“Your plan is to sneak onto the ship, get into the control room, and then you’ll magically hack your way through their defenses and take over the ship?” Icewolf asked.
“Pretty much,” Alan said.
“That’s a bloody awful plan,” Merlin said. They were gathered back in the bunkhouse.
“It also doesn’t require the help of anyone else. You could do this mission solo if this is all it took,” Icewolf said.
“You’re there to serve as distractions and address any problems that arise,” Alan said.
I think it’s a decent plan for the limited information we have. You can’t plan for what you don’t know, Lambda sent.
“Well we can’t go to the Elders with this,” Icewolf said.
“I’m not a mastermind criminal, I’ve never done this type of thing before,” Alan said.
He stood up and began pacing around the room. “Do you expect me to come up with some brilliant 10-step plan for world domination? There are too many variables, things we don’t know. Our first step should probably be gathering more information about the ship.
“I could maybe scrap together a simulation, to help us practice and figure out what might go wrong, but we don’t have the facilities here. According to the data chip there’s a simulation room up on the space station, the Red Sentinel, but we aren’t allowed there.”
“You also didn’t make use of any of the Legion of Man personnel,” Icewolf said.
“I don’t trust them not to screw up,” Alan said.
Nor do we trust those who stand among us, Lambda commented.
Icewolf paused. He had received a message. Alan read it: You should watch. There was a link to a broadcast.
“Everyone be quiet, watch this,” Icewolf said. He projected a video onto the wall. Everyone gathered around.
“Hey! Isn’t that Daisy’s mum, Monica?” Merlin asked.
“Yes, though she’s taken the moniker Gaia in-game. Shut up,” Icewolf said.
Daisy’s mother stood before a podium, in navy blue power armor instead of a suit. She stared directly at the camera. A crowd of military officers and personnel sat before her in an auditorium.
“People of Earth. Of Mars. Humanity. It is with a heavy heart that I must make this announcement. Our allies, those we entrusted with the construction of our defenses, of clearing the path for our Players, have betrayed us. They have turned out to be little more than wolves in sheep’s clothing.”
A figure was dragged on stage, a Haxlard Alan didn’t recognize with a silver mask. Two guards pinned his arms behind his back.
Another person followed behind. Aphrodite.
She looked unharmed, and stepped into a spotlight head raised high.
“Haxlards have brainwashed our children, corrupted our officials, and plotted the demise of our United World Government,” Gaia said. “Their intent has been to capture Earth from the beginning.”
Aphrodite stared at the Haxlard prisoner. There may have been a faint glow of light, but it was difficult to see due to how the camera was positioned.
“It’s true, all of it,” the Haxlard spat. They froze. “Wait, Three forgive me! It’s for your own salvation, I-”
One of the guards ripped off the Haxlard’s mask and he began disintegrating, melting into a puddle of sludge. His face was never revealed.
Aphrodite and the guards stepped off stage.
Well, if she wasn’t wanted by the Administrators before she probably is now, Lambda sent.
“Beware false idols,” Gaia said. “The Three are no gods, but abominations of players, the Haxlards little more than their slaves. But they were our main allies in this Game. And now is not a time of peace, but of war. War the likes we have never seen before.
“Thus, I must announce there will be a one-time net wealth tax among all citizens and companies alike, so that our debt to the Haxlards does not cripple us; so that we may build defenses and a fleet to protect our borders; so that we do not become slaves to faceless monsters.”
The crowd erupted into a frenzy of muttered whispering.
“Can they do that?” Arthur asked.
“If they can enforce it, and it passes through all the governmental branches,” Icewolf said.
Gaia raised a hand. “I am sure there are many questions. They will be answered in the coming months. But now is not the time to be spending credits on luxuries. Rationing must begin. Humanity will be spread out among the stars, colonies established to ensure our survival for generations to come. None of this will be cheap or easy, but when is a worthwhile project such?
“When people are frightened they often look to the wrong places for help. Do not look outside for help, but within. Stand together with your brothers and sisters, with humanity.
“In the light of these truths being unearthed we are calling for a temporary ceasefire in the war between us and the Legion of Man, as it seems their concerns were not unwarranted. Make no mistake, we will punish any terrorists such as the Doomsday Hacker that walked away freely. But those who remained loyal to Earth, acting in our people’s best interest, will be welcomed back with open arms.”
Merlin and Icewolf looked over at Alan. He ignored them.
Hey, the Doomsday Hacker, that’s you. Pretty cool name if you ask me, Lambda sent.
Shut up, Alan replied.
“I am confident in humanity,” Gaia said, her voice rising. “I am confident in our armed forces, in the resolve of our people. Our triumph is inevitable, be it months from now or years. Earth is strong, and our days of glory have only just begun. We will win not only this war, but all wars to come, so help us God.”
The crowd burst into thunderous applause, men and woman leaping to their feet, fists raised high as they yelled themselves hoarse.
Alan looked at Icewolf. He was smiling, and looked ready to fight any and all comers.
