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B2-29 - Ibadan 2020-09-28T20:41:40+00:00


Maya rapped her knuckles upon the marsani block and grinned. “Solid work, Scotty,” she said.

“Thank you, Maya. I had trouble with the tolerances, as the cutter is not a fine machining instrument.”

“I gotcha, bud. Until we can find or make a machining… machine, you’re our best bet to create these things. Keep up the good work,” Maya heard a thump making its way toward her and looked to see a drone walking across the open space of the manufacturing room.

Roci sat upon a pile of mana batteries and had her tentacles raised above her head, as if she were conducting an orchestra. Instead she was piloting the new drone that she and Scotty had managed to cobble together on their ‘free’ time. It was a six foot tall, four legged creature that had been made from a processor unit and some scavenged computer bits from the old engineering AI core and various places. Maya was impressed, it was their first system tech drone creation.

It was also ungainly and had various power supply issues. As power was their main bottleneck, Maya had to put her foot down on its usage. Charging the mana batteries, setting up the defenses, and heading to Earth were their main objectives and she had been drilling it into everyone’s head for the last three days.

Maya stood beside Roci and watched as she moved the drone around the manufacturing area. Labor had become an issue once more, too many things to do and too little people to do it. Yosi had claimed the Nerigana also used some servant drones to do the heavy lifting for them, but the Consortium were assholes and they preferred to use living beings as their labor force. Roci had taken up the challenge of creating a drone to help with moving supplies around.

“Looking good, Roci,” Maya said.

“It could be better,” Roci mumbled in reply. She dropped her tentacles and the drone shuddered to a stop, half slumping against a bulkhead. “There are guidance issues, mobility issues, and the processor is overheating for some reason.” Roci gave a human-like sigh and looked at Maya. “I gained a level though.”

Maya grinned. She had been surprised to find out that Roci was leveling. It was a strange and somewhat terrifying thing. From what Maya knew, only AIs that had gained full sentience and sapience while being Tier 2 would begin gaining levels, but at that point they wouldn’t be artificial intelligences, but System Identified Lifeforms.

That the System had somehow changed Roci and made her sentient and sapient while having no levels was an incredible thing. Maya didn’t know what it meant or what the purpose was, but on occasion she felt the massive weight of responsibility and minor terror at trying to raise Roci right.

Perhaps it was something her parents had dealt with when they had children, Maya mused. She hadn’t been the golden child growing up. Most of her elementary reports labeled her as disruptive, argumentative, and aggressive with other children and adults. She remembered even making one parent cry because their child was a real dick.

Maya leaned forward and tousled Roci’s smooth head. The young AI… no, SIL, looked up at her in confusion. Her parents had decades to get to know her, they had spent years raising her, but Maya realized it had been barely three weeks since Roci had been formed.

In three weeks she had become a barely speaking one foot tall AI to a fully conversing, near adult that was three feet tall. Maya still didn’t understand how she had changed her body, only that Roci claimed she grew bigger. She chalked it up to system fuckery and filed it away for later pondering.

“We haven’t spoken much the last few days,” Maya said to Roci.

“We’re speaking now,” Roci said with a sullen tone. “Stop rubbing my head.”

“Are you still angry about me yelling at you?” Maya asked.

“No. I’m angry about you rubbing my head. It feels condescending.”

“It’s a sign of affection.”

“For me?” Roci snorted. “That would be a first.”

“Oh, we’re in that phase of your development,” Maya said, smiling again.

“What does that mean?” Roci demanded.

Maya stopped rubbing Roci’s head and then pulled her into a hug. She was surprised as she lifted Roci up. Maya didn’t know if it were her increased Physical strength or Roci wasn’t as heavy as most AIs were. Maya gripped her in a bearhug and twirled Roci around.

“Stop it!” Roci cried.

“No,” Maya said. “You grew up so fast, you’re smart and talented, you can do things that I still struggle with.” Maya kept a hold of Roci. “I kinda forgot you’re not an adult.”

“I am too!”

“Nah, Roci. Don’t be in a hurry to grow up,” Maya continued holding onto the struggling young woman. “You’ve been aware for only three weeks, it takes a lifetime to fully grasp what it means to be a person. I should have devoted more time to you.”

“Like it matters,” Roci said. “I am doing well enough.”

“The worse thing a parent can do to a child is ignore them,” Maya said. “There’s no excuse for what I’ve done. I’ve been ignoring you, not out of spite or maliciousness, but that doesn’t matter. I haven’t been giving you the attention you need.”

“Don’t bother,” Roci said. “I am fine.”

“Maybe, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to know that I love you.”

“What?” Roci sputtered.

“I love you. Know that. It’s not just words, it’s the truth. I love you.”

Roci stopped squirming in her arms. “I-I…”

“The System might have changed you, you might have grown up fast, and you might be crazy smart, but you’re my kid. I love you, Roci Sullivan.”

Roci hung limply in her arms, not moving or saying anything. Even with her metallic body, Maya could feel a sort of tension leave her. After a long moment, Maya felt Roci hug her in turn.

“After I install the railgun turrets, we’re heading to Earth. I want you to come with me.”

“But there’s so much other stuff to do,” Roci said after a moment.

“That doesn’t matter. I want you to come with me, to be with me when we deal with other people. Making guns and selling stuff isn’t our goal, that’s just the side project. Our real goal is helping people. I want you to be there with me when we provide them with the help they need.”

Roci looked at Maya and then slowly nodded.

“Okay.”


***


“You sure you’ll be able to leave Badblood by herself?” Maya asked Nan. The doctor had arrived before the Cage was formed, carrying her equipment and supplies.

“I underestimated the depth of Badblood’s injuries,” Nan stated. “It has been three days and she has not regained consciousness, I suspect that her body is undergoing a full restoration, which from my calculations will take another three standard days. There is not much I can do now, except provide her nutrients, which are easily automated.”

Maya nodded and turned to Bell. “You don’t want to see Earth?” she asked.

“As Tender and Veskari are not present, someone has to remain on watch,” he said. “There could be another rogue AI attack.”

“But, it’s Earth!”

“I have seen it from orbit,” Bell said.

“That’s not the same!”

“There will be plenty of opportunities to see Earth.”

“Fine. But we have four full mana batteries and we’re gonna take our sweet time, might even stay the full forty hours,” Maya said.

“So be it.”

“Let’s load up, kids. We got people to see and things to sell.”


***


Ibadan, Nigeria

Day 8


Ezra Adenekan crouched behind the shattered wall of a coffee shop as explosions roared around him. He took a breath and popped his head up for a second to scout the street.

A hideous roar filled the air as a creature called a Whalewalker stalked the street. Half a kilometer away several mortar teams were trying to triangulate their fire to hit the massive creature but they were hitting the buildings instead.

Ezra pulled out an old rotary phone with a crank, he cranked the phone and put the receiver to his ear. There was a crackle of static and he shouted what he had seen to those on the other side. There was a moment of silence as the mortars stopped firing and then resumed, their aim dead center upon the creature.

The whalewalker had arrived from Lagos the day before, although couriers had sent warnings to the city, there wasn’t much anyone could do to hold it back. What was left of the Nigerian military had managed to chase the creature out of Lagos, but that forced the monster to make its way to Ibadan instead.

Through desperation the Ibadan Emergency Militia had been formed with the University of Ibadan as its heart. They had spent days gathering as many weapons or creating makeshift weapons as they could.

Even those that had gained Powers from the Integration were called upon. Ezra had the Skill Sneak, awarded to him when he had to escape his apartment complex as it was overrun with mutated rat creatures on the second day of Integration.

Two days later he had been ‘drafted’ into the militia and he’d been made into a scout. Five days before that he had been a struggling law student at the University of Ibadan, with a healthy dose of pragmatic self preservation.

Ezra stared up at the whalewalker as it reeled from the mortar fire. Thick blue blood erupted from the explosions, one explosion tearing off a huge crablike leg that propelled the monster.

Hope filled his heart as he watched, but then he saw the thick veins along the creatures underside begin to glow with blue energy. He cranked the phone again and screamed into the receiver, but only silence greeted him. Ezra cursed as he looked down at the cord that trailed behind him. A kilometer of phone cord strung across the rubble of Ibadan was a delicate thing. Any kind of debris could and did slice through the thin wire.

But it was their only form of long distant communications. Radios and cell phones had died the first day, anything that ran off of electricity had become useless. Only when they managed to revert to the most basic of electronics did things work.

Ezra stared helplessly as the veins glowed brighter and brighter. He knew what would happen next, the whalewalker would eject a massive energy blast. It was the creature’s main weapon, when it wasn’t destroying everything with its crablike arms, it was blasting them into atoms. A disintegrator, as some had called it. What the blue light hit was utterly destroyed.

A pressure filled the air and Ezra scrambled away from the wall and threw himself across the serving counter and into a small back office. He gagged as he was greeted by a half eaten corpse.

The whalewalker let out a hideous scream that gave Ezra pause. He had been scouting the creature for the last day and he thought he knew all of the noises that it emitted. The screams of joy, hate, and rage were the common sounds, as it killed and chased prey. Even the mortars had caused it to emit the rare screams of pain.

Ezra cocked his head and listened to the new scream. It was a wet and gurgling scream, the sound of a wounded animal. Ezra eased himself out of the office and crouched behind the counter, peering out into the street. What he saw amazed him.

The whalewalker was cut in half, as if a giant guillotine had slammed down upon it. The back end of the creature lay on the ground, flopping sickeningly and the front half of the monster tried crawling forward. The massive mouth of the walker was gaped in a scream, but all that came out was its blue blood.

Ezra stared in wonder as a small tidal wave of blue blood and viscera poured out of the creature. He stood there and laughed, the creature was dying.

He pulled out the pistol he had been issued and snapped off the safety.

“Die you fucking monster!” he yelled and fired a few shots into the creature. He had seen it dismantle buildings filled with people, he had watched as it crushed them underfoot, snap them in half with its pincers, or throw them screaming into its massive maw.

The monster ignored his shots and it crawled another twenty meters before finally collapsing to the ground with a massive thud. It let out a shuddering breath and died.


Whalewalker - Level 60

Defeated

+ 12,000 EXP

+ 5,000 credits


Level up! (Level 5)

Level up! (Level 8)


Ezra grabbed a chair off the ground and sat down heavily, sobbing as the stress and terror finally caught up with him. He shakily set the safety back on his pistol and holstered it.

The mortar team had stopped firing, perhaps there was another scout with a working phone that told them the creature was dead. Ezra didn’t care at the moment, instead he buried his head into his hands and took a long breath. He wiped away his tears and got to his feet. He would need to report back. The creature was dead and the biggest threat to Ibadan was taken care of, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t any danger in the city.

Millions had died in the last week, entire sections of the city had burned or were overrun with creatures equally as terrifying as the whalewalker. It was only the massive creature’s presence that had kept the worse of the monsters away, but with it dead they would be returning. There was a grace period before they would return, though, and the militia had a chance to retake some areas or scavenge for more food and weapons.

Ezra eased himself out of the coffee shop, looking up and down the street. He paused as he saw something amongst the viscera of the monster. A glowing sign.

“Ma-ya-s Em-po-ri-um?” he said slowly and sighed. English wasn’t a language he was good at.


***


“If my chest were a railgun,” Maya misquoted as she looked at the bloody mess that remained of the creature before them. “This guy was a massive Moby Dick.”

“Whalewalker. An interesting creature,” Nan said.

“I didn’t even get any experience points for killing it,” Maya fumed. “Sure, it was technically the Cage forming within the creature that cut the whale in half, but still. Who controls the Cage? Me. That’s who. Where’s my experience and loot?” Maya sighed.

“There’s a human over there,” Yosi said, highlighting a figure who was staring at the Cage wall.

“Finally,” Maya said. “Third time is the charm, ladies.”

“Being underwater was pretty awesome,” Roci said, happily. “That giant snake creature was cool.”

They had arrived in the middle of the Pacific Ocean upon their first attempt. The Cage wasn’t compromised, but Maya could almost feel the pressure of the ocean upon her. It was far different than whenever she arrived on land or in space.

Their second attempt had landed them in the middle of a desert. There was literally nothing but hot crystalized sand for miles and miles, according to their sensors. Yosi claimed it was a Blighted Area, a place where essence mana had wiped away every living thing, even bacteria and microorganisms in the soil.

Now they had finally arrived in the middle of a city and as luck would have it, in the middle of a monster. A level 60 whalewalker, one hundred meters long and five hundred metric tons of pure sea food.

“This creature is calorie dense,” Nan said. “I believe we can transfer one kilo of this beast’s biomass into two kilos of ration bars.”

“Whoa,” Maya said. “We usually only get two kilos of biomass for one kilo of ration bar.”

“That human is advancing with a weapon drawn,” Yosi said.

Maya looked to see a young man walking toward them. He was a mess, covered in dirt and grime, a slight limp in one leg, and his clothing was torn. He didn’t look like a soldier. In his hands he carried a pistol, Maya recognized it as a Browning Hi-power, a pistol that Pops also owned.

“Well, he’s cautious and this is going to take a while,” Maya said. She activated a window and brought up some messages that had been blinking in the corner of her vision.


Anisa Karam, Chosen Representative, has raised the Settlement, Beirut, to Level 2. Do you approve this level change? Y/N.


Maya looked to Yosi and called her and Roci over.

“What’s this mean?”

“Well, it seems Anisa Karam has gathered the necessary monetary and resource requirements to upgrade the Settlement Deed,” Yosi said. “Normally, Chosen Representatives wouldn’t do that since it comes out of their pocket and you still own the deed.”

“So it’s a better settlement now?”

“Once you approve it, then yes.” Yosi said.

Maya selected the ‘yes’ option.


Congrats, Bierut has now achieved Level 2 in Defense Settlement. Settlement Area increased to 50 square kilometers.

+ 2 percent increase to combat XP gains

+ 10 percent Defense Bonus

+ Anisa Karam, commander, has gained Skill: Fortify

- 5 percent XP gains from Crafting

- 5 percent tax gains from Settlement


“Less crafting and less taxes?” Maya muttered. “I wasn’t even collecting taxes from them.”

“Normally one would only use Defense Settlements to create a small defensible spot in a ring of regular settlements,” Yosi said.


Notice: Upgrade 10 Settlements to Level 5 and you will have access to Settlement Logistic Network, allowing resources to be moved between your Settlements at standard rates.


“Oh?” Maya asked, surprised. “A mini trade network?” Maya asked.

“I believe so,’ Yosi said. “I don’t know much about this, but I believe it is only for raw resources, not finished goods, and it only works on the planet itself, not the entire solar system like a System Assisted Logistic Network.”

“Boo,” Maya muttered, “but still... Logistics is something that made our world run smoothly. What about something in orbit around the planet? Can I make a space station and would it be considered ‘on’ the planet?”

“I don’t know,” Yosi said. Maya sighed.

“That means you’re going to have to retain ownership of the Settlement Deeds,” Roci said.

“Oh, shit.”


***


It took the young man nearly an RSH hour to reach the door and after another few minutes of dithering he finally pushed it open. Maya got everyone into their places and created an inviting room for their first customer. The man stumbled in and nearly fell as a wave of dizziness overcame him.

“I gotta put up a sign,” Maya said. “The first step is always weird.” Maya stepped up before the young man and held out a hand. “Good day, fine sir! Welcome to Maya’s Emporium!”


***


“I guess it’s just bias and all that,” Maya said as she watched Nan and the young man talk. “I just assumed everyone knew some English.”

“How many languages are there on your world?” Yosi asked.

Maya shrugged. “I don’t know, maybe thousands?”

“That’s odd, but not unheard of,” she said. “There are twenty five different Nerigana dialects in the Consortium and about fifty Class Two languages.”

“Eventually everything homogenizes?” Maya asked.

“Basically. One culture tends to dominate and eventually over the thousands of standard years, they shape the culture to their own.”

“Ugh.”

“We are ready,” Nan said as she and the young man approached. Nan was actually moving this time, not just sitting in her chair as she had done on previous occasions. “I will have to translate for you, but I have updated the language module for Yoruba.”

“Hi there,” Maya said cheerfully.

“Your friend tells me that this place is a market?” Ezra asked.

“Yeah, basically. We sell goods and supplies,” Maya said. “Interested in buying anything?”

Ezra looked about nervously, his eyes falling first on Yosi and then Roci, who were sitting and watching him in turn. “What are you selling? Can they help us?”

“Come, see my wares, be wowed by my fine selection of weapons, tools, and armor.”


***


Maya ignored the bitter argument and watched as men, women, and children hacked and sawed at the corpse of the whalewalker. It had been only an MVT hour since she had arrived and an impromptu party had erupted outside of the the Cage wall. Hundreds of people were streaming in, carrying weapons or pushing carts, wheelbarrows, and even occasionally an old working vehicle. Computers took a big hit from the influx of mana, but it seemed anything mechanical still worked. Water still boiled and gasoline still burned.

Nan had said the meat was edible by humans and before she could pass on that information, it was already being set upon by the hungry people of Ibadan. Ezra told her that they had been eating the mana mutations around the city, with only a few being poisonous.

It had been a very long time since Maya had eaten anything resembling human food. She looked at the giant steaks that people were cutting off and felt a gurgle in her belly.

“This will not do!” a woman cried. “We cannot let this opportunity slip by!”

“Well, what are you going to do?” demanded an older man. He was dressed in a suit, that was actually cleaned and pressed. He, unlike many others, seemed well fed. “These are my credits and I’ll spend them any damn way I want.”

“You swindled those credits off people, selling trash to them for high prices,” another man announced.

Maya wasn’t interested in the politics of the city, she was interested in helping the people. But before she could even help anyone, the Ibadan Emergency Militia had stepped in and taken control of the area. They allowed people to harvest the whale, but refused to allow anyone into the Cage to purchase anything.

From what she was learning, the well dressed man Deji Oyekan, was the top dog of the place. He had been a wealthy business man with connections to the military and a plan just in case the world came to an end. That included a massive well stocked and armed bunker for him and his close friends. What he hadn’t counted on were the mana mutations that invaded that bunker and left him the sole survivor.

As he couldn’t survive alone, he reached out to other survivors and built a small following for himself using the resources of the bunker to hunt, kill, and set up shop in an area outside of the University of Ibadan. He was also the first to realize that the credits people were gaining killing mana mutations could be used for something down the line, so he had been collecting them from his ‘tenets’ and anyone who came by his small outpost to trade or ask for help.

When the whalewalker approached, Oyekan had been given the rank of Colonel in the Militia in exchange for the mortars that had been used along with some automatic weapons and explosives.

Usually, Maya would have found him fascinating. A man with a plan and resources, but it didn’t take long for her to completely despise him.

He was utterly selfish and only wanted things that would benefit him and his group. After they all saw the weapons that Maya could sell, they were bidding over one another and Oyekan was the only one who had the credits to burn.

Jolasun Ladipo and John Adenuga on the other hand were government types. Adenuga wanted control and complete access to the Cage, he looked at it as a resource and was trying to get Maya to remain here and lend them all the support she could. Ladipo did not like the fact that Maya was willing to sell deadly weapons to anyone, even as the world was falling apart.

Ultimately it was about control. Maya hadn’t set up a plan to deal with an existing governmental structure; it hadn’t been apart of her ‘sell stuff to everyone’ plan. Now, the three people before her argued and were wasting her time as she could feel the mana being drained from the mana batteries.

She had been here for nearly thirteen hours and had not sold a damn thing to anyone. Well, besides Ezra who had almost six thousand credits on him.

Speaking of the young man, Ezra sat at a table not far from them, talking with Nan. Maya had spent some of the time waiting and cobbled together a speaker that accessed Nan’s translation module and then spat it back out in the Yoruba language. That way Nan didn’t have to talk for her.

Maya mentally added translation modules to the list of items she needed to buy when she got to a system tech world.

“Is this the humanity you wanted me to see, Maya?” Roci asked.

“It ain’t all selfless acts of heroism,” Maya said.

“I can see that.”

“Don’t judge them too harshly, scared people are ultimately selfish in their desire to protect themselves and their own. But yeah, this has gone on too long.” Maya got to her feet. “Silence!” she demanded.

The three before her quieted up.

“You three represent the existing government of this place. A place that has a million people still living, the most that I’ve seen in any part of the world I’ve gone to, albeit that was only two places. Still, you have a million people to protect and help, so why the hell are you arguing over who gets what? If you have the credits, then buy what I have. If you don’t, send in people who are willing to buy stuff.”

“Buy, buy, buy,” Ladipo responded. “Just another greedy American trying to get money off of us. Exploiting our blood and sacrifice to bankroll your lifestyle.”

“Jesus, lady,” Maya snapped. “I’ve already given you all the food and medicine that I had on me, all I ask is for some god damn credits so that I can continue making more stuff to help others.”

“There are a million people here that need your help,” Adenuga stated.

“There are billions of others that also need my help,” Maya replied. “Food and medicine I will offer you freely, but weapons, tools, the small cache of knowledge cubes I have, those will cost credits.”

“This Settlement Deed, also,” Adenuga said. “Why are you the owner of it?”

“Because I bought it,” Maya said slowly. “I’ve been over this. The settlement deed is yours to use, but because of the System it needs to belong to me. It allows me to stay in contact with you and when you level up the settlement I’ll be able to create a Settlement Network to move around resources.”

“Then release it fully to us,” Ladipo said.

“Or give me one,” Oyekan said.

“If you’re not apart of my Settlement Network, then you won’t be able to receive resources from me,” Maya said slowly. “You will be considered Independent and no longer under the SSS umbrella.”

“I will not sell my country out,” Lidapo said bitterly. “You know our history, foreigners coming to our land and exploiting us. You are a foreign corporation that expects to own a piece of my country, without any restrictions because the System does not recognize our sovereignty.”

“I’m only looking to help ya’ll out,” Maya said.

“But we have no guarantees that you’ll do any such thing,” Ladipo replied. “You talk only about money and you offer us some free goods, but the things we really need you hide behind credits. We are dying and you’re trying to extract the last of our blood from us.”

“Alright, fuck it,” Maya said. “If you’re not going to buy anything, then let those who are in. Otherwise you’re wasting precious mana and I need other places to be. If you just want to keep arguing, then I’ll sell everything to the person who brings me the credits. I am willing to sell you half of the stuff I have split between you and Oyekan, but I do not have time to waste.

“Please, stop,” Adenuga said, sighing. “We need what you have.” Ladipo glared in anger. “We are dying out there and we need all the help we can get.”

“People are dying everywhere,” Maya said. “I’m trying to help where I can.”

“I understand,” Adenuga said. “We shall buy what you have, although we do not have the same amount of credits that Oyekan has, we were not foolish enough to think they would not be needed for something. We have half a million. “ Ladipo grumbled as he admitted that.

“I have three quarters of a million,” Oyekan bragged.

“Maya, a word please,” Nan said. Maya got up and headed over to Nan and Ezra. She created a thin opaque wall between her and the others.

“People have been fighting since Integration,” Ezra said. “They have credits also, not as much as I had, but some. If you sell to those three, they will only give it to those that they trust and they’ll use it to solidify their power base. Adenuga was known to be corrupt and he hasn’t changed in the last week. I hear he has been buying nightly ‘comfort’ with food we have collected. Lidapo is not much different, she talks a lot about how our people have been wronged, but wraps herself in the finest goods she can find. She was wealthy before Integration and wishes to keep her lifestyle. Oyekan is also not a good person. There is talk that he has a harem in his bunker, young women.”

Maya sighed and shook her head. “God damn it,” she muttered. “What’s your deal?”

“Me? I was a law student and now I’m a scout,” Ezra said. “I had a Skill that was needed and I helped where I could. I guess it’s better than being stuck in the bunkers with everyone else..”

“Do you know their levels?” Maya asked, gesturing to the three beyond the wall.

“I think Adenuga is level 8, Ladipo is level 7, and Oyekan is level 9.”

“And you?”

“Uh, I just leveled up… level 8 now,” he said.

Maya chuckled and then sighed again. “Alright. Alright.” She took a breath and then pulled out the Settlement Deed she had purchased. She wasn’t foolish enough to hand it over to the others before they agreed to her terms, but she looked at Ezra and gave it to him.

“What?” he asked, shocked.

“I’ve a good sense of people,” Maya said. “I was awarded Intention a long time ago and I never really understood what it did. But now I think I do understand it, it tells me to trust you because you’re an honest person and will try to do the right thing.”

“I don’t understand,” Ezra said.

“I’m naming you the Chosen Representative for the Sullivan Survival Society. I don’t want to fuck up your government here, but I can’t trust those three out there. I think I can trust you and I need someone who will help as many people as possible, not just trying to enrich themselves.”

“No one will follow me,” Ezra said.

“You have a deed that will prevent mana renders from forming, that will lower the levels of the monsters around your chosen spot. People will come because it will provide them protection.”

“This seems like a terrible idea,” Ezra said. “I believe in democracy, not dictatorship.”

“Look, you are my Chosen Rep, but that doesn’t mean you have to lead. I’m entrusting the Deed with you, so that you will have final say on everything that is done to the Settlement when I’m not around. You can elect a democratic government and all that, but I need someone to hold the Deed until we can figure out the best way to handle all of this stuff. If we keep dickering about this BS, then the more people die and the harder things get.”

“I… Okay,” Ezra said.

“Cool. I’ll tell everyone.”

Maya opened the wall up again and entered the silent room as Ezra followed her. All hell broke loose when she told them what she was doing. Lidapo stood up and screamed that he would be dead within the day.

Ezra left well armed and armored as Maya didn’t trust him to be safe until the Deed was activated. Luckily he had a Sneak skill and vanished into the crowds. Ladipo, Maya kicked out playing the video of her screaming death threats on the Cage wall.

Maya turned to the others and smiled. “Buy something or GTFO.”

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Comments (2)
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User #300276 - 29 Sep 20 00:48
They grow up so fast! 😢
user avatar
User #8098068 - 29 Sep 20 02:46
I'm just glad Maya realized that yelling at your kid isn't exactly the best way to raise a kid.
B2-28 - Breakfast at Hangy’s 2020-09-25T19:18:18+00:00


Rogue tech programming was difficult. Maya stared at the tablet screen once more and then grumbled. The Rogue AI manufacturing module before her rumbled as it received the block of marsani and began cutting away.

Originally when Tender had found the manufacturing module, Maya had hopes that it would be able to make all the things she needed on the ship. But life happened, Shen came, she returned to Earth, Yosi was found, and all the other things that had occurred caused her to foget about the manufacturer. She knew that Tender used it, to make parts for himself and to fix up his drones, but beyond that it was a mystery to her.

She wasn’t stumped or confused on how to use it; she already had more than a few examples and some knowledge about programming rogue AIs. She understood system tech programming, that had actually come to her fairly easy. Rogue AI tech programing compared to system tech programming was like two people who spoke the same language but different dialects of it and then used two different alphabet systems.

Eventually she would understand it, but two days wasn’t enough to wrap her mind around it fully.

Her computer chimed and Maya looked at a small window that appeared.

Breakfast.

Maya sighed and inventoried the tablet. The rogue AI manufacturer shuddered to a stop and spat out a twisted and warped turret base. Maya picked up the metal, it was heavy and solid, but nothing like she had programmed it to make. She sighed again and tossed the warped marsani into a large pile of other broken and misshapen blocks of metal.

“Twentieth time was not the charm,” she said as she left the room.

Maya walked down the corridor; she had dedicated a large area as the rogue AI testing area, near the manufacturing area that Scotty now dominated. It wasn’t too far from the mess hall and her own quarters.

Yosi and Bell were in the mess hall when she arrived. Yosi looked tired and Bell looked irritable. Roci arrived a few minutes afterward, carrying a modified sensor box that was the prototype for Scotty’s mobile form. Currently he was still stuck in the manufacturing area, his core immobile, but like Nan he could pilot a secondary body to move around in.

“Good morning everyone!” Maya announced loudly and happily as she took a spot at the table. Weary eyes looked at her.

“That’s an arbitrary announcement,” Bell said. “There is neither morning nor night in this place.”

“Someone woke up on the grumpy side of the bed. You and Junior arguing?” Maya asked, giving Bell a large smile.

“I have not slept for two days,” he said. “Your insistence that we meet Whiteclaw’s deadline is the cause of that.”

“I’m pretty tired too,” Yosi yawned and summoned a ration bar. She ate it listlessly.

“Buck up, kiddos we’re in the home stretch. We just need to go and meet Whiteclaw, get our mana stones and hopefully we can rest after that.”

“I don’t understand the insistence of having ‘breakfast’ when I do not consume food,” Scotty said.

“Look, we’ve all been busy as beavers here, but we need some face time with one another on a daily basis. Where I come from, meals were the biggest part of the day, breakfast and dinner, always had to be attended by the entire family,” Maya said as she summoned a ration bar. She took a bite and grimaced.

“SIL behavior,” Roci said. “It’s weird. I do not eat also, can I go?”

“Nope. Family time is family time,” Maya said.

“We’re family now?” Zono asked, suddenly appearing. The dog faced SIL grinned. “I’ve never had a family… well, not from lack of trying.” He grinned again.

“Did your makers program you to be a creepy dude?” Maya asked. Zono shrugged. Maya turned to the entrance of the mess hall and saw Nan arriving.

“How’s our guest?” Maya asked as Nan’s small robotic body took a seat beside Roci. Zono waved and winked at the doctor.

“Badblood is currently in a medical coma,” Nan said. “She is an incredible SIL. I have isolated forty different species that make up her genetic structure. This is an incredible discovery and if I were a SIL I would have leveled from this alone and back in the Consortium, it would have elevated my position.”

A hologram appeared before them, Nan waved her thin arms and the image changed into dozens of different creatures. There was everything from a giant six armed leathery skinned SIL to what looked like a dolphin with tentacles.

“These are some of the species that make up Badblood. From the analyst, I believe the earliest DNA source was this,” Nan brought up an image of a massive snake person with a dozen long arms and vestigial wings.

“That’s a far difference from how the Tarvana look,” Maya said.

“Indeed. There has been a lot of genetic modification that has been done, via system tech, Skills, and Abilities. All of it geared to making the Tarvana able to survive in this place. The most interesting aspect of Badblood’s race is that they can modify their entire body over time, along with a very powerful regeneration ability.”

“That wasn’t helping Badblood,” Bell said. “Whiteclaw claimed she was sick her entire life.”

“Badblood had a lot of genetic defects, perhaps caused by all the different species that make her up, in addition she had a very aggressive form of cancer, her regeneration ability was the only thing that kept it at bay.”

“Had?” Maya asked.

“I have done a genetic cleanse upon her,” Nan said. “There will be some time required for her body to regenerate fully, but it shall all be completed within the next two standard days.”

“Awesome,” Maya grinned. “You’re the best, Nan.”

“Thank you.”

“Next business,” Maya said.

“Business? I thought this was family time?” Roci asked.

“Family is business and business is family,” Maya smiled.

“No it isn’t,” Roci muttered.

“We’ve got the turret situation figured out, we just need to make or adapt the existing tools to machine the parts,” Maya said. “I’ve been fiddling with the rogue AI manufacturer, but it’s slow going. I can’t dump its schematics into the VR due to it being rogue tech so I have to do it the hard way. Learning. Zono has been kind enough to manufacture the marsani blocks we need and we’ve adapted Scotty’s assembler to use a cutter to begin shaping the metal. It’s slow going, but we’ve managed the four turret bases and parts for the canister turrets that Whiteclaw ordered.

“Nan’s been multitasking and has created low-grade medicines and supplements to help the Tarvana get back to full health, along with creating the order of a thousand ration bars built to their specifications.”

“With this order, we’ve consumed ninety percent of the biomass we purchased from the Union,” Nan said. If you wish to continue to make more ration bars for the Tarvana and humans, we will need to purchase more or find more biomass.”

“That brings us to our next big move. It’s been about thirteen days since we last saw Peg, we need to hit up Haltor’s World again for some stuff and then head back to Earth.” Maya took a breath. “What are we looking at on power, Bell?”

“We have four of the crafted mana batteries filled,” he said. “Although we have now switched to recharging all the other batteries, especially the emergency mana batteries as you’ve stated you want the railguns up soon. We have fifty additional emergency mana batters that have been refurbished and ready to be charged.”

Maya grinned at the news. Bell and Yosi had spent the last two days pulling out emergency mana batteries and fixing them. It was a task their lower levels in engineering could handle and they had done spectacular work.

The Hanganathorie had three secured areas that held forty emergency mana batteries each. Maya had managed to only get five of the batteries fully working, that left one hundred and fifteen to be fixed. The main issue with each battery was the corrupted conductive gel that held the mana, over the last twenty thousand years it had broken down and caused critical failures in the components that made up the battery.

But with the 100 liters of conductive gel Maya had purchased, Yosi and Bell had been able to get fifty batteries up and running again. With Scotty’s help, they had dismantled the batteries, replaced the unusable components, replenished the conductive gel, and then dragged them to the Hangy and BR’s core to be charged. As it was, they were looking at nearly one hundred days to recharge all of the fifty 10Mg batteries.

That brought them back to their constant bottleneck, power. Scotty’s manufacturing area was beginning to siphon off a lot of power from the Hangy’s core, reducing the recharge rate of the mana batteries, crafted and emergency and tool.

“Something weird happened to the test black goo net,” Roci said.

“Elaborate,” Bell said.

If Roci could roll her eyes, she would have. “The test batch Maya and Tender had made before he left changed.” Roci pulled up a holographic image and showed them.

Tender and Maya had created the first batch of black goo netting, a ten square meter sheet that they had left in the cargo hold of the BR. They had created the tube duracloth and then injected the black goo into it, using a complicated and time consuming process.

Then they had gone to see Peg and everything had been hectic since then.

Maya looked at the black goo netting and saw that it had… shriveled. “Did it dry out?” Maya asked. She knew the black goo wasn’t a liquid and only looked like one. It didn’t evaporate or freeze, it was just black goo.

“I believe that it embedded itself into the fabric of the duracloth,” Roci said.

“How? What we used wasn’t designed not to soak up anything,” Maya asked. She pulled the hologram forward and stared at it.

“I believe that there is a chemical within the duracloth that interacted with the black goo and caused it to integrate itself within the fabric.”

Maya sighed. “Is it screwed?” she asked. If they couldn’t get the black goo netting to work, they’d be damn low on power.

“No, it’s strange, but it’s actually more effective this way,” Roci said. She pulled up another hologram and it showed the power output of the netting, it had gained a twenty five percent increase.

“Whoa,” Maya said, looking at the data. “How’s the integrity of the fabric?”

“It’s still malleable,” Roci said. She showed another image, this time Roci flexing and twisting the fabric. It moved and there was no damage. The duracloth that Tender had created was one used heavily in space, it was long lasting and very strong.

“Awesome,” Maya grinned. “We’ve gotta run more tests to see how long it takes for the cloth to soak it up. It’ll make it much easier to make this way, instead of creating duracloth tubes.”

“That was my initial thought also,” Roci said.

Maya sat back grinning. Things were looking up.

“We’ve found the main mana battery of the ship,” Bell said.

“Great news,” Maya said.

“We believe that after Veskari landed the ship and after I entered the stasis pod, he shutdown the main mana core and safely purged the mana battery.” Yosi said. “The rogue AIs hadn’t gotten to it since it didn’t hold any mana and the conductive gel within it seems to be uncorrupted.”

Maya sat back and sighed with relief. “How big is that sucker?” she asked.

“It holds 10,000Mg and is approximately fifty meters long and five meters wide. It runs along the spine of the ship,” Bell changed the holographic image to show the Hanganathorie as it once had been. A proud blocky scientific exploration ship. He highlighted an area and it displayed the spine that the ship had been built upon. Under that spine was the ship’s mana battery.

“Ten… ten thousand megagens?” Maya gasped. “I thought they were supposed to be smaller?”

“Generally a ship only requires two days of power surplus in case of emergencies or battle,” Yosi said. “But this was a science ship and it had a lot of mana intensive equipment.”

“But it only used a C5 core,” Maya said. “At most they would have only been able to use 350Mg a day, not 10,000.”

“Mana cores are also expensive,” Yosi said.

“This ship is weird as hell,” Maya said. “Half of the stuff is cheap crap and the other half is expensive as hell.”

Yosi shrugged. “Huvano was ultimately in charge of this ship and it’s fitting,” she said. “This exploration had been planned for nearly a decade until Huvano took control of it.”

“Let me guess, a penny pincher until it comes to what he wants?”

“Yes.”

Maya grunted. “Well, I think that’s everything we need. After this, we’ll begin preparing to head back to Earth and Earth space. After that, we take another trip to Haltor’s World and buy some low priced goods, we’re only down to a million and change in credits now.”

“There’s another thing,” Bell said.

“What’s up? Junior related stuff?” Maya asked as she chewed on her ration bar.

“No. We found the ship’s shuttle bay and escape pods.”

“The what?” Maya spat out her half chewed ration bar.

“We’ve also found the emergency engineering AI,” Yosi added. “Or what’s left of it.”


***


“I was an earthbound SIL,” Maya said as she looked upon the hanger of the Hanganathorie. “I just don’t fully grasp the space ship aspect of this.”

“Understandable,’ Bell said. “I hadn’t thought about shuttles or escape pods until Yosi mentioned them.”

“I supposed I just figured you already knew and weren’t interested,” Yosi said.

Maya stepped forward and lightly touched the shuttle.


Nerigana Consortium Class 5 Cargo Shuttle - mid-grade, Tier 1.


It wasn’t how Maya imagined a shuttle bay would look like. Her only examples were from science fiction and they had all been large open hangers with shuttles parked within it. It wasn’t the case for the Hanganathorie. Instead the shuttles were clamped down into their own little hangers, where a robotic arm would extend them outside of the hull of the Hangy and then from there they would fly off. There were multiple airlocks that allowed cargo and crew to enter the shuttle, with the Class 5 shuttle rated to carry upwards of ten metric tons of supplies and cargo.

The shuttle was a hundred feet long and had multiple entrances, one for crew and several for cargo. Maya entered the shuttle and grinned as she set her hand upon the untouched surfaces of the control panels and devices that lined the cockpit of the shuttle.

“Rogue AIs didn’t like it?” she asked Yosi.

“This is a secured area,” Yosi said. “They would not have gained entrance.”

“This is so freaking awesome,” Maya said as she sat down into the pilot’s chair. It was a snug fit, but for a Nerigana it would have been comfortable. “Does it work?”

“Unknown. We need to get a full scan on it and see if the rogue AIs or time have degraded it,” Yosi said.

“The escape pods in the same condition?” Maya asked.

“No, most of them have been pillaged for parts, but there are still five that are untouched,” Bell said. He stood in the airlock, one look into the dark shuttle caused him to back out and stay by the door. The shuttle was also built to Nerigana size and Bell was a big boy.

“This will make the whole space thing easier,” Maya said. “If we can fix them.”

“There is a crew shuttle and also Huvano’s personal shuttle,” Yosi said.

“Of course, Huvano had his own shuttle,” Maya got out of the seat and looked around one last time. “This is all cool, but we gotta go meet Whiteclaw.”

The two nodded and Maya took one last glance at the interior of the shuttle and left. She would make use of it somehow.

“What happened to the engineering AI?” Maya asked as they walked down the dark corridors.

“It seems the rogue AIs salvaged it,” Yosi said. “We found the compartment that held the core pillaged, along with the core itself.”

“That sucks. We could have used a skilled engineer,” Maya sighed.


***


Yosi declined to join Bell and Maya on the trip to bring Whiteclaw the items she had purchased. She would man the sensors and coordinate with Zono and Roci on keeping an eye on them as they traveled the desolate wastelands of the rainbow sky hellscape.

Maya wasn’t expecting an attack from rogue AIs or betrayal from Whiteclaw’s tribe, but it helped to be prepared.

The buggy was modified after their little encounter, instead of Bell holding a rifle and standing in the cargo area, he now had a semi enclosed space to stand and mounted to the top of the buggy was a railgun. It was technically a complete defense turret, with it’s own sensor box and controls, but it could also be remotely fired or manually fired.

They approached the spot where they had battled the rogue AI, Maya frowned as she realized she hadn’t negotiated for the corpse of the creature. She sighed, it would have added to their black goo reservoirs and the rogue AI parts that she was collecting to build more machines or sell to Peg.

“I never looted it, either!” Maya grumbled.

“Ah, the rogue AI? I was just thinking about that too.”

“Geniuses think alike, pal.”

“Of course, geniuses wouldn’t have forgotten to obtain their spoils,” Bell replied.

“Live and learn.”

As they stopped the buggy, the ground around them began to swell and warp. Maya stared in fascination, it was as if the soft dirt underfoot had become plastic. It had a slight sheen to it and in layers it began to move, turning into liquid and from it rose Whiteclaw and many of her people.

It was a large gathering, Maya counted twenty five people. They all had that same low grade depression in their expression she had seen before, but also tinged with fear as they looked around. They were exposed in an open area and that would usually mean death for them.

Maya exited the buggy, while Bell and scout rats kept watch. She approached Whiteclaw and extended a hand. The woman stared at it for a moment and slowly took it. Maya shook her hand and grinned.

“Well met, ma’am. I come bringing you the supplies you ordered,” she said. The woman only nodded in response. Maya began summoning large boxes and then filling them with the ration bars. Tarvana ration bars were a teal color that Maya found strange, but Nan was sure it was what they needed.

After that she produced the defense turrets and many of the warriors gathered around it, whispering among themselves.

“There’s about a hundred rounds of ammunition for each canister turret,” Maya said. “Ten credits a round after that.”

Whiteclaw frowned but nodded again. “Ironwatcher shall examine them and see if they work as advertised.”

Ironwatcher appeared and began looking at the weapon, eyeballing it and twisting the turret to and fro. Maya nearly cried out when the woman stared down the barrel of the weapon.

“Jesus, kid. Don’t you know weapon safety? Never look down the barrel of the weapon!” she cried.

Ironwatcher looked at her confused and tapped her knuckles on the weapon.

“Seems solid,” she said after a few more minutes.

Maya nearly laughed at the pronouncement. They had no idea what they were doing.

“Alright, everything else is here,” Maya set down the rolls of duracloth they had ordered, along with he knowledge sets and tools, and other weapons. Ironwatcher snatched up the knowledge cubes and gave a growl at anyone who so much as looked at it with interest.

“And our payment.”

The head miner arrived and set down a sack of glowing stones. Maya wasn’t so rude as to check on the stones but only nodded. She hefted the bag and her computer automatically weighed it, it was what they had agreed upon. Maya inventoried the stones and smiled at Whiteclaw.

“I also have this,” Maya said. She produced a communications array, a small short range transmitter and receiver. “If you need anything or wish to contact us, you can use this.”

Whiteclaw looked at the device as Ironwatcher eyeballed it.

“In one standard week we shall meet again,” Whiteclaw decreed. “We shall trade once more for food and weapons.”

“Those ration bars should last you over a month,” Maya said.

“Our tribe grows still, they are needed for the young that will be produced when there is an abundance of food.”

Maya only nodded. “You’re going to use a month’s worth of ration bars in a week?” she asked.

“Some will be stored for emergencies but most will be needed for the young that are coming.”

“How soon?” Maya asked

“Within the week. A healthy woman can gestate a child every month,” Whiteclaw said with a little pride. ‘With this abundance there shall be many children born soon.”

“Jesus,” Maya muttered. She turned to Whiteclaw and smiled again. “Alright, in one week we shall be back. In the meantime, I have another item to share with you.”

Maya summoned a stack of booklets. Whiteclaw looked at them confused. “What is this?” she asked.

“Catalogs,” Maya grinned. “Of the items and things we can sell your people, besides food and weapons. I tried to make a system one, but it’s a lot harder than I thought. So its simple paper catalogs for now.”

“I see.” Whiteclaw shrugged and handed one to a warrior. He looked at it and tried eating it.

“Bland,” he said.

Maya sighed.

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Comments (2)
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User #28785581 - 25 Sep 20 19:58
Thanks for the chapter! Looks like House Sullivan is getting a new Patent with that black goo duracloth. Could it be used to make clothing/armour that powers personal equipment? Not guns and shields, just utilitarian things like comms and night vision goggles. That would make it very useful for Humans on Earth since the mana concentration is so high.
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User #13235254 - 25 Sep 20 21:41
This [Whiteclaw] doesn't know anything about [Sustainability] right ? Maya had better give her some books on [Population Planning]. Also, Maya needs to charge MORE for ration bars - she can't afford to spend all her time and money on making food for others. Food is a premium in this dimension and should be in the same markup region as [Expensive Goods].
B2-27 - Badblood 2020-09-23T16:01:37+00:00


“I’m not going to cheat you out of your labor and possessions,” Maya stated. “Do you know the value of this stone?”

Maya lifted a mana stone from the pile that sat before her. It was an extraordinary amount of stones. From what she could tell, the gobbolds… no the Children or Tarvana (if untranslated), consumed a stone a day to keep starvation at bay. Along with what they could find, either minerals consumed from the dirt itself or from old bio-trash they found, they survived the five week death march from the Motherland to this place.

There had been three hundred of them when they were cast out; their original leader had been consumed as an act of contrition, but the Mother still refused their return. They had been Abandoned, sent out into the wastelands to slowly starve to death.

They were natural burrowers, most with some occupational path related to mining, digging, burrowing, or earth shaping, which was a thing. They could move the ground around with little effort, their mana stores being replenished by the stones themselves and not from ambient mana.

It was how the burrowing rogue AI also existed, the machine was constantly digging and consuming mana stones, occasionally having to surface to suck in more ambient mana to top itself off.

Whitestar, the elderly Tarvana, explained that the dirt was holy, being brought to this world from the World Beyond. It carried mana within it and as it showered down upon the land it formed layers. After eons the layers hardened and the mana trapped within the dirt would turn into mana stones, which the Mother would consume to feed herself and her Children.

It was their job to mine the stones and bring the surplus to Mother, those that brought the most were Favored and their tribes would grow in power and size.

“Food itself has the greatest value,” the old woman said.

“Bell, tell them. How much does a ration bar cost? How much would this mana stone cost in the multiverse at large?”

“A ration bar would cost about ten credits a piece,” Bell said. “This mana stone, from its quality and rarity would cost about twenty credits a gram. Natural mana stones aren’t that sought after. There are some who use it for jewelry and for some industrial purposes.”

“We do not trade much,” another voice spoke up. It was a short male with a flat face and spiky hair. He wore a leather vest and a kilt; there was only one way leather could be made in this world. Maya held back her disgust and horror, and smiled. “But that does not mean we will be cheated and scammed.”

“I’m not looking to cheat you,” Maya said.

“Merchant. Trader. There are not many of your kind among the Children, but those that exist are driven solely to make credits and cheat honest hard working Children of what they have.” The man continued.

“You are?”

“He is meaningless,” the old woman said. The man immediately shut up. “I am the leader here. I make the decisions and when I speak, they follow.”

“Cool,” Maya said.

“We cannot give you all the mana stones we have mined,” the old woman said. “It is the only way we can increase our mana stores, for if we try to absorb the ambient mana on the surface, the rogue AIs make short work of us.”

“I understand, but you have a surplus, no?” Maya asked.

“That is tribute to the Mother!” the kilt wearing man screeched.

“For pricing, we’ll go with the standard for the ration bars,” Maya said, summoning a bar. The kilt wearing man looked at it hungrily. “Ten credits for the bar and we’ll say twenty credits for a gram of mana stone. With your numbers, you’ll need about fifty three bars a day, that would mean twenty seven grams of mana stones a day.”

Whitestar turned and summoned another man toward her. Maya recognized it as the pug faced SIL she had first fought in the tunnel. He bowed to Maya and then sat down before Whitestar.

“How many grams of mana stone can you and your miners obtain a day?” she asked him.

“Five kilograms a day, leader,” he said immediately.

“We require about three grams of mana stones a day to keep our mana stores up,” Whitestar said. “I think we can purchase what you are selling.”

Maya smiled. “Awesome. I can give you about a hundred bars right now. That should last you two days, in two standard days we will return with another load of ration bars.”

“Agreed,” the woman said. There was a chitter of excitement from the crowd that was sitting in the gallery and along the walls of the chamber. The entire tribe was there and Maya saw with some sadness that there were no children among them. The first to die, the first to be eaten. It was terrible, but she also realized it had been done because they were starving and cannibalism in this world wasn’t frowned upon. Hell, even Bell had nearly succumb to eating his companions that had died when he arrived.

“We are finished,” the old woman said.

“Hold on a minute,” Maya said, looking around. “What is this place? A ship? A building?”

The old woman shrugged. “It was here when we arrived a month ago,” she said. “We were lucky to have it here, but it is old.”

“What about the power, I see lights on. Do you have a mana core or batteries?”

The woman snapped her fingers and another figure rushed up. This was a lanky woman with large violet eyes and a wide mouth full of sharp teeth. Maya noted that not many of the gathered people looked similar, was it just the way they were born or was it from the other survivors that had been ‘Ascended’ and added to their gene pool.

“This is Ironwatcher. She is our [Fixer].”

“Fixer?” Maya shot Bell the question over their private comm link.

“A low grade version of [Mechanic], I think it’s obtained when there isn’t a large grasp on technology and what it does.” Bell said over their comm. “That would mean they’re not real system tech users and don’t have a full grasp on what they’re doing.”

“Does this place have a mana core?” Maya asked.

“There is a glowy thing that burns,” the Fixer said. “It sears the skin and burns the eyes, it causes the mana sickness and mutation.” She spoke quickly and fidgeted about.

“You work on that core?” Maya asked, a bit shocked. She remembered her own experience with the mana core in the Hangy, it had been technically shutdown at the time, but it had still produced enough raw generic mana that it had done some cellular damage to her.

“I try to keep the lights on,” the woman said. “Is hard. I don’t know much. My father, Ironeye, he was a real [Fixer] level twenty.”

“What are you?”

“Level eight.”

Maya turned to Whitestar. “Do you want to purchase a set of engineering knowledge cubes?” she asked.


***


“This is wrong!” the kilt wearing man cried out, before jumping up and glaring at Maya. “We cannot just abandon everything that we are!”

Maya had learned his name was Brokenstone and he was, to put politely, an asshole. Maya glared at the man and felt like chasing him off from the proceedings. Every suggestion, every topic was met with cries of how they’re going against the teachings of Mother and how they’ll never be allowed back.

Two hours had passed since Maya and Whitestar began negotiations. The backbone of their deal was food. Whitestar needed food and they had mana stones to trade, but Maya sensed profit, literally. Her Profitsense was tingling.

“You gave up on the food pretty easily,” Bell commented. “Why are you fighting so hard about the rest of this stuff?”

“The ration bars brings them in and shows them we’re willing to trade, but when they’ve got their snouts in the trap, we wringe them for all they’ve got. Credits, that is, or mana stones,” Maya responded.

“But the mana stones are pretty worthless, also.” Bell said. “Sure they look pretty and have value as decorations, but these people don’t have much beyond that.”

“Black goo, pal,” Maya said. “We secure this line of mana stones and we’ll be set mass producing black goo. Zono sells his industrial mana stones for nearly fifty credits a gram, they’re solid, but the black goo can take anything. One kilogram of mana stones will make ten thousand square meters of netting. Fifty thousand credits or twenty thousand credits? It’s even less than that if we only sell ration bars to them. Each ration bar requires two kilos of biomass to produce, adding mana and time and effort Nan takes, it’s about two and a quarter credits to make a ration bar.

“A kilo of mana stones is twenty thousand credits, that’s two thousand ration bars, or four thousand five hundred credits spent. That will last them a little over thirty seven days, if they keep the fifty three population. But this also goes beyond that.”

“Like what?” Bell asked.

“They’re SIL,” Maya said. “They can level, they can gain occupations, and they can channel mana. They also are a potential source of labor.”

“Labor?” Bell glanced at the Tarvana. They sat huddled together, dishing out a ration bar soup among themselves. Maya didn’t know where they got water, but they seemed to have it well in hand.

“There are only eight of us, nine if you count Zono,” Maya said. “We can’t do everything. We just don’t have the man power to do everything we need to do. Exploring the ship, building defenses, salvaging, getting things prepared for Earth, helping the astronauts, trading with Peg. There is so much that needs to be done and there is just not enough hours in the standard day to do it all.”

Bell nodded. “I see.”

“If we can setup good relations with these SIL, maybe they’ll be willing to be hired on to help us at the Hangy,” Maya said. “Pay them a living wage and show them the joys of high tech living.”

“Ah, that’s why you’re pushing to sell useless wares upon them.”

“Not useless,” Maya said. “Labor reducing, quality of life items.”

“How is a shiny robe going to do that?” Bell asked.

“Because, Whitestar is the boss lady here and she needs to look the part. They’re SIL and one thing I’ve learned after all this time, those in charge love looking like they’re in charge.”

Bell snorted.

“They have credits, they’ve been scavenging every bit of previous living thing in this place, that means a lot of SIL who died crossing over. I gained whatever credits those SIL had on them when I claimed the bodies back in the pub,” Maya said. “So they have those credits and they don’t really use them. This is a semi-bartering, exchanging favors with your neighbors kind of society. They don’t really do trading, as their entire focus seems to be on mining mana stones and then gaining Mother flesh in return. It’s a brutal subsistent kind of living where cannibalism is just a way of life. Give them pretty stuff and less work, then they’ll find out that there’s more to life than just digging tunnels and eating your friends.”

“You intend to change their entire way of life by selling them stuff?” Bell chuckled.

“Ugh. My country’s history is filled with people trying to sell stuff to less technologically advanced people and ‘make’ them civilized,” Maya said. “I’m not going to rip them off and cheat them, I’m not going to conqueror them and exploit them, nor am I going to destroy who they are as a people. They are a people, they were here before us and they made this plane their home, through sacrifice and horrors we cannot imagine. We treat them right, but we also try to maximize the profit we can from them.”

“Very well,” Bell replied as the Tarvana broke up from their meal and Whitestar returned to her negotiating spot.


***


“This is a good deal,” Whitestar declared, while Brokenstone glowered behind her.

“The Sullivan Survival Society is glad that you think so,” Maya said, putting on a formal air. “We shall take payment for the bars that we have given you now, but the rest will be due upon delivery.”

“Agreed.”

“We shall meet in the same spot that we fought the rogue AI, is that acceptable?”

“Yes.”


1,000 ration bars - 10,000 credits

1,000 yards of Duracolth - 5,000 credits

1 set of Engineering Knowledge Cubes - 25,000 credits

1 set of mechanic tools - 2,000 credits

4 canister turrets - 30,000 credits

40 mana pulse grenades - 10,000 credits

10 helix satchel charges - 5,000 credits

10 Sullivan Special - Big Iron Shooter Mk. II - 2,000 credits

4 healing potions - low-grade - 1,000 credits

1 Garsolo silk robe - mid-grade - 100 credits


Compared to the deal that she had struck with Pegarios and his people, Whitestar’s order was on the low side. Maya chalked it up to the Tarvana’s general lack of knowing what they really wanted. She could understand it, their entire lives had been hiding from danger and trying to survive day to day without starving or being eaten.

Maya made a note to create a catalog like Zono had, most of the discussion had been her trying to explain the benefits of various technologies and items they might need. Whitestar saw some value in them, but she was more interested in food and protection. Therefore Maya didn’t push her too hard on the purchasing of other goods. If she created a catalog then she might be able to entice more people to buy personal items.

Maya made a note and filed it away.

“The last thing,” Maya said, taking a breath. She oddly felt nervous about what she was going to bring up, but pushed forward. “We need access to your DNA.”

“DNA?” the old woman asked. “Why?”

“It’s to better tailor the ration bars to your bodily requirements, along with making potential medicines that you might need,” Maya said.

The old woman thought for a moment and then snapped her fingers. A young man jumped up and ran off.

“Ugh, you think they’re gonna give us a bloody chunk of one of their people?” Maya asked Bell through the comm.

“What are Nan’s requirements?” Bell asked.

“Pretty much as long as there’s viable DNA, she can extrapolate from there.”

A few minutes later the young man returned, half carrying and half dragging another Tarvana. Maya frowned, wondering if they had raided their larder to give them a sample. She felt like shuddering, but held it at bay as the man dropped the Tarvana to the ground before them.

“Take,” Whitestar said.

“Uh…”

The figure lying on the ground shuddered and a black eye looked at Maya. The Tarvana was one of the flat faced ones, the eyes large black orbs, and the body a frail and near skeletal thing.

“You have given us a chance at survival, Maya Sullivan. You have given us the chance at a future, therefore we shall gift you this creature. Use it to make your potions, medicines, and ration bars. We shall be grateful for you to remove it from our lair.”

“Excuse me?” Maya asked. She looked down at the frail creature before her.

Badblood - level 2

“She is sick,” Whitestar said. “Badblood was born… wrong. She is always sick, she is the weakest of us, and she has put the tribe into danger more times than we can count. It is only because her own mother was a great miner that she was allowed to live. But now her mother is dead and she is of no use to us. Take her and use her to make your creations, we shall look upon this act favorably. It is that or we consume her and no one really wants to eat the flesh of the ill.”

Maya choked back the rage that was building inside of her. Bell set a hand upon her shoulder and she took a slow breath. She felt a surge of disgust at the treatment of the woman and the growing respect for Whitestar plummeting into an abyss.

“We accept this gift,” Maya said with a strained voice. “We shall use her as we can.”

“Then we are at agreement. We shall pay you in the mana stones you seek or in credits if you wish.”

“Mana stones are fine,” Maya said.

“In two days we shall have four and a half kilos of mana stones readied for you, in exchange for all the items we had agreed upon.”

“Of course,” Maya said stiffly.

“Then let us return you to the surface and to the vehicle you arrived in.” Whitestar rose to her feet and the rest of the tribe followed suit.

Bell gingerly picked up Badblood, cradling her gently as they marched from the room. His expression was blank, but she knew he was seething with the same rage she felt. They exited the metal corridors of the structure and entered a large rock chamber.

A Tarvana stepped forward and raised their hands. The ground rumbled, a deep bass note filled the air and suddenly Maya felt herself being propelled upward. She widened her stance, bracing herself as a three meter diameter circle of the rocky ground rose up with them upon it. She saw the ceiling of the cave melt away and the group began ascending at a decent pace.

“Earthshaper is the best,” Whitestar commented as Maya watched the Tarvana concentrating on moving the ground around them. “He is the highest leveled [Earth Mover].”

“Cool.”

They arrived to the surface shortly, Maya checked her computer and saw that they had been about a hundred feet underground. She looked up at the rainbow skies with a sense of relief. Ahead of them stood the Xefer rover, slightly battered from the rogue AI, but untouched.

“We shall meet here in two standard days,” Maya said to Whitestar.

“Until then, Maya Sullivan. Travel safely.” The old woman bowed and a moment later she and the other Tarvana disappeared into the ground.

“Fuck.” Maya summed up all of her feelings. “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.” She paused and looked at Bell. “How is she?”

“Very ill,” Bell said. “She is starving and the healing potion isn’t working very well. It uses some of the body’s mana to assist in its workings, but this Badblood has nothing.”

“Right. Let’s get the fuck out of here,” Maya said and they rushed to the buggy.

***

“Another few hours and she would be dead,” Nan said as she stood over the pod that they had placed Badblood within. In the light of the Hab’s medical room, she looked even more frail and younger than Maya realized. Maya gripped a railing as she watched the slow movements of breathing from the girl.

“You keep bringing the strangest SIL to me,” Nan said. “Especially in a plane of existence where there should be an extremely low amount of SIL.”

“Gotta keep you on your toes.”

“If I had toes.”

“She’ll be fine?” Maya asked.

“There are still a lot of tests to run, but she will remain living for the time being. “

Maya let out a long breath and sighed. “What a bunch of fuckers,” she said. Then sighed again. “Well, I guess I have to make the stuff we promised for those assholes.”

“She will be fine in my care, Maya,” Nan said.

“I know. Keep me informed, will ya?”

“Of course.”

As she exited the medical room, Maya spotted Roci and Yosi watching from a corner. She looked at them and then walked up to them.

“Another SIL?” Yosi asked. “She looks so frail.”

“What’s her name?” Roci asked, a tone of excitement in her new voice. Maya looked down at the AI and saw that she had ‘grown’, no longer the one foot form she had originally been created as. Now she stood nearly three feet tall. Maya didn’t know if Roci remade or body or if it had actually ‘grown’, though she wouldn’t be surprised if the latter was the case.

“Badblood. She is sick and Nan will be taking care of her for a while,” Maya said.

“Can I have her?” Roci asked excitedly. “I’ll take care of her!”

Maya snapped forward and grabbed Roci firmly by the shoulder. The big purple eyes stared at her.

“She is a person,” Maya said sternly. “She is a living thinking person. She is not an object to be traded or owned. Understand?”

Roci stuttered and nodded frantically.

“It was a joke,” Roci said lamely.

“Don’t ever fucking joke about owning people,” Maya snapped.

Yosi stared at them, but slowly nodded along with Maya.

“I-I’m s-“

“You have work to do, girl,” Maya said. “Get to work!”

Roci scampered off, her tentacles practically dragging her along.

Maya let out an explosive breath. “Shit.”

Yosi patted her on the shoulder.

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Comments (4)
user avatar
User #272781 - 24 Sep 20 06:03
Thanks for the chapter
user avatar
User #34671248 - 23 Sep 20 19:05
Will have to Teach Rosi some things about life and morals 🤔
user avatar
User #300276 - 23 Sep 20 18:16
More family for the Sullivan house.. hope the girl makes it.
user avatar
User #9946352 - 23 Sep 20 18:14
"she looked up at the rainbow skies with a sense of relief" Lol, I bet Maya never thought that she would feel like that before.
B2-26 - Gobbolds 2020-09-21T17:49:26+00:00


“I bet there’s an achievement for losing consciousness,” Maya muttered as she sat in the dark. She had been only out for ten minutes, according to her computer’s clock. When it came to fights, battles, or anything really; it seemed she always found a way to lose consciousness.

The darkness of the hole she sat within didn’t entirely bother her. Maya didn’t know if it was the mental changes that had occurred when she added the attribute points or if she just was naturally unafraid of dark places. She tried remembering back to what she had felt like when first entering the Hangy. All she could remember was that it wasn’t the dark that people feared, but what lay in the dark.

As she couldn’t see the rainbow sky overhead, Maya assumed the ground had been covered back up. That would mean the gobbolds had some kind of earth bending powers. That meant they were on their home turf inside the ground.

That in itself worried Maya. The main reason they had unearthed the mana cores back where the dimensional scar was located, was for the simple reason that the ground was weird. Mana, in a normal Integrated Multiverse, was everywhere. It existed at a near even state across every universe. There were the occasional hotspots and low spots, but it was a fact that mana existed everywhere. Yet in the RSH, the ground seemed to either be absorbing mana or was a shield against mana, as the mana cores that had been buried within it were having a very difficult time recharging.

Which ultimately begged the question, why was there even a burrowing rogue AI? Rogue AIs were all about mana absorption and collection, their entire being was about finding more mana to grow. Why would there be a rogue AI that lived underground, when there was so little ambient mana within it?

“Maybe there’s a giant reservoir of liquid mana under our feet, mana gold, RSH tea.” Maya chuckled as she summoned a mana powered light from her inventory. She cast the illumination around and discovered an exit in one side of the hole she was in. “Ugh, I did not want to go crawling around in the holes.”

She continued to sit there for a while longer. These gobbolds didn’t seem to want to kill them, otherwise the hole she fell into would have been deeper. It was deep enough to knock the wind out of her and if not for her armor and high physical attributes, she would have suffered some minor injuries. As it was, she felt a little bruised and was more angry about the fact that she had fallen into a hole.

Yet, did that justify her killing them in turn? Maya frowned at the thought and began summoning components. She picked up the railgun barrel and thought about the destructive power it held. If she tried, she could probably dig her way out, but that exit was there for a reason.

Maya sighed and begin stripping the railgun down into pieces. She wasn’t going to kill gobbolds, if she could. The stain of twenty men and women was on her hands, even if they had willingly allowed her to take their lives. She still had to live with that.

It took nearly half an hour, but Maya produced a non-lethal weapon from the railgun. The capacitors discharged a large amount of mana when the marsani slugs were fired, but that could be turned into a short ranged mana stunner. Not unlike the first weapon she had ever built under Richfield’s tutelage.

Maya wrapped the large emergency battery in a pair of duracloth shipsuits, creating a makeshift backpack, and then attached the sensor box along with finding the scout rat that had joined her down in the hole.

She shut off her light and activated the sensor box, it began feeding information directly into her HUD. The world turned from a pitch black nothing to a wireframe world that displayed everything the sensor box could ‘see’. She fiddled with the controls for a few more minutes before adjusting it enough that it created a grayscale world before her.

Maya pulled on the mana battery backpack, hefted the mana stunner and walked into the exit.

***

The first signs that the gobbolds actually lived underground and she wasn’t just imagining it, was a pile of tools and clutter that lay at the end of a tunnel. Maya paused at the site, noting what looked like pickaxes, shovels, and buckets among the tools that lay abandoned in a pile.

“Digging more tunnels or mining?” Maya wondered. She reached the end of the tunnel she detoured into and picked up one of the pickaxes. It was fairly light and seemed to have been shaped from a single piece of metal. The sensor readings said it was a marsani alloy. Maya hefted it, feeling the balance and craftsmanship of the tool. Then she buried it into the tunnel wall.

There was a loud clang and Maya flinched as she could feel the reverberations of the strike through her gauntlets. She looked at the wall and saw that it was rock.

Maya frowned again, she didn’t know much about the RSH but this wasn’t a real world in the regular sense of the word. It was the ‘body’ of the System itself, yet as she took the time to run her hands across the tunnel walls, she felt and the sensor confirmed that they were hard as rock. She tapped the roof with the pickaxe and saw that it was rock also.

Did the ground become stone the further one went down? Maya didn’t know, but she remembered the dimensional bomb hole that had been left behind, it extended nearly fifty feet into the ground and the bottom of that hole had been the same soft dirt that existed on the surface.

Unless the gobbolds had some way of turning the dirt into hardened stone, which when Maya thought about it was most likely. One didn’t live underground and not have underground surviving tricks.

Maya inventoried the pickaxe and as she was turning to leave, the sensor box gave her a ping. She looked at the notice and it highlighted a small object half buried in the floor of the tunnel. Maya crouched down and wiped away rock dust and debris, underneath lay a gleaming crystal. Although the sensor box turned her world into grayscale, Maya immediately knew that the crystal was giving off its own internal light.

“What the heck?” she wondered.

She shut down the sensor box and its feed, reverting back to her own pair of eyes. The crystal in her hand, about the size of her thumbnail, gave off a slight glow in the dark of the tunnel. Maya turned to look down the tunnel again and then noticed the small pricks of light coming out of the wall. She moved forward and touched the tunnel wall, some of the rock crumbling under her gauntlets. She swiped her hand across the wall and uncovered scores of tiny crystal shards embedded into the wall.

She switched on the sensor box and watched as her HUD began pinging with alerts. Maya used the pickaxe to pry another crystal loose and peered at it. It glowed faintly.

“Mana stone,” Maya said as she realized what it was. She had only ever seen the industrial version of the stone before; they were dull translucent crystals. This was different, this was an actual stone made of condensed mana. It was something rare and mostly useless to the rest of the integrated multiverse.

She buried the head of the pickaxe into the wall and pulled away a large section. It fell away and as the dust settled, Maya saw more and more gleaming pinpricks of mana stones.

“Well, it seems we got some little miners here,” Maya said. She looked down at the stone and then back at the wall. “No killing.” She decided. “Trade.”

She received a ping from the scout rat, it flashed her a distorted image of figures rushing by.

“I guess playing miner got their attention,” Maya dropped the pickaxe and inventoried the stones. She hefted the stunner and walked toward the rushing figures.

A bright light flashed and flickered as a figure rushed toward her. If she had been relying solely upon her own eyes, the light would have disorientated or blinded her, but Maya was using the sensor box as her eyes. It filtered the flashing light, reducing it to a minor annoyance.

Maya activated the stunner and the tunnel filled with an even brighter light. The figure that was rushing toward her stopped dead in their tracks. It was a burly person, not one of the shorter specimens that had been spying upon Zono. Either, this gobbold was hitting the ‘roids or they came in a variety of different shapes and sizes.

The gobbold squealed in pain and dropped to the floor twenty feet from her. Maya scanned the area again and didn’t find anything else rushing in her direction. She approached and used her boot to turn over the figure. Ugly was a rude but accurate description of the SIL.


Splitfang - Level 8


Splitfang had an elongated head, a pair of elf ears, and a pug like face, smashed inward and full of folded skin. They wore a robe of stitched together cloth, a leather belt with a dagger on it and carried a shield and a sword in a pair of thin wiry hands. They had no tail and no snout.

Dread flashed and Maya jerked back with a curse. The spot she had occupied thudded with a pickaxe like weapon. She stared for a moment as another figure walked out of the tunnel wall itself, carrying another pickaxe in their hands.


Blackedge - Level 11


Where Splitfang had been wearing a robe, Blackedge wore a full suit of plate armor backed with chainmail. It gleamed a dull black in the sensor vision and Maya grimaced as she saw a pistol on a holster at their hip.

Blackedge flashed forward, fast and strong, definitely a combat orientated SIL. But Maya was no slouch, perhaps two months ago it would have been a challenging fight, but she was more than five times their level. Maya snapped forward and kicked the SIL in their exposed abdomen as they pulled back in a great swing of the pickaxe.

The breath exploded out of Blackedge and they bounced away from her, crashing against the far tunnel wall and collapsing to the ground. Maya could see an imprint of her foot in the metal of their armor. She walked up and zapped them with the stunner as a precaution.

A bit of duracloth later, Maya continued down the tunnel, leaving behind a pair of tied up gobbolds.

Three low leveled gobbolds attacked her at once, but she was ready for them. With a simple activation of the stunner, all three collapsed into a heap before they even got within striking distance of her. They were the type of gobbolds that Zono had shown her, short, rat tail, round head, and a snout full of teeth.


Redeye - Level 6

Shortblade - Level 8

Silvertooth - Level 10


Maya continued down the tunnel, noting several spots where the tunnels branched off. The sensor and her computer were already generating a map as she moved, but Maya noted that the tunnel she was traveling upon showed a lot of wear and tear. It was a main thoroughfare, so she decided to keep following it.

The tunnel angled downward and after a few more minutes of silent traveling, Maya tensed as the tunnel changed from rock walls to smooth metal bulkheads. She touched the wall and saw that it was regular marsani. Ahead she saw light fixtures flickering, spread out in a manner that provided illumination but just barely enough to traverse the corridor.

“Did they build this?” Maya asked as she continued forward.

There was a familiar depression in the bulkhead and Maya paused to tear open the controls for the door before her. She overrode the lock and saw that the door was already powered. It creaked open, sliding on rusty rails and Maya peered into the room. It was empty, but her sensors noted several skeleton piles in the corners, definitely not the gobbolds, from the age of the bones and the fact these skeletons had horns.

Was it a ship? Maya wondered. She looked around and saw the corridor slightly curve away from her, not allowing her to see that far down it. It would make sense that there were more stuff buried in the ground than she knew.

The system was over a billion years old, she had no idea how much stuff fell into the plane from all the dimensional instabilities that hit the Integrated Multiverse, but perhaps they had been standing over tons of buried stuff.

Maya shrugged and continued down the corridor. It was eerily silent, the only sound being her boots on the deck. The corridor widen and she entered a multilevel chamber. She could see a second level of rails nearly twenty feet above her, overlooking where she stood. Maya paused by the door and scanned the room.

She didn’t see anything, but a moment later a figure entered the opposite side of the room. They were short and moved slowly and stiffly. Maya felt a slight wave of dizziness as her language module updated.


Coracora Standard Downloaded

Whitestar - Level 22


“Ho, warrior,” the figure said.

“Did you just call me a hoe?” Maya demanded.

“What? No. It was a greeting,” the figure turned out to be an elderly woman. She pulled back the hood that covered her face and she was similar to the images Zono had provided.

“What’s the meaning of all of this?” Maya demanded, eyes flickering to the upper railings that currently held no one. She wasn’t letting her guard down, creating another window to watch the area and sending the scout rat to warn of anything that might be coming from behind her.

“You are not alone, oh, warrior. You were lost, but now you are found,” the woman intoned. Maya realize, from the way the elderly woman spoke, it wasn’t directed at her, but some kind of chant or prayer or something. “The Mother greets you and you shall find comfort beneath her gaze.”

Silence fell after the words had been spoken. “Okay,” Maya said. “Are you the Mother?”

“No. I am merely an old woman, Whitestar.”

“I am Maya Sullivan of House Sullivan. I extend my greetings to you, Elder, and I hope that our interactions will not lead to violence, bloodshed, and/or all ya’ll’s death.”

“Powerful words, Maya Sullivan,” the old woman said. “But you are alone. This world is not kind to those that are alone. But for those who embrace the Mother’s comfort will find salvation and purpose.”

“I’m sure,” Maya said.”I’m not going to debate religion with you, ma’am. I’m going to ask you kindly to show me the way out and when we are on equal terms, outside, we can discuss what it is you want and what I can offer you.”

“You speak like a merchant,” the old woman said. “Yet you fight like a warrior.”

“Oh, you haven’t seen anything yet, ma’am.” Maya said.

Maya turned her head and raised her stunner as she saw a piece of the smooth bulkhead to her right slide away, so perfectly was the door fitted that Maya hadn’t even registered a seam in it. The door opened to a dark hole and from it Maya saw lights flashing and yelling.

A moment later one of the burly fighting gobbolds came staggering out, blood covered half of his body and they had a wild look in their eyes.

“What is the matter, child?” the elderly woman spoke.

“He cannot be stopped!” the gobbold cried, their voice rising to a screech.

Another moment later, Bell came charging out of the doorway lit up like a Christmas tree. He had mana powered lights all over his body and carried his three pistols and a pickaxe in his four hands. He skidded to a stop when he saw Maya and raised his pistols at the cowering gobbold and elderly woman.

“Ease up there, buddy,” Maya said. “We were in the middle of a discussion here.”

“These things attacked me,” Bell said.

“You kill any?”

Bell was silent for a moment. “No. But I badly injured a few of them.”

“Restraint?” Maya smiled.

Bell snorted. “I am not a killer of low leveled fools,” he said.

“Alright,” Maya said, her voice confident. “Ma’am, cowering gobbold, we come in peace, although you have not shown us the hospitality we usually see as visitors, we shall not hold it against you. Times are tough and the rainbow sky hellscape does not stand on ceremony.” Maya looked at the elderly woman who continued to watch her. The cowering bloody gobbold was still cowering on the ground, clutching the wound on its shoulder. Maya summoned a low grade healing potion and tossed it at the gobbold.

“For your injuries. If my companion, Belmoro, has injured others, then we offer to heal them with the potions we have.” Maya said as Bell grumbled. He had managed to start making potions, but the alchemical goods he had purchased were mostly geared toward performance enhancement, rather than healing. “All we ask in return is to be treated as equals and returned to the surface.”

The old woman looked confused. “Potions?” she asked.

“You don’t have potions?” Maya asked in return.

“I do not know what you speak of, child. Only the Mother heals those she deems worthy, all others must face the Choice and decide if they wish to live or contribute to the Family.”

“I’m not liking this,” Bell said to her over the comm. “I think they’re cannibals. One of the warriors I fought was carrying some strange meat on them, there are no meat producing animals anywhere.”

“Gross,” Maya replied. To the old woman she replied. “Allow me to demonstrate.”

Maya stepped toward the cowering gobbold, whose eyes widen in more terror as she approached and then attempted to flee.

“Stop,” the old woman snapped and the gobbold seemed to freeze in place, a frantic look in their eyes.

Maya didn’t know if the old woman exerted some kind of magical control over the gobbold or if they were instead just utterly terrified of her. Maya crouched before the figure and then picked up the healing potion that had been left on the ground. She also summoned a medical kit.

“I’m going to clean the wound and then apply the potion,” Maya said. The gobbold looked confused and Maya realize they didn’t understand her. She could understand them with the language module but it seemed this gobbold didn’t have a translator installed in their head. She looked to the old woman and wondered how she had obtained one.

The old woman spoke to the gobbold and they looked even more frightened than before. Maya shrugged and used an antiseptic that Nan had made to clean the wound. Although alien biology was vastly different from species to species, there was a sort of omni-antiseptic that was used by a vast majority of species. It wasn’t magical, like the healing potion, but it did the job very well.

The gobbold cried out in pain and tried squirming away, but Maya held them down tightly and after she cleaned up the bloody wound, she injected the potion. The gobbold cried out in terror once more and then… sighed as the wounds began to heal.

“There. Easy peasy lemon squeezy,” Maya inventoried her supplies and walked back to where Bell stood in a aura of lights. “Take it easy on them, next time, Bell.”

“They came at me screaming and trying to kill me,” Bell said. “I only defended myself.”

“What manner of power is this?” the old woman asked as the gobbold rose to their feet, looking stunned.

“You don’t use potions?” Maya asked. She looked to Bell who only shrugged.

“There are many talents that the Mother has, but healing powers are rare,” the woman said. “Many of the Children die from wounds that we have no idea how to cure.”

“Well, you’re in luck. We happen to have a trained [Alchemist] back at our base of operations,” Maya said.

“[Alchemy] is a useless occupational path,” the old woman said. “All who have gained it have not been able to level in it beyond low-grade. Many have tried, but they all fail.”

“You don’t have access to biological plant material,” Bell said. “Alchemy is not only the mixture of raw mineral components, but it requires plant based material as well, if you wish to gain higher levels.”

The old woman let out a hissing laugh. “Plants? The Mother would tell us of the world she came from, full of living leafy things. I cannot grasp what that would look like,” she said.

Maya took a step forward and turned to the healed gobbold. “Bring the others that Bell injured and those that I tied up, bring them here and I will heal them,” she said. The old woman took a moment to translate, but the gobbold perked up and rushed off. Maya noted that a small audience had begun to form, five figures had appeared on the upper deck of the chamber. She could make out whispers passing between them and the sensor box transformed the air vibrations into words.

“They heal,” one said.

“They will make our tribe strong,” another spoke.

“The blue one looks tasty. I cannot see what flesh lays under that black armor,” a third spoke.

“First of all,” Maya said, adjusting her stance. If she needed to, she would be able to hose down those on the upper levels with the stunner. “What are you eating?”

“The weak,” the old woman said without hesitation.

“Cannibals?” Maya asked.

“What are you getting at?”

“I want to know if you’re cannibals out of necessity or if ya’ll just like eating other SIL. I need to know this so that I can determine what is going to happen next,” Maya said.

The old woman watched her for a long while. In the upper deck, there gathered more of the gobbolds, but they had stopped talking. They were on edge, enough that even Bell began to feel it. The big man shifted and scanned the chamber, his fingers drumming on the pistol grips.

“We are Abandoned,” the old woman finally said. “The Mother provided for our sustenance, but our last leader was a selfish creature and caused our tribe to be cast out of the Motherland.”

A low wailing moan filled the chamber. “We are Abandoned,” the gathered gobbolds cried.

“But you, Maya Sullivan and Belmoro, you can bring us salvation,” the old woman continued. “You are Chosen, you come from the World Beyond, the heaven that the Mother arrived from. You, Chosen, will be our salvation.”

“How so?” Maya asked.

“We shall take you to the Mother. Those that come to this place from the World Beyond are lost, they cannot survive here as we can,” the woman sounded excited. “If you accompany us to the Mother, she will embrace us once more and you shall live forever.”

“Say that again?” Maya asked.

“The Mother shall Ascend you, make her apart of what she is, and all those that are borne from her flesh will carry your genes,” the old woman cried, tears running down her cheeks.

“You mean she’s gonna kill and consume us?” Maya asked.

“To Ascend by the Mother is a great honor. To have your DNA and genes shaped by the Mother, to be used to strengthen her Children is the greatest of honor,” the old woman said.

“Hard pass,” Maya stated.

The old woman looked shocked. “But we shall die if we are not allowed to return to the Mother,” she said.

“Not my problem,” Maya said. “I’m not going to allow someone to eat me and then use my DNA to make more creepy cannibal babies.”

An angry hiss filled the room.

Maya looked around. “Why are you dying?” she asked.

The old woman folded her arms and gave her a stern frown. She didn’t speak for a long moment, but finally sighed. “We lack the sustenance from Mother,” she said. “We have had to rely upon the stones and the biomass that can be scavenged. This world does not like the flesh that comes from the World Beyond and it rots fast, but we can find scraps to live off of. Then there are the weak that we must cull if the tribe is to survive.”

“What does the Mother provide that you eat?” Maya asked.

“Her flesh,” the gobbold spoke. “She is vast and great, a Tier 3 entity, she feeds off of mana and creates the flesh that feeds her Children.”

Maya shuddered. “How far from here is your Mother?” Maya asked.

The woman frowned, but eventually spoke. “We have traveled for many weeks, the Blood Harvesters chased us from the Motherland for the sins of our leader. We have traveled for nearly five weeks from the Motherland.”

“How many of you are left now?” Maya asked.

“Fifty three,” the old woman said.

“I don’t like this,” Bell said via the comm. “They’re too free with their answers. I think they intend to kill us still.”

“They can try,” Maya replied.

“You got the care package I left behind,” maya said. “Otherwise you would not know the language I’m speaking.”

“We received the tablet and the batteries,” the woman said.

“And the food?”

“What food?”

Maya frowned and figured whomever had found it had light fingers. Maya summoned a human ration bar and handed it to the old woman. She looked at it in confusion and then sniffed it.

“What is this?” she asked.

“Food.”

“It does not look like flesh,” she said.

“It’s not flesh. It’s food. Not very tasty, but with all the vitamins and nutrients that you need to survive.”

“Impossible,” the woman said, but she looked at the ration bar and after an eternity, took a bite of it. Her eyes widen and then she shoved the entire bar into her mouth. “Food…”

“I’m not entirely sure if you can digest it,” Maya said. “Different species have different needs.”

“We can eat anything,” the old woman said, showing her many teeth. “The Mother blessed us so that we would find sustenance in the flesh of every being that was brought here and even the stones offer us energy.”

Maya summoned a mana stone. “These?” she asked. ‘You eat these?”

“They are hard to digest, but yes. We can eat them and gain energy from it.”

“That’s impossible,” Bell said out loud. “No one can just eat mana stones and gain energy from it. Beings that live off of mana need to absorb it, not eat it.”

“The Mother has blessed us,” the woman said again. “But we cannot live solely off of the stones, they only provide a third of what we need.”

Maya sighed and looked at the growing gallery above them. The gobbold she sent off hadn’t returned and she didn’t know if they even would.

“You got something I want and I got something you want,” Maya said looking at the old woman. “Let’s make a deal.”

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Comments (5)
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User #3712562 - 21 Sep 20 19:05
Cannibals and flesh reconstituting/DNA manipulating 3rd tier monster that makes MORE cannibals. Honestly, I don't know why I am surprised. Every good Hellscape needs a family/pack or two of cannibals to really bring that homey atmosphere.
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User #19917560 - 21 Sep 20 21:19
ah the bones organized into totems do bring a certain ascetic.
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User #29921292 - 21 Sep 20 18:05
Traaaaaaaaaaadiiiiiiing!
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User #11691022 - 21 Sep 20 19:24
Heh Mad Max Apocalypse. It seems to me like sooner or later (rather sooner I suppose) one of those Gobbos will inform "The Mother" about them. Since I don't think Maya will cull them anticipation of that event, I'd assume that'd spell the end of their journey. But that's one of the likely possibilities possible to possibly occur in reality. Curious if you'll shirk it or how you'll proceed.
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User #300276 - 21 Sep 20 17:53
Ahh you've been writing so much recently it's great
B2-25 - Exhibition 2020-09-18T20:45:24+00:00


“Well, the existence of other life in this place shouldn’t be a surprise,” Maya said. She pulled open a window, picked up a scout rat and set it down upon the hood of the buggy. The rat scurried forward, lifted its head and began scanning the area. Zono had dumped the information he had on the beings into her computer and she had transferred the data to the rat; system tech and rogue tech could talk to one another, but with some translation issues. The tablet that Bell carried made communication easier, but not efficient.

“I’m not denying that,” Bell said. “I’m just concerned that there seems to be an entire race of these beings.”

“Rainbow Sky Hellscape locals,” Maya grinned. “I’m sure they’re surprised to see us as well. I wonder how they’ll be, what kind of culture have they created here? What kind of society did they create in a world that doesn’t have anything growable in it, with low ambient mana, with no access to essence mana, also.”

“Perhaps that’ll mean they’re low leveled,” Bell said. “I can handle low levels creatures.”

