“One more meeting and I’m phasing into a wall,” Sidestep said.
Alan yawned and nodded his head in agreement. If he had to listen to one more presentation on Haxlard hierarchy or examine one more battle plan he was going to shoot someone. He’d expected to log back into the Game in the middle of a war. Instead there had been a lot of waiting and going through reports.
They were sitting in a conference room, hidden deep in the underground labyrinth that was the Black Rose base. Aurora was updating squad leaders with information Alan already knew: Haxlard fleets were now within striking distance of the Empire and Kersath. No word from the Council. Hold to your current positions, continue patrolling, fire on any intruder.
There was one more day until the deadline the Empire was given to hand over the Abyss Labyrinth was up. If an attack was coming, it would be coming soon.
“Sidestep, Alan, I’d like to speak with the two of you privately,” Aurora said after she finished her debriefing.
Officers filed out or closed terminal connections, returning to guard duty. When the final person had left Aurora sealed the room. No signals would get in or out, and large metal walls closed over the exit.
“If you wanted to spend some quality time with me, you only had to ask,” Sidestep said.
“Quiet,” Aurora said. “I’m in charge of this mess, and having the two of you second-guess my every move while whispering like schoolchildren is the last thing I need.”
“Me? What have I done?” Alan said.
Never ask that question, Lambda sent.
“You’ve shot down every plan I’ve proposed to Thrag,” Aurora said. “You’re an adviser, in charge of maintenance and surveillance. I still don’t know what it is you and Phantom do, but I am the one that was put in charge of the base while the Council is defending the Abyss Labyrinth, and you need to give me the respect that this position deserves.”
Alan sat up a bit straighter in his seat.
Do you want to take a stab at this, or do you want my help? Lambda sent.
I think I’m okay, Alan sent.
“I’m sorry if my constant fidgeting has seemed disrespectful,” Alan said. “I’m just bored, and have been required to make a few…adjustments. It all serves a purpose. Your plan, however, of a tentative alliance with our neighbors, defending each other if any one of us attacked, is flawed. That’s why Thrag rejected it.
“We’re weak right now, our strongest players aren’t here. We’re left with a few hundred bodies to defend the base, and a single capital ship with an admiral best known for running from fights. Perhaps humanoids have developed a stronger sense of morality, but based upon the news that isn’t the case.”
Alan brought up recent images of Khersath on a terminal, rioters and looters patrolling the streets. “The strong prey on the weak, gangs are running rampant and martial law has been declared. It’s not long before other guilds start making moves too, and any alliance we try to make will have the other party wondering why you’re the one making the entreaty, not Elissandra.”
“Alan’s right and you know it,” Sidestep said. “Look, I’m upset as anyone else about being stuck here without knowing what’s going on, and maybe I’m making a few too many snide remarks. Sorry. But this guild wasn’t made with direct, wide-scale operations in mind.”
“In the future, perhaps we could go over any plans that you might propose beforehand. I’m more than willing to help iron out any details and help with planning overall strategy,” Alan said.
Aurora glared at Alan, then ran a hand through her hair. She stepped forward, invading Alan’s personal space and looking down on him. Her eyes took on a cold glint and the temperature in the room fell. Sidestep took a step backwards.
Maybe I need your help, Alan sent.
“The Mercenary Bloc has survived as an entity because the guilds not only support each other, but also mutually own small percentages of each other through the faction. This mitigates both risk and reward, and decreases the likelihood that they’ll make a move on us,” Aurora said.
“Destroying us, taking control of our vaults and base would more than make up for that loss,” Alan said.
“When it comes down to it, disrespect I can handle,” Aurora continued. “Mutiny I won’t.”
Alan silently checked that the two thermal grenades he’d grabbed from Phantom’s arsenal were active. He could activate the grenades with a thought, sending a detonation signal that might melt his arm off but would free him from any ice. They were primed and ready, along with a small repair kit, a weeks worth of food, a med-kit, and two high-energy emerald power crystals.
Alan began to rise form his chair, but Aurora froze him to his seat.
“There,” Aurora said, “there’s the look I don’t like. Something has changed, it’s like you’re constantly calculating how you’d kill the whole room.”
Probably because you are, Lambda sent. Looks like I underestimated Aurora. Stay silent, let’s see where she goes with this.
Aurora placed a finger on Alan’s helmet, slowly pacing until she was standing behind him, out of his line of sight. “Our task is to guard this base, protect the central vault at all costs. But how can I be expected to do that when I cannot trust my eyes and ears, a player who seems to want us cut off from reinforcements.”
“I’m not the one who designed the lock-down procedures, Phantom did that,” Alan said. “No messages in or out.”
“Then who have you been communicating with, Alan?” Aurora asked. Sidestep moved his hand over to his swords, now also staring at Alan.
Damn, how’d she figure out we sent out a message to the Haxlards? Alan sent.
I don’t know, maybe Elissandra has a backdoor in Phantom’s system that Aurora has access to, or there are layers of defenses we’re unaware of. The message was encrypted, so she shouldn’t know the contents or recipient. Make up a good lie, Lambda sent.
A lie? She just read me like an open book, Alan sent.
The best lies contain a grain of truth. Start talking about Eve’s betrayal, you’ve already been silent too long, Lambda sent.
“As I said before, I’ve needed to make a few changes,” Alan said. “Let me explain why. My AI betrayed me, so you should understand if I’ve started having trust issues.”