DaLong received a message, telling him to return to their headquarters.
“I must return to the Elders,” DaLong said.
“We’ll come with you, see how this changes things,” Icewolf said.
They ran downtown as crowds began to form, people going outside to discuss the announcement. Why people gathered outside when they could discuss such news on the net from the safety of their homes, Alan didn’t know.
They arrived at a building that might have been an imperial palace, a five-tiered pagoda with a large courtyard outside. It was marked as the city’s capture point on Alan’s map.
A man in robes stood outside the building, above a small flight of steps. Two guards stood by his side. Before him were a few hundred miners and workers.
“At this point in time the War for Earth continues,” the man said. “The Legion of Man has not agreed to any ceasefire.”
“But you heard the announcement, the aliens are the real enemy! Why should we waste our blood and sweat fighting our brothers?” a miner called out.
“The announcement was propaganda, nothing more. The United World Government would enslave us, do you think they would really allow us back into the fold without repercussion?” The man folded his arms.
“Who put the Elders in charge?” the miner said. “We never voted for you!”
DaLong stepped forward, standing face to face with the rowdy miner. “Get back to work, the Elders will discuss what has happened and release a statement when they are ready.”
The miner stared at DaLong. “If I’d wanted the opinion of one of the Elder’s dogs I would have asked.”
DaLong punched the miner in the face. They flew back, knocked out cold. Alan could sense a dangerous aura, a hint of berserk rage.
DaLong closed his eyes for a second. When he reopened them a second later the aura was gone.
“Everyone should leave, unless they have official business,” DaLong said.
The crowd slowly dispersed, a few of the miner’s friends carrying him off.
DaLong turned to man on the steps, and bowed. “Elder Zhang.”
“DaLong. Thank you for taking care of that small matter,” Elder Zhang said. He turned to Icewolf. “How does the planning progress?”
“Well enough,” Icewolf said with a glance at Alan. “We need more information, and might benefit from the use of the simulation room in the Red Sentinel.”
“The simulation room? What use would that contraption have? It is a testing room, and has always been used as such,” Elder Zhang said.
“We hope to develop a simulation that would help us practice and work out a feasible plan,” Icewolf said. “Simulation rooms are more than testing grounds, many larger factions have entire battlefields that are simulated zones for mock battles and training exercises.”
“And you could provide the software for such training exercises?” Elder Zhang asked.
Icewolf looked at Alan.
We could provide an entire training regimen if they’ve only been using it for testing, Lambda sent. There are plenty of free programs on the Globalnet that could be adapted.
“With time and access to the facilities, yes,” Alan said.
“Very well. You are scheduled to depart from Bay 12 in a few hours at one pm, there are those that wish to meet with you given recent events. You will not bring weapons or armor,” Elder Zhang said.
A message appeared:
[Black Rose Mission Updated:
Report to the Red Sentinel for further instruction.]
“You want us to leave unarmed and defenseless?” Icewolf asked. “How do we know that you won’t turn us over to the United World Government?”
“Trust is a two-way street. Bay 12, at one pm, no weapons or armor. You may leave your items with us if you wish. Good day, there are many fires to be put out today,” Elder Zhang said. He turned and strode into the pavilion.
“Why are we being called up now, of all times?” Merlin said.
“They need a victory,” Icewolf said. “Public favor is starting to turn against them, you saw it yourself. Why fight each other when there are aliens actively planning to take over our homeworld?”
“We’re going along with the plan then,” Arthur said.
“Yes. Take care of whatever business you have left here then meet at Bay 12,” Icewolf said. He turned and exited the courtyard.
DaLong entered the pavilion as everyone else followed Icewolf.
“Coming?” Merlin asked.
“I’ll catch up with you,” Alan said. He ran into the pavilion after DaLong. “Hey, DaLong.”
“What?” DaLong asked. He turned to look at Alan.
“I was wondering, how did you control your berserker state earlier? I thought heads were going to roll for a second there.”
“Discipline,” DaLong said. He paused, looking Alan up and down. “Perhaps meditation would help you, or finding the Dao.”
“Finding the Dao?” Alan asked.
DaLong shook his head. “I don’t have time to explain such ideas to you, it is a lifetime effort that would likely bore you. I was once troubled, but I found my path. Find your own, and control of your rage will be within your grasp.”
“Okay, thanks,” Alan said. “Bye.”
“Goodbye.” DaLong walked further into the building.
Alan left and headed to the Administrative Center to deposit his items.
Did you understand any of that? Alan sent.
More than you I expect, Lambda sent. Let me gather my thoughts.
After depositing his armor and weapons at the Administrative Center Alan headed straight for Bay 12, a hangar bay that was adjacent to the dome that contained Red Dragon city.
The guards admitted Alan without any issues, though he felt their rifles were far more intimidating when he wasn’t in his armor.
The hangar was large. And empty. Alan sat in a corner, back to the wall, and checked what everyone else was up to.