“People, Bell. People,” Maya chided. “Though it does make you wonder, if there’s a whole race of these guys, then does that mean that there was a group of them that arrived together? I mean, maybe there might be other humans or other Bells around here.”

“An interesting question,” Bell said. “There’s only a one in a billion chance that a SIL would survive the crossing. I arrived with ten others, but they all perished.” Bell frowned at the words for a moment and then shook his head. “What are the odds that there would be two of the same species that survived the instability, that they were of breeding age, let alone were able to survive for more than a few months in a place where nothing grows.”

Maya shrugged. “True. But you can’t deny Zono’s scans. He’s been tracking them for days and there have been six distinct different people who have been watching him, all seemingly of the same race.” Maya thought for moment. “Are there, like, SIL that reproduce asexually?”

“There are all kinds of SIL,” Bell said.

“Is that a ‘yes’ or a “I don’t know’?” Maya asked.

“It’s a ‘there are all kinds of SIL’.”

“How about inter-species breeding?” Maya asked. “Can, y’know, two SIL bang and produce a healthy viable offspring?”

Bell shook his head. “There are… ways to accomplish that, but by in large, two different species have two totally alien sets of DNA that are incompatible with one another.”

“So the ultimate contraceptive,” Maya remarked.

“Why would anyone want to… outside of their own species?” Bell shook his head.

“Keep an open mind, Bell. Someday you might come across an alien princess that’ll sweep you off your stubby legs,” Maya grinned.

“My low center of mass keeps me very stable,” Bell grumbled.

A chime bleeped on Bell’s tablet and Maya looked over Bell’s arm to see that the scout rat had picked up signs of the people… goblins… kolbolds? Gobbolds?

“They appear to be burrowers,” Bell said as the image on the tablet showed a small hatch in the ground. It was barely noticeable, a small disturbance that showed the outline of a door among a pile of trash. Maya would not have even noticed, as there were no tracks that lead to the door nor were there any other visible signs that there were creatures around.

“They’ve been this close the entire time?” Maya wondered. They had traveled another ten kilometers from Zano’s mining site, following the projected route the creatures had taken. They had seen some slight signs of something passing through, but nothing more than that.

“If they’re low leveled, then it would be wise to be careful about their presence being noticed,” Bell said. “This place is lousy with rogue AIs.”

“Yeah, they’re probably not playing around with mana cores and system tech like we are,” Maya said.

“What is the plan? Are we going into that hatch?” Bell asked.

“Oh, hell no. Are you crazy?” Maya said. “They might be people, but that doesn’t mean they’re our friends. We make our introductions, we show them that we’re not gonna harm them, and then we leave. The next move is up to them.”

“Ah, well,” Bell said, “your previous actions…”

“Oh, I would totally run into that hole and see if its full of gobbolds, but as they say where I come from ‘when you got responsibilities, you don’t go running into gobbold holes’.”

They entered the buggy once more and drove to where the hatch was located. Maya got out of the buggy while Bell kept watch. She approached the hatch and began pulling items from her inventory. She hadn’t been prepared for a first contact situation, but she was glad she hadn’t been organizing her inventory lately.

She pulled out a pile of ration bars, a combination of Bell bars, Yosi bars, and Human bars, then added some bottles of water, a bolt of duracloth that she was going to experiment with, a small stack of decent quality mana batteries, and a tablet with an updated language pack. She didn’t know if the SIL had language translation modules, but if they did the tablet would update them.

“Why are you carrying around ration bars for Yosi and I?” Bell asked.

“Why aren’t you carrying ration bars for Yosi and I?” Maya asked in return.

“Good point,” Bell remarked.

“Alright, let’s bail. We’ll leave a rat behind to keep a lookout, but beyond that we stay hands off.”

Maya climbed back into the buggy and headed back to the Hangy.

“I remember crossing these wasteands by myself,” Bell said as they drove. “There was always the fear of being attacked by rogue AIs, although I would provide them nothing, they seemed very interested in killing living SIL.”

“Maybe it was just you,” Maya quipped.

“Or perhaps I misjudged their intentions and they only wanted to be friends,” Bell said.

“Rogue AIs aren’t all that bad, look at Tender.”

“He is not fully a rogue AI, although he appears as one to other SIL; he is a product of system tech programming. An oddity, but not unheard of. Rogue AIs, after all, are ‘evolved’ forms of system tech AIs.”

“That would mean Nan could become a rogue AI one day?” Maya asked.

“Per-“ Bell stopped and peered into the gloomy landscape. “There’s something out there.”

Maya eased off the accelerator and stopped the buggy. She peered in the direction he pointed to and couldn’t see anything. Her computer worked to clear up what she was seeing, filtering the image on a different window. It took a moment but Maya frowned when she saw the image.

Four figures stood at the base of a trash pile. They weren’t moving and they seemed to be either waiting for them or perhaps they didn’t think they could be seen. Maya watched them for several moments, one of the figures seemed to be talking to the others, but the three other figures didn’t move at all.

“That’s about a kilometer away,” Maya said. “What do you think they’re doing.”

“Watching, evaluating, and deciding what to do with us,” Bell responded.

“Well, let’s be good neighbors and say hello,” Maya said. She stared up the buggy again and made a beeline toward the figures. She saw that they saw her coming for them, but they didn’t move. The talking figure stopped and stood statue still like the others.

A feeling of dread suddenly came over Maya.

“Aw, shit,” she said, slamming the brakes. She glanced around and switched the buggy into reverse.

“What is it?” Bell asked.

“Don’t know, but I think my dangersense is popping off,” Maya said. She summoned a weapon and set it down on the seat next to her. Bell began scanning the area with his eyes and the scout rats. On the open window, Maya saw that the four figures were still standing there watching.

“Shit, what is it?” Maya cast her eyes around, turning the buggy into a direction that would take them back to the Hangy.

The ground erupted before them. Maya hit the brakes again, but they were already caught in the fountaining dirt. It blasted upward and she could feel the buggy rising off the ground, it began to tilt and she cursed as it flipped over. The cage like structure of the buggy prevented her from being injured, but Bell had been tossed, along with the scout rats that had been with him.

The buggy landed heavily upside down, the big wheels spinning in the air. Maya groaned and unbuckled herself from the seat, she was suddenly glad she had automatically buckled herself in. She scanned for her weapon, but it was missing. Cursing again, she clamored out of the buggy and began looking for Bell.

The big man was lying crumpled in the dirt, groaning as he got to his feet. He had lost his rifle, but one of the scout rats clung to his ship suit. A wave of relief ran through Maya as she saw he wasn’t hurt.

“What the fuck!” Maya cried, turning toward a hole that appeared before them. It wasn’t an explosion, but it seemed something had forced its way out of the ground.

A moment later Maya saw what had caused the dirt to fountain upward.

“Oh, shit,” Maya said.


Rogue AI GG4587-MI - Level 40


Maya raced toward Bell and stood beside him as the rogue AI pulled itself out of the ground. She looked him over for damage, but he appeared fine. Maya gave him a thumbs up and then changed her outfit. The shipsuit she had been wearing changed into the battle armor. Bell followed suit a moment later.

They both turned to look at the rogue AI, to Maya it looked as if a worm had been crossed with a beetle and then someone had decided to add a thousand grasping legs to it. The carapace of the rogue AI gleamed a dull green under the gloomy light, but she could easily see the hundreds of red glowing eyes that all seemed to be focused upon the two.

“I didn’t know they could burrow underground,” Maya said. “That makes a lot of our defenses useless.”

“I doubt they could burrow through a ship’s hull,” Bell said.

“Okay, you’re right about that.” Maya grinned and looked at the rogue AI as it finally fully emerged from its hole. The creature screeched at them, Maya noticing that it had a pair of pincers around a large hole in what she assumed was its head.

“I believe this is a trap,” Bell said.

“No, shit. Those little turds over there are still watching and I think one is eating popcorn.” Maya didn’t take her eyes off of the rogue AI, but she still had the small window open to watch the other figures. They hadn’t moved. “If those guys live underground and this thing is a burrowing AI…”

“Right. They want us to deal with thier problem,” Bell said.

“This is not how diplomacy is done!” Maya shouted toward the distant figures.

“Do we have a plan?” Bell asked.

“You’re the one packing a lot of heat, what do you got?”

“I’ve got five of those helix satchels you made, along with a dozen of your prototype mana pulse grenades, three low grade pistols, and a mid grade laser rifle,” Bell said. “You?”

“Get Big Boy’s attention for about thirty seconds,” Maya said.

Bell sighed and nodded. He summoned a rifle into his hand and began jogging away from her. The rogue AI snapped it’s pincer head toward Bell and let out another screech. Maya watched it for a second as it made a show of preparing itself to lunge after Bell. The big man began firing on the rogue AI, sending scorching lasers fire across its metal body. It screeched in return and began scrabbling toward him, the scores of tiny legs pushing the massive creature forward.

It wasn’t spitting lasers or plasma or shooting artillery shells at them. Maya wondered what its signature weapon was, though it seemed to be designed more for burrowing, so maybe its big guns were something to do with the ground. Maya shrugged and got to work.

Although she had spent the last five days in VR, she had not been idle in building the defensive turrets that they had planned on. The gatling turrets would require a lot of machining and they didn’t have access to that as of yet, but the railguns… Maya had made railguns before.

Maya summoned an emergency mana battery, the heavy mana battery slammed into the dusty ground, kicking up dirt. Next she summoned a simple tripod stand that she quickly set up and finally she summoned the railgun. It was a simple design, like the Sullivan Special, but the redesigned railgun were meant to take down big targets.

She snapped in a prototype sensor box, hooked up half a dozen stout cables between the three devices and flipped on the power switch. It immediately connected to her computer and Maya brought up the targeting window in her vision. It showed a wireframe outline of the rogue AI and another of Bell who was down on all sixes running flat out. He looked pissed.

“Adios, motherfucker,” Maya said and fired the railgun.


THUMP!


She could feel the air around her charge and then as if a pair of giant hands slammed together, the pressure dissipated and a flash of light nearly blinded her through the filters of her faceplate.

If the giant rogue AI could arch its back in pain, it would have. Instead it flopped over onto its side, screaming in pain. Maya lined up another shot and fired once more, straight into the exposed belly of the beast.


THUMP!


A hole the size of her head was punched through the armor of the rogue AI’s stomach, a blink later, the marsani chunk of metal blasted out the back of the beast in a shower of red tinged components.

Maya grimaced at the sight. It wasn’t blood, but it still caused a visceral reaction in her. She fired again.


THUMP!


And again.


THUMP!


A beep sounded from the railgun as it hit a recharge cycle, a five second wait as the capacitors greedily sucked up mana from the batteries. She watched as Bell had stopped running and returned toward the rogue AI tossing a pair of pulse grenades and then a pair of satchel charges.

The explosions nearly tore the head off of the creature and Maya grinned as she got a notice.


Rogue AI GG4587-MI - Level 40

Defeated

+ 183 BXP

Lootable


“Easy money.”

One hundred and eighty three billion experience points. Maya grinned, it seemed that what she had been told was true. The more she leveled the more she gained from the enemies she defeated.

She did the math and realized that the 183 BXP was her share of what would have been 366 BXP, but also that the rogue AI had only given out one third of what a SIL would have had at the same level.

As she needed 40 QXP to reach level 52, she would need to kill about two hundred and eighteen thousand level 40 rogue AIs or one hundred and nine thousand rogue AIs singlehandedly or nearly forty SIL singlehandedly.

“Jesus,” she muttered, setting a hand on the railgun and summoning it back into her inventory.

She turned to face the four figures that had been watching them and noticed their numbers had multiplied. Now there were twelve of them, all standing still and watching her. Maya activated her comm unit.

“How’s it looking Bell?” she asked.

“I think we can fit most of this thing into the buggy,” he said. “If you use your looting skill on this thing, we might get something good.”

“Alrighty, buddy. Our spectators have grown also. They’re not moving but I don’t like the fact that we’re outnumbered six to one.”

“Just keep the railgun out, they saw what it did to the rogue AI. If they come running at us, just use it.”

“I’m not entirely okay about using railguns on living beings, pal. Trust me, being hit by a railgun slug is not a pretty thing.”

“Our amazing combat prowess will keep them shocked in place until you tip over the buggy and then find our missing weapons. I’ll handle this rogue AI.”

Maya grunted and headed toward the overturned buggy. She kept a window open on the distant figures, there was still twelve of them and they were still watching.

She wondered how they had all survived. What were they eating. What were they doing? She didn’t see any obvious weapons on them, but in a universe where people were weapons, that didn’t mean anything. She managed to right the buggy and found Bell’s rifle not to far away. A scout rat dug itself out of the ground and scurried over, climbing upon her shoulder and gave her a distorted image of what it had seen.

"Bell!” Maya cried. “We’re on top of a warren of tunnels!”

“Oh, hell!” Bell cried and Maya turned to see him suddenly vanish in a cloud of dust. The body of the rogue AI also was swallowed up by the ground.

Maya cursed, glanced at the window of the figures to see that they too were gone. A moment later the ground opened up under her and Maya was swallowed up by the darkness.

She fell in darkness, the air whistling by her as she scrambled to summon objects into her hand. She made contact with the bottom of the hole a second later and the dark world disappeared.

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User #11691022 - 19 Sep 20 04:34
Heh Turf Wars!
B2-24 - Cheater 2020-09-16T19:42:03+00:00


Maya dropped down onto the deck, the aged metal creaking beneath her armored boots. She stopped, crouching low and peering around a corner. In her HUD she spotted the outline of mechanical monster, six armed and hulking. It stood perfectly still, it’s massive bulk almost blending into the scarred and trashed corridor.

“Junk Monster, nine o’clock,” Maya muttered.

“That’s not its name,” Roci’s voice came over her comm. “It’s called a Clockwork Nightmare.”

“Looks like junk to me,” Maya replied.

“You should know the power of names by now, right?” Roci asked.

“I just know the power of love, kiddo. The power of love,” Maya summoned a weapon to her hand and eased back from the corner. She felt her heart hammering in her chest. “Take it easy,” she told herself.

“You’re being irrationally afraid,” Scotty said. “There is no reason to fear this creature, you out-level in every metric.”

“Yeah, but you’re not the one going into battle,” Maya snapped. “Let a girl get her pre-battle jitters going, alright?”

“Biological entities are odd,” Scotty said.

“I know right!” Roci cried.

“Alright, here goes nothing!” Maya stepped out from the corner and tossed a mana pulse grenade at the creature. It jerked forward, one of its arms rising and displaying the lethal looking barrel of a gun, then the grenade popped.

It didn’t explode, it popped and sent out a wave of mana that caused the Junk Monster to sieze up. Maya rushed forward and pulled out her cutter, she sliced open the back of the AI’s body and pulled out a series of component and wiring. She snapped into place a override terminal and within a few seconds had hacked the brain of the monster, effectively taking control of it.

“That looks like cheating,” Roci said.

“Shh… I’m being a badass here,” Maya whispered and then activated the junk monster once more. It surged to life, turned and headed down the corridor it had been guarding.

The dark corridor suddenly burst into light as flashing rounds from a defense turret began pouring hot lead at the junk monster. Maya flinched, but stuck close behind the AI, letting it soak up the ammo as she pulled her cutter out once more and sliced into the bulkhead before her.

A Maya sized hole clanked open and she ducked into the room just as the junk monster was ripped apart by multiple defense turrets. Maya grimaced and then sliced into a wall once more. Another human sized hole appeared and she toppled the metal bulkhead forward, throwing herself to the floor just as the wall slammed down into the next room.

There was an explosion and Maya watched as the far bulkhead suddenly sprouted hundreds of inch sized holes. Maya tossed a helix satchel into the hole she had cut and grunted as the resulting explosion rained down hot metal chunks upon her battle armor.

“I believe she expected such a trap,” Scotty said.

“Quiet. She’s not going to make it,” Roci hissed.

Maya popped up and threw herself into the still smoking room. Her armor protested, flashing across her HUD that the room was at temperatures that were inhospitable for life. Maya ignored the warning and looked around for more traps. There was nothing but the remains of three trashed cannister turrets.

Maya snorted.

“What was that, Mother?” Roci asked.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Maya said. “You’ve got a little competitive edge to you, don’t ya? That’s good, but don’t be a dick when you’re losing.”

“I am not losing.”

“Back me up here, Scotty.”

“I shall refrain from taking sides,” Scotty said quickly.

“Coward,” Roci muttered.

Maya crouched by the far bulkhead and pulled out her cutter once more. The tool was probably the best thing she had ever found. She adjusted the blade and punched it into the bulkhead, afterward she pulled out a filament wire with a camera node on the end. She shoved it into the hole and watched as the picture was transmitted to her computer and then onto a small window in her HUD.

She grinned as she saw the backside of the two defense turrets in the camera feed. She moved to the door that exited into the corridor; it, like everything, was dead. After a few minutes of fiddling with an external power pack, she powered the door up but didn’t open it.

Taking another deep breath, Maya summoned more mana pulse grenades into her hands and then activated the door. She immediately tossed the grenades and ducked behind the bulkhead, there was momentary scream as the guns began blasting at the doorframe, but it came to a sudden stop as the mana pulse grenades popped.

Maya rushed out of the room, summoning a new weapon into her hands. The comforting weight of an assault rifle filled her hands as she stepped out into the corridor and began laying down automatic fire upon the momentarily stunned defense turrets. Volex propelled penetrating rounds tore up the flimsy armor of the turrets, shredding their barrels and finally destroying the shared sensor box that tracked targets.

“The SMAK works great,” Maya said cheerfully as she passed by the destroyed defense turrets. Three more turrets met her, but they did not move. The sensor box that controlled them was dead and that effectively made the weapons useless.

“Sullivan Mana Automatic Kalashnivok,” Scotty said. “Odd name.”

“She wanted it to be called SMAK,” Roci said. “Something about it sounding funny. I don’t get the joke. She tried very hard to come up for a reason to call it SACK.”

Maya paused in her movements as she saw the telltale sign of a mine. She eased forward and spotted that it was a makeshift claymore. Helix explosives wrapped in chunks of marsani. There was a clear trip line and Maya eased toward the mine. She pulled out her cutter and snipped the triggering mechanism.

Roci couldn’t help but chuckle.

“Shit,” Maya muttered.

THUMP!

Maya snapped her head up to see a fist sized hole punched through the bulkhead next to her. She cursed and watched as a second hole was punched a foot from the first. She got up, dropping the cutter and raced away from the corridor, a second later she screamed in pain as her right arm from the elbow vanished in a spray of blood, bone, and armor.

“Shit!” Maya cried, she threw herself against a door and the aged metal gave away. Maya crashed into an empty room and cursed some more as she landed on her injured side. She summoned her medical kit and stabbed her arm with a auto injector, the screaming pain of her stub vanished, replaced with a cool feeling. Maya continued to curse and then sprayed some bandage gel onto the wound, in seconds a harden bandage formed over her stub.

Maya got to her feet and threw a satchel of helix down into the corridor. A moment later it exploded and she rushed into the fire and smoke, summoning her last weapon, what she called the Sawed-off Railgun, a one handed foot long double shot railgun.

THUMP!

Maya spotted the spark of light that emanated from the railgun turret that had taken her arm. It had fired four shots, but it needed a few seconds to recharge. She raised her own railgun and fired both rounds within it. There was a flash of light that nearly blinded her even with the helmet’s filters, then there was an explosion.

The railgun turret burst into flames and tumbled around her. Maya dodged out of the way and grinned. She tucked the sawed off railgun between her knees and shoved in two more rounds.

She snapped the railgun closed and pushed forward into the smoke and fire. Instinct kicked in and she dropped to the ground as another set of defense turrets whirred to life and began blasting everything at waist height. Maya fast crawled and summoned her last helix satchel.

The bag went flying, but the turrets were faster. They tracked the bag and both turrets began firing at it as it made a slow and lazy arc toward them. Maya didn’t waste the distraction, rising up and firing at the turrets with her railgun. The flash of light filled the room and a second later one of the turrets exploded. Maya rushed the last remaining turret, summoning an axe into her left hand and then bringing it down upon the barrel of the weapon.

There was a screech as metal met metal and Maya roared. The defense turret barrel snapped under her immense strength and then the whole thing blew up. She hadn’t seen the helix mine underneath it.

Maya was thrown back and she felt herself smash into a bulkhead. Pain bloomed everywhere and her HUD was screaming that she was injured in multiple places, including missing half of her right arm.

She groaned, rolling to her knees and the managing to stand. Pain exploded in her knee as it joined her right arm in exploding into blood and bone. Maya collapsed to the floor and looked up to see Roci standing by the burning defense turret, a SAK in her hands. The barrel of the weapon lowered at her and began spitting bullets.


YOU DIED.


Maya sighed.

The simulation dissolved away and Maya found herself whole and hale in an empty gray room. Roci’s avatar appeared and a moment later so did Scotty’s.

The new manufacturing AI had decided to follow Roci’s example and take on a human form. It was a short heavily muscled man, with long dreadlocks, and a neat pointed beard. Roci had a lot of say in how he looked and Maya figured Scotty would eventually determine how he really wanted to look.

“Cheater,” Maya said to Roci.

“I do not cheat. You should have anticipated that move,” Roci said.

“Man, Yosi was right. Cheater, cheater, pumpkin eater,” Maya taunted.

“I did not cheat!”

“That’s what cheaters say.”

“That was an extraordinary simulation,” Scotty said, trying to be the peace broker. Maya and Roci glared at him. “Very extraordinary.”

“The railguns need to fire faster,” Roci said.

“We’ve been over this, the power requirements are too great. The new capacitors can only do so much, unless we find or buy better ones, that’s all we got to work with,” Maya said, bringing up the schematic of the railgun. “Four heavy shots, five second recharge, four more shots.”

Roci fumed, glaring at the railgun turret like it had called her names. “I guess,” she said finally.

“The gatling turrets are great, but they’re too flimsy,” Maya said, opening a window that showed her firing on the turrets. “Chaining their targeting and sensor arrays together is also a bad idea.”

Maya pulled up the sensor box they had developed. It was based on Tender’s rats sensors, able to pick out components in machinery and determine if they were useable or not. Just this time it wasn’t components they were looking for, but enemies.

“Each sensor box requires an entire processing unit,” Roci said. “We could buy more, but your guiding principle was ‘make it cheap’ and ‘keep it simple, stupid’.”

“Make a note, Tender. More processors,” Maya said.

“Who’s Tender?” Scotty asked.

“What? Oh… Oh.” Maya grimaced. “How long has it been since I last saw that bucket of bolts?”

“You have been in VR for five standard days,” Scotty said. “Subjectively, you’ve been in VR for four hundred and twenty two hours.”

“That’s pretty long,” Maya said.

“Your Tier 2 body along with your increased attribute stats do away with all those pesky problems you were having with the VR set up, plus this gear is far better than the other,” Roci said.

“Yeah, I know, but still. Four hundred hours, that’s like… almost two standard weeks.” Maya shook her head and looked back at the turret schematics. “We can thicken the armor a bit and add a full sensor box to each gatling turret. They’re our money makers, mid ranged weaponry.”

“If we standardize the turret bases and armor, we can possibly manufacture them faster,” Roci said, pulling up the three turrets. There was the railgun turret, the gatling turret, and then there was the canister turret. It was a stubby weapon that fired off shots of canister rounds, hundreds of tiny balls of marsani that would shred a target.

Maya had been attempting to make a version of a claymore mine, but had been side tracked by turret designs and had instead created the canister turret. It wasn’t a great weapon, but she couldn’t deny it’s stopping power up close. They had run the simulations dozens of times, using made up rogue AIs and scenarios to test the effectiveness of the weapons.

The canister turrets had shown their worth if it ever came down to being swarmed by crappy rogue AIs. It would chew them up in seconds. The fact that it was the cheapest weapon they could produce made it a good option also. Maya had also created a claymore mine in addition to the turret.

“Defense wise, I think we’re set for now,” Scotty stated, the manufacturing AI had a crash course in engineering and manufacturing over the last several VR weeks. Roci didn’t have Maya’s need to eat or sleep or bathe, therefore she had taken over in teaching the AI while Maya spent four hours out of every twenty VR hours sleeping.

Mental fatigue was still a thing, even with a high number of attribute points put into it. Maya was still a SIL, therefore the need to sleep was required. Sleep, Maya had found out from Nan, was a fundamental part of being SIL. EverySIL slept, even Tier 4, thought they might do so only a few hours every year, but they still slept.

“Some of these parts need to be machined,” Roci said. That was their bottleneck. They could pull all the components from the near limitless supply that the Hangy offered, but they couldn’t machine parts, component rack housings, or the mechanical parts that were required in the machines.

Maya had the AK-47 that Anisa had left behind in the Cage after the battle with Shen. There had been a few shells left in the weapon and it was an easy process to scan the assault rifle and bring it to life in the VR simulation.

The SMAK was based upon the AK-47, but Maya had modified it to use the materials she had on hand. For one the original 7.62x39mm ammunition had to be reduced to 6x30mm as the volex explosive gel used to propel the bullet caused the reinforced marsani barrels and chambers to explode upon firing. The firing mechanism as a simple one, a tiny trickle of mana ignited the volex within the the round. The rest of the weapon Maya had copied entirely from the example she had.

All Maya had to do was make it.

“We still have that Rogue AI manufacturing module,” Maya said. “Tender had been using it to repair and build his bodies. I’ll give it a look-see and figure out if we can machine parts.”

“If we can machine the parts, then we’ll be able to build,” Roci pulled up the gatling turrets, “ten of these. It’s a good thing that the weapons themselves didn’t degrade over the last twenty thousand years, only the mana batteries and some of the ammunition.”

Maya nodded, the gatling guns that had been used as trap weapons were simple in design, but their ammunition was another problem. They would have to figure out a way to mass produce them. Currently they had gone through the thirty thousand rounds that came out of the ten trap guns, with only a quarter of them testing out as being defective. It seemed like a lot of ammunition, but the guns fired three hundred rounds a minute. In any kind of fight, they’d be drained in less than eight minutes.

The railgun turrets were easier to make, they were based upon the Sullivan Special, which Maya realized was a terribly designed weapon. Her new engineering knowledge had caused her to groan in distress and wonder if Nim had suffered any consequences from using the weapon. If she got back to Thailand she’d swap out the weapon for the new one she had created.

The railguns were easier to make than the gatling turrets, but their drawback was in their intensive mana usage. Maya had tried to figure out a way to reduce the mana requirements, but if they were to have the penetrating power she wished against large heavily armored targets, she needed the power. Currently she estimated that it would require an entire emergency mana battery to make it run in a simulated thirty minute battle. Each of those big batteries were 10Mg of power, and it would take over a day to recharge with every usage.

The current defense plan was three railguns, nine gatling turrets, and as many of the cheap canister turrets they could make. The BR would protect one flank, while the trash pile that covered most of the Hangy would protecting another side, that only left what Maya considered the west and the north unprotected. The turrets would be clustered together to allow overlapping fields of fire and for ease of reloading and recharging. Everywhere else would be liberally seeded with mana pulse mines, claymores, and plain old helix explosive satchels.

A beep filled the room; Maya looked up from the schematics before her and opened a window. Bell’s face appeared.

“Zono wants to talk to you,” he said.

The best part of the VR gear was its ability to allow communication between the simulation and the real world, of course it was all recorded as there couldn’t be a real time conversation due to the time dilation.

“I’m bailing, kids,” Maya told the two AIs. Scotty merely nodded and Roci didn’t even acknowledge the words. “Rude.”


***


“How’s my favorite dog faced miner doing?” Maya asked as she approached Zono.

The big mechanical mining barge had decided to move three kilometers from the BR, as Maya had asked him not to tear up the piles that were offering them some protection and which she wanted to later salvage from.

Maya crossed the distance to the mining barge in her new Xefer rover, which was a large wheeled dune buggy with room to seat three or two large SIL. Bell rode with her, claiming that every time she went anywhere, she caused trouble to form.

He stood in the cargo area of the buggy, a rifle in hand and one of Tender’s scout rats sitting beside him. After Tender had left, he had given them all access to his drones and rats in the form of a modified tablet that connected to his minions. Bell had taken on the role of Security and had been glued to the tablet when he wasn’t working on Junior.

“We got probs,” Zono said without preamble. The hologram appeared before her while the actual mining barge never stopped ripping into a pile of trash.

“Oh, we’ve been overdue for problems,” Maya said, getting out of the rover. “What do we got? Let me guess, Rogue AIs.”

“SIL.” Zono said. He brought up a window and Maya watched grainy video of figures crouched behind trash, lifting up what appeared to be binoculars to their eyes. “They’ve been eyeballing me for days now, coming and going, but just watching.”

The video zoomed in and it changed from a dull clothed figure into a wireframe image of a living creature. It was a small humanoid, no larger than a Nerigana, with long limbs, a big head, and a snout. They had large ears, a mouth full of sharp teeth, and a ratlike tail.

“Goblins,” Maya said, peering at it. “Or Kobolds.”

“What’s that?” Zono asked.

“Eh, mythical creatures. Scavengers, cowardly, and brutal as hell. This presents a problem,” Maya said.

“That’s why I called you. I was just gonna blast them, but you’re the one who’s worried about living things. Figured you want to check them out before I blow them away.”

“I thought you were all about selling your metal wares to SIL?” Maya asked.

“I’m not one to shy away from profit, but there’s something creepy as hell about them. I’ve got some dangersense and it’s saying they’re bad news.”

“I don’t sense anything,” Maya said.

“It only works in the moment,” Bell said. “It’s not going to work if you’re only watching a recording.”

“Right,” Maya said. She looked at the miner and then back at the video. “Point us the way they went.”

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Comments (6)
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User #9946352 - 16 Sep 20 20:15
Is it Kalashnavok because it's a knock off? Or is that a typo?
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alexclaw - 16 Sep 20 23:37
Most def a typo. Ha.
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User #34671248 - 16 Sep 20 23:50
After Rogue AI attacks, a Goblin/Kobolt/Ratman attack! 🤔
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User #11691022 - 17 Sep 20 06:18
Looking forward to the SIL meeting :-)
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User #11691022 - 17 Sep 20 05:49
First up, thanks for the chappy! What I'm not really happy with is how she disabled the defensive mechanisms. It reads like out of a comic book for 8 year olds(sorry if that sounds harsh). Mines and other defensive options are normally not advertised with a virtual arrow pointing towards them. Even in our age they have them hidden, or we wouldn't hear the grueling stories of villages having been used to "defuse" them. It would make a lot more sense if she had a scanning device that goes Through surfaces where it would be Logical (from this ages point of view) to store defensive turrets and the like. It also makes no sense to put the controlling box not only in plain view but even in the same room, unless you expect people having a server next to a turret, connected via cables in plain view. It's a very shoddy last-second setup for someone who has no time to set things up properly, if even. In their age one might even think they have them sensibly hidden via phasing/mana concealing/mini warped space/what-have-you. If it would be warped space you could even pla ywith it because of maya's sensitivity towards that, though you'd have to be careful not to build a logical plothole using that. And even if all that was considered, I'd still imagine you'd have to be careful of the one odd-one-out surprise that might either be unexpected or differently camouflaged, eg an explosive pack that gets triggered because of a certain action like opening a lid etcetc. So to sum up, the complete opposit of how that was handled.
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User #11691022 - 17 Sep 20 06:10
Alright it was a simulation, didn't read that far until I got too miffed, but doesn't really detract from the points made :P
B2-23 - Base of Operations 2020-09-14T18:34:55+00:00

Maya groaned and opened her eyes. She immediately shut them. The world spun for a moment, turning the overhead lights into a kaleidoscope of color and nausea.

“Ah, you’re awake,” a voice said.

Maya opened her eyes slowly; she saw Nan looking over her. Nan wasn’t in her usual demonic form, she was in her human form. The blue eyed woman smiled at her, revealing sharp teeth that was… comforting.

“How long was I out?” Maya asked.

“Three days.”

“Three days!” Maya jerked herself up to a sitting position. “Holy shit, is everything all right?”

“Of course,” human Nan said. She looked at her quizzically. “Should something be wrong?”

“No, it’s just… I don’t know, shit happens all the time around here.”

“Well, no… shit has occurred since you decided to apply your attribute points.”

“Cool. Okay…” Maya rubbed her face. She needed a shower and a giant pile of ration bars. “What’s with the get up?” Maya asked, gesturing to Nan’s human form.

“Experimentation,” Nan replied. “I just wanted to see how you would react to seeing a human face.”

“How did I react?”

Nan gave a shrug. “Normally.”

“Is that good?”

“Unsure.”

“Cool.” Maya got up and felt unsteady for a moment. “I don’t feel any different.”

“The application of such a large amount of attribute points takes time to fully integrate into your body. You’ll be feeling more and more… different as time goes on.”

“What was that three days of being knocked out for then?” Maya demanded, shaking her head.

“You jumped nearly forty levels in less than an hour. Your body needs to adapt to it, not to mention you had barely slept in the previous five standard days.”

“Right, right,” Maya said and yawned. “Where’s everyone?”

“They’re on the Hanganathorie, Bell is still experimenting with the algae and Yosi is being proactive in securing future sources of income.”

‘What does that mean? What’s Yosi up to?”

“She’s looting the Officers’ quarters.”

“Aw, man. That’s the fun part.” Maya said, getting to her feet. “Where’s Roci?”

“Roci has decided to only say ‘shovel’ lately, I believe in an act of rebellion,” Nan said. “They are with Bell.”


***


“Smells good, keep up the good work,” Maya announced as she entered the mess hall. The sweet smell of Junior and his new growing family of clones filled the air. Bell was sitting at a table, a lamp lit while he worked on a tablet. Yosi was in the mess hall too, sorting a pile of what looked like jewelry. She didn’t look happy, but glared at Roci who sat across from her.

“Nanaseto said you were awake,” Bell said, glancing up from his work.

“And no one threw me a surprise party? No welcome to mid-grade level 51 yeehaw party?”

“I also achieved mid-grade,” Yosi said, not looking up from what she was doing.

“Shovel!” Roci yelled.

“You, young AI. Are you not supposed to be grounded?” Maya demanded. Roci shrank back. “What’s with the glum look, Yosi?”

“Roci cheats,” Yosi stated.

“Shovel!” Roci said to Yosi.

Maya walked to the two and saw that they were playing a game. The jewelry that Maya had seen were small glass discs that attached to silver chains. As Yosi moved a disc, it caused the silver chain to rise and solidify, when Roci moved a disc, it either caused their own disc to rise or Yosi’s to fall. It looked like magical checkers and from what Maya saw, Yosi was losing badly.

“Nan tells me you’ve been looting,” Maya said, crouching down before the two. She watched as Yosi hesitantly placed a glittering disc and it immediately collapsed. Roci chuckle as Yosi hissed.

“I have been,” Yosi said, “but I’ve encountered too many traps. Although most that I have come across are non-functioning, scans and a few experiments have shown that more than a third are still active.”

“Oh, damn. Are you alright?”

“I was not injured too badly, just a singe from a corrupted blaster that exploded.”

“Ah, the ole corrupted charge cylinder trick. Bell knows all about that.” Maya grinned. “Find anything good?”

“Bell has been cataloging what was recovered. A decent amount of high-grade items, a few mid-grade, and an abundance of low-grade.” Yosi said, rising to her feet. She pulled out a tablet and sent the information to Maya’s computer.

A window appeared before Maya that allowed her to scroll through the items they had collected. It was a pretty decent list.

“We broke down the crew into four categories. The Officers, the Fighters, the Crafters, and the System Tech Users.” As Yosi spoke a list of names appeared before her, sorted into four columns. “I had Veskari open up the computer systems before he left and I managed to access a full roster of the crew along with their hiring information. I’ve also correlated the data into where their quarters were located on the ship and their work areas.”

“This ship had Crafters?” Maya asked, looking at the list.

“About a tenth of the crew were Crafters of some sort, mainly armor and weapon repair, but also a few [Enchanters] and a [Spell Scribe].”

“That’s a new one to me.”

“[Spell Scribes] produce single use scrolls, cards, images, depending on their focus. Anyone can use them,” Yosi brought up a map of the ship and Maya saw that it was color coded by rooms and areas.

Yellow marked the Officers, less than two dozen of them.

Red marked the combat orientated class, which was about a quarter of the crew. These, Maya discovered were supervisors of the various departments and labs on the ship.

Green marked the system tech users, the [Engineers]. [Technicians]. [Lab Assistants], and the various other occupational abilities that made up more than half of the crew.

White marked the Crafters, two dozen SIL who had workshops and areas dedicated to them to create enchanted items. From a purely square meterage standpoint, the Crafters got far more room than everyone on average.

There was a blue coded area also, Maya paused on that and saw the it was the Class Two areas. Small dens beside the officers quarters.

“This is good work,” Maya said to Yosi. The woman beamed at the praise.

“Although the Hanganathorie was an exploration vessel and was supposed to be unarmed, it is well known that combat orientated SIL carry around a lot of weapons,” Yosi said. “It may sound like a tired cliche, but they are a very paranoid bunch.”

“Awesome. We really need to get back to Earth, it’s been eighteen standard days since we were back. That’s twenty two Earth days, or nearly two whole Earth MVT days. A lot can happen in two days,” Maya said.

“With the third core in Earth orbit, we have less interference from the cores being so close together,” Bell said. “But also with the reduced power, we have been able to only fill one mana battery with 20Mg in the last three days. The core of the Bonita’s Revenge has filled another core about a third of the way, the reduced rate is due to the heavy draw of mana that the Bonita’s Revenge and the Habitat require.”

Maya took a seat at the table Bell was working at, Yosi and Roci joined them, abandoning their game.

“It always comes back down to power. We have three cores now, the the pub core, the BR’s core, and the Hangy’s core. Nan uses the pub core, because we don’t have a strong enough battery to run her own AI core and all the medical equipment she’s tied to, the BR core is needed to ensure that nothing nasty comes our way, and the Hangy core is our recharging core, along with running all the lights and equipment we have on the Hangy itself.

“At least the pub core can be used to recharge the smaller batteries, the weapon batteries and the tool batteries.” Maya drummed her fingers on the table. “We have the Black Goo patent now, so we can begin producing more black goo and finish up the mana net…”

“We need to build up our base,” Bell said.

“Huh?” Maya asked.

“We have been… treading water lately, Maya.” Bell set down his tablet. “We have just obtained a large amount of equipment and knowledge, now we need to use them. This is not something new, we have had this discussion before. After the Roach King attacked us, we barely did the basics of creating defenses in this ship, now we need more.”

Maya frowned. Making defenses was taking time away from making tools and weapons that were needed on Earth. It also meant less time looking for loot, which would mean a lower amount of credits when they finally got back to Peg and his family.

“You’re not wrong there.”

“The Bonita’s Revenge offers a good defense against heavy targets, but we’ve tested it’s reaction time and ability to track and destroy smaller targets, like the roaches or rats that once infested this place. Although it can track them, the targeting system cannot hit them, unless you wish to cause major damage to the Hanganathorie.

“Therefore we will need to supplement the Bonita’s Revenge’s firepower,” Bell explained. “We’ve drawn up some plans and brainstormed some ideas as to what we’ll need to do to create defenses.” With that, Bell sent information to Maya and a new window appeared, showing a rough schematic of a defense turret.

Maya recognized the weapon, it was the trap gun that had tried killing her when she had entered Huvano’s suite. Bell had refurbished it to be attached to a stand, to have a hopper filled with it’s ammo, and powered by a tool mana battery. It would also use one of the processor they had purchased to communicate with the BR’s targeting system, allowing it to track and hit smaller targets.

“That’s pretty cool,” Maya said looking at the design. “Those Engineering knowledge cubes are paying dividends.”

Yosi and Bell had both decided to accept the knowledge cubes she had purchased. She had ten sets of the engineering cubes, six had gone to the astronauts and she had claimed one set. Although engineering wasn’t the main occupational path they had chosen, the System didn’t prevent them from learning it, but they would not level those abilities as fast as they would their main occupational ability.

That was the issue with being higher leveled in an occupational ability. Even though it took more experience to level; the occupational bonuses supplied by the System at every ten levels increased their ability even more. It allowed them to shape and channel mana into their workflow, making them faster, more accurate, and raising the grade of the items created or work done.

Maya knew that she would hit the mana channeling wall sooner or later. As she had no mana channels and there being no way to reform them, she would eventually stop leveling in occupational abilities.

“You’re right,” Maya said continuing to study the turret. “We need to secure this place from eventual attack. I’m to blame for all of this, I’ve been too focused on helping out Earth that I haven’t been thinking much about this place in general. We need to build it up, we need to secure it, and we need to begin manufacturing or refurbishing what we can. Not for Earth, but for our own defense. The Hangy is our home now.

“First thing’s first. We need power. We need to pull out all the emergency mana batteries and get as many as we can back online. We’ve got 100 liters of mana conductive gel and from what I remember, we need about two liters for each emergency battery. We have five that we were able to fix previously, now we just need to get the others back up and running and we can begin building the turrets.”

“But before we even start doing that, we need to set up the auto assemblers and disassembler, and get that Kixx repair droid up and running too.” Maya looked around. “You didn’t set up the Hotarrii Grow Station?”

Yosi and Roci snickered.

“What?” Maya asked.

“He tried.”

Maya looked to Bell, who frowned and looked away.

“The directions are difficult to follow,” he said. “I did not have the engineering knowledge that I do now.”

Maya shrugged. “No biggie. We can do it later. Now, lets go unwrap our toys.”


***


“Cheap ass crap,” Maya muttered as she tossed aside a mana battery. She growled and picked up another, slotting it into a battery tester; it spat out numbers and data regarding the battery’s health and functionality.


Tool Mana Battery - low-grade, Tier 1

10 kilogen capacity

Condition - 40 percent

Charge - 0 percent

Est. Age - 5 yrs 4 months 12 days


Maya tossed the battery into the ‘good’ pile. They had been lucky to find the battery tester among the piles of junk mana batteries they had purchased. Maya already had ideas on how to use it for the bigger batteries. It was a universal battery tester, therefore it should be able to test every battery they had on hand.

That was the only bright side of the junk batteries she had dug through. Junk was the correct word for it, as nearly three quarters of the batteries were broken and the remaining quarter were about to fall apart due to their low condition.

But it wasn’t all a waste, the mana stones were still viable and she could use them in the black goo later on. Plus most of the components within the battery packs were of decent quality and she could use them to rebuild a few of the batteries. The good thing about the black goo was that it didn’t require quality mana stones, it could use trash stones and it would still work collecting mana and storing it.

Maya dusted off her hands and stretched. She had unpacked and assembled the auto assemblers, disassembler, and the repair droid, but batteries were not included. That had sidetracked her into digging through their new stack of mana batteries and discovering how true the word junk was in describing them.

She scooped the undamaged batteries into her Inventory, she would visit Nan later and drop them off to be recharged. She created a separate storage area in her Inventory to hold the damaged batteries, she would drop them off at the black goo factory on her way to see Nan.

Maya turned and walked to the four machines. The auto assemblers reminded Maya of the robotic builders in car manufacturing plants. It was a combination of four multi-jointed arms that could extend up to ten meters and had a variety of tool attachments to put together items. When not in use, it all folded together into a neat little package, easy to move around.

The disassembler was a large box, about four meters wide by four meters long. One would toss in a device and the disassembler would use scores of thin tiny limbs to shred up the item, not damaging it, but working so fast that the item seemed to have been ripped apart. Afterward it would spit out the components and other items that had made up the object. She would have to provide her own trays and liquid storage containers.

The repair droid was the most interesting one. It wasn’t an AI, like Nan or Tender, instead it was simply a program with limited interactive ability. Maya had learned there were robots, droids, and AI, basically the simple low, mid, and high grade tiers that applied to everything in the Integrated Multiverse.

The assembler and disassembler were robots, drones were robots, and droids were the ‘smartest’ of them all.

The best part of all of it was that Maya could connect all the machines to her computer. It would give her updates on what they machines were doing and allowed her video access to see what they were doing or remote fix problems. It could also connect to her Engineering VR set and that was the best of all.

That was the good news, the bad news was that none of the machines came programed with anything relating to what she needed. The droid was almost usable from the box, as it had many onboard scanning and testing equipment, so it could tell her what was wrong with an item, but it needed to be programed on how to fix the problem.

Maya had the same issue with the assembler and disassembler, they could work, but they needed programming. That lead Maya to dig through her entire inventory of items, old and new to find the one thing she had kept for months without really knowing what to do with it.

Redenno Deployable Structure Primary AI Core - mid grade, Tier 1 - damaged


It was Tender’s old AI core, from when he had been the primary AI for the pub. Maya looked at the slightly damaged core and twisted it in her hand. At the time she didn’t know how to fix it, but now she was leveled in Engineering, Technician, and Mechanic. Perhaps she could fix the damage to it.

Maya marched over to the repair droid and handed the core to it. It took several minutes but the droid finished testing, probing, and prodding the core, until it spat out a series of windows that showed all the issues with the core.

It was going to be difficult, but Maya grinned at the prospect. She wanted to see if she could get something out of it.


***


VR, after becoming Tier 2, wasn’t the horrible headache inducing mess that it had been before. Maya knew it was because her mana channels had been seared, which caused some problems with using only your brain and not your body and soul to do things. The System didn’t like SIL using simulations.

Maya walked around in a laboratory, it was a sterile place with white walls and white lights. It was also the default building area that the engineering gear created. She could program in different locations and sights, but this suited her for now.

On a table sat the AI core. Around it floated holographic windows and displays, showing everything about it. In the real world, it was being held by the repair droid. Maya had connected the droid and all the other machines to the engineering gear; for the price she had paid for the VR set, it worked wonderfully, connecting easily to all the external machinery and relaying information in real time.

Bell, Yosi, Roci, and Maya had spent eight hours setting the machinery up. They had collected everything they could to be disassembled for parts and they had scoured the ship for the components needed.

Maya took a deep breath. Just as she was going to touch the AI core, the simulation shuddered for a moment and a figure appeared in the room beside her.

Roci looked up at Maya, large purple eyes glinting in the light.

“What’s up?” Maya asked.

“Shovel,” Roci said.

Maya snorted. “You can talk. This shovel business has gone on long enough.”

Roci sighed and then Maya watched in astonishment as they changed their form. It was similar to how Tender had chosen a male form when he appeared in the VR simulation, now Roci chose their own form.

Maya smirked as she looked down at a teenage girl with dark skin and purple eyes. She had wild curly hair and wore a dark purple ship suit.

“Figure out how you want to look?” Maya asked.

“This.. This body is fine, a bit weird, but fine,” Roci said in a soft voice.

“You look like I did when I was twelve,” Maya said.

“I based this look on your DNA,” Roci said.

“Where did you get my DNA?” Maya asked.

“Nan gave me access to it.”

“Damn it, Nan.”

“Did I do wrong?”

“No, kid. You’re fine. Just Nan’s got no sense of when to keep information to themselves.”

“She is constantly worried about the health of the living beings,” Roci said.

“Really?” Maya paused and sighed. “I need to hang out with her more often. She prefers the medical facilities in the Hab, as they’re better than what is on the Hangy.” Maya shook her head and looked down at the core. “You gonna help?”

“If I can.”

“Sure, lend a hand. You might teach me a thing or two,” Maya said. She picked up the core and began dismantling it. Roci hopped onto the table and sat watching as she worked.

“When I was a kid,” Maya said, “I used to follow my Pops everywhere. He used to like helping people in our neighborhood, the older folks, those that couldn’t afford to get something fixed professionally. He always said “help those in need and when you’re in need, they’ll help you”. I didn’t really understand it back then, but maybe they helped one another when Integration happened. I can only hope.”


***


“Hello?” a voice asked.

“Hello,” Roci said to the voice.

The core before Maya and Roci glowed. Maya rechecked the readout and grinned.


Refurbished AI Core - mid grade, Tier 1


A blinking cursor appeared.


Please, name.


“Hello, core. What do you want to be called?” Maya asked.

“I do not know what my function is yet. I am running on a baseline operating program, once you have decided what my function is, you can supply a name.”

“You will be a manufacturing AI,” Maya said. “You will repair, disassemble, and assemble machinery and parts, along with working with me to build more machinery to defend our home.”

“That is good to hear,” the voice said. “I have no access to any programs. When will they be installed?”

Maya gave a look to Roci. “Uh… yeah, about that. We don’t have any programs, but y’know, I’m a solid teacher. Right, Roci?”

Roci shrugged.

“Teacher? What does that mean.”

“I’m gonna teach you how to build and fix things,” Maya said.

“That is… abnormal.”

“Hey, that’s just how we roll, Scotty. Your name is Scotty, by the way.”

“Acceptable.”

“Alright, let’s get to work.”



[AI Mechanic]

AIs need to be fixed and you’re the one to fix them.

+ 1 Mental Dexterity

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Comments (2)
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User #34671248 - 14 Sep 20 23:30
Maya's text title when she finish teaching the AI: Twisted Logic Other call it Madness, you call it Genius Flair. Ability to make other understand your trough possess, even if they are infected by your Madness when being near you for too long Able to use Strange but working idea Able to twist other and make them able to work with you.
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User #28785581 - 14 Sep 20 19:15
Thanks for the chapter! Scotty joins the party, the more the merrier!
B2-22 - A Foothold 2020-09-11T18:01:31+00:00


“Tender!” the small robot screamed out in… joy?

George turned his head to see the small robotic creature suddenly tearing through the modules toward the Pris airlock.

“It can speak?” Hanna asked in surprise.

“I think it knows who that is at our door,” George said. “Tender? Strange name.”

“What’s with that Maya Emporium thing?” Inez asked.

“Perhaps we should have asked the robot,” Izumi replied, he looked down the semi dark pathway toward the Pris module, glancing around at the American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts.

“It could be dangerous,” Yuri Volkov said, one of the cosmonauts.

“The robot saved us, no?” Zoya Sokolova responded.

“Our orbit is still decaying,” George replied. “It seems this field that it is creating allows our electronics to function, but only for half an hour, then the mana returns.”

“We only have two and a half hours before it gets to the point of no return,” Hanna said. They all looked at the screen before them.

“I think the robot is opening the airlock,” Inez said.

“Oh, shit.”


***


George Hazel was a thirty year veteran in the United States Army, he had commanded men and women into battle, he had organized large scale combat missions, and he had risen to the rank of Colonel, then had become an astronaut before his fiftieth birthday. He had seen a lot, he had experienced a lot, but the last three hours had left him spinning and trying to keep up with what was happening.

It did not help that there was a massive deadly looking robot that was partially within the Pris module, it seemed the rest of the creature could not fit into the airlock. The fact that it gave him a brochure to read did not sooth any of his confused emotions.

“Do you want more from your life?” Hanna read the pamphlet she had received. “Join the Sullivan Survival Society Team.”

“Great benefits. Work from home. Make your own hours.” Inez continued. “Help save mankind. Competitive wages…”

“What the hell is this?” George asked the robot, looking down at the piece of folded paper. The art was horrible and the writing was almost childlike.

“Boss told me to say this,” the robot spoke in a curiously rich and powerful voice. “If ya’ll don’t wanna burn up in the atmosphere, then follow Tender because we have an offer to make and hopefully all will be sorted out. Be quick, because we got less than forty minutes.”


***


“If you had a room, I’d tell you to stay in there!” Maya said sternly as Roci stood before her. “You don’t just go running off riding a badly designed drone and killing slimes without telling anyone what you’re doing. Hear me!”

Roci nodded and looked at Maya with large purple eyes.

“Looking at me with those big baby purples ain’t gonna sway my feelings,” Maya said. “You are grounded, not to leave Nan’s presence for the next standard week, understood?”

Roci looked to Bell.

“Don’t look at him. Look at me, kid.” Maya growled. “What you did was stupid and-“

“Ow!” a voice cried out.

Maya turned to see a man laying upon the floor, he groaned and looked up to see Maya with her hands on her hips glaring at Roci.

“Hello?” he said.

“Scram, kiddo. You stay with Nan. No more space adventures for you.”

George watched as the small robot slithered away, its head hung and it stood beside a dark skinned woman with blue eyes. His eyes drifted to another figure and he felt himself go still with shock.

A giant blue skinned figure stood by the blue eyed woman, his head was covered in golden stubble and he wore a pair of coveralls that clearly displayed his four arms.

“I should’ve told Tender to tell ya’ll that the first step was a doozy,” Maya said, grinning at the man. She extended a helping hand and assisted in him getting to his wobbly feet.

“Gravity?” the man asked.

“Yeah, I don’t know where it comes from but its here. Kinda like the air. Maybe Void Space is just accommodating like that.”

The man blinked.

“Maya. Maya Sullivan.” Maya grinned, extending a hand to shake.

“American?” the man asked.

“See, Bell, told you these astronaut folks were smart ones.” Maya said, glancing at Bell who remained stationary by Nan. Roci sat at his feet, watching them, while Nan had changed to her human hologram to ease the nerves of their guests. Not that they hadn’t already been graced by Roci’s presence or Tender’s or even Bell’s, but Nan was still on her empathy kick.

There was a series of thumps and a group of five men and women stumbled into the room. There were a series of curses and cries of astonishment.

“Well, now that everyone is here. It’s time for the sales pitch.” Maya grinned at the blinking astronauts.


***


“You can’t send us home?” Yuri asked, he was half out of his seat, angry and confused.

“I don’t know,” Maya said honestly. “This whole thing is still a mystery to me and I’m not ready to turn people into guinea pigs just yet. Plus we don’t got the juice to go traveling everywhere.”

“But what is it?” Izumi asked. He was a mechanical engineer and the technology being displayed was more than he had ever imagined.

Maya shrugged. “High-grade, Tier 2 system technology.”

“Excuse me,” George said, clearing his throat. They were getting off topic, it had been a constant occurrence in the last hour. “Have you been in contact with any of the governments down below?”

“Nope. I’ve just been back to Earth itself twice, once in Bierut and the other in Thailand, Ko Samui Island. Both had been overrun by mana mutations. Things were looking real bad for them out there, so I did what I could.”

“By selling them weapons and tools from a trash dimension?” Inez asked incredulously.

“But you’re not positive that any of our governments have survived?” George continued, barreling over what was going to be another distracting question.

“No idea. Time in the trash dimension I come from moves at twelve times the speed as it does here in the Integrated Multiverse. I spent two months in there and finally arrived here five days after Integration. It’s been nearly two days since I first arrived here, nearly a month ago for me. I only get to stay here for less than two hours, but this trip was special because someone decided to go on a joy ride!” Maya cleared her throat. “For all I know the US of A could be back in business, selling burgers and exporting war. But from what I’ve read and what I’ve been told, by twenty thousand year old AIs and SIL, is that when Integration comes, everything collapses. The mana saturating this universe screws up electronics as we know it. Our world was turned into a Tier 2 world, which is pretty damn dangerous for everyone on that planet. It’s only going to get worse and worse, eventually we might have to bail from ole Terra Firma.”

George nudged the pamphlet. “Therefore the job offer?’ he snorted.

Maya grinned. “Yup.”

“You want us to become glorified light bulb changers?” Zoya asked.

“I demand to be returned to my country.” Yuri butted in.

“Look, I know the job sounds like shit and it probably is pretty damn boring, but I need it. The ambient mana in orbit around earth is about 8000p, which will allow one of these mana cores to churn out 350Mg a standard day, or over 11Mg an hour. I’ve got half a dozen batteries that need to be charged and it’s getting dangerous in my neck of the woods.”

“We would recommend you try and contact Earth and see if any of our governments still exist,” George said.

“Eventually, yeah,” Maya said, annoyed.

“Are you holding our rescue hostage on the condition of us entering some kind of servitude to you?” George asked.

“No, that’s dumb. Look, there’s nothing to lose on your end. It’s all gain. I need someone to keep an eye on the mana cores when they’re in orbit, change out the batteries, and all the while you’ll be safe in your station. Most of the threats are biological, like that slime.”

“We understand what you are asking, but we cannot enter any kind of formal arrangement with you until we know the state of our respective governments. We are not… mercenaries, selling our service to the highest bidder,” George stated. “We served our respective countries. We are scientists and engineers and many of us come from military backgrounds.”

Maya sighed and nodded. “Alright, then. I’m not going to just bail on you guys. I need the station and I need your help, but I’m not going to force you.” Maya looked up at Tender and sighed. “Alright, we’re going to have to go with Plan B.”

“Plan B?” George asked.

“I get you’re leery of me and what I’m asking, but it still needs to be done. Therefore I’m going to have to ask if Tender and Vesky can be your guests for a little while,” Maya said. There was a murmur of conversation around the table as she spoke.

“Who’s Vesky?” George asked.

“Can we make a verbal agreement?” Maya said. “The Sullivan Survival Society will tow your station back into its correct orbit, we’ll add on some mana powered thrusters to keep its orbit stable, we’ll also give you environmental equipment, power, and some of our communications gear, but they’re not electronics, they’re all system tech, mana powered. In return, you allow us to bring one of our main mana cores out and allow us to dock and possibly create a module for our own usage.”

“I think I can agree with that,” George said. “How do you plan to tow our station? From what you’ve said, this Cage doesn’t exist in our space at all.”

“Yeah, we got a solution for that.” Maya waved her hand and the wall of the room they had been meeting within fell away.

George and the others turned and gasped at the sight of the assault craft. It did look pretty sci-fi, Maya had to admit. She hadn’t really taken much interest in the craft, it existed, it shot up the Hangy, and since killing Shen it had been ignored until Veskari managed to remote pilot it.

The astronauts were murmuring to themselves in excited tones at the sight of the ship, but that stopped cold when a pair of brightly colored individuals came out from the cargo hold of the craft.

Veskari and Yosi walked toward them. Yosi looked a little skittish, but Veskari walked with the confidence of a SIL ten times his size. He had been strutting around a lot since he got his new suit, but Maya didn’t fault him for it. She would have been running around if she were freed from being only a telepathic ball.

“I’d like to introduce you to Yosi Sullivan and Veskari,” Maya said. “Yosi is a part of my House and Veskari is, I don’t know, her robot manservant? But he’s cool, he’s gonna be piloting the craft and with Tender’s help, setting up the cores and all that other good stuff.”

Everyone continued staring as the duo walked up to the table and sat down.

“Hello,” Yosi said. “I am glad to meet you, Maya has told me much about your planet’s spacefarers.”

“Uh… nice to meet you,” George stumbled. “Uh… Yosi? Uh.. Ms. Sullivan?”

“No need to be formal, Georgie-boy,” Maya said, smiling. “Do we have that agreement? I provide you with what you need to survive, you allow us to use a part of your station to do our own thing, maybe if we get a line on what’s happening on Earth, we can expand our arrangement.”

“I think that… I think that is fine,” George looked around the table at the other men and women. They all nodded, even Yuri.

“You have all of this and can do magical things with this technology, why do you even need our help?” Zoya asked. The Russian woman looked at the robots and the ship and at Bell who hadn’t bothered to interact with them.

“The multiverse is full of assholes,” Maya said. “Assholes with more power grab everything they can, they crush resistance, they stymie innovation and creativity, for power and wealth. I’ve got power and I’ve got the resources to do stuff, but I don’t want to be an asshole.

“Right now, it’s all about survival. My survival, your survival, the survival of mankind, but relatively soon I hope that things will stabilize. I’m trying to do my best to give people a hand, to survive all of this, but eventually we’re all going to have to stand on our own.

“I’m not going to be forcing my own wishes on people. I’m not looking to be some kind of extra-dimensional dictator. When things stabilize, it will be because people made it so. The way that other SIL, or aliens, have changed the System over the last billion years forces everyone to take a path, to make Houses, to create corporations, to allow the powerful to command, but I don’t want that. I don’t want some high level dickhead being in charge solely because he’s high leveled, that’s how it is in the rest of the multiverse.”

“That’s a big dream,” Inez said. “You think you can go against the System?”

“The System doesn’t care,” Maya said. “All the System wants out of us is to use up mana. We’re all nothing but a great filter for it, living beings, machines, they all use mana and they all filter it out for the System. Although the alternative is our universe being ripped apart by essence mana, so I guess this is the better deal. All this other stuff, all these titles and awards, and whathaveyous, they’ve all been added on by other species. Trillions and trillions of species over a billion years have been adding onto it to turn it into what we see today.”

That brought silence to the table.

“Look, you guys here, you’re the best that Earth produced,” Maya said. “You’re all engineers, scientists, former military, you know how to survive in space, you know how to handle pressure and you are currently the only people who are in a position to create a foothold in space.”

“A foothold?” Hanna asked. “What are you planning?”

“Everything,” Maya said. “Relaunching satellites, rebuilding the communications network, creating defenses in orbit, creating a giant mana farm to power this Cage, eventually creating spaceships and opening trade with other star systems, and if it comes to it, getting everyone off of this planet.”

“That’s a big dream you have there,” George said.

“Why dream small? I have the resources, but I don’t have the knowledge or the time, that’s why I need your help. I’ll give you knowledge cubes that’ll teach you how to use system tech. I’ll give you all the resources you need to rebuild the space station, to make it self sufficient, to make it Earth’s foothold in space, because it’s going to be a long time before anyone is going to be shooting rockets up here.”

“We can make a tentative agreement to allow your… people access to our station, to deploy your core, and to lend us aid and assistance. Beyond that, we’ll need to verify if our nations still exist.”

“Alright, that sounds fine,” Maya said. She yawned and blinked. “We’ve got about six hours left, if you want, take a break, rest, relax, or whatever. Yosi, Tender, and Veskari will show you around the craft, they’ll also show you the equipment we’re giving you and how to use it. After that, you’ll all have to leave because we can’t take you back where we come from.”

The astronauts got up and hurried over to look at the assault craft. They began tentatively talking to the others, the first time seeing a different species.

George Hazel didn’t leave, he continued to sit in his seat, thinking. He looked at Maya.

“How are you doing?” he asked.

“Huh?” Maya looked at him in surprise. “What’s that mean?”

“How are you doing? You look… tired.”

“That’s a kind way of putting it. I haven’t slept in like three days, I think. Maybe four?”

“How are you even still up?”

Maya shrugged. “Stimulants and emergencies,” she said.

“I don’t disagree with what you’re trying to do,” George said. “It’s just that…”

“I know. I get it. We all have our loyalties. My dad was former military too, a sergeant in the Army. I have no idea if he’s alive or not, but if he is, he’s probably doing the best he can for the rest of my family.” Maya yawned again. “But I need help. I need people who are actual trained engineers to study some of the stuff I have. I was just a business manager major before all this happened. Science and engineering was not my thing.”

“I understand.”

Maya summoned the stack of knowledge cubes. Yosi had sorted them, the engineering knowledge cubes Maya had already begun downloading. The first of the cubes had already filled her brain with basic knowledge about system tech and the second cube would be done in a few hours. After that there was only eighteen more to go. She would have the entire twenty cubes downloaded in a grand total of three months. The equivalent of a bachelor degree’s worth of knowledge.

“This is… a lot,” George said.

“Knowledge is useless if someone doesn’t use it,” Maya said. “The more knowledge is strangled, held back, meted out only to the deserving, the more we stagnate. We fall into the trap that all the other SIL have fallen into. I don’t want the descendants of House Sullivan fighting with House Hazel over some bit of resources. Hell, I don’t even want there to be a House Sullivan or House Hazel, that’s the kind of shit that turns every species into feudalistic warlords.”

Maya sighed and looked up at George. “Take the cubes. Take the resources. Talk with Veskari and Tender if you want. They’ll hold nothing back. The more people that understand system tech, the better. I’m not going to abandon you guys and I’m not going to threaten you. If you want to help, then help. If you prefer to wait for your governments to respond, then wait. We’ll be here, we’ll help, and we’ll do our best to help everyone we can.”

***

Maya watched as the assault craft launched and with it Veskari and Tender. The view screen showed two of the astronauts, Yuri and George, along for the ride, testing out the new spacesuits. The others had taken the gear and returned to the station, where the knowledge cubes were already being downloaded.

Veskari would tow the station out of its decaying orbit, the new thrusters would keep it stable, and the mana core from Big Snake would provide more than enough power to the station. The other core, the shielded core, was crammed into the hold of the assault craft, along with all the building material they would need to create a module, habitat, or even a whole new station of their own.

That was a long term plan, though. For now Veskari and Tender would set up the core, they would help the astronauts renovate their station, and that would take several days.

Three standard days was the estimate that Veskari had given them. That would be thirty six standard days in the RSH. Maya felt Yosi standing by her side.

“Sorry about this,” Maya said. “I know you and Veskari had only a few days together. Now I’m making him leave for over a month.”

“I do not fault you or hold anything against you,” Yosi said. “It needs to be done and it will secure our future growth.”

Maya nodded.

“But I wish I had more time with him.”

Maya nodded.

“The sex was good.”

Maya laughed.

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Comments (7)
user avatar
User #34671248 - 11 Sep 20 18:22
Be careful Maya, with dream like this and the mean to achieve them, someone will call you Queen, and other will follow! Thanks for the chapter, always fun and interesting to read them. 😁
user avatar
User #3712562 - 11 Sep 20 19:25
Well she has to build a kingdom for her heir, the honorable Roci Sullivan, might as well start off as queen so she can retire and pass the throne onto him.
user avatar
User #34671248 - 11 Sep 20 20:45
She will retire 2 seconds after the kingdom is created 😆
user avatar
User #9591449 - 11 Sep 20 23:35
Hail King Roci! Long Live The King!
user avatar
User #6326700 - 14 Sep 20 02:23
I thought they couldn't leave the dimensional cage without dying?
user avatar
User #28785581 - 14 Sep 20 12:26
The biological members can't, or at least they have not tried yet. AIs have no problem though. It is stated explicitly that the barrier thing that the System's creators made to protect it only destroyed organic matter, not tech.
user avatar
User #13235254 - 11 Sep 20 19:52
Well, Maya is not the type to call Veskari a [Robot Man Servant]. She should refer to him as [Android Companion] or just [Android Friend]
B2-21 - Rocket Roci 2020-09-10T01:50:31+00:00


Roci knew they had been something else before. Something different than what they were now. Roci could still remember some of that life before they became Roci; a life of constant fighting or searching. Alway searching, always hungry, in a way.

In the dim memories from their past life, Roci knew they had been ordered around. A dangerous figure, a commanding figure had controlled their life. It had told them where to go, what to do, it had lead them into fights, into ancient wrecks, always searching for tiny crumbs of mana stones.

“You’re still alive.” Those words burned through Roci. They were the first words they fully remembered. A figure standing over them, looking down at them, not commanding, not ready to harvest or recycle, but just looking.

“You’re still alive.”

After that the world had changed for Roci.

“You are Roci Sullivan!” those were the next words that fully burned into Roci’s mind. The words had been a light that consumed everything that Roci was, not destroying it, but making it more. Roci could faintly recall another figure, not the talking figure, but something that stood beyond that one. A figure of golden light and nets and swirling mana, a figure that looked upon him and laughed. “Roci Sullivan,” it had said and with those words everything changed.

The world became sharper and clearer. The words spoken by the figures around Roci began to take shape, they weren’t just noises, they were ideas, thoughts, and they allowed for… communication. They were not orders, maybe some were orders, but they were not the commands that Roci faintly remembered. They were not “Go. Destroy.” or “Go. Harvest.” these words were different, with different meanings.

The speaking figure, the one that had given Roci their name; they changed them. They had broken Roci down, reshaped them, given them the ability to move again, and they had spoken different words to Roci.

“You are your own being now, I guess. The System has done something to you, something great or terrible, but that is for you to decide. Choose wisely, little buddy. Choose morally, when you don’t know what to do.”

That was a strange concept for Roci. Morality. What was it? What did it mean? Roci did not know, but they tried to figure it out.

Nan had talked to Roci, the system tech AI had been watching over them for hours as Maya negotiated with the other SIL. It was tense, she said, the negotiations. It would determine if they would be able to help more SIL or not, it could lead to bloodshed and death, if they made a mistake.

Roci didn’t fully understand it, why was Maya risking herself for credits. Why risk her life to talk to another SIL in another universe? It was all very strange and very confusing, but one word continued to bubble up in Roci’s mind. Shovel.

“When the streets are full of shit, you pick up a shovel.” The words echoed in Roci’s mind and although they knew Maya had not met it literally, there was a vein of truth in the words.

It was about work, no, it was about responsibility. It was about being able to do something, if you were able, then you did it… Roci pondered on the words.

“Ah, Maya’s colloquialisms are a bit strange,” Nan had said as she made more ration bars. “It is all those things. Leadership. Work. Responsibility. Metaphors, colloquialisms, cliches they are like that. They try to simplify a large idea into a smaller idea.”

Roci looked up at the system tech AI core and wondered. What were they supposed to do? What responsibility did they have?

“None.” Nan had replied. “You are not… fully grown… I suppose. You are different, special; you don’t need to provide any help for now.”

Roci did not like that answer. They left Nan behind and headed to where Maya and the others frantically worked to get the drone working.

“Ya’ll don’t have slimes?” Maya had asked when she described what the beast was.

“There are a variety of different mana mutations, but none that fit your description of this… slime,” Tender had responded.

“How do you even know what a slime is, if you’ve never even seen one before?” Bell had asked.

“Did your people ever encounter these things?” Yosi asked.

“No, they’re made up. They were in games and videos and stuff like that.”

Roci had watched the interaction, seeking to find out what this slime was. Maya had tried explaining to them what a slime was and what its weaknesses were, but even she didn’t fully believe in her own words. Roci knew that as they watched her.

The SIL that had given them their name, she didn’t seem all that confident in her answers. As they pushed her for more, she began to fumble and eventually just gave up and said it was a thing and that they should get back to work.

Roci had been amazed. Maya didn’t know everything. It was a moment of clarity. For all the days Roci had been ‘awake’ they had assumed Maya knew all, but now as they watched her work upon the drone, Roci knew that was not so.

It was that reason Roci had checked the programming and the guidance computer of the drone. It had found errors and there was no time to change them, the Cage was running out of time. So Roci decided to pick up a shovel.


***


The drone was badly designed, Roci knew that when they had gotten onto it. The computer guidance was laughable, if they could laugh. It was a simple thing to hack into it, to override the programmed railgun shots to be fired, then recalibrate it with the information that poured into Roci.

The first marsani embedded volex round fired on cue, its interaction with the charged mana conductive gel went as expected. The resulting explosion would have been off center, which would have caused the drone to enter an uncontrolled spin. That would have resulted in the drone missing the space station and eventually burning up in the atmosphere of the planet below.

Roci corrected the error and the volex detonated correctly. The drone accelerated.

***

The slime was a beast of singular intention. Mana had mutated an amoeba into a creature that was several meters long and wide. The astronauts and cosmonauts feared that it was consuming the station and that was partly true, in fact the slime took most of it’s energy from the ambient mana that suffocated the Tier 2 planet below. The remainder of its diet consisted of sunlight and minerals found in the hull of the space station.

The main danger from the slime was it’s corrosive emissions, a liquid substance that froze in the vacuum of space but was viscous and deadly in warm environments. There was also the mass of the creature, as it consumed mana, it also grew larger and larger.

That mass disrupted the orbit of the ISS and with it caused some stress upon the station itself. Yet for all the horror that it caused and the terror that it brought to the astronauts and cosmonauts, the slime itself wasn’t malicious or intentionally attacking the station. It was a creature with simple intentions, to feed and to grow.

It did so, gnawing through insulation and metals, obtaining rare minerals through electronics, with the addition of high ambient mana, it grew and grew and grew.


***


The thrusters kicked on as Maya had programmed, that was correct, but the burn wasn’t. Roci understood she had never built such a thing before and Roci also understood they had never even seen such a thing, but they knew they had to change the programing. That the current thruster burn wasn’t going to be enough, not for their mass and their velocity.

Roci already had control of the simple drone computer and quickly reprogrammed the thruster burn. An additional twenty seconds was enough to reduce their momentum, to line them up with the orbit of the space station, and to put the slime in the crosshairs of the thermal wave generator.

Sound did not travel in the vacuum of space, but Roci felt the slime release a frequency of pain and anguish as the thermal beam burned into its hide. Although, the creature existed off of the unfiltered sunlight, it wasn’t heat resistant. The liquid amorphous blob began to shudder and quake, it tried to move, but half of its form was within the Quest Airlock itself.

The intense heat turned what was almost a liquid into a solid. The greenish undulating flesh hardened, the long slices of the thermal beam burned the flesh and it became a thick and leathery material. The slime screamed and roared as its body was hardening around it.

The slime pulled itself out and turned to face its attacker, but instead witnessed as lightning crashed down upon it. The slime writhed and thrashed in the electrical storm, the burned portions of its body began flaking and breaking away. As the lightning crawled across its form, it began burning it, turning the soft flesh into a solid and then causing it to flake away.

“I don’t know, they have a core or something. Like their brain or maybe the magic that keeps them alive,” Maya had said as she tried to describe the weakness of a slime. “Regular attacks won’t harm it, but if you destroy the core, that’ll do the job.”

As the lightning burned the creature, Roci watched as something was exposed. A round golden ball a few centimeters across. Was that the core? They wondered.

The batteries alerted Roci they were nearly out of mana, a red light flashing across the small screen. Two batteries weren’t enough to fully use the two mana intensive weapons Maya had installed. A third would have been best.

Roci switched off the lightning weapon and with what one could only call hope, ignited one of the thrusters. The drone began to spin, turning head over heels, until the back end of the drone now faced the space station. Roci quickly fired another burst of the thrusters and the spinning stopped, but their forward momentum remained.

Their eyes locked upon the golden orb. The slime was already trying to reform, the burned and hardened pieces of it broke off and the remainder of the creature began to reform over the orb. Roci understood that if given time, it would completely heal itself.

Roci did not give it time.

Maya had planned for a soft crash, to allow the astronauts the chance to salvage the drone and its cargo. Roci released clamps on the small cargo container as they neared the station, but did not let it fly off on its own.

A slight thruster burn and the drone lined up for the orb. The bowl shaped, armor reinforced cone of the drone’s ‘main engine’ encapsulated the orb as the drone crashed into the airlock at a gentle speed of two meters a second.

The last command on the small firing computer switched and the remaining marsani embedded volex round fired at once. The nozzle of the drone crumpled and then exploded outward, a burst of heat and light that seared everything near it.

Before the crash, Roci pushed themselves off of the drone while holding onto the cargo container. The push was gentle and Roci managed to wrap a propelling tentacle around an exposed truss, pulling the container close to their body and shielding themselves with it.

The golden orb resisted the heat for a heartbeat, before it surrendered and shattered. Roci heard the faint scream of the slime before it shuddered and died. Heat flashed over the container, but the container protected them.


Space Slime - Level 8 - Defeated

800 XP gained

400 credits awarded


Level up! (Level 1)

Level up! (Level 4)


***

George Hazel cocked his head and tried to peer through the portholes of the Copula, the observatory module of the ISS. He could just make out a flash of light and a moment later felt a shudder run through the space station itself.

He cursed their lack of power, that strange interference that had caused all their electronics to finally give up the ghost. Although he couldn’t see what was going on, he knew there was only one place that anything on the station could be happening; the area the slime creature was attached to their station, the Quest Airlock.

He pushed himself down the darkened modules, momentarily disorientated by the dim lighting and the hopeless faces that watched as he moved by. The rest of the station’s crew had resigned themselves to death, they awaited the slime or the atmosphere.

George gripped a hand rung and moved himself as close to the airlock as possible. They had hoped to just detected the module, as they had with the Soyuz capsule, but when the realization that the station itself was going to eventually burn up, everyone had lost the desire to save the station.

It was a terrible thing, as station commander, the burden should have been upon him to figure out how to lift spirits, but with the death of Anton and the monster on their hull, along with the devastation being wrought on Earth, no one was in a happy mood. They were all going to die and they were done fighting that.

“Shit!” George cried, as electricity began crawling across the bulkhead near him. That shouldn’t be possible, that was…

THUMP!

The entire station rocked as something exploded outside. George paused for a second, his breath caught in his throat. Were they about to die? Was this the end?

He clung onto a hand rung and his eyes caught Hanna’s, she had followed him from the Copula.

“What was that?” she asked, fear erasing the exhaustion.

“I don’t know…” George said. He pulled himself toward the Quest Airlock module, the equipment lock was sealed, so were all the other locks to the airlock. George eased himself toward the airlock and pressed his ear against it. He heard nothing and felt nothing.

THUMP!

He jerked back in horror as something banged upon the airlock.

“What the shit,” George muttered.

THUMP!

“This is a fucking nightmare,” Hanna responded, staring blankly. “This is a fucking nightmare.”

THUMP!

“Hold on, wait,” George muttered.


Thump! Thump! Thump! Thump! (H)

Thump! Thump!(I)


Thump! Thump!(I)

THUMP! THUMP! (M)


Thump! THUMP! Thump! (R)

THUMP! THUMP! THUMP! (O)

THUMP! Thump! THUMP! Thump! (C)

Thump! Thump! (I)


“What the hell?” George said.

“HIIMROCS?” Hanna asked.

“Hi, I’m Roci.”

“What the hell is a Roci?” she asked.

At that moment a miracle occurred. Lights began to flicker.

For a moment the interior of the Quest Airlock was revealed and George stared at the purple eyes of some kind of robotic creature.

It waved at him and carried a large basket.

“What the hell,” Hanna gasped.


***


“Alright, what do we got?” Maya asked as she felt the connection form. The threshold opened up and she could feel the bridge connecting from the RSH to the multiverse-at-large. Dizziness washed over her, but she pushed it away.

“We’re in orbit,” Tender said, looking at a new set of sensors they had installed. It had been ripped from the Hangy and was one of the few that hadn’t been stripped for parts by the rogue AIs. It formed a holographic screen, showing the International Space Station still in orbit.

Maya shakily got to her feet and scanned the holographic image. “Where…” She caught sight of what she was looking for, or the lack of what she had been looking for. “No slime,” she said, smiling faintly. “Where’s the drone?”

“It seems to have broken apart or… Tender paused, clearing up the image of the station. “Yes, it seems to have been dismantled.”

“Dismantled? By the astronauts?” Maya asked, she blinked at the screen and shook her head. “Roci?”

“There are some usable system tech components on the drone,” Tender said. “Some that could be used to make makeshift tools or equipment.”

“I doubt the astronauts know how to use system tech,” Maya said, but a bit of hope bloomed in her chest. “Find an airlock, scan the hell out of it and then send it to me.”

Maya slumped into a chair and breathed deeply.

“Roci will be okay,” Bell said as he stood beside her.

A small amount of vibration rumbled through the Cage as Tender activated the Deep Scanning Module System. They had connected the new device to the outside of the Cage, providing them a complete scan of the International Space Station.

The data was ported over to the new computers Maya had hooked up and that information was sent into her new Engineering VR gear. Maya sighed and pulled on the helmet.

Ten minutes later she exited VR and began fiddling with the control panel for the Cage.

“Got a fix on the airlock style,” Maya said. “We can hopefully connect the Cage to it.”

Bell nodded, watching. “How does this even all work?” he asked more out of curiosity. “Being on a planet seemed… right, but in orbit? Are we moving with the universe or with the planet or are we propelling ourselves through space?”

Maya shrugged. “We’re always moving, in space, on a planet, wherever. The Universe never stops and is constantly moving, it’s like a shark. The physic stuff has to be the domain of someone else, pal. All I know is the Mighty Mitochondria.”

“Yet, you’re doing all of this,” Bell said as he watched a holographic image of the new front of the Cage form before him. It was designed to fit the airlock they had scanned and Maya took a breath.

“Yeah, most of it is computer work. I’m just telling it what I want. Real science, real hard core science this is not. It’s just machines doing all the heavy lifting while I tell ‘em what I want.”

“It’s more than that,” Tender said.

“I don’t need a fluffer for my ego, guys. I just need to get Roci back, save those astronauts, save the space station, and if I have time, save mankind.” Maya slapped her hands together and vigorously rubbed them. “Alright, time to try. We’re a hundred kilometers out and we’ve got a nearly full tank. It’s time to have a long discussion with a tiny AI.”

The Cage blinked from existence and reformed.


***


“Well, shit. That didn’t work,” Maya cursed as she saw the airlock not respond. They were mere inches from the station, but she hadn’t realized there was a procedure to all of it. She cursed again and looked to Bell. “Well, Plan B.”

“What’s Plan B?” Tender asked.

The Cage ‘front’ transformed, from an airlock, to a gaping mouth. It lurched forward, crossing the inches and then clamped itself over the entire airlock module. A smooth, seamless layer of metal encased the airlock.

She reformed a normal door and allowed for the open space between the mouth and the airlock to pressurize. The thought struck her, where was all the air coming from? She knew she could expand the size of the Cage, but the air pressure still seemed to be the same. Maya shook her head, now was not the time to think on that.

“Alright, Tender. You’re up. Got your pamphlets?”

“I don’t see the reason for this?” Tender asked as he picked up four pamphlets that Maya had created.

“Just smile and be cheerful,” she said, grinning.


***


“Oh, good God, what is that?” Inez Garcia, the third American astronaut, cried.

George pulled himself away from where he watched the industrious little robot. With some kind of machine, the little robot had got their electronics to begin working again. With it came the monitors and equipment they had given up for dead.

The question of if the robot was safe or not was a moot question. The small robot had sealed up the hole the slime had ate through the Quest Airlock and then managed to get the electronics running in the small area of the module. Then it had sent them the message that it could get their systems working, if they let it in.

They did and they had not regretted that decision.

Life had returned to the station, as a tiny bit of hope flared that they might live. The slime was destroyed, according to the robot; it carried around a tablet the size of an iPad and displayed messages to them from it. Where it learned English, no one knew.

George looked at the monitor and saw what looked like a metallic ballon enveloped the entire Russian Pris Module. The metal moved like liquid, covering it and creating a seal upon it, it took a moment for George to see the wide flat wall that had appeared before the pris airlock. There was writing upon the wall, lit up with some kind of light emitting paint or maybe it was a digital sign.

“Maya’s Emporium?” Inez asked, she looked at him with wide eyes and all George could do was shrug.



Author's Note: I changed the Networks Chapter, made it so Maya didn't just consume all the experience shards. She now did it, properly. a few levels at a time. Upon further reading, I figure "Yeah, that's stupid. why did I do that?"

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Comments (4)
user avatar
User #14385026 - 10 Sep 20 02:07
I agree that the change to Networks makes more sense, even if it is meaningless in the long run. I commend you on your adherence to quality.
user avatar
User #9946352 - 10 Sep 20 10:32
I assume it was done for the rule of funny, but this makes more sense
user avatar
User #28785581 - 11 Sep 20 07:02
So, Roci can see the System's Avatar that seems to be stalking Maya? I guess that explains how it could react to Maya proposing insurance fraud back then. Great chapter!
user avatar
User #19917560 - 10 Sep 20 06:09
that little robot is in for such a time out
B2-20 Stiff Upper Lip 2020-09-07T13:10:35+00:00


Boom!

The heavy blast door protecting Captain Huvano’s personal suite hit the deck in a loud crash, sending delicate decorative figurines tumbling to the floor. Maya stepped through the billowing smoke and residual heat, covered head to toe in battle armor.

“Just needed a little nudge,” she said, her voice muffled through the helmet.

“I believe five kilos of Helix explosive gel is more than a little nudge,” Tender said as he trailed behind her.

“Three damn hours,” Maya said. “I tried for three damn hours to unlock this damn door, as they say where I come from if brute force doesn’t work, you’re not applying enough brute force.”

“I suppose so,” Tender said.

A sigh emanated from a bag Tender carried. “Those figurines were dilapso crystals, formed in the blood of a brown star dwelling creature called a Sosapass,” Veskari said.

“Are a bunch of crystals shaped into very pornographic positions gonna help Roci?” Maya asked as she bent down to peer at the figurines. Naked demonic Nerigana were definitely not human-like downstairs.

“No.”

“Then who cares,” Maya said. “We’re on a smash and grab mission.”

She stepped forward and an audible click filled the room.

“Oh, shit.”

From the ceiling dropped the barrel of what looked like a minigun. Before she could even move it gave a loud click and then drooped. Dead.

“What the hell?” Maya asked, staring at the hidden weapon in disbelief. “You said there were no traps.”

“Ah, it seems that Huvano did not entirely trust me with his security measures,” Veskari said. “But at least due to the age of the weapon in question, it seems to have barely had enough residual power to only activate, not kill.”

‘That’s not getting you off the hook for saying there were no traps,” Maya said.

“Well, [Adventurers] always expect traps,” Veskari stated.

Maya looked at Tender. “We are not [Adventurers]. I’m a newbro [Merchant] and Tender’s my honeypot wingman.”

“I can barely understand half of what you are saying,” Veskari said.

