“No, you will stay with us, then return to the base,” Mason said.
“There is more to the Abyss Dungeon, and I can get us information no one else can, the Warden won’t communicate with anyone else. You don’t need me to get through checkpoints; let me double back to the Capture Point,” Alan said. “If it doesn’t make sense for me to continue down, I won’t. I’ll head straight to the base, back the way we came. If anything, that path is safer, as we have no idea what’s up ahead.”
“That’s why we have scouts,” Mason said. He watched over the caravan. “Fine, head back, but you’re taking a squad with you. Send at least one person back to base, let them know that every Player within the sector on this floor was alerted when we captured the Control Point, so there are sure to be enquiries made soon.” Mason shouted out at the convoy, “Assault Team 3, you’re with Princess.”
Princess? Alan sent.
Your designated code name, Eve sent.
When did that happen? Alan asked.
No doubt when you were being carried about in your carriage, Lambda sent.
Ignore it, being underestimated can be useful, Eve sent.
Alan sighed. At this point he wanted to get on with things already. He quickly determined a suitable amount of food, power crystals, and loot to take with them as they headed back to the Control Point they captured.
A small four man squad went with him: a scout with cloaking abilities, a nanotech healer, a medium ranged rifleman and a close combat specialist, at least according to Eve’s information. The trip back was quick, they covered the same amount of ground in nearly half the time, as they did not have a large supply train and none of the enemies respawned.
Once they had arrived at the Control Point they found Specialist 3 standing in the exact same position as when Alan had left.
Alan approached Specialist 3. “Can you connect me to the Warden?” Alan asked, something he probably should have asked earlier.
“Given the requisite energy,” Specialist 3 said. “One emerald energy crystal should suffice.”
Alan handed an emerald power crystal over, he had brought along 40 from the main supplies, as 25 were needed to access the lower level.
Why did neither of you mention the Warden again? Alan asked.
It hadn’t crossed my mind, Lambda sent. I doubt they’ll be too helpful.
Eve remained silent.
Alan felt a presence. The Warden. He connected to it.
Your conquest is not yet complete, the Warden sent. You barely control one quadrant of this floor of Sector 3. Contact me when you have control of the floor.
Wait, about that first floor thing, how many floors are there? Alan asked.
Access denied, the Warden sent.
What can I find below us?
Access denied, the Warden sent.
C’mon, can you throw us a bone? Lambda sent.
If you proceed below this floor you will be deemed hostile targets. All you will find is oblivion, the Warden sent.
Is there any way that we might be deemed non-hostile? Alan asked.
The Warden took a second to process. Your party does not meet the requirements. Control of this sector floor with sufficient power is needed. Conversely, sufficient repairs made as a sign of good faith would be sufficient for friendly designation beyond this floor. You do not have the abilities, tools, or materials to make necessary repairs.
Can you give me the amount of energy needed, or a list of requirements to make repairs? Alan asked.
Affirmative. The Warden sent a solid wall of text and data. A messaged popped up before Alan:
[Missing Systems Updated:
You have the optional task to make repairs to the Abyss Labyrinth. As repairs are made additional subsystems and options may be made available.
Rewards: Variable based on repairs completed.]
The allocated power for this connection has run out. The Warden disconnected.
Alan debated using another emerald power crystal, but one cost almost as much as a platinum mark, making it an expensive call.
You received the information you wanted, as well as another warning not to proceed further into the Abyss Labyrinth, Eve sent. Our next step is obvious.
Fine. We’ll head back up to the Black Rose Base, Alan sent. He let the squad know what they were going to do, then set up camp for the night. He pulled up the information the Warden had sent as he prepared to head to bed.
Alan checked the first optional requirement. Four filled void crystals and control of all the Sector 3 Control Points on this level. That wouldn’t happen without significant investment from the guild, and he didn’t know if they were up for another, larger dungeon dive. What made it even more dangerous was that Mason’s scouts had discovered that any Player in the region that was captured would get a notification. Most Capture Points functioned in this way, and had been an oversight to not recognize that other Players would notice their actions.
To make repairs over a hundred abilities were listed as necessary, many requiring intermediate or advanced mastery. Alan begin reading them, but it was all just technobabble to him. Eve grouped most of the abilities under advanced fields in electrical engineering, power crystal physics, and drone maintenance. The last ten abilities she didn’t even recognize. Something about the transference and capture of energy.
Lambda? Alan asked.
I haven’t a clue, Lambda sent. I have some information on old technology, but nothing this advanced.
The list of materials and tools needed for repairs was just as long and tedious. Hundreds of millions of credits would be needed to procure the items that Eve recognized. There were around twenty items that were unknown.