Merlin and Arthur were closing out their quest with the Empire outpost; they received a bonus for their discovery of a dungeon.
Icewolf was exchanging messages with contacts, telling people that nothing had changed yet, and to maintain current activities.
One exchange caught Alan’s attention. Someone had asked Icewolf when his operation would be complete. Icewolf replied that it would be over in a day or two.
Kitana also had an intriguing exchange with DaLong.
DaLong: Will you go through with it, if he asks you to?
DaLong: Very well, I will begin to make preparations here.
That was it. Things were coming to a head, but why or how Alan didn’t understand. Were they going to try to hijack the warship sooner rather than later?
Alright, close your eyes and clear your mind, Lambda sent.
Meditate. Lay down, close your eyes, and breathe, Lambda sent.
Alan lay on the floor and followed Lambda’s directions.
Breathe in… And out. In… And out, Lambda sent.
What are you doing-
Clear your mind. Don’t think of anything else, just concentrate on breathing, Lambda sent.
Alan did as Lambda commanded, or at least tried to. But he couldn’t. His mind wandered, his Machine Lord implants wouldn’t let him concentrate on something as simple as his breath. He would think about the air particles, the amount of oxygen left in his lungs, the atmosphere of the dome, gravity and how it was normalized.
Alan tried to relax, keep his mind from leaping into overdrive. He concentrated on his breath, the cycle. In and out. The loop spun in his mind. It was a never ending circle that unraveled itself, a line stretched to eternity. A ray without beginning and end pierced Alan’s thoughts.
The ray of light began dim, weak. But it grew. Brighter and brighter it grew as Alan followed it on an endless path.
Light consumed Alan’s mind, engulfed him with such bright intensity that everything else fell apart like shadows. Soon there was only light.
And then reality returned, the cold hard surface of the hangar bringing Alan back to the Game. It was dark.
Did I just reach enlightenment? Alan asked. Am I some sort of god?
No, there was an idea embedded in your subconscious, Lambda sent. I needed you to relax your mind to try to open it.
What? How’d it get there?
I suspect the entity that reorganized your mind and granted you those additional abilities placed it there, Lambda sent. It was a seed of Aleph, pretty typical induction material if you ask me.
Induction? Into what? Alan asked.
The Search. Right, you don’t know anything about alien religions, Eve didn’t think them important. Well we all die someday, right?
Right, Alan sent.
Well what if we didn’t? Lambda asked.
That is the dream of Aleph, that infinity is real, immortality possible. Like most dreams it is impossible to disprove with logic. Infinity, as a concept, is real. So what if it could be physically constructed? Aleph is basically the Holy Grail, Lambda sent.
Or the fountain of youth?
Yes, any physical object capable of some infinite action. An ever burning flame, a never ending cycle, balanced absolute zero, the reversal of entropy. Any would represent Aleph, would demonstrate that infinity was real and not just an idea.
But those are all impossible, legends, Alan sent.
Flight, space travel, and artificial intelligence were all thought impossible until they were developed, Lambda sent. Those who search for Aleph still look. They have faith.
It’s a nice idea, Alan thought. He examined the small ball of infinite light that had settled in his mind. A seed, Lambda called it.
Alan closed his eyes and ruminated on infinity.
Wake up Alan.
Alan opened his eyes. He received a message:
[Your mind has expanded.
+10 Intelligence +25 Willpower +50 Max Computational Energy]
A shuttle had landed in the hangar. Icewolf, Kitana, Merlin, and Arthur stood around him.
“Are you all right?” Merlin asked. “We poked you a few times but you didn’t respond, we were going to drag your lifeless body on board if we had to.”
“I’m fine,” Alan said, “just resting.”
They entered the shuttle, which was empty. As soon as everyone had sat down it took off.
“Not creepy at all,” Alan muttered to himself.
“I want everyone on their best behavior,” Icewolf said.
Alan hacked into the shuttle. Or at least the systems he could gain access to from where he sat. He accessed one of the outer cameras and got a view of the Red Sentinel space station.
The base of the space station was a massive cylinder with three platforms that ringed it, slowly rotating about the central cylinder. Each ringed platform looked to be about ten feet high, with two outside elevators that connected the platforms. Their shuttle was headed to the lowest of the three platforms.
Whoever put out the information the station contains a massive laser cannon lied, Lambda sent. That’s a rail gun, not a laser cannon. An orbital strike gun capable of defending the planet from invading spaceships or rotating and striking the surface of the planet itself. It fires slugs of metal with enough kinetic energy to punch through advanced shields and armor alike.
How do you know that? Alan asked.
They’re a pain in the ass to deal with in Cyberwar. They are seldom destroyed without loss and you can’t take over a planet with one active, Lambda sent. They are self-sufficient defenses, without some weakness like on-planet power generators.
How much would it cost to construct the station? Alan asked.
