Aurora activated a communication device, connecting to Thrag who was maintaining his position overhead. “Are you watching this?”
“The moon-sized beauty that’s about to tear through those fleets like a destroyer rips apart a shuttle? You bet I am. Shall I prepare the ship for a mass evacuation?” Thrag asked.
“No,” Aurora said.
The Weaver fired off massive ion cannons at the approaching fleets. Each shot reminded Alan of the death star’s laser, except instead of causing a planet to explode the pale white beams disabled a third of the massive capital ships.
A swarm of destroyer class drones the size of skyscrapers emerged from the Weaver, which looked like a blurry moon on the feed. It was distorting the camera recording the battle so that its surface remained shrouded in grey static. The drones were backed up by the Haxlardian fleet, and together they charged forwards.
The remains of the fleet that had been valiantly ready to defend Khersath only moments earlier scattered in every direction possible, turning weapons on friends and foes alike. It was a giant clusterfuck, trillions of credits disappearing before Alan’s eyes.
Why are they firing on the ships without power? Alan sent.
Ships are settling old grudges, trying to make sure they aren’t the last ones out, or are making sure the scraps the Weaver recovers don’t allow for more powerful drones to be made, Lambda sent.
“Aurora, I know you don’t want to leave your mother behind, but there’s no way we’re surviving whatever the hell that is,” Thrag said. “Khersath is a single planet. Retreat is the best option possible.”
“No area, no faction will be safe. If anything, it may prove most prudent to retreat into the Abyss Labyrinth rather than open space,” Aurora replied. She pointed to two other screens, showing the Empire and Alliance each dealing with one of the Three as well, bolstered by Haxlardian forces.
The Shepherd, in charge of the developing deadly viruses and a massive army of biological, mutant hounds, had been reported to have attacked the Alliance. Waves of planets were reporting millions of sick and infected, wildlife gone insane.
The Smith, a legendary craftsmen backed up by legions of Ultihaxlards named the Black Guard was making short work of the Empire’s defenses. It only took a handful of the Black Guard, wearing the strongest power armor in existence, wielding weapons that were said to have begun to rival soulsteel, to take over any major fortification.
All the meanwhile the Weaver moved closer, its drone fleet absorbing carcasses of ships as new drones appeared, chasing down retreating ships. Streams of ships were abandoning Khersath, heading in the direction opposite of the Weaver’s approach.
The stream ended, the source either destroyed or deciding the broadcast not worth the risk.
“Girl, I’m not going to let Thrasha become the Weaver’s afternoon snack,” Thrag said. “You were left in charge of the base, but I have command of the fleet, and I’m getting out of here with or without you.”
Aurora paused, and then said, “Leave, you won’t be of much help anyways. Try to stay in a nearby system if possible. We might need you to bail us out.”
Thrag grunted. “The Haxlards will be sure to set up a blockade once they gain control of the airspace, but I’ll see what I can do. Good luck and good hunting.”
Tell him to leave Khersath perpendicular to the Weaver’s approach, not opposite like the rest of the fools, Lambda sent.
Alan relayed Lambda’s advice.
“Why?” Thrag asked.
Alan thought for a moment, and then realized the answer for himself. “We see the Weaver, its drones, and the Haxlardian fleet. But where are the Weaver’s autonomous ships? Its capital class fleet?”
“You’re right; they’re likely laying in ambush in space. This will be trickier than I thought, but if I wasn’t good at getting away they wouldn’t call me-”
“Leave,” Aurora said. She shut off the connection.
Alan maintained awareness of the Black Rose base’s sensors, and detected Thrag’s ship, Thrasha, departing Khersath. That eliminated one route of escape.
“At the current rate of progress, when do you suppose the Weaver will reach us, Alan?” Sidestep asked.
Eve? Alan began to ask. But no, Eve was gone. In her place was the hollow, empty shell of an AI that was a calculator. Alan struggled through the calculations himself, making haphazard guesses and assumptions. Between three hours and two days? Does that sound right Lambda?
Sure, somewhere around there, Lambda replied. He was focused on the feeds displaying battles across the Game. Many were being cut off, one by one.
“Maybe a few hours, maybe a few days,” Alan said.
“That’s the best you can do? I could have told you that,” Sidestep said.
“Like I said earlier, I lost an AI, and that has significantly damaged my abilities in certain respects,” Alan said.
“Are you no longer able to maintain the cyber-security and surveillance systems?” Aurora asked.
“No, as I’ve stated in an earlier report I am able to maintain a constant strand of consciousness in Cyberspace, ensuring that the base’s systems are safe on that front, while also monitoring the cameras set up by Phantom,” Alan said. “I do need to save energy and sleep though, so it’ll be up to the automated systems at points. If there’s nothing else, I’ll return to the command center.”
“You are dismissed. Sidestep accompany Alan to ensure his safety,” Aurora said.
“As you wish,” Sidestep said.
Sidestep followed Alan, and they made their way to the Black Rose base’s command post, the Council’s meeting room. Lambda dubbed it the throne room. As a security measure the elevators had been temporarily disabled, which meant navigating underground passages filled with traps that had to be avoided or reset as they passed by. Sidestep could avoid most with a simple step. Alan didn’t have that luxury.
They passed by a few patrols of guild members on the way there. The Black Rose guild’s methods of ensuring the entire base was safe and secure were odd. Semi-random patrols of scouts were sent out, players often setting their own schedule, but alerted by an automated system if a particular area had gone a while without scanning.
