The Empire 6.4

A single capital-ship was an army in and of itself. Each capital-class ship required a crew of at least ten thousand, and had a length of over a thousand meters, four Titanic’s put end to end. Each had the firepower to wipe out any city, not counting the escort of hundreds of smaller ships or self-contained armies stowed onboard. The entirety of Earth’s Space Force contained a single capital-ship. Ten were headed towards the Private Quadrant.

But only one of them is targeting the Black Rose guild, Lambda sent. They’ve done their homework.

A screen flickered into place beside Aurora. It came from the communications station, an adjacent room that handled the incoming and outgoing messages.

“A few other guild leaders are demanding to speak with Elissandra to form a united front against the incoming fleet and develop a plan of defense,” the officer said.

“Tell them that the Black Rose guild will see to our own defense,” Aurora said. “What are we facing?”

“A single capital-class ship, the Helios, as well as an assortment of smaller battleships: the Bastion, the Titan, the Rhea, and the Pile of Junk are currently set on a direct course for our location,” the officer said.

“Excuse me, what was that last one?” Sidestep asked.

“Quiet, we need a plan of defense,” Aurora said.

Each guild is being attacked by a set of ships prepared to counter them, Lambda sent. They know the Black Rose Guild has no real fleet. They can just sit up in space and fire off their lasers, saving the smaller fighters to help defend other capital-class ships.

Alan looked over Lambda’s analysis and then said, “We need to evacuate the upper floors and shift the important locations two levels down. The Helios’s lasers will make short work of our surface defenses. The Haxlards will send in ground forces to make their way past the first underground level of the base unless they want to wait a few months burning through.”

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The Empire 6.3

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.

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The Empire 6.2

“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.

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The Empire 6.1

Alan tapped his foot as a multi-tentacled alien setup his new capsule. The rank A capsule was near twice the size of the old one but had the same smooth, metallic grey sheen. It also had a larger black box attachment. A small Enforcer drone watched the installation process.

The alien worker might be sentient, but it could just as easily be a synthesized biological being. For safety concerns, robots couldn’t do certain types of delicate capsule work. Alan supposed preventing robots from doing certain types of technical engineering might help delay an uprising, but it wouldn’t stop one.

The alien maneuvered tools and wires into the capsule, not bothering to look inside. Despite all of Eve’s and Lambda’s teachings, Alan couldn’t recall any information on this particular species.

That might be because he was now in real life, without his machine lord implant, but Alan should remember any important engineering races. Though, most of the beings that Eve and Lambda taught him about were humanoid. Ælves, Haxlards, Predecessors, Erudites, Hunaan, they all were bipedal beings with large brains. The universe should have more diverse types of sentient life, though Alan supposed capsule technology might lend itself best to certain evolutionary tracks. But what, then, happened to all the other species of aliens?

Alan waved his hand through the air. There was still an odd sensation of lag, of momentary delay between when he wanted his hand to move, and when it actually did, but it had lessened since the last time he’d been in real life. Whether it was due to hitting the level 1000 mark or the points put into boosting his attributes, Alan felt that he was noticeably stronger than when he was a vanilla human but still weaker than his in-game self. The rank A capsule would allow greater strides forward in reality too.

Already, Alan’s ability to multitask had improved substantially. It wasn’t quite thinking two separate thoughts, but he could follow the alien while thinking about other things as well.

Once the alien finished the installation it left, the Enforcer drone following behind. Not a single word was exchanged in the entire process, though Alan received a message on his tablet that the installation was finished. There was no mention of a rating or sending feedback. Customer service didn’t matter when there was only one service.

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The Abyss 5.14

“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.

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