Why would Seeker come all this way for me? I had nothing to do with it after the Academy, Alan sent.
Remember that there’s a 100-platinum mark and reputation bonus with the Administrators if I’m captured and returned, Lambda sent. It sounds like the Lord of the Abyss is pissed and put a reward on your head too. We’ve made it much harder to break out of the Abyss Labyrinth by restoring the power. You failed a quest. That means consequences.
Alan prepared to order the recruit to ask another question, but there was a blur of motion.
Seeker had stepped forward and crushed the recruit’s head. Before the rest of the squad could react they were wiped out, each blow from the Predecessor punching through power armor like it was paper.
Alan had barely processed what had happened when Seeker began to sprint away from the camera. It was headed for the Black Rose base. Alan did a quick calculation and found that Seeker would be there in minutes.
That wasn’t very diplomatic, Lambda sent. I was hoping to have a grand unveiling, a nice delicate reveal with tasteful lighting, but…
Out with it, Alan said.
Greetings Alan, a voice in Alan’s head said. It sounded almost like Eve. Alan froze.
Right, so the new AI, they’re able to copy the essential functions of another AI that I’ve gathered sufficient data on, Lambda sent. It takes time for them to compile a new personality or set of abilities, and right now the only AI I had enough dirt on was Eve. I’ve decided to call them Doppel.
Alan had a thousand questions pop up in his head, but he didn’t have time. Instead Alan tested out this new AI. What had once been a blank slate had been replaced by architecture and a presence that was disturbingly similar to Eve. But they seemed shallow. Doppel had no insight, no desire. They were a tool, and nothing more.
Something’s off, Alan sent.
You can’t expect an incomplete copy to be as good as the original, Lambda sent. If I was able to get a full scan of Eve I’m confident that Doppel could work at 90% efficiency.
They’re operating at barely 30% the speed of Eve, Alan sent.
I apologize, I will strive to optimize calculations in the future, Doppel sent.
Anyways, the kinks will be worked out later, remember Seeker is now charging at us in addition to the Haxlard dropships, Lambda sent. The reason I bring Doppel up now is for the real test. Try activating hypercognition.
Alan reached out at this new presence, this Doppel. They felt familiar enough that it wasn’t too difficult to activate hypercognition, his thoughts immersing themselves in the AI’s calculations. Only, once it was activated his perception of time didn’t seem to have slowed down much. Alan waved his hand. He perceived everything four times faster than normal; a far cry from what Eve had been capable of.
Lambda let out a sigh of relief. Good, your head didn’t explode.
Wait, was that a possibility? Alan asked.
Cascading errors in the Machine Lord implant not properly detected by the Game had a 0.03% chance of—
That’s okay Doppel, no need to go into the details, Lambda sent. We can worry about this later, but you’ll need all the tools available to deal with what’s coming next. With the upgraded Machine Lord implant the Computational Energy costs of most abilities have been greatly reduced. Doppel’s weakened hypercognition can be activated for up to an hour before you start noticing strain, costing 25 energy per minute.
Right, Alan now had a Predecessor to contend with. He closed his eyes and tried to figure out his options, gathering all available data. Details on Seeker, its battles from the Academy were uploaded to Alan’s Machine Lord implant through the Black Rose network. Information from the scouts on the surface watching the Haxlard dropships began to come in too.
Numbers raced through Alan’s head as he calculated probabilities with Doppel’s help. It was different than working with Eve. This time Alan was in charge. He was the one running the simulations, figuring out the path.
Everything started from a single point, the here and now. From there the line of time branched, and expanded, each choice and outcome expanding into an infinite expansion of possibility. A single golden line mattered most of all. Reality.
The sum of all the options taken made no difference if Alan could not guide this line forwards to the point that he wanted. But how? There were too many unseen possibilities, rolls of the dice that could end poorly.
Branches split into unending pathways. Alan refined his search, pruning paths that made no sense.