The key areas of the base had rotating guards. Many locations also had guards resting inside. A pair of Phantom’s Specialists stood guard in the long dark hallway just outside the command center, never needing to rest.
Alan still couldn’t figure out how many androids Phantom possessed, or how the hell he was bypassing the in-game restrictions on how many robots you could control. Theoretically Machine Commander would have allowed Alan to control up to an S-class drone, perhaps 10 A-class androids, but Enigma alone should have required at least half of Phantom’s allowance. Perhaps a few of the androids were players, but each time Alan scanned them with his bionic eye they checked out as robots.
Meetings weren’t held in the command center because it controlled the base’s defenses, thus only essential personnel that had gained a great deal of trust were allowed in. That was limited to current sitting members of the Council and their chosen protégés. Given that most of the Council was in the Abyss Labyrinth and Thrag had just left, that only left Aurora, Sidestep, and Alan.
Once inside Alan activated divided mind, splitting off half of his mind to ensure the base’s Cyberspace was kept secure. In Cyberspace the Black Rose Guild was like a miniature version of itself, a 3x3x3 cube of square buildings, with the control point at the center. Most rooms controlled a key part of the facility, from defenses to power to even plumbing.
Each corner of the cube was a defense point that contributed to a large, powerful shield with two million energy. The corners of the cube also contained squadrons of five B-rank units. Alan took a glance at their stats:
[Elite Power Armor Marine, Rank B Program.
Heavy armor infantry combat program.
Cost: 1000 Energy.
Upkeep: 200 Energy.
Attack: 400 damage/sec. (Ranged.)
Defense: 50 armor.
Health: 500 hp.
Shields: 1000 energy. (10 energy/sec regen.)
With data Phantom had left it would take another week for Alan to finish researching these units himself. The units that defended the base were maintained by the base’s own data core, kept safe in the command center beneath the floor.
Now all Alan had to do was figure out how to survive against a massive self-replicating machine army supported by another army that outclassed, outgunned, and out-leveled them in every possible way.
Sidestep rested his feet on the table that the Council met at, looking over the map of the Black Rose base Aurora had brought up on the console. Alan observed as well, not having sufficient permissions to ever see a full map of the base until now.
It turned out the base was a 10x10x10 cube underground, with many of the rooms capable of movement, reconfiguration like a rubik’s cube. Entire rows, columns, and faces of the cube could turn, in addition to individual rooms being able to be shunted about. Due to the control over gravity, the rooms could even move without the inhabitant’s realization.
Only a quarter of the rooms seemed to serve any actual use, while another quarter of the spaces in the cube were empty, allowing for easier transformations of the base and movement of elevators. There were nine static locations in the base: eight power generators located in corners of a 5x5x5 cube within the larger cube, and then a 2x2x2 cube at the center of the larger with a question mark in it. The control room was located beneath this central cube.
“So, what’s in the inner vault?” Sidestep asked, pointing at the question mark in the center.
“I don’t know, my mother did not grant me permissions to enter the space or know what it contained,” Aurora answered.
“Since we’re now in charge or whatever, we should know,” Sidestep said. “Why not check it out?”
“There are contingencies in place, defense I don’t have access past. Ignore that room,” Aurora said.
“But it’s at the center of the base, so obviously it’s important,” Sidestep said.
“Get your feet off the table,” Aurora said. “Remember what I said about respect.”
Sidestep shrugged, taking his feet of the table. He turned to Alan, “So, figured out anything helpful?”
Alan said, “The good news is the Haxlards are trying to convert where possible, rather than outright kill. They’re taking the time to comb through all the ships they’ve disabled, so we have time before they have complete control of the airspace around Khersath. The bad news is the Weaver has started sending scouting drones. We’re still screwed, outclassed in every measurable way even if we miraculously combined forces with the rest of the planet.”
“That’s your plan? Wait to get fucked? C’mon man, I expect more from you,” Sidestep said.
“My instructions were to hold out as long as possible,” Aurora said.
I might be able to help with that, Lambda sent, outlining a plan of defense to Alan.
“Okay, my AI just provided a plan that I’m uploading now,” Alan said.
“Only use autonomous defenses? Give up the entirety of our surface levels? This seems more like surrender than a plan,” Sidestep said.
“No, I can see how this might work,” Aurora said. “We create the illusion that we evacuated. The Weaver is sending out scouting drones to try and find the pockets of strongest resistance. The main city blocks full of players are better targets than an empty guild base full of traps.”
“Am I the only one that wants to maybe, I don’t know, try to beat this Extinction Event?” Sidestep asked.
“We have zero chance to defeat the Weaver, but good odds to earn a decent number of survival points,” Alan said. “We have 1000 guild members here, average level 1500. We’re going to run out of personnel far before we run out of ammo or food. Plus, each surviving player is another survival point for the guild every second. We do need to ensure the safety of the power generators, but if we can guarantee two are under our control at all times we should be good to go.
“The possibility for the reconfiguration of the base is meant just for such a scenario. We can hopefully kill off any initial scouts with the automatic defenses of the base, but then when the Haxlards breach the defenses we can ensure that they never locate any areas with players.”
“We hide,” Sidestep said.
“Yes, we hide and survive until another day,” Alan said.
“One problem with that plan,” Sidestep said.
“What’s that?” Alan asked.
Sidestep pointed at a screen.
The Haxlard fleet just broke off from the Weaver, leaving the fleeing ships, Lambda sent. All major guilds in the Private Quadrant are being targeted. A capital-class ship is headed straight for us.