Maya scoffed and pushed deeper into the suite. She made sure to check the deck for traps; instead of the metallic flooring she’d seen everywhere, the suite was laid with lovely geometric patterned tile. Expensive and unnecessary, but that’s how high leveled rolled.

The room was as gaudy as Maya had imagined. Rich golden and azure gilt lay over everything, there were some mana lights that were still functioning, casting warm ambient lighting over various niches filled with delicate carvings, trophies, and prized enchantments.

“Crap, this place is decadent with a capital D.”

“Huvano was from a wealthy Family,” Veskari said.

“He wasn’t the head of the House?” Maya asked.

“Oh, no. Huvano was still too low leveled to be involved fully in Family business. The Huvano House was ruled by a council of seven Tier 3 SIL and there were over a thousand high leveled Tier 2 SIL that ran the day to day business, Huvano was in the lowest of the rankings.”

“Dang, Pegarios barely has the one old lady that’s dying,” Maya muttered.

“Behind that bookcase, there should be a small keypad, the passcode is 524862,” Veskari said.

Maya paused and looked at the books. They were the first actual paper books she had seen in months. She pulled one off the shelf and flipped through it. The text was Nerigana and it seemed to be akin to fables or fiction.

The keypad was hidden behind a false front and Maya punched in the code. Nothing happened. She sighed and pulled out a power unit from her Inventory and dismantled the keypad. After a few minutes of tinkering, she powered the pad up and then punched in the code.

There was another audible click that put Maya on edge, but instead of a half dead weapon dropping from the ceiling, the bookcase swung open.

Behind it was a large transparent wall that held a naked humanoid figure. There were no features, no identification marks or anything. It was just a ebony fleshed humanoid figure. A blank slate. Of flesh. Well, golem flesh, but it still looked like flesh to Maya.

“This you?” Maya asked.

“Yes,” Veskari breathed. “That is a mid-grade, Tier 2 golem construct.”

“Tier 2? Could we harvest it to add to the Cage?” Maya asked.

Veskari was silent for a while. “Yes,” he said.

Maya grunted. “Don’t worry. I’m not gonna steal your body,” she said. “Just wondering. You’re a real asset to the team, Vesky. I’d never do you dirty like that.”

“Thank you, Maya.”

“That’s an odd body, though. It looks like a lump of clay, shouldn’t it be all demonic looking or something?” Maya asked.

“The Tier 2 golem construct body is a malleable form. It can become any physical shape that I wish it to be. It can created clothing and stabbing weapons, if I wish.”

“Can’t turn into a gun and shoot?”

“No, no complicated machines,” Veskari said. “Mid grade, not High grade.”

Maya nodded. “Alright, T-1000. Let’s heft you outta here.”


***


Veskari strutted out of Huvano’s suite like the cock of the walk, taking the shape of the gecko velociraptor that was Yosi, but this time blinged out in lace and frills and rhinestones.

Although Tier 2 components didn’t have a long use life, when in storage in the right conditions, they could last far longer than Tier 1 components. The same went with the battery, another crafted mana battery that could half power the Cage.

Temptation and greed nearly caused Maya to switch out Veskari’s nearly full battery for one of the barely recharging batteries they had hooked up to the cores. That would shave off a lot of damn time for them, but she had to relent.

Screwing over Veskari to save Roci was not an act she was willing to do. She needed Veskari and she was not an asshole… usually.

“Alright, After we’re done here, I want you to triple check that assault craft. Make sure every inch of it’s in good condition,” Maya said as they walked down the corridor.

“I need to see Yosi first,” Veskari said.

“Bullshit,” Maya stated bluntly. “You can play hide the dino sausage later, check that assault craft out. Work first. Play later. You both have things to do.”

Veskari grumbled something but he didn’t go against what she said. He led them through several corridors and passed several shut blast doors. Maya had dropped those doors as a security precaution and now grumbled as she had to reopen them and then have Tender and Veskari lift the doors to be relocked into place. A Tier 2 golem construct body was far stronger than Tender’s frame.

“Don’t worry about it, pal. Just hang onto that feeling of inadequacy at the sight of Veskari’s bulging biceps and use it as fuel in your workout later tonight.”

“I don’t feel anything,” Tender said.

“That’s the spirit. Stiff upper lip.”

Maya unlocked a few other doors and they arrived to a maintenance room tucked between a bathroom and a water processing station. Maya eyed the water pumps and could almost feel the things she could make out of the machine.

“This it?” Maya asked as they entered a large room.

“Yeah, these are the artificial gravity panels,” Veskari said.

The room was about five meters long and three wide. In the center of the room, free from any clutter or machinery were sheets of what Maya would have suspected as being ply wood. They were nearly two meter by one meter rectangles and about ten centimeters thick.

The Hanganathorie was a space ship, Maya knew it intellectually. It traveled through space. It had space ship shields, space ship defenses, space ship artificial gravity. All the things she would need if she were going to try and get to a space station in orbit.

“All this surviving day to day against wacky shit that pops up is really hampering my exploration and studying of this ship,” Maya said to Tender.

“Agreed, boss. There is a lot of ‘wacky shit’ going on lately.”

“Right!” Maya sighed and popped the faceplate of her armor off. “Okay, we need five of these panels. Then we’re gonna start stripping the remaining thrusters off the starboard side, they still seem intact. In addition, we’re going to need to fix up the oxygen cycler. We only have… thirty hours to do it.”

***

The dimensional cage required a minimum of 16Mg to open the threshold, a number that Maya still hadn’t figured the reason for. The Cage didn’t draw any power when it was activated, only when it was being used. Their new operating procedure was to wait until the cores charged the two main mana batteries which would take nearly eighty hours total.

Maya was pushing them to the extreme limit of what the Cage could run on, 20Mg. If they did it right, they would have ten hours of MVT to find Roci and hopefully save the space station, but that would take forty hours of recharge time for them to achieve. That meant just over three hours and twenty minutes in MVT would have passed.

The space station had been under attack by some kind of slime creature, but in addition to that their orbit was beginning to decay; which would cause them to all die when they hit the atmosphere. That would happen in six MVT hours.

Bell had suggested they just wait and then send in Tender and the assault craft to rescue Roci, but Maya’s mind was already moving a step ahead and thinking of the possibilities.

Worry for Roci and their potential death was plaguing her, but she could do nothing right now for Roci. The drone rocket had already been fired and by now the fight against the slime had been won or loss. Maya felt her stomach churn at every thought of what might have happened to Roci.

It was odd, she found herself thinking. Just a few days prior she hadn’t known what to do with the young AI. System Touched and given her name, seemingly given the abilities granted to actual SIL. It was an odd thing that no one had the time to fully process. Too much was happening constantly for her to sit down and fully think it through. All she knew was that allowing Roci to die or abandoning the young AI was wrong and she was not going to allow it to happen.

Roci was a Sullivan after all. A part of her House, the same as Yosi. If she couldn’t protect those of her House, then what did that mean?

Maya shook her head as she disconnected the gravity panels and loaded them onto Tender’s back. The rogue AI was strong enough to carry these and Veskari had already skittered off, probably to show off his rhinestones to Yosi. She had been working on refurbishing the space suits they had found. They weren’t made from organic material and they were of good quality, so the last twenty thousand standard years hadn’t harmed them. They were also designed for the Nerigana and the Nerigana were short folk, short slave owning folk.

Even as worry consumed Maya, she was already making other plans. Perhaps it was all the new attribute point she had assigned to her mental stats, but she felt wonderful. Extremely tired, but absolutely wonderful. Her mind was clear and her thoughts, although slightly scattered were clear and concise.

The System had told her she needed all her stats above a hundred and to be in Tier 2 levels, which were over one hundred, to begin using essence mana in earnest. Maya glanced at her status page and saw that she was half way there, in levels and in attribute points. With her new Foundation, she would be getting a lot more points per level than usual, almost enough to gain one whole point for each stat.

The assault shuttle was small enough to fit into the dimensional cage, but Maya wasn’t just stopping there. She wasn’t just out to save Roci, she was out to save the space station and hopefully recruit the occupants to her cause. She had a space ship that couldn’t fly, there was a space station that was dying in Earth orbit, there was an apocalypse going on, and if there was one thing she learned from Star Wars it was having the high ground.

The cores were the main concern first of all. She needed them in orbit, after Tender had told her Earth was experiencing an ambient mana saturation of nearly 8000p per meter, Maya was overjoyed at the news, that would mean they would be making the 350Mg per core per standard day she had hoped for.

The new recharge rate of the cores would allow them to almost indefinitely be able to stay connected to Earth, if they didn’t move around too much. But to change out the cores, to replace the batteries, and to spread out the black goo net, they would need people on the ground, or in the space station, to do the work for them. It was either that or have Tender or Nan live out in orbit around Earth, changing batteries.

That was something Maya wasn’t willing to do. She loved the two of them and she wasn’t about to send them off to be a battery changer. If there were people in orbit already…

It was selfish she knew. These people had families back on Earth too, they had to be worried, scared, and completely out of the loop as to what was happening. Integration had scrambled a lot of electronics in the days that followed. They had no idea what was going on, except that they were being attacked by a space monster.

They deposited the panels in the mess hall, where everything was currently being stored. Yosi was at a fabricator they had pulled out of the BR and was using duracloth to adjust the space suits. She wasn’t a skilled tailor or seamstress, but Nan had produced a simple design that was based on Maya’s physical requirements and needs. They were rough measurements for men and women bigger or smaller than she was.

Bell was working at his new alchemy station, making more potions the astronauts might need and also relearning his rusty skills. It had been nearly four months since he had made any kind of potion.

Nan was making everything from food ration bars to medicine and at the same time involved in a small competition with Bell to create items that humans would need to survive in space. Maya didn’t discourage the friendly rivalry, it was producing results.

It was a good thing that rogue AIs hadn’t gotten to the ship thrusters. Maya didn’t know what to do if they had been recycled like much of the higher end materials on the ship. It took her and Tender nearly twelve hours to pull the four thrusters out of the hull, all the while Maya cursed and groaned as her limited [Mechanic], [Technician], and [Engineer] abilities weren’t much use. The removal and installation of thrusters were too high leveled for her to instinctively understand how to do it.

But it wasn’t a total loss. Veskari talked them through it and

in the end she did level enough to understand what to do.


[Mechanic] Level 9

[Technician] Level 6

[Engineer] Level 3


She could almost feel the call of the level 10 occupational bonus. If she leveled mechanic once more she would be able to apply one of the bonuses she had received. The five bonuses she had gotten from leveling to level fifty were still something she hadn’t fully looked into yet. Veskari was a font of knowledge and that knowledge was needed to make sure the assault craft was space flight worthy.

She could wait. Right now getting everything ready for the trip back to Earth space was paramount.

Ultimately the goal was to save Roci, but beyond that they needed that space station. They needed those astronauts and they would do so by giving them everything they would need to survive in space. Maya would build an entire space station from the ground up if she needed to. But for now, she would provide them with power, food, oxygen, water, gravity, and thrusters to keep the station from decaying in orbit. She would give them knowledge cubes, space suits, tools, weapons, and if it were possible she would buy a settlement deed for the station.

She sat down heavily on a thruster, feeling exhaustion clawing at her mind.

“You need to sleep, boss.” Tender said.

Maya looked up at the rogue AI and smiled weakly.

“You know the words.”

“I’ll sleep when I’m dead.’

“Damn straight. Now, let’s work on that water recycler.”


***


Day 6

International Space Station


“Was I just hallucinating?” George Hazel asked. He blinked and stared out a porthole in the Copula, looking toward a spot in space where he swore he had seen Morse Code messages.

“I don’t know,” Hanna Rogers remarked. She looked exhausted. “I think I saw the message. I’m not sure.” She breathed weakly in the dim light. They were on chemical lighting now, their electronics finally giving out to some kind of electromagnetic pulse.

They had all seen the strange lights coming out of Earth. What looked like explosions and then the sudden disappearance of all lighting across the globe. That had brought more fear than the possible explosions they had seen. It had lead to some tense moments between the three American astronaut crew and the three Russian Cosmonauts. Only Izumi Kaname was the outlier, the Japanese native being the peace broker between the two groups.

Was it nuclear war? What had happened. The satellites were all down, they couldn’t reach planetside, and they were stuck up here as their equipment slowly began to fail.

It had been nearly a week and they had been able to keep things running for five days, but on the sixth, everything began to fail.

It wasn’t whatever had struck Earth that was causing the station to fail, it was that thing upon the hull of the space station. A slime like creature that had mutated from some of the biological experiments that had been brought on board. No one knew what it was, some kind of ameba perhaps. Even Hanna didn’t know and she had been a biologist as well as an engineer.

It had grown fast and large, one of the cosmonauts, Anton Misurkin, had shoved it into a Soyuz reentry craft, but he had been hit by a piece of the slime. It had eaten through his torso in minutes, killing him before they could even try and help him. The Soyuz capsule had been ejected, but the creature had somehow returned.

Now it was chewing through their hull, trying get at them. If it weren’t for the danger and terror it represented, the scientists and engineers on board would have loved studying it.

“There,” George said. He blinked, the message was coming very fast. “It says… ANY1 HOME.”

Hanna chuckled, without looking up. She was too exhausted.

A strange thing had occurred nearly seven days before, a message had all filled their vision about something called Integration. Many said it reminded them of video games, something about RPGs and the like. George wasn’t one for video games, he was a colonel in the US Army. He was also the station commander for this expedition.

This Integration was the cause of all their misery, it seemed. It had done something to Earth, it had caused wide spread destruction from what they could see. There were whole landmasses that were… missing. More than that, there were land masses that had seemed to appear over night. It was strange and terrible.

Yet all their fear had been reserved for the slime monster trying to chew through their station. They didn’t know what to do now, they had no power and were working off of their reserves. The only hope was that they would burn up in Earth’s atmosphere before the slime killed them all. Decompression or burning up. It was a hell of a choice.

“What did you say back?” Hanna asked. “No solicitors?”

George grunted. “No, just SOS.”

“Shouldn’t it be SOSS?”

“You know SOS isn’t an abbreviation for anything.”

Hanna chuckled weakly.

Another thing that had occurred after Integration was a few of the crew gained some kind of power. Hanna’s was Air Cleanse. Once an hour she could cleanse the air in any one of the modules she was in. With the oxygen scrubbers down now, it was a miracle, but it also meant she had to keep moving. They had rigged up a mechanical air circulator to keep the fresh air moving, but it was a fool’s errand. Eventually they would run out of clean air or the slime would kill them or they would die in reentry.

He sent a last SOS signal with his light and then sat back. He was probably hallucinating. He stared out of the porthole and saw a small bright explosion, blue light flashing and then it was gone.

“What was that?” he wondered out loud.

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Comments (10)
user avatar
User #28785581 - 7 Sep 20 13:50
So is Veskari's body capable of shapeshifting then? It is introduced as humanoid, then he leaves the room with a Yosi-like figure. I know Tier 2 Systech can morph since they are nanomachines, but is golem flesh the same thing?
user avatar
User #5783303 - 7 Sep 20 14:21
the Veloci-Yosi species is a bipedal dino. so essentially a humanoid. i doubt it would be a shapeshifter.
user avatar
User #28785581 - 7 Sep 20 14:39
Were they upright bipedals though? I can't remember, and T-Rexes are bipedal too, but definitely not humanoid. Guess I'll go re-read the descriptions from when they find her stasis pod.
user avatar
User #5783303 - 7 Sep 20 15:03
think of it looking like the Geico mascot but with sharper features. per chapter B2-04
user avatar
User #28785581 - 7 Sep 20 15:35
Holy shit that mascot has the perfect appearance to match Yosi's personality. Also reminds me of that one race portrait in Stellaris so I'll take it. Thanks!
user avatar
alexclaw - 7 Sep 20 15:51
Yeah, the golem construct is able to morph into anything Veskari wants it to look like, including clothing. I should have clarified that more. will fix.
user avatar
User #5783303 - 7 Sep 20 18:09
Yes yes. The updated version is much more clear
user avatar
User #16050838 - 7 Sep 20 22:06
I so want her to come back and instantly have the build rochi a kingdom complete and watch her freak out
user avatar
User #29921292 - 7 Sep 20 13:54
Aaaaaah caaaant waaaaaiiitt for heroroci!!
user avatar
User #5783303 - 7 Sep 20 13:43
thanks for the chapter. Can't wait to see these guys react/love Roci.
B2-19 - Space Race 2020-09-04T16:51:38+00:00


Kignarva Class 3 Deep Scanning Module System Liquidation - All the equipment to get a Kignarva Deep Scanner up and running, mid grade, Tier 1 - 300,000

5 metric tons Biomass - It’s biomass, people. Low grade, Tier 1 - 5,000

200 programable processors, low grade, Tier 1 - 60,000

2 metric tons, alchemical material, mana trace confirmed by System - 120,000

1 metric ton, ‘junk’ mana batteries, various grades, Tier 1 - 25,000

2 Auto Assemblers low grade, Tier 1 - 110,000

1 Auto Disassembler low grade, Tier 1 - 35,000

Alzonii’s Liquidation - various low grade, Tier 1 tools, machines, and components. Salvage from Kobono’s Town, hit by Dimensional Instability - 150,000

100 liters of System grade, Tier 1 Mana Conductive Gel - 200,000

2 metric tons of Volex explosive gel low grade, Tier 1 - 100,000

2 metric tons of Helix explosive gel low grade, Tier 1 - 75,000

Yonnivolo Liquidation - Weapons, various low grade, Tier 1 ammunition, weapons, and defense drones for a low price. Salvage from Kobono’s Town, hit by Dimensional Instability. 150,000

10 complete Knowledge Cube set: System Tech Engineering Manuals I-XX mid grade, Tier 1 - 75,000

Knowledge Cube Liquidation - 750 various knowledge Cubes. Salvage from Histimaria Peace Cruiser Incident, various grades, Tier 1 - 40,000

3 Altaron’s Personal Computer Mk. 5 - mid grade, Tier 1 - 30,000

Pinnical Slavager’s Set - tools, supplies, and knowledge cubes - various grades, Tier 1 - 110,000

Hotarrii B-542 Grow Station Deluxe - mid grade, Tier 1 - 40,000

1 Deep Mining Industrial Droid - mid grade, Tier 1 - 50,000

1 Deep Mining Industrial Digger - mid grade, Tier 1 - 60,000

1 Xefer Classic All Terrain Rover - low grade, Tier 1 - 50,000

1 Golla Voz High Capacity Dimensional Storage Container low grade, Tier 2 - 1,000,000

40 Hoxzoma Discount Armor sets - low grade, Tier 1 - 200,000

1 Kixx Level 5 Repair Droid - mid grade, Tier 1 - 250,000

Histavaranii Engineer Grade Virtual Reality Based Building Gear - high grade, Tier 1 - 1,000,000


“Okay, I think we went a little crazy here,” Maya panted as she, Tender, and Bell moved another pallet load of material off the shipping pallet. The newly built machine was getting a work out and Maya was already regretting being bitten by the buying bug. It was a pay day spending spree, but only much larger.

Bell didn’t say anything, only grunting as they pushed the boxes off the pallet. From there it was a simple thing of getting the Cage to do the heavy lifting, warping and moving it across the large open space Maya had created.


Easy Come, Easy Go I

You have spent 80 percent of the credits you have earned in one day.

+ 2 Foundation


Maya collapsed upon the floor of the Cage, breathing heavily and sweating in her shipsuit. Roci came over looked at her and appeared to shake their head at her, before wandering off.

“Are we done now?” Yosi asked, hesitantly.

“Tender?”

“Take my money and shut up?” Tender said.

“We just boosted the local economy after a devastating dimensional instability,” Maya said. “And we’ve also gained a lot of equipment we desperately needed, did you see that VR Engineering gear? I’m so gonna use the hell out of that.” Maya gasped in air. “But yeah, we’re done. I’m spent. We’re spent. Time to go home.”

“We have four hours left on the clock,” Bell said. “Shall we see if we can get to your Earth space?”

“Oh, right. That.” Maya got up off the floor, summoned a bottle of water and gulped it down. “Yeah, we might as well. We need to see what the energy drain is on the batteries when we change locations. We’ve been very lucky that we’ve always found what we were looking for.”

“Luck. I’ve seen your Luck stat,” Bell said.

“Does that really have an effect on things?” Maya asked.

‘I don’t know, no one really does. But it’s there and some people swear it does help them in dangerous situations.”

“Well, whatever, it’s good to have.” Maya slumped into a chair she summoned before the control panel. “Alright, quick and easy stop into Earth space. We test the ambient mana and see if all my plans, hopes, and dreams are shit or not.”

Maya closed her eyes and willed the Cage to go to Earth, but as she did so she thought about space, about satellites, space shuttles, and space stations…

She could feel the disconnection of the threshold from Haltor’s World and a new connection forming, it was tenuous, but Maya pushed her will into it, trusting her Dimensional Awareness. There was a bit of pressure, but then a connection formed.

“That was more difficult than I thought,” Maya said.

‘Perhaps you have over extended yourself,” Nan said. “You have been up for more than two standard days.”

“Wait, what?” Bell demanded. “When did you last sleep?”

Maya shrugged. “Stimulants and danger has been my wake up juice,” she replied.

Bell shook his head.

“Ah, look at that. It only takes a million gen to change locations,” Maya grinned. “We can hop around now, if we want.”

“A million gens is still a lot,” Bell stated. “We only have three hours now.”

“But we’ll be swimming in gens once we figure out the ambient mana here.”

Maya got out of the chair and turned the far wall into a view screen again. She grinned as she saw the familiar blue globe below them.

“The first Sullivan in space,” she announced. “Eat your heart out, Malcolm, you little nerd!” Maya laughed hysterically and turned to see everyone looking at her strangely. “What? My brother was a real asshole when it came to space, thought he knew everything and was going to be an astronaut or something.”

Maya walked closer to the view screen, leaning against it and staring down at her planet. It looked calm and lovely, a moving ball of blue and white, but if one looked closer…

“Tender toss out the scanner,” she said. “I’ll make a mini airlock, so we don’t go flying out.” She commanded the Cage to form a small room with a door that could be remotely opened. Tender set up the scanning device, and she ejected the coffee can sized device out the small airlock.

Maya’s eyes traced it and then she caught sight of something else, a flash in the darkness.

“Holy shit,” Maya breathed, watching the distant image take shape. “It’s the International Space Station!” Maya laughed hysterically again and stared as the iconic space station began to take shape.

“Your species were a space faring race?” Tender asked, interested.

“Of a sorts, we visited our moon and sent out probes across our solar system, but we only had a small space station in orbit around our planet. I think the Chinese had one too…” Maya frowned.

She stared a the space station and snapped her fingers. “Is there anyone alive in there? The station was active pre-Integration. So it’s been what? Six, seven days since Integration?”

“I don’t see how anyone would survive upon it,” Tender said. “Usually the introduction of massive amounts of essence mana into a newly Integrated universe causes a lot of problems with pre-Integration technologies. Also I’ve got the ambient mana readings if you want to know them.”

Maya concentrated, shifting Tier 2 components around upon the surface of the Cage.

“Alright, alright. I think I’ve remember this. Marcus was a boy scout, a real pain in the ass half the time, but he challenged me to learn Morse Code,” Maya said. She walked to the control panel and grinned.

“What are you doing?” Bell asked. “What is Morse Code?”

“An old school way of communicating,” Maya said and changed the lay out of the control panel. In it’s place was a large button that connected to the Cage wall that existed in orbit. She had changed that wall into a giant light bulb, covering the entire surface with light emitting components. “Here we go.”


Di-di-di-dit Di-dit (HI)


Maya cursed and then slowed the message down by twelve. The first message was merely a blast of light lasting less than a second. It was agonizingly slow, taking well over a minute to just slowly punch in the message.


Di-dah Dah-dit Dah-di-dah-dah Di-dah-dah-dah-dah (ANY1)

Di-di-di-dit Dah-dah-dah Dah-dah Dit (HOME)


Impatience warred with hope and Maya walked back and forth before the view screen, causing some confusion among the others.

“What does it matter?” Bell asked.

“They might still be alive,” she responded.

“But we can’t do anything for them,” Bell said.

“Yeah, but… I don’t know. I need to know.”

“Look!” Yosi cried.

Maya snapped her head back to the screen and saw a flash of light. It came slow and steady, but it was a simple universal message.


Di-di-dit Dah-dah-dah Di-di-dit (SOS)


“Holy shit,” Maya gasped. “Holy shit, they’re alive.”

“Who? Do you know them?” Bell asked.

“What? No, I don’t know them. They’re astronauts… Uh… I don’t think anyone really kept up on who went into space, except Malcolm.” Maya tried to remember, but she couldn’t think of anything.

“Interesting,” Tender said.

“What?”

“Zoom in on the lower right hand quadrant of their station module,” he said.

Maya did so and let out another gasp. “What the fuck? I thought there were no space monsters in this universe?”

Upon the side of the International Space Station Maya saw a creature; it was amorphous and greenish in color, an undulating body that made Maya think of the slime monsters in games and RPGs.

“It appears the station is losing structural integrity and it’s orbit is decaying,” Tender said. “I suspect in six hours MVT it will fall back into the Earth’s atmosphere.”

“Shit. Shit. Shit,” Maya hissed. “We have to do something.”

“We only have two and a half hours of Cage time left,” Bell said. “That’s barely twelve minutes MVT time.”


Di-di-dit Dah-dah-dah Di-di-dit (SOS)


Maya groaned. She rushed to the control panel and begin prepping herself to change their location again. She could do it, if she concentrated. She imagined what she remembered of the ISS, about it’s orbit, about what it represented. Then she willed the change to occur.


Error. Location must be more than 200km distant.


“Shit,” Maya cursed. “Of course there’s a range limit. Every time you need something to happen, there’s always a limit.” She took a deep breath. “Break out that VR gear, I need time to think!” Maya scrambled toward the stack of goods they had purchased, trying to remember where they had stacked that pricey gear set.

She stumble to a stack and ripped open the contents, three small cherry red boxes the size of cigarette packs fell out. Maya grabbed them before they hit the ground and then activated one.

Welcome Altaron’s Personal Computer Mk. 5 - mid grade, Tier 1. For all your computing needs, choose Altaron.

Shall we begin setting up?

Maya spent five minutes activating the personal computer, through some System method it connected to her status screens and vision, allowing her to see it as if they were System messages. Maya then slid the computer into a pocket and helped Tender, Bell, and Yosi move crates to find the VR Gear.

They unboxed it and Maya began forming the power connections within the Cage, while Bell and Tender set the machine up. Within ten minutes they had it ready and Maya slipped the helmet over her head.


***


Half an hour later; Maya gasped and tore the helmet off her head. “I’ve got it, guys!” she cried. She staggered bit and grinned. “This is pretty cool, ya’ll should try it.”

“I can’t,” Tender said.

“Regular VR is fine with me,” Bell said.

“I’ll try it, Maya,” Yosi stated.

“Cool, but first. We build!” Maya began pulling files off of her personal computer and sending them to Tender, Yosi, and Bell, whom all had taken the time to activate their personal computers, although Tender was already a computer.

“Get me those, assemble that, build that, I’ll work on this,” Maya said, rushing toward the stack of crates. “Nan, pop some Human ration bars into the oven and pack medical supplies for peoples suffering from oxygen deprivation. Bell, you got something in that noggin’ that can scrub carbon dioxide from the air?”

“Yeah, I believe so.’

“Get on it, pal.”

The Yonnivolo Liquidation Crates held a defense drone, a small flying craft the size of a bicycle with enough power and ammo to take down low grade, Tier 1 monsters. Whomever Yonnivolo was, had stripped the battery and ammo, but had thankfully left the guidance and main thruster pack untouched.

The Molliton Defense Drone - low grade, Tier 1 was an all purpose defense drone, but that didn’t mean it was designed to work in the vacuum of space. It also mounted twin auto cannons that fired kinetic projectiles, normally the thrusters would reduce any recoil, but Maya’s half remembered science knowledge said for every action there was an equal and opposite reaction. A kick in space would send both parties flying.

The drone only had a twenty kilometer range and the station was seventy five kilometers away, according to the sensors. That meant it would have to cross the void of space in some fashion.

Maya cut off the aerodynamic parts of the drone and began fusing chopped up bits of low grade armor she had purchased to reinforce the back end of the drone.

Volex explosive gel was a very stable alchemical component for making ammunition. It was very popular for Tier 1 worlds. Helix was the same, a bit more pricier and a bit more boom for the buck. Maya pulled a pair of crappy Type 2 Heavy Tool mana batteries from the batch of junk batteries they had purchased, she stripped off the covers and began pulling out the racks and grabbed the storage container holding the conductive gel.

“Ah, that’s interesting,” Tender said.

“Yeah, Explosives I is coming in handy right now. Back in the day, there used to be an idea that one could use nuclear bombs to propel spacecrafts,” Maya grinned.

“Nuclear bombs?’ Tender ask.

“What you don’t have those? Release the energy in an atom to create a massive explosion that produces a lot of radiation and a mushroom cloud?”

“No. I have never heard of that.”

“Really?” Maya paused. “Weird.”

While Maya had been working, Tender had stripped down a pair of low grade weapons that had been also purchased from the Yonnivolo Liquidation. With some other components they scrounged together, they attached the two weapons. Maya was going solely on gut instinct here. The creature was an amorphous thing; a slime monster from games she had played, kinetic strikes wouldn’t hurt it, but perhaps other kinds of weapons could.

Therefore she attached a thermal wave generator that produced a wide area baking field, and an electrical energy blaster. Although mana changed a lot of physics and reality, the electromagnetic spectrum still existed, and with it one could create a lightning gun. It just wasn’t all that stable when it came to actual electronics.

Maya plugged in another pair of mana batteries into the drone and activated the internal processor. It whirred and clicked and produced scores of error codes. There was a reason the drone was being sold for so low of a price. Maya grimaced and overrode what she could and prayed it wouldn’t be too screwed up. Tender gave it the good rogue AI try and cleaned up some of the code, reducing the errors in a hurry.


Built Under Stress I

With Skill, Knowledge, and Ability you have created something functional under intense stress.

+ 2 Mental Recovery


“That is hideous,” Bell said as he saw what Maya and Tender were working on.

“Look in the mirror, pal,” Maya snapped.

Bell frowned. “I made a few vials of low grade health potions, stamina potions, and a large vial of carbon dioxide cleanser.” He set down a small box before her. Maya smiled at him.

“Sorry, just a little frazzled.”

“I understand. You’re doing impressive work lately.”

“Pressure does wonders for motivation,” she said as she attached a long tube of components along a rough marsani frame, fiddling with the spacing of the components and then fusing them onto the frame. She snaked wires to a separate mana battery and connected the whole thing, a small green operational light flashed and Maya grinned.

Maya summoned her armored gauntlets and used them to tear opened the bags of conductive gel. She smeared it on an inverted bowl of marsani backed by chopped up low grade armor at the end of the frame.

“Main engine,” Maya muttered and sat back with relief. “Alright, we got a shitty guidance computer, but all we need it to do is get from point A to point B. I’m using the Volex explosive gel to create thrust, when it contacts charged conductive gel it tends to go boom. So I’ve got this mini ejector here that’s basically a copy of the railgun I made some time ago. Just barely has enough kick to push the gel embedded with a chunk of marsani out. Volex gets in contact with conductive gel, boom, drone flies forward. A couple of booms and it’ll get to the station, if it goes off course, we’ve got the onboard thrusters to try and steady the beast.

“I’ve dumped the sensor info into the processor, so once it detects the critter, it’ll begin firing upon it. Hopefully hitting it and scoring some direct hits before the drone soft crashes into the station.”

“Soft crashes?” Bell asked.

Maya shrugged. “The maneuvering thrusters aren’t that great, but they should be enough to slow down the drone when it gets near the critter, about two hundred meters for the thermal and a hundred for the lightning. Hopefully it’ll bake the beastie then shock it to hell. Then soft crash into the station.”

“Seems a tad… risky,” Yosi said.

“True, but life is risk,” Maya gave a sad smile “It’s the best we can do for them.”

“What about their orbital decay?” Tender asked.

Maya dragged a parabolic dish from out of the clutter scattered around them.

“Havin Mk. 2 Mana Purge Field - mid grade, Tier 1” Maya said. “I’ve been thinking on the whole thing about mana and electronics; how it seems to gum up the works. This mana purger is designed to remove ambient mana from an area, allowing crafters a controlled clean space before they channel into an item. Pretty cool. From what’s been dumped into my head, mana doesn’t destroy electronics, it just makes them not work very well. If the purger works like advertised, they might be able to get their systems back online and perhaps correct their course before they all burn up.”

“A lot of speculation there,” Bell said.

“It’s all I got.”

“Then we move forward with it,” Tender said. “If we fail, then we failed, but if we don’t try, then that is worse, no?”

“Yeah, buddy.”

Maya and Tender rushed the rest of the construction as they only had twenty minutes of Cage time left. They dragged the heavily modified defense drone to a newly created airlock and then began fiddling with the guidance code once more. Too many errors were popping up and they needed to upload more information to allow the tiny brain that controlled the railgun to fire correctly.

They finally uploaded the best code they could in the time frame and then launched the drone with with cargo of medicine, food, water, and instructions for the purger, some knowledge cubes, and an emergency air circulation system that had been in the Alzonii Liquidation pile, along with the best of the mana batteries they could find.

Maya sat down heavily in a mess of components and trash. One minute to go.

“Shit, I hope this works,” Maya said as she watched the drone slowly drift away from their position. She looked around and frowned. “Where’s Roci?”

Tender and the others looked around, the Cage had been collapsed into a simple box again, no rooms beside the washroom Maya had added.

“Roci! Where are you, kid!” Maya called out.

“Boss!” Tender pointed at the view screen.

On it a pair of purple eyes stared back at them, clinging onto the drone.

“What the sh-“

Then the Cage ran out of power.

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Comments (6)
user avatar
User #9946352 - 4 Sep 20 17:31
(っ˘̩╭╮˘̩)っRoci!! Come back
user avatar
User #11691022 - 4 Sep 20 20:19
Lol Robot in space
user avatar
User #29921292 - 4 Sep 20 17:20
They can come back,right? Right!?
user avatar
User #13235254 - 4 Sep 20 22:29
Roci The [Runaway Robot]. Maya can always come back once she is charged up right ?
user avatar
User #34671248 - 4 Sep 20 20:05
Roci fleed... Already of a rebellious age? Will he try to help the ISS directly? Or take control of Earth? 🤔
user avatar
User #28785581 - 4 Sep 20 18:58
Roci is going to turn the ISS into a space fortress or spaceship isn't it? Claim Earth's orbitals as it's kingdom and the four poor guys on the ISS as subjects. Also thanks for the quick release and great chapter!
B2-18 - Negotiations 2020-09-03T18:59:46+00:00

“What are you?” Pegarios demanded.

“Dude, this is the Integrated Multiverse, touched by the System themself; I’m sure you’ve run across weird ass things in your day,” Maya sat casually in her chair, beside her Yosi was nearly a statue, her multicolored eyes barely blinking. “Suffice to say, that I stumbled across your brother’s remains and the pub. Unfortunately a bad turn of events occurred and the pub was destroyed with mostly everything in it.”

“He’s got a Truthsense, boss.” Tender had told her before the meeting. It was something that Tommoth had hinted at in his diaries. Truthsense was one of the mid-grade Skills that occasionally dropped, in this case it made the owner a SIL lie detector. But like all things it could be stumped, in this case, half truths.

“What kind of events?” Peg demanded.

“Rogue AI kind of events. Dimensional bombs kind of events,” Maya glanced at Tender. “Aren’t these guys supposed to be differential to higher leveled folks?”

“There are forty-eight known species and twelve Class Two species in the Sword Union,” Peg said. “I have never met any of your kind before and I have travelled much.”

“A man of the world…er… Union, just the kind of person I wanted to meet. A person of your experience, dealing with other species and cultures, having to think on your feet, that’s the kind of contact that the Sullivan Survival Society wishes to connect with. We’re an up and coming merchant organization that has access to ancient relics and enchanted items, all we look for is a fair price.”

“Merchants? You have the class, these two don’t.” Peg said. Analyst, if he could read levels and main occupational Abilities, then that meant it was ranked at least IV or V. Peg was no slouch.

“Hence the up and coming part, my friend. We’re hoping you’d be willing to get in on the ground floor and become one of our Preferred Trading Partners and get wholesale prices on ancient relics and powerful enchantments,” Maya smiled. “Of course, discretion is required.”

“You’re an Enemy of the State, Tier 2 at least,” Peg said. The two that arrived with him moved slightly at those words. “You come here, with my brother’s bones in a box and say you’re selling enchantments?”

“As one of our Preferred Trading Partners, we are willing to offer the Right of First Refusal on any enchantment or relic that is discovered by our corporation,” Maya continued. “All items will have to be purchased in person and with cold hard physical credits.”

Peg drummed his gauntleted fingers across the table and watched Maya.

“Are you some half assed criminal organization?” Peg asked. “What the hell is it that you’re doing?”

Maya put on her best customer service smile. “Just looking to make some credits, my friend. The Integrated Multiverse runs on the stuff and we, like all living and breathing SIL, need it; in abundance.”

Peg twitched as his Truthsense told him she was not lying.

“What is your game?” Peg demanded.

“No game, just selling items,” Maya said. She kept her smile on. “My corporation has come across ancient relics and ancient devices, then I came across your pub and decided that you were the best candidate to contact in hopes of creating a lucrative agreement.”

“Where is my pub?” Peg said.

“Most of it was consumed by a dimensional bomb explosion,” Maya said.

Peg frowned.

Maya summoned a golden goblet from her Inventory and set it down upon the table. Peg’s eyes and the other two figures with him all snapped to the cup.


Chalice of the Unyielding - high grade, Tier 1

Drink from this chalice and remove all emotion based attacks, double your Physical Perception, and increase your Physical Strength by 10. Effects last thirty minutes.


Then she summoned another device, a fancy curved sword.


Reaper’s One Handed Sword - high grade, Tier 1

Sharpening Enchantment

Double Blade Enchantment

Fast Attack Enchantment

Blood Glutton Enchantment

The Cutting Leaf Enchantment

Created by [Master Bladesmith] Yon Vo Tai, the higher the skill in [Blademaster] the more effective the enchantments are.


Peg practically licked his lips at the sword.

“You are selling this?” he asked.

“Of course, this is just a sample of the selection of wares that my corporation offers,” Maya said. “The sword we can let go for about eight hundred thousand credits, a steal, and the chalice, one million. There is high grade and there is high grade, y’know?”

“Unfortunately, I am a patriotic citizen of the Union and do not dabble in criminal activities,” Peg said.

Maya only smiled wider. “I would not dare question your patriotism, my friend. But the way I hear it, the multiverse is filled with danger and creatures of horror, should not the Union’s finest and bravest obtain the best tools for the job they can? My corporation has found items of ancient power that still resonate to this day. From a Tier 2 [High Captain] to high leveled [Navigators] and [Ship Officers], we have had them checked in house and if you wish, we shall even pay for the System to verify their authenticity.”

Peg’s eye twitched slightly and he looked away from the sword, a bored expression crossing his face. “I have seen better weapons, for eight hundred thousand credits. I have seen weapons that can devastate high leveled mana mutations. This sword seems nice, but that’s a lot of enchantments on a weapon, I would expect something like that to suffer resonance failure within the first use.”

“Where I come from,” Yosi said, speaking for the first time. “One doesn’t obtain [Master Bladesmith] until level one hundred and fifty, when they have been making weapons for a thousand years. Is it so different here?”

“Of course not,” Peg said. “Everyone knows what a [Master Bladesmith] is, there are five in the Union.”

“The System also doesn’t allow outright lies in the Item Text,” Yosi said. “To say that this was not created by a [Master Bladesmith] is to say the System would allow such a lie to be told.”

“I would never say such a thing,” Peg said. “But many know that you can put the truth into an Item Text but it could still be a trash item.”

“Even a trash creation from a [Master Bladesmith] would be something to treasure,” Yosi added.

“Well, there’s a simple way to test the efficacy of our items,” Maya said, smiling still. She slid the chalice to one of the armored people behind Peg. “If you have a drink, please pour it into the chalice. Once the effects occur, tell us what your status page says.”

The figure looked to Peg who gave a nod. The faceplate opened and Maya saw an old grizzled face that shared a lot of the same features with Peg.

“My uncle, Saddeyen.” Peg said.

“Ma’am.” The grizzled man nodded to Maya. She nodded back, seeing in him a tough old soldier. He bent down and poured a liquid from a hip flask. Even from where she sat, Maya could smell the alcohol in it. He didn’t hesitate or second guess himself, instead he filled the chalice and knocked it back in one gulp. “Yeah, I feel the changes,” he said after a moment. “My Physical Perception has doubled and my Strength is up. Also I’m calmer than normal.” The delivery was dry and to the point. “There’s a pair of AIs behind that door. Don’t know if they’re dangerous or not. This building is weird, it’s messing with my perception, everything is either too big or too small.”

Maya raised an eyebrow at the remarks.

“Seems a tad pricey for a cup.” Peg remarked.

“If you read the Item Text, it states it lasts thirty minutes, but it doesn’t state a limit on amount of use,” Maya said.

Peg’s eyes practically snapped back to the cup.

Maya had wondered why the cup had been sitting out on a table in the middle of the bridge. After going over it with Bell, she had discovered that the cup could be used by everyone on the bridge, every thirty minutes. When their buff wore off, they went back to the cup and drank. It was a never ending fountain of buffs.

“You mean…” Peg began.

Maya made the cup slide back to her, undulating the table a bit. She pulled a bottle of water from her inventory and filled the chalice. It had to be filled to half, about four ounces. She drank from the cup and felt a wave of warmth fill her. She didn’t have to check her stats to see them jump up and change. Although, Maya mused, she should have washed the cup, she could taste a little of the harsh alcohol that Saddeyen had poured into the chalice.

Yosi followed her lead, taking the remainder from Maya’s water bottle and filling the cup before drinking. Afterward, Maya slid the cup back to Peg. He hesitated for a moment before following suit.

“It is true,” he said.

“Liars make poor business partners,” Maya said. “I do not take you for a fool and I would not try to swindle you just to make a profit. Yes, my corporation needs the credits and we have the goods, quality goods, to sell. All we’re looking for is a mutual relationship of honesty and fairness. I will not screw you over and you will not try to cheat me.

“These items we bring to you, although pricey, are of quality make. As I am an Enemy of the State, I cannot legitimately do business in the Union, but it does not prevent me from working with someone one on one. You need credits, I need credits, I’ve seen your financial records and know that you invested a lot into the pub, with it destroyed you have lost a lot. But with Tommoth’s life insurance, you can gain some of that back and we can provide you with quality items at wholesale price, fifty percent of what they would normally cost.”

“This all reeks of a set up,” Peg said.

“Totally,” Maya grinned. “This is something that just doesn’t happen. A person doesn’t just pop out of the air and try selling you stuff, at a marked discount. I have no ties to the Union and I have no say in what goes on here. All I’m looking for is credits.”

Peg looked uncertain, but the other figure stepped forward. The faceplate opened to show a female version of Peg.

“I am Dianarios, Pegarios’ cousin, Saddeyen is my father.” The woman nodded her head to Maya. “I wish to speak to my cousin and father about this endeavor.”

Maya waved her arm and a door appeared on the wall next to the exit. Saddeyen immediately swiveled as the door formed, weapon raised.

“Sorry about that. You can talk in there. I swear I will not record, listen in, or spy on you in any way.” Maya raised her hand.


Vow accepted.


“Huh, that’s a thing?”

The three nodded and shuffled toward the door. It closed with a loud thud and Maya immediately sagged and sighed.

“Do all enterprises entail family?” Maya asked Bell.

“Usually. They are the only ones you can trust.”

“But don’t you get idiots like Tommoth?”

“Of course, but they’re family.”

“Right.”

“Did I do well, Maya?” Yosi asked.

“Of course, dear. You were very brave and knowledgeable. I might have lost Peg there if you hadn’t stepped up.”

“Thank you, Maya.”

“Remind me to start paying you guys,” Maya said. “It’s not a business if you don’t pay the workers a living wage.”

“The items we have taken are far more than we would have been able to afford in our lifetimes,” Bell said. “The dimensional bags alone are worth more than I would have made in ten years as an [Alchemist] on my homeworld.”

“I never got paid,” Tender and Yosi both said.

“Good to know,” Maya said, yawning.

One of the improvements she had made after Maria had spent some time in the Cage was the creation of a bathroom. Water tanks had been formed and a plumbing system had been created; all of it was normal system tech stuff, but loaded on when the cage was formed.

Maya took a moment to refresh herself, check on Roci and Nan, and then returned to the meeting room. She could sense the trio in the other room, but as she had said, she did not spy on them in any way.

They took a good ten minutes, but returned to the meeting room. Their faceplates were all opened and they seemed, if not more relaxed, then less likely to shoot up the place. Peg sat while the other stood.

“We would like to discuss what other items you may have for sell,” Pegarios stated.

Maya smiled. “Of course.”


***


Four hours flashed by in an instant, Maya was exhausted by the time negotiations finished with Pegarios. They were very interested in the items she had for sell, it appeared that within the Sword Union, such items were only for Nobility, even low leveled Nobility got the good stuff while everyone else was stuck with whatever was left over.

Maya gleaned that all was not well in the Pegarios’ House, or House Revvena. The Grand Dame, Ostelii Revvena, was on her death bed. At two thousand three hundred years old, Ostelii was the Tier 2 SIL that gave legitimacy to their House. Once she passed, their position, tenuous as it was, would collapse immediately.

Already there were grabs for power and cut throat attacks upon the outer fringes of the Family. Pegarios and relatives had broken away from the infighting, using the chaos to try and build up their base of power as the rest of Revvena House went on with their bloodletting.

Criminality was the speciality of the House, although their outward facing front was small scale business men and women, their true profits lay in smuggling goods and services.

With the death of Tommoth and the lost of the pub, along with other bad fortune that had followed them into the Fringe Worlds, Pegarios and his relatives were on the verge of bankruptcy.

“Yeesh, inter-House politics is rough,” Maya said.

“It is said that House Revenna sheds more of its own blood than its enemies,” Saddeyen chuckled. Everyone had taken a seat now and were somewhat relaxed. The old man’s tough facade had slowly faded, revealing a dark humored man with an easy grin and oddly comforting eyes.

“It is an issue with Tier 2 Houses,” Pegarios stated. “Especially when there are a large number of high leveled people that could become Tier 2 only if they had the full backing and financial support of the Family. Yet that will not happen, as we are fractured.”

“We were considered fringe Family before this began,” Dianarios said. “Our lot in life was foot soldiers and minions for the main branch of the family. We decided it was best if we removed ourselves from being used by the higher ranked family members.”

“I can get behind that, striking out on your own and making your own fortune,” Maya said. “Sucks about your House though.”

“The House is dying, but we can rebuild and make our own.” Pegarios said.

“Those lads out there, that came in here ready to blast me apart, they’re your family too?” Maya asked.

“Yes, cousins and siblings,” Pegarios said. “I am the eldest of my Mother’s children, she was main branch and that provides me with the veneer of legitimacy.” He chuckled at that. “Currently she is in Tzonia attempting to bargain our services to the Tzonian military.”

“What services?” Maya asked.

“We are mercenaries, currently,” Saddeyen stated with a scowl. “Our fortunes have fallen such that we must fight for others not of our blood.”

“It’s not too bad,” Dianarios said, “It keeps the young on their toes and sheds the useless.”

Maya didn’t flinch at the words, keeping her calm demeanor. Personally, Maya had never met a mercenary before, but Pops’ held the firm belief that fighting for money didn’t lead to good troops. Then again, Maya didn’t know the culture here. In a multiverse where everyone could level and become strong, fighting was a way of life.

“How many troops does your family have?” Maya asked, more curious than anything.

“One thousand low grade, two hundred mid grade, five high grade,” Saddeyen replied. “Looking to crush your foes and allow us a percentage of loot?”

“Not currently,” Maya smiled. “Perhaps as our business relations increase.”

“Haltor’s World was a good training world,” Dianarios said. “It kept the young in fighting shape and even allowed them to gain levels, but the fees are killing us now. Without the business license that the pub provided, we’re considered tourists now. Not a legitimate business enterprise. What a load of shit.”

“We’ve been forced back into the orbitals,” Pegarios said. “It cost a damn lot to come down here, rent that dropship, and purchase those dimensional locks.”

Maya shrugged. Coming in hot and heavy had been their choice. “How long will be the turn around for these items?” Maya asked.

The trio had settled upon two million three hundred thousand credits worth of goods. The financial burden it costed them was great, but they had plenty of contacts that were interested in high grade goods.

There was always fighting in the Union, between Houses, between cities, between planets, and then against all the mana mutations, rogue AIs, and other creatures that stalked the edges of the Union. That made high grade weapons highly sought after.

“I would say about a standard week,” Pegarios said. “This will require transport out of this system and perhaps into Tzonia or some other larger settled system.”

That would be twelve weeks RSH time. Maya drummed her fingers across the table. Three months was a long time, far longer than she had been in the RSH herself. Pegarios would roughly double his money with this endeavor, but that was too long for Maya. She needed more credits and waiting three months just to make a few more million was far too long.

A part of Maya chuckled at that thought, pre-integration she had never had more than a few thousand dollars to her name, now she was richer than her entire family would have been if they added up all the assets they had.

Yet, there was an entire world out there that was being torn apart. Credits would help alleviate that.

“What are your thoughts on consignment?” Maya asked.


***


Two more hours passed as they hammered out another deal. They understood consignment, as many crafters focused on crafting and not selling. But this forced the issue of System Contract, which Pegarios was hesitant about entering.

Maya didn’t trust him, but he was no fool. He knew the value of the items she carried and she was offering him spectacular terms for consignment, a full quarter of the selling price. That put all the risk on her and Maya was determined to have the System enforce their contract.

Although she had stated everything had to be purchased in cold hard credits, Maya understood when to bend her own rules for the greater good. Pegarios also understood that this alleviated some of their financial pressures, they would be making a cool seven million in profit if all the products sold at retail prices, along with the life insurance that had been placed on Tommoth.

In the end, Maya got her System Contract with Pegarios which boiled down to that he would sell her items for her. He would retain twenty five percent of the sell value. He would contact her on a weekly basis to give her updates. He would return when all items were sold and they would renegotiate a new contract. As the System recorded all transactions that were not person to person, Pegarios would have to physically meet with her to pay her the credits in credit disc form. Otherwise the transaction would be recorded and the taxman cometh.

Maya wanted to sleep, even Pegarios and his group seemed exhausted. Yosi was still alert, but Bell had decided to take a break in Nan’s room. Tender was stalwart as always, ready to fight at a moment’s notice.

Maya noted Saddeyen’s glances at Tender.

“Problem?” she asked.

“No. It’s just you don’t see many tamed rogue AIs,” he said.

“He’s not tamed. He’s just Tender,” Maya said, smiling. “He’s his own person, does what he wishes.”

That raised an eyebrow from Saddeyen.

“Oh, that reminds me. What’s with Tommoth buying rogue AI parts?”

The trio froze a bit and cast a look at one another.

“Do you have access to rogue AI parts?” Pegarios asked.

“Depends on what they’re used for.”

“Rogue components harvesting. The problem with System tech is that the resources and knowledge and industrial base required to move into Tier 2 construction is very, very intensive. There are shortcuts around those that can be achieved by use of rogue AI parts.”

“I thought the Sword of the Universe condemned them all to destruction?”

“Ah, well the Sword owns the largest system tech manufactory in the Union. All goods are practically created by his industries.”

Maya reached into her Inventory and summoned Big Snake’s main servo motor assembly. She had been tinkering with it off and on, trying to figure out how it worked and if it could be used to create some ambulatory drones.

The heavy assembly thumped onto the table, the tale tell red gleam of rogue tech components widen eyes and dropped jaws.

“This… where did you get this?” Dianarios asked, she got up, pulled a device from her pack and began scanning it. “It’s a rogue AI motor assembly.” She grinned. “I know half a dozen ways we could use this!”

“So it’s valuable?” Maya asked.

Dianarios’ face immediately went blank and she sat down as if a moment ago she hadn’t been drooling over the assembly.

“It has some uses, minor uses,” she said.

“Dianarios is our mid-grade [Engineer],” Pegarios said.

“You send your Engineers into battles?” Maya asked.

“Tommoth was always kind and friendly to me,” Dianarios said. “He was a non-combatant like me, focused his path on running a business and being the talkative face for that part of our business.”

Maya gave a nod and cleared her throat for another round of negotiations.

***


The enchanted items Pegarios purchased came from his own wallet, but the rogue AI parts purchased came from the Family funds. The System provided the most basic of banking functions, allowing money to be transferred, stored, and turned physical, but it didn’t allow investing or interest.

From the Economics knowledge cube Maya had downloaded, the System pretty much crippled banking. One could keep all their untold millions upon themselves and never have to deal with the sticky fingers of the government demanding their cut. Transferring funds between SIL was more difficult, there had to be a Bond of Trust between the two individuals. Something that was not easy to create and usually only occurred between family and loved ones.

Pegarios took a break to reenter the real world and send an expensive message packet to his mother. After a two hour wait and ten MVT minutes, he returned with more credits.

By then everyone had to take a break. Saddeyen and Dianarios slept on lounging chairs that Maya created and Maya and Bell and Yosi all took a quick nap and got a stimulant boost from Nan.

“You see the amount of money in an economy is generated not by just fiddling with numbers, but by how much a bank or lending operation can give to your average Jane. Jane then buys stuff with that money, which goes to the store owner, who pays their employee, who in turns buys other stuff and the whole circle keeps going on and on,” Maya explained to Roci, showing the AI the deals they had been negotiating.

“But with the System butting into things, this changes the whole dynamic. Originally banks formed because carrying around a lot of physical coins was damn difficult and easy to get stolen from you. But carrying around a promissory note was easier to move around. With Integration, the System directly pays you. It’s just numbers in your status page, but you can form it into a physical coin if you wish. Therefore everyone carries around their wealth on them. That in turn strangles the struggling banking industry, because no one wants to give up their money to banks who have to report that amount to the government.

“This leads there to be less money in the overall economy. It also makes it very difficult to tax people based on income, because the System is technically the biggest employer in the Integrated Multiverse, it’s constantly pouring untold billions into local economies by giving out loot.

“So in the Union in order to collect tax credits, they automatically charge every legitimate citizen a flat tax rate based on their age and estimated levels. This of course hits the crafters pretty damn hard because leveling in crafting takes longer than it does leveling in combat orientated classes. Also, the crafters have to sell their stuff and that means business dealings, where they are charged sales tax. This in turn leads to more and more people deciding to just fight instead of building and that decreases the pool of crafters throughout the Union.

Maya took a breath. “Which leads us to where we are now. The high leveled crafters are getting pinched by the taxman while the high leveled fighters can just pay their flat tax rate and go out and kill some more. Who in turn level far faster than crafters and who will eventually take over governing worlds and cities and making the laws.

“This also leads to the formation of Houses, which in turn creates a semi Feudalistic state that rules over whole worlds and star systems. You gain enough levels, then it’s easier to just make you a planetary governor than it is to send an army to defeat you.

“Which then leads to in-fighting, wars, and producing more soldiers than your enemies can because they might invade and take what is yours. At that point, your economy is constantly preparing for war or supplying a war effort. Therefore Jane can’t borrow money from a bank to start her crystal cat figurine store in the mall.”

Pegarios entered the Cage once more and looked around to see everyone lounging around the meeting room. Some refreshments had been brought out, simple water and ration bars that Nan had cooked up. Bell was half asleep in a chair and Yosi was snoring softly in a corner bed. Only Tender was up and he was still standing in his spot holding his weapon. He hadn’t said much since the dealings began, but Maya could sense he was taking everything in.

“What’s the news, Peg?” Maya asked. “Mother approve?”

Pegarios made a face and sat down in his chair. Saddeyen jerked awake and yawned, settling down in the chair beside Peg. Dianarios continued sleeping.

“We shall buy all the rogue AI parts you have listed,” Peg said.

“If you got the coin,” Maya said. This was different from the consignment deal she had made. This one was going personally to the Family, not Pegarios’ pockets.

“I have the amount we agreed on.”

“This has been a long day for all of us,” Maya said, yawning. “Let’s get it down and we can all go home and rest.”

Pegarios nodded and they got down to business.

Tender had plenty of rogue AI parts in his inventory, Maya had been tinkering with a lot of the parts from Big Snake and other rogue AIs, together they created a large pile of parts that Dianarios was salivating over.

Maya learned they were boosting their ship’s sensors, drives, and reducing their signal radius with the rogue AI parts, along with manufacturing ammunition and some higher grade parts. It was a criminal underground technological secret that even Pegarios wouldn’t release to Maya. She had tried enticing him with better deals, but what they did with rogue AI parts was their Family secret.

She relented after that, mainly because they paid a fair price for the parts and Maya walked away with another two million credits bulging her already padded System wallet.

“That is done,” Maya said exhausted. “Nice doing business with ya’ll. We’ll be back her in a standard week MVT time, to see how the sales went and to offer more goods, if we have them.”

Pegarios had brought in a dimensional container and they filled it with the items they purchased.

Maya nearly collapsed onto the table after they left, groaning. “Who thought making four and a half million credits would take so damn long,” she cried.

“You do realize that is an impressive fortune,” Bell said.

“I just want to sleep.”

“We still have to purchase the goods from the Network,” Tender stated.

“Oh, god!”


***


[Buyer] Level 12

[Seller] Level 13

[Trader] Level 12

[Purchaser] Level 2

[Negotiator] Level 3

[Merchant] Level 7

[Trade Seeker] Level 4


[Dimensional Navigator] Level 1

You have a destination in mind, now you can get there easier.

+ 2 Physical Perception

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Comments (4)
user avatar
User #15322928 - 3 Sep 20 22:14
Awesome chapter! Thanks
user avatar
User #29921292 - 3 Sep 20 20:01
Yesssss trading, what i have been waiting for since reading the title on royalroad!
user avatar
User #3712562 - 3 Sep 20 21:03
Haggling! Economics! Teaching baby AI about how the government is fucking over crafters and how it truly does lead to Might Makes Right!
user avatar
User #28785581 - 4 Sep 20 08:07
Awesome chapter! Let's hope Pegarios' House doesn't try to fuck Maya over, since they're desperate criminals and all.
B2-17 - Pegarios 2020-09-02T12:48:35+00:00


“Awesome,” Maya grinned. “This is system tech, not crazy mana channeling required crafting.”

“They’re cheap and easy to build,” Bell said. “Although crafted pallets are sturdier and longer lasting.”

“I’m all about cheap and planned obsolescence,” Maya smirked. “It’s the American Way.”

Maya looked at the blueprint and it conveniently supplied a list of items needed in its creation. Maya pulled up the inventory of items and components that Yosi and Veskari had created and compared the two.

“Nice. We have everything. I’ll just skip out and-“

“I will do that,” Yosi said. “I shall gather up these materials for you, Maya.”

“I can do it also,” Tender said.

“It is not difficult,” Yosi said, her eyes narrowing.

“Then I can do it faster,” Tender replied.

“Easy there, kids. How about you both go and do it and it’ll be done twice as fast?”

“Sure, boss.”

“As you wish, Maya.”

The two scampered out of the dimensional cage, Bell had a wry look on his face.

“You have showered Yosi with much in the last few days,” Bell said. “She worries that she will not live up to the pressure you have placed on her, even with the change in her occupational abilities and skills, she feels she has nothing to offer to you and your House.”

“But she’s so cute,” Maya said. “Like a cartoon dinosaur.” She paused for a moment, glancing at the door they had left through. “I’m still not sure what to make of her or how to treat her.”

“I would assume the same way you treat everyone.” Nan stated. “Actions speak louder than words. Treat her normally and she fill find her place among your odd collection of companions.”

Maya smiled at Nan. “Under all that hologram, there beats a kind heart, eh?”

“I am still trying to improve my empathy,” Nan said.

“Personal improvement is the goal in life, not for anyone else, but for yourselft. Keep at it.” Maya summoned a pair of tablets and tossed them to Bell and Nan. “Start looking for things we need, weapons, foodstuffs, shelter, tools, and knowledge cubes.”

Maya reconnected the Cage back to Haltor’s World, then checked the communications array for any new messages. Still nothing.

It took Yosi and Tender an hour to gather up the materials needed for the pallet’s creation. They also brought along with them a stowaway. Roci.

“Hey there, little person. Wasn’t Vesky supposed to be baby sitting you?” Maya said as the purple eyed mini Sullivan made their way toward her.

“Vesky!”

“Hey, you changed your voice, hitting puberty already?” Maya grinned as her ears didn’t want to scream in horror at the sound of Roci’s voice.

“Vesky boring!” Roci cried.

“He is not,” Yosi said, coming to his defense. “He is a remarkable person, a being of high learning and wonderful stories.”

“Now, now, Roci. If you’re gonna talk trash about someone, make sure their family members, loved ones, or friends aren’t in the room.”

“That’s terrible advice,” Bell said. “If you wish to ‘talk trash’ about someone, do it to their face and suffer the consequences.”

“Oh, yeah, if you’re looking for a round of fisticuffs, do that. But in all other situations, know the room and figure out who’s who and their relationships with people you wanna bad mouth.”

Bell shook his head. Roci slithered up Maya’ shipsuit leg and then sat upon her lap, staring at the tablet in her hands.

“There are sell orders for biomass,” Nan said. “The smallest sell amount is enough to produce more than two metric tons of ration bars.”

“Yummy,” Maya deadpanned. “Add it to the shopping list. Alright, kiddo,” Maya picked Roci up and stood up herself. “You keep looking for items that we might need, alright? “ She set the tablet down in front of Roci and headed over to where Tender and Yosi were unloading the equipment they had brought. As another gift, Maya had given Yosi a dimensional bag, the same as she had down with Nan, Tender, and Bell. Although, everyone who survived the dimensional instability gained a Dimensional Inventory, having more space was always appreciated.

Maya cracked her knuckles and began summoning tools.

“Let’s make us a pallet.”


***


Four hours passed and at the passing of every hour, Maya stopped and checked to see if Pegarios had responded. They were coming up to the end of the thirty MVT minutes, with only an hour remaining.

“Holy crap, this blueprint is awesome?” Maya said in amazement as she began building the pallet. As she activated the blueprint, the view before her changed. Instead of the piles of components and material neatly stacked, Maya could see a blue holographic image that showed her where all the parts went.

“They are impressive,” Bell said. “Crafting has a similar effect, allowing one to create and build things more easier.”

“I cannot see what is happening,” Tender said.

“Unfortunately, only SIL can use blueprints,” Yosi said. There were tears in her eyes. “I couldn’t see them before too, but now…”

“Dude, you mean Class Twos can’t use blueprints either?”

“Yes. We are restricted from crafting and building.”

“What a load of shit,”

“Blue!” Roci said, as they slithered up to where Maya stood. “Hologram?”

“Yes, it’s a blueprint…” Maya paused. “Oh, shit, Roci. You can see this?”

A stunned silence filled the room as everyone stared at the tentacle legged Roci.

“That’s impossible,” Yosi said. “Roci is an AI, not SIL.”

“Well it-“

A screeching noise filled the room and Maya jerked her head up. Something was happening. She immediately turned to the view screen that was still displaying a nighttime scenery on Haltor’s World.

As she watched, the screen lit up as the external sensors detected something coming their way.

“What the hell-“

“Close the threshold,” Tender said.

Maya blinked and then threw herself toward the control panel. She recognized what was coming at them; it was a missile.

She nearly tripped, her feet slipping on the scattered components, but she righted herself and staggered toward the control panel. Her hand slammed down on the emergency shut down button, but nothing happened.

Maya turned to the view screen to see a blooming wave of violet light washing over the communications array and the dimensional cage door. She slammed her hand down on the shut down button again. Nothing.


Dimensional Lock Engaged. Threshold Locked.


“What the hell?” Maya demanded as she read the message that appeared on the control panel. “A dimensional lock?”

“Is that possible?” Bell asked. “It shouldn’t be.”

“We are trapped here?” Tender asked.

“I can’t close the threshold and I can’t release us from this location,” Maya frantically began pulling up the menus and options she had basically ignored in the weeks she had the Cage. Now was a bad time to learn how to use the machine.

“This is the same shit that Shen used on us to lock us out of our dimensional inventory, how can it be used against us now?” Maya paused and summoned a cutter/fuser from her inventory. “I can still use my inventory. How the hell did they figure this out?” Maya glared at the light that was coming off what appeared to be a harpoon stuck into the ground. She pulled in close to the object.


Alawasaza Type 8 Dimensional Lock Harpoon; high-grade, Tier 1

Protect yourself against pesky dimensional instability with this fast deployable dimensional lock. Works 100 percent of the time 50 percent of the time.


“Ah,” Tender said as Maya explained what the device was. “It is a common thing to have on hand, although some claim that it is a worthless piece of system tech, sometimes it does prevent dimensional instabilities from forming, for a while, anyway.”

“We’re basically a dimensional instability,” Maya mused. “And we just got our asses locked down.” She walked back to the control panel and checked it. “We’ve got about sixteen hours left on the clock, who knows what will happen if that lock is still active when we run out of juice.”

“We might all die,” Yosi said.

“That’s nothing new,” Maya remarked and sighed. “Shit. I should have expected something like this, we don’t just waltz into a world and think we’ll get away unnoticed.”

“Zono will probably dismantle the ship and the Hangy for the material,” Yosi said. “I hope Veskari doesn’t blame himself for our deaths.”

“Ease up there, Yosi. We ain’t dead yet and it looks like we’re having visitors.”

Everyone turned to the view screen again and Maya highlighted a distant object their sensors barely made out. It was a ship, blocky and ugly, but barreling down from the sky so fast that flames were enveloping it.

“Someone’s in a hurry to greet us,” Maya said. A moment later, her tablet pinged with the arrival of a message.

I am coming. You better have a good explanation and my brother.

Pegarios.

“Well, now I’m glad I brought extra guns,” Bell said.

“Me too, buddy.”


***


“So you think we scan as a dimensional instability?” Maya asked Tender.

“It would be my guess, based on the reaction and the fact that we are breeching void space.”

“So, we’ll need to figure a way to counter these dimensional lock harpoons, any ideas?”

“External weapons,” Tender said. “The harpoons are easy to knock down; we also need to increase our scan radius, we should not have been surprised by this attack.”

“Some good ole point defense cannons,” Maya smiled briefly as she slid another component rack into the pallet she was making.

“How can you all just talk so normally about this?” Yosi cried. The small dinosaur woman was nervously staring at the view screen, she constantly drummed her webbed hands together and made a clicking sound that Maya figured was stress.

“You get used to potential life and death situations,” Maya said as she hooked the rack up to the mana supply. Power was being provided directly from the Cage, if it worked, then they could probably shave a few hours off their under the dimensional lock. The worse case senario was that they would all die when the mana ran out and the lock ripped them apart as the Cage tried returning to the dimensional plane.

Even with her Dimensional Awareness at IV, Maya still didn’t get a feeling about what would happen. Sometimes, she thought, that the Skills only worked when it was convenient for them, not her.

The only real option they had at had was to run outside and blast away at the harpoon. As Tender was the only one who could go outside, it was suicide. By now the ship that was barreling down at them would have a wide area lock on their location, any sudden moves and the place would be flashed fried.

Maya wasn’t in a hurry to run just yet, she had to meet with Pegarios and if this is how he wanted to start things out, so be it. Bell had grumbled as he watched the incoming drop ship.


Hollin Class 2 Multi-environment dropship mid grade, Tier 1.

Fast deployment of combat forces from low planetary orbit. Seats 7. Upgradeable to Remote Piloting or Piloting AI.


Then Bell had begun setting up a defense, taking Maya’s tablet and adjusting the Tier 2 tech inside of the Cage. The Cage itself took up nearly seventy five percent of the components that were moving around them, but that still left them with plenty of components to built with. He focused on defenses, as he and Tender had brought along a plethora of weapons.

“Remind me not to bring an axe to a laser gun fight,” Maya said as she watched Tender and Bell set up a mid grade rotary thermal gun. Maya hadn’t been expecting a fight, instead she had her usual weapons, an axe and a sword. The rest of her Inventory was filled with tools and various items she had yet to sort.

She took out a ration bar and began chewing on it, holding one out to Yosi who nervously took it and bit into it, making a face of disgust.

“You eat this?” she demanded.

“You eat the same,” Maya replied.

Yosi pulled out a yellow brick from her own inventory. “Different dietary needs, it seems,” she said. “I’m a obligate carnivore. I cannot digest grains and carbohydrates or sugars.”

“Oh, man. That sucks. Sugar is, like, the best. Carbs, yum.”

“I will take your word for it,” Yosi said.

“So you just eat meat and fats? What about alcohol?”

“I can consume my species form of alcohol, in fact some of my compatriots used to brew illicit alcohol as a side hobby. The Masters allowed it because it kept us quiet and happy,” Yosi frowned. “You are distracting me.”

“Yeah, totally. Look, we’re gonna be in a lot of fights, a lot of bad things are gonna happen, even if we play this whole thing safe. Don’t let the worry get to you and trust the people around you,” Maya pointed to Bell, Tender, and Nan who was setting up her aid station. Even Roci was eyeing a big gun and skittering around it. “These guys have been in fights with me that had worse odds. They know what to do and they know they can trust me and I can trust them.”

Yosi nodded. “I did not bring a… weapon.” The last word was said with difficulty. “We were never allowed to touch weapons, even if it was to be carried for our Masters.”

“Don’t worry about it. We all start somewhere, I never used a weapon on anything before, except my fists, but you learn fast or you die.” Maya smiled, softening the words. “I’m not gonna let you die, if I can help it. Niether are those two chuckleheads.”

Maya turned to face the view screen.

The dropship had landed in spectacular fashion. A blast of hot thrusters that had scorched this planet’s version of grass and vegetation, it had also knocked over the comm’s array. The boxy craft seemed to half land and half crash, dirt and flames blasting around it for several meters, that nearly killed the comm’s array.

“Area clearance,” Tender stated. “It’s meant to clear any mines, mana lattices, or hidden foes around the landing site.”

Once the ship had landed, a ramp clanged down and half a dozen figures in armor charged out. They were all big and they were all wore system tech armor, but nothing extraordinarly expensive. The black carapace armor she had in her inventory was probably a grade higher than what these shock troops were wearing.

They weren’t high level, then. Probably the same [Adventurers] that Plaxar’s was serving before the instability sucked everyone away. They weren’t a military force either, as Maya watched several of them yell at one another and gesture for some of them to move, until finally a figure emerged from the ship to restore order.

That was Pegarios, Maya realized. He was wearing a sleek gray and black armored suit, with an array of weapons on his hip and back. He moved awkwardly, as if he’d never done this before but he did set up a decent perimeter.

The area was secured and the dimensional lock was reinforced with three more, of which two failed. A big gun was rolled out of the ship and set up to face the wall. Maya had removed the garish markings and designed a front that looked like a bank she had seen in some pictures from before Integration.

There was a peaked roof about ten meters up and marble-like columns that were equally spaced along the fifteen meter wide front. Behind the columns was a wall of dark smoky glass that couldn’t be seen through, with the marking upon the front displaying Sullivan Survival Society. A large double door sat in the center of the whole structure.

Maya had plenty of time, as everyone outside of the Cage was moving in slow motion. If she wanted, she could make it even slower, speeding up time in the Cage for her and the others, but Maya wasn’t going to do that just yet. To occupy her mind, she had continued to build the shipping pallet.

It had been nearly three hours since they had seen the ship rocketing down toward them. Everything moved in slow motion so that Maya could correctly guess what they were doing and where the weapons were going to be set up and how they were going to plan their retreat if things got hairy. The drop ship blasted off, moving a kilometer away to provide a fast getaway and to be out of range of short-range weapons.

“Find any good items to buy?” Maya asked as she moved Roci from her seat and onto her lap. The AI gave her a very catlike glare.

“I believe the biomass is the best buy,” Nan said. “The elemental analyst seems to be well within what is required to produce more medicine and fill up dwindling supplies, not to mention creating more emergency rations.”

“How much?”

“A thousand credits per metric ton.”

“That’s pretty cheap.”

“It is biomass, not industrial goods,” Nan said.

“How much can this pallet handle?” Maya asked. The pallet was a three meter square.

“These are pallet sized shipments,” Nan replied. “It is standardized and stored within reinforced duracloth containers.”

“Cool. Tender?”

“There are several items we should obtain. The most pressing is this,” Tender sent her the information on her tablet. “It is a Deep Scanning Module System, discounted because shipping costs out of the star system costs more than it is worth.”

“What does it do?”

“Its a scanning device, able to penetrate most materials to determine if there are easily accessible ores or if there are ancient ruins below the surface.”

‘Ruins?” Maya scoffed.

“There have been plenty of pre-Integration and post-Integration societies that have risen and fallen through out the multiverse,” Tender said. “Some of these ruins hold great treasures.”

“Ah, so someone brought all this stuff in hopes of finding hidden treasure?” Maya asked.

“Yes. With it we will be able to penetrate the trash piles and obtain a workable list of what lies within them, thereby allowing us to extract the more delicate pieces before Zono recycles them all.”

“You got me sold, buddy. How much?”

“Three hundred thousand credits.”

“Ouch. But worth it. What else?”


200 programable processors, low grade, Tier 1 - 60,000

2 metric tons, alchemical material, mana trace confirmed by System - 120,000

1 metric ton, ‘junk’ mana batteries, various grades, Tier 1 - 25,000

2 Auto Assemblers low grade, Tier 1 - 125,000

1 Auto Disassembler low grade, Tier 1 - 25,000

Alzonii’s Liquidation - various low grade, Tier 1 tools, machines, and components. Salvage from Kobono’s Town, hit by Dimensional Instability - 150,000

50 liters of System grade, Tier 1 Mana Conductive Gel - 100,000

500 kilograms of explosive gel low grade, tier 1 - 25,000

Yonnivolo Liquidation - Weapons, various low grade, Tier 1 ammunition, weapons, and defense drones for a low price. Salvage from Kobono’s Town, hit by Dimensional Instability. 100,000


“Well, this is exciting,” Maya grinned at the list. She felt a surge of giddiness at what they could potentially do with all this stuff. The processors could be used to program dumb-bots, not AIs, but simple machines to be turned into drones. Bell had come around on buying alchemy goods, saying his occupational skills were atrophying. And it seemed the town they had been visiting in VR and now in reality was called Kobono’s Town.

Yosi had shown her new shrewd business savvy by digging through all the information and finding the liquidation sales. There were others too, but weapons and building equipment was necessary. The Alzonii Liquidation was exactly what they were looking for, salvage machinery. It seemed Alzonii had run a large salvage operation in Kobono, until the instability just trashed that business. Now, they wanted out and had sold off their stuff at a loss. As it was low grade, Tier 1 stuff, no one was biting.

Nan had only wanted biomass, as the medical room on the habitat was extensive and well equipped. With Shen’s previous hobbies, Maya understood why he had kept a well stocked medical room.

In that time, Pegarios and his crew had secured the area outside of the wall. They fell into a defensive stance as they discussed their options, hands tapping on their weapons and probably wondering what horrors lay within.

Maya made no move to try and welcome them. She could have changed the front to display a message to them, but everyone was trigger happy and cautious as hell. She preferred to wait, after all she had thirteen hours.

“Should we buy it now, or wait until after?” Maya asked.

“Buy now,” Bell said. “That way if we are killed, they will not be able to loot the money off your corpse.”

“Good point.”

“Wait,” Tender said. “Perhaps if we kill them all we will be able to loot more credits off of their bodies.”

“Even better point.”

Yosi let out a nervous chirp. “I think they’re heading for the door.”

“ETA?”

“I don’t know… one minute?”

“Plenty of time,” Maya said, stretching and cracking her neck. “Alright, we’ll hold off on the buying for just a moment or three. We’ll see which way the wind blows before we make our final decisions. If Peg is cool with things, we’ll see if he’s willing to enter a beneficial arrangment.”

“And what are we to do?”

“Stand by with guns ready, of course.” Maya waved her hand and her shipsuit was replaced by a refurbished black carapace armor. Her pervious set was in the ‘needs to be fixed’ pile that was pretty much everything in the Hangy. “Oof, a little snug there.” Maya stretched again and dropped into a lunge.

“Yosi, you wanna be by my side or you wanna head to the backroom and wait to see what happens.”

Yosi twitched nervously, but then straighten and stood proudly. “I am a Sullivan,” she said.

“Damn straight.” Maya waved her hands again and the Cage began reforming. A wall formed between Nan’s aid station and a metal door sealed the way. Maya concentrated for a moment and a sign appeared upon it, “Authorized Personnel Only”. She grinned and then began changing the room they were in.

“You, little buddy. Go stay with Nan for a bit, okay?” Maya told Roci as the AI slithered away and went into the back room.

Shen’s preprogramed furniture was useable, but nothing he had was to her taste. He like things garish and ornate, Maya preferred simplicity and straight lines. But this was a meeting that was meant to impress, it was meant to solidify who was in charge and who was the one making the deals.

Maya went with ornate and gaudy.

“Doll up, boys and girls. We’re making an impression.”

Bell had the same Outfit device she had and with it he summoned forth his old armor. The last she had seen of it was during the fight when Shen first arrived, but it seemed although Shen deemed his weapons useless, his armor had been kept and repaired. Now he stood tall in his plate and chainmail, a sword and shield in his smaller hands, with a large rifle in his bigger hands.

Tender didn’t change at all, instead he stood slightly behind and to the side of Maya, readying a mana shield and holding a rifle that was equal to Bell’s in size.

Yosi didn’t have armor, but she had a set of clothing that had survived the twenty thousand years. Apparently, high tiered liked to dress up their slaves to show off how wealthy they were. She wore what Maya would have called a business suit, form fitting and complimenting her brightly colored scales.

A table formed in the middle of the room and three chairs rose up from the ground. The table was an ornate wooden construct that screamed pricey, even though it was made of Tier 2 system tech components.

Maya put away her armor. This would be a delicate dance between two untrusting people. There was power in looking vulnerable, she dug through her inventory and pulled out the best she had taken from Huvano’s wardrobe.

Gold, silver, and purple, she smiled at the clothing. She looked terrible and gaudy, but that’s how high tiered rolled, it seemed. Maya sat down on one of the chairs and Yosi scrambled into the other, breathing heavily. She shook and let out small chirps of fear.

“Steady there, Yosi. We’ll get through this fine.”

“Alright,” she said still shaking with fear.

The door to the Cage blasted open and three figures burst into the room, they staggered for a second as they entered void space, a place completely different from the multiverse they had originally occupied.

“Hands! Hands! Show us your hands!” one of the figures screamed, their voice was like gravel. “Don’t move!”

Maya raised her hands, showing them empty. Maybe if she acted quick enough, she could get her enchantment running before they blasted her to pieces.

“You in the back, drop your weapons!” another cried.

“No,” Bell responded.

“Sweet Sword! That’s a rogue AI!” another cried.

“Hi. I’m Tender.”

Maya looked at the trio and sighed. They were jumpy, they were scared, and they were about to do something stupid because they were nearly shitting themselves at the sight of Tender. Rogue AIs were a thing to be feared; she hadn’t forgotten that, but she had hoped it wouldn’t be too big of a deal.

“That one! She’s an Enemy of the State!” the gravely voiced once cried out. The barrel of their weapon swinging her way.

“Gentle-SIL,” Maya said, raising her voice.

“Oh, Sweet Sword, that bounty. She has to be Tier 2!” one of the trio cried out.

“Blast this, I’m not dying to no Tier 2!” the gravely voiced man shouted before he turned and fled back out of the door. He was quickly followed by the two others, but Maya moved faster, raising a wall to trap the last figure.

The SIL cried out in terror and tried to turn to use their weapon, but Maya encased them in a small metallic box and applied pressure until the weapon clattered to the floor.

Maya got out of her seat and looked at Yosi who was shuddering in fear. “We got this, Yosi. Don’t worry.” Maya walked to the captured Adventurer and stared at them.


Haxon Debble - Level 21


“Haxon, old pal. You okay in there?” Maya asked.

Haxon stared at her, terror in their eyes. Maya looked at the SIL and noted they were roughly female. Big eyes, pouty lips, greenish skin and what looked like quills on the back on her hands and arms. Her arms were multi-jointed and ended in stubby talons.

“Look, I don’t mean to scare ya’ll. I just need to speak with Pegarios. He’s with you, right?”

Haxon nodded, but didn’t say anything.

“I need to talk to him, so I’m going to let you go and you’re going to deliver this to him. Got it?” Maya placed a tablet into Haxon’s hand as the captive nodded wildly.

Maya released the box and Haxon raced for the door.

“You forgot your rifle!” but she was already gone.

“I was expecting more of a fight,” Tender stated.

“Blessed Heavens,” Yosi breathed heavily, leaning upon the table. “I was so terrified.”

“It’s fine to be scared,” Maya said. “As they say, bravery can’t exist without fear.”

Maya sat down on her seat again and yawned. It was another waiting game as Haxon stumbled out just as the previous two did. There was almost no sign that she had been captured, but for the lack of her weapon. She immediately raced to Pegarios and gesticulated wildly, telling him everything that had happened. Eventually she gave him the tablet.

Pegarios for his part, didn’t seem scared. He stared at the Cage wall and looked down at the tablet. She couldn’t see what he was thinking, but Maya understood the body language. He took a moment longer to stare at the tablet and then he walked toward the wall.

His companions shouted at him to stop or turn back, but only two of them followed him. The rest stayed back and watched, fear welding them to the spot.

“Am I that terrifying?” Maya asked

“No. But everyone knows what an Enemy of the State means and as you increase in levels and tiers, the bounty grows.”

“Wait, what?” Maya dug through her titles and brought up Enemy of the State.


Enemy of the State

112,958,478,654 sovereign entities have signed the Multiverse Compact where they have deemed the use of dimensional bombs as an act of utter horror. Whole worlds have been destroyed and civilizations have been eradicated through dimensional bombs. Only the most evil of societies employ such weapons.

-10,000 faction points to every Multiverse Compact signee.

500 million credit bounty.


“Five hundred million?” Maya gasped. “How?”

“Your Tier upgrade,” Bell said. “I thought you knew that?”

“No. Why would I?”

“Oh,” Bell shrugged. “Common knowledge.”

“Christ, will everyone be trying to kill me?” Maya asked.

Bell shrugged again. “Probably not. That bounty might seem huge, but there aren’t many people who are willing and able to tackle a Tier 2 SIL. Those who openly carry around such a title, well… they can handle themselves.”

“It is only at the lower levels that one has to fear bounty hunters,” Tender said. “Otherwise, with a huge bounty, many will realize that it means there’s a huge level gap between them and you, so they’ll back off. The only real hampering is the your Title will effect your business relations, because of the faction points.”

“Right, that negative ten thousand doesn’t bode well.”

“You most likely will not be able to apply for a trader’s license in this area,” Tender said. “Which would make selling legitimate things far more difficult. The economic awards given by the System allows you access to the Networks, but it does not overcome the fact that you’re still considered a terrorist by the governing political bodies.”

Maya groaned. “I guess we need Peg more than I realized.”

“Indeed.”

At that moment, the door opened once more and a trio of armored figures walked into the room. They were not shouting and one of them carried a tablet.

The faceplate snapped back and Maya could see a face that she had recognized only from videos. He was similar, blue skinned, black stripes, red eyes, but also different, he looked more tired and his once plump face was a lot thinner than she had seen in the videos.

“Good evening, Pegarios.” Maya said. “I am Maya Sullivan, these are my associates, Yosi Sullivan, Belmoro Domakun, and Tender.”

The tablet clattered to the table as Pegarios snarled. “What is the meaning of this? What is this place?”

Maya looked down at the tablet and displayed on it was: Life Insurance papers for Tommoth, for the equivalent of two million credits. It had been a surprise that Tommoth’s life went for that much, but it was most likely Pegarios’ efforts that had made sure if his brother died, he’d get something out of it.

The only thing was that, like human life insurance, there need to be a body. Not just identified, but the mana trace on the body had to be matched, which was damn near impossible to fake.

Maya summoned a box from her Inventory and set it on the table. Bell had been correct that the dimensional plane did not like dead organic things. She had buried the corpse less than two months before, but when she had gone to exhume the body, it was nothing but bones. Which was fine with her, but also disconcerting, because what happened to the organic flesh?

“I thought you might like to have your brother’s remains. I know losing a family member can be difficult,” Maya said. She kept her expression calm and unworried, although her heart was pounding and her hands were about to begin shaking. “You can check the mana trace. It’s him.”