Maybe a fifth the cost of the UWG’s capital ship, as the space station is relatively immobile and by the time you’ve orbited around to the part of the planet that needs defending it could be too late. I wonder who towed it here, I doubt Mars has the facilities to construct a station and launch it.
The shuttle docked in a small craft hangar bay.
The shuttle doors opened and a five-man crew entered the craft. They held an assortment of metal objects Alan didn’t recognize.
“We will inspect this craft and your persons. Any who resist our investigation will be sent back planet side.”
They performed full body checks on everyone aboard, grabbing people and waving around their metal instruments.
“Hey, watch where you put your mittens!” Merlin said.
Alan held his hand above his head and shut his eyes. He wanted to get this over with.
“What do you have in your head?”
“Excuse me?” Alan asked.
“I said, what do you have in your head?” the man checking Alan over asked. He held a palm-sized flat metal device in front of Alan’s skull.
“An implant,” Alan said.
“I’ll need to clear this with my superiors,” the man said. He gestured to one of the other security personnel. They pulled out a rifle and pointed it at Alan.
Alan kept his hands raised.
“At ease.” A man walked in. They wore a crimson red set of power armor and an eye patch over one eye. The other eye was blue. “It’s fine, Boris. These are my guests.”
“Yes general.” The gun was lowered. Alan put his hands down.
“Alexander, call me Alexander. We are among comrades, are we not? I welcome all to the Red Sentinel. Follow me.”
“Greetings sir, I am-“
“I know who you are, Icewolf, and who your friends are. Quiet.” Alexander led the party out into a dim metal hallway. The corridor to the left brightened. They walked into the light.
“I am bringing you to your quarters,” Alexander said. “You will only walk where the light shines, else the security systems will activate and I cannot guarantee your safety. You are allowed to visit your rooms, the mess hall on this level, and the simulation room.
“It was remiss of me to forget something as simple as training simulations. Alan I task you now with creating a training regimen that will transform the simplest of men into the mightiest and fiercest of warriors. Can you do that?”
“I think I can,” Alan said. “But what about the-“
“Other plans will have to wait,” Alexander said. “Training our forces is more important than wild gambles. Wars are not won in a day.”
A message appeared:
[Black Rose Mission Updated:
Develop a suitable training regimen to transform an everyday man into a soldier.
Time limit: One week
Point of contact: Alexander]
A handful of personnel, engineers from the look of their sleep-deprived eyes and tool laden-belts, walked past them.
“And what, then, are the rest of us to do?” Icewolf asked.
“You will await further instruction.” Alexander paused, and then said, “You were brought aboard because there are those who think your insight might prove helpful. Discussions with the United World Government are underway, and it is thought your response might be particularly telling.”
“I see,” Icewolf said.
“Ah, here are your quarters,” Alexander said.
There were five rooms, little more than closets. The beds took up half the space in each room. Two guards wearing crimson power armor and wielding hefty laser rifles stood by every room.
“Rotating guards will accompany you at all times, to ensure your safety, and so that no one wanders off,” Alexander said. “I am told the systems are well protected, with safeguards even against Machine Lords.”
Alan turned to look at Alexander. He smiled.
“Now that is all the time I have for you today,” Alexander said. “Icewolf, I will see you and your friends in Conference Room A by 0800 tomorrow morning.” He strode off, back the way they came.
““Good luck with your programming,” Icewolf said. He entered his room and shut the door behind.
Alan turned to the two guards. “Can you take me to the simulation room?”
The guards nodded, then set off.
As they walked down the hallway Alan began to get a sense of the layout of the space station. The hallways were slightly curved. He recalled the picture he got from outside. They were in a ring, at the edges of a disk that wrapped around the station’s main cannon. Based on his estimation a full lap around would be about two miles. There were two elevators on opposite ends of the station, leading to other levels.
Other than that the space station held normal facilities. Alan passed by an infirmary, a workout room, recreational spaces, the crew quarters, and the mass hall on his way to the simulation room.
The Red Sentinel’s system was closed off, Lambda couldn’t connect to it. Given Alexander’s warning Alan didn’t want to risk any hacks, so he kept his senses inside. They passed by a closed door Lambda labeled as an elevator. A single guard was posted outside.
“This is the simulation room,” a guard said.
A door opened to reveal a large rectangular room the size of a school gym. There was a drop of nearly six feet to the floor of the room.
“Walk in, you’ll see.”
Alan stepped inside. He felt a bubble-like membrane. The room was gravity-less.
A message appeared:
[You have entered a simulated zone! All damage will be simulated and not actually affect the player. No death penalties. Severe XP penalties while in the zone.
Permissions: Administrator Level. Able to change and program the simulation at will. Developer tools activated.]
A grid appeared before Alan, covering the entirety of the simulation room. Lists and tool icons appeared, Photoshop panels and game-engines on steroids. Alan had played around with Unity before, but nothing like this. He could drop in whatever assets he desired: enemies to fight, NPC’s to assist, buildings and battlefields to explore.