At least a small map with additional details was provided. It noted the location of where damage was located. Upon further scrutiny Alan realized that the map also contained which abilities and materials were needed where, thus Alan, or whoever was brought to make repairs could make them as long as they met the requirements at the specific location.
There seemed to be two major repair points: a robotics facility and a power station. It looked like if the robotics facility was repaired, workers to assist with repairs could be constructed, but would take expensive materials to build and power them. The plans for the power station were confusing. It was labeled as a power station, but Alan and Eve couldn’t tell how it generated energy or where the energy it made went. It all hinged around a device called a Translateral Absorber that was broken. Eve had never heard of it. Then there was a lot of general maintenance, old machines falling apart, walkways and defenses that needed tuning. It was too much work for one person.
Then there was the third option, shooting or sneaking their way through. Forcing the door open, the Warden be damned. Right now that option appealed the most to Alan, but he had other plans he wanted to try first. He was getting tired of being yanked around on a chain, going whichever way the wind blew.
The trip out of the Abyss Labyrinth into the Black Rose hangar bay was uneventful. As soon as they had left the confines of the dungeon Alan was able to send an update to Phantom. Phantom didn’t seem too surprised by the new information. What did surprise him, however, was Alan’s request.
Phantom: You want to what?
Alan: There must be a central Revenant planet or facility or secret base. Someplace. I want to go there. I need better hacking software and security, a more powerful capsule, and proper power armor training.
Phantom: All of those things require reputation and money that you have not yet earned. You haven’t even completed your initiate quest yet.
Alan: I’ll talk with him then. But you know too that if we want to do this Abyss Labyrinth job we’ll need more outside help. I’m sure there are plenty Revenant members who would sell their right arm to put their hands on the technology that needs repair, and we can give them that chance.
Phantom: I’ll consider it. Void had a similar idea, and was reaching out to contacts.
Alan: What do you know about Void? The information you sent on him was barebones at best. It contained no information on what his class might be, his abilities, or even his species.
Phantom: Don’t ask. He’ll just mess with you. Once I was convinced Void was a devout monk to an obscure Predecessor goddess before I learned the goddess never existed a year and a half later.
Alan: And you just work with him?
Phantom: He’s always loyal to the guild. You can talk with him yourself once you arrive.
Alan: He’s at the base?
Phantom: Yes. Where else would he be?
Alan: Never mind, see you soon.
Alan ended the conversation. He then searched his list of contacts. Oddly, he couldn’t find who he was looking for. Cerberus was not on the list of Players he could message.
If you want to talk to Cerberus you’ll have to find a terminal, Lambda sent. I don’t think he trusts the in-game wireless communication network.
Alan went to find a terminal to use in the hangar bay. They were a few minutes flight away from the main base, but as his team’s arrival hadn’t been expected they had to wait for a ride.
It was a small hangar, with only enough room for a handful of smaller aircraft and one medium sized shuttle, the one that had first taken Alan and a few hundred initiates from the main city of Khersath to the Black Rose Base.
Other than the open space for vehicles and the lift down into the Abyss Labyrinth there was a small office in a corner. Alan used his access level as a Squire to enter it. There was a desk with a terminal in it, which he booted up.
He made a search for Cerberus’s contact information, but couldn’t find anything, so he instead connected to the Academy’s main help desk instead. As soon as he was connected he was transferred. A floating hand filled the display. It waved.
“Hello, Alan. You took off at the most interesting time.” Cerberus said. No mouth was shown on screen.
“I apologize, my home planet’s war came to a head and I was ordered to intervene. I’m sure you’ve seen the news.”
“A waste of time,” Cerberus said. “Any information released is outdated by the time it hits the net. Are you returning to the Academy soon?”
“No,” Alan said, “I don’t think so.”
“Really? There are still a few weeks left in your term. And there are recent developments which I think you’d be instrumental in solving,” Cerberus said.
Shit, he’s onto us, Lambda sent.
Wouldn’t he send the Administrators after us, if he was so sure I’d broken into the Data Vault and got you out? Alan asked.
No, he has no jurisdiction outside the Academy System. At least I don’t think he does, Lambda sent. And the Administrators won’t intervene without sufficient evidence.
Looks like we shouldn’t set foot in the Academy System again, Eve sent. She sounded sad.
“Anything I can help with from here?” Alan asked.
“No. Forget it. Water under the bridge. Can we say your term at the Academy has completed then?” Cerberus asked.
“Yes,” Alan said.
A series of messages appeared:
[Congratulations, you have completed the Rogue Combat program at the Academy. New title: Academy Graduate. All marks and commendations converted to experience. For acts of distinction, the Academy Chancellor has provided the Player Alan access to the Academy System. Volta, training, and similar rewards will not be available unless an advanced program is entered.
x239 Level up!