Aurora said, “Impossible, the rules of the Game–“
“The rules of the Game don’t seem to apply to the forces I’ve been dealing with. Ask Sidestep, he should know about the Archivists,” Alan said.
“Who? Never heard of them,” Sidestep said.
“Repeat that,” Aurora said.
Sidestep looked away.
“So this is Revenant business, then,” Aurora said. Sidestep blinked in surprise.
“Yes,” Alan said slowly. “Yes, I’m trying to deal with some fallout.”
“And what is that?” Aurora said.
No more information, say she could get banned if you tell her more, which is the truth, Lambda sent.
“I can’t say, unless you want to risk getting banned from the Game,” Alan said.
There was a pause. Alan wondered how long it would take Aurora to kill him. A flash freeze of psionic energy and then he’d be completely frozen. He’d need to react in the split second she began her attack, a task more difficult because of Eve’s absence, but not impossible. Maybe it was time to go lone wolf, take whatever he can and run for it.
No, wait, Lambda sent.
Aurora walked back around, taking a seat facing Alan and Sidestep.
“There’s a question of loyalty and strength, then,” she said. “You’ve spent too long with hackers. Know that it will never be profitable to betray the guild. To betray me.”
Alan stared at Aurora, trying to figure out what she was getting at. There was only one major power that made any sense.
“Is the Alliance backing this guild then? Can we depend on them if we’re attacked or do we have some obligation to them that I should know about?” Alan asked.
“Straight to the point, as always,” Aurora said. “Yes and no. There are no…direct ties, but in our inner vaults we do have items that certain member states would like well secured.”
An electric wave raced through Alan’s Machine Lord implant, causing it to skip a beat. There was a ripple in the air, so slight that Alan might have imagined it. A message appeared as alarms began sounding:
[Extinction Event: The Haxlard Crusade
Tired of the infidelity and treachery practiced by the Empire, Alliance, and others, the Three have declared that all except the Administrators must convert or face death. All worlds not under Haxlard control will face successive waves of increasingly dangerous zealots until every player has surrendered or fallen.
The Administrators regret to inform players that no zone is safe. Lost items, decreased levels, and other death penalties will have their full effect in all zones.
Any survivor of the Haxlard Crusade (a player not killed or converted) will receive Major Player status, an immediate 1000 level boost, access to unique abilities, and fifty million platinum marks.
Kills, time survived, and general contribution to defense against the Haxlards will reward Survival Contribution Points. Local, global, and universal leader boards will display player’s rankings. A separate leader board will be added for those that choose to convert. (Note: Conversion to a follower of the Three is permanent, and will not be reverted at the end of the event.)
No players will resurrect in-game until the extinction event has concluded. Players at the bottom 10% of the event leader board will be deleted and removed from the Game unless redeemed by others with Survival Contribution Points. (Note: Players still under new player protection are not at risk for deletion, but must still participate in the event. No exemptions.)
At the conclusion of the extinction event Survival Contribution Points will be able to be redeemed for almost anything in the Game, rates to be determined by the Administrators. In-game areas may be restored to their original status before the Haxlard Crusade, based upon Administrator discretion.]
And so it begins, Lambda sent. A new window appeared in Alan’s vision, a miniature counter that increased at a rate of about one per second. There were his survival points.
Holy shit, so extinction events are basically like a zombie outbreak or worldwide nuclear fallout, an event that is every survivalist’s wet dream. Survive as long as possible, fight against whatever you’re up against, Alan sent.
In a nutshell, Lambda replied.
What if we just sped away in a spaceship at the edge of known space and went outwards? Couldn’t we survive that way? Alan asked.
The Game would likely spawn or transport Haxlard threats at a destination ahead. This is a test, though past extinction events have taken decades to conclude, Lambda sent. This one probably won’t take nearly as long. We should probably figure out what’s happening.
“Damn it all, why begin now,” Aurora said. She sent out a message to the guild to prepare their defenses, to notify her if anything entered Black Rose territory. “We will not weather this onslaught if we do not have full faith in each other. I need to know that I can trust you, Alan.”
“I will do my best to defend this base, as it’s currently our best bet for survival. I’m still a member of this guild, and don’t plan on becoming enslaved to the Three any time soon,” Alan said.
Sidestep blinked over to a console connected to a holographic projector and accessed the Globalnet. Several video feeds of current events popped up, covering the walls. Aurora and Alan watched the screens. All across the universe Haxlardian forces were at war, invading or defending against proactive players. Alan focused on a few live streams that covered Khersath.
It seemed like things were going well.The Haxlard Embassy was immediately bombed out of existence, a smoking crater left where the building once stood. The only problem was there had been collateral damage, an adjacent block sending out forces to avenge their fallen. Laser fire and smoke soon covered the screen.
Alan confirmed with Lambda that death would be a death during an extinction event. Even if you were taken out by friendly forces, it would solidify your rank in the leader boards and force you to wait out the remainder of time in Cyberspace, hoping that your friends or allies made enough points to bail you out. Alan checked the guild charter, the Black Rose guild promised to buy members back first and foremost.
Another feed showed the Haxlard fleets that had gathered near Khersath. They were being chased away by an assortment of various faction militaries, individual players, and Khersath’s own military fleet funded by player-taxes.
Then what appeared to be a wormhole opened up in the sky, and the Weaver emerged.