We might’ve gained a new type of armor as well if someone hadn’t destroyed everything in their wake.
Alan scrolled through menus until he discovered the button that would restore Eve. It would cost 1000C and take four days.
It will likely cost 5000C and a month to restore me, Lambda sent. Bigger is not necessarily better, but I think this demonstrates my superiority.
Alan rolled his eyes, then staggered. His body suddenly felt unbearably heavy. Pain set in as well, every piece of his body hurt. But it was weird, Alan was too tired to care about the fact that his body was on fire. The world slowly drained of color.
Shit, get into the capsule, Lambda sent.
Alan sat on the floor. What was the point? Everything hurt, he wanted to sleep.
GET IN THE CAPSULE, Lambda sent.
Alan lay down and closed his eyes. Elsewhere he could hear a voice, and the sound of a flood of messages, but he didn’t care.
Alan fell asleep.