+100 ability points for gaining over 100 levels with one action.
Minor increases in reputation with the Predecessors, Lords of Life, Administrators and Revenants.]
“Wait, I graduated, just like that? What kind of messed up school system is this?” Alan asked.
“One where deeds matter more than words. You were in the combat program,” Cerberus said, “and your graduation project was most impressive. I can also skew a few things. Now, for your Revenant initiate quest. Fix the Abyss Labyrinth so Authority aid is not required.”
A new quest appeared:
[We’re Fine. Everything is Fine Here:
Solve the Abyss Labyrinth’s problems so Authority intervention is not needed.
Rewards: Full Revenant Membership, ???
“Why are you concerned about the Abyss Labyrinth?” Alan asked.
“Like the Academy, the Abyss Complex was built to fulfill certain needs,” Cerberus said. “Right now it is not operating at full capacity which could cause issues further down the line. You, I think, more than anyone, would want to avoid the Authority’s attention.”
“Let me guess, you can tell me more when I reach level 1000,” Alan said. Now that he was up to level 830 that didn’t seem too far off.
“Anything is possible. Now, you have no hope of fixing the Abyss Complex alone, but I know a few people who might help. Here are a few identification keys so they’ll know I sent you. They have points of contact either in Khersath or on the Exchange, which I grant you access to. Good luck.” Cerberus transferred a packet of data files through the terminal.
Alan tried accessing them, but they were hard to decipher, fragments of data that made no sense in his mind.
Bring them into the Armory, Lambda sent.
Okay, Alan sent as he entered Cyberspace. The Citadel was like his mind’s base within the Game, his central command center for hacking. This was all done in Cyberspace, a underlying layer in the Game. He envisioned hacking in the Game as a 3D real time strategy game. Alan’s base had a few structures: a research center, a supply depot, a medical station, barracks, and energy pylons, but they were all dwarfed by the Armory.
The Armory was why Alan had named his base the Citadel. It was a 150 meter tall structure, a massive, intimidating fortification of dark metal with ten levels. Its central tower contained Alan’s Command Center, where he commanded his forces during hacks and worked with base management. In addition to being a defensive fortification, the Armory could also train and develop new abilities and equipment, as well as appropriate data Alan found.
Right now the Citadel was mostly empty, a few units patrolled around, but as they cost computational energy as upkeep Alan kept his defenses down to a bare minimum. Lambda and Eve could also manifest here, and were much stronger than the basic units.
Alan focused on the Armory. It was converting a sniper rifle into a piece of equipment that could be used in hacks. The sniper rifle was the semblance of an AI that Alan had previously defeated in the hack on the New York Stock Exchange, and would hopefully provide additional utility to Alan’s hacking abilities.
Pausing this research, Alan focused on the packet of information Cerberus had sent. It moved almost of its own accord from the terminal into the Armory. Four dark data cubes appeared. The future’s version of a USB, these small cubes of metal were shaped like marks, but had intricate circuitry that would alight when used. It took Alan’s enhanced vision to even see the circuit lines.
Alan had Eve and a few units take the data cubes into a room at the base of the Citadel. It wasn’t likely, but Cerberus could have hostile programs hidden in the data cubes. Opening a data cube in the Armory was akin to opening a treasure chest in a game, Alan wasn’t sure what might pop out. If anything too bad popped out, Alan could seal off each level of the Armory.
The first data cube contained a virtual blue nameplate that would float by Alan’s side. An accessory. The name currently read Alan, but could be edited. The title below was Revenant Initiate, Human. A list of instructions was also contained in the data cube, protocols on how to connect to the Exchange. It looked like it was similar to the Market and Arcade, but hidden so only Revenant members could connect to it.
The second data cube unraveled into a physical golden key. It was named Phantom’s Key. The description read: Android and Robotics Specialist. Khersath.
Huh, looks like Phantom will be needed to fix the Abyss Labyrinth. It shouldn’t be too hard to convince him, Alan thought.
I am not so certain, Eve sent.
Alan opened the next data cube. It contained another key, Prometheus’s Key. The description read: Energy Specialist. The Exchange.
Prometheus? That’s a human legend, Alan sent.
Remember, the Game translates everything so it makes senses in context, Lambda sent. Most cultures have a story similar to stealing fire from the gods, and his name is likely a reflection of that.
The last data cube contained The Archivists’ Key. The tag read: Predecessor Technology Specialists. The Exchange. Approach with caution.
Alan spent a few minutes examining the keys, but couldn’t make heads or tails of their purpose, he’d have to ask Phantom. He then received a message from the squad, their ride had arrived.
He exited Cyberspace, returning to the Game. He got out of the office into the main hangar. The doors opened above, revealing a sleek black transport ship.
It opened fire.