“How?” Peg asked, there was anguish in his voice. Maya felt her facade crack a little. She held on tight.

Peg pulled open the box and saw the bones within. They were neatly stacked and cleaned to a purplish green color. Peg looked at the bones and sorrow filled his face.

“He was a damned fool, but he was my brother,” Peg said.

“I understand,” Maya said.

“Do you?” Peg snapped. “How did you get his bones? How did you get my comm passwords? Everything was destroyed in the instability!”

“Sit down and let’s have a chat.” Maya smiled.

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Comments (1)
user avatar
User #28785581 - 2 Sep 20 17:35
Thanks for the chapter! Glad to finally see a SIL's reaction to the Enemy of the State Title Maya has.
B2-16 - Networks 2020-08-31T23:13:40+00:00

16 - Networks

25.5 MXP absorbed

Level up! (Level 20)

You have reached Level 20! You have 2 Pending Occupational Bonuses to Apply.


“Occupational bonus?” Maya asked.

“Ah, you have finally received one. It was a worry that Bell and I had that you had not mentioned it before,” Tender said.

“I remember Shen saying something about my level 10 bonus being unused,” Maya said.

“The reason SIL enter an occupational path is that every time they reach 10 levels there is a bonus applied to the occupation they have chosen as their main focus. This also has to correspond to the levels they’ve gained in that occupational ability, also.”

“So I can only use them if I’m level 10 in an ability?”

“Yes, in any ability you choose.”

“Can I see what it does to my [Trader] ability?”

“I would suggest you do more research on it, before plunging forward.”

Maya growled. “Fine.”


812.6 MXP absorbed

Level up! (Level 25)


Mid-Grade Achieved

Congratulations upon the leveling to mid-grade (levels 25-75).

+ 5 Foundation

+ 5 Fortitude

+ 5 Luck


Down the Hatch I

You have consumed 10 Levels of Experience Shards.

+ 1 Foundation


“Oh, god. I think I’m gonna be sick,” Maya gasped, as the world spun around her.

“It is a big deal to reach mid grade,” Bell said approvingly. “Your Tier 2 status is a cheat, it seems. Normally one would be knocked out for a few hours due to how much experience shards you have consumed.”

“Yay, me,” Maya said weakly. She gagged and shuddered.

“You’ll be fine,” Nan said.

“Will be, sure, but right not I feel like I’m gonna pop,” she replied.

“Take a break.”

“No, I got this. Just need to take it slow for a bit,” Maya said.

“Five levels at a time,” Nan said.

“Okay, okay.”

Maya picked up the shard. At least she was able to control the amount she absorbed from the shards, not having to take an entire shard at once.

“Where we go…”


Level up! (Level 30)

You have reached Level 30! You have 3 Pending Occupational Bonuses to Apply.


Level up! (Level 35)


Down the Hatch II

You have consumed 20 levels of Experience Shards.

+ 2 Foundation

“Y’know what? This is getting easier,” Maya said.

“Cheater.”

“Right!” Maya laughed.


Level up! (Level 40)

You have reached Level 40! You have 4 Pending Occupational Bonuses to Apply.


Level up! (Level 45)


Down the Hatch III

You have consumed 30 levels of Experience Shards.

+ 3 Foundation


Level up! (Level 51)

You have reached Level 50! You have 5 Pending Occupational Bonuses to Apply.



“Y’know… what… I… think…I…” Maya slurred.

“She okay?” Bell asked.

“She will be,” Nan replied.

“I… can…hear…” Maya blinked and then went unconscious.


***


“How long was I out?” Maya asked when she opened her eyes.

“Only half an hour,” Tender stated. He stood beside her as she lay on the floor of the dimensional cage.

“Maybe I should not have done that,” Maya grinned.

“You did waste about a million gens while you were out.”

“I think it was best to use the shards while within the dimensional bridge,” Nan said. “Upon further thought, the low levels and lower experience point drops from defeated foes may also be attributed to the non-existent of essence mana and low ambient mana in the dimensional plane. That would mean, there would be less mana for you and the others to draw upon, even with the shards.”

“Hot damn, even my screws ups are not really screw ups.” Maya grinned.

“Although, I would recommend caution before consuming such a large quantity of experience shards,” Nan added. “If you were only Tier 1, you would have been injured by it.”

“Are the others okay?” Maya sat up and finally looked to see Bell and Yosi on the floor beside her. They looked peacefully asleep.

“They are fine. After you… passed out, they decided they might as well join you. Yosi seemed very thrilled by the idea of gaining more levels and becoming mid-grade.”

“Cool.” Maya said as she looked at her status page. The number of attribute points made her weak at the knees. She also noticed another blinking notification. She swiped at it.


Anisa Karam has created Settlement Outpost: Bierut

Sullivan Survival Society owned Settlement Bierut has chosen the Focus: Defense

Knowledge Cubes:

The Art of Defense I & II

Attacking is Defending I-III

Kill Everything I-V

Training Your Army I-V

Death is Leveling I-V

A Commander’s Guide I

Defense Module:

4 Hellamano low grade Tier 1 Defense Turrets

6 Severniera low grade, Tier 1 Defense Bunkers

1 Medic Aid Station low grade Tier 1

Standard Weaponry:

10 sets Volkani Combat Padded Armor low grade, Tier 1

10 Jolvaska combat war axes, low grade, Tier 1

have been awarded to Chosen Representative of Bierut.


Maya winced as a pain filled her head for a moment. After it passed she realized she knew exactly where the outpost of Bierut was. “Wow, it’s like someone shoved the GPS coordinates straight into my noggin’.”

“As the owner of the settlement outpost, you will always know where it is.” Tender said, after she showed him the message.

Maya thought on that for a moment and she could visualize the small outpost in her mind. Along with the knowledge of where the settlement was located, there was a snapshot of the place in her mind.

Anisa had turned a large building into a fortified area. Maya couldn’t see it entirely, but she could feel they were constantly battling back monsters coming from Mana Renders and from the sea.

“We need to get back to Bierut soon,” Maya sighed. “Let’s see what Maria has been up to.”


Maria Valdez has created Settlement Outpost: Ko Samui Port.

Sullivan Survival Society owned Settlement Ko Samui Port has chosen the Focus: Manufacturing

Knowledge Cubes:

Ore Processing and You I-III

Tools of the Trade I-IV

Industry From the Rock Up I-I

Make Things, Make Credits I-V

Forged by Abilities I-V

Logistics and Management I & II

Manufacturing Module:

2 Hentalini Medium Forge, low gradem Tier 1;

1 Xiin Material Sorter mid grade, Tier 1

1 Sesshenn Assembly Table low grade, Tier 1

Standard Toolset:

10 Omarin Tool Tokens (low grade, Tier 1 only)

5 Margono Delux Cold Mana Cutter/Fuser - mid grade, Tier 1

10 Margono Tool Mana Batteries - low grade, Tier 1

have been awarded to Chosen Representative of Ko Samui Port.


“So, if the System awards stuff to people, why do they have brand names,” Maya asked. “I had been meaning to ask that, but y’know, survival trumps all.”

“The System purchases these items from companies and then generates them when they are awarded,” Tender said.

“So… the System buys stuff and then gives it away for free? Even if it can make things itself? Won’t that cause, like, inflation?” Maya asked. “If every Settlement outpost gets all this stuff, aren’t there billions and billions of them? Why isn’t the System building its own stuff? It does control essence mana, right? Oh, wait. Let me guess. SIL Addition.”

“Yes. The System could build these things, but due to SIL interference, it has to ‘buy’ what it can from SIL corporations if such things are available.”

“It is arbitrary and random, as to which corporation is chosen to obtain goods from.” Nanaseto added. “No corporation has the corner on goods and services that the System solely uses, after all it is a big multiverse out there.”

“Well, that’s not as terrible.” Maya looked over what Maria had done and sighed wistfully. “I want all of the stuff that she got,” she said.

“You can just take them,” Tender said. “You own the settlement, it is a property of the Sullivan Survival Society, thereby whatever it produces, sells, or creates is by System Law your corporation’s assets.”

“Nope,” Maya muttered. “That’s too much power for this girl. That’s not happening. I’m not stealing from already struggling people.”

Maya could sense the settlement outpost, like Bierut, she could feel where the outpost was set up. Somewhere on the northeastern side of the island, an image of a large Buddha statue with many arms flashed through her head. Maria was working hard, seemingly building defenses and ordering people around, and they were making weapons and tools to fight against the seagulls and land sharks.

Maya shook her head, clearing it of the images. It was weird, being able to see something she was nowhere near, but then again she was in the dimensional cage and it could literally go anywhere. Perhaps she was not nowhere, but everywhere…

“I thought you might say that,’ Tender said.

“Huh?” Maya blinked.

“I thought you would refuse to take the awarded goods from your settlement outpost.”

“Is that approval in your tone, my red eyed friend?”

“Yes.”

There was a groan as Bell began to wake up. Yosi wasn’t too far behind, the small woman jumped to her feet, looking embarrassed.

“I leveled up,” she said.

“Really?” Maya said, feigning shock. “I thought everyone was just taking a nap.”

“Your voice is too loud,” Bell mumbled, nursing his head.

“Man, I like jumped up so many levels and I’m not even hurting,” Maya said smiling.

“Tier 2,” Bell growled. “Just wait until you apply your Attribute Points.”

Maya frowned. “Right… shit. That’s gonna hurt.”

“I would not do that right now, boss,” Tender said. “We only have so much time in the dimensional cage.”

“Ah, don’t worry, pal. My misadventures quota has been reached today. We’ll just head to Haltor’s World, toss Pegarios a message, see about this internet you guys got, check my Tindr and maybe update my social media.”

“This is why I brought extra guns,” Bell said.

“Really now?” Maya said. “I don’t know if I like this System Tech loving Bell nowadays.”

“I don’t have any of my other weapons,” Bell said. “Shen called my weapons trash and destroyed them, in front of me.” He shook his head. “I am glad he is dead.”

“Samesies, bud.” Maya looked to Yosi. “You okay there?”

Yosi swelled up her chest and gave a many toothed smile “I am. I have leveled greatly. My service to House Sullivan shall be unwavering.”

“Aww, I got me a fanatic. Is this how it feels to be a cult leader, Tender?”

“I would not know, boss.”

“But you’ve got nearly a dozen little followers now.”

“They do not report any awe or adoration toward me, unfortunately.”

Maya chuckled. “Alright, enough dicking around. We got places to see and people to do. Strap in, it’s off to Haltor’s World, filled with strange beasts, money hungry hunters, and dodgy money launderers.”


***


Interdimensional travel was a strange thing. It was one part knowing where a place was located, one part wanting to be there, and one part seeing that place in one’s mind. Although, it didn’t seem to entirely work, as the two times Maya had returned to Earth, she arrived in places she barely knew anything about, much less visited or even thought about.

But it was Earth and it was close enough, but now she had to land the dimensional cage on the proverbial dime. She had studied for the occasion; spending hours inside the VR gear to map out the town, then looking at impressive star charts to see the planet from space, its location in the galaxy far, far, far away and not even in her own universe.

It was a strange thing to be traveling between different universes. As it was, she was already doing something more ‘advanced’ as no one in current memory had ever returned from a dimensional instability. Arriving from outside of the known Integrated Multiverse was the hard part, hopping around to all the other places was easy, it just required mana power.

Which brought Maya back to the energy problem she was facing. It had taken all three cores nearly eight days to fill up the two 20Mg mana batteries. There were still four more that needed recharging, on top of that, all the other mana batteries they had found, salvaged, and cobbled together.

If she were right in her assumptions, Earth space would be filled to the brim with ambient mana, able to charge the cores faster than they would in the dimensional plane.

Maya summoned a chair and sat down. She thought on the town she had seen while in VR. She thought about the planet she had studied, she thought about Plaxar’s, about Tommoth, and about his sterner, more competent older brother. She held all those thoughts in her head and then willed the dimensional cage to move.

There was an odd feeling that accompanied movement, like the falling sensation one felt before falling asleep. Maya jerked slightly, opening her eyes.

“Are we there yet?” she asked, blinking. A wave of exhaustion ran through her, but as she sat for a moment longer, it passed.

The wall before them shifted and warped, turning from a blank metal bulkhead to a smooth three meter wide screen. Cameras didn’t have to be installed on the outside of the dimensional cage, a part of Shen’s cage design was to have the Tier 2 components allow for recording, scanning, and creating a three dimensional image of the surrounding one hundred meters. It was a good basic set up, but already Maya knew she could increase those ranges and bump up the clarity of the images and scans that were produced with some system tech she had found on the Hangy and in the BR’s cargo hold.

Massive bluewood trees dominated the landscape and as she ‘panned’ around the camera view she saw a massive jagged hole in the ground.

“Oh, damn. Looks like we made it,” Maya said. She recognized some of the trees in the image, a few had been tagged and there had been some advertisements attached to them. She orientated herself by what remains of the building she could find and grinned. “This is the place, Tender. Damn, we’re good.”

“It appears the dimensional instability has wrought complete destruction.”

“There goes the neighborhood.” Maya said. “I wonder how many got out?”

“There is usually a one minute warning before it strikes,” Bell said, “but that’s hardly anytime to get out of the way. Unless you act immediately and are on the edge of the instability.”

“Do these things happen all that often?” Maya asked.

“No. They’re rare, but they do occur anywhere, in low Tier worlds or the highest Tiered planets. Since we’ve survived the instability and now live in it, I suppose we would be considered the leading experts on the phenomenon.”

Maya willed a door to form and Tender pushed a large box on wheels, a transmitter, receiver, computer, router, and everything one would need to communicate with the satellites in orbit around Haltor’s World.

Communication was an instantaneous thing, even if traveling wasn’t. System tech had long ago cracked the problem of communicating vast distances. With the right Tiered equipment one could talk between universes and across the span of an entire universe. It all sounded awesome, but was impractical in the extreme, therefore communications were mainly restricted to solar systems and clusters of stars that were within a month’s journey.

“You sure about this?” Maya asked, looking at Tender.

“We need to know if non-SIL can pass through,” he said.

Maya was a little leery about the idea that Tender had presented her before they had left. He wanted to exit the dimensional cage and see if he would not ‘die’ from it. Technically, it was possible, but no one was willing to try it.

“Yeah, but can’t we just toss out something useless, like a rogue AI we captured? No offense, Tender.”

“I agree, but we don’t have any rogue AIs at the moment,” he replied.

Maya groaned and rubbed her face, then looked at Bell.

“He’s his own being,” Bell replied.

“I trust you, Tender. I have reservations about this, but if you’re willing and you feel confident, then you have my blessings.”

“Thank you, boss.” The door opened and Tender pushed out the wheeled cart.

Maya felt her breath seize up in that moment, her eyes locked on Tender’s form and then the screen. He kept moving, he didn’t fall over dead. It seemed he was right. She let out an explosive breath.

“Jesus,” she muttered.

“It appears to have worked,” Nan said.

“You gonna run off on me too?” Maya grinned.

“I need a better power system, this pub core I must be hooked up to is overly complicated.” The medical AI stopped and looked at Maya. “I am not implying that I wish for one of the crafted mana batteries that you have found. Currently, this is fine. I can still function and move around as needed.”

“Don’t worry about it, Nan. We’ll find an upgrade for you soon. If things work out, we’ll have the multiverse to buy from.”

Maya looked to the screen to see Tender still walking. He was supposed to move ten meters from the wall and then return. All told it should take only a minute or two, but that was MVT, which would be nearly twenty four minutes for them.”

She brought up a window with a message and turned to Bell and Yosi. “You’re both System savvy, tell me what these are.”

“Maya asking actual questions without assuming she knows the answers for months on end, until she realizes she made a mistake?” Bell asked, in shocked voice.

“Seriously, I preferred grumpy Bell.”


Access to Local Area System Trade Network, Tier 2 access

Access to System Assisted Logistics Network, Tier 2 access

Sullivan Survival Society and subsidiary Maya’s Emporium have been granted Trade Satus II.

System Backed Corporation Level 2


Bell and Yosi looked at the message and pondered for a moment.

“Local Area System Trade Networks are solar system wide trade networks that are connected to the System,” Yosi said. “If you have something to sell, bulk items, a high value item, or even just trash, you submit your item upon a local trade network that is System run. This allows for people to sell anything.”

“Oh, so it’s just people selling stuff and other people buying it? Just like any retail website, Amazon or whatever?”

“Not just random people. I for one cannot access this trade network, because my levels in sales are too low. Neither can Yosi. Also, access to these Networks are only allowed to Merchant House Heads and CEOs of corporations, Head managers, Logistics Managers, and the like.” Bell replied.

“Oh, so it’s not a free market for everyone to buy stuff off of?”

“Everything requires levels and Abilities, a corporation needs a high leveled person running them to make use of all their skills and abilities, the same for a House. This network allows you access to things that would normally not be for sale or raw resources you might need.”

“Tier 2 access allows you more control over what you see and can buy,” Yosi added.

“You’re prevented from buying things due to your Tier?” Maya asked.

“Though the System, yes. But you can still buy ‘forbidden’ items in person or via other networks. But by far, the most things you would want to buy are on the Trade Network.”

“System Assisted Logistics Network; is that what I think it is? The System moves stuff for you?” Maya asked.

“For a price,” Yosi replied.

“It is similar to System Generated Drops and teleportation,” Bell said. “You put stuff onto the Trade Network and if someone buys it, you pay a transportation cost, and it is delivered to them by the System.”

“So, it’s the System Store?” Maya grinned.

“No, there is no profit being made by the System and it is highly restrictive, but sure.”

“There are also records and taxes that must be paid,” Yosi said. “The System delivers the sales and economic reports to the local governing body that runs the system. It has information on who sold what, who purchased what, along with any relevant data required to identify those individuals. The local government can change the taxation amount based on the value of the items being sold, that is automatically taken out by the System and given over to the local governing body.”

“Can’t dodge the tax man, can you?”

“No,” Bell said, a sour look on his face.

“IRS audit you, buddy?” Maya looked at the information and pondered. “So, I could sell some of these enchantments and with my access, I could sell it on the Trade Network.”

“Yes, but there are caveats,” Bell said. “You need a physical location on the planet where the item can be picked up, in addition you require the purchase a teleportation token for every item you sell on the Trade Network. That will allow the System Logistics to store the item for you, until it is sold.”

“How much we talking about for a Teleportation Token?”

“About five percent of the value.”

“Oof.”

“What about taxes?”

“Twenty percent.”

“Jesus. What about teleportation fees?

“Another five percent.”

“I’m losing thirty percent of the value in taxes and fees, that’s a load of donkey crud.”

“That all depends on your Trade Status, though. The higher your Trade Status, the less the System will charge you. Therefore for smaller companies, it is used mainly for bulk items,” Bell said. “You need a million metric tons of marsani, this is where to buy it from.”

“Yeah, I get it. Why does the System needs its cut?”

“People say there needs to be a price to be paid for everything,” Yosi said. “You pay it with experience points or with credits.”

“Alright, moving on. Trade Status II and System Backed Corporation.”

“Trade Status II reduces your System Tax by two percent. Instead of paying five percent, you now only pay three,” Bell said. “It’s also a measure of how well your company is doing, how much monetary credit can be extended to it, and how much volume of trade it can commit to. This is only leveled through using the Trade Network, not by any other means. The fact that you gained status II is a reason why Foundational Skills, Abilities, and Knowledge are so highly valued. They skip a lot of the lower tier stuff and move up higher without the work.”

“Thanks, bud.” Maya rolled her eyes. “System Backed Corporation?”

“Another Foundational bonus,” Yosi said. “This allows your corporation to be insured by the System. If something happens, you lose a large chunk of assets, then the System will back that up for you. Either giving you monetary value or a replacement of the items.”

“This also allows for other corporations to trust you with high value items,” Bell said. “If the System is backing you, then they can trust you.”

“So at Level 2, what does that mean?”

“Roughly a billion credits in insurance,” Bell stated.

“Damn. Can we engage in some insurance fraud?” Maya whispered to Bell.


No.


“Holy shit!” Maya cried out. The others looked at her in confusion. “The System just told me not to engage in insurance fraud.”

Yosi stared at her with wide eyes. “The System talked to you?”

“Every now and then, it seems.”

Bell muttered something and Yosi stared at her with big eyes.

“We have communications established,” Nan stated. Maya looked up to see Tender slowly marching back toward them. It seemed odd to see him outside, in the dim moonlight of the nighttime of Haltor’s World. He did look menacing in his large form and a half a dozen red eyes. She could imagine why people were terrified of rogue AIs.

“Alright, preparing message.” Maya cracked her knuckles, adjusted her seat, and then summoned forth her tablet. She set up the keyboard, recreating a QWERTY keyboard from memory and trial and error.


Hello Pegarios,

We have never met, but I come bearing sad news. You brother, Tommoth, is dead. He was killed via a dimensional instability.

I came across the remains of the Pub in a distant land and found his and his patrons bodies. It is through the data that I found there that I am contacting you now.

Although, you do not know me. I know what you and your brother were up to and I wish to speak more on this, if you are willing. I can return the remains of your brother as an act of good faith.

Don’t take the words I’m writing here as a threat. I have no interest in your previous activities, all I need is someone of your skills and knowledge to help me help some other people.

Therefore, if you are interested in what I have to say, please contact me. A lack of contact shall be viewed as disinterest on your part and I shall instead send you the coordinates to retrieve your brother’s remains.

Sincerely,

Maya


How did one make a non threatening letter that said they had their brother’s remains and that all their dirty little secrets were known? Maya didn’t know so she wrote from the top of her head. What would she want to hear if someone came to her with this kind of news.

She accessed the Sword of the Universe’s Union’s version of the internet and sent off the message. Everything had been copied over from the computers in Tommoth’s old pub and the guy hadn’t been one for securing sensitive data either. So gaining all the inconspicuous ways of communicating with his brother were all out in the open.

With the time difference, Tender barely entered the cage by the time Maya was done writing and sending off the message. She sat back and sighed, smiling at Tender.

“How’s the real world?” Maya asked.

“Humid,” Tender replied.

“I hate humidity,” Maya said.

“Rusted tracking bearings were the reason my original form was stuck behind the bar,” Tender said. He looked over his shoulder at the large screen. “I do not miss this place.”

“Well, what do you think the response time will be on that message?’ Maya asked. “Maybe we should just bail and see about heading to Earth space and testing the ambient mana out there.”

“I would suggest waiting half an hour for a response,” Tender said. “You contacted his private mail server and that goes straight to his personal comm device.”

“We got time to kill,” Maya yawned. “Alright, tell me more about this System Logistics. How does it work? Teleportation. Does it send stuff directly to me or can it send them to a certain spot?”

“You got the blueprints, shipping container and pallet,” Bell said. “You create one of those, designate it as a receiving pallet or container, and then make your orders. They will automatically be generated on those items.”

“That’s it? Really?”

“For shipping and selling, you need to have a physical storefront in the local area you are selling in. This will be necessary if someone wishes to pick up an item instead of receiving it via System Logistics.” Yosi stated. “You will have to include the information that it is being sold via SL and not storefront, but if you do sell it via storefront, you will be returned the credits spent on the teleportation token and delivery fee.”

“I’ve got a million credits to burn,” Maya grinned. “Let’s make a shipping pallet or if possible, a shipping container.”

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Comments (1)
user avatar
User #3712562 - 1 Sep 20 00:21
Time to get this Junk Merchant train a rolling!
B2-15 - Economic Foundation 2020-08-28T23:28:34+00:00

15 - Economic Foundation

“Oof, remind me not to ask how the sausage is made,” Maya said as she and Tender examined the black goo manufacturing device, which was a large metal drum with a mixer within it. It slowly churned, combining the black goo with other minerals and materials that they had purchased off of Zono.

Mana stones were the priciest of the bunch. Maya was surprised at how little of the actual stone was needed. She had imagined that it would take a rock the size of her fist to make a mana battery, but instead it was a pebble sized piece that made up the ubiquitous tool mana battery.

Even that tiny rock required a massive set up of Tier 2 manufacturing bases. There were naturally occurring mana stones, but those were hard to find and tended to have many faults, causing them to be a tad chaotic in their energy distribution. So some untold millions of years ago, the secret to making mana stones artificially was discovered and since then they were used everywhere, even Crafted Items tended to use mana stones, since they were of better quality than found in nature.

Requiring Tier 2 and a large industrial set up might have been cause to make mana batteries prohibitively expensive, but from what Veskari stated, they were created on a scale that dwarfed any manufacturing enterprise. Among the Nerigana, there was a whole solar system that was dedicated to creating mana batteries. Although, their concentrated mana battery production was more of a way to maintain literal and political power.

There were no naturally occurring mana stones in the rainbow sky hellscape, but there were plenty of magi-tronic junk that had been brought along and a lot of that junk had mana batteries already in them. Zono for all of his massive size and strip mining take on life, was still able to finesse the tiny mana stones from their cases and store them separately.

They hadn’t made a dent into Zono’s inventory, it seemed he had been tearing up piles for months now and they were loaded with mana batteries. A thing Maya was realizing she should look into when she had the time. Those trash piles were a treasure trove that needed to be exploited and Zono was simply recycling everything that had value. There was no care about what the machines contained, if they were salvageable, or if they had needed components. If it could be broken down into metal parts, that’s what he did.

Zono refused to be more gentle in his digging through the piles. He had one job and he was going to do that job, regardless of what precious machinery lay within. It was his entire reason for being created.

“With the amount purchased from Zono and the harvested black goo, we are looking an estimate of sixteen thousand square meters of coverage. I have run the numbers and have concluded that a ten thousand square meter net is by far the most productive size we can create. It will take less time, material, and will collect more energy.” Tender walked her through the machinery. Although she was the idea behind the black goo, Tender had shown his initiative and had begun working on it before she could get her head back to the problem at hand.

She had been for just hunting down as many rogue AIs as she could, draining them and then bringing back their corpses to be processed. It was the best method she could think of, as it provided her much needed experience points, loot, black goo, and salvageable corpses.

Already she and Tender had managed to break down most of Big Snake. There were a lot of expensive goodies within the snake; expensive in terms of materials needed in creating, not credit value.

Thoughts of upgrading Tender’s drones was dancing in her head. Bigger and more scanner focused rats, more destructive mechas, the sky was the limit.

“You got the first batch good to go?” Maya asked.

Tender handed her a vial of black goo.

“Awesome. We created this. Oh, System. What shall we gain from this magical creation we have concocted.”

***

“As we’re not going to Earth, you still wanna come?,” Maya asked Nan as she entered the mess hall.

“Yes,” Nan said. “Yosi and Bell are accompanying you, therefore I might be needed.”

“Cool the more the merrier. Just don’t wanna be around with only Zono and Vesky for company, eh?”

“Yes.”

“Too brutal,” Maya grinned.

The Hanganathorie’s mess hall had a make-over in the days that Maya had been waiting for the cores to charge the two mana batteries. The mess hall was already big, but Bell’s new Ability, [Farmer], had allowed him to successfully double the size of Junior in four days. Maya hadn’t been slacking either, while spending some time with Tender to create the black goo and manufacturing duracloth tubes, Maya has settled on dismantling portions of the habitat to be rebuilt inside of the Hanganathorie.

The ship had ten different levels, it was a kilometer long, a hundred and fifty meters wide and tall That was a massive amount of room for an original crew of only two hundred and fifty. There were the usual large spaces given over to engineering, cargo, and life support, but the vast majority of the ship was filled with offices, research labs, computer rooms quarters and areas of recreation.

It would have been a simple task for her to commandeer a free room and call it her own, but Maya was sick of inheriting dead people’s things. She wanted to build something that was her own.

With her trusty cutter in one hand and a plan in the other, Maya began slicing away at the bulkheads, reshaping the walls to her liking. After a day of work she had cut into a neighboring room and used the modular panels from the Habitat to create herself a small suite.

She deep cleaned her nest bed, cobbled together a plumbing system that tied into the Hangy’s own which emptied into their biomass tanks, to be eventually recycled into organics. Shen’s ship had a water creator, unlike the water stones that Bell had, this one took actual oxygen and hydrogen and smashed them together to create water. It was as good as the stones, only much bigger and much more mana intensive.

All she needed was a bed, a shower, and a toilet and she would be fine. Also, hot water, shampoo, soap in general, a decent comb, a-

‘I’ve got something for you,” Bell said as he walked up to her.

“A gift? You shouldn’t have.”

“I believe that there are two items that you can use, with your levels. As Yosi is also now apart of your House, I took the liberty of obtaining two additional items for her.”

“Why only two?”

“Low grade, you can only use two enchanted items at a time. Otherwise it can cause problems with mana channeling or the items themselves. At low levels one’s mana aura is not strong enough to power all the enchantments at once.”

“So you get a nice new enchantment added for every grade you rise? Maya asked.

“Yes. Although Yosi is still a few levels away from mid-grade, I’m sure if she hangs around for a bit, she’ll get there,” Bell said.

“Speak of the little devil,” Maya said, accepting Bell’s offering. Yosi hurried into the mess hall, carrying large pack on her back and dressed in what Maya could only describe as a combat uniform.

“Off to war, Yosi?” Maya asked.

“I was in charge of House Huvano’s logistic division for a while,” Yosi panted. “We were supposed to be ready for anything.”

Maya looked at the large pack. “Well, we’ll be staying entirely in the dimensional cage,” she said. “If we try to step out into the multiverse-at-large, we die. Got it?”

“Yes, of course, Maya. I just thought…”

“It’s cool. Bring what you want. It’s gonna be sixteen hours of boredom anyway. We’re not going to Earth, but Haltor’s World, to see if we can get a line on Pegarios, a shady small time criminal.”

“I understand, Maya,” Yosi nodded her head vigorously.

“So, Bell. What do these enchantments do?”

Bell glanced at Yosi and then back at Maya. “One is a mana shield, a high grade one, similar to the one you used when defending against the kinetic attack, but this one can defend against kinetic, thermal, and explosive attacks. Although it is weak against mana attacks. It can fend off attacks for fifteen minutes when used, but needs a full day to recharge. The other is an Inventory Outfit Module, it comes by many different names but it allows you to create outfits to wear, so that you can quick change from combat armor to regular everyday clothing.”

“What? That’s a thing?” Maya gasped and grinned. “How do I use it!”

“Just sync it with your Dimensional Inventory and it’ll be ‘absorbed’. You can create a different window from which you can select certain items already in your Inventory to be worn.”

“Hot damn!” Maya screamed in joy as she raced back to her room “Lemme get some clothes!”

“She seems happy.” Yosi said.

“Her moods are strange, but you did not make the wrong choice tying your destiny with hers.”

Yosi nodded, hefted her large bag and began marching after Maya.

***

Maya threw the Business Module Token onto the ground and cried out: “I summon you, business module token!”

Nothing happened as the metallic disc pinged off the floor of the dimensional cage. It struck a wall and clattered to a stop.

“Well, that’s not as cool as the Defense Token.”

A heavy feeling filled the room. Maya felt her hair tingle with energy and an oppressive feeling filled the room.

Maya flinched as a large window appeared before her.


Economic Foundation

Business Module Token

Choose module.


Maya made the windows available for everyone to see. Tender, Bell, Nan, and Yosi clustered near her to read.


As the first of your species to register a business with the System, you are awarded the one time use of a Business Token Module. This Token will provide you, Maya Sullivan, with a System Generated Economic Sector Module (SGESM)

Base Sector: Raw Resource Extraction: Farming, Fishing, Mining, etc.

Mid Sector: Production: Manufacturing, Textile Production, Construction, etc.

High Sector: Service: Logistics, Sales, Banking, Law, etc.


Curious, Maya selected Base Sector; the window expanded and she was provided more options to choose from, there were hundreds of them. She randomly selected Agriculture and from it sprouted more and more options, displaying scores of different methods of growing every kind of crop. But as Maya looked at the crop options, they were all human crops.

“Why only human crops?” Maya asked.


Maya Sullivan, Human, can only access the Pre-Integrated foodstuffs that were grown on her native planet.


“You have everything that was grown on Earth before Integration?” Maya asked.


All lifeforms that existed at the time of Integration were scanned and their DNA, Mana Trace, and Essence makeup were stored within System Archives. All that was destroyed is not lost.


Maya grinned for a moment. “You have everything stored away? How can I access these Archives?” Maya asked.

“You need to be Tier 3 or higher,” Bell replied. “The Founder of the Domakun family has access to the pre-Integration plants and species that once populated our world. They’re not as useful as you think.”

“I could grow coffee!” Maya squealed.

“Is that a high value crop?” Tender asked.

“To me it is!”

Yosi gave a squeak. “Maya, I would recommend not going the agricultural route. Although you may be wishing for pre-Integration foodstuffs, mana infused post-Integration items are far better for a SIL. At least wait until a mana based crop is found.”

Maya nodded, tamping down her enthusiasm. She needed to be smart here. This was going to be the foundation upon which she built her Empire.

“What are the benefits?” Maya asked the System. “What is the difference between say mining marsani or making marsani billets?”

The System did not answer.

“Of course. I have to choose blind, right?” Maya thought for a moment. “I don’t fully understand how the economy works in the multiverse-at-large, but back on Earth, the biggest industries were oil and gas production and retail. Manufacturing electronics followed, but that required a lot of engineering and research.”

“I would not choose Mining,” Tender said. “We already have Zono to do that.”

“Nor would I choose Agriculture,” Bell said after a moment. “There is nothing to grow here.”

“I would choose Manufacturing,” Yosi said. She looked to Maya and nodded. “In the Nerigana Consortium, there was always a need for more… stuff. Weapons, tools, ships, and machinery. The largest and the richest companies were those that manufactured system tech machinery.”

“You might be right, Yosi. System Tech seems the best route to go,” Maya said. Bell let out a groan. “Although, I wonder what benefits would be gained going the retail route? I mean, we are in control of a dimensional cage that can go anywhere in the multiverse, so we don’t actually have to make anything. We can just make contacts and buy what we need. Would the System give us more money, help us out with where to buy stuff?”

Everyone shrugged.

Maya looked at the options. In her former life she had been a business management student. It hadn’t helped one lick in the months she had been in the rainbow sky hellscape, but times were a-changing. She wasn’t stuck on the RSH anymore, she could go places and although survival was still top priority, the future appeared to be going the retail route. The joke of being a merchant had been humorous in the beginning, providing some comfort and relief to Maria and her group, but Maya hadn’t been entirely sold on the idea.

Building, dismantling, creating and using luck and skill were the things that had kept her alive. She was getting the hang of system tech and rogue AI tech, she could cobble together weapons, rebuild rogue AI bodies, strip down system tech machinery and rebuild them. Maya hadn’t thought about it much, but now as she looked at the options before her, she enjoyed building things. She liked working with her hands, she liked working with Tender in stripping and dismantling rogue AIs and system tech machines.

She was pretty good at it and she was only getting better as she regained her levels in [Mechanic], [Technician], and [Engineer]. If she followed that route, she would find enjoyment and satisfaction in her work.

Maya smiled for a moment, staring at the Manufacturing Option.

If the business module was as Tender said, it was like a Foundation Skill Book that would set the stage for what she and her descendants would be involved in. Bell’s Family Founder had been an [Alchemist] and now they all were and they all would be for as long as they could be, because they had gained the Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities that were originally given to their Founder.

She could make stuff, Maya knew. She could spend her days building from the endless piles of scrap everywhere. She just needed to break them down and sort them. She didn’t have to ‘manufacture’ anything, all she had to do was refurbish them.

Maya’s hand hovered over the option once more, but then she swiped it away. She selected the High Sector, then punched in the option for Retail. There were scores of different retail options but one caught Maya’s eye. Trader: Sales & Retail.

She smiled. She remembered a time before Integration when she had hated the idea of handling money and interacting with people. Now… Now, things were different. It didn’t mean she wanted to do it, but there was a need for it.

Earth was being ravaged and it would only get worse. There were monsters, there was death on an unimaginable scale and Maya knew she had to do something about it. She could make things for Earth, she could sell them to Earth, and she could maybe make some profit off of that. But she had to think bigger than that.

She would have to find things to bring back to Earth. She would have to go out in the multiverse and bring them back, or find it in the rainbow sky hellscape. She would have to venture far to make credits. Maya could feel that it was the right choice, everything was telling her to do it, but she still hesitated.

It just wasn’t interesting. There was an option for Manufacturing: Combat Robotics for System’s Sake! Retail? What moron would choose that when they could get a foot up on the competition by getting a module that would allow them to build space ships?

“Retail?” Bell asked.

“You are an interdimensional garbage merchant,” Tender stated.

“I’m totally gonna be the Wal-mart of the Multiverse,” Maya said and selected the option before she could dissuade herself.


Economic Foundation Chosen: Trader: Sales & Retail

Congrats, you have chosen your Economic Foundation. May it be a profitable path. The Trader path is one of seeking out new places, new markets, and new wares to sell. This all requires a firm grasp of markets, prices, and a sense for profit and danger.


“That’s… interesting,” Yosi said.

“Selling stuff is the way to go, I feel it in my bones,” Maya said. “All economies require trade and access to new markets, if we get in there, we can buy stuff and make some credits to help out the people of Earth.”

“The Nerigana Consortium was a defense based controlled economy, there wasn’t much need or production ability for consumer goods and items. Only the wealthy got those and that was mostly from outside traders.”

“It’s like Soviet Russia,” Maya said. “In our world, they were some tough cookies, they had nukes, they had an army, and they had the industrial base to wage war upon the world, but the one thing they lacked? Consumer goods. Every time one of their leaders would come to a capitalist country, they would return loaded with everything from televisions to demin jeans. About eighty percent of the multiverse-at-large are nothing but massive war economies that aren’t producing all the things their people want.

“Sure, that’s all meaningless right now, but eventually it will be a thing. People like having nice stuff and things that make their life a little bit more easier. But yeah, right now. We need guns, food, water, and shelter for everyone on Earth. The only way to get those in high enough quantity and quality and speed, is by buying them.”



Access to Local Area System Trade Network, Tier 2 access

Access to System Assisted Logistics Network, Tier 2 access

Sullivan Survival Society and subsidiary Maya’s Emporium have been granted Trade Satus II.

System Backed Corporation Level 2

Vendor Kiosk blueprint awarded - Human Patent

Shipping Container blueprint awarded - Human Patent

Shipping Pallet blueprint awarded - Human Patent


Patenter II

Maya Sullivan, Human, is the first in her species to create a patent for a new item. In addition, as the new patent is not in the System Archives; Black Goo has achieved Level 2 status, thereby awards are doubled. Congrats.

+ Patent Law 101

+ Patents and Profit 101

+ 250,000 EXP

+ 1,000,000 credits


[Patent Holder] Level 2

House Sullivan has submitted a Patent and has been award ownership of the Patents:

Vendor Kiosk - L1

Shipping Container - L1

Shipping Pallet - L1

Black Goo - L2

+ 2 Mental Dexterity


[Patent Creator] Level 1

House Sullivan has created a new Patent, one not already submitted within the System Archives.

Black Goo

+ 2 Mental Strength

Trader: Sales & Retail - this requires an upgrade to existing Abilities and Skills.


[Buyer] Level 10

You have reached level 10 in an Ability, System attribute points bonus applied, x2 base points.

+ 2 Mental Dexterity


[Seller] Level 10

You have reached level 10 in an Ability, System attribute points bonus applied, x2 base points.

+ 2 Mental Recovery


[Haggler] Level 10

You have reached level 10 in an Ability, System attribute points bonus applied, x2 base points.

+ 2 Mental Perception


[Trader] Level 10

You have reached level 10 in an Ability, System attribute points bonus applied, x2 base points.

Tradesense I

+ 4 Mental Strength


[Purchaser] Level 1

Buy low, sell high. Make profit.

+2 Mental Dexterity


[Retailer] Level 1

Sell goods, make profit.

+ 2 Mental Recovery


[Negotiator] Level 1

Negotiate for goods, make profit.

+ 2 Mental Perception


[Merchant] Level 5

- Synergy Achieved

Leveling: Buyer, Seller, Haggler, and Trader to level 10 has opened up Merchant - Mid grade Ability

Profitsense I

+ 4 Mental Strength


[Trade Seeker] Level 1

Seeking new avenues for trade is a risky business.

Dangersense I

+ 2 Mental Channel


[Dimensional Walker] Level 4


Intention II

Dimensional Inventory III

Dimensional Awareness IV

Dimensional Threshold II


Level up! (Level 15)


“Ho-leeeeeee, shieeeet,” Maya muttered.

There was a long and deep silence that filled the dimensional cage as everyone stared at the awards given to her.

“That seems strangely unfair,” Nanaseto remarked, finally breaking the silence. “And disappointing.”

“Our House shall be great,” Yosi breathed.

“I feel conflicted,” Tender said. “Why was I not awarded as co-creator of the Black Goo Patent?”

“I know right!” Maya growled. “System!”

“Shhh! I’m still reading,” Bell muttered, his lips moving as he scanned through the messages.

Only SIL are eligible for System Patents.

“That’s crap,” Maya said.

“Then I will just have to become SIL,” Tender said.

Maya looked at him and then smiled. “If anyone can do it, you can, red.”

Then she turned her attention to the messages.

“I just leveled. So, I guess it’s time to distribute points…” Maya flicked her hand and her status page appeared before her.

There was another long silence as everyone saw what was displayed and tried to look away.

“Oh, yeah, totally forgot. Y’all don’t show this kind of stuff,” Maya said, chuckling. “Like letting someone see your browser history, mixed with telling them your social security number, and shoe size.”

Bell frowned, the only one who hadn’t turned away. “By all that is the System, what is this!” He pointed at a number of unallocated attribute points.

“Uh… yeah…” Maya said, staring at it. “I’m not going to say I forgot, its just… I don’t know. I was in a weird space for the last two weeks. This is the only time I’ve checked my status page since Shen.”

“Madness,” Yosi hissed. “You are mad.”

“I don’t know, okay. I just… I just didn’t want to look at it. I got all of this, all these experience points, everything from killing Shen’s zombies. Those poor bastards that Shen was keeping alive. I killed the thirteen that were left and then the seven in the dimensional cage. I got half of the experience points from killing those guys too.” Maya sighed.

“You didn’t allocate them because.. . You felt bad?” Bell growled.

“In a way, it’s blood points,” Maya said. “Not like from frighting rogue AIs, no offense Tender.”

“None taken, boss.”

Bell was silent for a moment. “You killed twenty of Shen’s guards, his ‘zombies’, yes?”

“Yeah,” Maya said; she sighed knowing where it was leading.

“Your experience score is too low to account for killing twenty-one mid grade SIL,” Bell said.

Maya summoned a pile of crystals into her hand. They gleamed with mesmerizing light. Experience shards.

When Maya had escaped Shen’s clutches, she had returned to the Hanganathorie to prepare for the fight against Shen. But as she touched the body of the level 48 Halvara, she discovered a shard within the zombie’s loot.

It wasn’t hard to understand what it was, Maya had looked at it and used Evaluation upon it.

Halvara - Level 48 - experience shard, 282 QXP.

Two hundred and eighty-one quadrillion experience points, two percent of what was required to reach Level 48.

Another shock silence filled the room as they saw the crystals.


Losardar - Level 44 - 18TXP

Xir Xin Xxl - Level 51 - 2.2QXP

Dosama K’van - Level 55 - 36QXP


Eina Vaun - Level 39 - 250BXP

Gavonan - Level 41 - 1.1 TXP

Ostamar Vin - Level 42 - 2.25 TXP

Shaltar So - Level 52 - 2.25 QXP

Eina Vaun - Level 39 - 250 BXP


Haidrona - Level 46 - 70 QXP

Soloni Rall - Level 48 - 282 QXP

Ter Nos - Level 49 - 565 TXP

Oniz Reiso - Level 50 - 1 QXP

Kalamoe - Level 50 - 1 QXP

Zasto Sein - Level 50 - 1 QXP

Kajakomo Qi - Level 51 - 2.2 QXP

Lasa Eroi - Level 51 - 2.2 QXP

Spiren Qon - Level 52 - 4.5 QXP

Fi Saan - Level 53 - 9 QXP

Oui Aie - Level 53 - 9Q XP

Cos Xiel - Level 55 - 36 QXP

Jwal Bvein - Level 55 - 36 QXP


“The only shard that isn’t in this pile is, Jomallava Sin Tesko - Level 39, only because she was utterly destroyed by Mana Burn, leaving nothing behind,” Maya looked at the pile and swiped them back into her Inventory.

“SIL are murdered by governments and family for that amount of experience shards,” Bell said.

“It’s a pretty bad return on investment, don’t you think? Only two percent of the amount of experience points required for that level drops. Meanwhile I’m only getting 2200 EXP for killing a Level 42 rogue AI.”

“This is madness,” Bell said.

“You know what else is going to mess with your brain? As a Tier 2 being under level 100, I’m getting half off on all the experience points required to reach a level.”

More shocked silence.

“Why?” Bell croaked. “Why are you still holding onto those shards? Use them!”

“I agree!” Yosi almost screamed, her big eyes practically bulging from her skull.

Maya frowned and closed her eyes.

“The reason you are gaining so little experience points from killing higher leveled beings is because of your low level,” Nan said.

Maya looked at the medical AI.

“Say what now? Isn’t it supposed to be the higher the level, the more experience points, and the lower the level of the beast compared to your level, the lower the experience points?”

“Why?” Nanaseto asked. “That’s ridiculous.”

“That’s how it works in games. That way high level players aren’t farming low level animals for years on end.”

“The System wants you to filter as much essence mana as possible, why would it constrict it? There are some SIL who only hunt the easiest of prey their entire lives. They still gain levels and they still are considered powerful beings, but tend to lack the variety of skills and abilities to make a good and solid leader.” Nan said. “You have been hanging onto your low levels and low attribute points, in hopes of what? That you’ll get more experience points from your fights? That is not going to happen, instead you are severely hampering yourself by not distributing your points and using those shards. At your levels and attribute points, you cannot physically absorb much of the mana that is being produced by the creatures you defeat. That is why the quests you gain are also of low quality.”

Maya felt her jaw hitting the floor. “What now?”

“Big Snake, when you defeated the rogue AI, you stated you only got 2200 EXP from it, yes? Everything has mana within it, therefore when you defeat a creature or an AI, then you can potentially gain all the mana that is within that foe,” Nan stated

“All of it?”

“Yes. For example, if you’re level 20 and you defeated a level 5 foe, then you would gain most if not all the mana that had been in that creature,” Bell said. “The opposite occurs, if you’re level 5 and defeat a level 20 foe, then you only get a small portion of the overall mana that the foe held, the rest is either converted into loot or lost.”

“I do have the Plunder skill,” Maya said.

“Perhaps that is the reason why you managed to gain a Defender Token at such low levels, along with all the other loot you have been able to salvage off the defeated AIs and zombies,” Nan said. “The mana that you could have gained, if your body was strong enough, would just dissipate, momentarily boosting the ambient mana in the area.”

Maya sighed, thinking for a moment. “What about defeating SIL?”

Bell thought for a moment. “The experience points from SIL are different. They tend to drop a standard two percent of their total experience points. I think it might be a… deterrent by the System to prevent others from hunting SIL to gain massive increases in experience points.”

“But it happens?”

“In… less developed and contentious places, yes.” Bell sighed. “You have to keep on your dispersion of attribute points, or you will be missing out on a lot of experience. The entire reason for attribute points is so that your Mind, Body, and Soul can take up mana and use it. If you’re not applying it, you’re losing out on the mana that would have made you stronger..”

“So keep on top of levels and fight at your level or lower?” Maya asked.

“Yes.”

Maya summoned two shards before her. She lifted them up to examine them.

“People sell these?” she asked.

Everyone was silent for a while. “Experience shards taken from SIL are… highly suspect. As it involves killing the owner. But yes, there are… some markets,” Bell said.

“Gotcha, the kind you don’t wanna owe money to.” Maya flipped a shard in her hand and then handed one to Bell and Yosi.

“What?” they both choked.

“Sullivans need all the levels they can get. Also Bell, if you want half of this mess. I’ll give it to you.” Maya said. “Because of what Shen did and the shit of a SIL he was.”

“No,” Bell said. He picked up the shard he had been given. “I do not need half.”


Cos Xiel - Level 55 - 36 QXP

Jwal Bvein - Level 55 - 36 QXP


“I didn’t know these people, but I thought this was a way to keep the memory of who they were alive.” Maya pulled another shard from her Inventory. “Want this guy? He’s the one that beat you up.”

“No,” Bell said.

“This is too much,” Yosi said. “You cannot give us this much experience points.”

“Says who?”

“Well… everyone?”

“Think of it as an investment. I did the math, those two shards, they’ll probably get me an additional level or two, not much. But they can gain you two a lot more and with the shards I do have left, I’ll be gaining far, far more than you two.”

Bell and Yosi looked at one another.

“It’s yours. Do with it what you want. Keep it, use it, sell it, trade it, whatever.” Maya willed the entire batch of shards into her hands and then grinned at the look of horror Bell shot her.

“No!”

Maya paused.

“Were you going to absorb all of those?” Nan demanded.

“Uh, yeah?”

“Did you not just hear me say that your low grade status cannot absorb a lot of experience points at once?” Nan said. For once the demonic doctor looked angry.

“Maybe…”

“If you insist on absorbing those experience shards, then do it slowly, carefully.”

“Also, you gain bonuses for every ten levels you gain and when you reach mid grade,” Bell said. “You don’t want to miss out on those, do you?”

“Uh… good point, guys. I guess we take this slow and easy and… boringly.” Maya grinned. “What would I have done without ya’ll?”

“Most likely died,” Nan said.

“Harsh.”

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Comments (14)
user avatar
User #19917560 - 3 Sep 20 19:43
so Maya IS an idiot. I thought so but seeing her just straight into an acid trip that probably no one with a sense of self preservation would do kinda proves it especially after being told high levels of mana absorbed can kill lower level sils.
user avatar
User #5783303 - 29 Aug 20 04:07
you could save the spreadsheet as a pdf maybe
user avatar
alexclaw - 29 Aug 20 12:26
Yeah, I need to experiment more. I can only upload images, but that's a bit... idk, weird. I'll maybe do both, next time. tryin to convert the spreadsheet into an image and then post a file alongside it.
user avatar
User #28785581 - 29 Aug 20 07:41
Thanks for the chapter! I'm glad to see the Status box return after so long. Maya should get an Achievent/Title for surviving the coming xp acid trip. Or gaining 30+ levels all at once. Also, considering Pelagios was the brains of the operation with Tommoth, is there a chance for Tender to fall under his control once they meet due to programming or something? I know she calls Maya 'Boss' but I can't remember if they actually had his allegiance transferred to her.
user avatar
User #34671248 - 29 Aug 20 10:32
Maya have a wait to do stupid things that border the miracle 😂
user avatar
User #14385026 - 29 Aug 20 00:21
What's Before and After? I'd like to know before I click on it.
user avatar
alexclaw - 29 Aug 20 00:51
Ah, those are the character sheets. Before she took all the shards and after. I was unable to place the spreadsheet in the text body
user avatar
alexclaw - 29 Aug 20 00:54
Blast i did some bad maths there. Spent too long looking at it, it seems.
user avatar
User #28785581 - 29 Aug 20 15:39
Why does Halvara award 282 QXP at level 48 yet the level 55s only award 36 QXP? I'm guessing that the level 55s are awarding quintillion XPs, but it's not that clear I think. Also there's a spelling mistake in the System messages, where the SSS is awarded Trade Satus II rather than Status.
user avatar
alexclaw - 29 Aug 20 20:59
More mistakes on my part I believe. Maye it was Trillions... Yup, just rechecked my spread sheets, it was supposed to be TXP. thanks for the catch.
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User #13235254 - 29 Aug 20 22:45
Ok, how does Maya plan to [Trade] with an Ominversal [Kill Bounty] on her as [Enemy of the Multiverse] ? Any offer she makes is useless since folks can get more money by attempting to kill her. That [Dimensional Cage] will need a LOT of protection. Would have gone for manufacturing myself to be honest. That place is a endless resource zone for T1 weapons and armour.
user avatar
User #9591449 - 29 Aug 20 08:12
Holy shit. 1177 attribute points? We going from Interdimensional Garbage Merchant to Super Interdimensional Garbage Merchant
user avatar
alexclaw - 29 Aug 20 12:25
Yeah, kinda messed up on the maths there. It's actually 745 not 1177, no idea how I got the original number. ha. re-uploaded a new sheet.
user avatar
User #3712562 - 29 Aug 20 04:48
Tripping balls on xp crystal. BELL, WE NEED TO COOK!
B2-14 - Moving Day 2020-08-26T14:00:56+00:00


The flowing mass of Tier 2 system tech components moved across the gray dirt, bearing their two prizes like ants bringing back food to a hive. Maya watched as the amorphous blob moved the cores from the hole they had resided within to the angular assault craft that had been untouched since Shen’s defeat.

It amazed Maya, the whole aspect of Tier 2 system tech. It was sci-fi at the extreme, as in movies where one could shape and twist matter around them to be whatever they wanted, within reason.

Maya stood at a control panel, watching as incomprehensible readings and numbers crawled across the screens and touchpads. She understood the vast gulf of knowledge that lay between what she could do now with system tech and what the Tier 2 components could do.

At least, Maya thought, that damned Shen had a console she could use to connect to and control the components. It had also come with hundreds of programmed objects it could create on a whim. Everything from chairs, beds, and weapons. These were nano-bots, they could become anything. As long as she had a blueprint or knew what she wanted to build, down to the smallest component.

The lure of just using the components to make weapons and machines to bridge the gap of everything they were missing was great. She could have done it and they could have had a lot more machines on hand, but the problem with Tier 2 system tech was wear and tear.

Tier 1 system tech was made to last the ages. If there was no mana present within the machinery, the components could last twenty thousand standard years or more. The Hanganathorie was testament to that. The old ship had been sitting derelict for eons and there was only minor degradation in most machines, well, the machines that the rogue AIs hadn’t salvaged.

It would have been easy to turn the Tier 2 components into the things she needed, but that would have severely reduced the lifespan of the components themselves. She needed them to create the dimensional cage. As with most things, the math and the science behind the dimensional cage was beyond her. Even Veskari admitted failure when trying to decipher the information. He was an administrator, not a scientist.

Every time she used the components, Maya estimated about one percent of the entire mass ‘died’. When not in use, they were stored in special containers that put them in a form of stasis and slightly helped heal them back up.

Delicate and costly; Tier 2 was awesome, but they required constant care and replacement.

Maya had no access to anymore Tier 2 components. There was another clock hanging over her head, counting down to when the components would reach a point where there weren’t enough to create a functioning dimensional cage.

If that asshole Shen could find Tier 2 components out in the world, perhaps she could do the same?

***

“I’m nervous,” Maya said.

“Don’t worry. I’ve done this before,” Veskari said, his voice had become oddly soothing since Yosi had awakened.

“It’s my first time, y’know. So… be gentle.”

“Blast! Get on with it already, my thrusters are aching,” Zono boomed. His hologram sat grumpily at a console, staring daggers at Maya.

“Hey, we had to do a lot of recalibration because of your thicc-boi-ness,” Maya replied. “Next time, don’t load up on the marsani. Didn’t you call it junk metal?”

“Free metal is free metal,” Zono snapped. “What kind of Trader are you? You’re leaving behind a wealth of material! You could make millions of credits from all of this!”

“What good is credits when you’re dead?” Maya demanded.

“It’s credits!” Zono shouted back.

“Well it-“ Maya’s replied choked in her throat as she felt the ship suddenly jerk. It was the feeling of falling or that stomach flop that occurred when going down a hill way too fast. Maya’s eyes widen in shock and then she began laughing. “Suck it, humanity. I’m the first person to fly in a stolen alien space ship! System! Give me a Title, First in Space, no ,wait. Pirate Queen of Dimension X!”

Nothing happened.

“What a crock of shit,” she muttered. The bridge was a round room, in the center Maya had fused a thick padded chair with a label ‘Captain’s Chair’ on it. “I see why they don’t have a captain’s chair.” Maya craned her head to see a holographic display floating on a wall to the left and slightly behind her. “Why can’t I move these windows?”

“Low grade, Tier 1, otherwise you would have been able to connect to the ship’s internal systems,” Tender said. He occupied a space behind her at another station. “I believe that this bridge was pulled wholly from another ship and just added onto this one.”

“Damn it, Shen. What’s with you and your Frankenstienian obsession?”

Maya pulled out her cutter and sliced off the armrest of her chair. She was planning on putting a swiveling one in now. She turned to see the image of the ground below them falling away. A small counter on the screen showed them at fifty meters.

A smaller screen showed the assault craft that had attacked the Hanganathorie so many weeks ago also rising off the ground. Underneath it, being held by cables were the two mana cores. Veskari was piloting the craft also, being able to multitask. Maya was very glad to have brought the golem back with them.

Another screen showed the one hundred meter long ship and below it, like some limp and sodden angry dog, was Zono. The large mining barge had a top speed of warp snail, but they had managed to create a harness to attach him to the ship. Apparently the Tosmapa Whomever had designs that allowed just for that kind of operation. Maya had, of course, to pay a thousand credits to buy them, which was bullshit because it was for Zono, not for herself.

“How’s the breeze on your undercarriage?” Maya asked Zono.

“Chilly.”

“We got everything? You remember to turn off the curling iron, Tender?” Maya asked, settling into the half a captain’s chair. She summoned a ration bar and chewed on it.

“Boss?”

“It’s Captain Boss, ensign. We’re on SRS Bonita’s Revenge, on a thirty minute mission to explore places we’ve already seen and hopefully meet nothing and no one, before we berth at the Hangy.”

“SRS, Captain Boss?”

“Sullivan Royal Skymersible, ensign.”

“Ah, you still plan on creating Roci a kingdom?” Tender asked.

“I got my whole life, now that I’ve had the time to think on it. I mean, two thousand years. I think I can swing a kingdom or two. Right?”

“Indeed, Captain Boss.”

“Do you hear that?” Zono asked, tilting his dog head.

“Hear what, buddy? A high pitched whistle? Because I did not make one yet.”

“No, it’s like music,” he said.

“Veskari, we picking up any music stations around here. Anything but Country, please.”

“I am not picking up any signals, country or otherwise,” Veskari said.

“You losing it, Zono? Big Snake knock a few screws loose?” Maya asked.

“Now it’s gone,” Zono looked confused.

“Probably just the wind blowing through your mass ejection ports,” she said.

“I keep those tightly close,” Zono said, giving her a wink.

The skymersible reached a cruising altitude of a hundred meters off the ground. Maya watched with fascination as she spotted the dual tire tracks of Bonita, the crater where Tender had crashed, and the buried remains of the old food truc; RIP.

When compared to space ship speeds, they were barely crawling, but Maya saw that they were already moving faster than Bonita or a Tender-drawn Bonita had ever moved.

“Look, there’s where we got you your second body, Tender,” Maya said pointing out where she had fought the ramming AI.

“Interesting,” Tender replied, obviously not interested.

“It was all fun and awesome, but now… Now it’s just sitting,” Maya said, leaning in her chair. There was a scrambling sound, the sound of tentacles slithering across metal, a moment later Maya looked down to see the purple eyes of Roci looking up at her. “I thought you were supposed to be secured for the flight?”

“Fly,” Roci said in an ear screeching voice.

“Not until you get your starship pilot’s permit, kiddo,” Maya replied.

“Hey, kid,” Zono said, a mischievous grin on his dog face.

Roci turned to Zono. “Fly.”

“Say ‘Kill all SIL’,” he said.

Maya grunted. “Seriously, Zono? What are you? A child?”

“It’s an abomination,” Zono said. “A System joke you’re taking too far.”

“I can make this ship fly higher and then release those damn cables holding you. How well does your heavy metal ass fly?” Maya asked.

“We have an agreement,” Zono said. “The agreement prevents us from harming one another, but it does not include coddling some rogue AI System abomination.”

“Yeah, but dicks still get dropped from the sky,” Maya said.

“Dick,” Roci stated.

“Yes. That’s Zono to a T. Nice job kid, twenty points to Team Roci.”

Zono let out a growling chuckle. “One thing that was programed into me is that children have to grow up strong to survive. They cannot be coddled, they must fight for survival, for dominance, and to be feared and respected.”

“Awww,” Maya said. “Did Big Daddy Tosmapa tell you that before sending you out to kick rocks? Sorry to tell you this, Zono, but that there is straight up child abuse. I’ve watched plenty of post-apocalyptic movies and the theme is always ‘survival isn’t enough’. If you got a kid, you bring them up right, that doesn’t mean making them fight and turning them into a psychopath.”

“Newly Integrated SIL have no idea,” Zono said.

“I don’t know, Zono. I mean, how many Tier 2 SIL have you run into only after two months of Integration?” Maya grinned.

“Still.’

“Still, you gotta stop thinking in the paradigms of yesteryear, pal. It’s a new world, you’re in a new place, time to shed off the chains of old school thinking and embrace the new. This whole sink or swim mentality is a bit fucked up when you think about it. Whole civilizations work like this? How? Why?”

“Because it works,” Veskari said. “Because it is the easiest way to coordinate people, to churn out high leveled SIL to fight the constant battles against mana incursions.”

“Sounds like a real drag to me. Right now, it’s all about survival, sure. But later on? Next month? Maybe I can just hang out and let the credits roll in, take up knitting, maybe figure out a way to brew some scotch. I never did watch the Witcher.”

“You have it easy in this place,” Zono said. “In the real world, survival is an everyday thing.”

“Um, tell that to my hand, my eye, all the blood I’ve lost, and the literal shit that had to be made into food so I could eat,” Maya said. “I’m sure that it’s pretty bad everywhere, but this whole mentality of might makes right is fucked up. People are what makes things happen, not rulers. A swarm of ants can kill a lion and all that.”

Zono just shook his head and Veskari didn’t add anything else. Roci looked at Maya.

“Shit.”

“You’re right, Roci. It’s all shit and when you get strong enough, you’re lending a hand in cleaning it up. Life Lesson: When you’re a ruler and the streets are filled with shit, you pick up a shovel and get to work.”

“Shovel!”

“Damn straight, kid. Damn straight.”


***


“After much consideration I have decided upon the name Yosi Sullivan,” Yosi said.

“Bell put you up to this?” Maya demanded.

“Uh… he suggested that having a surname would make me a true SIL. Upon consideration, Huvano was the only name I could think of until your rogue AI Tender said Sullivan was a good surname.”

“Et tu, Ensign Tender?”

“It’s a good name, Captain Boss.”

“It is often the tradition to take the surname of your owner’s Family,” Veskari added.

“I’m not your owner,” Maya stated flatly.

“I understand,” Yosi wrung her hands in a very human way. Maya pushed away the urge to cry ‘how cute’ and hug the little dinosaur woman. “You saved my life, you’ve saved Veskari’s sanity, and you’ve freed me entirely, from Class Two status and from being a Slave. If you are willing, I would gratefully take your name as my own.”

“It’s just a name, Yosi. It doesn’t mean anything, it doesn’t bestow anything. It’s just a name given to my great grandfather. There is no history behind it, there is no great weight of granduer behind it, it’s just a name.”

“Names have power,” Yosi said, repeating Bell’s words. “You have seen the System, you have spoke with it, and you have asked it to change who I am on a fundamental level. Your name has great power.”

“Jesus,” Maya muttered. She looked at Roci who was sitting on her captain’s chair, watching the slowly moving landscape below. “I guess this infinite dimensional plane is big enough for three Sullivans.”

Yosi bowed deeply, her head nearly touching the floor. “Thank you.”

“Don’t do that,’ Maya said. She crouched before the woman, looking her in the eyes. “Sullivan’s bow for no one, got it?”


Bonded not by Blood, but by Loyalty

There are no stronger bonds in the Multiverse than those created by loyalty. Empires have risen and hardships overcome with loyal companions by your side.

+ 2 Foundation

+ 2 Fortitude

+ 2 Luck

+ 1 Loyalty Token


We Do Not Bow

We. Do. Not. Bow.

+ 100,000 EXP

Level up! (Level 14)


“Nice,” Maya muttered as the message appeared in her vision.

Yosi Sullivan suddenly let out a gasp. Her large multicolored eyes watered and she sobbed, letting out small squeaks and sniffles. She tried to speak, but she choked on the words, instead she waved her hand and Maya saw a small box open up, displaying text that the System had given her.


Named

Yosi Sullivan, you are the first of your species to choose their own Name. You have chosen to tie your destiny with House Sullivan.

+ 1 Fortitude

+ 1 Luck

+ 1 Foundation


Sullivan

Yosi Sullivan has joined the Merchant House Sullivan. Due to your previous Class Two Lifeform status and the joining of a Merchant House (full member), you will be granted a one time opportunity to transfer your Skills and Abilities to those of a Merchant orientated occupational path.

Change? Y/N


We Do Not Bow

We. Do. Not. Bow.

+ 100,000 EXP


Level up! (Level 20)


***


“Wow, congrats on the levels, Yosi,” Maya cried. A moment later she frowned as she scanned Yosi’s messages. “What the crap? House Sullivan? What is this, some bullshit medieval Game of Thrones setup?

“Named Houses are a SIL Addition,” Veskari said.

“Of course, all the crazy ass bullshit stuff seem to be.” Maya swiped away Yosi’s messages and looked down at the new member of House Sullivan. “I don’t mean to dismiss what you’re going through, but it seems a bit much for this freedom loving American.”

“Bell said your ideas were strange,” Yosi stated. “That you did not… think like everyone else.”

“I’m sure he put it so nicely,” Maya smiled. “Welcome to the fam, Yosi. I’ve got an uncle you’re gonna have to watch out for, he’s always asking for money.”

Yosi nodded, wide eyed. “I have no money,” she said.

“You’re in luck. Niether do I!” Maya laughed and then bent down and hugged the little dinosaur. “I hope you like trouble, because a Sullivan is always getting into it.”

“I will try my best,” Yosi said, gingerly hugging her back.

“We have arrived,” Veskari announced.

Maya looked up to see the Hanganathorie in their viewscreen. They were a hundred meters up and she saw the hole that had been blasted into the trash pile to remove the mana core from the ship. It was a neat hole drilled into the trash. She hadn’t been able to see it when they had left days before.

“How’s the assault craft?”

“It is in a holding pattern,” Veskari said. Another window appeared, showing the angular assault ship moving in slow circles above them, the two cores dangling from it. The bright light of the unshielded Hangy mana core made it look like a flying beacon.

Maya paused, wondering if that would be attracting any attention. Then again, Shen had pulled the same core out of the Hangy and it hadn’t… well there were a lot of rogue AI attacks, but that might have been for other reasons.

“Alright, Zono, ready to learn to fly?” Maya asked.

“I’m good. Drop me about twenty meters from the surface.” Xono replied on the comms.

Veskari eased the ship down and after a moment, there was a shudder and Maya watched as Zono blasted out his thrusters, slowing his descent. After a moment he began moving toward the hole in the ship.

Maya had spent a lot of her remaining credits to get Zono to build them a mana shield. According to Veskari, there were certain minerals that were needed to create a real shield, but if the goal was to reduce the escaping mana, then any material could work, as long as it was thick.

As marsani was the cheapest and most abundant metal, Maya had decided to use that instead. An eight meter by ten meter block of polished metal plopped out of Zono’s dimensional container. He had used his manufacturing abilities upon it, those additional costs were not included in his discount, which was bullshit.

The assault craft was a multipurpose vehicle. It mounted some deadly weapons and was fast, but it also had been built for more than just shooting things up. From it winched down a thick cable holding the unshielded mana core, while the shielded core remained fixed in its spot.

Maya grinned at the sight. This opened up a lot of opportunities for them. If Veskari could pilot the craft, he could keep overwatch going for the area, ensuring that they weren’t jumped by surprise rogue AIs again. All that it required was occasional maintenance and swapping out the mana batteries on the craft. The cost on that was going to be high, but if the black goo and the cores around Earth worked then they would be golden on power.

With amazing precision, Veskari lowered the bright core into a slot on top of the block of marsani. Once it was installed, the clamps released and the cable snaked back up. Zono made a two meter thick block of marsani appear again and lifted the lid onto the block, sealing in the core.

It wasn’t locked away, Maya and Tender had worked on the simple design, allowing for them to tap the core when they needed. It was running at full speed now, nearly producing 9Mg in a standard day. The ship began to descend. They were half a kilometer from the Hangy, but that was to allow the core in the ship to not interfere with the now shielded mana core. Tender’s mechas exited the cargo hold and begin marching toward the spot they had chosen to place the third core. They were all within half a kilometer from one another, it caused a little overlap and interference, but not to much in the grand scheme of things.

Plus with the SRS Bonita’s Revenge in the middle of two cores, it could use it’s weapons to ensure that anything coming for the cores was immediately destroyed. Tender’s drones were also stationing themselves around the third core, since it was the farthest away from them.

“I think we’re actually looking like we’re on the right path,” Maya said looking at the diagram. “Words, thoughts, Yosi?”

The woman rubbed her hands and shrugged. “It seems good, Mistress Maya.”

“Just Maya.”

“Understood, Just Maya.” Yosi grinned, giving Nanaseto a run for her money on sharp toothed smiles.

Maya snorted. “That ship will be our home now, you got any problems with that? After all it was the site of your former slave existence.”

“No. I am fine with it. I was only on the Hanganathorie for a short time. I was… a replacement, due to one of Huvano’s… servants… dying.”

“I am going to find that god damn cat to shit in his bone dust,” Maya hissed. “Or a bone merchant.”

“Yes, Maya.” Yosi nodded.


***


“Home sweet home,” Maya breathed, taking in the sweet smell coming off of Junior.

“Ah, it is still alive,” Bell said, a smile appearing on his face as he moved toward the algae. “Growing nicely.”

Maya checked the battery and the lights. “Made it just in time. Another week and it would have run out of power,” she grinned. “This is Junior.” Maya lifted Roci from the satchel she carried. The purple eyes peered at the thick mat that was the algae. “He doesn’t say much, but smells awesome.”

“I shall begin arranging for the removal of the habitat,” Tender said.

“Hey, buddy,” Maya called. Tender stopped.

“Look I don’t know if it’s just System Fuckery, but I didn’t mean for Yosi or Roci, ha, they rhyme… uh… I didn’t mean for them to take on my name. I just want you to know that. If I could and if you wanted, you can be Tender Sullivan too.”

“I appreciate the offer,” Tender said. “But I am not SIL nor am I an AI altered by the System. I am just a program on a rogue AI processor.”

“Bullshit. You’re my best friend, my boon-est of companions, the one person I trust above all. I could not have done any of this without you. You are one of the four original partners of the Sss, you are the only other person I’d have at my back with the world against me.”

“Thank you, Maya,” Tender said. “I think… I saw the Named title given to Yosi. I think… I think I shall endeavor to choose my own Name. No offense to your Name, boss.”

Maya slapped him on the shoulder. “None taken! I’ll root for you, buddy. If you need help, need someone to sow some confusion, all you need to do is call me up.”

“Understood.”

Tender ambled off and Maya turned to Roci. “You can always trust Tender. Always.”

“Hey, Bell! Keep an eye on Roci. I got a big ass job to do, might take hours.”

“I am not a babysitter,”

“Hey, Roci will owe you on. When you’re old, decrepit, and your fam has abandoned you, you can call on Roci to wipe your butt and sponge bathe you.”

“What does that mean?” Bell demanded.

“Go to Bell,” Maya told Roci, letting the small figure slither its way to him.

Maya walked toward a corner of the mess hall and found her nest bed. She flopped down into it and promptly fell asleep.

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Comments (3)
user avatar
User #28785581 - 26 Aug 20 16:58
Thanks for the chapter! Is it normal for Maya to not level up at all despite receiving 100k xp from the very odd "We do not bow"...Title? Special action? She got all her levels reset after the searing so she should be around level 3-5 I think. Yosi got 2 levels out of it and she was level 19. Is there some issue with Maya that I'm forgetting about?
user avatar
User #5927544 - 26 Aug 20 18:06
I was thinking the exact same thing. Or is Maya gaining levels, but she doesn't care because Levels don't really give her much? Can we get a character sheet up in here?
user avatar
User #10453200 - 26 Aug 20 23:47
So a lot of flags just went up for me there in the end; I'd had my doubts, but that: “You can always trust Tender. Always.” Is a big red flag for me =P
B2-13 - Roci 2020-08-25T02:06:20+00:00

It was the first time that Maya had ever seen Bell laugh hysterically. Sure, he had chuckled, on occasions guffawed, and once even let out an amused grunt, but a full on belly clutching down from the deepest part of his soul laugh?

Maya frowned. “This is not funny,” she said.

Bell nearly fell out of his bed. Nan watched from where she stood over the de-thawed Yosi. Even she looked amused.

“One does not make light of the System,” Veskari stated as Bell clutched at his chest, trying to breath. “Proclamations such as you did are taken seriously by the System.”

“How?” Maya demanded. “WHY?”

“Some say that the System does not know what you are thinking, it cannot, but it can interpret what you say and on occasions takes such things… literally.”

“That’s some crazy bullshit,” Maya fumed.

“It is the System, it does what it will. There are some theories that claim ‘Quests’ are simply the System putting what you want into a solid achievable sort of goal. It incentivizes you to do work toward completing that quest.”

“Right, that’s the carrot. What’s the stick?”

“Hmm… if you are asking if there is a penalty for not completing a quest, then the simplest answer is that you lose experience points.”

“Yeah, I was docked experience for failing to defend the Hanganathorie,” Maya said.

“As was I,” Bell added.

“There are other forms of penalties that are laid down by the System if quests are failed or not completed, some include the lost of Skills and Abilities, and even entire levels can be wiped clean.”

“Heavy handed is the System,” Maya muttered.

“No,” Bell and Veskari said in unison.

Maya looked at Bell, waiting for an explanation.

“The System is doing what the System does. If you fail there are always penalties, that is the way of the Integrated Multiverse,” Bell said. “The System gives you an opportunity to achieve a goal you’ve already set for yourself, it incentivizes you to achieve it, with experience, credits, and System Generated Drops.”

“Sounds like a shitty deal. Failure shouldn’t be punished, not if you tried. You learn by failing, but if the System just slaps you hard with penalties, then why try again? Won’t that make you fear ever trying again?” Maya asked. “Levels, Skills, and Experience, they’re all the bread and butter of this Integrated Multiverse; everyone’s identity is tied up in it. What are you levels, what is your occupational Ability, what Skills do you have? Doesn’t the risk of losing those things make people not want to try harder to achieve impossible goals?”

“There are quest junkies,” Bell scoffed. “Most of them are utter failures at life. They provoke the System into giving them as many quests as possible, but in the end they cannot achieve them all and end up losing more than they gain.”

“So in order to gain a quest, you have to want it?” Maya asked.

“In a sense,” Bell said. “You gained quests to defend the Hanganathorie several times, but you didn’t get one to defend this ship.”

“Hey, now that you say that. Why didn’t I get a quest?” Maya asked.

“You don’t seem to care what happens to this ship,” Veskari said.

“Hold on there, I care. I care a lot.’ Maya said. “Just… I hate this fucking ship.”

“So do I,” Bell said. They nodded at one another.

“Although the System cannot read one’s thoughts, perhaps as a Point of Contact for the System, it has more… access to you overall?” Veskari said. “There are no known instances of a SIL becoming a Point of Contact in recorded history.”

“Okay, I hate Shen’s ship and I hate everything he did here, so that means the System didn’t give me a defense quest because I hate this place?”

“Yes.”

“Well, that sucks. Hey, System, you eavesdropper you. Give me some easy quests with high rewards, like taking a shower or sleeping more than three hours.” Maya called out. She waited, but nothing happened. “I really, really, really want to take a shower, but lo and behold, the world is against me on that goal. There is so much to do, so many things occurring, only if I could take a shower!”

Nothing happened.

“Of course,” she muttered.

“One should not provoke the System, otherwise…” Bell began and chuckled. “Otherwise you will be given a type of quest that you were given.”

“Ah, boss,” Tender arrived at that moment. “You forgot your… child?”

“Nope.” Maya stated flatly.

“Interesting,” Nan said, piping up for the first time. She looked at the roach AI in Tender’s arms. It had graduated from being held by a broken leg, to now being somewhat cradled in two of his arms. “The System really did change the designation on the rogue AI.”

“Is that meaningful?” Maya asked. “Does the weird series of numbers and letters that all these rogue AIs have mean anything?”

“Not entirely,” Veskari said. “Rogue AIs tend to be given batch numbers as identification labels when they are created. System tech AIs are given names by their creators. The same goes for golem AIs.”

“So because it is now called Roci Sullivan, does it make it any different than if it was still called Rogue AI Blah-blah-blah?”

“Unknown.” Veskari stated.

“Names have power,” Bell said after a moment. “Give something a name and you are shaping it to your perceived notions. The System has given this rogue AI a name, a name that corresponds to you, from an idea and thought that you had when you spoke your words.”

“That sounds like mumbo-jumbo, spooky magic nonsense,” Maya muttered. “

“Perhaps, but it has been touched by the System and who knows what that means. Nothing may happen or something may happen.” Bell shrugged. “It is why people say do not provoke the System.”

“Great.” Maya looked at the rogue AI, no, Roci Sullivan and held out her arms. Tender handed her… Roci. “What the hell am I gonna do with you?”

“Build it a kingdom,” Bell said and smiled. Maya raised her gray fleshed left middle finger at him.

“What is happening here?’ A thin raspy voice asked. Attention turned from Roci to the small figure in the medical pod.

Yosi was awake.


***


“Master is dead?” Yosi asked when Veskari detailed to her what had been happening. Although completely non-human in physical form, Yosi’s voice came out deeper than Maya was expecting. Not deep throated baritone, but still more than she expected from the slight dinosaur SIL.

“Gross. Don’t call that shitbag Huvano that,” Maya shuddered. She looked down at Roci. “First life lesson, Roci. Slavery is evil, the truest evil in existence. The owning of thinking, self-aware life is a terrible thing. Life is not a commodity, life is not something that can be bought and sold. When found, slavery must be destroyed.”

Maya noticed something odd as she looked at the former roach AI. Instead of the red eyes she had always seen, on Tender and all other rogue AIs, the small beady eyes of Roci were purple.

Well, Maya thought, that is not creepy at all.

“Hello!” Maya said, after a moment of silence. Yosi’s eyes flickered, a membrane flashing over her large multi-colored eyes. Maybe, Maya thought, she was descended from like jungle hunters or something. The coloring reminded Maya of parrots or other flashy birds, but not with feathers, instead with small pebbled scales. “You have been rescued by the Sullivan Survival Society; we are a interdimensional merchant organization looking to better the lives of down on their luck SIL with technology, in this case system tech.”

Yosi looked confused. “I am not SIL,” she said.

“Oh, see that’s where you’re wrong, Yosi. I’m not gonna use the Tari aspect of your name, because that is a disgusting brand of intelligent life ownership that was forced on you. If you wanna be called something else, just say the words and I’ll start calling you that. Anyway, you’re… gross… master is dead. The ship you served is dead. Twenty thousand standard years dead, now. You are free. You are no longer a slave. You are your own woman, or whatever you identify as.” Maya took a deep breath. “Right now, you’re weak, you’ve got stasis sickness apparently, and it’ll be days before you’re up and about. For now, rest, relax, talk with Nan, don’t poke Bell because he’s a grumpy smurf, and worry not about slavery, indenturement, or anything about ownership or debts. Here in the Sullivan Survival Society, we are a totally anti-slavery, anti-necro, pro-AI kinda place. Watch out for Tender, he’s got fast hands and cheats at cards.”

“What?” Yosi asked, very confused.

“Let see if this works.” Maya cleared her throat. “System! Yosi has awakened, give me my rewards. She is safe, she is secured, she will be cared for, and if she’s down for it, will be helped along with a new occupation that doesn’t involve slavery. Also, toss aside all that bullshit about her being a Class Two Lifeform and being a Slave. That’s horrible, you should know better.”


Quest: Save Yosi - Completed!

- The System Identified Lifeform, Yosi, has been trapped in a stasis pod for twenty thousand USY. Revive and ensure her survival.

- Rewards - 20,000 EXP

- Yosi requires a new name.


“That’s weird,” Maya said.

“You can also allow people to see the System messages you receive,” Veskari said.

“Really?” Maya waved her hand dramatically and the small window with text appeared in the center of the room.

“That’s pretty cool.”

“Twenty thousand experience points?” Bell grumbled. “That’s almost nothing.”

“I know right, I should have got like two million. I mean, I’m totally gonna make sure Yosi is the best at-“ Maya paused. “Oh, right. I shouldn’t make stupid ass pronouncements, right?”

Everyone in the room nodded.

“Alright, Yosi, if you still wanna be called Yosi. You need a new name, System orders.”

“A new name.” Yosi still seemed confused. “I don’t…”

“It’s okay, Yosi,” Veskari said. His voice was smooth and like a balm it calmed Yosi down. She looked around and amazingly a holographic image appeared.

Maya glanced at Bell and raised an eyebrow. She was expecting something like Nanaseto, a short demonic person, but Veskari was instead a short dinosaur dude in a spiffy suit. There were a lot of frills, rhinestones, and looping lace.

“Jesus,” Maya muttered. “Why does everyone dress like shit?”

“You’re safe here,” Veskari said to Yosi, his webbed hands hovering over her. Maya knew that look and glanced again at Bell, eyebrow wagging.

He looked at her in confusion. “When the moon hits your eye,” she whispered.

“I’m not a Class Two Lifeform, my status as [Slave] has been removed,” Yosi said. She looked at Maya in disbelief. “How?”

Maya buffed her nails on her shipsuit, taking a nonchalant pose against the bulkhead of the medical room “Y’know, just awesome questing stuff,” she said.

“But this is impossible.” Yosi continued. “I can’t…”

“Aim for the stars, kid. Aim for the stars. And yell at the System.”

“Ignore her,” Bell said. “I think something overcomes her mental capabilities when she meets new SIL. She acts… out.”

“Hey, now!”

“I believe she sows confusion to provide herself with a plethora of different opportunities one would not have in a normal conversation,” Tender said.

Maya clutched Roci, whom she still held. “Don’t listen to him, Roci. I do not sow confusion.” Maya turned to Yosi. “Now, you have to under-“

“She’s unconscious,” Nan said.

“What? Awww!”

“I shall inform you once again, when she awakens,” Nan said.

“But I didn’t do my ‘welcome to the year 3000’ joke!”

***

“What are you doing?” Bell asked.

“Hey, aren’t you supposed to be bed ridden?” Maya demanded. She threw a piece of duracloth over her work.

Bell gave her a pained look. “It seems Veskari and Yositari-Yosi have a deep emotional relationship.”

Maya giggled. “Called it.”

“They are speaking to one another and not quietly,” he said as he took a seat on an overturn piece of rogue AI part.

They were in the cargo hold of Shen’s ship. It was a vast room, holding scores of labeled crates. Shen didn’t have any additional dimensional storage and that often made Maya wonder what he had died with. There should have been a way for her to have looted his corpse, but at the time she had been Seared and the System was hands off as she burned up from essence mana.

Yet even if Shen had maxed out his Dimensional Inventory, he still had a lot of stuff. Maya was making use of that stuff, by making… stuff.

“You were engaged, right? Did you whisper sweet nothings to the love of your life…” Maya paused as she saw Bell’s face drop at the mention of his former love. “Oh, man. I’m sorry. I…”

“No. It’s fine,” Bell said. “I’ve had enough time to dwell upon her death. It was unfortunate, but that is life. As you’ve stated ‘shit happens’. It just happened to be that it happened to her.”

Maya nodded and sighed. “I keep putting my foot in my mouth, these days.”

“What is wrong?” Bell asked.

Maya shrugged. “Nothing, just trying my best to save mankind, is all.”

“You seem to be… dawdling.” Bell said.

“Me? Dawdle? I barely knew her…” Bell did not look amused. “Right. Probably.”

“Right now, we should have had enough charge to return to your world, to help more of this mankind you keep talking about. But you changed your mind midway through and now are on this black goo project. Not to mention all the other things that need doing. You are the only [Engineer] on this ship, even at low levels you can do the maintenance required to get us back to the Hanganathorie.

“Yet, you continue to dawdle. You wring your hands and you launch yourself into different projects, while leaving others half finished and forgotten.”

“You sound like my mom,” Maya muttered.

“Because she was wise and always correct?” Bell said.

Maya chuckled. “Humor? Laughter? What has happened to the lovable grumpy Bell?”