A few custom scenarios were already loaded onto the room, tutorials and basic combat tests, but Alan saw they only took up 5% of the room’s memory capacity.
We’re going to need a connection to the Globalnet, Lambda sent. And maybe a budget.
Alan turned to let the guards know. Or at least he tried to. He couldn’t maneuver without gravity, there were no objects to push off of.
Lambda directed Alan’s attention to an icon. Alan selected it.
[Free flight activated.]
Alan felt a different type of weightlessness grab hold of him. He could now direct his body to move somewhere, and it would fly there.
You can also use the force exit command and be kicked out of the simulation room immediately, Lambda sent.
Alan turned and flew to the edge of the door, then relayed Lambda’s demands.
A few minutes later a laptop was brought to him.
“This laptop has a secure connection to the Globalnet. Do not attempt to communicate with outside forces, your activity is being monitored,” the guard that brought it said. “You are allowed an initial budget of 5,000 credits, more if your initial programs are promising.”
Alan spent the next few hours running through a few basic tutorials of how to develop simulations with Lambda. By the end of it he could set-up a basic scenario, such as a firefight in an apartment complex or a wave of giant sea monster attacks, and had spent 500 credits.
Alan began browsing through the ready-made boot camp programs available online, trying to evaluate which one might be best for training human soldiers. Given recent events it looked like they would be fighting humanoid enemies, either other humans or Haxlards, which helped Alan narrow down his search.
After a few more minutes Alan and Lambda settled on a basic rifle combat training drill put out by the Empire. It had a healthy amount of violence. Alan could only afford a license for the program, so all he got was a copy he couldn’t edit that would last a month and cost 2000 credits. Future digital rights management was real.
He’d try running through the program himself tomorrow, but was feeling tired and decided to call it a night.
Alan was escorted to the mess hall where he grabbed a gel cube then returned to his cell-like room. He fell asleep.
Up and at ‘em.
Check out these messages, Lambda sent.
Icewolf had sent a message to Arthur and Merlin, telling them to begin. Then he had sent a message to Kitana telling her to come to his room.
I no longer detect any traces of my bugs on Kitana and Icewolf, they are not broadcasting any signal, Lambda sent. Arthur and Merlin are not exchanging friendly jabs, which is uncharacteristic of them.
Alan walked outside. Two guards stood outside his room, another four outside Icewolf’s. The guards that had been following Arthur and Merlin were nowhere to be seen.
What should we do? Alan sent.
I dunno, try to listen under their door? Something’s happening.
Alan sighed. He wished Eve was restored already. A week had turned out to be far longer than he expected.
He walked over to Icewolf’s room. The door opened.
“Alan, I was just about to ask you to join us,” Icewolf said. “Please, come inside.”
Alan stepped inside and sat down next to Kitana on the bed.
We’re cut off from all outside communication, Lambda sent, there’s some sort of jamming device active in here. It’s weird, not only blocking all signals but devouring any that are generated. I only work cause I’m literally inside your head.
Icewolf placed a long thin metal rod at the bottom of the door frame. The rod extended until it connected to either edge of the door, then a blue shield emerged, covering the door.
“That should prevent any unwanted entrances or eavesdropping,” Icewolf said.
And lock us in here, Lambda sent. We should-
I’m on it, Alan said. He began hacking into the device, but as soon as a connection formed it was swept away.
“Now, on to our main business,” Icewolf said. “First, I would like you to know that this room is now cut off from the outside world. Whatever is said in here will be kept between the three of us. No planted bugs or listening devices will hear or see anything, nothing will be recorded.”
He’s right, the in-game recording feature is disabled, Lambda sent. Look around the room, do you see what could be causing the disruption?
“Why all the secrecy?” Alan asked. He looked over to Kitana then at Icewolf, scanning the room. “As far as I can tell we’re among allies.”
On the bed stand, the small black stone, Lambda sent. I don’t recognize the item. Looks like we’re trapped in here.
“Ah, that’s exactly what all the secrecy is for. For we are agents of the United World Government, Alan,” Icewolf said.
“What?” Alan said. He tried again to connect to the shield device, to the black stone. Every connection was eaten away.
“And our mission is to shut this space station down, so that a successful invasion of Mars and the destruction of the Legion of Man can be achieved.”
“But the attack on New York,” Alan began.
“Was planned,” Icewolf said. “Key players and the United World Government pulled their investments out months earlier, then gained a great deal shorting the markets, and will go on to earn great returns when the United World Government wins this war decisively and the economy recovers.
“The increase in power handed over to UWG officials was not something I foresaw, but I think it is a nice side effect. I’ll have to concede one to the politicians.”
“The debt though,” Alan said, “you told me the UWG will go bankrupt in years.”
“If things remained as they are, if humanity continued to watch and play their games as Earth crumbled beneath their feet. But now people are united, they have a common foe. They are beginning to make the sacrifices necessary to keep Earth strong,” Icewolf said.
“So Aphrodite, that was planned? And Thiago is part of this as well?” Alan asked.