The obvious answer was to have the Haxlards and Seeker fight each other, but within the short time frame there was no clear way to accomplish this. Alan could surrender to the Haxlards, and have Seeker go through them to get to him, but Alan died most of the time in this scenario.
Alan could try to have a squad acquire and don Haxlard power armor to fight Seeker and bait it into a fight with the Haxlard forces, but if Seeker’s main objective was finding Alan it could react in any number of ways. Too many coin flips had to go his way, and Alan no longer relied solely on luck.
The simulations predicted that the Black Rose base would be destroyed if the Haxlards and Seeker teamed up and coordinated their efforts. There would be minimal losses if the two forces did duke it out, but there was no clear line between this desired point and the beginning.
Alan ran a few simulations of retreat, and the results were disastrous. Seeker and the Haxlards had major advantages in maneuverability. They were currently in a heavily fortified location; to abandon it would be suicide.
The next option was to try to confront both Seeker and the Haxlards. The Black Rose guild would likely emerge victorious in this scenario, but barely. Though, this was under the assumption that they had to face the Haxlards and Seeker at the same time. If instead the two forces were divided, confronted by the full might of the Black Rose guild separately…
A faint outline appeared in Alan’s head, moves falling into place.
Alan withdrew his divided consciousness from Cyberspace, instead focusing it on reconfiguring the base’s design while there was still power. He ordered every Black Rose member to begin reconfiguring traps, and for all the Knights to gather near. Lambda outlined plans to key officers, including detailed information on the enemies they were expected to face.
Sidestep opened a private channel with Alan.
“Why are you abandoning the surface? The Haxlards can’t be allowed to setup a fortified beachhead,” Sidestep said.
“They can and will. The Haxlards have air and space supremacy. Seeker has come to destroy us, we need to deal with it first,” Alan said.
“Seeker? What did we do?” Sidestep asked.
“You put me in charge of the base. I’m handling it. You worry about Aurora,” Alan said.
“Fine,” Sidestep said, ending the connection.
A few officers questioned Alan’s orders, but followed through with the instructions they were given once Lambda spoke with them. What Lambda said Alan didn’t care; he was busy monitoring Seeker’s progress.
Alan gathered his equipment, double checking everything was in working order. His power armor was fully functioning, advanced stealth mode and hardened shields available. The light railgun was attached: light, heavy, and soulsteel projectiles locked and loaded. Alan’s eyes glowed, the mechanical orbs shifting from spectrum to spectrum with quiet intensity.
It was game time. And Alan was ready to win.
Seeker emerged out of the tunnel and was stopped by a metal hatch. A screen to the side flickered to life. A silhouette of Alan appeared.
“The Black Rose guild has done nothing to warrant this aggression,” Alan said.
“Surrender yourself and there will be no cause for worry,” Seeker said.
“Do you think you can face us alone?” Alan asked
“I don’t need to defeat the entire guild,” Seeker said. “I only need to pluck you out of whatever hole you’re hiding in.”
“This obsession feels personal,” Alan said. “Is it because of the bet you lost to Tyrant? Can’t handle losing to a human, can you?”
“At least the fate of my race doesn’t depend on how well I perform in the Game,” Seeker said. “Your homeworld is already the Empire’s in all but name.”
Don’t let Seeker get to you, we’re supposed to be the ones setting the bait, Lambda sent.
“What do you mean?” Alan asked.
“The answers are right beside you, but an unwitting pawn will remain a pawn no matter how powerful it grows,” Seeker said. “Face me. If you survive a full minute I’ll answer your questions before I claim your corpse.”
“Sorry, but I’m not an ape reliant upon strength and genes that I did nothing to earn,” Alan said. He cut off the connection.
Seeker tore the hatch off its hinges, tossing hundreds of pounds of metal aside. The escape route to the Abyss Labyrinth had become a backdoor entrance.
The underground cavern that held the Black Rose base had undergone major redevelopment. Where the cube-like structure had once stood there was now an inverted pyramid.