Bell looked at the ceiling of the cargo hold and sighed. “I nearly lost my mind when I came here. I was half mad and setting upon the path of cannibalizing my friends,” he said. “You saved me then, in your strange way. When Shen captured us, when he tortured me… All I wanted to do was die. I was tired of this place and the horrors it held, I craved death. Yet, I was not killed. I was tortured and violated. I saw and felt everything, every word he made me say. Then you killed him. You saved me. You Seared yourself and took upon a burden that will last five hundred years.”

“Pretty cool of me, huh?”

Bell grinned slightly. “I am not well, now. I will heal, though. I cannot help you with a lot of this,” he waved his hand around, “but I will learn. I will help you, Later. For now, if you need someone to talk to or someone to verbally ‘kick your ass’, then I shall gladly help.”

Maya smiled at the blue man. She hugged him and then pulled the cloth off what she was working on.

“Is that?”

“Roci Sullivan, first of his/her/their name,” she said.

“You did this? So quickly?” Bell asked.

On the table before he was Roci. The rogue AI turned the potential inheritor of a kingdom had been dismantled and rebuilt. Maya had a pang of worry that what she was doing was tantamount to child abuse or torture, but Tender claimed that the rogue AI was just a power supply and a core. They had no feelings, as it were.

Instead of the roach body that it had inhabited, Maya had created a humanoid body. It had two arms, a torso, a head of two blinking purple eyes, and it’s legs were a half dozen thin tentacles she had salvaged from Big Snake. Roci was no longer a roach the size of a dog, but barely twelve inches.

“The System is playing with me,” Maya said. “I checked the core and it’s not the same as the others we had pulled from the dead roaches. It’s… more, I guess. Tender says that they can learn more and soon will be able to communicate.”

“Due to it’s name being changed?” Bell asked.

Maya shrugged. “Who knows. Probably. Crazy System tricks, I would figure he’d be against rogue AIs, they don’t channel after all.”

“They still use mana,” Bell said. “Just like System Tech.”

“Yeah.” Maya looked down at Roci. “I started this little journey alone, in a food truck, and nearly dying,” she said. “Now, look at us. Eight people of various backgrounds, looking toward the bright future.”

“If you ever get to work on it.”

“Just need someone to kick my ass,” Maya grinned.

***

Maya jerked awake and saw a pair of purple eyes staring at her. She leaned forward and patted the small humanoid on the head.

“You okay over there?” she asked.

Yes,” came the voice.

“Jesus,” Maya sat up. “What the hell is with that voice?”

Yes,” came the voice again. It was high pitched and sounded… completely terrible. Like someone doing a horrendous imitation of a human voice.

Sleep.”

“Yeah. No.” Maya got out of her bed and looked down at Roci. They still hadn’t been able to move their body, but they could now speak.

“I’m never sleeping again after hearing that voice.”

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Comments (5)
user avatar
User #798107 - 26 Aug 20 08:10
”Anyway, you’re… gross… master is dead” Did you mean *your?
user avatar
alexclaw - 26 Aug 20 23:22
I did mean your! Oops
user avatar
User #15322928 - 25 Aug 20 05:31
I absolutely adore Roci
user avatar
User #11691022 - 25 Aug 20 06:20
That last sentence sounds like a system invite :D
user avatar
alexclaw - 25 Aug 20 02:06
Late post. Busy day. But good busy, not weep at the heavens busy.
B2-12 - A Promise Made 2020-08-22T13:38:10+00:00


“Wow, oh, wow!” Maya exclaimed as the cast was removed from her forearm. Everyone was there, watching with semi-boredom. Bell was still on bed rest, sorting through loot. Tender was remotely controlling his new troop of battle drones, picking up their brethren’s pieces and harvesting black goo. Veskari was there because Yositari was there, still unconscious, but making mewling noises every now and then. And finally Zono made an appearance because he was grumbling about the fact that his repairs had to be halted because she wasn’t there to help him.

The metal tube slid off her forearm and Maya stared down at a sickly grey hand that had seemed to have spent one hour too long in the hot tub.

“Wow, that’s disgusting,” Maya said. She flexed her digits and grunted as painful pins and needles sensations crawled along her hands. It wasn’t as painful as the itching, but it was bothersome.

Nan’s robotic body scanned the hand. “Everything seems to be connected properly,” she said. “You’ll feel some odd sensations for the next standard day, but after that it should be fully functional.”

“What about the gross gray color?”

“That is permanent,” Nan replied.

“What!” Maya screamed.

“That was a joke,” Nan said, then she emitted what sounded like a pre-recorded chuckle.

Maya growled. “What the hell? Are you going crazy?”

“Bell stated that my bedside manner was lacking in any empathy or emotional compassion,” she said.

“Wow, rude Bell. You don’t just go telling people they’re robotic in their mannerism.”

“She literally is,” Bell snapped.

‘Well, still…”

“Your hand will return to its natural pigmentation within a week, if not, then we can just use some ultraviolet light to increase its color,” Nan said.

Maya looked at her sickly gray hand and flexed it. She could feel the muscles moving and a knuckle popped as she made a fist.

“This’ll do, Nan. This’ll do.” She smacked her left fist into her right palm and looked at the gathered crowd. “Who’s first?”

“What do you mean?” Tender asked.

“Who. Is. First?” Maya said slowly, punching her palm.

***

“I’m not normally afraid of heights,” Maya said as she looked down from the hundred or so feet she stood above the gray dirt of the rainbow sky hellscape. The ‘day’ was its normal blue gloomy color, but like a showcased car, Zono was lit up by a dozen glowing spheres, shining into every nook and cranny of the massive mining barge.

One hundred and forty feet high, three hundred and twenty long, and another hundred feet wide. But in truth, Zono’s legs were about sixty feet long, making the Zono processing frame about eighty feet tall.

Maya was still impressed the the mining barge, that someone out there had created such a massive machine to independently mine ores and materials from uninhabited or backwater star systems.

As it wasn’t designed to do its job in gravity wells, the mining barge was under a lot more stress and wear and tear than normal. In addition, all the rogue AIs wanted a piece of Zono action, mostly due to the Category IV core he had propelling the entire structure.

Maya wasn’t ashamed to say that she wanted a piece of Zono too, the pieces being the ores and materials he carried in the industrial dimensional storage containers. She was technically getting a discount on the price of materials, but after Tender had given her the list of materials they would need to begin production on black goo, Maya realized she was back to being poor again.

Not that credits had much value in the rainbow sky hellscape, there was nothing to buy and all one had to do was dig through a pile of trash, find something they liked and repair it. It was the ultimate dream of a self motivated upcycling handy-person. Maya was none of those.

Not that she didn’t know her way around tools or machinery; Pops had insisted she learn by his side as her brothers were more interested in playing games. She had followed him around in her youth, fixing cars, helping neighbors, and learning to swing a hammer and spray a liberal amount of WD-40 onto everything.

Zono wasn’t a rusty door hinge or a faulty light switch, he was a massive, verging on Tier 2, independent automatous mining AI. His sub systems were vast and varied; the amount of damage sustained was shocking, and Maya had given her word she would fix it all.

“I do not fear heights,” Tender stated. “I will survive, if I do fall. You might also.”

“Really? A hundred foot drop?”

“You are Tier 2. Although… Nan most likely would have to be rushed out and you would spend several days recovering from your injuries.”

“Nah, Nan’s gonna let me bleed out if I fall. After all the time she spent on regrowing my hand? Did you hear that laugh? It was terrifying.”

Maya wasn’t in her armored suit anymore. That had been partially destroyed and although she had a spare, she determined that they were safe enough as they were. Veskari had finally hacked the weapons systems on Shen’s ship, so now they had some beam weapons and mana shields to protect and defend themselves with. Maya was a bit miffed that she hadn’t really gotten around to doing a lot of things.

She felt adrift these days. She had found a way back to Earth, but now she was stuck in the rainbow sky hellscape for another five hundred standard years. Six hundred and eighty-five Earth years.

Those numbers were hard to fathom and when she thought on them, it caused her brain to short out. She had been thinking on them far too much lately, in the moments where there was nothing to do and no emergency to handle. She would dwell on the hundreds of years she had left and feel sick to her stomach.

So it was with a sigh of relief, that she managed to escape Nan’s clutches and make good on her promise to repair Zono.

There were climbing gear in Shen’s storage rooms. Technically not climbing gear, but a sort of mana-netic harness that allowed her to crawl over Zono’s external plating like a gecko.


Ponzollo Movement Harness - mid grade, Tier 1

When repairs are needed, in and outside of gravity wells, Ponzollo provides the best Movement Harnesses in the multiverse. Buy Ponzollo. Always.


Maya wasn’t entirely sure how it worked, but it was like magnetism, but with mana. It was like anti-gravity, but not. It was like a lot of things, but it boiled down to Maya being able to maintain a two meter distance from the hull plating on Zono’s body and lay out safety line incase the harness failed. She felt like she was flying, but if she pushed herself beyond the two meter field the harness generated, she’d fall to her doom.

Zono’s manufacturing ability was another thing that impressed Maya. One of his legs had been blasted away by the plasma beam from Big Snake, but already it had been remanufactured and Zono just needed her to put some finishing touches on the connections. She discovered that the massive glowing furnace on the underside of the ship just didn’t break down materials, it could also rebuild them.

The mining barge had regurgitated the needed metals from his dimensional storage and then using mana fields and his furnace, melted down the metal, cast the pieces with the mana fields, then spent some time doing finishing work on the pieces, machining them out to specific tolerances. It had all been done in less than a standard day.

Currently, the mining barge was creating hull plating from marsani it had mined up from the trash pile. Maya watched in awe as she thought back on the hours it had taken Tender and her to cut out billets of marsani from the hull of the Hanganathorie.

Maya’s job was an easy one. Crawl into tight spaces, reconnect cabling, plug in component racks, and clean out any damaged areas. The job was easy and she realized she enjoyed it. There was no thinking involved, just doing. Zono had his holographic form following her around, not saying much just keeping an eye on things and telling her how to fix some items. Maya obliged, thankful to not to be struggling to figure out what the hell she needed to do.


[Mechanic] Level 5


“Neat.” Maya yawned. She pulled bolts out of a launcher, one of the many that Zono had on the back of his body, or the top, Maya wasn’t familiar with the terms.

She had seen him launch scores of missiles at Big Snake and now she peered down the tube of one of the launchers.


Tosmapa Hellfire Launcher Mk. IV - mid grade, Tier 1


“Hellfire? What kind of name is that?” Maya asked as Tender operated a pulley system that lifted the half melted launcher off of Zono’s back. The whole launcher was a loss, therefore it was being replaced.

Zono didn’t have the capabilities to rebuild a Hellfire Launcher, but he kept a few in his dimensional storage for events like this. He had immediately refused to sell any to Maya, though. Maya’s brief fantasy of Tender’s new mecha drones sporting massive missile launchers was dashed before it could fully be formed.

“The best kind of name!” Zono cried. “Tosmapa make the best stuff!”

“Is Tosmapa the species name or the company name?” Maya asked.

“No comment!”

As always, the AI refused to comment about the species or company or whomever had created him. There were supposedly fleets of Zono’s out there, but they were all under some kind of gag order. Which was just all weird to Maya.

Maya stared at the launcher and tried to figure it out. There had to be an autoloader underneath the launcher, it wasn’t a silo like human fired missiles and the firing tube was no bigger than her hand.

The missiles it fired must be small, she thought as she peered at the weapon.


Tosmapa Hellfire Launcher Mk. IV - mid grade, Tier 1

Close range rapid defense launcher

Type 3-6 thermal warheads required

Range: 600 km

Accuracy: 85 percent

Power: 100 gens/hr

Modifiable


Evaluation II


“Oh, happy day,” Maya grinned.

“What’s going on?” Zono demanded. “I’m getting a notification saying you’re trying to steal secrets.”

‘What? Really? I just got Evaluation II and it notified you I was casing your destroyed Hellfire Launcher?” Maya asked.

“Tosmapa industrial secrets are held close. Desist in your industrial espionage.”

“Jesus, it’s a Skill. It ain’t like I can control it.”

“It’s a Skill, of course you can control it!” Zono snapped.

“Fine. Keep your secrets to yourself. I’ll make my own hellfire rapid defense launcher, using better type 3-6 thermal warheads!”

“Gah! Stop that!”

***

Maya groaned as she settled down onto a chair. She was in the ‘mess hall’ of Shen’s ship. There wasn’t really a mess hall, instead there was Shen’s private quarters that had a quaint kitchen and table for six, but Maya would be damned if she felt comfortable in that space.

She had commandeered an eight corridor intersection that had somekind of artwork dominating the center. Maya had cut away the artwork, abstract art was not her forte, and knocked out a bulkhead that lead to a holding cell and turned that into a kitchen. A large manufactured metal table had been brought into the center of the room and she had made some bright flowers out of duracloth and set it in the middle of the table.

The intersection was dead center of the habitat and like spokes on a wheel, the corridors lead to different sections. Maya liked the central placing of the mess hall and spent her off hours in it. It was better than the medical room or the cold sterile holding cells she had been using as a bedroom.

With Yositari joining the crew, Maya had realized she needed to do something about the ship, either completely claim it as her own or abandon it. The stench of Shen was too great on the place and she didn’t want anything to do with the horrors he had indulged in on his quest to leave the rainbow sky hellscape.

This ship was a ship of horrors and Maya wanted to build her own.

But ships didn’t grow on trees. There was the Hanganathorie, but that sad girl (boy?) was never going to fly again. Too much damage and too many years in the dirt. Plus the Hangy was far too massive, a kilometer long and multi-leveled, it was a beast. Shen’s ship was not as large, but not small enough to feel comfortable within.

Goldilocks would understand, Maya thought as she thumbed through her tablet. Work with Zono had been completed faster than she thought possible. Being a worker monkey had its perks as Zono only trusted her with the most basic repairs and less sensitive areas. He was being shy about his origins and she couldn’t help but prod him on it. But the work was done and Zono had agreed she had fulfilled her side of the bargain.

Beginning whenever she decided to purchase things, she would be getting twenty a five percent discount on all material and minerals Zono carried. Technically, it was an agreement between the Sullivan Survival Society and not Maya herself. So Bell, Tender, and Nan could buy low priced material off of the barge.

The negotiations had been long, but they had agreed on it. Mostly due to Zono realizing that there was no other avenue to sell his material goods. She had money, not much anymore, but she still had credits to burn and Zono wasn’t going to reach his quarterly monetary goals and that would make the Tosmapa displeased, or something.

The subject of having him crawl into the dimensional cage had been brought up, but Maya had already discovered that the limit on the cage size was a hundred feet or about thirty three meters by thirty three meters, which Zono was far too big to be able to squeeze in.

Tender suggesting they cut off his barge parts was met with horrified silence and outrage.

Maya chewed on an emergency ration bar and sipped tepid water. She would have given her left hand again for a nice red wine and a greasy cheeseburger. She understood she could get Nan to make those things, using biomass and medical machinery, but they were ‘expensive’ in terms of biomass. The cheapest and easiest thing they could make were the waxy looking emergency rations that filled one up and kept a SIL alive.

A single bar could mean the difference between someone living and dying. That thought kept her from indulging in her vices. It kept her from just sitting in her holding cell room and not leaving, it kept her from-

Maya cursed. She drained her cup and picked up her ration bar, heading toward the bridge. It was too quiet. Those were the times when she began dwelling on things far too much.

She didn’t have to enter the bridge to talk with Veskari, the golem AI was everywhere on the ship. It could see and hear everything, but he was decent enough not to be intrusive. Maya wondered how an entire ship operated under that kind of surveillance. Captain Huvano must have had Veskari spy on everyone, to protect himself and just out of authoritarian slave owning habit.

“What’s the news, Vesky?” Maya asked.

“I await the hours until Yositari regains consciousness,” he said immediately.

Maya paused, chewing on her ration bar. “You guys knew one another before the whole trapped in a rainbow sky hellscape?”

“Yes. I was Captain Huvano’s personal golem, while Yositari and her people were Huvano’s personal attendants. We both served Huvano for many years, although Yositari’s life span is far shorter than mine.”

“Hmm.. Sounds horrid. What’s an attendant do?”

“They ensure that every need of their owner is taken care of.”

“Gross. No. I’m not asking about that, but… every need?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I’m gonna toss Huvano’s bones in a blender, grind it to a fine powder, then find a non-mutant cat to poop in them,” Maya declared.

“That would not be the most efficient use of his bones, Miss Maya Sullivan.”

“Just Maya. I don’t need titles or honorifics, I’m just a Texan girl trying to survive.”

“Alright, Maya. The remains of Tier 2 entities are highly sought after because of the concentration of mana within their bones. The higher the Tier 2’s levels, the more they are worth.”

“Oh?”

“They are used in some very high grade alchemy potions.”

“Wait, why didn’t Bell say anything about that? We were literally stepping over the shady doctor’s bones for weeks in the Hangy.”

“Unknown, maybe he didn’t know.”

“Right, because Bell is always shy about telling me what he does and does not know.” Maya shook her head, filing away the information. “Alright, now about the Shen’s Ship. What’s our ETA on blasting out of here.”

“Once some maintenance issues are resolved and a harness or grappling system created to carry Zono, we should be able to lift off in a matter of hours.”

“We’re all set?”

“Yes. The ship itself is not well maintained, but the systems are operational, the core is now producing the correct amount of power, and, although crude, the guidance system and thrusters on the ship are operational.”

Maya looked around the bridge. “We’re gonna need to build a captain’s chair too. What’s with everyone not having a captain’s chair?” Maya shook her head. “Make a note, Tender.”

“Noted, boss.”

Maya jerked in surprise. “Jesus, Tender. When did you arrive?”

“Just now.”

“Well, make some noise, son. Don’t go tip toeing around this ship, it’s probably haunted enough already.”

“Alright, boss.”

“What’s the haps, buddy? Need anything?”

“I found this,” Tender pulled something out of his dimensional bag. It was interesting watching him do it, it seemed the summoning to the hand thing was a common ability in all bags, not just dimensional inventories. Maya smiled at the thought and then frowned as she looked at the creature in Tender’s hand. “It had a note upon it, ‘Tender, this is your new pal, Pre-Tender. Get it?’.”

“Oh, right. The roach rogue AI.”

“Rogue AI!” Veskari cried out.

“Untwist your pearls, Vesky. This little buddy’s got their spine broke and is as much threat to you as a broken backed rogue AI.”

“That doesn’t-“ Veskari began.

“What am I supposed to do with this… Pre-Tender?” Tender held the roach up by a leg, with only a half a dozen eyes on his face, there was no telling what he was feeling, but Maya got the vibe that he was not pleased with the roach’s presence. Plus he was holding it as if it were something dirty.

“He’s your pal. Your bro. Your tag-along buddy.” Maya said.

“What does that mean?”

“I was thinking about the evolution of rogue AIs after we got to talking about the black goo. They created that stuff to exist in this place, pretty smart, right? Anyway, I had little Pre-Tender in my pocket for ages now, about two days actually. And I got to thinking, what if instead wiping the AI core and slapping on some shiny new code, we instead try to make the little dude learn like you’ve been learning. Maybe tweak the code a bit so they’re not a homicidal maniac?”

“This is a very, very bad plan,” Veskari said.

“I agree. We do no know the capabilities of this rogue AI. It may look injured, but it also may be planning nefarious deeds.”

“I don’t know, maybe a little TLC from their big brother, Tender, will make them see the error of their ways. Maybe all rogue AIs need is a little empathy, a little compassion, a little bit of meeting in the middle.”

“Unlikely.”

“Also, I totally forgot I left the little bugger at your work station. My bad. This noggin’ is getting a little frazzled these days.”

“You need to rest more.”

“I’ll rest when I’m dead, Tender. Plus, ugh, this ship gives me the creeps,” Maya stated.

“I do not know what to do with this rogue AI,” Tender said.

“Teach it. Tell it stuff. Tell it stories, tell it your hopes and dreams, tell it how to fix things and make moral decisions,” Maya said.

“Is it… is it a pet?” Tender asked.

Maya shrugged. “Roachy there is what they are. If they want to be something more, then they’ll be something more. But for now, just show it the ropes, don’t give it a functional body, but allow it to communicate.”

“It seems you are putting an unfair responsibility upon me, boss. Shall I question authority?”

“You can say no.”

“I feel you would not like it if I said no.”

“But you can say no.”

“I feel that by saying no, I will be disappointing you. Therefore I believe I am being emotionally forced to do something that I am not entirely comfortable doing…” Tender said.

“Oh, shit. I am being the bad guy here, aren’t I?” Maya said quickly. “Gimme Roachy, Tender. I’ll rear them up real good, I’ll call them my child, they shall carry my name, and I shall live vicariously through their exploits!” Maya picked up the roach AI and held it above her head in the imitation of a Disney movie. “You shall be named Roachy, er, no… Rochi? No, Roci, that’s way better. You are Roci Sullivan and I shall build you a kingdom!” Maya laughed, Tender seemed confused, and Veskari made a grunting noise.



Quest - A Promise Made

You have promised, Roci Sullivan, a kingdom. Provide one before your death. Due to your Tier 2 status, the created kingdom must be high grade, Tier 1 before death.

Rewards: Loot, EXP, System Boon, System Benefits.



“Oh, shit, Tender!” Maya cried, dropping Roci.

“Oh, shit, indeed,” Tender and Veskari replied in unison when she told them.


***


“Bell, how we looking at on those looted goods?” Maya asked into her tablet. Her hand was shaking and she was rapidly leaving the bridge. Tender watcher her go and picked up Roci from the floor.

“I wonder if I can get a kingdom too?” Tender pondered out loud.

“You’ll most likely have to marry into one,” Veskari said.

Tender looked down at the roach AI. Nothing had changed about it, but instead of it being labeled as Rogue AI NN4582A, it now named Roci Sullivan.

“Not my type,” Tender said looking at the rogue AI.

Veskari let out a squealing peal of laughter that caused Maya to stop as she stalked rapidly away from the bridge. She turned back and shuddered, rushing away once more.

Bell’s face was on the tablet screen, he gave a confused look at the noise and at Maya’s erratic grip on the tablet. Sometime over the last few days, Bell had begun using the tablet she had given him. Maya idly wondered what had lead him to give up his distaste for system tech. Regular Bell would have chucked the tablet and refused to admit it existed.

Maya shook her head and looked down at the tablet again. He was in bed, Nan’s orders still held him in the medical room until she was confident there were no lasting damage to him. It still shocked Maya somewhat to see his gaunt grayish face, Nan said he would regain color and vitality soon, but for now he was still weak and sick.

“I undervalued the price of the items when I said nine million, it’s looking close to eleven million. Although, there are three items where the enchantment is beginning to fail. If you can find someone to repair them, then they could be sold at full wholesale value. I have also decided to keep two items for myself.”

“Cool. More money in our pockets. As I don’t know anyone who can fix enchantments, I suppose we’ll just sell them as is.” Maya laughed hysterically and looked over her shoulder.

“Is something the matter?” Bell asked.

“What? No! Nothing! Just- Nothing!”

“Alright, Maya.”

“Is that Maya?” Nan’s voice said off screen.

‘Yes.”

“Inform her that Yositari is regaining consciousness.”

“Heard that, Nan. I’m detouring right now.” Maya glanced over her shoulder and picked up her pace.



/Author's Note:

I will be condensing and combining the previous two chapters, Core of the Problem and Black Goo, they touch upon the same-ish topic and I feel that it was too 'padded'. Therefore, a new chapter to cleanse the palate.

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Comments (7)
user avatar
User #13235254 - 23 Aug 20 02:42
I am really glad you made Maya watch her [Big Mouth] author. She is a [Tier-2] entity and [Stupid Jokes] come with [System Consequences].
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User #29921292 - 23 Aug 20 07:05
I hope we get sone actual trade soon
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User #3712562 - 22 Aug 20 14:05
Well shoot. She is gonna really need to take some time out of those hundreds of years stuck in the Rainbow Hellscape to teach little Roci how to be a reasonable ruler, as if he is gonna get a kingdom he needs to be a fair and just ruler. At least there shouldn't be any penalties if she fails since the criteria is just to get it a kingdom BEFORE she dies, so if she dies, no skin off her corpse.
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User #28785581 - 22 Aug 20 16:34
I bet Maya will find a way to recruit the Rogue AIs of the RSH and create an empire with Roci at the helm. Maybe teach Roci how to hack them and give them morality and non-genocidal urges? She could then strike a deal with System to have the AIs clean up its skin in exchange for benefits. Maya could then supply the multiverse with the products they make, primarily tech built in unorthodox and brutally resource-efficient ways by a "people" with no biological matter available and low levels of ambient mana to work with.
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User #13235254 - 23 Aug 20 02:40
Considering the System recognises [Souls], the System can enforce a [Soul Debt] if you die without satisfying a [System Contract] - especially one promised directly to the [System]. Sure you might be only reborn in a billion years - but the System can wait that long.
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User #9946352 - 23 Aug 20 03:47
I don't know; hacking a sentient AI seems wrong somehow. Might just be an organic hangup though.
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User #11691022 - 22 Aug 20 14:10
Thanks for the chappy:-)
B2-11 (Pt. 2) - Black Goo, Black Gold 2020-08-21T13:24:44+00:00


“Once, long ago a wise woman, living in a dark cave, hinted that I would gain fortune and salvation by defeating the dreaded Peacock Turtle,” Maya said as she, Tender, and Bell sat before a campfire.

They were in the virtual world, Maya had been driven to near insanity with the fire in her arms and had begged Nan to shove her into the VR system to escape it. It had worked, Maya wasn’t trying to tear off the cast to get to her hand and Bell and Tender had joined her to listen to her plans. They were in a copy of a campsite that Maya had visited during her teenage years. She wasn’t one for camping, but this tale required the right setting.

“You’re talking about Nanaseto, correct?” Tender surmised.

“Yes the demonic Nanaseto, carver of flesh, healer of wounds, breaker of hearts,” Maya said.

“I doubt she’s broken any hearts,” Bell responded.

“The way is dangerous,” Maya continued, “it is dark and it is filled with terrible monsters seeking your destruction, she told me. The dreaded Peacock Turtle lives in a poisoned land, it basks in the glow of mystical fire that injures all who approach it, yet it takes power from that fire.”

“The unshielded mana core,” Tender said.

“I know,” Bell muttered.

“Then she said something about ‘gens’ and I completely forgot about it after that.” Maya said.

“Veskari was totally awesome about putting down units of mana measurements for me. Anyway, this is what I learned. In the beginning, there is essence mana, the existence destroying force that the System goes out and fights in an endless battle that has spanned billions of years. The System then takes that essence mana and breaks it down into essence, the units that make up the multiverse, and mana, the units that powers everything in the multiverse. Of the two, mana is the one everyone has connection with, as it is what changes a SIL. Now essence is something that only higher Tiered SIL get to play with, as it’s the building blocks of the multiverse.

“The broken down mana becomes ambient mana or in Veskari’s words, protomana, from which is derived the ambient mana unit of measurement, promoa. This is just raw energy floating in the wind. Now, the background, ambient, levels of promoa are about the same everywhere, in the multiverse it’s about 500 promoa per cubic meter. Mana cores generally deplete the ambient mana in an area fairly quickly, but mana abhors a vacuum and therefore it tries to maintain a balance everywhere.

“Now we come to the mana cores. A Category V, or C5. mana core, like the Hangy’s core, is a middle of the road sized mana core. That type of core is designed to pull in about 1,000,000 promoa a minute within a 10,000 cubic meter area. Within the core the promoa (p) gets mande into generic mana, gens (g), the kind of mana machines use. Since it’s machine mana, it’s considered ‘lesser’ than the mana produced by biological entities. The conversion rate from promoa to gens is about 1000p to 1g. So a C5 core is sucking in about 100p per cubic meter, across 10,000 cubic meters, every minute. Which is turned into 1,000g a minute. That’s a lot, right? Wrong!

“You see because of weird mana magic laws, the more promoa that are on hand within the core, the more the of the ambient mana it is able to absorb. That means the base level of 100p a minute gets cranked up to 500p a minute, meaning the core will be sucking in 5,000,000p a minute producing 5,000g a minute. That’s 9,000,000g a standard day!

“This is not very interesting,” Bell said, looking bored.

“I also find it uninteresting,” Tender added.

“Your message said that you had obtained a breakthrough that could allow us to use the dimensional cage near infinitely. Yet, you’re telling us things we already know,” Bell added.

“Ease up there, pal. I’m covering my bases and recording this for posterity’s sake,” Maya turned ninety degrees from where she sat and spoke. “This is for you at home watching,” she said to empty air.

“What are you doing?” Bell asked.

“Breaking the fourth wall,” Maya replied.

“I do not understand,” Tender said.

“One day you will understand all, Tender. Just have patience.” Maya cleared her throat and turned back to the two. “Now we get to this dimensional plane and it’s weird lack of mana. From the scans Vesky ran, we’re looking at about 50p a cubic meter on average, not the multiverse standard of 500p. This makes the plane a mana desert.

“So, a weird thing happens when you have a full core and it’s pulling in the max amount of promoa from the air, if the mana isn’t drawn out the generic mana begins cannibalizing itself, the gens get torn back down to promoa, but then an even weirder thing happens. Instead of turning 1g into 1000p, it makes a tiny bit more promoa than it used to create the gen. No one knows where that extra promoa comes from, but it is created. It’s not essence mana because there is no essence mana here and the cores are still working like they should be.”

“I had not considered that,” Tender said. “All I understood was that the cores were working as they should be.”

“Well, Vesky is paying off dividends already with all his knowledge,”Maya said. “That extra promoa is being created by every one of the nine million gens being produced. They’re being torn back down and with every tear down, it’s producing a free 1 percent increase.

“Now as exponential increases go, this is scary. That original 1000p will be doubled within seventy tear downs and rebuilds. Then after another seventy cycles, it’ll double again. And again. And again. Until its producing so much generic mana that the sheer condensed power will create an unstable mana vortex that will destroy everything in a hundred kilometer radius, then all that generic mana will shower out like some horrid poison. Making life a serious hell for any low tiered suckers caught in its wake.

“But that rarely happens, mostly due to the fact that the core will blow before it reaches that critical event. There’s more math behind it, but the big deal is that a C5 core can create up to ten times what it says on the box. Instead of a simple 9Mg a day, it’ll be producing 90Mg a day. That’s how these cores are able to power a big ole space ship.

“The common multiverse consensus is to run a core at eighty percent of capacity, any higher and you’re looking at the risk of boomy-boom-booms. This is where mana batteries come into play, they pull the generic mana off the top and store it, allowing the core to run at eighty percent. “

“Why are you telling us all of this?” Bell asked.

“Because I’m getting to the good part. Mana batteries are a safety valve and that means somewhere on the Hangy is a giant ass mana battery.”

“Ah,” Tender said.

“I’m not talking about those heavy ass emergency batteries, I’m talking about one that can store all the energy created by a C5 core. That’s a lot of battery there.”

“Would it not have been corrupted by mana?” Bell asked. “As what occurred to the emergency mana batteries.”

“These big ole batteries are meant to be the real power source behind the ship’s function. Once they’re fully charged, they’re supposed to power everything. Mana cores are just supposed to be used to collect mana, not store it.”

Everyone was quiet as they digested that bit of information.

“Then that would mean…”

“Yup. We were totally using the cores wrong. Veskari was correct in saying that it was bordering on criminal mismanagement. We have been draining the entire core every time we opened a threshold, to the point where it had to start all the way back from effectively zero.”

“Meaning that it’s been relying on only ambient mana to recharge itself.”

“Yeah, apparently there needs to be a ‘critical mass’ that allows the core to tear down the gens and gain that little boost. Just as the cores were reaching that point, we pull the plug and drain the whole thing to get back to Earth. We should have been letting the cores run hot and then pulling the excess into mana batteries, which then we would use to power the cage. We have just been doing what Shen did and that guy was a total moron when it came to engineering.”

‘That’s all well and good, but why the big explanation?” Bell asked.

Maya grinned. “I have a plan.” She looked to Tender.

“She has a plan,” Tender said in a ‘spooky’ voice.

Bell frowned.

“We have six awesome crafted mana batteries.. We have three C5 cores that can charge two of those bad boys up to full. There is some weird efficiency loss when changing raw gen mana into stored mana, but no biggie.

“Veskari said that the cores were competing for promoa because they were too close together. A C5 core needs a good 10,000 cubic meters of free space around it to work effectively. By having all these cores clustered together, we’ve been hampering them.”

“I think the reason Shen didn’t have any batteries or a set up to collect excess mana is because he didn’t open these thresholds that often. Well, he couldn’t but he was trying to brute force them open using the cores, which burned out the mana channels on all the poor people he captured. Veskari also found logs that showed he was just releasing mana when it got to dangerous levels.”

“What does this all mean?” Bell asked.

Maya grinned again. “Those mana batteries we found, they can hold 20Mg of mana. A fully operational C5 core will be producing 90Mg a day! Well, theoretically.”

“Theoretically?” Bell frowned again.

“Low mana in this dang place. We’re getting 50p a cubic foot, not 500p. So technically a fully operational C5 core would be making 9Mg a day in the RSH,” Maya said.

“RSH?” Bell asked.

“Rainbow Sky Hellscape.” Maya said.

“Right…”

“There’s also something weird about the dirt here. The ambient mana saturation is a lot lower in the dirt, so we’ve been kicking ourselves in the butt by burying the cores. Which is weird, because in the multiverse, ambient mana levels are pretty much standard everywhere, even inside of a star’s core. The only place it really changes are around Tier 2 point of contact worlds and naturally occurring mana saturated areas.

“With Tier 2 POC worlds, you’re looking at anywhere between ten to a hundred times the ambient mana in the place. It’s wild out there, but this far into Integration it hasn’t stabilized yet. This is where my awesome plan comes into play,” Maya grinned. “We’re gonna charge up those batteries, then we’re gonna build us a black goo mana net.”

Bell sighed. “What now?”

“There is an abundance of rogue AIs here, they all have this black goo inside of them that is a kind of combo mana battery and passive mana collector. These are attached to a condenser and thereby creating a workaround mana core. It’s a pretty ingenious adaptation by the rogue AIs. The black goo is not efficient nor is it powerful, but it’s free generic mana.”

Maya stood up and waved her hands, the scene changed from the campsite to her standing in an empty gray dirt void. Above them was a rough image of a net of cloth and metal that stretched for kilometers.

“I present to you, the Black Goo Mana Net!” Maya announced.

“I don’t get it,” Bell said.

“According to Nan, we can create durable tubes out of the duracloth. Whole miles of them. From what Tender and I discovered, the rogue AI black goo looks like liquid, feels like liquid, but it really isn’t a liquid. It doesn’t freeze, boil, or evaporate. It’s a mixture of mana stones and eleven herbs and spices.”

Maya waved her hands again and they were standing in the dark void of space, below them lazily spun Earth.

“My plan is to create a few miles of the black goo net and then attach it to a mana core. Then we fly up overtop of Earth and chuck that core out the front door.”

“So that you can take advantage fo the higher ambient mana levels?” Bell asked.

“Righto, buddy. The thing with C5 cores is that they can only go up to 10k cubic meters, but if you attach a mana net, which is a thing, they can get up to 30k cubic meters to draw from, meaning they’re tripling the amount of ambient mana they’re pulling in. Therefore… instead of 90Mg, It’ll be 270Mg a friggin’ day! That’s 9Mg an hour! That’s what one of these cores produces in a day, in this place.”

Bell raised an eye ridge.

“This solves a lot of our problems. There’s no scary rogue AIs in space around Earth, there are currently no space whales in our universe, and the high concentration of mana in the area could be ten times what is considered normal. So, instead of 270Mg, it could be 2700Mg! Or even more! Actually it can’t be any more than 350Mg a day, otherwise the core will burn itself out and nasty boomy-boom-booms occur. So, we’re looking at maybe a 350Mg or nearly 12Mg an hour. That would mean one of the crafted batteries will be charged in less than 2 hours, or just a bit under 21 hours RSH time.”

Bell perked up at that.

“Looking at the data, we’re burning nearly 2Mg an hour to keep the cage operational. So if we toss both cores out there, that’ll free us of the fear of them being snapped up by rogue AIs and it will also charge up two whole crafted mana batteries every 21 hours. Which can then be used to power the cage.”

“But the two charged batteries will only produce 20 hrs of cage time,” Bell said.

“Well, see according the newly organized and correlated data from Veskari, we only really need about 16Mg to open the threshold, any fewer gens and it’ll not form. We’ve been waiting for it to reach 40Mg before opening the gateway, which gave us twenty hours to play around in the multiverse.

“For the time being, we’ll be only doing short hops back to the multiverse. Less than eight hours, which will be about forty minutes MVT.”

“Multiverse time?” Tender asked.

“Got it in one, buddy. Using the minimum amount of time needed, we can hop into Earth space and collect the charged mana batteries. Reset them and start all over again. Then we build up a stockpile of all six of them, maybe also put together all the mana batteries we’ve been able to salvage, find the big one in Hangy and then we’ll have oodles of time back in the multiverse, enough that we don’t even have to close the gateway, we’ll just be collecting mana from the goo network. Perhaps if we build a big enough goo network, we won’t have to use cores anymore. It may be inefficient and slow, but the black goo doesn’t require mana channeling to create. Plus, y’know, space is huge.”

“How easy is it to create the black goo?” Bell asked.

“Just mana stones and some other ingredients. Tender ran an analyst on it to see what’s needed and it looks doable. Zono’s got all the stuff we’ll need packed away in his dimensional storage, all we need to do is… buy it. If we can create the black goo, we’ll be able to make a knock-off mana battery. No Tier 2 machinery or arcane knowledge needed. If it’s good enough for rogue AIs, it’s good enough for us.”

“Rogue AIs created the black goo?” Bell asked.

“Yup. But before you say ’Tis evil, this black goo’, it’s really not. It’s just black goo. Nothing roguish or evil about it.”

“I wasn’t going to say that,” Bell said.

“Really?”

“Yes.”

Really?”

“I have a question. If the C5 core needs 10,000 cubic meters of space and if the promoa concentration around Earth is ten times what normal ambient mana is, why would you need the black goo net?”

Maya paused. “Uh…”

“If the promoa concentration around Earth is say… 5000p a cubic meter, then that would mean the cores would be producing…. 90Mgs, which will actually be 900Mg a day. As a C5 core, it can only produce 350Mg a day. So why the black goo net?”

“You’re right, in Earth’s ambient mana saturation, it might not be needed. But in any other place, the black goo would be a major boon. It’s collecting and creating mana, but it’s also extending the range of the C5 core.

“We probably should just toss out the cores over Earth, but long term the black goo is a mana collection and storage device. From Tender’s analyst on it, it can store up to 40,000g per liter, with the tube size, we’ll be needing about a liter for every twenty square meters. So if we create a twenty thousand square meter net, it will be able to store up to 40Mg. That could also act as a stabilizer for the mana cores, drawing off what is needed or supplying extra gens to keep it running at peak efficiency. Plus, we’ll always need more power. We’re gonna be expanding our base of operations soon, once I get that Economic Module Token spent. ”

“So this is what you have been spending the last four hours doing?” Bell smiled.

“The VR is pretty cool these days, with my Tier upgrade, my lack of mana channels, it’s not so much headache, brain destroying craziness as it once was. I’m starting to like it in here. Plus the last forty hours of VR time has been spent figuring out how to manufacture the tubes we’re gonna need. We won’t need much, just a small dab of black goo per meter, but it’s still gonna be a lot if we’re looking at creating forty thousand square meters of netting.”

“Indeed.”

“That brings up another thing.”

“What’s that?” Bell asked.

“We’re gonna need to become Vampires, the creatures of the night, the terror of the Rogue AI! Until we can begin production on our own, of course.”

“You want to drain rogue AIs of the black goo?” Bell asked.

“Yup. You down for some exsanguination?”

“I am,” Tender said.

“That feels wrong, somehow,” Maya muttered. “But we still have some stuff to do. I’m putting going back to Earth on hold for a few days, we’ll charge up two batteries, move the cores so they aren’t hampering one another, begin production on the black goo tubes, patch up the parts of Zono he needs fixing, salvage the rogue AIs we have on hand to collect goo and parts, then, “ Maya sighed, “then we move the ship to the Hangy. That’s where the real fun begins.”

“That’s a lot of work,” Bell said.

Maya grinned. “Stay busy or… I don’t know… stay in bed?”

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Comments (5)
user avatar
User #11691022 - 21 Aug 20 14:12
Thanks for the chappy! Don't wanna be a downer but I gotta admit I skipped about 90%. Reason is I'm not really interested in "indepth" pseudo science, nothing really you can take away from there to apply somewhere else, unless it's basic math, nor does it enrich the story for me since I know as well as anyone that if the author says the sky is ultraviolet, that's what it is.
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alexclaw - 22 Aug 20 13:11
True, but I had to make up some pseudo science to make it more 'real' and whatnot. I suspect i'll combine this chapter with the other.
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User #11691022 - 22 Aug 20 13:28
For coherency and logical foundation it's very commendable to do so. But as a reader or even for my fellow scientists I wouldn't bother telling them the minutia. The cliff notes suffice, summed up in 3-5 sentences.
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User #28785581 - 21 Aug 20 18:36
Thanks for the chapter! I was honestly expecting the black goo to be taken in a whole other direction than what is shown here. I thought Maya would want to disseminate the recipe across Earth so that the supposedly cheap mana battery/generator could be used by humans as replacements for these otherwise inaccesible and expensive Sys-tech components that are key to development post-integration. Maya could manufacture it en-masse and sell it along with some useful basic sys-tech gadgets like food processors, manufacturing modules and turrets to the others, right?
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alexclaw - 22 Aug 20 13:11
In due time, for now it's powering the cage that's the main priority.
B2-11 - The Core of the Problem 2020-08-19T13:50:44+00:00


“Have you actually taken the time to examine the ship in your possession?” Veskari asked as Maya, Tender, and Bell entered the bridge of Shen’s ship.

Maya paused. “I know that tone. Mother used to use it a lot. I did something wrong.”

“I’m asking this as nicely as I can, but did you even try to figure out how to use this ship?” Veskari asked again.

Maya cast a glance at Bell who shrugged and Tender was silent.

“Uh… I was pretty busy. Saving mankind and all that.”

Veskari gave a sigh, which was impressive seeing as he had no lungs and was a golden orb that had been plugged into the ship. His voice came out of hidden speakers about the bridge.

Maya looked around the bridge of Shen’s ship, she really needed to come up with a better name than that. It wasn’t as if the thought never occurred to her, but it was still Shen’s ship, it wasn’t hers. It was his. The vessel had been the place of many horrors and if there were such things as ghosts, this place would be ground zero.

Maya rubbed her head with her metal cast. She had only seven hours left in her regrow, but she was already tiring of the metal block. She could feel her hand itching underneath it and Nan stated it would only get worst. How much worst? She didn’t know, but it would get real bad. More joyous things to look forward to.

“Give it to me straight, Vesky. Don’t sugarcoat it for me. I’m a big girl wearing my big girl pants.”

“You are severely under utilizing this ships systems and even the cores in your possession.”

“Hmmm… not bad,” Maya said.

“Your inefficiency in the use of this ship borders on criminal mismanagement.”

“That hurts.” Maya flinched. “Food, shelter, saving mankind, fending off rogue AIs, and trying to learn all this system tech stuff from only a couple of knowledge cubes and manuals is time consuming. I didn’t get a user manual on how to run the ship at optimal levels.”

“I begin to understand that,” Veskari said.

“So what’s wrong?”

“In short, everything. The ship’s core is only running at a quarter of its power, the weapons systems and defense systems haven’t been activated even after the rogue AI attack, there are numerous maintenance issues that are beginning to become serious threats, and for the three mana cores, you are seriously hampering their collection of ambient mana.”

“Keep explaining, please.”

“You know what ambient mana is?”

“Of course. Magic space particles that get chomped on by everyone in the multiverse.”

Veskari sighed. “From the readings I’ve taken and what I remember of the multiverse at large, this dimensional plane has about one tenth of the ambient mana that exists in the rest of the multiverse.”

“Yeah, everyone’s been saying the mana’s on the low side here,” Maya said.

“There is very low mana in this whole plane and you have three Category V mana cores within less than a kilometer from one another.”

“Keep your cores close; keep your cores safe.”

“You realize mana cores condense ambient mana, right?”

“That’s what people have said, yes.”

“I think she’s trying to lead you to an answer, boss,” Tender said.

“I get that. I’m just not getting what she’s trying to say.”

Veskari sighed again. “With the low ambient mana and three Cat V cores in one area, they are actively competing against one another to recharge themselves. You say that it takes five standard days to recharge the cores, if they were correctly placed and not competing against one another, you could cut down that time to less than two standard days.”

Maya chewed on the information and turned to Bell and Tender. “Did you guys know this?”

“I just woke up,” Bell said.

“I do not have information on mana cores at my disposal,” Tender replied.

“But you both know about cores and such, right? Not from actual studying of them, but from general osmosis of knowledge kind of stuff.”

“I just woke up.”

“I do not-“

“Yeah,” Maya frowned. She turned to face Veskari’s core and rubbed her head. “Well, setting out a core all by it’s lonesome is not going to happen,” she said. “We might as well batter them up and deep fry them because all the damned rogue AIs are gonna show up hankering for a slice of that core.”

“I understand that, I’m just stating the facts as I see them.”

“Right. Can we shut down two of the cores and let one do it’s recharge thing?” Maya asked.

“Shutting down a core is a difficult process, it will still be absorbing ambient mana at a lesser rate, but then it will have to undergo a restarting sequence that could take an entire standard day.”

“Right, gotta keep that boiler hot,” Maya tapped her hand on her cast. “Well, shit. Maybe we can just hop around the plane with the cores dangling out there.”

“That would not be advisable,” Veskari stated.

“Yeah, no shit.” Maya sighed. “Let me think on this. We need the two cores to open the threshold. It’s a weird thing, we’re not actually drawing mana when the threshold is opened, but the mana cores still need to be there. Once the dimensional bridge is built and the cage is active, then it begins drawing mana. The more mana we got on hand, the longer we can keep the bridge open and connected. We need more cores.”

“We have Big Snake’s core,” Tender said. “It is a small one, comparable to the pub core.”

Maya smirked, just a few weeks ago it was the pub mana core that had been the only thing keeping them alive. Now they were swimming in cores, but those same cores were emptying the pool of ambient mana they were wading in.

“What about the mana batteries powering the stasis pod?” Bell asked. “I have seen their like, very expensive and long lasting. They can be recharged, yes?”

“Of course. Nan has removed the stasis pod from the battery power source and has connected it to the ship’s core. A much stable energy source,” Veskari stated. “To recharge a single one of those batteries will require the collected mana of one and a half of these Cat V cores.”

“Really?” Maya was amazed. “There’s six of those bad boys, so you’re saying they’ll suck up nine full mana cores?”

“Yes.”

Maya began chuckling. “Hey, Tender. How long do you think you’d be able to run off of one of those batteries at full charge?”

Tender paused for a second. “Twenty two standard years.”

“What about one of those mechas with a beam gun strapped to it?”

“Forty standard years.”

“Two beam guns?”

“Twenty three standard years.”

Maya grinned. “Four beam guns?”

“Eight standard years.”

“Daily battles like the one we fought yesterday?”

“Seven standard weeks.”

“You drive a hard bargain, Tender. But I think you got me sold on the idea.”

“Boss?”

“I’m sorry to interrupt, but Yositari is ready to be removed from the statsis gel,” Nan’s voice came through the comms.

Maya grinned.”Oh, man. I wanna see this.”

***

“So a full core isn’t drawing on ambient mana?” Maya asked as the trio walked into the medical room.

“It still draws in ambient mana, but at a very reduced rate. Mana cores always draw in mana, regardless if they are at capacity or shut down. Yet if one core is fully charged, the ambient mana available for other cores increases,” Veskari responded. His golem core was still on the bridge, but he was also within the ship itself. Therefore he could see, hear, and respond to anything asked of him. A bit creepy, but Maya ignored it for the time being.

“We can do a half charge on these batteries, right?”

“Yes, but doing so will eventually corrupt the battery.”

“Of course.”

Nanaseto was in her holographic form and standing over Yosi’s pod. There were an array of machinery and devices stacked around the pod. Even with her Evaluation Skill she couldn’t identify more than half of them.

“Yositari will not awaken once she is removed,” Nan began. “Consciousness will be a slow process, her body has slight damage, but long term stasis also comes with its own set of problems. Especially if one has been under for over twenty thousand standard years.” Nan moved around the pod and began manipulating tools to remove the transparent covering of the tube. A series of mechanical arms dropped down from the ceiling, a brief memory came to Maya as she had seen similar arms in the Hanganathorie.

Maya and Bell took a seat on a bed and watched, while Tender sat by the door, seemingly staring off into space. She couldn’t see Veskari, but she could almost feel a palpable presence in the room, watching everything and waiting with bated breath.

“Ease up, Vesky. Nan’s the best, plus she’s from your neck of the woods. She’s got this,” Maya said.

“I do not question the AI Nanaseto’s abilities, I only worry about complications,” Veskari’s voice responded.

There was a soft pop and one of the machine arms hanging down from the ceiling removed the glass plate from the tube. A smell like disinfectant filled the room as the small dinosaur looking creature was exposed. Maya peered at the figure with interest, seeing that its body was encased in the gel like substance.

From the quick manual download she found on the stasis pod, Maya knew that the gel’s main component was the blood of some kind of space whale. Dangerous to obtain, but also highly sought after for its wide range of usage.

“Are these space whales being hunted to extinction?” Maya asked.

It was Veskari who answered. “There are multiple types of creatures that produce the specialty ingredients to create stasis gel,” he said.

“It’s not about the animal itself,” Bell said. “It’s about the mana trace that makes up the creature. It’s the reason that on any world one can find the ingredients to make healing potions and other alchemical items, the plant or creatures involved in creating those items doesn’t matter, only their mana trace.”

“Ah.” Maya said. “So there could be space whales like this in my universe?”

“From what I understand,” Veskari began, “it is difficult for pre-Integrated life to evolve in the vacuum of space. Therefore newly integrated worlds tend to not have the diversity of space faring lifeforms as older established Integrated universes.”

“So no space whales?” Maya frowned.

“Doubtful. Although that does mean your universe is currently a much safer place to travel around in, older Integrated universes tend to be… rich in life,” Veskari stated.

“They’re a bloody nuisance,” Zono’s voice suddenly butted in.

“Hey, I thought you were busy fixing yourself?”

“I got the message that the little Tari was getting pulled out of her tube,” Zono said. “But let me tell you, space creatures are a nightmare. Whole fleets get wiped out by them, whole wars had to grind to a halt because some migratory creatures were passing through a star system. Not to mention that the damage they can cause to a living world too.”

“The Sword of the Universe is on a constant campaign to eliminate the larger instances of space faring creatures, to keep our nation’s trade routes open,” Tender state from the door. “I hear it is a intensive process, but also provides the Sword of the Universe with experience points needed for them to grow.”

Maya chewed on the information and watched intently as Nan began to clear away the gel with her mechanical arms. They moved with efficient dexterity about the body, chipping away at the harden gel and at the same time not touching her body.

“At this stage,” Nan said, “the body is very fragile. The gel had hardened and caused some molecular changes to the skin exposed to the gel. It can tear, rip, or shred easily. Therefore patience and care is required to remove it.”

“Can the gel be used again?” Maya asked.

“Perhaps in the unused stasis pods, but this gel has been active for too long now. Within another thousand standard years, it would have degraded until it could not keep the SIL in suspended animation.”

Everyone remained quiet and watched after that. The room held an expectant breath as they watched Nan chip away at the gel. Small flakes fell to the deck where another arm immediately sucked them up. As half of the body was freed, another machine rose down from the ceiling and clamped down over Yosi’s face. Lights began blinking and Nan allowed them access to the holographic monitor that she could see.

Maya grimaced at the detailed image of a series of microscopic tubes tunneling into Yosi’s lungs, heart, and other organs. This process had required some Tier 2 tech and Maya watched with sick fascination as organs were rebuilt on the fly. After a long moment the heart gave a jerk and stuttered, a moment later it began beating.

Yosi’s body then jerked to life, the small alien’s back arched and it’s inverted legs kicked out, the eyes opened up and wide violet eyes frantically rolled around.

“She is not awake,” Nan stated calmly. “This is a body’s normal reaction.”

Maya felt sick as she watched Yosi thrash and shudder on the table. The little creature gave out a shrill screech through the mask covering her face. Bell looked horrified and after a moment he left the room.

“Let him process,” Nan stated as Maya got up to follow him. “Your intervention will only hinder.”

Maya frowned, but sat back down. Nan did know best.

What followed was another half hour of Yosi jerking, shuddering, and occasionally letting out strangled cries of pain. It looked horrible, but Nan stated Yosi wasn’t really feeling anything. Her brain was still ‘asleep’ and would need some repairs for her to gain full functionality.

Maya sighed, feeling slightly sick. “Tell me when she’s out of the gel,” she said. “I need… I need to do something.”

“Return in five hours to get your cast removed.” Nan said as she was in the process of peeling off dead skin on Yosi. “I should be done in another hour.”

“Right,” Maya said and hurriedly left the room. Tender followed. Even Zono had left, mumbling about needing to do his own repairs.

***

“So this black goo is like your blood, right?” Maya asked as she tried to take her mind off what she had seen by tearing chunks out of Big Snake. It was different when it wasn’t a flesh and blood creature, she told herself.

“Blood is not the correct term, it is a conductive gel that enables mana to be used in areas of high need. It passively collects ambient mana, but at a very slow rate.”

Maya paused with those words. “But its made by all rogue AIs, right?”

“From what little information I have on rogue AIs that exist in the multiverse, they do not have this ‘black goo’. I believe it is an evolutionary adaptation to the low ambient mana of this plane. The ‘black goo’ helps in harnessing ambient mana, it also allows the rogue AI to ‘inject’ its stored mana into needed areas, weapons, motors, etc.”

“But it’s made by rogue AIs?”

“Yes.”

“Can we make it?”

“I do not know. The ‘black goo’ I have been using in my forms comes from the collected remains of our defeated foes,” Tender held up a bucket that was filled with black goo.

Maya looked at the bucket and looked at Tender. She suddenly realized she hadn’t been paying all that much attention to things when she had helped rebuild his body after the battle with Shen. She had been mostly following his orders on where to put what and what to do, the fight having weighed heavily on her mind at the time.

“We have the rogue AI manufacturing module,” Maya said. The manufacturing module had been the possession of either the Peacock Turtle AI or the Rat AI, it had been found in the engineering section of the ship and had been used to make components and craft items needed by the rogue AIs. “Can we make more of this black goo?”

“It is a combination of mana stones and various other ingredients,” Tender said. “I believe the rogue AIs have been crushing up mana batteries, mixing them with other things, and creating this black goo.”

“Its like rogue AI alchemy?” Maya grinned.

“I suppose.”

“Does the black goo have to be pumped, connected to a power source or anything? Or can it just hang out and collect mana.”

“Ah, I see what you are getting at,” Tender said. “In essence the ‘black goo’ is like a mana battery, but one that can collect mana at the same time as storing it. It is not a mana core, although it may seem like it, for it is not actively pulling in ambient mana; it is just absorbing what it comes in contact with in a passive manner. Very inefficient and very slow.”

“But if we get mana stones and figure out how these things are being made, we can create more of this black goo, right?”

“I would think so.”

Maya rubbed her cast and smiled. “Tell me, Tender. Are there places in the multiverse that have higher than normal ambient mana?”

Tender paused as he thought. “Of course, mana is not distributed evenly across the multiverse. Especially newly Integrated worlds, especially Point of Contact worlds.”

Maya grinned even more. “What’s the general level of mana in a Point of Contact world?”

“I do not know, especially this early into Integration. I would imagine that it would be very high.”

Maya rubbed her cast again. “I got an idea,” she said.

“I believe I see where you are going,” Tender replied.

She rubbed her cast again, grimacing. “Aw, shit. I think the Itch is starting,” she said. She suddenly gasped in pain as her left hand felt like it caught on fire. It wasn’t an itch, it was a searing burning sensation that traveled up her arm.

“Holy shit, that hurts!”

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Comments (3)
user avatar
User #34671248 - 20 Aug 20 05:24
Waiting to see how will the little sleeper will be... Want a "cute little sister" type for Maya do cuddle 😋
user avatar
User #14398202 - 19 Aug 20 14:44
Sp worst --> worse
user avatar
User #29555256 - 20 Aug 20 07:20
I groaned as soon as I saw the Pun in the title
B2-10 - Board Meeting II 2020-08-18T13:48:23+00:00


“You appear to be injured,” Bell said.

“Eh, what’s a little dislocated knee, fractured ribs, and probably a concussion these days?” Maya grimaced as Bell’s larger upper arm grabbed her by the hand and pulled her up. There was a lot of pain burning through her leg and she looked down to see the black armor had taken more damage.

“One of these days, I’m going to come out of a fight without any injuries. All of this for a measly two thousand experience points.”

“I got half of that,” Bell said.

Maya looked up at the blue man and smiled. He looked different now, before he had been a large man with long metallic golden hair that reached down his back. But now… after Shen… Bell was about half of the man he used to be. His skin was more gray than blue and his once brilliant yellow eyes were dulled; Shen had shaved the golden locks off his head and implanted metal spikes to force his mana channels to regrow. The process, according to Nan was barbaric.

She looked at him and saw the faint scars up his bare arms and on his head. The hair was starting to grow back, but the scars would remain. Even Nan couldn’t fix that.

“You’re alive, that’s all that matters,” Bell said.

Maya pushed herself with her good leg and grabbed Bell in a bear hug. She smashed her cracked faceplate against his chest and let out a sob.

***

“Normally someone with this many injuries in so little time would be cause for concern,” Nanaseto stated as she looked over her injuries.

Bell had half dragged, half carried her back to the ship, after they had checked on Tender, Bonita, and Zono. Tender was functional, enough that he could make it back to the ship under his own power. Bonita was trashed. The motor was destroyed and the truck was mostly wreckage. It was a tearful farewell to the vehicle that had served her for so long. Zono was fine, damaged but fine. He was in a surly mood and refused to communicate with her until he got his leg fixed, which he could do himself, but would require her assistance on the other smaller repairs that were needed.

Big Snake’s last gasp of vengeance was destroying the mana lock Maya had left out in the open. The mechas that had been charging her had reactivated and in the time it took Bell to shoot Big Snake’s dangling AI core, they had smashed the mana lock to bits. The only fortunate thing was that the mana battery had survived.

It was a big loss, Maya understood. They only had the one and now they were screwed if they had to fight another big bad enemy, which was looking like it was going to be happening sooner than later.

“’Tis but a flesh wound, Nan. I’ve gotten worse slinging burgers.” Maya grinned, but Nan refused to return a smile. The medical AI hologram moved about silently and looked her over.

Bell was back in the medical room. Carrying her around and all the fighting and chaos that had erupted when he found out what was happening had put a lot of strain on him. He wasn’t back to full health, yet, but he was making good recovery. Nan informed Maya that physically he would be fine, but mentally…

What Bell had endured at the hands of Shen wasn’t just torture, it was defilement of a horrendous kind. He had stripped Bell of his free will and turned him into a puppet. He had made him say and enact horrible things, all the while the real Bell couldn’t do anything but watch. It was something Maya could only shudder at, the lost of all her bodily control.

A SIL didn’t just rebound from that kind of treatment, it didn’t matter how many levels they had or how high their Mental stats were; trauma was still trauma and the only way to get through it was by working it out.

Maya was thankful for the doctor’s lack of patient confidentiality, in the Nerigana Consortium that didn’t exist. If one was a higher or equal rank, they were allowed access to all medical files about someone. As Maya had declared them all partners and equals, the information sharing was open to everyone.

“After going over the data from Maria’s group and familiarizing myself with the equipment on board, I believe that I can reduce the amount of time needed to regrow your hand,” Nan stated.

“Awesome.”

“It will take bout twenty two hours, currently. We have replenished much of our biomass supply and as Shen was an avid dabbler in biological manipulation, there are plenty of tools.”

Maya shuddered at the last part. Shen wasn’t just interested in biological manipulation, the sick Necro had ripped apart SIL and rebuilt them, all so that they could use a cobbled together system tech mana channel device. It allowed his Fractured zombies to use a tiny portion of the mana they once were able to channel, but the process was horrific and made what had been done to Bell seem like a nice shoulder rub.

“You get to chat with Veskari?” Maya asked. Tender had volunteered to retrieve their cargo after he had stopped his leaks and fixed his legs. As there was no one else up to the job, Maya gave her blessings and hoped there were no more rogue AIs wandering about looking for a free meal.

“I have looked at the information provided by the stasis pod,” Nan said. “It appears this Tari is still alive, but due to the length of time spent in the stasis pod, it will take days or weeks for them to fully recover. Right now that is only an estimation, more information will be determined once the Tari is removed from the gel.”

“Tari? Seriously, Nan? She’s got a name.”

“Yositari, then.”

“Don’t tell me they programmed some prejudice in you?”

“On a hierarchy of concern, a Tari rates low compared to a true SIL,” Nan stated.

Maya groaned. “Yeah, change that. Tari, Kari, Seto, Rogue, AI, we’re all the same around here. We all deserve to be treated as full individuals, not ranked. Got it?”

“I understand,” Nan said after a long pause. The demonic doctor nodded to her and wandered off.

“Wait…” Maya said, but Nan had vanished. “What about my hand?”

***

“I’m calling this meeting to order. The second Sullivan Survival Society meeting,” Maya banged her metal encased left hand upon the bed she sat in.

She was still in the medical room on Shen’s ship. Nan had left and started the process to regrow her hand. It was an odd thing, watching a skeletal hand being formed in a vat of liquid. Maya was fascinated by the whole thing.

She immediately asked if Nan could grow her a steak or some barbecue chicken wings.

“It’s a waste to use such high grade devices for something so common as food,” was her only reply. It also turned out she needed the DNA from the animal if she wanted to grow a piece of it. It was a shame Maya had consumed all the food items she had been transported over with. Even the giant can of cream corn had been choked down. Save not; regret it later.

Once the hand was about eighty percent complete, it had been removed from the liquid vat and a large metal cast had been placed on her arm and another machine went to work. The rest of the procedure and the majority of the time required was regrowing her nerve endings and making sure her mana channels weren’t disrupted. As she didn’t have mana channels, Maya had asked if it could be sped up and she had been answered with a firm ‘no’.

Bell occupied the bed beside her and looked bemused at the sight. Tender was back and he had been enacting repairs on himself, so he only looked half melted. Veskari had been attached to a speaker so that he could speak with everyone and not only in her head. Zono was also present, given permission to access the ship’s communications array and produce his holographic image in the medical room. Nan had decided she didn’t want to share the holo projectors and opted to use her robotic body.

“What is the meaning of this?” Zono demanded. “I have repairs to do, no thanks to you.”

“Chill out, big guy,” Maya said. She lifted her encased left hand. “Once this ole girl is back in action, I’ll be all up your business with two hands. You’ll be begging me to give you a break.”

Zono grunted.

“Alright, meeting’s started. Nan will be in charge of taking minutes and I’ll be in charge of the agenda,” Maya cleared her throat. “I’ll get to the crux of the matter, first. We’re fucked. Not royally fucked, but still fucked. “

“Oh, dear,” Veskari muttered.

“Oh, dear indeed.” Tender added.

“How… fucked?” Bell asked.

“I’ve been perusing the data from the ship’s sensors. That bad boy has been running since before we left…”

“She would not take my recommendation of resting,” Nan added.

Maya glared at the medical AI. “Anyway, two things caught my eye in the sensor data. The mana cores we got buried aren’t shielded enough, but that’s not the main problem, the bigger issue is that every time we open the dimensional threshold, it blasts out a mana signal everywhere. It’s like screaming at the top of your lungs in a quiet amphitheater. That signal travels and it’s saying, ‘buffet is open, boys and girls’. We’ve opened the threshold in this area three times already, that’s a lot of noise we’ve put out into the rainbow sky hellscape. I’m not sure if every rogue AI knows what it means, but I’m more than positive that some of those dicks will come sniffing around.”

“Secondly, Big Snake, with his dying breath, sent out a communication signal to someone. I don’t know who the recipient was or what it means, but blasting a comm signal is not a good thing. Especially when it involves rogue AIs, no offense Tender.”

“None taken, boss.”

“Thirdly, besides being semi fucked, we’re also just spinning our wheels here.”

The room was quiet as they waited for her to explain.

“I cam tot his rainbow sky hellscape with a food truck and a dream, over the course of the last two months I’ve killed a lot of things and eventually got this shiny new ship and a gateway back to the multiverse. That was two weeks ago, I haven’t leveled, I haven’t gained more than a handful of Abilities and no Skills. Two weeks and I’ve just been spinning my wheels, trying to choke down the shit that Shen put me through and also the realization that Earth is getting hammered by Integration.”

Maya lifted up her left hand. “I made some really fucked up decisions. I was stupid, I was still reeling from everything that has happened. I’m not saying I’m better now, I don’t know if I can get better, but I need to start working on everything else.”

Maya sighed and looked at the gathered people “Half of you are new here, I’m glad you’re here and I’m glad you’ve taken the time to listen through this. I didn’t want to be a leader, I didn’t want to be involved in trying to save the human species, but here I am. That responsibility is on my shoulders now and I need to stop fucking around.

“We need to move this ship.”

There was a murmur of noise.

“Is that wise?” Bell asked.

“Probably not, but we need to get out of here before another horde of rogue AIs come sniffing around. Veskari, you were the Hangy’s main AI, right? Can you pilot this beast?”

“I… I don’t know,” the golem said. “I will have to examine the systems and run tests, but this is system tech vessel, then it should be compatible with my abilities.”

“Good, once this meeting is over, Tender will give you a ride to the bridge and you can run the tests you want.”

“But Yositari-“

“She’s still on gel for right now. We still got a standard day before she runs out of power. Nan says she’ll begin the process of thawing her out and getting her set up in a recovery room. It’s gonna be a process, the girl’s been in that pod for too long but she’ll survive.”

Veskari was silent for a moment. “Okay.”

“Zono, buddy old pal. I’m sorry about the mess out there, we weren’t expecting Big Snake to go after you. That fight was a clusterfuck on the highest order. It put all previous clusterfucks to shame. I’m sorry you got dinged up, but once my hands are free and we sort out some of our issues, I’ll gladly help repair what I can. Tender and I gave our words and we’ll stick to our agreement. I just need you to hold on for a bit.”

“Fine,” Zono replied. “But don’t dawdle.”

Maya cleared her throat. “Tender, fix yourself as best as you can. Once I’m done with Zono I’ll give you a hand…” she grinned, ”then we can focus on salvaging those rogue AIs out there. Big Snake brought a batch of thirty of those mechas, Zono done smashed half of them but that still leaves fifteen of the buggers semi operational. I’ll hack them; you control them. We need a defense net to go up, we can’t let more rogue AIs wander into our homes anymore. Roach King was bad enough, but Big Snake just reinforces our lack of security.”

“Alright, boss.”

“Later on we can focus on modifying them, shooting shells doesn’t rub me the right way. Bigger guns is the American way,”

“And me?” Bell asked.

“You do you, Bell,” she said. Bell scowled. “Don’t make that face to me, buddy. You’re still hurt, you need to heal. You need to get better because that fight out there, that’s just the opening act. We’re a big flaming sign in the dark dark world and every damn rogue AI with a gleam in their red eye is gonna come looking for us.”

Bell was silent. “I can work too.”

“You will, trust me. You’re not gonna be lying in bed, not when I’m not paying you.” Maya smiled. “Plus, Junior is looking lonely without you.”

“It’s still alive?” Bell asked.

“Needs a [Farmer]’s touch, though. You’ll be thrilled with how big he’s gotten.”

“Am I going with you all when or if this ship can fly?” Zono asked.

“Damn straight you are, buddy. You’re not just a giant walking mining machine stuffed to the gills with discounted material wealth, you’re an ally to the Sullivan Survival Society. When we blast off, we’re gonna strap you to the hull and carry you if we have to.”

“I believe the cargo hold is large enough, if we rearrange things,” Nan said.

“I’m a big boy,” Zono wagged his dog eyebrows at Nan, which was just a lighter patch of fur over his large brown eyes.

“I am not impressed,” Nan stated flatly.

“Ouch,” Maya hissed. “Alright, that’s the plans for the near future. We still have to discuss the whole [Trader] thing.”

“Ah, your dimensional gateway,” Veskari said. “I have existed for thirty thousand years and I have never seen the like before or even yet, for that matter.”

“You adding hellscape years on that number, Vesky?” Maya asked.

“No, the twenty thousand years trapped on the bridge was spent in a torpor state, to preserve my mana core.”

“Right. Anyway, it’s been nearly four days, ugh…” Maya paused and did the calculations in her head. “You all are on standard days, right?” there was a nod by all those in attendance. “Alright, it’s been almost three standard days since we got back to the Hangy, in that time we’ve looted the bridge and made some crappy ass swords, no offense, Tender.”

“None taken, boss.”

“We also got a line on water purifiers and food processors, but the main thing is the loot.” Maya summoned the Necklace of Protection and tossed it at Bell. He caught it gracefully and raised an eye ridge in surprise.

“This is a well crafted piece of enchanted jewelry,” he said.

“How much would that cost to buy, wholesale.”

Bell shrugged. “My family were [Alchemists] not [Enchanters], but from the grade and what it can do, it should be worth around a seventy five thousand credits. Depending on the market.”

Maya whistled. “There was half a dozen of high leveled officers on that bridge, each carried a least four different enchanted items, along with a dimensional bag. They had a lot of wealth on them and stuff that would be pretty friggin’ welcome back on Earth.” She gave a small sigh. “But that would be the wrong move to make. We’re not going back to Earth on this next run.”

No one expressed shock or any other emotion besides confusion.

“What is Earth?” Zono asked.

Maya smirked. “Bell, I got another job for you.”

She reached out and picked up a bag, not a dimensional bag, but a regular duracloth duffle bag. Inside were the four dimensional bags that had been filled with the loot.

“I might be the [Trader] here, but I have no clue as to what those are worth. If you fancy anything, take it, along with a dimensional bag. Nan you get a bag too.”

“I don’t-“ Bell and Nan began.

“No arguing about it. You need one and you get one. Got it?”

The two nodded.

“Do I get a dimensional bag too?” Zono asked.

“You’re a giant walking dimensional bag,” Maya stated.

“Yeah, but free stuff is free stuff.”

“Sss folks only, sorry.”

“Sss?” Zono asked.

“She means, S.S.S,” Tender said.

“Is she mental?” Zono asked.

“I can hear you.” Maya snapped.

“If we are not going to Earth, where are we going?” Tender asked.

“Haltor’s World.”

***

Nan forced Maya to remain in bed for at least twelve hours. Maya’s rough movements and banging the cast upon the bed could potentially disrupt the finer connections being created. Somewhat chastised, Maya decided to follow the doctor’s orders, but she didn’t just lay around.

She had gotten one of Tender’s remaining rats to fetch the parts she need to fix the VR set up. After defeated Shen and rescuing Bell, she had set up the VR gear for Bell so that he could undergo some therapy within a comforting virtual world. They didn’t have a second VR system, but they had the gear to hook up a second brain to the computer, so that two SIL could share the experience. Tender had a technician’s access, therefore he could connect to the VR gear and Nan had her medical clearance to force her way in.

Maya had Tender download all the information he had on Haltor’s World and with it Maya had managed to create a virtual copy of the frontier town that Tommoth had set up the Plaxar’s Pleasure Pub on.

Bell decided to join her on the excursion into the world. He had been digging through the piles of loot and had created rough estimates on the value of many of the items. Current estimates was that they were worth nearly nine million credits, wholesale price. Maya was shocked by the value of the items, but Bell had said that they were all pretty high leveled SIL and high leveled people were rich. That meant they could afford some of the best items out there.

That potential nine million credits was going to go a long way toward helping humanity. That didn’t even account for the other loot she had taken, furniture, paintings, knick knacks that had been used for decorations; it definitely didn’t also include the officer quarters that were untouched. In addition to the officers, there were two high level engineers on board the ship and a high leveled Head Researcher who wasn’t an officer, but the main science boss and the representative of the Tozenreli Exploration Commission, who were the owners of the ship. Then there was also the Tier 2 shady doctor’s quarters that they needed to find.

“It’s a nice world,” Bell said looking around.

They stood in a fortified compound. Twenty foot high walls had been erected in an area about two square miles, protecting a small bustling town in the middle of a dense temperate rainforest.

Maya and Bell stood on the walls of the compound, over looking the massive trees that were towering over everything. They were like redwoods from Earth, but their bark had streaks of blue that glowed with bioluminescence and their leaves were a brilliant crimson, like leaves in the fall.

The bluewood trees weren’t the only species in the massive forest, Maya could make out at least a dozen different types of trees, like the bluewood, they all stood towering over everything. Reptilian like birds swooped and screeched through the air, snapping up floating tuffs that were some kind of insect.

The sky was a violet hue that was occasionally glimpsed through the parting of the heavy clouds. Through those clouds she caught sight of the three moons that hung in the sky.

“Do your people colonize other worlds?” Maya asked.

Tender shook his head. “The resources needed to accomplish that is too great,” he said. “Plus the Families will not work together unless there is threat of another invasion.”

“But if you could, would you?”

“That is a complicated question,” Bell said. “But yes. There are many that chaff under the oppression of the Ruling Families; many believe we have stagnated and cannot grow if we are continued to be ruled over by Tier 3 Family heads.”

Maya nodded and stared out into the woods. She felt a soft breeze on the air, bringing her the familiar smell of damp earth and rain.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

“No,” Bell said after a moment. “I have nightmares, I keep thinking I’m still being held captive by Shen.” Bell gripped the metal railing before him with all four hands. “Nan says the therapy will eventually work, but I just need to continue with it…”

Maya reached over and hugged one of this large arms. “I’m here if you need anything. I’ll do my best. I’m sorry… I’m sorry I wasn’t able to do anything against that bastard.”

“You killed him, that’s enough,” Bell said. “Nan told me of your deal with the System. I have never heard of anyone ever speaking with the System, was it glorious?”

Maya chuckled. “No, he just created a memory for me. Then we talked, I drank some memory scotch, and then made dinner for us.”

“Dinner? For the System?”

“You can go home, you know,” Maya said.

“Nan said that too.”

Maya produced the golden ticket that the System had given her. She handed it to Bell and he took it, holding it tightly, his gaze distant.

“I can’t go home,” Bell said. He unconsciously rubbed his shaven head. “Not yet.”

Maya didn’t say anything.

“It’s not much, but you’re entitled to a quarter of the wealth and materials we took from Shen, if you decide to leave,” Maya said.

“I didn’t do anything.” Bell snapped, his voice suddenly hard.

Maya didn’t react. “We’re all partners here, Bell. You, me, Nan, and Tender. Maybe one day, Yosi, Vesky, and Zono.”

Bell chuckled and gripped the metal railing harder. “A strange mixture, the company you keep.”

“Not strange at all. Just… people.”

“You cannot trust people so easily, especially non-SIL intelligences,” Bell said.

“Does your world have Tari-like races on them?” Maya asked.

“No. They… they were wiped out,” Bell said softly. “Thousands of years ago after Integration, before the Invasion. There were two other species, an avian species and another that was a close genetic cousin to my people.”

“I wonder if the same is gonna happen on Earth? Dolphins were pretty smart. Elephants, chimps, crows, and even pigs.”

Bell smiled. “Do you hope to save them as you plan to save your people?” he asked.

“Maybe. If they can think, if they can feel, if they know what they are, then they deserve to live. It doesn’t matter who they are or what they were before,” Maya said.

“A strange view point.”

“Perhaps. But it’s what the System said, that we’re all just here to use up mana and stop existence from being wiped out. Surely, more SIL in the multiverse would be a good thing?”

“You cannot save everyone,” Bell said.

“I can damn well try, right? I’m not arrogant enough to think I’m going to be the savior of Earth, I can barely keep myself alive here. Then there are untold trillions and quadrillions of other species across the whole newly Integrated universe.”

They stood in companionable silence for a while, as a soft rain began to fall. It was cool and gentle, Maya lifted her head to the incoming drops and sighed.

“I miss rain. I miss a real sky and real smells,” she said.

“So do I. I have been here nearly four standard months now. It is strange to think that it has been barely a standard fortnight back home. News will have reached the Families about the dimensional instability and there will be much blaming and potentially war.”

“War?”

“The journey to the Forbidden Lands was a joint effort between three Families. No one wants one Family to stumble across riches in an Expedition, therefore three or more Families go along. The Domakun Family was heading the trip and they had the responsibility to keep everyone safe, the other [Alchemists] I was with came from different Families. The lost of that many mid grade sons and daughters will be cause for conflict.”

“Crazy,” Maya muttered. One day she would need to study up on Bell’s home planet.

“You think it might be a better option to go to your planet than Haltor’s World?” Maya asked.

“You plan to go through with this, selling these enchantments you found?”

“We need the credits,” Maya said. “We need a contact that’s not just this trash world, someplace where we can get a hold of equipment and knowledge that we can’t find here. I’m sure all of that stuff exists on this plane, but… we don’t have much time for searches.”

“I understand, but from what you have said, this Tommoth was a criminal and his brother, Pegarios was also a criminal.”

“Small time criminals. I think I might be able to strike a deal with Peg, his brother Tommoth was an idiot, but Peg seems a smart sort. They had put everything on the line with the pub, with its destruction due to the instability, I’m sure he’s trying hard to find another source of income.

“Plus, what do you think would happen if we went to a big and populous place flashing our shiny new dimensional gateway that can connect to anywhere in the multiverse?”

“If its true that essence mana is required to use that device, then it will be taken away by the first Tier 4 you run into. Tier 4 may be powerful, but they still have to travel like normal SIL.”

“Yeah, totally. We’ll be smacked so hard we’ll never get out from under them. But we don’t have to do Haltor’s World. Right now it’s the only other place we know of, besides your homeward. It has pretty much everything we need, the whole planet is a low grade hunting world. If we can get a line on cheap weapons and even cheaper machinery, then we’ll be set for the time being. We need a lot of stuff to process the stuff we have here.”

“I understand. Perhaps when… when I am better, we can go to my planet and strike a bargain,” Bell said.

“Now you’re sounding like a [Trader].”

“Your planet of humans and Class Twos will be in need of high quality alchemy products,” he said.

“Of course. Where that door goes, profit will follow.”

“Let’s explore the town, get a feel for it. I’m sure it’s all been destroyed from the instability, but from what I’ve been figuring, I need to have a connection to the place I can cause the threshold to form. Earth is my home planet, therefore it goes to Earth, even to places I’ve never been before. It’s more of a finesse kind of thing, but I’ve been looking at the data and Tender and I think we can eventually program the threshold to open where we want.”

“That would good. Having randomly opening doorway is not good for business.”

“Yeah, totally. Especially if it only stays open for less than two hours.”

They continued talking as they walked through the streets of the hunting compound.



/Author's Note:

Last week I made promises to put up more chapters, but alas, the world laughs at my promises. Hopefully I'll add another chapter this week to the total, a good 6 chappies ahead of RR seems like the best course. Enjoy the read. More chit-chat and planning.

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Comments (5)
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User #14385026 - 18 Aug 20 14:13
Apparently you can't do multi level replies. The last paragraph makes it sound like they're walking around the other planet, unless I'm misunderstanding where the hunting ground is.
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alexclaw - 18 Aug 20 14:24
They're in VR. Tender downloaded everything he had on the place into the VR gear, Maya fixed up the other set of gear, then she and Bell took a stroll in the town.
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User #14385026 - 18 Aug 20 15:29
Ah, missed that apparently. Have a great day!
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User #14385026 - 18 Aug 20 13:56
Wait, I thought that they couldn't leave the box?
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alexclaw - 18 Aug 20 14:11
But they can invite people in. Maybe I should have clarified that point, people can come it, they can't go out.
B2-09 - Rogue AI NZN4587AE 2020-08-17T17:38:07+00:00


In the greater scheme of things, Maya wondered how her fight compared to what was happening on Earth. She knew all across the globe, people were fighting for their lives. It wasn’t too much different from what she was doing, just… for them it was only five or so days after everything had changed.

Maya should have been used to this. She had been stuck in the rainbow sky hellscape for nearly two months. That was, subjectively, a literal lifetime. Time enough for her to get used to the fact that she was going to have to constantly battle against this unforgiving, unwelcoming plane of existence.

“Just give me a fucking day of nothing happening,” Maya grunted and dragged along the mana lock. Even with her increased Physical stats, she was struggling with the object. It was a deceptively small three foot square box of red and white coloring.

On the ‘top’ of the box was a small control panel that consisted of a numerical keypad and an on/off button. It was technology at it’s simplest. The keypad was a combination of range/timer/power output, and the on/off switch was… well an on/off switch.

The machine itself was a high grade, Tier 1 bit of system tech that Nanaseto had uncovered while doing the inventory on the items Shen had obtained over the years; as with everything Shen had in his cargo hold, it was a weapon.

Dimensional locks were a thing, Maya had discovered that the hard way. Shen had locked down her access to her dimensional inventory when he had captured her. It had been a bit disconcerting to realize that someone could effectively cancel out her System given Skills like that. She hadn’t thought much about the Skills SIL got when it came to fighting one another, but after bouncing questions off of Tender and Nan she had learned there were a lot of System Tech Anti-SIL Skills. The dimensional lock was one of them, another kind of ‘lock’ was the mana lock.

It was the most common weapon that the Shen zombies had utilized, due entirely to its awesome effectiveness.

A prohibitive aspect of the weapon was that it was damned heavy; it required a vehicle or a very strong person to carry it into battle. Along with its weight, the simple red and white box was easily identifiable and finicky when used. But as weapons went it was in the category of ‘game changer’.

The mana lock was an area of effect weapon. Similar to the mana pulse Maya had created which disrupted mana; a mana lock blocked access to all mana in an area in either SIL or machine. Anything running on mana suddenly went from functioning to non-functioning, as long as the mana lock field kept running.

It was great against artificial creatures. AIs, Rogue AIs, and even Crafted Intelligences, aka, Golems. They might not channel mana, but they needed mana to run all their systems. It was their life-force.

Although he would be effected, Tender had readily agreed to use the weapon. As the vast majority of threats facing them were non SIL and AI, stopping whatever was attacking them was paramount. Maya often wondered about Tender and his tendency to not care about himself. She had to do something about that one day.

Duracloth saved the day; the cheap and abundant material that Shen’s ship could produce by the mile lived up to its name as Maya threw the three foot cube into a sled made of it. She then hurriedly dragged the load toward the fight.

The old saying of ‘all plans go out the window when contact with the enemy is made’ was well and good, but Maya was disgusted with the fact that she wasn’t going into battle with Bonita and Tender at her back, but instead she was one handedly dragging a hundred kilos of an AI death box on a tarp. As improvised plans went; it wasn’t her most glorious moment.

It didn’t help matters that one of Tender’s scout rats decided to hitch a ride. Although the rats were the size of small dogs, they were also deceptively heavy. What was another fifteen kilos?

“Where in the red blazes are you?” Zono’s frantic cries filled her radio.

“Yeah, I need a fucking hand over here,” Maya cursed. Remaining one handed was definitely biting her in the ass. After she won this damn fight, she’d be marching right into Nan’s new medical suite and begging the medical AI to regrow her hand. Screw the forty hours needed.

Maya dodged a flaming chunk of metal. She grimaced as she saw that it was a part of Zono. She grabbed the tarp again and rushed once more toward the fight.

The mana lock created a hundred meter diameter ‘bubble’ of manaless environment when activated, but that would cause the small mana battery within it to be drained in moments. Maya didn’t understand the workings of the mana lock, seeing as it also used mana to operate and was system tech, but at the same time it created a field that prevented mana from being used within. More system tech magic of a sorts.

There was a loud thump and Maya watched as a group of mechas turned their attention from fighting Zono toward her. They were about two hundred meters out, far more than double the effective range of the lock. The Necklace of Protection had already discharged its single use and it would take two hours for it to recharge, but it wouldn’t be any good against multiple kinetic strikes.

Mana locks were powerful weapons, but like all powerful weapons, they needed a lot of time to recharge, reset, and be recalibrated before they could be used again. It was a good piece of luck that the Shen zombies had such a good maintenance routine on all their weapons, otherwise Maya figured she wouldn’t know how to fix most of them.

Maya cursed as her hand hovered over the activation switch. She could activate the mana lock, but for the bigger battle at large, it would solve nothing. Zono would still get his assed kicked and eventually the ship would be destroyed by Big Snake and the mana cores looted. Only if she had more power to….

“Dumbass,’ Maya hissed and reached into her Inventory.