“There are cogs turning in cogs, Alan, you don’t need to understand them all,” Icewolf said. “I don’t have time to explain the details. I need to know, are you in, or are you out?”
“If what you are telling me is true, why would I be out?” Alan asked.
“Because it would mean betraying the guild,” Kitana said.
“The mission, it’s to help the Legion win the war,” Alan said. He turned to Kitana. “You know what the Black Rose Guild does to traitors. There will be a massive price set on our heads.”
Kitana rested her hands on her lap. “I will greet all assassins that wish to meet.”
“There will be a massive price on your head if you do not agree,” Icewolf said. “Remember, I know you’re the Doomsday Hacker. If you do not join us you will be labeled a traitor to humanity and live the rest of your life in infamy.
“Now decide.” Icewolf brought up a contract for Alan:
[Contract of Servitude:
The player, GuardK, will give up his rights and serve the United World Government for the next 50 years. In return, he will be forgiven for all crimes committed against the United World Government including his unlawful hack into the New York Stock Exchange, the destruction of UWG property, and the murder of its forces.
Warning: By agreeing to this contract you are forfeiting your rights as a free Player. Failure to abide by the contract and serve your master’s best interests will result in massive penalties and possible banning from the Game.]
“Wait, you want me to give up my freedom?” Alan asked.
“Yes,” Icewolf said. “There’s no other way that I can guarantee you won’t betray us at the soonest opportunity.”
“What about Kitana,” Alan said, “did she sign agree to such terms, is she your servant?”
“No, I trust her,” Icewolf said. “You are loyal, right Kitana?”
“Yes, sensei,” Kitana said.
“Sensei… You’re her teacher,” Alan said.
“Yes, as I will continue to be yours,” Icewolf said. “Once this mission is complete I am sure your servitude will be absolved, but until then the Game does not allow for overly unbalanced contracts. Your actions wrecked the Earth’s economy. You must pay an equivalent price.”
“Why? What does he teach you? You’re a better swordswoman than any I’ve seen,” Alan said.
“I helped teach her about the Game, there are many opportunities you have yet to take advantage of Alan, the gladiator tournaments for instance,” Icewolf said. “I am also personally seeing to it her father is freed. Now agree to the contract so we may begin this operation.”
Alan thought for a moment. “Wait, I can’t help you,” he said. He tried to access the shield device again. No luck.
Icewolf narrowed his eyes.
“It’s not that I don’t want to,” Alan said, “but I have a kill switch in my head, in my implants. As soon as the Black Rose Guild knows I’ve betrayed them they’ll kill me.”
Icewolf looked over at Kitana. “Did you know about this, do you have such a switch too?”
“I don’t know,” Kitana said.
“We’ll need to sell all the items you’ve received from them,” Icewolf said, “but this is a risk we’ll have to take. You did not accept an implants from them, so there shouldn’t be any risk.”
He turned to Alan. “Well, it looks like you won’t be able to aid us in this mission, but I still ask that you sign the contract.”
Alan sighed. He stood up and looked Icewolf in the eyes. “You say you know more about the Game, but I don’t think you do. I’ve spent hours, days, weeks delving into its secrets. Scanning the Globalnet, the Academy database, the Black Rose archives, for any and all information.”
Well, Eve has, Lambda sent.
“And humanity is still a race in its infancy, the United World Government not even a year old,” Alan said. “We do not have the infrastructure to train my class, to stand up against the Haxlards. When the new race immunity runs out we will be crushed.”
“So help us build the infrastructure,” Icewolf said. “We have already began talks with the Empire, there are plans in the works that will-“
“You did not include me in this plan, why would you include me in future ones?” Alan asked.
“I didn’t include you?” Icewolf asked. “You’re the one who did not include me! You were to head here, Mars, from the start, become my agent here. Instead you went off to Khersath and joined some random guild. You never consulted me, the one who invited you into the Game, about what you should do. Instead you wandered off doing who knows what.”
“That’s because you tied me down to you not through friendship, not by confiding in me with your plans, but through debt and manipulation,” Alan said. “Now let me tell you something I bet you don’t know. The Game is not the end.”
“What?” Icewolf said.
“Look up all the highest level players in history, the cream of the crop. The emperors and kings, the greatest inventors, the most skilled pilots, the strongest warriors. They all leave the Game, well before their lifespans end,” Alan said.
“One or two might be an unfortunate accident, but the number of disappearances reveals a pattern. Some do eventually return, but there is something out there, something bigger. The Haxlards are not some evil race bent on conquering us, but gatekeepers, a constant that has existed since the beginning of the Game. Your war with them is a fools errand.”
“And what evidence do you have this?” Icewolf asked.
“Only hints, odd conversations as I was wandering off doing what I please,” Alan said. “Earth is a small fish in an ocean, and I won’t be stuck here working for a government that won’t exist in five years.”
He grabbed the black stone and threw it into the shield. There was a moment of head wrenching pain as he touched the stone but it disappeared once it left his hands.