Two metal columns hung mid-air, a quiet electrical hum emerging from the power generators that lay inside. The vast majority of metal plating now lined the top of the base. Quiet thumping sounded from the surface.
A barrage of laser fire met Seeker as it stepped out. The Predecessor shrugged off the blows, barely losing 0.1% of its health.
Slower missiles and plasma blasts radiated out from murder-holes in the upside-down pyramid. Seeker took a few steps into the open cavern to dodge the explosions.
Smoke and fire surrounded Seeker. There was no cover, only barren rock that had been dug out by the Black Rose guild when they had first constructed their base.
Seeker turned to head back into the tunnel when a railgun was fired from halfway up the pyramid. With a half-step Seeker avoided the heavy projectile, taking 0.4% of his health as damage from the ensuing explosion.
The Predecessor smiled, and then leapt up, hurtling towards Alan. A sonic boom echoed in its wake.
Watching the battle, Alan’s divided consciousness detonated the bottom four floors of the Black Rose base the moment Seeker left the ground. The bottom half of the upside-down pyramid was forcefully detached. No matter how fast the Predecessor was on the ground, it couldn’t maneuver mid-air.
Alan failed to brace himself or mitigate the railgun’s recoil, hurtling upwards and backwards diagonally as he reloaded mid-air. Walls he was pushed back into shattered like glass. Two Knights in bulky behemoth power armor blocked Seeker’s path.
A punch tore through one of the Knight’s armor, revealing layers of explosive charges inside. Both Knights detonated in a spectacle of sound and light. Seeker lost only a small portion of its health, but the surrounding portions of the pyramid’s walls disintegrated. The explosions stopped Seeker’s upward momentum.
A soulsteel needle hurtled through the air. Seeker turned, the needle slicing across its forehead. Dark blue blood began to congeal on its brow.
New Knights emerged from behind walls to the sides, but they moved in slow motion compared to the Predecessor.
Seeker tried to find a surface to land on, but the walls had shattered and the floor gave way. Seeker couldn’t generate the force needed to move itself. It found itself in freefall: an open target.
The Knights fired, pushing Seeker back towards one of the hanging generators. The electrical hum in the air grew louder until it erupted in a massive explosion that dwarfed everything that had taken place before.
In the midst of the light and force that blinded all others, Alan lined up a shot. He fired his railgun, and the soulsteel needle penetrated Seeker’s brain.
Messages appeared before Alan:
[x285 Level up!]
[+100 ability points for gaining over 100 levels with one action.]
Alan checked his ranking in the Haxlard Crusade event, but found that it hadn’t risen.
Looks like Seeker was working independently, Lambda sent. Good news, there shouldn’t be more vengeful Predecessors coming our way. Bad news, this didn’t count as a kill against the Haxlards.
A Knight with a jetpack caught Alan before he landed on the floor of the cavern.
Almost a third of the Black Rose guild base crashed to the ground, debris scattered across the cavern. A majority of the Black Rose members caught on the lower floors survived the fall, but a few squads were crushed to death. Above, the Black Rose control room now lay exposed.
“Was all this necessary? Why didn’t we evacuate the lower levels?” the Knight asked Alan.
“Seeker would have detected the trap a mile away if I had done that. This was one of many ways this attack could have played out. There was only a chance it would take the bait and leap up,” Alan said. “We were lucky.”
In more ways than one, Lambda sent. If Seeker had told anyone about me…
They don’t need to know that, Alan sent. Besides, this could have turned out better too. We lost two Knights. Let’s see if it was worth the trouble.
Alan walked over to the fallen Predecessor and looted the body. He received an organic Predecessor sample, an amorphous glob of dark flesh that was a key component to many S-rank implants. The problem was, Alan didn’t know someone with the capabilities to create such biological implants or what the other ingredients for such an implant might be. At least the item had a market value of hundreds of millions of credits.
Thumping continued to sound above. Alan stretched his arms. One threat down, many more to go.