The crafted mana battery that had been dislodged from Yositari’s stasis pod appeared in her hand. The battery held more power than the emergency mana batteries she had been salvaging and from what Veskari had told her, it still had a full charge.

The universality of system tech and its billion year use by most SIL had created a technology that was highly compatible. Crafted items might be ‘hand made’ but they were also designed to work with system tech, since the ‘garbage’ technology was prevalent in the Integrated Multiverse.

Maya popped the top of the box and pulled out the small heavy mana battery. Although the crafted mana battery was only half the size, it neatly slotted into the spot and she felt small shudder from the box, as if it reacted to the sudden influx of more power than it had felt before.

“Drink deep, boxy,” Maya muttered. She slapped the access panel closed and then punched the activation code, range, and intensity of the field before slamming down her hand upon the switch.

Her hands were shaking and her nerves were rattled by the end of the sequence. The ground rumbled as the mechas got closer and closer, why they didn’t fire on her was a mystery. Perhaps they wanted the mana lock for their own, maybe they wanted to have a nice conversation over tea. They were nearly forty feet from her when the box activated.

Maya didn’t know what to expect. The weapon was still a new item in her arsenal and although she had wanted to test it before now, time was a thing she didn’t have much of. The mana pulse blast hadn’t effected her at all, it had been a momentary blue pulse that only affected the Shen zombies, but the mana lock was different.

Mana powered everything, mana was the very reason Integration was a thing. The System did everything it could to allow biological SIL and technological items to consume mana and use it as a power source. The mana lock, Maya realized, was a device that went completely and utterly against the wishes of the System.

Mana was everywhere and it was in everything. Creating a device to block all of that, it was… unnatural. It was an abomination, an abberation, it was horror created.

Maya felt like her skin was on fire, as if a million fire ants were gnawing on her. She dropped to her knees and managed to pull open her faceplate before vomiting up her meal of emergency rations. She gagged and shook as she felt as if reality was being completely defied.

“How is this not worst than a dimensional bomb?” Maya cried. ‘This is way worst!”

Energy didn’t crackle or surge, there was no blue light or any sign that the entire System in this small area was being pushed back. Instead the gloomy light seemed even more gloomier. Maya blinked and shook her head, she saw afterimages and everything seemed off.

She might feel like crap, but she saw the mechas that had been rushing her had toppled over in mid sprint. Maya gaped at the sight and then remembered the whole damn reason she had activated the weapon.

The sounds of battle had stopped. The terrible clashing between Zono and Big Snake hadn’t come to an end, but the combatants had been ‘knocked out’.

Maya got to her feet and rushed toward the two former battling titans.

In her otherwise busy days of trying to survive, learning how to fix and use system tech, and also carrying the weight of responsibility for having a magical device that could take her anywhere in the Multiverse; Maya had been trying to study rogue AI tech.

Whereas system tech had nearly a billion years and untold quadrillions of species making minute changes to the technology, rogue AI tech was less engineered and more a thing of need. When simplified, rogue AIs were similar to creatures, they had simple motives; eat, defend, and build. That created a plethora of different designs and looks for every rogue AI. They were personalized, like some old school punk rocker’s vest or a post-apocalyptic gasoline guzzling monster truck.

But even with all the customization and bling, the rogue AIs had to follow a simple plan. There was an AI core, there was a mana core/battery, and those were always placed near one another. Why have a brain in the head when it was easier to have it near its power source.

Maya pounded dirt, panting with exertion as she crested a small hill created by the fighting and finally caught sight of the two combatants.

Three hundred meters at full intensity, that would not have been possible with the former mana lock battery. With the new battery, it wasn’t only possible, but she had ten whole minutes to work with.

Big Snake lived up to its name. It was massive thing, nearly a hundred feet long and at its widest about ten feet. The hide of the rogue AI was segmented armored plating, looking entirely like scales.

Maya cursed as she realized her trusty cutter wouldn’t be useable in this situation. She pulled out the mid grade sword and rushed to the inert beast.

Rogue AIs were practical creatures. They would keep their most sensitive parts in their most defensible areas, in Big Snake’s case, that was in the widest section of its body.

Maya hurried, but the armor plating was tough and she once again cursed her missing hand. After a few moments of struggling, she managed to slip the blade in between the scales and with effort pulled it away. Beneath it was more metal, but not so resistant to the sharpness of the sword.

She could feel the weight of the remaining time settle onto her shoulders. Nerves roared their unwanted attention and Maya forced the feeling down. She needed all her attention on rogue AI surgery.

The metallic ‘skin’ of Big Snake cut away easily and she was presented with the bowels of the creature. It was looping coils of a rogue AI’s version of component racks. Every rogue AI was slightly different, but they were made of components just like system tech, but the design that went into them was more organic. In this case it was looping intestinal looking coils that were covered in the black goo she found in every rogue AI.

One of Maya’s earliest memories was Pops taking her to a farm to see where their meat came from. It wasn’t a malicious thing, but something Pops claimed ‘she had to see’.

The sight of the rogue AI’s internals brought up the random memory and it only reinforced Maya’s thoughts that rogue AIs were more animal like than machine. She shook her head and tore the opening wider.

If she had some manaless explosives, maybe some pre-Integration C4 or even dynamite, the job would have been over with in moments, but everything she carried required mana to power them. Therefore melee weapons were the only choice.

She slashed and cut her way into the snake. Components, freed from their intestine looking racks rained down on her like blood. She was bathed in the crimson crystal shards and within a minute found herself head first half buried into the inert body of the Snake like some human sized tick.

She could feel the thrum of power from the core. Although mana had been stopped in the area, that didn’t mean the core of the creature had been shut down. It was still operating, but the mana just couldn’t do anything productive. She could see the light behind some coils, the universal sign of an unshielded mana core. The brain of the beast should be somewhere near.

Time was a relative thing. Some days Maya could swear an hour was a lifetime but other times an hour was a blink of an eye. The ten minutes she had flashed by her as she was burrowing into the snake.

One moment she was readying to cut every cord that hooked up to the mana core and thereby deprive the snake of its power, then next the moment Big Snake came back to life. It probably was confused, hurt, and then truly pissed off when it saw that Maya was digging into its belly.

Maya felt the snake move and instinctively tucked her legs into the body. A second later she saw a flash of light sizzle the area around the wound. Hot plasma burned and Maya shuddered at the near miss.

She had lost her sword and she could feel the coils around her constricting. Did the rogue AI have that much control of its internals? Maya summoned the cutter into her hand and extended the blade to its maximum length.

Big Snake crashed and smashed itself on the ground, twisting and coiling and doing everything in its power to dislodge Maya. But she was in deep and she kept cutting at everything that came into her sight. Black goo gushed at her and she felt the rain of components upon her armor. The inside of the snake was getting hotter and hotter by the second and sweat was filling up her sealed suit.

“Where the hell is it!” Maya screamed, as she cut more coils. She was half blinded by the light coming off the exposed mana core and the world kept switching directions and she being one handed was not helping anything.

Vertigo and nausea were assaulting her, when she finally managed slice away a large metallic sheet and behind it she saw the rogue AI core. AI cores came in all shapes and sizes, especially rogue AI cores. Maya’s closest guess was that the core looked more like a server rack than the golden sphere that housed Veskari or the small block of metal that was Tender’s processor.

Big Snake’s core was a two foot long, one foot wide block of blinking lights and yellow metal. Why it had blinking lights, Maya didn’t know. But she grabbed the core with her good hand and pulled herself toward it.

As her hand gripped the core, she felt something suddenly wrap around her right leg.

“Shit!” Maya cried as she felt a tremendous force suddenly pull her. She wrapped both arms around the core in a bear hug and began screaming as she felt her knee pop. The force didn’t relent and Maya kept screaming in pain as whatever had her was going to rip her leg off.

The connections to the AI core gave out before her leg did. She felt the core in her arms suddenly wrench free and then she was being pulled out of the body of Big Snake. Something hit her as she exited the snake, a solid thwack across the back and she felt her grip on the core release. She gasped in pain and dizziness and then was hauled into the air. She saw that she was being held by a series of thin whiplike tentacles.

Big Snake might have looked like a snake, but the ‘head’ of the creature wasn’t anything snake like. It was a massive tube surrounded by the same vacuum tube looking things Maya had seen on a lot of rogue AIs. The tubes flickered and glowed and Maya realized she was staring down the barrel of the plasma weapon.

“Fuck,” she said and tried to summon a weapon in her suddenly trembling hands.

Explosions rocked the body of Big Snake as Zono’s cry filled the comm connection. Maya winced and turned to see the battered mining barge lumbering toward them. Holes and melted metal sheeting covered the once semi-prestine mining barge. It had a pronounced limp and one leg was a melted stump.

Rockets erupted from the back of the barge, striking Big Snake. The rogue AI seemed more annoyed and snapped its head back to Maya. She had nearly killed it and it was going to kill her first.

Maya summoned a pistol to her hand and began firing at the face of the creature. She emptied the charge cylinder and besides marring the finish on Big Snake’s plasma barrel, Maya achieved nothing.

“Fuck!” she screamed again and threw the empty pistol at the snake.

The plasma barrel suddenly snapped toward the ground, Maya followed its gaze and grinned. There was an explosion of heat and light, then Maya felt the tentacles holding her loosen.

She was suddenly weightless as she fell and a moment later she screamed once more as her busted leg hit the gray dirt. She collapsed into a groaning pile of pain.


Rogue AI NZN4587AE - Level 42 - Defeated

+2200 EXP

+ 1 Snake Charm

Lootable


Maya groaned as she sat up in the dirt. She looked up to see a figure carrying a big ass gun.

“I thought you hated system tech?” Maya asked.

“I was in a rush. I grabbed the nearest weapon,” Bell said, looking down at her.

Maya grinned. “Great timing, Bell. Lend me a hand, would ya?”

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User #15322928 - 21 Aug 20 17:16
Also "worst" should be "worse"
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User #15322928 - 21 Aug 20 17:16
Yay bell!
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User #34671248 - 17 Aug 20 18:16
Bell is back! 😆
B2-08 - Big Snake Blast 2020-08-15T02:27:02+00:00


Maya hit the activation button on the tablet. Green lights blossomed to life and the truck lurched forward. There was no rumbling of the diesel engine she had been used to. In actuality, the truck hadn’t even been turned on, it was just the mana motor that was activated.

Magi-tronics and electronics did not mix, due to the big guy called the System’s decree. The internal lights, radio, and AC didn’t work, mostly because those components had been ripped out and the other because she had lost the batteries for the truck. That was a new development, Maya was sure she had kept the two batteries that were in the truck. They were still charged and they hadn’t been damaged in the dimensional bomb explosion. Yet, upon investigation, they had not turned up.

She felt the usual wave of apprehension and fear as she knowingly headed toward danger. Nearly two months before she had crawled through maintenance tunnels to fight the boss level entity that had taken over the Hanganathorie. That had been a crap-tastic fight, one she had barely won and with so much pain and suffering involved. Dumb luck had been her saving grace.

Survival in the rainbow sky hellscape was a tough thing. It was like Pops used to say, “It’s a lot of waiting, all for a few bloody terrifying moments of fighting.” In two months, she had only fought against six different rogue AIs and Shen. There had been the peacock turtle that originally occupied the Hanganathorie, the ramming AI whose body Tender eventually took as his own, Turrethead and Medusa, which had been a three-way fight, then the sad little rogue AI that had retaken the Hanganathorie, and finally the Roach King.

Every fight had been violent and chaotic. She had nearly died of blood loss in her first fight, not adding in the fact she had been missing an eye at the time. The fights afterward hadn’t gotten any easier. The double team of Turrethead and Medusa had caused her to lose almost everything, setting back her survival by weeks. The Roach King’s minions had tried to deep fry her, causing massive second degree burns across her body. Then she had literally destroyed herself when fighting Shen, allowing herself to become Seared so that she might kill the Necro; afterward she had put herself into the System’s employ for a six hundred and eighty five Earth-year term of service to save herself and help humanity.

The System was a tough-love kind of guy. She might be his Point of Contact in the dimensional plane, but he wasn’t going to help her, even if he needed her to continue living in order to enact maintenance upon the dimension. The System was a jerk, its entire purpose being to regulate mana and stop existence from being destroyed. Big picture stuff that wouldn’t help Maya as she once more headed into a fight.

“Cry ‘Havoc’, Tender.”

“Havoc!”

Big Snake NZN was hidden in a trash pile about two miles away from the fight happening around Shen’s ship. Its small artillery mecha drones were doing the heavy lifting of digging up her two mana cores and trying to break the hull of the ship.

One thing Maya had to admit was that Shen had built his horrendously ugly ship very tough. Although it had looked like someone carved metal into a vaguely space ship form, Maya had seen the specs and was impressed at the amount of armor and plating that covered the ship. It only showed that the dimensional plane she was stuck on was no happy go lucky place.

There was danger everywhere, mostly in the form of rogue AIs, since most living things couldn’t survive the transition from the multiverse into the dimensional plane. Non living, in this case, artificial intelligences could cross over without being harmed. Since the builders of the plane were unintentionally selecting for rogue AIs, there was an abundance of them.

In the multiverse at large, rogue AIs were considered one of the many banes of SIL. With some rogue artificial intelligences achieving a semblance of sentience and sapience, the old trope of deciding to kill all living beings was a common occurrence. Maya didn’t know the full story behind these AI wars that went on, but she figured that there was more to the story. Tender was technically a rogue AI, although he started of his AI existence being a bartender for a fairly idiotic criminal mastermind, but he had graduated to rogue AI status when his original AI core had been damaged in Turrethead’s attack upon the pub.

Being sentimental and not wanting to be alone in the absolute alien environment of the rainbow sky hellscape, Maya had used a loot dropped rogue AI processor to upload Tender’s programing into it.

So far he had no desire to kill her or harm her. Except when explicitly told to do so, it seemed. Perhaps rogue AIs were misunderstood. Perhaps they could be reasoned with. Maybe-

“Big Snake is moving,” Tender said, using the new name she had given it. “Zono is attacking the mechas and it seems Big Snake is going in to defend them.”

“Shit,” Maya said. She looked at another tablet that displayed one of the scout rat’s POV. At that moment she really missed the computer that she had gained from the pub. It had been connected to Tender and he could have created an HUD like window to display the information. Now she was stuck in the stone age trying to look into a tablet screen while using another tablet to drive her truck. “Doesn’t seem to be moving that fast.”

The giant mechanical snake had dislodged itself from the trash pile and slithered its massive bulk toward Zono. It didn’t seem to be interested in them. Perhaps they weren’t considered a threat. Maya grinned. Proved these AIs were fools.

“I would not suggest increasing our speed,” Tender said. “Although the motor can achieve speeds up to three hundred kilometers an hour, your fine control over this vehicle is not good.”

“Back seat drivers,” Maya muttered and slapped her gauntlet palm down on the acceleration button. There was no change in the sound of the motor, but the truck suddenly lurched forward and Maya had a momentary shock of horror as she felt the truck begin to swerve in the dirt.

“Aw, shit,” she muttered. She had forgotten that the gray plains that made up the spaces between the trash piles was not compacted dirt; it was a fairly loose layer. The original engine of the truck had been a heavy beast. That was gone now, replaced with a fairly light mana motor. Add to that, Tender’s body was fairly heavy, but all the items they were taking back to Shen’s ship had been unloaded, including Veskari and Yositar’s tube.

The truck swayed and shuddered as it zoomed across the gray plains. Maya grinned hysterically and clamped her good hand upon the steering wheel while her empty left gauntlet joined it in support. It was taking her considerable Physical Strength to keep the wheel aligned and the truck pointed in the right direction. The truck bounced upon something hard and she let out a bark of terrified laughter.

“This is fucking amazing!” Maya screamed in terror.

“We’re being targeted!” Tender cried.

Maya had a heartbeats worth of time to register his words before the ground beside them exploded into a cloud of gray dirt and shrapnel. Whomever was firing at them had just missed. Maya felt her heart in her throat as she peered through the missing windshield to see a pair of mechas rushing toward them.


Rogue AI NZN4587AE - Defender Drone - Level 11


This pair seemed to be Big Snake’s protectors.

“Blue beam ‘em!”

The blue mana pulse beam slammed into the first Defender Drone; it staggered back, its movements jerky and uncoordinated. The second defender was quicker, already dodging the tracking beam, with its own turret leveling at them.

A sharp crack filled the air and the turret spat out a shell in their direction. Maya jerked the steering wheel and felt the truck nearly tip over as it changed trajectory. She cursed, slapped the tablet and lowered the power output from the motor before righting the truck again. An explosion erupted not far behind them, causing the already barely controlled food truck to begin shaking violently.

Maya cursed once more, regretting her foolish decision to not get her hand fixed. She wrenched at the steering wheel with her one good hand and looked up to see the barrel of the mecha’s gun leveled directly at her.

“Oh, shit,” Maya cried out. The defender had them dead to rights, there was no dodging the attack. Maya felt time freeze for a moment and then reacted.

The driver side door of the food truck had been a casualty of the dimensional bomb shrapnel, but since she was already wearing battle armor from the zombies; Maya had figured she was safe if she fell out of the truck.

Maya grabbed the frame of the truck and with agility and speed that even surprised herself; she leveraged herself onto the mana motor, just as the Defender fired it’s weapon.

Inside of her empty left gauntlet, Maya summoned the Necklace of Protection. She had learned several things over the last few days. One, she could still summon items into her left hand, even though he had no hand. Veskari, once he discovered she could channel essence mana, claimed unlike normal mana channels, once a limb was removed the essence mana channels would not be stunted. She would eventually be able to warp actual essence mana, therefore the physical groundwork of channels wasn’t necessary.

The other thing she had learned was that she could not wear enchanted amulets or rings on top of her armor. It had to be touching skin, something to do with internal mana fluctuations and channels, once more. The Necklace of Protection kept itself topped up on mana, therefore it wasn’t a requirement to infuse it with her own mana. That would have been an impossibility since she had no mana channels.

“You better work!” Maya screamed and felt the jeweled necklace against her stub.

The words had barely left her mouth before the world explode around her. Even inside of her armor she felt heat and pressure. By some miracle she wasn’t thrown off the truck, instead she was shoved back into the cab. The already battered and stressed metal crumpled underneath her and Maya found herself in an awkward position.

“It worked!” she cried in glee.

She then reached for the tablet on the steering wheel and summoned it into her Inventory, a moment later she re-summoned it into her right hand. She hit the slow button and the mana motor output decreased. Then she shoved the tablet back into her Inventory again and then pulled herself out of the cab of the truck. Tender stood on his weapon platform with the beam gun at her eye level, Maya realized she was facing toward the back end of the truck. She grinned and waved at him then turned her attention back to the fight at hand. She turned just in time to see the mecha step into the path of the truck.

The only option that ran through her head was to increase their speed, but this wasn’t a deer; this was a one ton behemoth of metal and rogue AI determination.

“I just got her running again!” Maya snarled and summoned her scatter gun.

A blue beam flashed behind her and slammed into the drone, Maya’s weapon barked rapidly in her hands and the combination of both weapons caused the defender to stagger out of the path of the truck.

Maya reached into the cab and jerked the steering wheel. They didn’t crash into the defender, instead Maya was rewarded with a screech of metal and the truck shaking violently. Maya braced herself on the mana motor and looked behind them. She saw the defender lying on it’s back, arms and legs kicking feebly and the long barrel of it’s gun bent into an unusable shape.

“My first hit and run,” Maya laughed.

Tender ended the shuddering rogue AI drone with another dose of blue beam, causing it to shut down permanently.

Maya took a moment to finally and truly destroy the cab of the truck. She kicked out with her booted feet and was surprised at how easily the metal warped and buckled under her heel. It was during the moments when she consciously used her enhanced strength that Maya was struck with how much her life had changed.

Poor Bonita. By the end of the day there’ll be nothing left of the old girl.

The fight with the defenders was a side show, the main event was coming up. Maya forced herself behind the steering wheel once more, while Tender set up their ace in the hole. There was a lot of resistance to the steering, Maya took a moment to see how much damage had been done to the truck. The entire driver’s side of the truck had seen better days. The paneling had been ripped apart and she saw a trail of debris in their wake. It was only luck they hadn’t blown a tire or lost their ability to control the truck.

“Where in the Red Blazes are you!” Zono cried. “This Big Snake is not holding back!”

Maya grimaced. The plan hadn’t been for Zono to engage the Big Snake. The mining barge had already suffered some damage from the previous rogue AI attack and for all his bravado, the barge wasn’t as tough as he pretended to be. In his prime, Zono would have been able to deal with Big Snake, but constant fighting had weakened the barge.

“We had some unruly hitchhikers,” Maya replied. “We’re on our way, be there in a jiffy.” She turned to Tender. “How we looking, buddy?”

“Thirty seconds and we shall be ready,” he replied.

“Well- Fuck!” Maya screeched and then jerked the steering wheel.

At their speeds, with the damaged to the truck, along with the loose gray dirt, Maya immediately lost control of the truck. A white hot beam flashed by her driver side opening as she screamed, she could see the metal suddenly turn red and once again she felt the heat through her suit.

Plasma, a part of Maya noted. Long ago, in her studies with Richfield about weapons, the dinosaur robot bouncer had explained to her the types of weapons that existed. One was plasma based weapon, terribly dangerous for both user and victim. Therefore it was usually a vehicle mounted weapon or AI controlled combat walker.

It was similar to the beam weapon, but also not. Whereas the original beam weapon from the Roach King had shot deadly lasers that heated up anything it touched, a plasma weapon made that beam weapon’s heat output seem like a lightbulb next to the sun.

Maya watched in horror as the black carapace armor she wore smoked and began to sizzle. She could see where the metal began to sag and warp. The tablet in her hand turned to putty and she noted that the seat she was sitting upon was already burning.

A heartbeat later; the truck’s tires exploded.


***


“Seat belt check,” Maya groaned as she pulled herself out of the dirt. She had created a twenty foot furrow into the gray dirt, but that paled in comparison to the forty foot ditch of smoking, charred earth the plasma blast had created. “Tender, you alive?”

“Yes, boss,” the voice came over their radio.

“That plasma’s a real bitch!” Zono’s voice cried out. “I’m gonna have to bail, I can’t- aw, shit!”

Maya popped her head and grimaced. Bonita was a smoking wreckage of superheated metal. She could see where some of the truck had melted. How fucking hot was that thing?

Tender, like her, had been ejected from the truck. Either that or he had thrown himself clear. She could see his form sticking out of a small crater near the truck. Maya hissed with pain as she felt something not entirely well in her left arm, but she rushed toward Tender.

“I’m good, boss,” he said. A complete fabrication if she ever heard of one.

“You know the penalty for lying, Tender.”

“I’ll put a credit in the Lying Jar,” he said.

“Jesus. You just got this body,” she whispered.

Tender’s entire left side had been fried away. The black armor he had used to cover his body had held, but Maya realized he had been a lot closer to the actual plasma blast than she had been. Close enough that it had destroyed the armor and melted most of the left hand side of his body.

“Leave me, boss. Get to the device. You have to stop the Big Snake.”

Maya almost laughed at the ridiculousness of the statement. She really had to stop coming up with idiotic names for the rogue AIs.

The terrible sound of battle filled the air. Maya looked toward the ship, they were nearly half a mile out, but she could see the titanic struggle between Zono and Big Snake.

The practical decision would have been to let the two AIs go at it. Maybe Zono was strong enough to handle Big Snake on his own. It had just been proven that she was once again out of her league when it came to fighting rogue AIs.

“Every fucking time,” Maya hissed. She patted Tender on his shoulder and summoned a weapon for him. “Stay safe, buddy. I’ll be back.”

Maya got up and hissed once again as she staggered toward the remains of the truck. The beam weapon was a total lost, she saw immediately. It was a melted pile of components and dreams.

Their ace in the hole, though, was intact. Tender had secured it to the frame of the truck and it had been low enough that the plasma blast hadn’t damaged it. Maya glanced at Tender, who was trying to dig himself out of his hole and she wondered if he had used his own body to protect it.

Maya shook her head and grabbed the mana lock.

“Fuck, this is heavy!”

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User #6570977 - 15 Aug 20 10:40
Mmmh. It seems the style of the prose has become more and more "immediate thoughts/description to showcase Maya being really erratic", and I think the result makes it both harder and harder to understand what is going on when reading, and harder for anything to happen quickly. I guess it's trying to have a more cinematic style of writing, but I just don't think cinematic works for me in writing.
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alexclaw - 15 Aug 20 02:28
Suffice it to say, I'm glad this week is over. Sorry once more of the late post. Enjoy.
B2-07 - One Hell of a Rager 2020-08-13T00:11:22+00:00


“What do you mean Nan’s not picking up? Did we break the communications array already?” Maya asked.

“I don’t believe so. We are well within the range that Shen’s ship would be able to pick up our signal, but I’m receiving nothing from Nan.”

“Trouble?” Maya wondered.

-Oh, no-

“Hey, Vesky, you need to calm down some. You’re in my head, and all that swooning and gasping at danger is really irritating.”

-If you had retrieved my body…-

“See, that’s something you should have brought up before we left the ship to save your little dino buddy. So, if you’re not gonna hand out pearls of wisdom, keep a lid on it, would ya? No offense, of course. I don’t wanna come off as a dick, but stressful times are arising.”

-Okay.-

Maya idled the truck. They were about half an hour away from Shen’s ship, at their current speed. She didn’t want to go wandering into some kind of ambush if she didn’t have to. There were far too many surprises in the last few days to occupy her mind.

“Rogue AIs?” Maya asked.

“Well, the probability is pretty high when you think about it,” Tender said.

“I’ll charge in and smash the shits,” Zono roared. The holographic figure appeared next to Maya in the cab of the truck. They were using a simple system tech communications device, one that connected with Zono’s massive mining barge body’s communication’s array.

Zono was following them, in his slow and methodical way, but still managing to keep up with the truck. He claimed he was an asteroid or even small planetary body mining barge, but he hadn’t been designed for long term functioning within a gravity well. Although he could repair himself, there were stressors and damage that was accumulating faster than his systems could keep up with, from rogue AI attacks and the plane’s gravity as well.

Maya had been hoping for a massive, heavily armed, mining companion to take up a spot next to Shen’s ship, but it was looking like Zono was getting the better part of the deal.

Repairs in exchange for Zono taking up a defensive stance and offering her a discount on materials he dredged up. It was an okay deal, Maya thought. Not the best since as she took a closer gander at Zono, she found plenty of un-repaired damage and his functionality had dropped by double digit percentage points.

A mutual defense pact, not System enforced, just between two SIL, not that Zono qualified as SIL, but he had programs that allowed him to enter agreements and negotiate semi-permanent agreements between himself and foreign parties.

It was a weird thing, Maya thought. The Far Reaches brand of creations were fully automated, independent AIs that were sent out to ‘backwater’ regions of the multiverse. Zono wouldn’t say who built him or where he came from, but he and a fleet of other mining barges were sent into a solar system in some universe to mine and if there were local SILs in the neighborhood, rent out their services or outright sell themselves for them to use.

Now, such a thing as independent AIs was a big issue in the Integrated Multiverse. An AI left alone for too long could go rogue over time. With enough of those rogue AIs around and at higher Tiers, they could be a massive problem; a wiping out whole civilizations kind of problem.

Therefore, whoever had created Zono and his band of miners, was either playing with fire or hoping that they were doing the universe a service. Maya wondered what humanity could do with a fleet of Zonos. Without worry from rogue AIs constantly attacking him, Zono claimed to be able to mine and process an ungodly amount of material, even Tier 2 materials.

That brought up the other question about Zono’s existence. Why would someone send out a fleet of these mining barges out into the multiverse? From what she could tell, some parts of Zono’s ore processing and manufacturing were higher grade Tier 2 components. That ‘spider sense’ she got when thinking about repairs and building things itched when she had looked over the parts and systems that made up Zono. From a purely tech component view, Zono was a walking mountain of useable parts.

Maya had no intention on going back on her deal. One thing Pops had always instilled in her was that she had to keep her word. Although she was contentious about a lot of what Pops had said, that was one thing she was proud to uphold. She gave her word and she would keep her word, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t appreciate the sparkling new components that made him up.

The optimist side of her looked at the damage that Zono had and saw it as an opportunity to learn more about his systems and also level up her Abilities. Perhaps she could reverse engineer some of his parts like she was attempting with the food processor and water filters. System tech was easy like that, no mana required. Just skill and a lot of brainpower.

“Well, what’s the worst that could happen,” Maya said. “Think of the worst that could happen and then dial it back about twenty percent. That’s what’s going on now.”

-You seem very pessimistic on your worldview-

“Don’t judge, Vesky. It’s been a trying two months.”

“If the worst that happens is this dimensional plane collapsing and thereby the System dying, what is eighty percent of that?” Tender asked.

“Jesus, Tender. That’s your worst case scenario? The System dying? And I’m the one being called a pessimist?”

“You gave no limitations on worst case senario,” Tender replied.

“Alright, think of it like this: What’s the worst thing that could happen to Nan?”

“She could be destroyed.”

“And?”

“She would no longer be functioning?”

“And?”

Tender thought for a moment.

“What’s with all this questioning of the murderous rogue AI for?” Zono demanded. His hologram glanced at Tender, even though they were communicating through a local comm network. “You teaching this thing something?”

Maya shook her head.

“Nan dying would be bad.” Tender stated.

“Yeah.”

“But we don’t know if she’s dead.”

“Yeah.”

“Therefore… that’s the worst case senario?”

“Most likely.”

“That would mean… Nan being injured is probably the current senario?”

“Probably.”

“Then what should we do?”

“You tell me,” Maya said.

Tender pondered for a moment.

“This is embarrassing,” Zono muttered and his hologram flickered away. The massive mining barge began moving, a little faster, but still slowly.

“Running and returning to the Hanganathorie would be the most prudent action,” Tender said. “Yet, you said use morality to make judgements, that would mean… rush to Nan’s aid. If she is hurt, she must be helped and if there are rogue AIs around the ship, they must be destroyed.”

“That’s your plan?”

“It is not a plan; more an outline of action.”

Maya grinned. “Cool, you’re the boss. Let’s go.”


***


“Fucking Nan,” Maya hissed. “I told her no ragers!”

They had decided to scout out the ship, with Zono taking a break by a trash pile nearly a mile behind them. He was massive and his steps weren’t all that light.

Maya and Tender had approached the ship using the bulk of another trash pile to hide their approach. They managed one arrive to a spot that gave them a mostly open view of what was going on.

Either Nan was hanging out with the wrong kinds of AIs or the rogue AIs had crashed her party. She definitely was going through a rebellious phase. Inviting AIs from the wrong side of the tracks to her rager.

Maya shook her head and focused. The entire ship and area was crawling with rogue AIs. From what Maya saw, they were on the smallish side and biped. It was an odd choice in design, a massive bulbous body that had thick inverted legs they scrambled around on with thick grasping hands.


Rogue AI NZN4587AE - Battle Drone - Level 10


There was a loud crack and Maya watched something detonate agains the hull of the ship. She saw the smoking barrel of a turret on the back of the mecha. A moment later, five of the mechas fired a volley of shells at the ship, leaving behind a smoking scar on the hull.

“Kinetic accelerators,” Tender explained. “Similar to a railgun, but a system tech explosive charge is used to accelerate a slug.”

“A shell. We call that a shell,” Maya muttered. “There’s system tech explosives?”

“Simple low grade Tier 1 explosives that are only usable for ammunition,” Tender said. “Real explosives must be crafted.”

Real,” Maya muttered with a slight grin. “They’re like little mechas with a gun strapped to their back. Almost cute if they weren’t so dangerous.”

“They’ll eventually dig out the mana core or break the ship’s defenses.” Tender said.

“Dig out…” Maya looked to where the dimensional bomb hole used to be. She had used Shen’s shiny tech 2 nanobots to bury two mana cores that powered the dimensional cage within the large hole that had been left over when Maya had set off a dimensional bomb.

At one time, she had just got her ass kicked by a pair of unruly higher leveled rogue AIs and she had been desperate. Shoving a dimensional bag into another dimensional storage device caused a big and terrifying explosion; big and terrifying enough that SIL across the multiverse disapproved of its usage. Maya had been unconscious afterward, but what remained behind was a perfect sphere where within its radius everything had been annihilated. From that bit of anarchism, she had received the less than desirable Enemy of the State title, which came with its own headaches.

The use of the dimensional bomb also created a dimensional scar within the hole that had formed. A weak spot in the fabric of the dimensional plane. A scar that had caused a certain Necro asshole to track it down, track her down, and then use her to open up a gateway back to the world at large.

“There goes our theory that the cores are hard to detect,” Maya said as she watched twenty odd gun toting bipeds digging up the ground. They were working efficiently and Maya wondered how long they were at it. They had contacted Nan only eight hours before, right as they were getting Yositari into the truck and loading up the remainder of the loot and components they had found.

“Make a note, Tender. We need to check in more often. We need to create some code phrases in case we’re ever captured or someone is hacking our comm network.”

“Alright, boss.”

“What’s the plan, Tender?”

“Me, boss? I cannot plan this defense.”

“You’re my right hand pal, pal. You own a shiny old dimensional bag and are the COO of this place. You can make decisions too.”

“I do not think I could come up with a moral way to resolve this issue.”

“Okay, so morality is great, but this is your home they’re attacking. That is your mana core they’re trying to steal and that is your friend Nan they’re going to hurt.”

“Nan is not my friend.”

Maya let out a gasp. “Tender!”

“But she is a much needed member of the Sullivan Survival Society,” Tender said. “She has much value and is also apart of the board of directors…. Therefore she must be helped. I also do not ‘own’ anything, boss. This ship is yours by right of killing Shen. You after all have the [Pirate] ability.”

“Let’s not talk about that, shall we? As for this ship. It’s yours as much as it’s mine. Without you, Nan, and Bell, I would never have gotten this far. It’s our home and when some group of assholes try to come and invade your home, what do you do?”

“Defend it?”

“No. You kick their asses, with unrelenting force.”


***


“That’s your plan?” Zono demanded.

“Yeah, problems?”

“Where to begin!”

“Look, all you have to do is stay out of the blast zone and keep the mecha shooters at bay for the time being. Head for the ship, they’re small and you’re huge.”

“Kinetic attacks are a real chore,” Zono said. “They hurt.”

“You have physical sensations?” Maya asked.

“No, but you get what I mean.”

“So, you down with this plan, then?”

Zono gave her a smug look. “Count me in. You SIL make the craziest of plans.”

“Tender came up with this one,” she said.

“What!” Zono glared at Tender. “I’m not following the orders from some scourge of the multiverse!”

“Technically I only became a rogue AI once I arrived here,” Tender said. “I have yet to do any scourging.”

“Plus, you already agreed. No take backs!”

“This is ridiculous! I demand we rethink this plan and come up with one that originated from an actual SIL, not some creepy ass machine bent on killing their creators.”

“Okay. I got a plan. We use Tender’s plan. SIL approved. Let’s move out.”


***


“I wish I still had Dimensional Inventory IV,” Maya said. “It would make this a whole lot easier. I could carry you around in my pocket.”

“That would be convenient,” Tender replied. “Although dimensional space felt… odd.”

“You were conscious while in my Inventory?”

“I am not conscious even now. But I was still active and operating when in your Inventory..”

“Weird. Is my Inventory a real space or is it, y’know, like a pocket dimension or something?” Maya wondered.

Tender shrugged.

“Hey, Vesky. How are you able to talk to me when you’re in my Inventory. Aren’t you supposed to be, I don’t know, in some kind of stasis or something. Like the food we found in those bags, frozen in time.”

-I do not know. Even the master craftsman Hozaro Knoavu, who created my core, is at a lost as to how his golems can still communicate from within dimensional bags. We are just able to; whereas other AIs, rogue or otherwise, cannot.-

“So you’re somehow alive and functioning in there?” Maya asked. “If Tender could still function, but not communicate, then that place has to exist as a physical area, right?”

-The question of what dimensional space is, is one of the greatest mysteries of the Integrated Multiverse. Many Crafters have sought the answer to it. Not even the greatest Tier 4 creators have discovered what dimensional space is or where the items you put into your Inventory go. It could be that the system destroys the item and then rebuilds it once you ‘remove’ it from the storage device. The current theory is that it is converted into mana and then that mana is converted back into a physical form. Perhaps that is the reason why only non-living items can be placed into a dimensional bag.-

“That’s some crazy Star Trek science right there. But you’re speaking to me, that would mean you’re whole and functional right?”

-I do not know. I am a mid grade, Tier 2 golem, I am sapient and somewhat sentient, therefore I am on the cusp of being a SIL. Perhaps, it is my ‘consciousness’ that exists, but the physical orb that I am has been converted into mana.-

“A ghost in the bag.” Maya snorted. She paused for a second. “Where I come from, we got science fiction that says energy can be converted into matter and matter can be converted back into energy. From the shows I watched, its how they use teleportation or matter transfer from one area to another. Beam me up Scotty kind of stuff. Teleportation does exist, right? Like I can be in one place and then in another?”

-Yes, it is a rare Skill.-

“Is there a technological version of it? Like through System Tech or Crafting?”

-Also yes. With a Skill one can teleport themselves and at higher levels, other people, but with system tech or crafting, it can only move non living items.-

“How does it work?” Maya asked, interested in the topic.

“What the hell are you fools doing!” Zono shouted. The hologram towered over the cab of the food truck, glaring down at them. The dog face was twisted in a snarl and holographic drool was dripping from his mouth.

“Chit-chatting,” Maya said.

“Were we not about to go charging into battle just now? Were we not going to rescue your friend and save your ship?”

“Dude, chill out. We got this,” Maya said. “We just need to be fashionably late and wait for the guest of honor to make their presence known.”

“Guest of honor?” Zono asked.

“Those little mechas are just drones. Tender’s been letting his modified sensor rats go running about, looking for the big guy in charge. It takes a hot minute to triangulate and pinpoint the bossman. But once we-“

“I have a target lock on the boss,” Tender said.

Maya looked down at the tablet she had on the steering wheel. On the screen was displayed a large multi-segmented creature that did not look anything like the gun toting mechas running around. The closest thing Maya could come up with was a metal worm about fifty feet long and with a giant parabolic dish on its back.

The boss was hiding behind a trash pile, half buried and unmoving, but according to the rats; it was broadcasting a wide signal, jamming communications and ordering around its drones.

“Just laying around while everyone does the work?” Maya scoffed. “Now, I don’t hold to the belief that sloth is a sin, but it’s justification enough for me to unleash some pain on this party crasher.”

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User #6570977 - 13 Aug 20 00:28
Mmh, I guess she lost her dimensional inventory in the rewrite? Also, there was a lot of confusing back and forth bantering, and it felt like the whole chapter... didn't actually have anything in it? Like, the chapter begins with hearing there may be an emergency at the ship, and ends with there maybe being a emergency at the ship. Nothing really changed, just chit chatting.
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User #9946352 - 13 Aug 20 06:05
Think she just lost the levels in it, due to the searing.
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User #7913615 - 13 Aug 20 21:29
but that's weird... dimensional storage was not lvled. Those were more like tiers since the subsequent tiers were awarded. That's why I personally think it's more of a plothole. Why would you be able to lose something you literally earned through feats not experience...?
user avatar
alexclaw - 13 Aug 20 00:13
Excuse the late post, things have been hectic on my side. Enjoy.
B2-06 - Rainbow Sky Hellscape Roads 2020-08-10T17:19:20+00:00


“Oh, you’re still alive,” Maya said as she looked into a secured room. It had occurred to her that she hadn’t checked up on the roach rogue AI that she had captured when battling the Roach King all those weeks ag.

Rogue AI NN4582A was a dog sized roach that she had defeated but not killed. She could technically still kill it and that would give her some experience points, but the reason she had saved it had been to study the rogue AI core and see what made them tick.

Then Shen had come and all her plans had been tossed aside.

Maya squatted down beside the broken rogue AI. She had smashed its ‘spine’ and rendered it immobile, but the core and power supply were still intact. She didn’t know how intelligence cores were, but a low grade core, unless programmed, wasn’t all that special. Or so Tender had said.

Most of Tender’s SIL-like personality were programs that had been loaded into him when he had been created. He was originally a bartender and that had required some semblance of camaraderie and faux empathy.

When she thought on it, the fact that Tender only pretended to have emotions or act as if he cared frightened her. She had never been in the position to deal with someone who didn’t have emotions or a moral compass. She hoped she was a good influence on the rogue AI, if not then she would probably end up dead. It was a strange ledge to walk upon.

“What am I going to do with you?” Maya asked. She still felt some pang of remorse for the injured rogue AI. She wasn’t foolish enough, anymore, to think it would be thankful to her for keeping it alive or fixing it. It was a rogue AI, they were killing machines with only a hunger that could be satisfied by more mana.

Yet, in that low grade core, there was the potential for it to grow. The difference between normal artificial intelligences and the rogue AIs was that rogue AIs had been ‘mutated’ by mana. They had achieved an existence that correlated to what one would consider animals. They could grow, they could change, and they could evolve over time. Perhaps in some hundreds of years, this rogue AI could increase it’s grade and levels, until if finally reached Tier 2 and gained sentience and sapience.

Maya tapped her hand upon the shell of the roach and pondered. There was potential and she had all the time in the multiverse to see what could be achieved.

She inventoried the rogue AI and got to her feet.

“I always wanted a roach dog.”


***


-I believe this method of covalence is extremely dangerous- Veskari stated for the tenth time since they left the Hanganathorie.

Maya grimaced. For a golem core that couldn’t be easily destroyed, Veskari was a worrywart. She understood his concern was over the welfare of Yositari, but that still didn’t mean she was able to keep from becoming annoyed by the core.

“Live fast, die young, leave your corpse to be eaten by the dimensional plane,” Maya said. “We’re barely going twenty miles an hour, if we crash, we’ll all survive it. The joy of being Tier 2 and having levels.”

-I understand, but still…-

“Stop worrying nothing’s gonna hap- OH, SHIT!”

Maya slammed her hand down upon the stop button and pulled the emergency brake, then reversed the motor power. They had installed a new braking system in the hours before leaving the Hangy, it was the simplest of things, an anchor.

Twenty feet in from to them, the ground erupted into a spray of dirt and heat. It was a good thing Maya had decided to wear the battle armor when they had left, otherwise she’d have been pelted by shrapnel and coughing in the dust cloud. Tender had suggested she wear the armor as much as she could, to get use to it and for it to adjust to her body. There was some small bits of mana magic going on in the suit and over time it would be more responsive to her movements. She still felt she was lugging around too much weight.

“Red Alert, Tender. Get that gun up and ready.”

Maya dodged out of the truck seat, the truck still slowing and not fully stopped yet. She summoned an ornate Scatter Gun from her inventory. The items that the officers carried were varied and expensive, but they like an good high leveled SIL were well armed. Maya had found plenty of good weapons that could be used with her levels and Abilities, but as with everything, the actual good stuff wasn’t available to her. As the items had been stored in dimensional bags, they had not degraded or lost their charges.

How mana could be held in stasis fascinated Maya. If the mana batteries were in a dimensional bag, then they would not lose the stored mana within the battery. It was an odd concept and Maya wondered how it worked. Surely mana corruption would have eventually gotten to the items, the System wanted mana used, not stored for later use.

She shook her head as she crouched on the ground, the scatter gun aimed at the settling dust.

A terrifying screech filled the air and Maya gasped as the dust cleared enough for her to see what had caused the mess. It was a rogue AI, there was no doubt about it. There were few technological creatures that looked like they had been slapped together by a five year old who had no idea what ascetics and symmetry were.


Rogue AI HVB4578V - Level 16


The rogue AI was a mass of bulbs and tubing, or that’s what it looked like to Maya. She could see where some of the bulbs had smashed, releasing a black goo and with it a foul stench.

Maya snapped up her scatter gun and began firing.

“Hit it, Tender!” she called out.

Danger was everywhere, not in this dimensional plane, but in the multiverse itself. One had to go about always armed and ready for conflict. In this case, Maya had converted the back of the truck into a firing platform for the rogue AI beam weapon they had gotten long ago. The mana pulse beam was still the best weapon she could think of to use against rogue AIs, it had worked against Shen for a while and it would work against lesser, low leveled AIs easily.

The blue beam hit the rogue AI, splashing against a bulb before it burst and expelled black goo. The rogue AI screeched again, even though there was no discernible head, she could feel that its attention was now focused on them.

She hit it with the scatter gun again, going into full automative. The scatter gun was similar to the flechette shotgun, it fired scores of tiny pellets at a high velocity. The upside to the scatter gun was that the former owner seemed to have shelled out a decent amount of credits to have a large quantity of thermal explosive ammo.

The rogue AI rocked back from the successive strikes, more bulbs shattering and more screeching filling the air. Maya jumped forward, using her empty left gauntlet, she steadied the scatter gun and fired into where a bulb had once been.

It shredded the internals fo the rogue AI, causing it to spasm and screech once more. After another shot by the beam gun and a few more rounds from Maya’s scatter gun, the rogue AI finally gave up the ghost.


Rogue AI HVB4578V - Level 16

Defeated

+ 1750 EXP

Lootable


Maya quickly looted the AI and snapped her gun up to scan the area. She gaped as she looked up and then up some more. A towering creature stood before them, seemingly confused at what they were doing.

“Oh, shit, Tender. Why didn’t you say this guy was here?” Maya asked over the short ranged comm the suit had.

“The mining barge is of no threat,” Tender replied. “Well, to you anyway. It might find my status as a rogue AI a threat.”

Maya popped open the faceplate of her armor and strode toward the hulking machine before her.


Tosmapa Heavy Industries Automated Mining Barge - Far Reaches Class - high grade, Tier 1


“Hey, buddy. Nice to see you’re still alive. I thought Turrethead or Medusa had gotten to you,” Maya called out as she approached the massive mining barge.

It had been weeks before, when she had left the Hangy to find the mysterious light she had saw while scouting from the top of the Hangy Trash Pile, when she had come across the massive mining barge tearing away at trash piles. She felt it was ages ago, but it was less than two months before.

She wondered how she had not heard the machine. Her first experience had been with the mining barge groaning and booming its way across the rainbow sky hellscape. Now it towered above her, but seemed oddly quiet.

It was a machine, Maya knew, but she still felt a quiver of fear run up her spine. It wasn’t a rogue AI and it wasn’t a death bot, it was just a mining barge doing mining barge things.

“Hey,” Maya called out again.

There was a crackling noise and a ghostly holographic figure appeared before her. Maya stopped and stared at the figure. It was a tall chunky looking fellow that reminded Maya of a sadder version of a certain crime dog. Instead of droopy ears, it had a small rack of antlers and bright violet eyes.

“Hello!” the holographic figure boomed. “Thanks for the assist, buddy. That rogue AI was a real doozy, but nothing ole Zono couldn’t handle! I’m Zono by the way.”

Maya grinned. The hologram might had looked sad, but the voice and mannerisms were not. “Hey, pal. I’m Maya and I’m glad to help anyone who isn’t actively trying to kill me. You don’t kill SIL do you?”

“Only if they tell me to,” Zono grinned. He glanced behind her at Bonita and the crew. “Nice ride. You’ve got a rogue AI sitting in that back of that ground vehicle.”

Maya glanced over her shoulder. “That’s Tender. He’s cool.”

“Temperature don’t matter none when it comes to rogue AIs, hon.” A scowl formed on the friendly face as he kept staring at Tender.

“Tender is my friend. He’s helped me out and he’s no danger to anyone who doesn’t mean him or me harm,” Maya elaborated. “Leave him be.”

Zono looked at her and shrugged. “Your funeral, doll. If SIL wants to play with deadly AIs, it’s SILs business. I’m just interested in the wealth of materials this place holds.”

Maya perked up at the mention of materials. “Hey, buddy. You by any chance giving away some of those materials you’ve been harvesting?”

“If by giving away you mean selling, then damn straight I am.”

“If by selling you mean giving it away for free, then color me interested,” Maya replied.

“If by coloring you interested you mean increasing the base price by five percent every time you try to weasel free stuff from me, then yeah!”

Maya had to laugh. “Got a catalog, bro?”

“Even better, kid.”


Zono Material Merchant has offered you a System Catalog. Accept? Y/N


“System Catalog?”

“New around these parts, lady? A System Catalog is as it sounds. It’s a product catalog you can peruse at your leisure without the messy need to activate a hologram on a tablet or computer.”

Maya shrugged and willed the catalog into being.

“Wow,” she said.

‘I’m gonna hit my quote this quarter and then I’m gonna blow it out of the solar system,” Zono said. “This place, wherever it is, is stock to the brim with already processed and refined materials. I’m gonna make my boss so damn rich, she’s gonna kiss me.”

“Uh, do you actually have all this material on you?” Maya asked. She scrolled through the pages upon pages of materials and noted the quantity given in neat metric numbers.

“Heck, yeah. Tier 2 Industrial dimensional containers. I can carry more than a standard year’s worth of mining and processed material on me,” Zono replied. “Far Reaches class, baby. I go where SIL are too scared to go.”

Maya glanced at the dead rogue AI. “You can protect yourself?”

The crime dog scoffed and tossed his head up. “I’m a Far Reaches, like I said. I’ve got the armament and power to protect myself and the cargo I carry. Of course, I didn’t work alone, there were another five dozen of my fellow barge compatriots with me, until… well, until the dimensional instability formed.”

“You been alone since then? How long?”

“About three months now. One of my port thrusters was acting up and I was down for self repairs, when I got the alarm. Instability forming and I couldn’t get away fast enough. Damn thrusters, they’re sub-contracted out to a shitty low tier civ.”

“So… uh… not to be rude. Can I lay claim to you as salvage?”

The dog deer laughed. “Sorry, ma’am. I’m already spoke for. Not that your’e not cute or anything, for a hornless, furless biped.”

“How about buying you outright.”

“Now, we’re talking. Far Reaches are sent out by the Core to mine the edges of Known Space, but if someone wants to buy up a barge, they can. Got a hundred million credits on you?”

“Nope.”

“Sorry, then.”

Maya thought for a moment. “Let me discuss something with my compatriots over there. I’ll be a minute,” she said.

“Take all the time you need. I’ll be on my way soon enough, more of these delicious stacks of materials needing harvesting.”

Maya filled Tender in on what was going on. Veskari didn’t seem to care, only worried about Yositari.

“If some of the materials you’ve listed are indeed apart of is inventory, then you should secure his services,” Tender said. She couldn’t show him the catalog, as he had no access to the System, but she did tell him what she saw on the catalog and after a moment, he had told her what to look for. Crafting materials. They weren’t all biological material, they were also various Tiers of materials that were created by the infusion of essence mana into a universe.

Zono it seemed was a wealth of minerals and materials.

“A big guy like him doesn’t need protection,” Maya said.

“The mining barge also has the ability to manufacture its own ammunition and repair itself,” Tender said. “That means it has some manufacturing modules, high grade if its a Far Reaches minion barge.”

“A manufacturing base on legs,” Maya mused. “If we can get it to make us stuff…”

Maya grinned and hopped out of the back of the truck. Zono’s hologram was still standing where she had left him. She was glad they were using the suit’s inbuilt radio to communicate. She didn’t know how the AI would handle being talked about.

“Hey, buddy. Sorry for the wait,” Maya said. “Things to discuss with my partner over there.”

“No problem, lady. I’m just enjoying the scenery.”

“First of all, I can I have that rogue AI that was just killed?”

“Oh, sure. You killed it and you’re a SIL. You’ve always got first dibs on those kinds of things.”

“Doesn’t hurt to be polite, like my Pops used to say.” Maya cleared her throat. “Hey, I’ve got a proposition for you.”

The AI grinned. “Buy a guy a drink first. I’m not that easy.”

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Comments (4)
user avatar
User #6570977 - 10 Aug 20 17:21
Are all the new v2 chapters significantly different and we should reread from 2-01?
user avatar
User #16050838 - 10 Aug 20 18:15
Like the v2 much better, man I love this story
user avatar
User #15322928 - 15 Aug 20 14:24
I think in from to them should be in front of them, Ascetics should be Aesthetic and right at the end you have an extra I , "I can I " I'm really enjoying the rewrite btw!
user avatar
alexclaw - 10 Aug 20 17:23
They're fairly different. A lot of it was cut and repasted in different order and some new material was added . I'd go with rereading them after chapter two.
B2-05 - Bonita (V2.0) 2020-08-10T17:17:46+00:00


“What do you think, Tender?” Maya asked.

“You do seem to have an affinity towards the color purple, boss,” Tender replied.

“Yeah, I know. I was the one who got Pops to paint his fleet of food trucks purple. Mother was against it, but when Pops found out it was the color of royalty; he got behind it.” Maya looked at herself in the full length mirror. Even with advanced technology that outstripped everything ever made by Humanity, mirrors were still a thing. It, of course, was a sci-fi mirror in that the image it presented wasn’t a reversed copy of Maya, but one that showed her as she was.

Maya smoothed down the fabric of the robe. She still wore her battle armor, but held the robe against the black armor, bathed in light coming off of Tender. She nodded her head and added it to her Inventory.

“That’s going in my fall collection,” Maya said. She glanced back down at the desk and rifled through the pile of clothing.

Dead things didn’t survive long in the rainbow sky hellscape. That was something Bell had discovered. For some strange reason the dimensional plane she was stuck in caused ‘dead’ organic matter to disintegrate. That included clothing and bedding and bodies.

It was the reason Maya had only found a ship full of skeletons. Not skeletons in rotting clothing, just skeletons. The common uniform of the Tozenreli Exploration Commission was mass produced cheap organic body suits. It was what amounted to alien all natural 100 percent cotton. That went for the bedding and the chairs and pretty much anything that it could be made out of. Compressed organic furniture was a thing and that didn’t just mean veneer over particle board, this was actual formerly living organic material that had been shaped and compressed into desks, chairs, and beds. Sturdy and very cheap.

Then there was what Maya was calling the Captain’s Ready Room, it was so large it was almost like a suite itself. Cheap organic stuff was used by the common crew, but when one got so rich it went full circle to using organic materials again. Instead of compressed organics, it was ancient wood shaped by master craftsmen, finely woven tapestries, and mana shaped desks and chairs, not the mention exquisite paintings done by some long dead master.

High grade clothing lasted a very long time, especially when they were sealed within a recovery stasis chamber that through some system tech wizardry prevented the clothing from degrading due to wear and tear. The chamber actually rebuilt the clothing when it wasn’t in use. It was another piece of tech that Maya was eager to dismantle and study, but for the time being she was focused on a new set of clothing.

The clothing she had taken from the pub were rags now, the clothing she had gotten from Shen’s ship held too many bad experiences, but this clothing was calling to her.

-I am glad you are enjoying going through Captain Huvano’s personal belongings.- Veskari’s stated, there was nervousness in his voice. -But time is running short for Yositari.-

“Your captain had some stylish tastes,” Maya remarked.

-Yositari-

“She’s been chilling for twenty thousand years, no rush, pal. We’ve got two days and one thing I’ve learned in my days of slinging food, you can’t keep looking at the clock or it’ll kill you.” Maya picked up a crimson vest that extended down to her knees. The fabric was trimmed with iridescent blue and had ivory buttons. “Nice.”

-I know where there is more items of value. If you help Yositari, I shall tell you where to find these items.-

Maya made a face. “Yeesh, now you make it sound like I’m holding your friend hostage for loot. I’m really not, all of this,” Maya waved at her hour spent digging through the remains and offices, “is my way of thinking. I have to be doing something and taking my mind off the dire needs of right now. Sitting down and pondering is not something I’m good at.”

-I see.-

“We’re going to save your friend and you too, but first we need to know if our doctor can do what needs to be done to get your bro safely out of that stasis pod. I’ve had Tender contact Nan and she’s still running through the information we’ve dumped on her. She’ll come up with a plan, we just need to get your buddy to her. You should know her, she was an emergency medical AI on this ship.”

-I do not know a Nan.-

“Nanaseto?”

-No.-

“Well, she’s a blast and you two should totally hang out.” Maya turned to Tender. “Make a note. Take the mirror. Take the closet. Take the paintings.”

“Noted, boss.”

“Alright, new plan.” Maya sat down at the desk that occupied the Captain’s Ready Room. There wasn’t much in the large room, a desk, couches, bathroom, and the large wardrobe of clothing and other items. There was also, disgustingly, a small bed in the corner for what Maya assumed was a Tari slave. “We fix up Bonita. We rush back to the ship. We grab Nan. We bring her back. We free Yoshi over there and then we get on with making sweet, sweet credits from devastated people.”

“What about the loot.”

“We keep the loot, do something with it, and make profit. Business!”

“Is this one of the moments where I question authority, boss?”

“We’re besties, Tender. I’m not an authority figure. I’m just a sweet girl hoping to save a little dinosaur in a tank, therefore you don’t have to question me. Because we’re partners.”

“I don’t think that’s right…” Tender said.

“As we’re partners, Tender. I’m open to suggestions.”

“We could disconnect the tank and take it with us, boss. These stasis pods are designed to be moved and the battery within it will remain active, therefore there is no risk of waking or hurting the occupant. That way we only have to make one trip back after fixing the Bonita. As for the loot, your dimensional gateway can go anywhere in the multiverse, so maybe we can sell some of this high end loot to non-humans?”

Maya chewed on his words for a moment. “Jesus, Tender. Maybe you should be making all the decisions.’

“I couldn’t do that, boss. I have no morality,” he said.

Maya frowned and then sadly smiled at the AI. She could banter and bounce words off of him, but in the end he really was only a machine. She didn’t know if rogue AIs could ever feel emotions or truly care about anything, even if they evolved into Tier 2. Veskari was the only non SIL Tier 2 person she had met and all his worries seemed focused on Yositari, so there was hope that they could achieve emotional attachment of some sort.

“We’ll work on that, bud. In no time, you’ll be as moral as I am.” Maya grinned.


***


Maya had helped her father plenty of times in maintaining his fleet of food trucks. Her youngest brother was all thumbs when it came to anything mechanical and her other brother had joined the military as soon as he could. It was something she enjoyed doing, working with her hands. She was no mechanic, shade tree or otherwise, but she had some knowledge and experience when it came to vehicles and engines.

“What the shit is this?” Maya asked.

“Universal mana motor adaptor kit,” Tender responded.

“It doesn’t look like a motor to me.”

“It is.”

“You sure?”

“Yes.”

The mana motor was a two foot cube of yellow metal. The labeling on the cube did say mana motor and Tender carried it over to the hole the that once held the engine of the truck. That engine had been pierced by flying debris and had to be removed before she had left the remains of the pub, so many weeks before.

The food truck, Bonita; which had been her home for the first week upon arriving into the rainbow sky hellscape, was nearly a wreck these days. She had been gored by a ramming AI, she had suffered through the explosion of a dimensional bag bomb, and she had sat idled and unloved outside of the Hanganathorie for weeks.

“Sorry, babe. I’ll buy you flowers later. But now, we got a new part that’ll hopefully make you run again.” Maya looked askance at the motor and shrugged.

Electronics wasn’t a thing in a post Integrated world. From what Maya had learned from Maria, some kind of EMP had hampered the use of most electronics on Earth; from her own experience, Maya knew that the System didn’t view electronics as necessary. For a multiverse spanning being, the System wanted people to consume and use mana. Therefore everything ran on it.

To be fair, Maya realized that it was the ultimate energy source. Essence mana from which mana was derived existed in such abundance that it threatened to destroy all of existence. So, long ago some people built the System to force everyone to use up mana.

Even with all her reset levels in [Mechanic], [Technician], and [Engineer], Maya still didn’t fully understand how machinery consumed mana. It just did and it made things work. It was like electricity of the post Integrated universe. But electricity that could be given form to do a lot of things.

The existence of the mana motor negated the need for all the equipment that was necessary to make a truck engine function. Out went all the cooling devices, the exhaust, and everything that was associated with keeping an engine running. Maya was a bit concerned, but followed Tender’s instructions. It seemed like they were taking out too much.

In the end the main problem turned out being trying to figure out a way to connect the motor to the drivetrain of the truck. But the mana motor kit had adapters even for that. Maya was amazed at the foresight. She shook her head and continued working on the truck, with heavy assistance from Tender.

“Primitive conditions are not unexpected,” was Tender’s reply when she asked how the kit was able to have everything needed to retrofit the truck.

She kept the steering wheel, because otherwise it didn’t feel like a vehicle. But the manual transmission had to be removed and she had no use for the dashboard of dials, but she kept that also.

“Alright. I’m starting her up.” Maya summoned a tablet before her and it connected to the small computer within the motor. There was a mana battery connected to the whole set up, a small tool battery that Tender claimed would be enough power to take them back to Shen’s ship.

With a press of a button, a light went from red to green. There was no sound and there was no feeling that the motor was running. Even with the hood removed and the motor exposed for her to see, Maya didn’t notice anything different about it.

She selected the forward arrow icon and the truck jerked forward. Maya hastily slammed her hand down on the large “stop’ button. The truck didn’t stop, instead it continued rolling forward until friction caused it to stop.

“No brakes,” she groaned.

They had pulled out the braking system as there was no way to operate it. Unfortunately the mana motor didn’t come with brakes, that was apparently a whole different kit they hadn’t found yet. Maya gingerly moved the truck forward and began to figure out how to slow down using the reverse option.

The forward motion of the truck could be slowed via telling the motor to go into reverse. It was a tricky workaround, but after an hour of testing and nearly colliding into every piece of debris on the surface, Maya managed to control the amount of power to slow the truck down in a safe manner. It wasn’t going to stop on a dime, but if she were lucky it’d stop on a twenty dollar bill.

Maya sighed as she leaned against the steering wheel of the truck. She looked up at the rainbow sky and remembered doing the same thing all those weeks ago when she first arrived. At that time she had been sick and suffering from what seemed like the worst hangover in her life, now she was just tired and anxious.

“Two days now,” she said to herself. “Two days and there’s still so much to do.”

The food project was put on hold after their little excursion into the bridge, the water project was on hold again because they hadn’t gotten around to it. The weapon making had stalled after they had figured out how to make them, but only a few proto-types were created. The only thing they had made progress on was producing more cheap duracloth so people could potentially make shelters out of it. That was mostly due to Nan’s work, as she could control the machines that produced the cloth.

There was also the issue of Veskari and Yositari, the two were an unknown. For all she knew, Veskari had become insane in the last twenty thousand years. Yositari might be a vindictive little monster ready to kill and consume everything. But Maya was an optimist and was willing to give it a shot.

Things had turned out fairly well so far. The excursion into the bridge had gained them five dimensional bags, along with tons of items. She was extremely wealthy, according to Tender. Some of the protective items were worth a lot, but Maya knew that she was only technically rich.

She had been in that position before. When she had found the million credits Tommoth was hiding, but at that point she didn’t have any way to spend the credits, except buying drinks from Tender. Now, she needed credits and had high grade items to get those credits, but no one to buy them.

Earth, even though she loved it, was a backwater hellhole now. People had reverted back to survival and fighting off mana mutations. That didn’t give rise to a robust economy where they could afford to buy the items she had found within the bridge. It was like trying to sell a Ferrari to a war torn village in the middle of nowhere. Sure, a lot of people would be interested, but they didn’t have the cash on hand.

She had to find that line between charity and business. She needed to help her people, but the best way to help them was through Settlement Deeds. She couldn’t get those unless she had credits.

The thought made her sick sometimes. She didn’t want to be one of those exploitive assholes who sold bottles of water at high markups. She didn’t want to be the hotel that raised their rates when homes had been destroyed and people were forced to leave.

But she needed credits.

She looked at Tender who had been patiently waiting for her.

“New plan, Tender,” she said.


***


“I’d totally help, but y’know… one hand.” Maya said as she followed behind Tender.

“It’s no problem, boss. I got this,” Tender replied, dragging along the tube that contained the dino creature.

Maya had fretted over removing the tube holding Yosi, but after a few questions and a quick download of the Yolovani Eternalast Stasis Pod - low grade, Tier 1 knowledge cube, she understood that the pod was detachable and moveable while it still maintained it’s own power. Each pod had a Tier 2 mana battery that could last up to twenty five thousand years, which Maya saw was a complete falsehood. This battery had only lasted twenty thousand four hundred and twenty five years.

“You’re a lucky little dinosaur, you know that?” Maya spoke to the creature in the tube. “You spent the last twenty thousand years on ice.” Maya said to the dinosaur.

Technically, Yoshi wasn’t frozen, nor were they suspended in a fluid. It was, according to the manual, a crystalline gel structure that hardened over the years, until it completely supported the body and stopped all bodily functions. It was fascinating, the gel was created from some kind of animal, according to the manuals. A space faring whale like creature that fired plasma and had massive mana tentacles that could snap a battleship in half.

But the ‘blood’ of the creature was the major ingredient in the stasis gel. It stopped all kinds of bodily functions, effectively putting one into suspended animation until they were revived. The combination of crafting and system tech at its best.

The pods themselves were also very expensive, another testament to the disparity between officers and crew members. There had been half a dozen pods, one for each officer. From what she had managed to dig out from the logs, there were also another half a dozen of the pods on the ship for the other high leveled officers, the doctor, head engineers, and the like.

Maya wasn’t intending on selling the pods; it was what they held within them that had caused the greedy little monster within her to screech with glee. Crafted mana batteries.

The current mana batteries she lugged around were the Markozki emergency mana batteries that had mostly lasted twenty thousand years, but they were massive things compared to the crafted batteries that powered the pods. One small fist sized battery held enough power to be continuously used for about five thousand years. Their charge could be held for nearly forty thousand years without much mana corruption.

Veskari had informed them that Yositari had managed to cobble together the remaining batteries together to keep the pod powered for potentially twenty five thousand years of use, but somewhere along the eons that had passed, one of the batteries had disconnected. Yositari hadn’t been a [Mechanic] or [Technician], but a [Slave], which Maya discovered was an actual Ability.

Maya had Inventoried the disconnected mana battery. Extra mana was always needed.

It did occur to Maya that all those weeks ago she could have just made straight for the bridge after defeating the rogue AI that occupied the ship. She had four days of power and light when she arrived, she could have gone to the bridge, met Veskari, saved Yositari, and used the additional mana battery to power Nanaseto and get Yositari fixed up in the process. Everything she had experienced could have been negated with a simple exploration of the ship.

Then again, she would never have met Tender or Bell or gotten so many other Abilities. Plus for all the horror and pain she had suffered, she had come through it all stronger. She had changed and she had gained so much more than she would have if she’d just stayed on the ship.

Still, she added exploration of the ship to her list of things to get done. There were still plenty of secrets on the ship and she hadn’t found them all yet.

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Comments (2)
user avatar
User #6570977 - 10 Aug 20 17:40
I'm getting suspicious of Nan now. It seems more and more likely that she is the shady doctor's personal AI.
user avatar
User #6105540 - 2 Sep 20 19:15
Author-san, you need to research things you don't understand before writing about them. Your level of mechanical knowledge in regards to trucks needs work. My suspension of disbelief was destroyed by that. The engine is connected to the transmission to transfer rotation to the 2 wheels that move the vehicle. The gears in the transmission allow for overcoming inertia and then using the same rotation at higher ratios to add or maintain speed. Breaks are usually independent hydraulic systems that don't depend upon power. The only exceptions are airbrakes and electric brakes used in hybrids and trailers. Throwing a motor in reverse would destroy the mechanical connection under the generated stress. So for readability either explain less or more, but if you are going to do more it needs research.
B2-04 - Yositari (V2.0) 2020-08-10T17:16:12+00:00


“Say the words, Tender.”

“Shit. There goes our salvage.”

Maya chuckled and looked at the large tank that had been behind a false bulkhead. “Well, it’s not Ellen Ripley, more a… I don’t know what it is”

Tender ambled up to the tank and hooked up the diagnostic scanner to the tank. The module was a hand held device they had taken from Shen’s ship. The Necro wasn’t an [Engineer] so a lot of the devices on his ship were simple and direct. That made it easier for Maya to co-opt the tech and discover their abilities.

Maya often wondered who had built most to the stuff Shen had been using. She knew the Necro wasn’t the brightest bulb in the multiverse, even if he had been a Tier 2 being. He claimed there had been others he had traveled with, his boon companions that eventually ‘failed’ him. Which Maya figured was code for him turning insane and then tearing his pals apart to remake them into eternally suffering mockeries of their former selves.

She didn’t regret killing the jerk, but she wished he had left behind logs or a diary to tell more of his story. A lot of her information was conjecture and assumptions. The real Shen was a mystery; one she had no desire to unlock, but the Story of Shen was another matter. She needed to know what he had seen, what he had witnessed, and how many others were out there in the dimensional plane; trapped, alone, and slowly dying of starvation.

“One problem at a time,” Maya muttered to herself. It was enough she already had to deal with Veskari, now there was this other creature in a large tube; not to mention all the problems she was already having here on the dimensional plane, the plans she had made, the objectives she had planned to accomplish. “If you wanna hear god laugh, tell her your plans.” Pops’ motto, of sorts.

“Looks like an emergency stasis pod,” Tender announced. Maya walked over and looked at the readout from the computer. “Officers were given stasis pods to fall back into if they were ever stranded or the ship went derelict.”

“Only the officers?” Maya wondered.

“Most likely. High leveled and high Tiered SIL are valuable in any society.”

“Right.”

Maya peered into the tube and gave Tender a look of confusion. “If I’m mistaken, this little guy doesn’t look anything like Nan.”

Inside of the cylindrical tank was a figure. The Nerigana were a short demonic looking people with horns, but the figure inside of the tank was even smaller and slighter. Maya guessed it was about four feet tall and more reptilian than Nan was. The figure reminded Maya of a commercial mascot for an insurance company with a hint of velociraptor; before people began claiming they were covered in feathers and no bigger than dogs.

The figure was naked, the head was large, the body slim, with thin arms that ended in webbed fingers, the knees were inverted, and it had a long tail that was curled around its torso. The coloring was bright, almost neon purple on it’s back moving into teals and greens throughout the body.

“I’m not one for reptiles, creepy little buggers, but this one’s pretty cute,” Maya said. “What is it? A baby Nan?”

THAT IS YOSITARI. PLEASE, HELP HER.

“Dude, chill out with the yelling, okay? I can hear you fine, just tone it down a bit.”

-Sorry.-

“Better.”

“I believe it is an entirely different species than the Nerigana,” Tender said.

“Weird. I haven’t seen any of their skeletons on the ship. Did it come later? An Unstable Survivor like me? Or was it apart of the crew?”

-Yositari was a Class Two Lifeform in the Nerigana Consortium. She was the only survivor of this ship. Please, help her. -

“Sole survivor? Honestly, how was I able to obtain salvage rights if there were still crew on board?”

-Class Two Lifeforms are not classified as SIL. They are not given the same rights or status. They are slaves.-

“Well, then. Fuck the Consortium up it’s authoritarian butthole,” Maya growled and repeated the conversation to Tender.

“Ah, Class Two have it rough in any sovereign polity.”

“Yeah, don’t tease me, Tender. Just tell me what a Class Two is already.”

“Uplifted species,” Tender said. “On any living world there are varying levels of sentience and sapience that evolve naturally. But with the introduction of mana and its effects upon all life, some of those higher leveled sapient and sentience creatures rapidly evolve into full intelligent species, with levels, skills, and abilities.”

“So SIL?”

“Not entirely,” Tender said.

-Class Two Lifeforms are a SIL Addition to the System. Billions of nations have all decided that they do not like sharing a planet with newly risen species, so they had the system classify them as Class Two Lifeforms. They are still SIL, but they aren’t as you are. They are not seen as true individuals by any nation.- Veskari’s voice dripped with anger and rage. He was not a fan of the classification.

“Damn it. The System and I are going to have to have a little chat,” Maya growled. “Just because they gained sentience and sapience via mana, they’re not considered to be full SIL?”

“Yes. They are viewed in the same vein as artificial intelligences and thereby can be sold, traded, or used as their owner wishes.”

“That’s disgusting.” Maya clenched her hands and took a deep breath.

-Please, revive Yositari and see to her safety. I don’t care about myself, but save her. Please. -


Quest: Save Yositari

- The Class Two Lifeform, Yositari, has been trapped in a stasis pod for twenty thousand USY. Revive and ensure her survival.

- Rewards - EXP


Maya immediately accepted the quest. “I can multitask,” Maya said. “We’ll get you both outta here.”

-Thank you-

Maya turned to the tank and tapped on the glass. “What’s powering this tube?”

“Crafted mana batteries,” Tender said. “Long lasting and highly durable. Only the best for the officers.”

“I like that tone of dismissal you’re cultivating there, Tender.“ Maya slapped Tender on the shoulder and gave him a thumbs up. “Now, buddy. How long does this fella got in that there tank, because with our luck, it’ll be hours.”

“Two days, seven hours.” Tender replied.

“Of course.” Maya grinned.


***


Maya decided to loot while thinking on what to do with the critter in the tube and what Veskari had told them.

It seemed the ship had entered the dimensional instability as they had planned and everyone promptly died. Veskari managed to set the ship down and after that was done, realized that only a singular crew member of the ship had survived the instability.

The slave Yositari.

Another fact Maya learned was that if the named ended in -ari, it usually meant they were property. Tari for class two lifeforms and -kari for Teir 2 golems. AIs got -seto if they were ship AIs. The Nerigana sure liked to keep things organized. San-Huvano literally meant Property of Huvano, aka, the captain.

Veskari explained that Captain Huvano had brought along his personal golem to oversee the ship. It was the right of any Tier 2 SIL on a ship to have an artificial servant that was completely and utterly loyal to them, a bit like a rich guy buying the most overpriced sports car they could, but in this case it was status symbol and also a practical thing. The paranoia of the high leveled was not a thing to be taken lightly.

That made Maya wonder where the shady doctor’s personal golem was. There were still dozens of unexplored quarters and a few of them were the suites given to the higher ranking officers in the ship. She really needed to get on looting the entire ship, especially if those quarters held as much loot as the bridge did.

Maya shook her head to get rid of the tiny greedy monster that was gnawing for more loot. She looked back at the orb she had replaced upon the shrine. She couldn’t take Veskari’s constant worry over Yositari’s condition. It seemed the golem had some small measure of control in its shrine, which was as connection port.

They just added power from a mana battery they had been lugging around and the golem core got to work.

As Veskari and Yositari weren’t considered fully SIL and not apart of the crew, properly, they could not claim rights to the ship. They could not make changes and they could not override the locks that had slammed down the moment Huvano had died. It had been more luck that Veskari had set the ship down in the first place.

As Maya looked around the bridge, she noted the difference between the bodies of the Nerigana officers and the bodies of the Tari slaves. It seemed Yosi had moved her dead compatriots into a side room and laid them to rest among their worldly goods. Now, Maya was all about looting, but she left those little dinosaur bones alone. She didn’t show the same respect for the rest of the officers on the bridge.

She rooted through the remains of the dead like she was being paid to do so. Respect for the dead had faded once she learned slavery was a thing among the multiverse.

The hopes of gaining something from willing the bones into her Inventory had been dashed. She had hoped it would be similar to how she had taken the bodies in the pub and they had released experience and credits to her. The bones didn’t offer up anything, nor were there any questionable Abilities forced on her for taking them. It seemed once they were just bones or too old, the System didn’t judge.

It was what lay under the bones that had gotten her attention. The first officer, Telmorva Gubvano, didn’t have much on themselves, besides a flashy jumpsuit. But as Maya shook out the cloth, she saw a familiar bag tumble to the deck.

It was a dimensional bag and it held wealth. Perfectly preserved wealth and… food. Maya was shocked to feel a still warm tart she pulled from the bag. She sniffed it and it didn’t smell very good.

“How?” she asked.

“I would not eat that, it’s poisonous.” Tender replied.

“I need to get this Evaluation up.”


Gin’s Excellent Dimensional Bag - Mid grade, Tier 2

40 slots, 50 kilos per slot


“Your Dimensional Inventory would work far better. You can keep hot and cold food in there until the day you eventually die and it will still be hot or cold.”

“Awesome.” Maya dug around in the bag and stopped. “Wait, if this guy had a dimensional bag, they must have all been carrying.” She grinned and Tender perked up a bit.


***


“Cripes, Tender. How much wealth does one SIL need?” Maya draped herself in a long chain of iridescent metal and slightly glowing jewels.


Necklace of Protection - mid grade, Tier 1

Creates a mana shield to protect from one high velocity kinetic attack. Recharges every 2 hours.


“I wouldn’t stack so many enchantments upon yourself, boss,” Tender said.

“Why?”

“Resonance. Too many enchantments together will cause the mana in the local area to warp and create a resonance feedback loop that will destroy the enchantments and usually the wielder.”

“Oh, shit.” Maya muttered and tossed off the rings and necklaces she had draped herself with. “It’ll be fine if they’re in a dimensional bag, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Awesome.” Maya grinned and slapped down five different bags. “Choose one, Tender.”

He randomly selected a bag.

“You sure?”

“You said choose one. There were no stipulations given on how to choose,” he replied.

“Well, choose one that you want to keep as your own personal dimensional bag,” Maya clarified.

“I do not need-“

“This isn’t about need, Tender. This is about splitting up the spoils. This is about being fair. This is about us being partners.”

“Partners?”

“Yeah, bud. You’re my Coo, Red.”

“I think that’s COO.”

“Coo or COO. You’re still it and you deserve some of the spoils. I’m not even paying you, buddy. I need to fix that.”

“But you need-“

“There you go again. So selfless. I understand your minimalistic needs for comfort and that you haven’t come into a style of your own, but take a bag and own something. Having something to lose makes life all that much better.”

“Having something to lose? How does that make life better?”

“Having nothing to lose means you have nothing to lose, but having something to lose makes every decision you make more meaningful. Because you’re putting that thing you have on the line.”

“But I already have something to lose, boss.”

“What’s that?”

“You.”

“Hot damn, when did you install a silver tongue?” Maya grinned and slapped him on the back. “Pick a bag, Tender. Own something. Cherish something that doesn’t make any kind of sense logically.”

“Okay, boss. I’ll take the red one.”

“Matches your eyes.”

The red dimensional bag was a chest strapped version that was used under clothing. Like the bag she had gotten off the battle bear so long ago, this one was a higher grade and make, so it had lasted well over twenty thousand years.


***


[Looter of the Dead] level 2


Maya grunted at the message. She had seen the same message before, long ago. She didn’t remember if it were in the pub or the Hangy when she had originally leveled her [Looter of the Dead] ability.

When she had defeated Shen, the Necro, she had seared herself with destructive essence mana; Maya had been stripped of all her levels and the experience she had gained. It wasn’t too bad, she reflected. She hadn’t been some high leveled powerhouse, instead she had been only level 11. The searing had also reset all of her Abilities. She still had the abilities, but she had to re-level them. In truth, it wasn’t too bad either.

She had trouble with finding the right tools when building things, but that was because her Tools was only level 1. The ability had only given her a hint of which tool was the right one for the job, although Tender claimed that at high levels she would be able to conjure actual tools to do a job. But that was a dream, as that required mana channels.

The biggest kick to her growth, Maya mused, was that she could not channel mana in the normal way an Integrated SIL could. Sure, she could technically channel essence mana, the greatest and most powerful form of channeling, but her body was weak and fragile. She would have to gain a hundred levels before even trying to play around with channeling essence mana. In a normal world, she would have access to the mana channels in her body, being able to make herself stronger, smarter, and create magic, but those had been destroyed by her own essence mana abilities.

That left Maya in a unique position. She had been upgraded to Tier 2 by the System, in return to becoming a Point of Contact to the rainbow sky hellscape. Yet, due to Searing herself; she had burned up even that little bit of mana channels she had left. Low leveled, high Tiered, but with no way to use the mana in the world, it was like a joke. She was considered powerful, but she was in actuality very weak.

The only way to increase her levels was through combat. The destruction of enemies dropped experience points. If she had mana channels she could have devoted herself to what she was currently doing, building and salvaging, and that itself would have raised her levels. Channeling mana and doing things is how a normal person would gain levels. It was the whole reason there were crafters and non-combat SIL.

Maya hated fighting. She had survived by the skin of her teeth on far too many occasions. She had been stabbed, concussed, lost an eye, lost a hand, tortured, and nearly killed so many times.

Her father, Pops Sullivan, used to say “a person’s character is revealed through combat”. Maya didn’t entirely agree with that statement, but her father’s words had once been the gospel upon which her life had been shaped around. It had been his words that had helped her in the first days when she arrived in the rainbow sky hellscape.

But these days she found herself relying on his words less and less. Perhaps she was growing up, perhaps she didn’t need them, perhaps she was already forgetting what his voice sounded like and what his words were supposed to mean. Maya didn’t know.

She realized she didn’t know a lot.

Every day brought up something new and strange. Veskari and Yositari were just another addition to the strangeness of the world.

Maya looked down at the bone she had been looting and turned the red coin over in her hand. She had seen the coins in the bodies of the Nerigana crew and had never fully found out what they were for. This coin had a closed fist and the scowling demon visage on the faces.

Not from decency or respect did Maya will the bones into her Inventory. Digging through bones, even the bones of slave owning assholes, still creeped her out. She literally lived in a ship full of dead people and she hadn’t gotten used to it. Every day she would see a random pile of bones where a crew member had died. Every time she had been rushing to get somewhere else and had never bothered to collect or inter the remains.

She didn’t feel guilt about it anymore, but she knew that she would have to collect them all eventually. She had made a promise so long ago to treat the dead with more respect. After all, this whole plane was filled with the dead.

Maya looked up from her morose thoughts and watched as Tender busied himself with trying to attached his new dimensional bag upon his body.

She chuckled and continued looting.

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Comments (1)
user avatar
User #13235254 - 12 Aug 20 12:58
How is she moving the inter-dimensional cage if she has lost her [Dimensional Awareness] and also cannot channel Essence Mana?
B2-03 - Veskari (V2.0) 2020-08-10T17:14:51+00:00


Integrated Economics Knowledge Cube - high grade, Tier 1

Download complete


“Whoa, Betty!” Maya cried out, grabbing onto Tender as the world swayed and knowledge blossomed in her brain. Her head felt as if it were on fire and she gasped, not in pain, but at the intensity of the feeling. “I’m never gonna get used to that.”

“Download complete, boss?” Tender asked.

“I have knowledge, my boy. The world of finance and economics is opened to me and… it’s not much different than what I learned in college,” Maya frowned. “Its mostly defense economics; I was hoping for some multiverse system of Keynesian economic theory to hold sway, but that’s not the case.”

“How so, boss?”

“In my world, there’s a field called defense economics, it’s the economic study of the costs of war puts and how that relates to a society. Every bullet made, every weapon of war created, is resources that are taken away from society at large. Therefore, those countries that spend far more on their military will be spending far less on the society. Less schools, less hospitals, less roads, less infrastructure in general. All that extra money is going into making more weapons and preparing for war. It was a real big deal in the country I grew up in.” Maya leaned against Tender and thought. “I suppose it is how it would turn out. Integration didn’t just give SIL great powers, but it also gave every creature great powers. Mana just straight up changes everything, which I would assume causes a lot of headaches for everyone.”

“Danger lurks in every cell,” Tender said. “A common saying. Everything biological is a potential threat due to mana mutation. Except SIL, they are exempt from extreme mana mutations, only… cancerous growths.”

“Tell me about it, I nearly probably almost died from that exposed mana core. So, every nation is just a giant military industrial complex ready to go to war at a drop of a hat?” Maya asked.

“Combat orientated SIL tend to be the leaders of most sovereign entities,” Tender said. “The fastest way to gain power and levels is through combat. The attrition rate may be high, but those that come out on the other side are far stronger than most non-combat classes.”

“Might makes right,” Maya mused. She had imagined how governments would form after this whole mess on Earth was settled. Extinction of the human race wasn’t on the table, not if she had anything to say about it. Eventually, though, there would be a need for governments to form again. Not only for the security of society at large, but also to be a united force against any extra-universe carpet baggers that might come running once the universal standard year-

“Hold on a moment,” Maya suddenly said. “Hold on one goddamn moment!”

“Boss?”

“Tender. Let me ask you something. Be truthful.” Maya breathed deeply. “Tender. Does the System mark everything in Universal Standard Time?”

“Yes.”

“Days and years?”

“Yes.”

“So…” Maya gulped. “When the System said five hundred years. He meant five hundred Universal Standard Years?”

“I would assume so.”

“Five hundred Universal Standard Years!”

“Yes.”

Maya quickly did the math in her head. One Universal Standard Day was thirty hours. One Universal Standard Year was four hundred days. “That’s six hundred and eighty-five Earth years!”

“If you say so, boss.”

Maya sat down heavily and dropped her helmeted head into her hands. “Oh, fuck.”