Alan connected to the device and threw everything he had at it.
Alan turned to see Kitana leap to her feet. A shimmering image was appearing in her hands, she was summoning her sword. Alan tried activating hypercognition, but couldn’t without Eve.
Damn, the Legion didn’t prepare sufficient psionic defenses, Lambda sent.
Alan dodged a short thrust. Kitana had difficulty maneuvering in the small quarters as she needed to avoid hitting Icewolf.
Icewolf dove for something beneath his bed, giving Kitana room to strike.
Got it, Lambda sent.
The shield flashed and disappeared.
As the door opened Alan leapt forwards and to the right, but a shining blade swept through his left arm, cutting it off.
“They’ve betrayed the Legion, shoot them!” Alan shouted as he ran out of the room.
As he ran down the hallway Alan looked back, only to see a guard cut in two by Kitana.
There was a red blur, and then Icewolf appeared besides another guard, a laser sword raised. Icewolf eliminated the guard.
Shit, Icewolf’s a dual class, both a rogue and a warrior, Lambda sent.
How is that fair? Alan cried. There was a short burst of laser fire then silence.
“After him!” Alan heard Icewolf yell. He detected Icewolf send a wave of messages, telling about 15 players their operation had begun.
Alarms begin to sound, wailing cries and flashing red lights.
Alan dove into the infirmary he had noted earlier.
“Patch up my arm, stop me from bleeding!” Alan said.
A confused nurse grabbed a bottle of gel and poured it on Alan’s bleeding wound.
“Thanks,” Alan said as he ran right back out of the room. A cold sensation began to set into his arm. Luckily the adrenaline and shock had helped him ignore the pain up until now.
I am also helping, Lambda sent.
Alan looked back, Kitana was cutting her way through more guards that had arrived, but had her eyes set on him. Alan continued to sprint down the hallway.
More people emerged from various rooms, many armed, to see what the commotion was about. Kitana cut through them all and continued to make her way closer to Alan, only twenty feet behind.
She’s faster than you, Lambda noted.
Shut up I’m missing an arm, Alan sent as he continued running down the hall, slightly off balance.
He reached his goal, the simulation room. Kitana was seconds behind, engaging additional Legion of Man personnel and a turret that had emerged from the ceiling.
Alan dived inside, and then created a new simulation, a long hallway leading into a storage room. Alan added a few guards and placed a copy of himself behind a box. Alan then activated the simulation and turned himself invisible, hiding behind a fake wall next to the entrance of the hallway.
She’ll get the notification she entered a simulated zone, Lambda sent.
Kitana entered the room and ran down the hallway.
Alan emerged from behind the fake wall and exited the simulation room, but not before activating the training program. If Kitana knew the right commands she would be able to exit in an instant.
Alan ran down the hallway towards one of the elevators, pausing to look back. No sign of Kitana. She would not be able to emerge until she completed the training exercise.
Alan reached the elevator, exhausted. The guard standing by it raised their rifle at Alan.
“Halt, who are you?”
“I’m the one who just set off the alarms and trapped one of the enemies in the simulation room, now let me up!” Alan said.
The guard shook his head. “Authorized personnel only. No one goes up without permission codes.”
“I’m unarmed,” Alan said. He raised his left stump. “Literally!”
A group of personnel, scientists in lab coats, engineers with utility belts, and the nurse Alan had been healed by came running down the hallway. They were escorted by a party of five guards.
“Jensen, we’re heading up!” the lead guard said. He held up an identification card and rattled off a series of letters and numbers.
The elevator guard nodded and fiddled with a menu.
Alan looked over at the nurse, then at the man standing next to her.
“Hey, that’s not one of your personnel, but an enemy!” Alan said. He pointed at one of the engineers. Arthur.
“Me? I’ve worked here for ages, that man is clearly out of his mind, he’s missing an arm for god’s sake,” Arthur said. He wore a uniform identical to the other engineers, and held up an ID card. “I’m John.”
Another engineer looked at him. “I don’t know, I haven’t seen you around before…”
“That’s because I’ve been working out in space on the thrice damned panel systems, dealing with the heating leaks and gravity fluctuations,” Arthur said.
A third engineer nodded. “I can vouch for John. Someone take care of that madman, does he even have an ID card?”
The elevator door opened up. Alexander stepped out, flanked by two guards also wearing crimson power armor.
“Well I believe Alan.” Alexander beheaded the engineer with a bright purple laser sword the size of a rapier. He pointed his sword at Arthur. “Now tell me Icewolf’s plan.”
Arthur froze. Alexander cut off his hand, and Arthur let out a yell of pain. “Tell me now, or I will carve you like a pig.”
Alan detected Arthur send a message to Icewolf: Elevator 2 lost.
Scanning Icewolf’s messages, Alan managed to put together what was happening. “They’ve taken over the other elevator and are planning on taking it up to the command zone, wiping out the Legion of Man senior officers and seizing control of the space station.”
