“So, you’ve made it this far,” Chief Administrator 170 said. He waved a robotic hand. A dozen message windows vanished, though one screen in the corner stayed open.
Chief Administrator 170 was short. He stood, not on legs, but on a series of mechanical appendages that withdrew from the table. The Chief Administrator’s face was half robotic visage, half Neanderthal, his organic eyes slightly too far apart. The outline of a closed, bionic eye could barely be seen on his forehead.
“Your people have a saying,” the Administrator said. “Too many sayings, really, with nothing new or noteworthy. They say that control is an illusion. But that is a falsehood uttered by fools without sufficient technology. A dumb, shortsighted remark that reveals your race’s failure to see the real enemy. To say that control is an illusion is to admit defeat. It matters more who or what is in control, and it is not you or me.
“I am obliged to provide the requirements for reaching Ascendance. You will not succeed in this instance, thus I advise you not to try.”
A new quest appeared:
Reach level 100,000 and take control of Khersath. Complete the Trial.
Reward: Influence. Information. Immortality.
Time Limit: Until permanent death.
Threat Level: Alpha
Note: Allies may assist with this quest, but rewards will be significantly diminished. Subordinates may assist with this quest, but rewards will be slightly diminished.]
Alan opened his mouth to ask what Ascendance was, but the Chief Administrator barreled on.
“Khersath is a city of over two trillion. You would need just as many or more devoted followers to even begin to consider Ascendance. And even then you would fail. It is only through luck and good will that you have made it thus far. If you attempt this path your failure is guaranteed, and I do not state absolutes lightly.”
Alan’s vision readjusted to account for the disabled implant. He stood within the cube atop the pyramid-like Administrative Center, up in the stratosphere. The view was breath taking, with the four quadrants of Khersath visible. The massive energy shield covering the military quarter was now a bright purple, the entrance gate firmly shut tight. Many smaller blue bubbles covered the various guild headquarters and independent residences in the private quadrant. The skyscrapers of the merchant and living quarters dwarfed anything on Earth, black metal shutters now covering the face of each. Every single building was a mega-apartment capable of housing tens of thousands, a trading hub capable of providing anything you could ever need. Alan could spend his entire lifetime in a single city block; many players did.
“There are smarter paths to Ascendance. Safer. Surer,” Chief Administrator 170 said. “You could join the Administrator’s Guild, and help bring balance, but it would take a million years of hard service, give or take a few zeroes. You could find a sponsor, but I doubt you would like the depths they would go to, delving into your mind. And even then they could find you wanting. No, you will play the Game, and perhaps there is a chance you will become a Major Player. But not in this instance. Not as you are now.”
“You did not heed my advice, Alan. I told you not to accept data from strangers, but you, or perhaps one of your AI, are now corrupted beyond the minimum threshold. Perhaps one day you’ll tell me how you managed to end up with two AI. Malicious code, as your people would put it, was detected in the security scans, resulting in your current implant-less state. And I cannot trust you with any quests while this problem persists. You are free to provide me with information, but as a potentially jeopardized source, your value has diminished. The Game changes you, but change is not always good. See to it that you do not become a virus only fit for deletion.”
Alan took a step back. A dozen questions raced through his mind. Corrupted. What did that mean in this scenario?
The Chief Administrator sat back down. The window still open expanded to cover his face. A button was pressed.
A few seconds later a message appeared, dark red instead of the light blue that every other message in the Game was:
[Warning! A major event approaches. Players on the planet Khersath are warned that within the next week the planet Khersath will lose its status as a safe zone. Non-combatants are advised by the Administrator’s Guild to evacuate.]
“Huh, the vote passed,” Chief Administrator 170 said. A dozen new messages opened and closed with rapid succession. He seemed to remember Alan was in the room. “There are other plans in motion. No matter, I can delay another cycle. This will benefit you greatly, go and solve your corruption problem.”
Alan waited for a quest prompt, but none appeared.