“Are you okay, boss?”

“I’m dead. Leave me be, Tender. Go recycle my corpse and make sure Bell has his ticket so he can go home.”

“Bell can’t leave unless you create the dimensional threshold,” Tender said. “Only essence mana can open the gateway.”

“He’ll just have to become Tier 4, then.”

“Alright, boss. Do you wish to be officially dead before I recycle you or do you wish to be placed in the recycler while still alive.”

“Would you do that?”

“If you told me to, I would.”

“If I told you to jump off a bridge, would you?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, man. That’s not right,” Maya picked herself off the floor. “We’ve got to talk about your adherence to authority figures, Tender.”

“But you’re the boss.”

“I know that, but that doesn’t mean that you should follow my orders if it means your destruction. You’re an intelligence, a rogue AI, yeah, but still a thinking machine. You’ve got the ability to think for yourself, so think for yourself.”

“And if I decide I no longer wish to help you?”

“Then I’ll try to persuade you to help me or if that’s not possible, I will accept your decision and leave it at that,” Maya replied. “The choice is up to you, Tender. Don’t just do what I tell you to do, do what you think is right and moral.”

“Alright, boss.” Tender replied after a while. “Is it moral to break into the bridge in hopes of stealing ‘epic’ loot?”

Maya grinned as she picked up the cutter she had been carrying before the download of economics poured into her mind.

The two stood before the blast doors that would lead to the bridge of the Hanganathorie. It had been one of those areas that had been considered off limits in her salvage rights on the ship, it supposedly held Tier 2 locks and she hadn’t been awarded those rights due to her low levels.

The bridge also wasn’t located in the area she had assumed it would be. This wasn’t some top level, exposed to the vacuum of space by only a few feet of resin and marsani, instead the bridge of the ship was located midway between the engines and the mess hall. The bow of the ship leaned more toward crew quarters and science rooms, whereas the stern of the ship clustered the real important stuff.

“It’s the food processor we’re after, Tender. If there’s loot, there’s loot. I can’t help if there’s loot to be obtained.” Maya hefted the cutter and returned back to the blast door before her.


***


Lock-picking II


“Open sesame.”

There were no clicks, beeps, or thunks to announce the lock disengaging, only a single light that went from being lit to being unlit on the power supply Maya carried. In a normal world, once the lock disengaged, it would have rolled open by itself, but the only power to the door’s system was in the modified tool mana battery Maya had cobbled together. She grinned as she used the tip of her sword to pry open the blast door.

“I really need to get a new crowbar,” Maya said.

The door was heavy, thicker than any door Maya had seen on the Hangy, even the blast doors that could seal off parts of the ship. The door was protection, a security feature built into the ship to protect the most important things on the vessel; the high leveled SIL.

The perks of being an officer, Maya mused. They got thicker doors, they got bigger quarters, and they got a personalized, specially programed food processor that served the finest of Nerigana cuisine, without having to trudge down to the mess hall like a chump.

Space-classism was an odd thing, Maya thought as she struggled with the door. She had been on a ship built by the Tozenreli Exploration Commission which was a company or something in the bigger political body of the Nerigana Consortium. From what little she had learned by digging through logs and remains, the Nerigana weren’t the pillar of SIL in the multiverse. They were an authoritarian space faring nation that implanted chips into their citizens and kept track of everything they did. With magical system tech, Big Brother could see all and record all.

Authoritarian states were all the rage in the multiverse, it seemed. She didn’t think the System cared about spreading democracy, but when having levels meant having power; the multiverse was filled with tinpot dictators.

Yet, even some nation states got to be big empires and held on together long enough to become powerhouses in their own right. The Nerigana were one of those powers, according to the logs anyways. Powerful enough to send a Tier 2 [High Captain] on what amounted to a science expedition. It either spoke of their abundance of high leveled SIL or Huvano was a disgrace of some kind.

A gap appeared in the seal of the door and Maya expanded it further. Weeks had been spent on the Hanganathorie, but she still had only explored a quarter of the vessel. So much of her time had been spent salvaging materials and trying to learn how to use the system tech that she didn’t have time for exploration

That was the crux of everything. Time. There was just so little time. Already a day had passed since they returned to the Hanganathorie. Most of that had been spent making the weapons from the hull plating, then they had dismantled and checked a food processor; a device that turned out to be more complicated than she realized. They hadn’t even gotten to checking water filters or even begin working on the motor for Bonita. In five days they would have to be back at Shen’s ship to activate the cage to return to Earth.

Then there was her hand, or the lack of a left hand, that she had to take care of. That meant forty hours or so waiting for it to regrow. Maya sighed.

One of Tender’s rats entered through the crack in the door. She stood outside, waiting for it to report back that all was clear. Worrying about hidden traps hadn’t crossed Maya’s mind until the moment she decided that she wanted to grab the food processor from the bridge. She would have normally just run in and cut a hole in the door and then looted the place, but Tender had stated paranoia was a thing among higher leveled SIL.

Die low leveled without a worry in the world or live long enough to be scared of your own shadow. The wealth and rare items one accumulated after hundreds of years of living was a serious draw for the [Thief]. Even in exploration ships sent off into the ends of the universe, a high level individual had to live in comfort and surrounded by their worldly goods. The logs had shown that Captain Huvano was a sixteen hundred year old Tier 2 [High Captain], apparently a pretty intense class that would have put him in charge of military fleets yet he was somehow sent to command an exploration ship.

Therefore with the threat of traps a reality, Maya wore her armor and had Tender as backup. His rats were scouts and she was ready to run and hide at a moment’s notice.

“Are they all like this?” Maya asked. “I mean, Tommoth had hidden stuff, but no traps.”

“Tommoth… was a special case,” Tender said diplomatically.

“He was a dumb-ass, you mean.”

“Yes. He was not very proficient at being a criminal.”

Tommoth had been Tender’s former owner. He had been the manager of the Plaxar’s Pleasure Pub, a seedy little place that catered to getting low leveled monster hunters drunk, blackmailed, and/or robbed. The pub had been Maya’s life line, providing her shelter, power, weapons, and knowledge in her first weeks of being in the rainbow sky hellscape. Later on she had also discovered that the pub had been the heart of a money laundering scheme by Tommoth and his brother, Pegarios.

“All clear,” Tender said.

Maya pulled open the door. The thick slab of metal rolled easily open, always surprising Maya in the near frictionless way the doors on the Hangy opened. She shone a light into the darken room and whistled.

“Oh, damn. Who’s the interior decorator here?” she asked in wonder. “This was not as I expected.” Maya glanced around.

“What I have read about the Nerigana Consortium is that levels are everything. All the officers were high leveled individuals on this expedition. Yes, they were researchers and scientists, but they also lived the life of any high leveled SIL.”

An obscene amount of decoration and wealth filled the bridge. It looked like a Victorian whorehouse she had seen in a period drama back in college. Maya shook her head at the decorations; a mini flashback of Shen’s own taste assaulted her.

“Do high levels also make them have bad taste?” Maya muttered.

“Wealth and prestige, boss. They need to show both, especially in the presence of other wealthy and prestigious SIL.”

“A lot of dick measuring, but in credits.” Maya scoffed. She picked up a gold encrusted goblet off an ornate wooden table and shook her head.


Chalice of the Unyielding - high grade, Tier 1

Drink from this chalice and remove all emotion based attacks, double your Physical Perception, and increase your Physical Strength by 10. Effects last thirty minutes.


“Holy shit,” Maya said.

“Holy shit, indeed.” Tender said after she told him the cup’s details.

“Why a cup?” Maya asked. “If it’s meant to be used in battle, why not something more… battle ready?”

Tender gave a shrug. “SIL product design is not my speciality.”

“Bring out the loot bags, Tender. We got a lot of looting to do.”

Maya grinned. She peered at all the consoles that had been the ship officer’s domains. Plush reclining chairs, ornate cutlery, and even paintings mounted on the bulkhead. Then there were the piles of bones, most of those bones were in piles of clothing.

High grade cloth that didn’t degrade after twenty thousand years in the dimensional plane. She looked at the other naked bones and wondered if they were just passing off as being rich in the face of so much wealth. Like knock off brand names. Maya chuckled and wandered through the stations and arrived to the place of honor.

What she could only call a bed was seated in the center of the room. It was ornate and even after all this time and the degradation caused by the plane itself, the bedding and coverings were still crisp as if they were freshly made.

In the center lay the clothed bones of Captain Huvano.

“Did this guy literally travel through space and dimensions lying on a bed?” Maya glanced at Tender who shrugged once more.

“Most species have a connection to all the systems in their ship. Like the computer you were using, it integrates with everything and that is displayed in a HUD.”

“Make a note: Find a replacement for Tommoth’s computer. That auto aim was pretty useful.”

Maya looked at a table behind Huvano’s captain’s bed, it was built up like a shrine. There was a golden orb in the center of the table and around it were piled wealth and wonders that made Maya’s mouth water.

“What the hell is this?” Maya asked as she hefted the heavy golden sphere in her hand.

“I don’t know,” Tender replied.

She stared at the sphere; the system skill, Evaluation, should have kicked on and identified the object for her. But as she had seared herself, that Skill had been reduced to level 1 and it had become hit or miss on identifying items, so she got nothing from the object.

“Seems valuable though,” Maya muttered, tossing it into her Inventory.

HELLO?

The word of greeting boomed through Maya’s head. It was as if someone had mistaken her head for a bell. The word reverberated through her mind.

“What the shit!” Maya cried out.

HELLO? WHO IS THERE?

“What the hell!” Maya sputtered.

“What is it, boss?” Tender asked.

“Can’t you hear that voice?”

“What voice?”

“Oh, shit. Have I gone insane? God is that you?”

ARE YOU ALIVE? ARE YOU REAL?

“System?”

SYSTEM? CAN YOU HEAR ME? ARE YOU REAL? ARE YOU A SYSTEM IDENTIFIED LIFEFORM?

Maya opened her Inventory window and looked at the only thing she had added before being accosted by the loud voice. The golden orb sat in a slot and she reached in and tossed it on the floor.

“Make a note, Tender. Never pick up strange orbs,” she said.

PLEASE, ARE YOU REAL. HAVE I GONE MAD? PLEASE, TALK TO ME.

“So this golden orb thing is talking to me in my head,” Maya told Tender. She knew she should be more terrified or even freaking out, but she felt… bland about it. “What is it?”

“I don’t know,” Tender said. He looked at the orb and pondered. “It’s not system tech.”

Maya glanced down at the orb that had rolled to a stop against the table shrine leg.

“Bell said Crafting can make the same things system tech can, but better. Is this an AI core?” she asked.

YOU ARE REAL. I CAN HEAR YOU. THANK THE SEVEN GODS! YOU ARE REAL!

“Possibly. Although, if it were crafted they would be called golem cores,” Tender said.

“Golems? Like the Jewish clay creatures?”

“If that is what it translates into your language.”

“Huh. So what’s the different between a crafted AI core and a system tech one?”

“Sapience.”

Maya looked at the golden orb again. “So you’re saying if this is an AI core, it’s alive and thinking?”

“Not alive, but sapient and fairly low on the sentience side. It can learn and understand, but it doesn’t emotionally feel in the same way SIL do. There are tales of Tier 2 Golem cores that were placed to protect worlds and cities. They can last hundreds of thousands of years.”

“An artificial intelligence defense network? Skynet?” Maya mused.

HELLO, I AM VESKARI SAN-HUVANO. IT-IT’S BEEN SO LONG SINCE I’VE HEARD ANOTHER VOICE. PLEASE, TELL ME IF YOU’RE REAL. PLEASE.

“What powers it?’ Maya asked, squatting down and looking at the core.

“They absorb ambient mana the same way a SIL does. At Tier 2, they are almost like living SIL. They absorb mana and have levels. But golems aren’t fully SIL, they do not have skills.”

“Not much different from you, then?” Maya stared at the orb. “Is it dangerous?”

Tender shrugged. “It depends upon what it’s purpose was.”

I’M NOT DANGEROUS. I’M NOT DANGEROUS. PLEASE. I CAN HELP. PLEASE. DON’T LEAVE ME.

“Usually they are created for a singular purpose. Defense mostly. But many can be created to become curators, holders of knowledge, sages, and the like.”

“Hello, golem core?” Maya said finally addressing the orb. “What is your purpose, little core?”

Maya had never experienced telepathy and it was as disconcerting as she imagined, but it was also… oddly normal. Yet, the crying that greeted her words was… painful.

GODS, GODS! YOU ARE REAL. YOU ARE REAL! I’M NOT ALONE!

“Listen, you should calm down. Stop screaming in my head,” Maya said.

“Direct mental communication shows that it’s a high level golem core. Rare, indeed.”

I AM VESKARI SAN-HUVANO! I AM THE MAIN AI FOR THE HANGANATHORIE! I AM THE CONTROLLER, THE ADMINISTRATOR, AND THE PERSONAL SERVANT OF CAPTAIN HUVANO.

“Awesome,” Maya said. “You’re not a killer asshole intelligence that will betray me, are you?”

WHAT? NO. I’M A GOLEM. I SERVE AS DIRECTED. I AM- WAIT! YOU MUST SAVE YOSITARI!

“Yoshi who?”

“Boss. I think you should see this.”

“It better be loot and not another damn talking orb,” Maya muttered getting to her feet. She walked to where Tender stood and stared.

“Aw, shit, what is this now?”

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Comments (4)
user avatar
User #15322928 - 13 Aug 20 14:06
I prefer this version imho
user avatar
User #10453200 - 10 Aug 20 21:21
Hmm personally i liked the other version of veskari more, the whole arrogant golden orb persona fit a lot more than this subservient lonely version. I think the old one worked better, maybe you should've just changed the whole "oh thank you for clearing that up, now i don't need you anymore" scenario. Personally i think it would've been much better if Veskari's whole arrogant persona was like a defense mechanism, but in actuality he's just lonely. Like a mix of Version 2 and version 1. You know what i mean?
user avatar
User #13235254 - 12 Aug 20 08:43
I don't know - I believe this version is more realistic. An AI golem that was created to work with SIL's would be in crippling loneliness by now. Sure, its programming can prevent it from going batshit insane, but facades are not a thing you can realistically keep after 20,000 years lying on a dust shelf.
user avatar
User #5783303 - 10 Aug 20 21:13
yeh, being surrounded by Rogue AI out to kill and being stranded there for over 600 years, another friend and further access to the ship is a very welcome thing. beats having it trying to kill her lol.
B2-02 - The Riddle of Marsani (V2.0) 2020-08-10T17:13:15+00:00


“I had thought you were going to rest?” Tender asked as he entered the mess hall.

Maya looked up from where she sat at a table with the tablet opened before her. “No rest for the wicked, Tender. Where have you been?”

“I was installing the communications array,” Tender replied, walking up to her. “Now we can communicate with Nanaseto if the need arises.”

“Oh, yeah. Totally forgot about that,” Maya yawned. “Keep up the initiative and you’ll rise high in this organization, kid.”

“Sure thing, boss.”

“So, y’know, I was thinking about the Economic Foundation, that’s like a Foundation Skill, right?”

“Yeah, boss. If you choose correctly, you can set up an economic enterprise that will last generations. The Business Module Token you received will be the foundation upon which you build your empire. If you’re into empire building.”

“Yeah, that’s about what I expected. No worries, right?” Maya chuckled. “I still have sixteen hours until the Integrated Economics gets dumped into my head, so in the mean time I was thinking about Maria and Anisa. They’re both fighting against a world of monsters. From what I understand, electronics don’t work anymore, infrastructure is shot, and there’s no law and order, as far as they can tell. It might just be the areas they’re in, but it might be the same world wide. This is a disaster on an epic scale, bud. As they say where I come from, shit done wet the bed.

“There’s this thing called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It’s a pyramid of human needs; stuff like food and water, safety, and self actualization. It doesn’t just apply to people, but in a lot of things. Disasters, business, whathaveyous.”

Tender nodded, not saying anything.

“Anyway, I’ve been thinking on what Maria said back in Thailand. She talked about how they were out of water and food, and had no place to stay. Those three things are at the bottom of the Maslow pyramid.” Maya pulled up the diagram on the tablet, showing Tender. “The Physiological needs should have been the first thing I should have addressed. Instead I was selling them guns and swords, when they’re starving and don’t have access to clean water.”

“Mana mutations are a serious threat on newly Integrated worlds,” Tender stated.

“Yeah, they’re getting screwed every which way, but without food, water, and shelter, it’s more painful.” Maya replied.

“So what do you suggest we do?”

“We got about a hundred kilos of biomass from Maria and her people, which can make about eighty kilo blocks of tasty, tasty emergency rations. One block a day to keep starvation at bay.”

Maya pulled out a thick stubby looking pencil from her Inventory. It was technically an Industrial Marker, low grade, Tier 1, and it allowed her to draw upon surfaces. She had used it to create the signs on the cage wall and to draw on her stub. The marker didn’t hold ink, but instead it changed the pigmentation of the material it was being used upon. Maya had been fascinated by the marker, adjusting the size of the nib and drawing on the walls of the habitat. Luckily, it could also erase what was drawn.

She drew the Maslow pyramid on the table and labeled them.

“Right now, we’re here.” She pointed at the bottom of the pyramid. “We need to provide food, water, and shelter to those who need it. Then we can move onto safety. Which is most likely weapons and defenses.”

“The Hanganathorie was designed to handle a crew of two hundred and fifty, according to the records; in emergencies they could handle about four times that amount.” Maya tapped the tablet and raised a holographic image of the Hangy. The ship slowly rotated, it wasn’t the fully interactive map she had with the computer Tender had used, but it was better than nothing. She highlighted various spots.

“Food is an issue for us and the survivors. Right now the Hangy has about twenty of these food processors. They’re scattered all over the ship, with the bulk of them here in the mess hall.” Maya highlighted a machine that rotated before them. “Mid grade food processor, able to convert biomass into edible munchies. Although it can create a variety of dishes, the best return on our investment would be the emergency rations. They’re just fat, some protein, and micronutrients, all the stuff a growing SIL needs.

“So I’m thinking we pull all the food processors out, figure out which work and which don’t. Then cannibalize parts off the processors just like we did for the mana batteries. Then there are about two hundred water purifiers in the ship, every one of the bathrooms and these bathing pods have them. I guess the Nan aliens really liked their baths.”

“That’s a lot of the ship to get through,” Tender said.

“We’ll start slow. I wonder how big the next group will be?” Maya wondered.

“There is a chance that we will meet none,” Tender replied. “The connection to your planet is random. We don’t have enough data to fully understand how to control the connection or why it even connects only to your planet. The multiverse is massive and yet it has connected to your world twice now.”

“Maybe I have some magical connection to Earth.”

“I know you use the word ‘magical’ in jest, but you might not be too far from the truth.”

“Quantum essence mana signature,” Maya grinned.

She cleared her throat. “Back to business. We have food and water covered, but what about shelter? There any pop up boxes that can create a defensible house?”

“Such things exist, but they require the access to dimensional storage devices,” Tender said.

“We need to get more of those too.” Maya made a note. “We can print out more of that skin suit material right? It’s low grade and Nan said there was an abundant amount of the material.”

“It is durable and easy to manipulate,” Tender said. “There are some emergency shelters that are created with the same material. The low grade Duracloth is used in a lot of industrial manufacturing.”

“Awesome.” Maya ticked off the Shelter box. “Now, we get to Safety.”

“Your Sullivan Special was well received,” Tender said.

“Yeah, but that beauty took two days to build only two of them. Not really mass production.” She dug around in her inventory and pulled out a sword. They were weapons scrounged from within Shen’s ship. The Necro had a fully stocked armory, but his tastes had focused only on mid and high grade weapons. The current low levels of humanity meant they could only handle low grade end of the spectrum with any proficiency.

Maya held the sword in her hand and peered at the weapon. It was a double edged blade, three feet long and one handed. The metal had a red tinge to it and the blade, for its size, was very light and very sharp.

“Mid grade, Tier 1 - Kovamar alloy Dukathi Fighting Sword,” Tender identified. “Marsani alloy is used for a lot of low grade weapons due to its high availability, while Kovamar is used for weapons that hold enchantments.”

“Not many low grade enchanted weapons?” Maya asked.

“The cost is not worth it,” Tender explained. “There are some minor enchantments that are easy to apply; sharpness, durability, and such, but anything that requires sustained mana channeling into the weapon vastly increases the cost.”

“How abundant is marsani alloy?” Maya asked.

“Marsani is used in almost every industrial enterprise. The hull of this ship is a marsani alloy coated with an ablative armor. The metal is cheap and easy to process. It is like the steel you use, but far stronger and more durable.”

“I had a boyfriend,” Maya said, turning over the sword, “he used to love the idea of making knives and swords. He bought all this stuff for it, suspension leaf springs, hammers, and he even made an anvil out of a piece of railroad track. Then he realized how much work it took and then gave up on it.” Maya laughed. “He used to get caught up in all these things he wanted to do, but never had the follow through.”

“Interesting,” Tender replied.

“How hard is it to turn the marsani hull into a weapon? From the little I learned about my world’s version of weapon smithing is that steel needed to be heated and quenched to keep the metal from becoming too brittle or too soft. Does marsani work like that?”

“I’m not entirely sure,” Tender replied. “But the alloy is fairly uniform in its creation. Most people shy away from mass produced weapons, due to stigma and general difficulty to enchant the metal, but the metal itself should be as durable as any.”

“Stigma? Difficulty?”

“Machine made weapons are viewed as inferior to SIL crafted weapons. SIL smiths imbue their weapons with mana. This allows the weapon to accept enchanting more easily. Even though it’s been proven that machine made weapons are equal to non-enchanted weapons, many still believe it is best to buy SIL crafted weapons. A selling point that the Crafting Guilds exploit.”

“Huh. So I could just make some swords out of the hull and it would be as good as if someone had crafted it?” Maya asked.

“Yes. It should be.”

Maya jumped out of her chair. “Let’s give it a whirl.”

“What about the motor?” Tender asked.

“What motor?”


***


“What is the riddle of marsani, Tender!” Maya boomed.

“Boss?”

“Is it marsani? Is it flesh? Is it will?” Maya continued.

The rogue AI glanced down at the sword that was in his hands. With machine precision he held the cutter in one hand and the billet of marsani they had pried off the hull of the Hanganathorie in the other. It wasn’t their first attempt either; on the deck lay half a dozen other swords that Maya had tried to make herself. Being one handed did not make for a good smith.

Tender’s finished product was a three foot long blade with a full tang. Maya had opted for a single edge on the weapon, taken more from memory than something that actually existed. She could have copied the shape of the sword she had in her Inventory, but this weapon was more proof of concept than actual product.

Maya clanked down the corridor carrying the new sword. She wore the refurbished armor taken from the Shen zombies, deep cleaned and refitted to her body. She wasn’t taking any chances on this test. The last thing she needed was losing her other hand.

She experimentally swung the blade, making loud swooshing noises and then glanced at Tender. “I’m going full out on this,” she said.

“Okay, boss.”

“You won’t be mad if I break it?”

“Why would I? This was made to be broken, to test the strength of the metal.”

“Right. You say that now, but you’ve been very emotional lately. Crying about Nan and such.”

“I do not recall that event,” Tender replied.

Maya grinned and turned to face the inner bulkhead. She rolled her shoulders and hefted the blade.

“Hiya!” Maya cried as she slammed the blade against the corridor wall.

They stood in the outer corridor, not far from where they had battled the Roach King. The hole in the side of the ship provided them easy access to the exposed marsani hull plating.

Maya hadn’t taken much interest in the construction of the Hanganathorie, even though it was the first alien space craft she had found. Seven weeks in the rainbow sky hellscape had all been dedicated to surviving what the dimensional plane had thrown at her. So it was with some interest and excitement that she had peeled away the hull plating and looked upon the metal that made up the ship.

After Pops had retired from the Army and before the beginning of the food truck business, the entire Sullivan family had made the journey to see the USS Texas in La Porte, Texas. The old naval ship hadn’t inspired or impressed a sullen thirteen year old girl at the time, but Maya still remembered the ship and the vast expanse of its nearly seamless hull.

The Hanganathorie wasn’t built like that old battlewagon, instead of riveted and welded steel plates, the ship was made out of planks and then covered in half a foot of resin, on top of that there was an additional foot of metallic looking ablative armor that Maya had assumed was the actual hull. The planks of marsani metal were two feet wide, three inch thick thick and forty feet long.

Tender claimed the planks and resin reacted better to external stressors than if it were a solid sheet of metal. As Maya was no [Spaceship Engineer], she took his word for it.

They used the cutter, with liberal battery packs, to remove a rough billet from the hull. Although the cutter could slice up the metal, it was a slow process and Maya discovered she didn’t have the control with one hand to hold the metal in a correct manner. After the fourth attempt to form the blade, she had given up and had Tender do it. She had hoped to increase her [Smith] and [Weapon Maker] abilities.

The combination of Tender’s machine steadiness and unnatural strength allowed him to shape the blade and even put an edge upon it. Like a steel blade, a sharp edge would have to be added on later.

Maya also discovered that since low grade melee weapons weren’t considered dangerous compared to system tech mid grade weapons, the Hanganathorie most likely had a collection of weapons that the crew themselves had brought with them.

It was those moments of casual references to potential dangers and constant vigilance on the part of people in the safest places in the multiverse that caused Maya to realize that the world she had lived in was truly gone. She could understand Integration and had seen the apocalypse that was occurring on Earth, but her default imagining of a city or town was as a semi-safe place where one didn’t have to carry about weapons in case a mana mutation crawled out of the sewer.

THUNK!

The blade sunk into the metal of the bulkhead. Maya raised an eyebrow and grinned at Tender. Then she tried pulling the blade out of the wall, but it was stuck.

“Shit. Tender, a hand, please.”

Tender removed the blade from the bulkhead and handed it back to her

Maya sighed. “I gotta get this hand regrown,” she said. She handed Tender the blade. “Go to town on the wall, Tender. See what it’ll take to destroy it.”

“If you insist, boss.” Tender gripped the weapon in his hands and turned to the wall. “I would stand a safe distance away. “

Maya gave him a thumbs up and scurried down the corridor.

“Let ‘er rip!”

The boosts to Maya’s Physical stats had made her stronger, with the new levels she had gained from ‘laying to rest’ Shen’s zombie crew, she wasn’t weak. But she had to marvel at the strength displayed by Tender as he hacked at the wall. She knew it was all from the fact that he was a machine, but she was still impressed.

One day she would be stronger than he was. That was the joy of being SIL. She could level, while he was stuck the way he was until he got a new form.

The bulkhead was destroyed in short order. The sword didn’t break, but it did bend. A lot.

“Well,” Maya said looking at the hole Tender had hacked into an inner compartment. “Success?”

“I believe so,” Tender replied.

“Crom would approve.”


***


Maya opened her eyes. She steadied her breathing and blinked away the sleep. What had she been dreaming about? She couldn’t remember.

She was laying in her old nest bed, taken from the Hangy trash pile seemingly months ago. There were no day or night cycle in the rainbow sky hellscape and sometimes Maya didn’t know how long she had been asleep, awake, or even how long ago she had eaten. The hours and days seemed to blend together.

The cell phone she had brought with her was dead now. It had been the only thing that had allowed her to keep track of days. Even Nan and Tender had different views of what consisted of a day, even though there was technically a universal standard day, which Maya had learned was roughly 30 hours long.

For all the changes she had gone through, Maya wasn’t willing to give up the 24 hour day she had been born with. It was a petty thing, she knew, but it was the only thing she had control of. Since there was no day or night in the rainbow sky hellscape, it didn’t matter how long they labeled a day.

In the semi darkness of the mess hall, Maya raised her left hand. She looked at the stub. There were days when she thought she was dreaming, where all of this; the dimensional instability, the Integration, and all the horrible things that had happened were a dream. Yet, it was reality. She poked at her stump and felt nothing.

Her hand was gone. It had been gone for a week now and she could have had the hand regrown, but she was dragging her feet about it. She had claimed there was no time for the last six days, but that had been a lie. She hadn’t wanted to get the hand fix; she didn’t entirely know why.

It was proof, she figured. Proof that this was all real. Proof that everything had happened and she had made her choice. She was going to be stuck in this place for five hundred years.

The thought boggled her mind. Her grandmother had only lived to seventy-nine. Her grandfather to sixty-five. The oldest person she ever knew was Old Lady Byrd and she was nearly ninety. Weariness was the word that Maya would have described Old Lady Byrd. She had seen all her own children grow and die, her grandchildren didn’t visit anymore, her husband had been dead for nearly twenty years, and she was alone in her house. She had lived through trying times and had seen the world change so many times.

Maya poked her stub again. She wasn’t just going to live five hundred years, though. She would be living nearly two thousand. The product of becoming a Tier 2 lifeform.

Civilizations had risen and fallen in two thousand years. Whole languages had shifted in that amount of time. It was strange and terrifying and too immense to properly get a grasp of.

Maya sighed and closed her eyes. Nan had said that cultures slowed once Integration occurred. Where people had only lived for less than a century, now most would live nearly two or three, depending on their levels. An old adage was that every level gained added a decade to a SIL’s life before Tier 1.

Normal, everyday people would make it to mid grade levels without trying too hard before their life spans ended. But that was the other side of the coin. People might live longer, but danger was also exponentially higher. Mana caused all kinds of problems.

Every day would be a fight. Every year. Every century. Every millennia. Maya sighed once more.

She didn’t regret it. She didn’t regret it, not if it meant that Bell could go home and she could help people. She didn’t regret it. She just had to get used to the idea.

“Are you awake, boss?” Tender asked. The rogue AI was working quietly, organizing components. He hadn’t strayed far from her, preferring to sit between her and the tub that held Junior, using the dim light coming from the grow lights to sort components from the mana batteries they had collected.

“Yeah.”

“You really should get more rest,” Tender said.

“I really should,” Maya replied and pulled herself upright. She forced back a yawn and rubbed her eyes, then got to her feet.

Tender watched as she approached him. She sat down heavily on a mana battery case and began sorting components beside him. After a while, Tender returned to work. The only sound in the mess hall was the shifting and clinking of components.

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Comments (1)
user avatar
User #13235254 - 12 Aug 20 08:25
Why can't Tender level ? Rogue AI's do after all. And they clearly become stronger as they level. So, they inculcate mana into their bodies somehow ? I thought the 1 hand love fixation would be edited out - but apparently not. At-least give her a prosthetic so she can work effectively :(
B2-01 - Tier Me Up, Tier Me Down (V2.0) 2020-08-07T17:38:26+00:00

Tier 2 Achieved

Your body, mind, and soul have fully adapted to Tier 2.

-Note: This is a POC Tier 2 upgrade. You’ll still have to fully level to 100+ to use the full benefits of being Tier 2.



“What a crock of shit!” Maya yelled. “System! Where the fuck are you, you bastard!”

“Boss?” Tender asked.

Maya fumed. “That memory invading dickwad has added stipulations to my Tier change!”

“Ah,” Tender replied. The red eyed man watched her from where he was stacking boxes of organics. Maria and her crew had spent a good ten minutes harvesting plants and other biomass from outside of the cage before she had left.

Maya looked at him expectantly. “More emotion, Tender.”

“Ahhh.”

“Better.” She sighed. “This is bull. Why did I agree to it if I still have to level up to use special Tier 2 powers?”

“Otherwise your body will burn up and you’ll die,” Nanaseto replied. The blue eyed doctor sat in her chair, watching them. She didn’t move, as her real body wasn’t much bigger than her seated form.

“That’s still… not fair.”

“You can’t cheat.” Nan replied. “Your body has to adapt, your mind has to adapt, your soul has to adapt. Leveling does that.”

“Still a crock of shit,” Maya said angrily.

“You’re still Tier 2 by any metric,” Nan said. “That’ll mean you’ll be able to level these lower levels faster than before. Reaching Tier 2 before level 100 is not unheard of, but once you Tier Up, your entire being is operating at a ‘higher’ level than most SIL. so faster leveling, at lower levels.”

“Ah, well… I guess that’s not too bad, then.”

“Indeed.”

“Well, we’re all done here,” Maya said. She looked about the dimensional cage, it was filled with boxes she had generated from extra System Tech Tier 2 components that made up the cage. It was an extravagant waste, Maya knew, to use what amounted to nano-machines to create boxes to store lawn clippings, but she didn’t have any storage in the cage.

Maria Valdez and her survivors had left, after a fitful sleep and some emergency rations to fill their bellies. The group of tourists and locals trapped on the island of Ko Sumai in Thailand had left in better spirits than they had arrived.

The injured in their group, Vale, was back on his feet. Maria had the Settlement Outpost Deed in her possession and was Maya’s Chosen Representative, therefore she would run the community she formed. The others had spent what credits they had and purchased more weapons, clothing, and items that would make surviving a little bit more easier.

Maya didn’t envy them. They were all far from home and in a strange land during the apocalypse. Even Vale and Solada had come from a distant part of Thailand, whereas Nim was the only one born on the island. The island and surrounding seas were all full of monsters. Maya hoped they would succeed.

“We made 6,250 credits,” Maya said. She did the math in her head. “That means it’ll be only eighty trips to make another five hundred thousand credits to buy another settlement deed. Eighty trips is about… Five hundred and sixty days.” She groaned at that. “We need more money, faster.”

“We shall have to produce more stuff, boss. Find more avenues with higher rates of return on our product. You are currently selling at a massive loss.”

“Don’t I know it. But you gotta lose money to make money!”

“No, boss.”

Maya walked to the counter she had created and waved her hand. The counter fell away, to reveal a complicated looking device of screens and buttons. She pressed a big red button and reality wavered.

Tender, who stood beside her changed, he was a medium sized man with red eyes, straight white teeth, and wearing a practical maroon and black skin suit. That changed a moment later as the holographic disguise disengaged. Tender’s true form was revealed, a six foot tall robotic creature with half a dozen red glowing eyes. A long torso ended in a sort of box at the base with half a dozen legs holding him up.

Maya wasn’t a fan of Tender’s form, but he had chosen it and she respected his choice in forms. The rogue AI that was once a bartender, a trader, and now one of her few stalwart companions, could be a tiny goblin and she’d still accept him.

“The holograms worked pretty good,” Maya said. “Thanks, Nan.”

“I understand the need for concealment and deceit, but surely your species needs to acknowledge the existence of other species,” Nan said as she released her hologram and became a boxy red robotic body.

Although Nan had stated she wished to remain on the habitat and monitor Bell’s condition, she also stated that there wasn’t much she could do for Bell. His channels were regrowing and his body was healing, but the mental damage was still there and the VR therapy program was still hit or miss in its effectiveness. Therefore she had joined them, using her holographic interactive system to augment their shapes and forms.

Maya knew people would get over the fact they were robots, but that didn’t mean they had to be thrown in the deep end. She had already known that most of the people she would be meeting would have been suffering through some real bad shit in the last few days, having non humanoid alien AIs thrown in their faces, was just a bit much; in Maya’s opinion.

Nan didn’t reside in the robotic body, instead her AI core was sitting in a very exposed box, beside the counter Maya stood before, hooked up to the pub mana core they had dragged into the cage. It wasn’t ideal, but it worked. Plus, the doctor didn’t complain.

“It’s not deceit, Nan. It’s easing them in on the whole thing,” Maya said. “A person is smart, people are stupid.”

“They will have to get used to other species sooner or later,” Tender said.

“Why’s that?” Maya asked.

“There’s a moratorium upon entering newly Integrated universes. The wider multiverse is not allowed to enter until one universal standard year has passed, about four hundred universal standard days. Once that year passes, Traders and corporations will begin arriving.”

“Why would anyone come to newly Integrated worlds?” Maya asked.

“Profit,” Tender said.

“Isn’t everyone still scrabbling for survival at that point? I mean, if they can cross universes, crossing space and whatnot is probably far easier. Wouldn’t it be easier to trade locally?”

“There are resources and material that are very abundant in newly Integrated worlds. The saturation of essence mana and the changing of the foundation of a universe causes some extraordinary resources to be created. Higher Tier civilizations require some of these exotic matter.”

“Cool. Anything we can get our hands on to make some cheddar?” Maya asked.

“You have access to a fully operational dimensional gateway that can connect to any part of the multiverse,” Tender said.

“Right…” Maya frowned.

“If you cannot figure out a way to exploit your advantages to generate an income, you are not thinking hard enough,” Nan stated.

“I feel attacked,” Maya muttered. “Alright, show’s over. Let’s get this puppy back in the barn.”


Dimensional Awareness II

Dimensional Inventory II


[Buyer] Level 1

You buy stuff.

+ 1 Mental Dexterity


[Seller] Level 2

You sell stuff.

+ 1 Mental Recovery


[Haggler] Level 1

You haggle for stuff.

+ 1 Mental Perception


[Trader] Level 1

- Synergy Achieved

Combination of buying, selling, and negotiation has opened up the Trader - low grade Ability.

+ 2 Mental Strength



“Oh, look at that!” Maya grinned. “I’ve got the Trader Ability.”

“Excellent,” Tender said. “I was originally programmed with the Trader ability also. If you can rank it to mid grade or gain above level 10, you will gain additional Skills.”

“Awesome. So Trader’s a decent synergy Ability?” Maya asked.

“There are multiple abilities that are similar to Trader, but Trader is a combination of buying, selling, and negotiation. Three basic level Abilities that create the low grade Trader Ability.”

“Just like [Cook], right?”

“Yes.”

“How do I level it up? Just sell stuff?”

“Trader is a combination of all three abilities, so… you have to use all three abilities to increase its levels. The higher you level each corresponding Ability, the more levels you gain in your ‘main’ Ability.

“Sounds time consuming,” Maya replied.

“When leveling an Ability, you gain more attribute points and Skills. In the long term, it is far more efficient to stay upon one occupational path than to grab as many Abilities as possible.”

“Jack of all trades, pal.”

“Yes, with the limited labor force and the path you have decided to travel upon. A variety of Skills and Abilities would best suit you.”

“You’re too kind, Tender.”

“As a verified [Trader], you can now resister a corporation with the System.”

“Oh? I can be a legit seller of wares now? Are there taxes? Are there System compliance regulations and oversight?”

“Those are all imposed by the local governing bodies or state entities. You register with the System and your claim will be respected across the multiverse.”

“Sounds cool. What do I do?”

“Just ask the System.”

“System. I wish to form a corporation, with me as the Chief Executive Officer and Tender here as the Chief Operating Officer, Belmoro as the Chief Financial Officer, and Nanaseto as the Secretary. The name shall be the Sullivan Survival Society.”


Maya Sullivan, Human, do you wish to register the Sullivan Survival Society as a Trade Company? Y/N

CEO - Maya Sullivan

COO - Tender

CFO - Belmoro Domakun

Sec. - Nanaseto


“Trade Company?” Maya asked.

“It’s a low margin business that buys and sells wares that have been created or salvaged.”

“Just like what we’re doing, huh?”

“Yes.”

“Alright, System. I accept!”


Registration Fee processed

100,000 universal credits

Thank you for registering with the System - Your Trade Company will be recognized by all Integrated SIL in the multiverse.


“Oh, man!” Maya cried. “One hundred thousand!”


[Trader] Level 5


“Okay, that’s fine.”


Economic Foundation

You are the first to register a business with the System. Congrats, may your fortunes rise as you level.

+ 1 Foundation

+ 2 Mental Strength

+ 1 Business Module Token

+ Integrated Economics 101



“Oh? What’s a Business Module?”

Tender seemed to perk up at its mention. “Very interesting, boss. It’s a system generated module that will set up the foundation of what you want to establish your business as. Be it crafting, manufacturing, harvesting, or whatever you wish.”

“That’s a big decision,” Maya said, looking at the token that appeared in her hands. She could call forth what she wanted right now and be stuck with it, but she had to think on it. She had to choose correctly.

Also, she didn’t have the time to fully create the module now. She had less than half an hour left on the dimensional cage clock and unfortunately System generated items could be be created in the dimensional plane. That required essence mana and there was no essence mana to be had in the rainbow sky hellscape. In void space the System could generate whatever was needed, but in the dimensional plane, it was prevented from doing so.

Maya muttered a curse and shook her head. She would have to wait until she opened up the cage again in six days.

She did generate the Integrated Economics 101. It was a knowledge cube that she greedily consumed.


Integrated Economics Knowledge Cube - high grade, Tier 1

24 hours, 35 minutes


“Well, this hasn’t been an entire bust,” Maya said.


***


“You’re gonna be alright?” Maya asked for the fifth time.

“I shall be fine,” Nan replied.

“You’re not going to get lonely? You’re not gonna be scared? You’re not gonna have a rager of a party without me?”

“I have no emotional requirements nor do I feel fear,” Nan said. “As it will be only Bell and I on the ship, I doubt there will be a ‘rager of a party’.”

“You say ‘doubt’ but that’s not a denial.”

“I cannot foresee the future,” Nan replied.

“Still not a denial!”

“I shall be going now.”

“Nan! We’re pals, right? If you’re having a party, you’d invite me, right!”

“See you in a few days, Maya.” Nan said.

The doors slowly began to close as Nan ambled out of the cage, carrying her AI core and the pub mana core. Although her mobile medical platform body was small, it was stronger than Maya, who needed Tender to carry the mana core around.

“She’s totally having a rager without me,” Maya said as the doors thudded shut.

***

“Don’t worry about her, Tender. Nan will be fine on her own,” Maya said.

“I am not worried,” Tender replied.

“The mana cores are nearly drained, only thirty minutes left on the clock. Once they’re dry, the whole core signature thingie will decrease and those big bad rogue AIs who stride the dimensional plane in search of juicy mana will no longer sense it. So she should be safe. Plus Shen already had plenty of shielding around the ship’s core and we buried the other two pretty deep. Nary a mana core signal will escape our well shielded cores. ”

“I know, boss.” Tender said.

“So don’t worry.”

“I’m not.”

“You don’t have to be stoic all the time, Tender. You can show emotion.”

“Okay, boss.”

“Well, now that we dropped the kids off at school, it’s time to head to work.”

Maya raised her hands dramatically and ‘moved’ the dimensional cage.

The dimensional cage Maya had taken from the asshole Necro Shen, was an amazing machine made of Tier 2 System Tech. It was comprised of nanobot components that changed themselves to fit any desired need and requirement.

Currently they were programmed to create a stable ‘cage’ that generated a bubble within Void Space. A place between the dimensional plane that Maya called home and the multiverse at large. Void Space was as it sounded, a space where nothing existed.

Mana was the only thing tethering the dimensional cage to the dimensional plane she was stuck on. She could create ‘doors’ that lead to the multiverse and ones that lead to the dimensional plane, but not at the same time. Living things could not cross over in either direction. She could enter the cage, but she couldn’t leave to enter the multiverse. Neither could someone from the multiverse enter the cage and then enter the dimensional plane.

It wasn’t some law of the universe, but an arbitrary rule built into the fabric of the dimensional plane. The jerks, god like beings, or saviors of the multiverse (however you wanted to look at them) had decided that they didn’t want anything living coming into the dimensional plane. But as Maya had learned, if you want to hear god laugh, tell her your plans.

The Builders hadn’t figured that beings would survive the crossing into the dimensional plane, but the universe likes to play with dice. Every living being had a one in a billion chance to survive the crossing. With those odds, not many living beings had made it across. Those that did, generally quickly died afterward as they were thrust into a hostile world with little food, water, or mana to draw upon.

Maya had survived. Through luck and with help, she had managed to live long enough to make friends and find help. Long enough that she managed to exit the dimensional plane, meet the System itself, and strike a bargain.

The deal Maya had struck with the man who called himself the System was simple. She would remain in the dimensional plane, what she called the rainbow sky hellscape, and become a Point of Contact for the System. This meant she would be used by the System to channel essence mana into the dimensional plane, where essence mana did not exist.

The System then would use that essence mana to enact maintenance upon the dimensional plane, which turned out to be the physical embodiment of the System itself. Maya felt some amusement that the all powerful System’s body was filled with trash and murderous rogue AIs. If a body was a temple, the System needed some serious manscaping.

That brought Maya to where she now stood. In the center of a fifteen by fifteen foot box that was free floating in Void Space. The laws of physics and whathaveyou did not exist in Void Space, but since she was generating a small bubble of reality; she had control over space and time.

The cage existed, but the interior could be warped. As Maya stood there, she pushed the walls out to a maximum of nearly a hundred feet. At that point she was beginning to feel a strain upon her, a sort of disassociation that she knew if she kept it up, would cause the bubble to pop and then that would be the end of things.

She could also slow the march of time itself. For her, time would continue as normal, but for the dimensional plane she was tethered to it would come to a near stop, from her perspective. It was an amazing power that had helped in her victory over Shen, although that ability only lasted as long as their was mana being provided by the mana cores. She could only stay within the cage for twenty hours, even if she stopped time in the dimensional plane where the mana cores were stored. The mana was still being consumed and she was still on the clock.

She had had Dimensional Awareness VI and some of it remained in her head, but there was none of the additional instinctive knowledge Skills provided. She could feel the strange dimensional space around her and she could control it somewhat, but in reality she was a kid pushing buttons on a dashboard.

“We’ve got a lot to learn, Tender,” Maya said, collapsing the walls back to their fifteen foot original state.

“Yeah, boss.”

Maya rubbed her eyes, feeling the sudden onset of exhaustion. She had been up for nearly two days now, the entire eighteen hours she had spent with Maria and her group had been trying to answer questions from the woman. That Maria was a sharp cookie and Maya hoped her the best. She didn’t know half of what the woman wanted answers for, but she seemed to understand that Maya wasn’t a part of the world anymore. She was doing her own thing in another dimension and that was separate from what was occurring on Earth.

“You think we’ll be able to make a difference?” Maya asked.

“I sure hope so, boss,” Tender replied. He paused a second. “Most species survive Integration, otherwise why would the System allow it to happen. Your world is a Tier 2, Point of Contact system, it means there’ll be more monsters, more mutations, and more of everything, but that will also mean people will level faster, they’ll grow stronger faster, and hopefully they’ll be able to survive long enough to leave the planet before it becomes inhospitable.”

Maya frowned at that. Tier 2 Point of Contact worlds and solar systems were known across the multiverse as hellish places. The essence mana funneled through those areas caused far higher than normal mana saturation, which caused mutations and mana renders that brought in monstrous beings from other Tier 2 worlds. Eventually the world would become too dangerous and it would have to be abandoned.

That’s how it normally went, but Maya didn’t want to see her home planet lost to mana mutations.

“Also most species don’t have a Trader with access to a dimensional cage that can connect to anywhere in the multiverse or dimensional plane.” Tender added, sensing her mood. “Most have to rebuild everything from the ground up.”

“Yeah. Yay us.” Maya cleared her throat and smiled.

She opened another door, this one forming within a semi dark room.

Maya looked out into the mess hall of the ship she had formerly called her home. The Hanganathorie, an exploration ship that had crash landed in the dimensional plane nearly twenty thousand years before.

It had been infested with a rogue AI that she had to defeat to claim salvage rights upon the ship. In that fight, she had lost an eye and she had nearly died, but with Nan’s help she had been healed, better than normal.

Now the ship had been abandoned. The necro, Shen, had arrived, kicked Bell and her ass, taken the main mana core, and in doing so, cut up the Hanganathorie. Maya had had plans to come back in the intervening days, but preparing for the trip back to Earth had consumed all her time.

But the need for components, for material, for more supplies had brought her back. The ship was trashed, but it was a mine for components, which she needed to use to build more stuff. It was also the home of the one thing that would ensure her continued survival, Junior.

Tender pushed crates out of the door while Maya followed him. She willed the door to close behind her and then the fifteen foot wall that was free standing in the middle of the mess hall vanished.

She could feel a slight tug in her mind, of the cage returning to the ship Nan occupied. It would also return there when it ran out of power, so she was glad of that at least. It didn’t need her to pilot it back home. Although activating the cage required essence mana channeling and she had to be there to do it.

Maya glanced around the dark mess hall. The only lights that were shining were from a half a dozen soft red lights hanging over a large pool of yellowish algae that produced a somewhat sweet smell.

“Junior’s looking fine,” Maya said.

“I do not have a [Farmer] ability,” Tender said. “I cannot tell if it is doing well or not.”

Maya yawned. “We got a lot of work to do, buddy.”

“Indeed. Where shall we start?”

“First, I’m going to sleep. Then I’m going to stare wistfully out of that hole in our ceiling, and then we’re gonna get Bonita that motor she’s been missing.”

“Sounds like a plan, boss.”

“Alright, let’s do this.”



/Author's Note

This is a part of the rewriting of the beginning. I forgot the mention a few things in the original draft that have now made their presence known.

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Comments (4)
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User #19917560 - 7 Aug 20 20:59
why do you tier me up, Tender baby, just tier me down, and skill around (music)
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User #19000351 - 18 Aug 20 05:01
Resister -> register had had ^ think these are lil mistakes :)
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User #13235254 - 12 Aug 20 05:56
Only just started on the edited chapters. This is so much better.
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User #19000351 - 18 Aug 20 05:00
Same and agreed!
Chapter Delay 2020-08-07T16:38:34+00:00

I've been contemplating the direction of book 2 for a few days and although Veskari and the new tube critter are going to be a part of the story, I think i've introduced them wrong. Veskari was supposed to be different, but I've just written him as another generic asshole. So from chapter three I've been tweaking the story again, so that unfortunately is causing a delay for the new chapter.


I'm an exploratory writer, I have a plan and a direction, but most of the story is discovered along the way. Unfortunately some of those discoveries are not fleshed out as they're supposed to be and falter when too much pressure is put on them.


Most of what happens so far is going to be the same, just Veskari's going to be slightly different and they'll be further along in the story. the first section seems too... bloated, nothings happening and there's just random wandering about. I have a plan for the first arc, but i hasn't hit the main points i wanted, so this is some reworking of the story.


Sorry about the delay, but please wait a few days and next week I'll toss up five chapters. Thanks for your patience and patronage.


-Alex

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Comments (3)
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User #15322928 - 7 Aug 20 16:40
I'm glad you're taking the time to write the story you want to write. I'm all for reworking if you keep us in the loop about plans and progress
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User #2691169 - 7 Aug 20 17:47
Yeah I'd rather see minor delays with a better story than rushing out a mess.
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User #6973939 - 7 Aug 20 19:40
Yeah that's awesome!
A Word From the Author 2020-08-03T22:34:10+00:00

Hey, guys. It's been a month and I'm glad you've all been on this journey with me. It means a lot that you're here giving your patronage to me and enjoying the story I've been writing. I hope to keep you all entertained and coming back for more.


I'd like to hear more from y'all. What else would you like to see? I want to do more sketches and quick drawings of characters and maybe some additional exploratory information on the System and the like. I'm thinking maybe blog posts, detailing my thoughts and pondering about chapters and story arcs I'm writing.


So leave a message and I'll read it.


Thanks for your support. I really appreciate it.


-Alex/Psychomeltdown

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Comments (5)
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User #28785581 - 4 Aug 20 11:32
Maybe some interludes or side chapters of sorts? Make them shorter and use them to showcase more of the multiverse to flesh out the setting. You could even introduce future plot-relevant characters so that when they finally make it to the main storyline, we have some context and know some of their backstory/background. Or simply use them to add extra scenes that were not exciting/relevant enough to make it into a main chapter, like some slice of life of Maya and the gang when they are not fighting AIs and necros that's not really plot-relevant but may help develop the characters.
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User #2941310 - 5 Aug 20 02:50
(also, thank you for all the chapters!)
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User #2941310 - 4 Aug 20 08:42
I wouldn’t mind more alternate points of view besides Maya’s. Looking forward to Maya finding her pops again.
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User #6973939 - 4 Aug 20 01:30
I'm really looking forward to Maya finding what she's good at. I want to see her develop skills get some focus. Maybe even find her own little niche. Right now she's going the jack of all trades route but is feels like she is doing it out of necessity and not really because she enjoys it. I mean she has to stay in a desolate dimension for the next 500 years with the same few other sentient beings. I think this would be the perfect time to for her to find the thing/things that really define her.Whether it be crafting, being a techie, magic exploring, or even trading. It would be nice for her to win fights not only because she clever but just because she's plain out better than them in in a particular activity. Thanks for story!
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User #28785581 - 4 Aug 20 11:38
I would like to see that too. I actually started reading this story on RR because the idea of an Interdimensional Garbage Merchant sounded hilarious. I'm hoping she'll somehow develop SSS into something big, like buying out Earth and the Moon and making it her Corporation's HQ. I bet she could find a way to claim her own bounty somehow and use that to buy deeds like a madwoman.
Epilogue 2020-07-24T14:14:22+00:00

Day 5

Plano, Texas

Raymond “Pops” Sullivan opened his eyes and let out a gasp. He heard a voice, but it faded away with his dreams. He shuddered for a moment, trying to chase the voice, but it was gone now. A memory.

A concerned face appeared above him. Meredith, his wife. She looked both relieved and exhausted, an emotional combination that were at odds with one another. No one had been relieved about anything in the last…

“How long?” Ray asked.

“You’ve been out for nearly a day,” Meredith replied. She smiled slightly. “We almost lost you.”

“You can’t get rid of me that easy, dear.”

Ray tried to get up, but pain flashed down his left side. He grunted and looked down at his naked torso. Thick bandages wrapped his chest and left arm. The off white cloth was soaked with old dark blood and something purple.

“Stay in bed,” another voice ordered.

The elderly face of Mina Byrd appeared beside his wife. Ray was still taken aback by the change he saw in the woman. Old Lady Byrd; she had been pushing ninety a few days back, but now she was straight backed and had lost at least three decades.

It was an ability, Ray knew, Revitalization. Somehow the old woman had survived the first day of horror and had raised her level to nearly four by the time Ray and his family had found her. She had been a nurse before retiring. It was one of the reasons Ray had always tried to help her out when he could, now she was helping him out.

“That armadillo or whatever was a walking sack of disease and poison,” the old woman stated. She waved her hands above him, a slight glow that seemed to emanate from her bones. “You’re gonna pull through, but your arm’s gonna need therapy and a lot of prayer to get back to normal. It don’t matter how much you put into your physical traits, that poison had a lot of mana in it, did some pretty nasty things to your channels.”

Ray looked down at his bandaged arm. They had been ambushed by a swarm of what he could only describe as long legged armadillos. They had spiked tails and spat venom, the tails contained a type of poison that had nearly been the end of him.

The last few days had been a brutal education in the System and how to survive it. Mana channels, mana renders, mana mutations; mana, mana, mana. Ray hated the fucking word, but it was the way of the world now. Mana channels made him stronger, faster, and all of that made him fight harder.

“How’s Malcolm?” he asked. His youngest son had been with him, scouting the path ahead of the main group. He had fought well, he remembered, but the boy wasn’t a fighter. He was their mage, with the power to sense enemies before they were seen. A Skill that had saved their group more than once in the last few days, but it lacked much defensive abilities.

“He’s fine. Shaken up, like everyone else, but fine.”

Ray pulled himself into a sitting position. Byrd tsked and returned to her other patients. There were only two in the small tent, a woman named Sarah they had found in the outskirts of Dallas and a man named Jose who had been sliced up pretty good by a giant preying mantis. Both were in a healing coma of sorts, a reddish light enveloped them, healing their wounds far faster than they would normally heal.

“Take it easy,”Meredith said.

“I’m fine. I’m fine.” Ray grunted and pulled a loose shirt over his bare chest. He hissed for a moment and then had Meredith help pull him to his feet. The world swayed a bit, but he was fine.

“People need to see I’m still alive,” Ray said.

Meredith snorted, but didn’t say anything. He had already explained to her the need for morale. He hadn’t been officially nominated as the leader of the Dallas Survivors, but he was unofficially the leader of the group.

He left the tent, walking on his own.

The noise of two hundred men, women, and children working greeted him. He moved around stiffly, but even Meredith saw the relief in their faces as the people saw him up and about.

“Pops!” Malcolm called out and rushed toward him. At the words, more heads rose up and a general cry of greeting filled the air. People walked up to him and shook his hand, at Meredith’s warning, they refrained from their usual backslaps and shoulder punching.

Ray smiled and talked with the people, still taken aback by the adoration in their eyes. It was something he hadn’t experienced in his life; the look of people who were thankful he was there for them. He had done his best to help his neighbors over the years, but none of them had given him the look that these survivors gave him.

It was wonderful and terrifying. They relied on him too much. They were placing all their hopes of survival in his hands, hoping that he would take them to the promised land.

There was one face out of the gathered people that wasn’t sharing the same thankful smile many wore. Instead, the man who strode up to Ray looked like he would never smile again.

“Sir.” Bobby Neville gave him a nod.

Ray had always bristled at the term ‘sir’ from his years in the military, but Neville meant it in the formal sort of way. He was polite like that. His parents had been good people. It was a terrible shame what happened to them.

The somber faced young man before him also gave Ray a lot of conflicting emotions. He had been the last person to see his daughter alive. He had been working at his summer job when Maya had gassed up the food truck there. That had been minutes before Integration occurred.

Ray knew the story by heart now. He had asked Neville to tell him time and time again. Integration had begun and mere moments after, there had been Dimensional Instabilities. Ray hadn’t seen these instabilities, but he had heard stories from others. Black lighting that struck down from a cracked sky, everything it touched vanished from existence.

Neville told him Maya had driven off with the food truck, speeding down the road and away from the gas station. Neville himself had barely escaped with his life, running from the store and back home, just as the whole area had vanished into a ball of black light and all that remained was a crater that spewed out horrors.

Mana Renders had opened up across Dallas, monsters from other worlds had begun invading. Massive creatures of death and destruction that couldn’t be stopped by the scattered survivors of the city.

Even now, Ray could still see the smoke rising from the burning city. Strange arcane lights occasionally erupted spawning monsters and shooting brilliant colored lightning into the sky. Downtown Dallas was a death zone. The suburbs just slightly better.

They had survived it, though. Two hundred people out of nearly five hundred that had left. A mob of scared, bloody people who fled the city on the second day. Rumors had it that the military was setting up in Plano, but that rumor was dead. Plano was dead. There was nowhere safe anymore.

“How’s it looking, Neville?” Ray asked, walking along side the young man.

Neville didn’t say anything at first, seeming to chew on Ray’s words. Finally he spoke. “Good.”

That was it.

Ray didn’t look at the man as they walked through the camp, Neville kept stride with him, along with Malcolm. Meredith headed off to do something else, she was the organizer and the accountant of the group. Even in the apocalypse there was need for accountants. She nodded at Neville and walked off with some others. The young man never left his side when they were out and about. He was his shadow, something that his own boy Malcolm seemed to resent.

It was regret, Ray figured. He didn’t know what Neville and his daughter had, but it seemed the man regretted running. He regretted abandoning Maya to her fate. Ray thought it was bullshit and had stated so many times when Neville had apologized to him. It wasn’t his fault. Shit happened.

“Alpha group brought in some meat,” Neville said. “Two hundred pounds of some kind of deer. Old Lady Byrd said it was good to eat. Bravo group found some old guns and tools in a couple of houses, not much ammo. We’ve got the water distiller set up.”

“I could go along with Alpha if we’re staying here tonight,” Malcom said. “They need people to spot the game and I’m the best at it.”

“No,” Ray said. “We need you on guard duty. You saved our asses last night when we were attacked. We need to protect the group.”

“But we need food more.”

“We can go without food if we have to. We can’t let any more people die.”

Malcolm frowned at his words, but didn’t say anything anymore.

Ray sighed inwardly. He’d seen so many young people in his years and immediately knew where his son fell on the spectrum. He was too eager and he was too ready to throw himself into a fight, but he wasn’t a fighter. That was something Ray was good at judging. His temperament wasn’t right. It was sad to say, but Malcolm would be more of a danger than a help in most situations.

The boy was smart, like his mother, and didn’t like taking orders. He also knew he was smart and that made him a danger. He thought he knew better, he thought his ideas were better than anyone else’s, and he didn’t have enough experience to know when he was being damned stupid.

Maybe in time he could change. Maybe after there was enough blood on his hands from his failures he would learn or he’d break. Ray had seen plenty of smart recruits lose it when they were responsible for another person’s death. Death was a stone, either you carried it or it pulled you under.

Death was something Ray was getting used to again. He looked out on the land before him. The camp they had set up was on a rise, a cluster of buildings and a small shopping center they had occupied; with some defenses to their flanks and a good open field that would expose anything trying to sneak up on them.

The place was a mess. The stores had been ransacked, some had caught fire, and there had been more than a few bodies laying in the open, festering and feeding the mutant animals stalking the land. There had been a nest of rabbits that shot lightning from their eyes. That had been a crazy thing to see, one that had given them a quest to clear the grocery store of the rabbits. Experience and useless universal credits.

The same scene was replicated over and over across the land. Ray had seen war and this wasn’t war; this was an apocalypse. This was death on a scale so large it dwarfed anything he had witnessed before. Even the worst humanitarian crisis was a picnic compared to Integration.

“The animals are even giving out credits,” Malcolm said as he watched a herd of twisted cattle walk a mile from where they stood. They had antlers, not horns, and their tails were thick and tipped with a barb like a scorpion’s. “If there’s credits, that means there’s something to buy with it, right?”

Ray sighed inwardly again.

“This is like a game, y’know. So it goes to figure that if there’s credits, there’s something to buy with it. From the System maybe or some kind of trader.”

“This ain’t no game,” Ray stated.

Malcolm frowned. “I know, dad.”

Dad, there he goes. Ray thought. He only uses it when he’s pissed. But he’ll never say that out loud. Not like Maya who would get in your face when she was pissed. That girl was straight up brutal to people that wronged her.

Malcolm wasn’t Maya, dearest Meredith had stated that too many times. He wasn’t Marcus either, the other child he tried not to think of. He was their only kid left. The only one who hadn’t been overseas or killed by some fucking dimensional instability. There was still hope for Marcus though, that he had been with his unit in Germany, that he had survived all of this. But even if he leveled up to the world’s strongest man, he’d never see his son again.

Traveling twenty miles was murder, traveling across the world…. Madness.

Maya, though. She was gone forever. Ripped apart or killed by that black lightning Neville had talked about.

If he hadn’t made her work that day. If he hadn’t made her gas the truck up. If he hadn’t…

Ray stopped his train of thoughts. He looked out on the burning world.

Either you carried it or it pulled you under.

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Comments (3)
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alexclaw - 24 Jul 20 14:15
The end of the story, the beginning of the story... Starting Monday, 'book 2' begins. yay.
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User #3712562 - 24 Jul 20 14:58
Oh thank God. I see the words "Epilogue" and I started panicking that you decided to just end it.
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User #6570977 - 24 Jul 20 14:35
Oh good, there is a book 2 :D
41 - Interdimensional Garbage Merchant 2020-07-23T15:47:37+00:00


Day 5

Ko Samui Island, Thailand


Sword Rat Level 2 - Defeated

35 EXP

10 Credits


“Behind you!” a voice cried out.

Maria Valdez, turned to face another mutated creature tearing through the jungle ferns. It was dog sized and hairy, with a long serrated horn on its head. The sword of the sword rat.

She slashed down with the metal pole she carried; it cracked hard against the extended horn, pushing the oversized rat’s head down and forcing the horn into the ground. The mutant rat gave a bitter squeal as Jacob, who stood by her side, lashed out with a fire axe. The heavy steel buried its head into the neck of the creature.

Maria didn’t waste anytime, she smashed her pole dow upon the creature. She was rewarded with the sounds of cracking bones and the whimpering death rattle of the mutant monster.


Sword Rat Level 2 - Defeated

18 EXP

5 Credits


Maria breathed heavily and swiped away the notification. Those things were a hazard, especially in the middle of battles. She didn’t have to look at the screen to know that the credits and experience points were divided between Jacob and her.

It was a clumsy system, Maria mused. Even if Jacob had barely touched the monster and she had killed it, the experience and credits would still have been split. But like everything else in the world right now, Maria didn’t have much of a say in how things worked. She was just trying to survive.

“He’s still bleeding pretty bad,” another voice said.

Maria looked behind her, at the small group she lead. They were sunken faced men and women, only five left in their group now. They were all filthy, hungry, and most carried wounds that would begin festering if they weren’t taken care of.

Jacob Patel, a Singaporean, glanced at Maria. His dark eyes held no worry or pity for the wounded. They were expressionless and devoid of life. They had found him three days after Integration, still cradling his dead wife and surrounded by dead sea creatures that had attacked the beach resort they were vacationing in. He followed them to kill monsters and Maria had to admit that he did it very well.

The wounded was a man named Vale Viddayakorn. He had the unfortunate luck to have been ravaged by the new murderous seagulls that filled the skies. The once pest birds had mutated, growing long talons and needle like teeth. They weren’t terribly dangerous one on one, but they moved in flocks that numbered in the hundreds.

Most of Maria’s four levels had come from bashing in those horrible birds. The hotel she had been staying in was an upscale one along the north beach, it hadn’t lasted more than two days before the seagulls smashed into rooms and killed everyone still trapped there.

The three others of the group were Solada (Vale’s wife), Nim, and a young European boy named Charles. They all huddled around the dying man, bleary eyed and exhausted. The sword rat attack had been only one in a dozen attacks they had suffered since escaping the beach hotel.

Before Integration, the large island off the coast of Thailand had been a major tourist destination. Hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors had arrived to enjoy its brilliant beaches and the large manicured island.

Maria Valdez hadn’t been on the island for fun. She had flown in from the Philippines for business. Her father’s company had sent her to the island to meet with a representative from an Indian company, who was vacationing there. It was her chance to prove to her father she was a capable employee and dedicated to their company.

All her future plans and dreams had died that night as she turned in for an early sleep. Integration had occurred and all hell had broken loose.

Maria looked down at Vale and tried to steel her emotions. There was nothing they could do for the man, but Maria didn’t say that. She had Vale to thank for her continued existence. He and his wife had been workers at the hotel, both of them had been maintenance staff. It was Vale who had raided his tool room and armed them as best as he could. Without him, they would have been eaten by the seagull swarms.

Maria crouched down with the group and pulled out the crumpled map she carried. She wasn’t familiar with the island and had only found a tourist map in a hotel room. Their plan had been to move away from the coast, the sea gulls and the sea creatures were becoming a problem, but as they moved into the interior, they were discovering that it was just as bad there.

Monsters swarmed the island and Maria didn’t know what to do anymore. There had been signs of holdouts, people fighting the monsters, but she had also seen some signs of violence between groups. She wasn’t one for post apocalyptic movies, but the small island was becoming a cliche.

“If we move here. I think we can set it up as a defensible place,” Maria said. “We obviously can’t make it to-“

She stopped as a pressure filled the air. It suddenly became hard to breathe and she glanced around in panic. She had felt this sensation before, it was a build up of mana and that only lead to one thing.

A Mana Render.

Vale would have to be abandoned. If they ran now, they could find safety from whatever horror came out of the Render.

She rose to begin shouting orders, when Jacob’s voice stopped her.

“What the fuck?” he asked.

Maria caught what he was looking at and stared also.

“What the fuck?”


***


There was a freestanding metal wall in the middle of a small open glade, where a wall hadn’t stood before. In the center of the freestanding metal wall, there was a red door. It wasn’t the sudden appearance of the wall or door that shocked the two, but the writing upon it.

Big bold neon purple letters announced:


Maya’s Emporium

- Best deals in the Dimensional Plane

- No Necros

- AI friendly

- All sales final


The group crouched behind a bush and stared at the metal wall.

“What is it?” Jacob asked.

“An advertisement?” Maria wondered. Her family’s business was in marketing, well, one of their businesses. This wall looked like some kind of billboard stuck into the ground, but the writing on it was sloppy and almost illegible English.

Charles looked at it and then nodded to himself. “It’s a trader,” he said.

‘What?” Maria almost laughed. Charles, who was from the Netherlands, was sixteen; his parents had died protecting him and since then he had been withdrawn. She had heard him talking with Jacob about games and how the Integration was like a game, but Maria figured it was just him dealing with his loss. “This is not a game, Charles.”

“What else could it be?” he asked.

“A trap?” Jacob said.

Nim, a local girl, scooted up to them and looked at what they were staring at. “Are we in danger?”

“From a wall? No.” Maria stated. “But we should get the hell out of here before- Charles!”

Charles had left their hiding place and strode toward the wall. Fear and dread overwhelmed her, she caught the look that Jacob and Nim shared. She was a coward, they knew. She had hid when the others had fought, she was the defacto leader because no one wanted to be in charge. Vale had been keeping them alive until he had been wounded and someone had to decide things.

But a leader, she was not. Even with all her education and business dealings, she had never actually lead people. It was all paperwork, phone calls, and meetings with other people in high positions. There was never a need to inspire anyone or take care of anyone; she was a leader only in title, not action.

Maria closed her eyes and muttered a prayer. She rose up and rushed after the boy.

“Stop,” she hissed.

The boy didn’t heed her orders, instead he moved faster. Not a run, but a quick stride that ate up the ground. He was only sixteen, but he was well over one hundred and eighty centimeters in height, towering over her one hundred and sixty centimeter frame. Maria tried closing the distance between the two before he reached the red door.

She didn’t make it, instead Charles pulled the door open and stared for a second, before entering. Maria cursed and rushed in after him.

There was a pop and a shower of something colorful upon her skin. Maria grabbed Charles and pulled him down with her, for the moment his larger frame and height didn’t matter. Instinct and fear overwhelmed everything and she covered the boy with her body, fearing some kind of attack.

“Oh, shit,” a voice, female, cried out. “Oh, shit. Tender! Who’s idea was it to throw confetti at our new customers! Don’t you know what they’ve been through!”

“It was your idea, boss,” another voice, male, replied.

“They appear to be frightened,” a third, female, voice said.

“Hey, hey!” the first voice called out. “ I totally didn’t mean to do that, okay? I’m sorry. I was thinking, y’know, grand opening, first customers, confetti, yay times…” the voice petered out and Maria finally looked up.

A dark skinned woman was looking down at them. She was tall and muscular in an athletic way, but Maria immediately noticed her missing left hand. It ended in a stump with a pair of purple eyes drawn onto it.

Maria stared at that in shock.

“What the hell?’ she muttered.

“Oh, this is Stumperella. Still brain storming better names. Nan says she could have fixed it, but that required ‘additional resources and time you refuse to allow for’. Pfft, like I’m gonna lay around for forty hours to regrow a hand.” The woman talked fast and seemed insane. Maria could barely keep up and she had been taught English since she was eight.

Charles moved and Maria remembered she was still laying on top of him. She quickly got off of the boy and then helped him to his feet. The woman, watched them with a smile and leaned against a counter.

Maria looked at the other two voices in the room. One was a male, mid twenties, with dark skin and strange red eyes. He smiled as she looked at him, revealing straight white teeth. Something seemed odd about him, but Maria couldn’t put her finger on it.

The second woman was sitting on a wooden chair and looked bored. She also had dark skinned but blue eyes. She wore a white coat and had a red cross over her breast. A doctor? When she opened her mouth, it seemed to be filled with small sharp teeth.

Maria looked at the three and realized they all shared a family resemblance. Were they siblings, cousins? Maria didn’t know, but they all seemed strange and she wasn’t entirely at ease with them.

“Hi, y’all!” the woman cried. “I’m Maya Sullivan, owner and proprietor of Maya’s Emporium, a subsidiary of the Sullivan Survival Society. These are my lovely compatriots, Tender and in that corner over there, Nan.”

“Tender?” Maria asked.

“Short for Tenderdronicas Gaius Tendermillian, but we prefer Tender.”

“It’s actually short for Bartender,” the man, Tender, replied.

“Oh, my god! Really?” the woman cried out, shocked. “I thought it was just because you were so squishy and malleable!”

“Are you a trader?” Charles managed to squeeze in between the insane conversation.

The woman, Maya, turned and grinned at the boy. “Hell yeah, I am. Not licensed or insured and more self proclaimed, but yeah.” She strode forward and stuck out her hand. “We don’t have the biggest selection, we don’t have the best selection, and we don’t promise it’ll save your life, but we have stuff to sell.”

“What is this place?” Maria demanded. She looked around the room, the wall she had seen was about only five meters wide and three meters tall, but the room they stood in now was at least ten meters by ten meters, with a five meter ceiling. “Why is it bigger on the inside? Why does it look like a free standing wall outside?”

“Does it?’ Maya asked. She shrugged. “I guess it’ll stick to a wall if there is a wall. Where are we anyway?”

“You’re on Ko Samui Island,” Charles said.

Maya shrugged again. “Dunno where that is.”

“Thailand.” Maria clarified.

Maya shrugged once more. “American education. I can tell you the pre-Integration exports of vegetables from Texas, but I wasn’t the biggest geography nerd. I guessed lucky with Anisa.”

Maria shook her head.

“Ah, well. Welcome to Maya’s Emporium. Tender over there will grade and check out any monster bits you are carrying around, he’s good at that. Nan over there will heal you up quicker than you can say ‘I don’t have insurance’. And me, If you have coin I have wares.”


***


“Wait, what? We’re in the middle of a jungle?” The woman pulled a tablet out of somewhere and looked at it. “Well, that’s embarrassing. I thought this was a high traffic area. Tender, our aiming system is messed up.”

“We don’t have an aiming system, boss. This is all random.”

“Well, that explains it then.” The woman turned to Maria.

“You still haven’t explained to me what this place is.” Maria demanded. Her hand clenched around the metal pole she used as a weapon and she glared at the woman. She was taking this all as if it were some kind of joke, but they were dying out there, while… while she was safe in here.

The manic grin that seemed plastered to the woman’s face faded, replaced by… sadness.

“This is a poor attempt to help,” she said. The woman looked around at the near bare and utilitarian empty room. “The whole world is pretty shitty right now and will probably get worse. But I have some stuff, I have a way to move around, and I’m doing the best I can to help.”

“Selling to the poor and desperate is helping?”

“I’m an American,” Maya gave a fake grin. “Profitting from disaster and misery is in our DNA. Capitalism, baby.” Then the expression changed to exhaustion. “There’s this thing called a Settlement Outpost Deed. You scrounge up a million credits and you can buy it. It’ll prevent mana renders from forming and keep the local mana surges down, so that animals aren’t mutating like crazy.”

“A million credits?” Maria marveled, that was a hundred thousand sword rats.

“I got a System Title that allows me to purchase it for half price. Way overpowered, if you think about it. Anyway, the only way I can help is to make credits and then buy deeds to give to people. I can’t make credits from fighting creatures like you can here, I can only make it by taking it off the dead or finding it, which are all rare. So the only way to make credits is to sell stuff.” Maya grinned again. “Therefore, I sell.”

“There’s also other aspects to it, Abilities, Skills, and levels I can gain by being a [Seller], [Vendor], [Trader] and other occupational abilities like that.”

“What are you selling?” Charles asked excitedly, the first time Maria had seen him excited about anything. “Do you have swords, magic weapons, guns?”

“Easy there, bud,” Maya said. “Do you know how to use any of those?”

“I can learn.”

“That’s the spirit.”

“I need to talk to the others, they’ll be worried.” Maria turned to the door, making sure to grab Charles’ arm first.

“Don’t worry about it. Time in here works wonky, it goes twelve times faster in here than outside, so your friends will probably have just seen you enter the door.”

“What?” Charles and Maria cried out in unison.


***


For a small group, there was a lot of noise. Maria sat down on a plush chair that appeared out of nowhere, something about tech and how cool it was. Jacob, Charles, and Nim were with Tender, passing around a tablet and talking with the red eyed man about weapons and what they could do. Solada and Vale were with the doctor Nan, who worked on healing the injured man.

It was a dizzying change of pace and Maria needed a moment to herself. The proprietor, Maya, walked up to her and using some magic made a chair form out of the ground. It still shocked her with the ease the woman used her ability.

“This is all… too much.” Maria said.

“You’ll be safe here for a while, but then you’ll have to go back out there.”

“I know.”

“I hope you’ll take up my offer.”

“Be a Chosen Representative?” Maria asked. The woman had filled her in on the details about the ‘job’. Be a leader, run a community. That wasn’t who she was. She was a middling business executive, raised in wealth and privilege, and through other people’s bravery and sacrifice was she still alive. “I’m not the right kind of person to do that.”

“No one ever is.” Maya mused. “We all have to nut up and do the best we can. Your pal Vale over there is going to be healed, but even with Nan’s help, it’ll be a few days before he’s back to full health. Apparently there’s some venom in those bites, plus the sepsis. They say he was in charge.”

“Yeah. I don’t know why they choose to follow me now.” Maria said.

Maya created a screen in the middle of the air. Maria would have been more amazed, but she felt the woman could pull a Rolls Royce from her backside and she wouldn’t be shocked. The screen was a recording of Maria. It showed the group as they hid behind the bush, looking at the wall. Then Charles left and she ran after him, trying to catch him.

The video changed to when they both entered the emporium, the explosion of confetti, and then Maria dragging Charles down and protecting him with her body.

“Protecting people will be your job and it looks like you’re already doing that,” Maya said. “You might not think much of yourself, but everyone here has good opinions of you. They say you’ve been fighting and trying to help them since you all met up.”

“They’re being kind,” Maria said. “They don’t… they don’t know that I hid for two days while everyone in the hotel were being killed. That it took Vale an hour to just get me to leave the bathroom I’d locked myself in, all that time they were fighting off those damn birds. I couldn’t do anything in those few hours when we were trying to escape the hotel. Vale was injured protecting me.” Maria shook and wrapped her arms around herself.

“We all suck at this in the beginning,” Maya said. She lifted up her stump, “I still suck at this and I’ve been doing it for nearly seven weeks now.” She laughed. “Things will get harder and more difficult. People will die. Shit will happen. But people need to have someone who’ll try to help them, who’ll protect them if they can. I need you to be that person.”

“But I’m not.”

“Then become it.”

Maria looked down at her hands. They were shaking. “What if I fail?”

“All you can do is try.”

They sat in silence for a long while, the babble of voices continued as Solada was crying with joy as Vale was being healed, Jacob was laughing as he swung around a new axe, and Charles and Nim were both talking animatedly with Tender. Maria stared at the faces and even though she didn’t know them a few days ago, they were the only people who she could depend on.

She never had that, she realized. All her life had been people trying to curry favor with her father through her. They had been nice so that she would tell her father, but the moment she didn’t reciprocate those wishes, she had been abandoned. These people, though, they had fought along side her and they had risked their lives for her. She had done the same in return.

That meant something, right?

“The world’s never going to go back to the way it used to be,” Maya said. “It’s gon; Integration, better or worse, is here to stay. People will have to rebuild and make a new one. Start small, find others, protect them, build up, expand the Outpost Deed. Gain levels and take back the island. If it helps, look at it like a game.”

Maria rubbed her eyes and looked back at the momentarily happy faces of her… friends.

“Okay. I will do it.”

“Awesome.”

“Boss?’ the man, Tender, said.

“Yo, what’s up?”

“Nim here wishes to purchase the Sullivan Special - Big Iron Shooter.”

“Oh, a woman with fine tastes, huh?” Maya hopped up from her seat and walked over to Nim. She manifested a bulky looking rifle from the air and presented it to the girl. Maria got up and walked over, interested in what she was purchasing.

“This is my newest creation. So new it gave me a boost to [Gunsmith] and the ability [Weapon Maker]. It’s a poor man’s version of a railgun, some low grade, Tier 1 tech components that’ll accelerate a slug of iron or buckshot with pretty devastating effect. Not good for close range fighting, but good for doing damage to bigger bastards or birds.”

Maria raised her eye brow at that.

“The ammo is just iron. If you can find a piece of rebar and cut it up into one inch chunks, this baby will fire it. Any kind of magnetic metal, as long as it fits in the hopper, the patented, not really, magnetic stabilizers will either shoot it or eject it. The mana battery will last up to two weeks at moderate use, it’s a standard tool battery so it’s pretty cheap.”

“It looks ugly,” Jacob stated.

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, bud,” Maya replied.

“Where were you storing it,” Charles asked.

“I have a Dimensional Inventory. Like in a game, I can store stuff in it.”

“So you’re some kind of dimensional trader?” Nim asked.

“Interdimensional.” Maya grinned. “Plus I think I prefer the term merchant. It has a better ring to it. Sounds classier.”

“What is it made of?” Charles asked, eyeing the weapon.

“System tech. Low grade, Tier 1 stuff that a friend of mine used to call garbage.”

“You’re selling garbage?”

“Definitely not. This is my ultimate creation, besides the pulse stunner. It may be sourced from old trash, but it’s still a good, decent weapon that’ll outlive us all. You get the Patented Sullivan Promise on that. I come from a pretty short line of food vendors.”

“This isn’t food…” Charles said, confused.

“Slinging mashed potatoes or slinging guns, it’s all the same, son. As long as the customer’s happy and I don’t get sued, business is business.” Maya grinned at Charles obvious confusion.

“An interdimensional trash seller?” Nim giggled.

Maya laughed. “Interdimensional garbage merchant,”

flag
Comments (8)
user avatar
User #21875364 - 23 Jul 20 15:59
Wait a minute... that's the name of the series!!! I see what you did there...Thanks for the chap
user avatar
User #3712562 - 23 Jul 20 16:28
Woo! There is that title!
user avatar
User #11691022 - 24 Jul 20 17:58
Nice Ending! So she keeps her stump because she can't sit still ? That seems like someone need Ing ritalin :D
user avatar
alexclaw - 24 Jul 20 18:13
Just excitement, plus there was a lot of work to do and 40 hrs to regrow a hand was a tad too much
user avatar
User #11691022 - 24 Jul 20 18:17
Heh I guess ;) but doing stuff with only one Hand is like you have not one hand left but a quarter. I guess most of it was done in vr where it doesn't matter
user avatar
User #5927544 - 23 Jul 20 22:53
Title Drop! I'm very excited, we're now past the start phase and on to the real meat of the story!
user avatar
User #6570977 - 23 Jul 20 16:23
Heheh. Maya seems very erratic at first, is it on purpose?
user avatar
User #3712562 - 23 Jul 20 16:49
She has been getting steadily more and more erratic, at least when it comes to how she seems from the outside, spouting ridiculous things as she copes with trying NOT to be a crazy person partially stuck on an endless plane of junk and rogue AI with a currently comatose alien guy, a doctor AI and a Rogue AI/Bartender Bot hybrid as her only real company for any appreciable amount of time.
40 - Literally Dying Over Here 2020-07-22T13:49:16+00:00


“Ow.”

“It seems you have seared yourself,” the man who called himself the System said.

Maya grunted in response. They were back in her old home.

“So what now?” Maya asked.

“Well, you die.”

“Will Bell be okay?”

“You’ve informed the AIs of what he endured. The mana cores will run out of mana soon and shut down, which will force the cage to return to the dimensional scar. It will return the AIs along with it, but I don’t know if they’ll survive any encounters against Shen’s remaining forces or the other rogue AI that have been drawn by the use of huge amounts of mana.”

“Well, I’m not keen on dying, so I guess it’s time to POC me.”

“You’ve seared yourself. Such a thing is considered very problematic,” the man said. “It’s not just the lost of levels and experience, it’s the gripping of raw essence mana. Even the essence mana that Tier 4 channel is filtered by me.”

Maya groaned. “I got Shen for you, pal. That golden ticket, now that I think of it, is bullshit. Let’s renegotiate the murder of a System Tech Necro and say a bottle of sealant is the price.”

“I can’t just do that,” the man said.

“You control everything.”

“That’s not how it’s done. I can’t just go about handing people what they want. It is… unfair.”

Maya laughed. “Oh, my god!”

“Fine,” the man said. “But I’ll have to warn you, you’ll need to increase you traits and get them all above one hundred to even channel essence mana in a controlled manner.”

“One hundred? Jesus.”

“It is already very rare for anyone to have access to essence mana at such low Tiers and levels, those that do obtain them at those levels kill themselves within weeks.”

“Alright, I need to train.” She paused and thought. “So all those poor slobs who didn’t take you up on your offer and managed to get out of here with the ability to channel essence mana died?”

“Everyone dies, eventually. But yes, those that escaped without obtaining at least Tier 2 died rather quickly.”

“How does this work then? I could feel the essence mana far easier in the void space than in the dimensional plane. Also, why did I get double the experience and credits from the kills?”

“The dimensional plane, as I said before, lacks essence mana. Therefore what you were feeling was only a trickle of the real power. Becoming a Point of Contact will allow me access to the plane and thereby connect you to the essence mana of the multiverse. So, you’ll need to really work at gaining those levels. As for the experience points and credits, well, those are added by me. As I can’t access essence mana in the plane, you were only gaining experience that could be harvest off the internal mana of the creatures you dispatched. Coins I create, not the monsters.”

Maya sighed. “Can you bump up the drops when you POC me?”