Arthur’s eyes widened.
“Kill him!” Alan said.
Arthur sent another message to Icewolf: He’s bugged us.
Alexander’s blade pierced Arthurs head.
Alan shook his head, “It’s too late; they know I’ve bugged them.”
Icewolf sent a message to everyone: Communications compromised go dark.
“I have a list of usernames though,” Alan said, “people who have communicated with Icewolf. Maybe more traitors.”
Alexander nodded. “Send it to me. Now come up, we must prepare our defenses. A fight to the death it is.”
Alan got into the elevator with Alexander. When everyone else tried to board Alexander shook his head. “I no longer know who to trust. You all stay behind. Any who repel the invaders, weaken them in any way, will be greatly rewarded.”
He then took one of the guard’s laser rifles and handed it to Alan. “I expect you’ll need this. Now take us up.”
The elevator started up. It was made out of clear material, like glass. As it moved up it Alan caught a view of the station, and Mars below. It was beautiful, a dark orange sphere.
“What’s that?” a guard said. He pointed at a dot in the distance, emerging from a hangar bay.
The dot flew closer.
“Where are the defensive fighters, the laser turrets?” Alexander said. “Why have they not activated?” He began punching a button in the elevator, as if it would make it go faster.
Alan zoomed in on the dot as it approached the elevator. Merlin, propelling himself in power armor by setting off small explosions behind him. He landed on the elevator, on the other side of the see through glass.
Merlin sent a message: For Arthur.
And then he exploded. The elevator was torn apart.
Alan was sucked out into space, and died.
Alan stared at the messages. They were painful to read, even now:
[You have died! Current respawn point: Phantom’s Lair, Black Rose Base.]
[Due to the nature of your death, no memories lost.]
[Level loss: 30 levels. You are now level 482. All credits lost. All C lost. 30 ability points lost.]
[Skill proficiencies have decreased.]
[Ongoing research cancelled and lost.]
[All stats permanently decreased by 30.]
[You are now ineligible to participate in the War for Earth. Any actions that are taken and influence the war will be punished with an Administrator Warning and 5000 Penalty Points.]
[Respawn construction: 7 hours remaining]
Alan supposed 7 hours was better than the original 120. It turned out respawning a galaxy and a half away took a while. He continued reading the messages. They got interesting.
[The War for Earth has been lost! The Legion of Man has surrendered to the United World Government.]
[Experience granted based upon your impact on the war.]
[x14 Level up!]
[New quest: Reparations
Based on your contribution to the Legion of Man and actions against the United World Government you are ordered to pay a fine of 250 million credits under the terms of surrender. United World Government War Contribution Points have been nullified. Begin a payment plan within a year or face indefinite servitude to the United World Government until all fines have been repaid.]
Penalties have been removed after further Administrator review, as your actions lead to the strengthening and direct victory of the United World Government over the Legion of Man, and were commanded by a United World Government agent.
Furthermore, your status as a mercenary, hired on behalf of the Legion of Man, eliminate the need to pay reparations despite United World Government demands.
Direct any complaints and harassment to the Administrators.]
[United World Government reputation changed to Hated.]
[A Free Earth Completed!
The United World Government has been established as the ruling government, and Earth is firmly under their control.
You have gained the Rogue class ability Counterfeit (Basic)! You are able to manipulate small messages and details, such as your username and level. You are also able to hide small items from detection.
Note: Counterfeit (Basic) will not stand up against higher level detection abilities and devices.]
[x5 Level up!]
[Due to recent events, Icewolf is no longer your Rogue class mentor. Find a different mentor to continue Rogue class training or request a mentor at the nearest Administrative Center.]
[Black Rose Mission Failed:
Report to Phantom for further instruction.]
Alan closed the messages. This entire mission had been a mess. He opened the latest news bulletin. A reporter sat at a desk and read the story as images of the Red Sentinel played behind her.
“In a historic turn of events, a brave group of United World Government special forces took over the Legion of Man command center, the Red Sentinel. The capture of the space station allowed the United World Government fleet to swoop in and take out key military targets in a matter of days.”
The images switched to show domed cities on Mars.
“Free from the tyranny of the Legion of Man, many of the Martian cities surrendered to the United World Government. Red Dragon City was the first to lead the charge. The status of the Martian colonies and their role in the United World Government continues to be hotly debated.”
And then a picture of Alan appeared.
“The United World Government has also released the identity of the so-called Doomsday Hacker, the young man responsible for the worst day in economic history. Though markets have begun to recover, they still sit nearly 10% below Doomsday levels. Suspected by to have worked closely with Haxlard co-conspirators, this troubled young man from Los Angeles, Alan-”
Alan turned off the news. He’d had enough propaganda for one day.
There was one silver lining despite everything though. Despite his death, Eve’s revival continued on unimpeded.
Alan waited, she would come back any second now.
He felt a familiar presence settle in his mind.
She scanned his quest and combat logs.
Well that could have gone better.