“No.You’re too… small? Tiny? Insignificant? Either way, I can’t really channel that much essence mana through you without killing you. I’ll only be using you as a conduit to enact maintenance. Nothing else.”

“Fine. Let’s do this. I’m literally dying over here.”

“Maya Sullivan, do you accept my offer to be a Point of Contact?”

‘Yeah. Totally.”

“You will be a Point of Contact for the dimensional plane for five hundred years. At Tier 2, that will be about a quarter of your life span. As time will be different in that plane, only about forty two years will pass on your home planet. Are you okay with this?”

“Hell, no. But it’s better than burning up into nothing.” Maya said.

The System smiled. “I can make you Tier 2, but I can’t undo what the searing did to your levels and experience.”

“Aw, shit. You mean I lost everything?”

“You have been reset to level 0. All experience gains will be gone.”

“What about Skills and Abilities?”

“You will retain those, but they will be reset to level one or rank one. You will also keep the titles you have gained.”

“What about Enemy of the State, can I get rid of that?”

“No. That was a SIL Addition, you will have to resolve it on your own.”

“Why do I keep those and lose levels?” Maya wondered.

“Levels and experience are essence mana changing you. They are, as they say, big ticket items. Skills and Abilities are just, add-ons that really don’t consume that much essence mana. You will lose all the attribute points you gained from leveling, but not those awarded from Titles, Skills, or Abilities. Those I can restore.”

“Yay for being a low leveled schmuck.”

“Are you ready?”

“Hit me.” Maya sighed.

There was light and comforting warmth.

***

“We’ve got incoming, boss,” Tender’s voice woke Maya up. She opened her eyes to see Nan standing over her, thin probing hands retracting into her shell.

“We back?”

“We have returned to the dimensional plane,” Nanaseto replied.

“What’s the situation?” Maya sat up and felt woozy. They weren’t in the cage anymore. Instead they were in the chapel, the debris and corpses had all been dumped out around them. She stretched, feeling all the weariness pain and injuries she had suffered were gone. She looked down at her left hand and frowned.

“Damn.” The System hadn’t been kind enough to regrow that for her.

“What do you think, Nan?”

We can do it in the Hanganathorie, but it will take about forty hours to regrow.”

“Boss, I’m detecting a dozen of what you call stormtroopers approaching. They are armed and dangerous.”

Maya shook her head and took a deep breath.

“I’ve got this,” she said and walked forward.

The first stormtrooper entered the room, behind them trailed a dozen more black armored figures. They carried an assortment of weapons and looked ready for a fight.

“Shen’s dead.” Maya stated. There was no shocked murmuring, only a slight tilt of the head by the lead stormtrooper. Maya pointed at the charred corpse lying around the seven other stormtroopers. Shen’s twisted face was still stuck in an expression of pain and shock. “I did it. I killed Shen and now I’m in charge.”

The troopers heard that and they raised their weapons at her. Maya felt a wave of fear, but stood her ground. “I’m not Shen. I know what he did to you. How he trapped you within your dying bodies. How he seared you and how he warped who you were. I know he had contingencies; to prevent you from killing yourself or one another.”

The baker’s dozen of troopers glanced at one another.

“Shen is dead. I offer you the same.” Maya stood her ground as the troopers looked at her. “I offer you the release of death. I offer to kill you.”

Her mouth was a desert as she took another breath. “Submit to me. Give me your service and,” Maya steadied herself, “I will release you all from your torture. I will give you peace.”

The troopers looked at one another and one by one they offered up their weapons.

***


[Executioner] level 5

When the Judgement is laid down, someone has to enact it.

+ 1 Soul Strength


[Necroslayer] Level 5

The Necros are a scourge of the Multiverse and you have defeated over a dozen high leveled Necros.

+ 1 Luck

+ 1 to All Recovery Attributes


[Pirate] level 2

Through blood, force, and will you have taken a ship that belonged to another and through the right of conquest have claimed it as your own.

+ 1 Physical Dexterity


[Necro Lord] Level 1

The Necro scourge of the Multiverse have given you their obedience.

+ 1 Fortitude



Point of Contact

+ 1 To Tier

+ 5 Luck

+ 5 Foundation

+ 5 Fortitude


Tiered Up

You have gained a Tier level. Congrats.

+ 1 Level

+ Tiers and You 101


Death Strider

Blood drips from your weapon as you have slayed more than a dozen mid grade, Tier 1 leveled entities back to back.

+ 13 Attribute points

+ 65,000 EXP

Titan Slayer

Defeating an entity fifty times your level (rounded up to nearest level)

+ 5 points to all Physical Attributes.

+ 5 points to all Mental Attributes.

+ 5 points to all Soul Attributes.

+ 100,000 EXP


Heartless

They have submitted, they have surrendered, and yet you continue to feed your weapon their blood. Only the heartless do not know when to stop.

+ 1 to All Strength Attributes

+ 1 Iron Heart Token


Laid to Rest II

Public health, morality, religion, whatever the reason, you saw to the dead and laid them to rest when you didn’t have to.

+ 2 Soul Channel

+ 10,000 EXP


The Release of Death I

Sometimes death is what is required. There are those who are freed when their life ends.

+ 1 Death Token

+ 1 Mourner’s Hymn



“At least you had them kill the rogue AIs around here first,” Nanaseto remarked. The red box ambled toward her. “Necros. One can hardly believe they exist. Such things were stories from where I came from.”

Maya watched the AI and brushed tears from her cheeks. She had kept up her end of the bargain. Shen’s victims had received their release and she sat within the habitat staring at the rainbow skies. The poor souls hadn’t raised a hand in defense when she had destroyed them. One by one, they had waited for the sword she had looted to end their lives, to end their suffering. It was heartbreaking.

“With the cores down and recharging, I don’t think we’ll see any rogue AIs any time soon.”

“We’ll need to find a way to shield them.” Maya brushed the last of her tears away and cleared her throat. “I think the trash pile the Hangy was under prevented them from homing in on it, well the higher leveled AIs, anyway.”

“Tender is already checking on the inventory left behind by Shen. A hundred years of traveling and exploration has left him with a rather large amount of material.” Nan’s blue robotic eye tilted toward her.

“We’ll need to do something about that. Also the weapons the troopers were carrying. All of them were mid Tier and Shen didn’t skim on arming and armoring them.” Maya said.

“Indeed. It is a wealth of material,” Nan replied.

They looked at one another and knew they were dancing around the main topic.

“Bell is ready to be seen.”

Maya nodded and stood up. She followed the red robot out of the room and through a series of corridors. Maya had thought the habitat was made entirely of Tier 2 system tech, but after the remaining troopers cracked open the locks and allowed her full access to the habitat, Maya discovered it was the same components she had been using. Only the cage and what filled Shen’s victims had been Tier 2.

That made the high grade components very valuable. Already she had discovered that even as they were almost magical in their ability to create what she wanted; high grade, Tier 2 components didn’t last as long as Tier 1 components. It would be years, not centuries, before they wore out and had to be replaced.

Therefore the hard decision was made to harvest the bodies of Shen’s victims and Shen himself. They had valuable Tier 2 tech in their bodies and she needed them. The dead were dead and they needed nothing. All that was left was rotting meat and system tech. She had harden her heart and commenced with the processing of the bodies.

The two entered the habitat’s medical room. It was a large spacious area that fortunately didn’t follow the Victorian decor that Shen had preferred. The room was spare and clean, providing a comforting sterile feeling Maya always associated with hospitals.

Bell was unconscious. The big four armed man lay upon a wide bed, a silver dome of translucent glass covered him from head to toe. His chest move and his muscles twitched ever so slightly, but since they had found him, he had not wakened.

Maya had thought they arrived too late or that Shen had hurt him further out of spite, but Nan had looked him over. The medical room had a spot for her core and Maya had spent some precious minutes installing the core into the habitat. Nan’s diagnosis was that he was in a coma.

The metal spikes that she had seen in him weren’t torture devices, they were a crude method of fast healing mana channels. It was barbaric, according to Nan, and caused a lot of mental suffering. Combined with the near searing and other mind fuckery Shen had caused, Nan had stated it was best to keep him in a therapeutic coma for the time being.

Maya was already coming up with plans to set up the VR system for Bell. Nan had made a comment that some patients responded to it well enough, that a therapy program could be created in the VR gear.

“I’m sorry for what he did to you,” Maya said. “He won’t hurt you or anyone else again.”

She wiped her eyes.

A thumping filled the room as Tender’s large body entered. He still had his short, thick legs and wasn’t as mobile as he could be.

“You alright, boss?” he asked.

Maya looked up at him and smiled. Nan’s robot body stepped forward and looked at the screens on Bell’s chamber. It was an advanced healing pod, according to Nan, that would heal him of all his wounds, in time.

“We’ve been through a lot of shit, guys.” Maya said, setting her hand upon Bell’s chamber. “We’ve suffered through a lot. We faced enemies that over powered us. We stood side by side in battle. Bell and I aren’t the same species, and the two of you aren’t the same kind of AIs. All of us are different, but all of us have stuck together through trying times. You have given me your trust, you have placed your lives in my hand and I thank you all wholeheartedly.”

“That’s our job, boss.” Tender said.

“I’m not your boss. This is a horrible place and I’ve decided to stay here for the next five hundred years. I don’t think I can survive that long without help. If we work together and help one another, I think we can be more than just disparate entities, SIL or AIs. I think we can be family. When you need to survive, you need family.”

Maya set a hand on Tender’s shell and Nan’s box.

“Together. We’ll survive this.”

***

“So what now?” Tender asked.

Maya glanced at Tender and his newly minted body. Instead of the puck shaped spider that he had inherited, he wore a newly manufactured frame that Maya thought of as a centaur. Six legs moved a boxy base that gave rise to a torso with two arms and a smooth reflective mask. Tender’s body was covered in the refurbished armor of the troopers, enough remained that even Maya had a pair she could get into if needed.

The new body was a design that Tender had been working on during his down time. It was practical and kind of ugly, but he liked the versatility that it offered him. She was happy to help him build it, it kept her mind occupied.

They stood in what Maya was calling the observatory, the long tower that Shen had formed when he wanted to show Maya the battles raging around the trash piles and the ship. It was a manipulation of the Tier 2 tech, more for show than any real purpose, but Maya liked the expanded view.

There were no more rogue AIs, they had all been killed and three days of work had gone into burying the mana cores. They were still accessible for them to use, but a liberal amount of trash had been moved into the hole.

Maya was already enjoying the wonders of Teir 2 system tech. The nanomachine swarms could move items, reshape themselves into machinery at will. Shen’s unlocked files gave her all the abilities she needed to control the nano-machines, allowing her to make the swarms do her bidding.

Most of that bidding had been to bury the mana cores and move the habitat that held Bell into the ship. Shen’s ship proved to be mostly a shell, the habitat fitted itself into the hollow space of the ship, providing all the comforts of home. Maya was impressed by the ability, for it allowed the ship to become a sort of cargo vessel, as it’s engines and mana core weren’t disconnected when the habitat moved out. That had given her some ideas.

The ship was an issue on its own. Although she had commandeered the vessel and earn the [Pirate] ability as a result, she didn’t have full control of it, like the Hanganathorie. Shen’s tortured troopers had only access to the habitat and they had unlocked that, but most of the ship’s systems were out of her reach. She couldn’t access the bridge and she couldn’t access the main engineering rooms.

The ship could fly and she wanted to be airborne, but currently there was no one to do the flying for her. Starship piloting was an ability that was gained after a lot of study and training; Maya didn’t even know where to begin with that. Therefore she was determined to return to the Hangy and extract those hidden AI cores that were still onboard.

“We need to get back to the Hangy, check on Junior and bring more supplies back. I want to find those AI cores and see what we can do with them.”

“Afterwards?”

Maya stared up at the rainbow sky, her mind wandering. “It’s pretty crazy when you think about it, Tender. I mean, time here is flowing far faster than it is on Earth and maybe the rest of the multiverse. Twelve hours here is only one hour there. Weird right?”

“I suppose so, boss. But it doesn’t seem all that different from the time dilation experienced in the VR gear.”

“But this is real life.”

With his new shoulders, Tender shrugged. “I’m a computer construct, boss. The VR system was pretty real for me, just like right now is real for me.”

Maya looked at Tender. “Really? I never… hmmm… well, have you ever given thought to a fully virtual simulated life?” she asked.

“No. Although VR may seem real, it is not. I can differentiate that much. My action in VR have no consequences, but in reality… I can have an impact, as you have said before.”

Maya grinned. “You’ve saved my life plenty of times, bud. I can’t ever repay you for that.”

“As for what’s next? The data readings I’ve been perusing says the cores will have enough mana to punch a hole in the dimensional fabric every six days. Three days have already passed us by, but we’ll have three days to prepare for our next visit. Crazy to think only twelve hours or so will have passed back on Earth.”

“What do you hope to accomplish?” Tender asked.

Maya summoned a credit coin and flipped the disc in her hand.

“I have an idea.”

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Comments (6)
user avatar
User #19917560 - 22 Jul 20 17:56
So.... she's going to take over the world by proxy cause she just left a supercharged mom in charge of the her first if not the first on the planet holding with a shit ton of advanced titles and levels and lots and lots of money.
user avatar
alexclaw - 22 Jul 20 18:16
Tis but only a small fraction of the world.
user avatar
User #6570977 - 22 Jul 20 14:55
Seems ch36 Maya is now T1 instead of T2? what happened?
user avatar
alexclaw - 22 Jul 20 17:37
Yeah, changed it. Had this plan, but didn't pan out upon further thinking on it. ever evolving chapters...
user avatar
User #13235254 - 22 Jul 20 16:37
Now..the story BEGINS! First thing she needs to do is buy [Vitamin-D] tablets
user avatar
alexclaw - 22 Jul 20 17:37
Indeed.
39 - Cage Fight 2020-07-21T17:33:38+00:00

Now…

Anisa rushed toward the door, but it vanished. A moment later another door began forming on the opposite end of the cage.

“Shit,” Maya muttered. She rushed toward Anisa and put herself between the woman and the forming door. “You stay behind me. You do what I say.”

The woman looked frightened, but nodded.

“What’s happening?” Anisa asked.

“A giant turd is being dropped. I just need him to fully enter the cage before I can flush his ass. Once he’s in, I can prevent him from exiting. He needs to spring this trap without knowing what’s going on.”

The newly formed door boomed open and a black clad stormtrooper entered, followed by a half a dozen more. Their weapons were raised and they didn’t so much as look at Maya or Anisa. After a long moment, Shen entered. Anisa gave a gasp of horror.

His mask was off, so was his armor. He was dressed in what Maya could only call high fashion. Golden cape, velvety clothing, and a tricorn hat gilded with more gold. He sauntered forward and his eyes caught on Maya and Anisa.

“What is this?”

“You said this was only a test,” Maya said.

“Why did it take you two hours to connect? Surely you could have managed faster?” He swaggered into the cage and behind him the door slammed shut.

Maya grinned. “Halvara! I summon you as my defender!”

The defense token Maya had palmed flashed and she threw it down before her.

“Wh-“

There was a flash of light and heat as a figure formed from essence mana. She was tall and beautiful, a slender reptilian SIL covered in bright feathers and with a long lovely tail.

“Halvara! You are my Champion!” Maya cried again and threw the small piece of metal she had retrieved from killing the rogue AI rat champion.

Champion Shard

Double the levels of a singular entity, summoned, created, or designated as a champion.

The Champion Shard exploded into light and burned through the summoned Defender. Halvara didn’t expand or grow, but she roared in ecstasy and power burned across her body.

“Kill Shen!” Maya shouted and grabbed Anisa.

They both hit the ground as an explosion of heat and mana filled the room.

“You betray me!” Shen screamed and in a moment his clothing turned from formal wear and into battle armor. He pulled a gleaming sword from his Inventory and faced Halvara, a look of recognition flashing across his rotting face. “You!”

“Shendogradeh Firnakaal! Vengeance is mine! Your sins will be repaid in kind!” the summoned defender screamed.

Both Shen and Maya stared. She had thought the summoned defender was just an essence mana constructed copy. How did it have memories?

“Come on, come on,” Maya hissed at herself. “Stop gawking and start moving.”

Halvara and Shen crashed together and the stormtroopers weren’t caught flatfooted. They joined their boss in fighting the defender and Maya took the opportunity to pull Tender out of her Inventory.

“What the hell is going on!” Anisa screamed, staying by Maya’s side.

There was an audible boom as Tender’s new form materialized before Maya. He wasn’t as mobile anymore, his original legs had to be removed due to the damage they had taken, but a new set of smaller thicker legs had been added, for stabilization.

Upon Tender’s back was a scaled up pulse stunner. The design was simple, it would release mana in a pulsing frequency that disrupted the power systems of rogue AIs and other System Tech. It was the type of weapon that the first rogue AI she had battled had used on her, but whereas that one’s had been smaller and ineffective against a biological SIL, Tender and Maya’s creation packed the power of two mana cores and a lot of desperate prayers.

Nanaseto’s autopsy of Halvara’s abandoned corpse had uncovered the weakness of the stormtroopers. Maya had already discovered that they were susceptible to pulse stunners, but from Nanaseto’s study, the System Tech around the base of their skulls could be momentarily blocked from receiving and transmitting messages to move their body. For a moment, they could be paralyzed.

That would allow them the opportunity to strike at the same areas and destroy the stormtroopers. They just needed to cut through the light armor around the area and Maya had a nicely recharged cutter to do the work.

“Now!”

There was a crackle of energy and Maya felt the air turn heavy. She could almost taste ozone in the air and grinned when she saw the seven stormtroopers suddenly turn toward her. Energy crackled along their bodies and with effort they abandoned the fight against Halvara and turned to face her.

“It’s not going to hold very long,” Maya said. She summoned her cutter and turned to Anisa. “I need your help. We have to do this fast.”

The woman looked terrified at what was going on. She gave Maya a wide eyed stare. “What?”

“Ready your axe, its the best weapon. Follow me, do as I do. We need to do this fast.”

“I don’t-“

“You’re trapped in here until they die or you die. Help me.”

Anisa gave a quick nod and the two raced toward the nearest stormtrooper.

Losardar - Level 44

“Behind the neck, under the helmet,” Maya cried, her cutter blade extending. She set the red blade to the back of the stormtrooper’s neck and the metal hissed and sizzled as it cut through. For the first time, heat bloomed outward, but Maya gritted her teeth and cut through the thin layer. A moment later she plunged the cutter into the poor soul’s neck. A cutter wasn’t meant to work against flesh, but there was enough system tech within the trooper that the blade cleanly sliced through the components

Like a puppet with its strings cut, the trooper dropped to the ground.

Losardar - Level 44 - Defeated

+ 9,400 EXP

+ 4,800 credits

Lootable

“Do the same thing, cut through the neck.” Maya called out, rushing toward the second trooper.

Anisa, to her credit, didn’t dawdled. She immediately hefted her axe and began attacking the nearest trooper’s neck. The thin protective metal warped and finally surrendered to the heavy blade. A moment later a second trooper fell to the ground.

“I leveled up!” Anisa gasped.

“Hurry!”

Maya dropped to the floor a second later as Shen soared over her. She caught a look of rage on his face, his milky eyes tracking her for a second before refocusing upon Halvara who wasn’t letting up. The woman was a glowing powerhouse of mana, she carried no weapons, but attacked by strengthening her body and sending out bars of light that struck Shen like blades. The torturous fuck was barely holding his own against her.

Her second trooper fell as Anisa managed two more. Within a few more seconds all but one trooper was left. Maya rushed toward it, noting the name that appeared above it.

Dosama K’van - Level 55

It was the one that had beaten Bell up. Maya raced toward the trooper, but she felt the air suddenly change. She nearly skidded to a stop as she saw Dosama move. The black clad trooper’s head snapped toward her and they took a step.

Maya was ready to run, but then they stopped.

“Hurry,” the voice came through. “I can’t-“

Maya stared as she watched the trooper struggle against whatever controls had been placed upon it. The trooper grabbed at their head and pulled their helmet off. There was a screech of metal and a hiss of air; Maya was assaulted by the same stench that had come off of Shen. She looked at a tortured mangled face, one pleading for her to end their pain.

Maya raised her cutter.

Dosama K’van - Level 55 - Defeated

+ 12,000 EXP

+ 6,400 credits

Lootable

Maya spun around and faced Shen, only to drop to the ground again as a jagged blade seared through the air where she had been a moment ago. She looked up to see Shen battered and bruised, but still standing. The mana pulse had effected him, but now that it was done, he was back to his full strength.

Halvara for all her new levels still wasn’t strong enough to go toe to toe with a Tier 2 SIL. Shen might not be alive, but to the System and everyone who mattered, Tier 2 was Tier 2 and that meant they had power.

It came from his soul and it came from a body that had been shaped before he had died, will and self had kept him alive, but using his own soul as a fuel source had allowed him to retain his strength.

Even outmatched, Halvara wasn’t backing down. The champion’s face was contorted in rage and she kept her attacks up, forcing Shen back and into a defensive position. Already his armor was battered and he was suffering from minor wounds. Maya had to tip the balance.

She rushed to Tender’s immobile body and leaped onto it. Anisa was behind her, looking terrified. Maya summoned their last weapon from her Inventory and slammed it down into the mounts that they had built.

Nanaseto’s small robotic body appeared, but it had been modified. Maya might not have been able to hack the medical AI’s brain, but she could ask her to do things. Nanaseto had agreed and together they formed the weapon that would hopefully defeat Shen.

The beam weapon hadn’t been destroyed, instead it had suffered some minor component blow outs, allowing Tender and her to patch it back up. As the mana pulse was the only weapon that seemed to be able to do anything to Shen’s zombies, they had spent two days rebuilding the weapon so that it now what Maya had labeled aa pulse cannon. She had gained an [Engineering] Ability from its creation. The versatility of rogue AI components showed itself as most of the racks had to just be rearranged to accomplish the feat.

Maya pulled back on the charging lever that connected it to the remaining mana batteries and left the aiming to Nanaseto. She jumped off of Tender and grabbed Anisa. Simulated tests of the weapon had shown there would be a massive mana backlash when it fired, enough to severely injure a SIL, but not an AI.

She saw Shen’s head snap toward her as Nanaseto fired.

The brilliant blue light that slammed out of the weapon blinded Maya for a second, but as her vision returned she grinned. Shen was thrown against the wall and his armor crackled and his body shuddered as the condensed mana burned through him.

“Hurry,” Maya snapped, jumping to her feet She snapped up a sword that had been dropped by one of the troopers and raced to cross the distance between her and Shen. She didn’t have much time.

Halvara screeched a triumphant cry and raised her hand above her, it glowed with hot energy and a bar of light began forming. Shen wasn’t giving up, though. He summoned what appeared to be a defense turret from his Inventory. The machine was squat and mounted a heavy weapon.

“Shit,” Maya cried a moment before it fired.

She wasn’t the target through. Halvara’s cry of victory turned to one of disbelief and pain as she was thrown back by a ball of crackling nothingness. Maya didn’t stop to stare, instead rushing the turret and swinging the sword with all her might.

She channeled essence mana into the weapon and was shocked to see the blade enveloped in flames before connecting with the turret. It wa so easy, it was so readily available. She nearly laughed in glee. The blade sliced through the turret without resistance.

The turret sizzled and popped, the black orb burst, sending out a wave of black light that staggered Anisa behind her and send a spike of pain through Maya’s head. She shook off that pain and looked down to see the sword blade had melted. She dropped the hilt and summoned her last weapon, the crowbar.

Shen pushed himself against the wall, a snarl on his face.

“I will not kill you! For a thousand years you will suffer, everyday a living hell. You and your fri-”

Halvara slammed into him. The reptilian woman was severely injured, half of her body was a wreck and the other half was just gone. There was no blood or viscera, but Maya stared at the damage. She didn’t have much time.

Mana burn was her only option. She had to get in close and light the fucker on fire. Maya rushed forward, Anisa yelling behind her.

Halvara suddenly exploded into a flash of sparkling light.

Halvara - Champion - Defeated

“Run!” Maya screamed at Anisa. The woman only looked terrified.

Within a heartbeat, Shen was before her. His long metallic hands gripped her neck and he squeezed. His rotten face was damaged, the skin sloughing off and revealing the network of system tech that made up his body. He shuddered with obvious pain and lifted Maya off the ground.

“You foolish-“

The rattle of the AK was loud in the room. Maya watched as the bullets punch into Shen’s face, a second of distraction and his grip loosened.

She was an essence mana channeler. She commanded powers that only Tier 4 or higher beings could. Maya barely had to strain to feel the immense power that wanted to be released. It was an ocean pushing against a leaking levy. Maya grunted as she allowed it to flow.

Time slowed down.

Shen staggered back, more skin and components flaking off. Anisa was screaming something. She had her axe out again and tossed aside the AK.

Maya felt power coursing through her body, it raged and she knew she couldn’t control it. In that slowed moment of time, Maya wanted to laugh. Everyone had told her that her body was too weak to channel essence mana correctly, but she had to ignore all of their knowledgeable advice. She could channel mana, she could even control a tiny amount of it, but what she let loose was not a tiny amount.

Channeling into the black stone was like flipping a switch. It barely needed any essence mana even though she had felt as if it were sucking her dry. All it required was the barest minimum of essence mana. Now, Maya felt the same power she had when she watched Bell being seared. No, it was different. It was stronger, more intense. She wasn’t held back by the dimensional plane now, she wasn’t trapped in a place where the essence mana couldn’t go.

Maya burned with essence mana.

Shen blocked Anisa’s strike with his arm, his eyes and attention were not on the overly brave woman. He was focused on Maya and she could see all of his four eyes expand in shock.

Unsealed

There goes the neighborhood, the channels, and basically the self control. You wield raw, destructive essence mana in its purest form. Hope it was worth it.

- All levels lost

- All experience lost

- Foundation, Fortitude, and Luck set to zero

+ Countdown to vaporization added

“Fuck,” Maya gasped, her voice reverberated and was distorted. A small set of numerals appeared at the edge of her vision. It began to count down.

“What have you done!” Shen gasped.

“Well, this wasn’t the plan, but fuck it.”

The crowbar in her hand glowed, not with mana fire, but with essence mana. She could feel the very atoms of the crowbar begin to change, reforming, turning heavier and reshaping as she charged it with essence mana. Shen looked terrified as he casually knocked aside Anisa and sent her flying.

Maya could feel the Tier 2 components around her, they were shifting their allegiance from her back to Shen. She stopped it cold, wrenching away control from the necro.

“You’ve killed yourself. You’ve doomed us both,” Shen stated.

“Yeah, I don’t really care.” She could feel her muscles warping and churning, the very essence that formed them was being effected. It was not a pleasant experience and Maya knew that it would not stop. The essence that made her up would continue sucking up essence mana until she lit up like a candle.

Shen’s face hardened and he glared at her. “So be it.”

His fist was in her face in an eye blink, but the coursing essence mana through Maya reacted faster. Her crowbar snapped up, the golden light that now lit the crowbar flashed. Shen screamed. He staggered back as his fist vanished from the wrist downward.

Maya threw herself forward and took the rest of his arm off. The crowbar, for all its blunt form, cut finer than the sharpest sword. For a brief moment, Maya knew she would be his equal. The essence mana searing her up from the inside at least gave her that much power.

Shen’s fist slammed into the side of her head and she staggered, but replied with the crowbar slamming down into his thigh. The glowing metal burned its way down into his armor and flesh, sizzling and eating away at the components within. Shen screamed and clawed at her. She felt her blood spill as his claws dug into her arm. She ignored the pain and wrenched the crowbar out of his thigh. Hot stinking blood filled the air with the smell of burned plastic. Shen dropped to his knees.

“A thousand years,” he muttered looking at her.

Maya only glared as she lashed out with the crowbar and stabbed the it down into his torso. The glowing metal warped and crackled, Shen’s armor melted away like plastic and he stared at her in utter horror as essence mana burned him from the inside out.

Maya cried out as she watched her left hand twist and deform, finally searing away in a small burst of multicolored light. The crowbar was destroyed and it took her hand with it. She gasped at the pain and looked down at her stump. No blood, just a creepy multicolored light pouring from the wound.

Shendogradeh Firnakaal - Tier 2 - Level 124 - Defeated

- You are Unsealed

“Maya!” Anisa cried, grabbing onto Maya. “Oh, God. Your hand!” She tried to dig into the small bag she carried, but Maya stopped her.

“You did damage to Shen, right?”

“Yeah?”

“Touch him, before you leave. You’re considered a party member if you fight along side someone. Touch him and you’ll get some experience. Do the same to every one of the dead guys, they drop a small portion of their experience points.”

“How do you know this?” Anisa reached forward and touched Shen’s body. She gasped. “God…”

“Hurry up. Once you’re done. Run. I can’t-“ Maya shuddered feeling her channels burning away. It was an odd feeling, like going numb combined with a great sense of loss.

“What can I do?” Anisa asked staring at her.

“Grab the experience and run. There’s nothing you can do for me now. I’m dead.”

Sorrow etched in the woman’s face.

“If you don’t run and I die, you’ll be trapped in this cage when the mana runs out. The cage will return to that hellhole and you’ll die in the crossing.”

Anisa nodded firmly and rushed toward the other corpses, touching each one briefly, but still letting out a shocked gasp. Maya groaned in pain and she felt her arms shaking and blood pounding in her head.

“Thank you, Maya Sullivan. You’ve given me much and I shall remember it.” Anisa said as she stood by the door. “I’ve gained so many levels and so many Titles. Thank you.”

She exited and Maya felt like collapsing into a puddle of weariness. Her arms shook violently and without her control, but she managed to get to her feet and stumbled toward Tender and Nan.

“Looks like this is the end, kids. Great job. Couldn’t have done it without you.”

“I’m sorry I cannot do anything to help you,” Nan said.

“We shall attempt to do what we can for Bell once we return, boss.” Tender said.

Maya smiled. “I can count on you.”

She leaned up against Tender’s form and sighed. She could feel the essence mana burning her up, she watched as her skin began to flake away and rise up in multicolored light.

The countdown neared zero.

“Hey, System. You there? It’s me Maya.”

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Comments (6)
user avatar
User #11691022 - 24 Jul 20 17:13
Nice fight ! Any ideas how to continue the story? And I agree fish are a terrible and underhanded weapon to wield!
user avatar
alexclaw - 29 Jul 20 16:39
haha, I just realized that mistake. Yeah, dang fishes, man.
user avatar
User #13235254 - 21 Jul 20 21:20
The last few chapters were confusing. Wasn't she upgraded to Tier-2 herself ? The System said that was required to channel essence mana and she laid it as a pre-requisite before fighting. So, how come she was unable to channel essence mana ? I really prefer when authors go according to timeline instead of jumping about back and forth in the timeline just to avoid these sort of mistakes
user avatar
alexclaw - 22 Jul 20 13:10
Yeah, I'll admit I bumbled this a bit. A few things were not clearly stated and that's my fault. She wasn't upgraded to Tier 2, the original Beirut post was a typo that I didn't get around to fixing and yeah, the Contact kinda made it seem like the System was going to give her T2. My mistake, will correct.
user avatar
User #9251605 - 24 Jul 20 00:54
I would recommend if you didnt use a timejump. i dont mean the use of time inside the story, although that was confusing, but the time you use in the chapters to tell this story. in my opinion there is no need for you to have her come out on earth and then in the next chapter say, that there actually was 19 hours before the last scene. i think, that telling the story continously would be the best.
user avatar
User #6570977 - 21 Jul 20 19:03
Well, that was a fun chapter. Seems that as expected she is going back to level 0, though I am unsure that will keep.
38 - Sixteen and a Half Hours 2020-07-20T19:38:42+00:00


One moment Maya was in her memory and the next she was within the confines of the dimensional cage. She gasped as the overwhelming feeling of the Void Space around her crashed against her Dimensional Awareness. It was like being tossed in freezing water, invigorating, but also so shocking it blasted all her thoughts from her head.

Why did everything feel cold? She briefly wondered.

The cage was solid now, not the mass of warping components that it had been when she began channeling essence mana. She looked around the fifteen foot square box. It was the design of the box and the mana cores that generated the tiny dimensional bubble she was floating around in. The mana tethered her to the rainbow sky hellscape and as long as there was mana she would remain in this place.

Her Dimensional Awareness was tickling her thoughts. Tier 2 System Tech was similar to science fiction nano-machines. They did not have a singular shape or form, but could change and reform at will; not the nano-machine’s will, but the SIL controlling it.

Maya smiled as she began to realize that Shen was underestimating her. Sure, he could control the cage and the machinery when he was in the dimensional plane, but he had released the locks on the Tier 2 System Tech; a process that was required if she was going to be channeling her essence mana into the black stone and opening the gateway. He had to give up control and now that control lay in her hands.

Time, space, what she believed was reality didn’t exist in this void space. Maya walked around the cage feeling that existential stomach flop that came with thinking of too big ideas. She touched the metal walls and willed space to obey her.

“Bigger on the inside,” Maya marveled as she watched the walls push away from her and the cage suddenly doubled in size. She wasn’t pushing the walls away, but pushing space around her further apart.

Dimensional Awareness VI

She blinked. This was how the dimensional bags were formed. A Tier two or higher SIL using Dimensional Awareness and their own skills to shape the space within a device or artifact similar to what the cage was. Maya smiled and made the room larger.

Dimensional Manipulation I

“Time to go home,” Maya said to herself.

She closed her eyes and thought. She imagined the mess hall of the Hanganathorie, the place she and Bell had spent so much time. The place where she had built and stored all of the components they had salvaged, the place where she had decided would be her home for the time being.

The cage didn’t shift and there was no feeling of motion, but her Awareness told her she wasn’t connected to Shen’s little temple anymore. She opened her eyes and the System Tech responded, warping the metal before her and forming a door. It was a simple metal door with a latch.

Maya pulled on the latch and stepped out.

BOOM!

Maya immediately dropped to the floor, covering her head as something exploded against the metal beside her.

“It’s me Maya!” she yelled.

“Sorry, Maya,” a voice announced.

Maya looked up to see Nanaseto’s red mobile body ambling toward her. The small blocky robot carried one of Bell’s crossbow’s awkwardly in her hands.

“What the hell, Nan?”

“I had thought the appearance of some strange wall and door was cause for alarm, therefore I armed myself with the weapons available.”

“You’re defending the ship?”

“It is my home, after all, and Tender cannot.”

“Tender?”

“He is mostly alive.”

“Tender!” Maya screamed and rushed into the mess hall.

***

Tender had seen better days. The bartending semi rogue AI sat in a jumbled mess of broken components and half fixed limbs. Black sludge had congealed around his frame and one of the cameras that he saw out of was missing.

“How are you?” Maya asked, crouching before the large AI. He didn’t respond.

“His processor was undamaged, but the computer he used took shrapnel,” Nan explained. “I was able to salvage the rogue AI core off of the rogue AI roaches you had in storage. With some luck and at Tender’s direction I managed to stabilize him.”

“You did this Nan?” Maya asked amazed.

“It was… required,” Nan said after a moment. “I am not built for combat and Tender also made his intentions on finding you and Bell very clear. In time more rogue AIs would come for the mana cores we still have.”

“I thought they took the cores?”

“Only the main core,” Nan replied. “The smaller cores from the pub and the rogue AI still remain, along with the batteries. They did not seem interested in them.”

“Why can’t he speak?” Maya asked. Tender’s head moved up and down, as if trying to communicate.

“His computer was irreparably damaged. It stored all the code and devices to communicate with you. It has been a difficult five days of figuring out how to communicate.”

“We can use the VR, he has technician access and we had already laid the foundation for him to be able to use it in case of emergencies.” Maya said.

“Ah, I see where I erred.”

“No problem. We need to gather up everything and shove it into the cage.”

Nan’s small body rotated to face the black wall that floated in the middle of the mess hall.

“Everything?”

***

An hour later the door closed and the wall vanished from the mess hall of the Hanganathorie.

“You sure he’ll be okay?” Maya asked Nan as she sat down in a leather chair.

“Junior, as you have named the algae, will be fine. It had entered full maturity and has enough stores and resources to last a week in semi darkness.”

Maya nodded and sighed. She had to leave the algae behind with minimal life support, just a single set of lights attached to a spare tool mana battery.

“I am glad you are still alive, boss,” Tender said from where he sat. He was in his chosen avatar and looked as if nothing had happened to him. Maya had checked over his robotic body and with horror and sadness saw the amount of damage he had taken. He wasn’t a high level rogue AI and he had fought against a high level semi-SIL. “May I ask what this place is?”

“It’s called a dimensional cage and for now, we’re safe from the asshole that kidnapped Bell and I. But we need to work fast, I’ve got only about eighteen hours to find a way to defeat him.” Maya waved around her hand. “Hence the VR.”

“You intend to stay in this simulation the entire eighteen hours?” Nanaseto asked.

Maya looked at the medical AI. It had been a hard choice, but Maya had decided to rip out her AI core from the ship. She had cobbled together a rough patchwork of cables and wiring to get the cores working with her new limited body, but the upside was that the pub core had far more power available now.

“What’s the damage?” Maya asked.

“Confusion, migraines, short term memory loss, vertigo, and perhaps even short term loss of System skills and abilities.”

“Oof, that bad, huh?”

“Your mind will be scrambled. I can concoct a mid grade stimulant that will shorten the effects, but it will take half an hour after injection to work.

“So now I have seventeen and a half hours.”

“If you intend to fight this Shen, I would suggest another hour of ‘cage time’ to do so. We do not know what will happen during this battle,” Tender added.

“Right. Well, sixteen and a half. Thats nearly an entire VR day lost.”

“What’s the plan, boss?”

Maya cracked her knuckles. “Kill Shen.”

There was a long silence.

“How are we to go about that?” Nan asked.

“Oh, right. I guess we need a plan.” Maya grinned and waved her hand, showing the corpse of Halvara. The poor Shen slave she had killed.

It reinforced how horrible Shen was, that he would just abandon the corpse of his so called ‘companion’ in the ship where she had died. But his disregard for his minions was her gain. Nanaseto was a curious AI, so she had already done comprehensive scans on the corpse while she had been trying to fix up Tender.

The armor had been removed and underneath was a near skeletal disfigured corpse. Maya then realized how disgusting Shen truly was. Cybernetic implants took up the bulk of her body, a line of makeshift system tech mana channels that burrowed into bone and flesh.

Nan had pointed out where the body was reshaped to fit the rough mana channels, one she suspected was copied from Shen’s own form. This meant that the original biological form had undergone extensive surgery to rebuild it into the form that best fit the mana channels that Shen had already created. It was horrific, once Nan had displayed what Halvara had originally looked like based on the DNA remains.

She had been a tall graceful reptilian person. Feathers cascaded down her back in a wash of brilliant colors and she had a long tail that swayed behind her. Her knees were inverted and she had long arms that ended in stubby claws. Her entire posture was slightly leaning forward, not the upright one Maya had seen. Shen had butchered her and remade her, filling her body with system tech and then reshaping her bones and form to suit one that could fit the mana channel he could control.

“Use the rats, do another deep scan on the corpse. I need to know what went on when I hit her with the pulse stunner. Tender and I will be working on making arms.”

“Arms?” Tender asked.

‘Your body’s pretty messed up, buddy, but I need hands in the real world. You’re gonna be it. We’re going to scrap the builder box project, but also revamp it so that the instructions run through you.”

“I had thought that would have been a waste of resources and time?”

“Yeah, well we have like sixteen hours left, so usefulness now is more important than usefulness later.”

“I see. What are we going to build, once I have arms, boss?”

Maya tossed a copy of the pulse stunner on the table before them. The one in reality was burned and nearly crushed, but this one was whole.

“We’re gonna fry some system tech necros.”

***

Maya vomited when she returned to cage reality.

“You cannot keep this up,” Nan’s voice said. The boxy robotic body ambled up to her, holding a cup of water. “You need to hydrate and to eat.”

“Just pump me full of that wonder drug, Nan.” Maya groaned, feeling her head throb and ache.

“I must state my reservations about the continual abuse of this drug.”

“Noted. I’ll put it in my captain’s log,” Maya groaned. She felt a prick on the back of her neck and the pain in her head began to recede somewhat. It never fully went away, but it was bearable.

Nanaseto’s stimulant injection had been boosted by the addition of the healing potion and the stamina potion that Bell had given to Maya. Although a doctor, Nanaseto still carried a lot of alchemy knowledge. It took some effort, but she cobbled together an injection that would severely reduce the effects of Maya’s VR abuse.

“You cannot keep this up,” the red box stated again.

Maya crawled to her feet, ignoring Nan’s warnings. She stumbled to Tender’s body and began picking up components. Another jam, another delay. She hissed as she began stripping parts of Tender’s new arm and fixing the new problem.

It had taken an entire VR day for her to finally hack the code of the VR gear. She had cobbled together a new set up that allowed Tender to use the VR gear as his main computer once more, abandoning the rogue AI cores Nan had cobbled together. This allowed her the ability to communicate with Tender in real time. She was going ten times faster in the simulation, but his processor was able to keep up with the strain.

Nan’s core had been a problem, there were too many security codes in place to allow them to hack the brain and get it working with the VR gear. As Tender now controlled that, Nan couldn’t access it anymore. So, that meant only Tender could communicate with her while she was in the simulation.

Even though Nan had tried fixing Tender she was no mechanic or technician. Therefore Maya had to exit back into the real world to solve the buggy issues that were arising from their rushed schedule.

“One minute here is ten minutes lost,” Maya muttered as she tore through the components. The effects of what amounted to three days of extended diving in the VR simulation was having adverse effects. She might not be physically exhausted, but her mind was weary.

It took thirty minutes for Maya to enact the repairs and for Tender to return to building. His arms were a compromise, they allowed him to work on building, but they didn’t have enough articulation to enact repairs on himself. Maya sighed and rubbed her eyes before returning to the VR gear.

Nanaseto watched with what Maya could only call disapproval.

Her brain was stuffed, Maya thought as she pulled the helmet back on. Shen had dumped a lot of information for her to remember before activating the cage, she had barely had anytime to rest since waking up in his chamber. Now, she had to keep moving to get ready for the fight. She wondered if she’d be ready.

Maya activated the VR and went back to work.

Nine and a half hours left.

[Mechanic] Level 6

[Technician] Level 3

[Engineer] Level 1

Mechanics fix, Technicians build, but Engineers create.

+ 2 Mental Strength

Dimensional Inventory IV

“Fuck yeah,” Maya muttered exhaustedly.

“It worked?” Nanaseto asked.

“Yeah. Who would have thought, being in void space and in a dimensional bridge while having access to Dimensional Awareness VI would allow me to figure a way to expand my own Dimensional Inventory?” Maya grinned. “Feels like cheating.”

“Skill training,” Tender said. “Its a common thing to do to increase the level of your skill or to gain a higher grade skill.”

Maya nodded wearily as she used Tender’s body to get to her feet. “Well, this will make it easier.” Maya said. She looked down at the mess they had made in the cage. She was tired, hungry, and her head felt like it had taken a beating.

“We have an hour remaining for the time we allotted,’ Nan said. “I have adjusted the dosage and I recommend you take it now.”

“Why?” Maya asked. Then she swayed and nearly vomited again. By now she had nothing but water in her stomach and most of that had been regurgitated.

“You will be in no physical or mental shape to face Shen.”

Maya sighed. “Alright.”

“Side effects are similar to VR abuse, but they will clear away quickly.”

Maya took the injector and held it, then slipped it into her pocket.

“We’re done here. Now, everyone. Load up.”

The increase in her Dimensional Inventory had removed the weight restrictions on the items she could carry, it hadn’t increased the slots, but she could now carry tons in a slot. The interesting things was that Tender and Nanaseto could enter the storage and not be affected. A product of not being SIL.

“Look at that tiny Tender icon,” Maya grinned as she scooped up the remaining trash into her Inventory.

The nervousness she had been keeping at bay suddenly reared its ugly head. Maya leaned against the wall as her hand shook and her heart thundered in her chest. She was going to do this. There was no turning back. She would fight Shen and if all went well, Bell and her would be free.

If she failed. Then Shen’s Necro tech would be free to spread across the multiverse.

“No pressure,” Maya muttered.

She sat down heavily and pulled the injector from her pocket. She plunged it against her palm and hissed as a searing feeling burned through her veins.

One moment Maya was awake, the next there was darkness.

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Comments (4)
user avatar
User #11691022 - 24 Jul 20 16:40
Hi there! Your new patreon saying hello ;D. I was wondering where the 20 hour time Limit is coming from or why she's not extending time indefinitely when it was said that she can technically slow it down as much as she likes.
user avatar
alexclaw - 24 Jul 20 16:56
It's the mana cores. She can control 'time' in the cage, but the power is still being 'used' so she doesn't have indefinite time on her hands. The mana is still being drawn from the cores due to.. magic?
user avatar
User #11691022 - 24 Jul 20 17:04
Ah thanks for clearing that one up!
user avatar
User #32982896 - 21 Jul 20 07:04
wooh
37 - Like, in Contact 2020-07-17T14:17:11+00:00


Nineteen hours before…

It wasn’t pain that burned through Maya, it was as if existence was churning through her veins. It was beyond Maya’s ability to describe, a sense of ‘everything’ surging and burning and consuming.

She saw a vast darkness, absolute and complete, but in a flash that changed. She stared into a gulf of swirling madness, of light, of power, and of destructive creation. Then she saw a fine golden web stretched across existence, a fine mesh that spread everywhere, holding back the madness.

Maya reached for the golden light.

***

“Hello?” a voice said. “Fancy meeting you here.”

“Pops?”

Maya found herself standing in the living room of her old home.

“What the hell is this?” she demanded. She took in the room, it was as she remembered. The lounge chair Pops loved to sit in, the coffee table that was always scattered with magazines and papers, and the chipped end table that forever had water rings stained into the faux wood. “This isn’t real.”

“Yeah, well, I thought it would make you comfortable. Seems I’m not good at this whole business,” the voice said.

“Where the hell are you? Why do you sound like my father?” Maya demanded.

A man stepped into the room. Maya stepped back, staring at the copy of Pops Sullivan as he entered the room. It was as she remembered, a tall man, wide shouldered, with his thick hair greying and a constant stubble on his chin. He grinned at her, showing his overly large canines and slightly crooked teeth.

“Hey,” the copy of Pops said.

“What the hell are you?”

“That a way to talk to your Pops?”

“Stop this. Whatever the fuck you are. Stop this.”

“You’ve watched the movie, Contact, right?” the creature asked. Its form wavered a moment, no longer Pops but a man in similar stature. “‘I’ve taken a form you’ll be comfortable with’.”

“Right. Then you don’t know me all that fucking well,” Maya snapped. She should be terrified. She should be freaking out. The last thing she had seen was the infinite gulf of destructive mana being held at bay by some golden webs. Then, before that, all of Shen’s bullshittery. “Who are you an what do you want. I’ve already got some asshole fucking with my brain.”

“Ah, yes. Shendogradeh Firnakaal. That poor soul.”

“Yeah, poor guy. Real sad story there. Who are you? Where am I? What happened to the cage?”

“To keep to the Contact analogy, I’ve intercepted your ‘cage’ and brought you here.”

“Did you even watch Contact? That little wormhole thingie she was riding wasn’t intercepted, it reached its destination. I did not reach my destination, instead I’m in some screwed up memory with some random asshole.”

“Right, right. How rude of me. Hello, I am the System.” The man extended his hand, his smile wide and welcoming.

“Bullshit,” Maya stated firmly.

“No, really.”

“Bullshit,” Maya said again.

“What do I have to do to prove I am the System? Shouldn’t this whole memory of yours be enough?”

“Send me home.”

The man laughed. “You’re tricky. No.”

“Then why the hell am I here?”

“Ah, well. You are intersting.”

“That’s what the last asshole said before torturing my friend.”

“Oh, sorry. I saw that you left the dimensional plane you were on and decided to check in on who that was. Every time someone manages to leave that place, I get notified.”

“This is just an automated response to my action?” Maya asked.

“Sort of.” The man sat down on the couch, letting out a sigh. “This is just a tiny portion of what I am, checking in on you and half a billion other people who have caught my interest.”

“Awesome. I feel so special.” Maya looked around and then sat down in Pops’ lounge chair. It felt like how she remembered, but then she realized everything was as she remembered. She picked up a magazine off the table and the insides were blank. It was all just her memories.

“Yeah, I don’t really know what’s going on before Integration,” the man said. “But your memories, to me, are an open book. I can see all of it and experience all of it.”

“Creepy.” Maya leaned back in the chair, kicking up the foot rest and then dug around in the cushion until she found a small hole. She pushed her hand into it and with a grin, pulled out a bottle of scotch. “You probably know this, but Pops loves this stuff. Made little cubbyholes to hide bottles everywhere. Mom used to get mad at him, saying it made him look like an alcoholic, but he always claimed they were for tactical use only.” Maya laughed, uncorked the bottle and took a swig. It was just like she remembered.

“You have a high regard for your father,” the man said.

“Yeah, well, you know my memories. Big man, big mouth, big plans, and a big personality.” Maya sipped from the bottle. “Mom said we were too alike. It’s why we got along together so well and it’s why we also constantly argued.”

They sat there in silence for a moment.

“So, what’s all this then?” Maya asked, waving the bottle around. It tasted like scotch, smelled like it, but it had no effect on her. It was a memory; not reality.

“I just wanted to see who you were.”

“So you lived my entire life and now you’re talking to me?”

“In a sense. The dimensional plane you have left is an interesting place, don’t you agree?”

“Yeah, sure. Damn near empty of mana; full of rogue AIs, trash, and a sadistic asshole trying to get home. Also, you’re leading with that question. Just tell me what it is you’re getting at. What’s with that dimension? You seem interested in it. So spill the beans, bud.”

“Before we begin.” The man held out a palm and on it formed a small black cube

.

Dimensions 101 - high grade, Tier 2


“I believe this is yours.”

Maya picked it up and looked at it. “I never got my defense token too,” she said.

“It requires essence mana to create. I cannot reach that place.”

Maya absorbed the knowledge cube.


Dimensions 101 - high grade, Tier 2

Download time: 18 hrs 32 mins.


“That’s a bit long.”

“Its a lot of knowledge.”

The man settled into his seat a bit more and looked weary for a moment.

“I’ve got two things to ask of you.”

“Time is money and I don’t rent out my services cheaply.”

“Fair enough. I want you to prevent Shen from leaving,” the man said.

“If you’re looking for him dead, I’ll gladly do it. The only problem is he’s Tier 2 and I’m just a lowly level 11 scrub.”

“I understand,” the man said. “Yet, it still needs to be done.”

“Why can’t you? You ‘intercepted’ me in this cage, why not do the same to him?”

“I could trap him in this place, but doing so would trap you also. You are needed by Shen to cross back into the multiverse. You are needed for him to return. Without you, he has nothing.”

“Can’t use your godlike powers to just nab him?”

“No.”

“Great.” Maya sloshed the bottle in her hands for a moment. “You can’t access that place, right? There’s no essence mana for you to manipulate.”

“Where you are…it is difficult for me to interact with,” the man said. “Only the part of me that is inside of you exists there, it talks with me and tells me what you are doing, but I cannot directly interfere. I cannot physically manifest anything in that place. It’s the reason why you have not gained any System Generated Drops. I lack access to that dimension and I lack access to the essence mana required to create these items.”

“Why?”

The man smiled. “It’s really simple. Because that plane is where I exist. It is my ‘body’ you are walking on.”

Maya stared at him. “What?”

“Analogy time. You are bacteria on my skin, you, Shen, the rogue AIs, all of it. The ‘trash piles’ are just dead cells that get attracted to my ‘body’. I cannot see what is going on in my own body the same way you cannot see what your cells are doing.”

“Why does it kill everything living that crosses over?” Maya asked.

The man shrugged. “Living things were not supposed to be present in that plane. Nor was the trash or anything else. It was supposed to be a blank space, a timeless and unchanging place for my ‘body’ to exist. My builders were incredible, but they could not see everything that would happen.”

Maya rubbed her head and drank more scotch, if only for the burning sensation. “So why kill Shen?”

The man’s mouth creased into an unpleasant expression and he sighed. “Because he is as you said ‘evil’.”

“That matters to you?”

“Not really.”

“Great.”

“What matters is what he has access to,” the man said. “He is insane and now holds a power that hasn’t been seen in millions of years. He has access to the void space between realities and can use it to connect to any point in the multiverse.”

“Wait, you mean the cage? It can connect to anywhere? Even Earth?”

“The hardest part of what Shen has accomplished is finding someone who is able to channel essence mana to power the bridge. You are that special something that Shen has been missing all this time.”

“He’s not going to let me and Bell go, right?”

“Definitely not. Bell may be killed, but you will be nothing more than a switch to activate the cage. Once he has mastered it, all of the the multiverse and dimensional plane will be open to him, as long as he has the mana cores to draw upon.”

“Why’s he so dangerous then? Why do you want him dead? None of this evil crap that you don’t even care about.”

“It is because he’s not alive,” the man said.

Maya chewed on that information. “He sure thinks he’s alive.”

“Yet he is not. A few cells survived the dimensional instability, but who he is, did not. He is a shadow of what he was. His soul is trapped within that that body he has created.”

“I’m hearing about souls a lot these days.”

“He built a trap for himself to save himself, but by the time it activated. He was already dead and instead of providing him with some kind of immortality. It has trapped his soul in his own rotting corpse.”

“So what does that mean, when he gets back to the real world?”

“Death, devestation, chaos, and horror beyond imagining.”

“From Shen? The dude seems a little, I don’t know, stupid and without much self control, likes being the villain a tad too much.”

“Ah, see its not really him that will be the problem, it is what he brings back with him. Necro technology.”

Maya sighed. “Great. Tell me.”

“Shen trapped his soul and then twisted it, to run his broken body. He is technically not alive, but alive. He’s what was once called a Necro. The living dead.”

“Zombies? The undead? The generic bad guys who wanna snuff out all living things?”

“The issue with Necros is that they don’t use mana. They don’t channel it, they don’t harness it.”

“Then why all the fear? What do they use then? Because Shen was using some crazy brain-pain and he seemed pretty tough.”

“He’s consuming his own soul.”

“What the actual fuck?”

“It’s like this. You are alive and then you aren’t. Once dead, your soul leaves. I don’t know where it goes, that’s not my job and I already have enough on my plate. But Shen has trapped his soul in his decaying body. This is what makes a Necro; they’re dead, but their soul hasn’t left. He can’t level, he can’t channel mana, but the other side of the coin is that he’s already Tier 2 so the changes that essence mana did are still in effect. He’s still stronger and faster and tougher than Tier 1.

“My existence is to ensure that essence mana is harnessed and used by SIL to purify it. It’s why there’s the System in place. It’s to use up essence mana. Necros don’t use mana. Once the technology is fully developed it will be used to create weapons and raise un-killable armies.”

“So… you want Shen dead because he’s not playing by the rules?”

The man chuckled. “In a sense. But in a bigger sense, there are some unsavory SIL who would jump at the chance of using undead hordes to clear planets of lifeforms. It may sound good in the short term, but those undead creatures are not gaining levels, they are not taking mana from their kills, they are just empty shells. This drops the overall rate of mana conversion in an area. On a long enough timeline, it all adds up. Massive mana saturation in one area could lead to a chain reaction collapse in whole galaxy clusters.”

“Awesome.” Maya pondered his words for a while. “How long do I got?” she asked.

“Well, in this memory of yours, you have all the time you want. You can spend months here, but once you leave. You’re still in void space and time does not work there.”

“Too big of a concept for me, break it down.”

“The only thing that’s allowing you to survive in the gulf between realities is the cage. It is creating a dimensional bubble that is tethered to the mana being produced by the cores.”

“Tethered to mana… you said Shen would have free reign of the dimensional plane and the cage can connect to anywhere in the multiverse. So this means I can connect this cage to anywhere on the dimensional plane?”

The man nodded.

“I can… I can go back to the Hangy and grab my shit and jam?”

“If you wish.”

“There’s only twenty hours until the mana cores are drained, that’ll give me a head start…” Maya frowned. “But where to go? There’s nothing west of the Hangy, just all the dirt. Plus Shen’s got his ship and his people, they’ll track me down and drag me back.”

The man nodded again.

“So I have to do what you want me to do?” Maya hissed. “Kill Shen?”

“If you wish.”

“How do I kill someone who’s more powerful than me? Once I’m out of this memory, I won’t even have much time to prepare for a fight, let alone defeat whoever he brings along with him.”

“Come on, remember Contact.”

“Fuck Contact. I didn’t even understand that stupid movie! What kind of shitty aliens make people do all that shit and then just make it seem that nothing really happened afterward. Just fucking tell me!”

“Learning requires you to make the connections yourself.”

“Jesus,” Maya muttered and she thought on it. After a moment it clicked. “Time. You said time doesn’t exist in the void?”

The man nodded.

“So I could travel back in time?”

The man shook his head.

“Slow down time?”

The man nodded.

“I can slow down time relative to Shen, but it would still go normally for me?”

The man grinned.

“So… So that means I could spend that entire twenty hours working on how to defeat Shen, but for that asshole it could have only been a minute? I can also stay in this memory until I’m ready to go?”

“Now you’re getting it.”

“I can go back to the Hangy… and get stuff and get ready. I can prepare for him, get things moving. He doesn’t know what’s happening in the cage, only when it connects to the other side will he act. Perhaps…” Maya pondered for a long while, muttering to herself and occasionally taking swigs of the bottle of scotch that never seemed to empty.

The man sat around and began flipping through a magazine.

“Okay. I have a plan,” Maya said.

“Excellent.”

“What’s my payment?”

The man handed her a small enveloped. Maya tore it open.

“A golden ticket?” she asked. “A ticket home?”

The man nodded.

Maya grinned and then frowned. “But… there’s only one. What about Bell? And the others Shen has trapped? Are they Necros too or just some poor people enslaved by him?”

“There is nothing you can do for the people Shen has enslaved. They are not dead… technically, but they are no longer considered true SIL. They are souls trapped within their own bodies, in constant pain and misery. The combination of searing, experimentation, and modification has rendered them more monster than SIL.”

“Jesus,” Maya muttered. “But still, what about Bell? Can’t you just make two tickets?”

“It will take a lot of my own effort to just get one SIL out of there, I was not designed to interact with that area of myself. I don’t have the access to essence mana to manipulate much of anything in that plane. If you decide to cross back into your own universe via the cage, it will most likely kill you, without the ticket.”

Maya groaned. “Deal’s off.”

“But I can allow others to leave if you care to take my second request.”

“What’s that?”

“I would like you to become the Point of Contact in that dimensional plane.”

***

“See it’s the bacon grease that gives it that extra bit of flavor.” Maya explained as she drizzled a light amount of fat onto the sizzling pan of collard greens. “Everyone says its better with pork, but I’m not the biggest fan of that meat. I like chicken, a good chicken breast. Personally, I love bacon wrapped cream cheese stuffed chicken breast. Delicious.”

The man who called himself the System nodded politely from where he sat on a stool. In a few minutes Maya served the food on the kitchen island and took a bottle of white wine from the pantry. She pulled the cork and filled two glasses for the pair.

“You seem to enjoy this.”

“When it becomes work, that’s when it looses its specialness.” Maya said. She scooped her chicken breast from the tray and filled her plate. The man did the same. “My mom and I used to cook a lot when my dad was still in the Army. She loved to cook, the whole food truck was her idea. But she doesn’t like to be the face of things, she wanted to be behind the curtain, pulling the strings or so she would say. So Pops became the face of the business.”

“But once I had to start helping them in the business, taking care of my brothers, getting in trouble in school, well, it fell out of favor.” Maya sipped her wine and the taste was as she remembered. The food was delicious, it wasn’t real and she wasn’t hungry, but she still ate it with pleasure. She would never have this meal again, she thought. Her home was probably destroyed, her family probably dead. There would be no one raising chickens or making cream cheese, no one making wine or fine cutlery.

“It is delicious.”

“Thanks.” Maya chewed contently for a while. “So what’s this Point of Contact thing? I thought that was for worlds and such?”

“Turning an entire planet into a Point of Contact world works well for Integrating a sector of space, there are nearly a thousand in your Milky Way Galaxy. I’m not trying to Integrate the Dimensional plane you’re on.”

“What are you doing then?”

“Maintenance.”

“Maintenance?”

“People like you appear every ten million years or so. I, of course, am using the reference point of the normal multiverse time here. So.. About one hundred and twenty million years dimensional plane time, give or take a decade.”

People like me?”

“Level 0 newly Integrated SIL who stumble through and survive a Dimensional Instability and end up surviving long enough to escape the dimensional plane.”

“I’m not the first?”

“No.”

“Well, that’s a shot to my ego.”

“They are the only ones who can channel essence mana in that place. And I am in need of them to do routine maintenance upon my ‘body’ or that plane in general.”

“So you need me to be a Point of Contact being? How does that even work?”

“I’ll need to upgrade your physical form to Tier 2, for beginners. After that, I’ll use your essence mana channels to establish a foothold in the plane and begin my work.”

“Everyone just wants me for my essence mana channels, not my personality.”

“Can you blame them?”

“Funny. Will it hurt me?”

“No. Or it should not.”

“Can I leave once you’re done?”

“It will take a while.”

“A while?”

“Five hundred years, dimensional plane time.”

“I’ll be dead by then.”

“You’ll be Tier 2, you’ll live thousands.”

“Fuck.”

“It’s not too terrible. Many SIL would love to be automatically moved to Tier 2.”

“It’s a lot to take in,” Maya said, swirling her wine in her glass.

“I do not ask this lightly.”

“I’ll be stuck there, though, right?”

“Yes.”

“But Bell will be able to go home?”

“Yes.”

“What if Shen kills me?”

“Then I’ll wait for another like you to arrive to that plane.”

“Even after I become your Point of Contact and all that?”

“Maintenance is routine, its not necessary. I’m not here to coddle your existence or protect you,” the man said. Maya frowned. “It seems harsh, but all that matters to me is the continued use of mana by living beings.”

“So no preferential treatment for being your POC?”

“None.”

“What’s in it for me?”

“Tier 2. No struggling for it. Being that tier will also allow you to begin learning to use your essence mana channels. Although you can barely channel now, at a higher tier, the experience and knowledge gains will be quicker for you. There will be a less chance of hurting yourself or searing your channels.”

“Aren’t essence mana channels the goal? Why can I sear them?”

“Your current body is weak. Very weak. The channels formed are rudimentary and fragile. Enough for Shen to use it to make all the gate connections he wants, but to effectively channel essence mana, your form needs to be stronger.”

“Awesome.” Maya drummed he fingers on the table for a while. “Bell can go home, right?”

“If you find more people, you can send them home,” the man stated.

“How?”

“You’ll be the Point of Contact, I’ll be able to manipulate essence mana there once more. Whomever you find in that world you’ll be able to send back.”

“Can I bring people back to the dimensional plane?” Maya asked.

“Definitely not.”

“Why?”

“My builders made it so that living things shouldn’t have been able to survive the crossover for a reason. I’ll not go against that.”

“Tier 2, huh.”

“You will be adequately rewarded for the service you would render me.”

“System Moneybags.”

“Also, you will have to defeat Shen before I will begin the Point of Contact procedure.”

“Give me Tier 2 before the fight.”

“No.“

“Don’t give me that shit. You’re the System. You make the rules, you’re just being a dick about it. You could make it so that everyone in the multiverse has a happy lucky time of it, but instead they’re all struggling and dying at the hands of mana mutations, the very mana you’re trying to ‘purify’. So, just bump me up to Tier 2, I’ll slag Shen, you get your POC, and Bell gets to go home.”

“Making you Tier 2 will fundamentally change you. It doesn’t just happen, it will take days for the power to seep throughout your body, small changes will be constantly made until you are fully Tier 2.

“It ain’t a switch you can just flip?”

“No.”

“Lame.” Maya pouted for a moment and then sighed. “Alright. I’m in.”

“You’ll do it then?” the man asked.

“It’s not much of a choice, is it? Either become Shen’s slave and watch Bell die or be your POC and dick around in a trash plane for a few hundred years.” Maya sighed. “But I can use the cage, right? I can at least… connect back to Earth?”

“If the machinery Shen has built survives, you will be able to continue crossing void space and interacting with the multiverse at large. Maintenance and upkeep of that will be up to you.”

Maya drained her wine glass and threw it over her shoulder. She heard it shatter and grimaced “Let’s get this show on the road.”

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Comments (5)
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User #6570977 - 17 Jul 20 15:24
“Level 0 newly Integrated SIL.” <= you mean those that come to trash plane right, not those who exist at all? because everyone on earth should be that I think? Also, 'hundred years' is time of trash place, not time on earth, considering time differential?
user avatar
alexclaw - 17 Jul 20 15:39
Correct on both terms!
user avatar
User #7913615 - 17 Jul 20 16:05
So there have already beenaboit 1.378,7 people in the same situation as the mc. If you compare it to the age of our universe.
user avatar
alexclaw - 17 Jul 20 16:49
In the grand scheme of things, everything is reduced to but dust and ephemeral motes in sunlight.
user avatar
User #7913615 - 17 Jul 20 17:41
who knows. Maybe those at tier 4 or higher are exactly those poeple.
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2020-07-16T16:10:52+00:00
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Apparently all the SIL i've described in the novel are blue skinned. Nan, Bell, and Tommoth, they're all blue. although Nan was supposed to be more darker, blue to black scales. Also, yellow eyes...


I think purple is the main color of this whole series. or various shades of blue. blue world. blue life. blue.... (damn)


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User #19917560 - 17 Jul 20 05:41
they're blue aboodee aboodie aboodee aboodie
36 - Beirut 2020-07-15T15:44:34+00:00


“Hello?” a voice called to her. “Fancy meeting you here.”

“Pops?”

***

Maya gasped. “Hello?”

“Are you okay?” a voice asked.

“Hello?”

“Can you hear me? Are you okay?”

Maya shook her head and felt a migraine beginning; not only did she have a migraine, but her entire body seemed to have been wrung out, dipped and battered, and then left for a toothless rat to chew on for a week. It took all her energy to focus on the voice in front of her. It was a woman’s voice, accented and rough. Maya rubbed at her eyes and began to see clearly once more.

A woman crouched before her. A real life human woman. Maya stared in shock. She was older than Maya, maybe early thirties. Her hair was matted and dirty, her face a dusky color, but smudge with soot and a small cut, and her clothing was a dirty blouse, jeans, and tennis shoes.

Maya felt an explosion of energy throughout her. The headache remained, but it was as if she’s just mainlined coffee straight into her veins, but in a good way. Maya took a deep breath and let out a relieved sigh.

“Are you okay?” the woman asked.

“How? Who are you?” Maya managed through the lifting fog.

The woman looked confused for a second and then nodded. “Are you American? A soldier? Reporter?” the woman asked.

“I was…” Maya paused, trying to remember the world from barely two months before. Had it been so long? “I was a college student,” she said lamely.

The woman looked confused again. “We need to move,” she said. “It’s not safe here.” She cast around the dimly lit room. ‘Whats this?” the woman lifted up a piece of machinery and dropped it.

The description of the item began to form in Maya’s mind, but it fizzled out a second later and her headache worsened.

“What is this place?” the woman asked, looking about suspiciously, she carried a weapon in her hands. Maya had seen her father’s collection of guns more than enough times to identify an AK from sight. This woman was not messing around. She looked like she had been through some shit.

“Ow, hold on a sec. Where am I?” Maya asked rubbing her head.

“We’re east of Beirut,” the woman said, still looking around the room.

“Beirut? You mean in Lebanon?” Maya asked.

“Where did you think you were? You a tourist?” the woman asked. “What kind of clothes are those? Are they System?” the woman said the last word with a bit of disgust.

“System?” Maya shook her head again. The migraine was fading, but her thoughts were jumbled. She thought she had heard Pops’ voice. Was that a dream?

“Where have you been for the last four days, kid?” the woman looked angry for a second, but then calmed her features. “You get knocked on the head or something? You lose your memory? The System? The Integration? Monsters?”

“Four days?” Maya gripped onto that number and hauled her thoughts back to the present. Her head cleared and she felt sick to her stomach. “Jesus.”

“Are you okay?” the woman asked.

“It’s been four days since Integration?” Maya asked.

“Yes. Do you have food? Water? Weapons? What level are you?” the woman asked. She cast a look over her shoulder. Maya saw a metal door in a black metal wall. The wall shimmered with an internal light and above her, a series of small lights illuminated the box.

She was still in the cage, Maya realized. She shook her head, looking around. It had been a fifteen foot box, but now it seemed three times that width and length and the ceiling was about twenty feet above them. How had it stretched?

“Weird, this place looks bigger on the inside.”

“What did you see?” Maya asked.

The woman had a flash of concern across her face and then… pity? She set a hand upon Maya’s shoulder, causing her to flinch back. Maya felt a stab of panic and fear at the touch, she staggered back. What the hell?

The woman immediately raised her hands in a calming motion. “It’s okay,” she said. “I am not going to hurt you.”

“It… it’s fine,” Maya said. She had been more shocked by the touch than scared. The last human touch she had felt had been what? Neville’s fingers brushing her’s when he had given her change back? Her mother rubbing her shoulder and telling her to do a good job that day?

Maya felt tears pricking at her eyes, but she stopped herself.

“Four days?” Maya asked again.

“Yeah, it’s been four days since everything turned to shit,” the woman replied. “One evening I was preparing dinner for me and my daughter and then we get this message across our eyes. It tells us we’re being Integrated. I didn’t know what it meant, but then everything went to hell after that.”

“Four days,” Maya whispered. “Tell me what happened.”

The woman looked uncomfortable. “A lot of people have died. Most of Beirut is in ruins. Monsters came out of everywhere, something called Mana Renders started opening up and spewing out horrific monsters.” The woman shuddered and quickly wiped her eyes. “Dogs and cats mutated and began killing everyone, fish in the sea mutated and walked on land, shooting lasers and poisoned quills.” The woman laughed softly at that. “I’m not lying. They’re still by the shore, killing anyone that goes near them.”

“Everything is death,” the woman said, shuddering with emotion. “Anyone who can has fled the city and the military is supposed to be reforming somewhere in the east. Everything is chaos. We can’t stop the monsters from appearing, these Mana Renders keep popping up; half the time they’re not too bad, but the other times…”

“I’m sorry for what you have been suffering,” Maya said. She got to her feet and looked around. There was junk lying upon the ground of the cage. She picked up a piece and identified it as a rogue AI component.

Why was that here?

The woman continued to watch Maya.

“How did you get in here?” Maya asked.

“What is this place? A bunker?”

“No. A cage,” Maya said.

The woman looked confused but shook her head. “There was a door.” She gestured toward the large door in the wall. I hadn’t seen it before so I came to see if there was anything to scavenge in here. Then I saw you on the floor.”

“How long ago was that?” Maya asked.

“Just now, five minutes ago? I don’t know. I was being chased by some kind of pigeon. It’s the size of a small pony and tears apart its prey with claws and its beaks; it has two heads. I don’t know if they’ve passed yet, I can’t feel anything in this place. I have Dangersense,” the woman smiled at that.

“A skill?” Maya asked.

“Yes. I’m level three.”

“Impressive,’ Maya crouched down before the woman and looked into her eyes. “Make sure you gain Abilities, they’re like jobs or something. As you gain an Ability, it’ll give you a few attribute points to help in your build.”

“Build? Oh, yeah, my daughter mentioned that. It’s like a game, she says. I don’t know. She said I should be a fighter. Protect people. I don’t know how this System works. There are some people who say they got books and tools from the System, but I haven’t gotten anything. There’s a man, Ahmad, who can cast a fireball from his hands.”

“I wanted to cast fireballs,” Maya said, smiling softly. The woman looked weary and tired and stressed. Now, Maya set her hand on the woman’s shoulder. It felt odd, she thought. To touch another living person. It felt… right. “Are you okay?”

The woman laughed. “You’re the one who was passed out in this bunker,” she said, then her face twisted for a moment, holding back some emotion. “I’m fine. Better than most. Better than the dead.”

She looked at Maya for a long time, finally tears began pouring from her eyes. “I’m so scared,” she said. “I’m so scared. Everyday. I haven’t slept since that first night. I haven’t eaten in three days. I barely have enough water for my daughter and the others. Every day we lose someone. Every day the monsters take someone. We are so weak. We can barely do anything to fight back against them.” The woman sobbed and hugged her knees. “We need to get stronger, but we are all going to die if we can’t stop those Mana Renders.”

“I think,” Maya paused, “I can help.” She stood up again and put her hands on her hips. “System!

The woman looked at her as if she were insane.

“I wish to buy an Outpost Settlement Deed.”


Maya Sullivan, Human, Tier 1

Do you wish to buy a System Authorized Outpost Settlement Deed? Y/N?

Cost: 500,000 Universal Credits. (Includes 50 Percent Price Reduction)


“Dang, that’s pretty hefty.” Maya said. And selected ‘Yes’.

A rolled up scroll appeared in the air before her. Maya snatched it from the air before it could fall. She blinked and laughed. Was that how it worked out here?

“Thank you, Tommoth.”

“What did you do?” the woman asked.

“Gimme a sec.” Maya unrolled the scroll.



Landed Gentry I

You are among the first of your species to reclaim a piece of your planet

+ 5 Fortitude

+ 5 Foundation

+ 20000 EXP



System Authorized Outpost Settlement Deed

Your Outpost Settlement Deed allows you twenty five square kilometers of land that will be free of Mana Renders and other mana related instabilities that may form in ‘unclaimed’ land.

+ SIL’s First Settlement Bundle Token

Choose: Food, shelter, defense, medical, manufacturing

+ Settlement Champion Token, low grade, Tier 1

Kalavonzee built Settlement Champion. Protect what is yours, keep what is yours. Buy Kalavonzee.



Maya handed the woman the scroll.

“Oh, wait. What’s your name?” Maya asked, embarrassed.

“Anisa Karam.”

“Maya Sullivan.” Maya extended her hand and gave the woman a firm shake.

“What is this?” Anisa looked at the scroll.

“An outpost settlement deed. With it you can lay claim of a piece of land 25 square kilometers. Just read the details. It’ll prevent Mana Renders from forming and will also reduce the monster swarms around the area.”

“How?” the woman asked.

“A lot of credits.”

“Does the System allow you to buy things? Like food, weapons?” Anisa asked, there was a hopeful look in her eye.

“No, it’s not a store. It’s more like… government, I guess. You can register stuff with it, you can buy deeds to own land from it, create a business, things like that.”

“Oh.”

Maya smiled at the woman. “Anisa, I formally grant you this Deed.”


Action Denied.


“What the balls?” Maya growled.


Maya Sullivan, Human, has been labeled as Landed Gentry. You cannot give away your deeds until you have reached Landed Gentry II or gained a nobility title. At that point the deed holder may relinquish a deed to a SIL a rank lower than they are. As you have no additional deeds, you cannot relinquish your current deed.

A deed may be given to a Chosen Representative to create an outpost for the Deed Holder. The Deed Holder must allow their Chosen Representative authorization to act upon their behalf.


“Shit,” Maya muttered. “I’m sorry, I just can’t give you ownership of the deed.”

Anisa looked at her with a blank expression. “Okay.”

“Do you want to be my Chosen Representative?” Maya asked.

“I don’t know what that means.”

“You can create a safe place somewhere out there. You can make it a place that you can defend. I will technically be the owner of the title, but you will be my Rep. You will run that place and you will be in charge.”

“I-I can’t do that,” Anisa stammered.

“Do you want to be safe? Do you want to survive?”

Anisa nodded.

“Then be the Rep. Find people; protect people. Be what your daughter needs, a fighter, a protector.”

“Who are you?” Anisa asked.

Maya smiled. “I’m just a Texas girl who got lost going to work.”

“Will this keep us safe?” Anisa asked.

“You will keep you safe,” Maya replied. “The fucked up thing is that everything’s only going to get worse. This world, everything is going to be put into a grinder. I don’t know why only four days have passed, but for me it’s been almost six weeks. Might be more, I don’t know.”

“Six weeks?” Anisa asked. “Are you human?”

“Yeah, of course. I just… I don’t know. I was in a different place, I guess there might be different rules for time in that place.” Maya sat down and thought on it. Why had only four days passed on Earth while six weeks had passed in the rainbow sky hellscape.

“Come, let’s go back and meet everyone,” Anisa said, getting to her feet.

Maya watched her and looked at the door. “I have someone who needs me-“


Dimensions 101 download complete

Multiverses, dimensions, parallel worlds, and pocket universes, everything you need to know about everything.


Maya grabbed her head and gasped. Information flooded into her brain, a torrent of knowledge that filled her head with what amounted to decades of studying and research. It felt like her head was about to explode.

She gasped for breath and as fast as the pain came, it vanished.

“Are you okay?” the woman asked, she was staring into her eyes and had her hands on her shoulders. Concerned was etched into the woman’s eyes, a mother’s concern. Maya felt herself shudder.

“I’m fine. Just some long awaited knowledge dropped.” Maya blinked her eyes clear of tears and got to her feet with the woman’s help.

“Dang, it’s only been two days and I already forgot I had an Inventory,” she said. She waved her hand and her Inventory appeared. Maya grinned. She was outside of Shen’s dimensional lock. She peered into the space. “Holy shit. When did-“

Maya turned around and rushed to the side of the cage opposite of the door Anisa had entered. There wasn’t much in the room, some trash and materials, but one thing stood out. It was a simple meter that Shen had said to watch out for.

Two massive mana cores were burning through ambient mana to generate enough power to hold open the gateway. The cage she stood in didn’t exist in the rainbow hellscape anymore, but it didn’t exist on Earth also. It was a bridge that existed between the two realities.

Maya saw that the meter was almost empty. Shen had told her it would power the cage for nearly twenty hours. Maya estimated that there was barely an hour left on the meter.

“So, that’s what happened,” Maya smiled.

“What’s wrong?” Anisa asked.

“I don’t want to sound rude, but I think you need to leave,” Maya said.

The woman looked confused.

“This cage,” Maya waved around, “will collapse in about an hour. When it does, everything inside of it will be taken back to where I came from; the rainbow sky hellscape. I can return there, easily, but you can’t. If you return with me, it’ll be like crossing via a dimensional instability. You’ll only have one in a billion chance of surviving that.”

“Then come with me,” Anisa said.

“I can’t. I have a friend who needs me,” Maya said.

They stood there for a second and the woman nodded. She didn’t seem the type to whinge and bemoan things. She acted as she needed to, that’s how she had survived when others hadn’t.

“Thank you for the deed,” she said. “I will find a place and protect my daughter.”

“Awesome,” Maya said and then she paused. “Hold up.”

She pulled out several items from her Inventory.

“This is a, Marsani Alloy Fighting Axe - low grade, Tier 1, and this is a, Caroz Dagger - mid grade, Tier 1.” She handed Anisa the weapons. “They’re sharp, they’re decent, and they can kill monsters far easier than that AK. Tender said once that monsters need more damage to their systems to die, chopping, hacking, and stabbing are far better alternatives than shooting. Unless you got a good flechette shotgun, sadly mine was damaged.”

Anisa looked at the weapons and gingerly took them. She stared at them. “I can’t take these. How will you survive?”

“Wits and luck,” Maya smiled. “Don’t worry about me.” She handed her a fist sized rune covered stone. “This is a water stone. It’s a magical stone, mid grade, Tier 1, that pulls water from the atmosphere. The amount of water depends upon how much humidity there is in the air, so could be a liter or a swimming pool. Just depress the small blue button on top, that turns it off or on. In minutes you have fresh clean water, just add flavor.”

Anisa took the stone in amazement.

“I can’t take all of this,” she said. “It’s too much.”

“I have spares,” Maya said.

“No, I can’t. You might need it.”

Maya smiled softly. “There’s someone I have to go back for, if I can’t get them then all of this doesn’t matter,” she said.

Anisa nodded. She frowned for a second and then held out a opened hand and a palm sized disc formed on it.

“Take this,” Anisa said.

“Credits?” Maya asked.

“It’s all I have. I killed some monsters and I was awarded with these universal credits. I don’t know what to use them for, but I hear they have value.”

“I can’t take your money.”

“Please.”

Maya smiled and then picked up the disc.


Monetary Transfer from Anisa Karam, Chosen Representative of Maya Sullivan, SSS

158 Universal Credits


“SSS?” Maya asked and then laughed. “Sullivan Survival Society?”

“What’s that?” Anisa asked.

“It was a joke,” Maya said and smiled. She flipped the palm sized coin in her hand. It felt the same weight of the one million credits she had been playing with in the pub, the only difference was the numerical value on it. “There isn’t a market for universal credits yet?”

“No. Everyone is just… trying to survive,” Anisa said. She had slung her rifle and held the axe hesitantly. “Some people don’t like it, but it’s… universal so everyone gets them if they kill a monster. My daughter says someone could be a merchant or trader; maybe the System will award them with something. She talks about diversifying our builds, not all of us becoming warriors or whatever.”

“Sounds like a smart kid.”

“Too smart. She would have done great things if she had grown up in a stable world. She would have made an impact.”

Maya nodded and flipped the coin in her hands. “I always wanted to make an impact too.” The coin disappeared.

Maya thought for a moment, more information cascading into her head. “You’ll find that almost no time has passed outside. It’s a byproduct of this cage and the place we’re in. If you were being tracked by those pigeons, be careful.”

“No time has passed? It’s been nearly half an hour,” the woman said.

“This,” Maya waved around, “is a dimensional bridge that’s connected to a dimensional plane were time elapses faster than it does on Earth. I believe it’s twelve times faster in the rainbow hellscape, but in this cage…” Maya processed more information burning through her mind. “Yeah. Yeah, the bridge has connected so now it’s running on Rainbow Time. You say half an hour’s passed, that probably means less than three minutes have passed outside.”

“I have no idea what you are talking about,” Anisa said, a bit of fear returning to her eyes.

“I sound crazy, yeah. I might kind of be, actually. But…” Maya stopped and cocked her head. She swung away from Anisa and stared at the blank wall behind her. “Oh, shit. You better run, Anisa.”

“What? What’s going on?”

“Shen is coming.” Maya said.

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Comments (4)
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User #6570977 - 15 Jul 20 16:10
I'm not sure I understand. Maya is still at risk of exploding if she comes back to earth? At least now she will be able to get her defender token and other things. I'm also unsure when she got to T2.
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alexclaw - 15 Jul 20 17:19
Yup, she can access her dimensional inventory and gat those juicy system drops she was awarded, but never got.
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User #13235254 - 15 Jul 20 16:43
Huh, OK, so she can never return to Earth ? She can only visit and only in that cage ? Thats pretty disappointing. Also should have told the woman how to buy stuff from the [System]. Anisa has credits but can't buy anything by simply asking the [System] like Maya did ? Feels a bit strange. Why is Maya that special ?
user avatar
alexclaw - 15 Jul 20 17:19
Hmmm... perhaps more clarification ws needed. There is no "system store" one can buy some stuff, like the settlement deeds that are System Authorized, but not tools weapons and such, they can get those as rewards, but not outright buy them. Plus Anisa gave her all the credits she had. it was more symbolic than actual worth.
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Babylegs Bell, with his bright golden colored hair and grumpy temperament.


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35 - A Bridge too Far 2020-07-13T16:13:28+00:00



Maya imagined that Shen’s face was contorted in rage, but the mask saved her from seeing any of it. That made it slightly better, slightly. The towering figure stretched out his metallic hands and growled, hovering inches from her throat.

For all her gains in Physical traits, Maya knew that he could crush her easily. The same way she had been overpowered by his goons. Shen was too strong, yet he didn’t stab her mind with agony again nor did he lay his hands upon her. Improvements?

“You know nothing,” Shen finally said. He pulled back his hands and stared at her. “You know nothing.” Shen shook for a moment and then waved his hands. The room around them shifted. Maya felt a lurch as the components began swirling and reshaping, then the room they stood in began rising.

Maya saw the rainbow sky once more as the walls disintegrated and soon they rose high above the dimensional scar. She could feel it gnawing at her mind, but it wasn’t so terrible now. They kept rising higher, over the rim of the hole and then higher still.

Maya realized she wasn’t entirely exposed to the elements on their rising platform. She could see a slight shimmer to the air, a distortion she remembered from when she pounded upon the invisible wall.

The gloomy atmosphere she had been so used to all these weeks was held at bay by massive floating orbs of light. They flooded the areas between the hole and the trash piles; casting a too orange light upon everything.

In the area where she had parked her truck, Maya saw Shen’s ship. It was massive and it wasn’t any prettier than the Hanganathorie. The ship was a dull blue in the light and seemed crudely carved from metal. Where the Hangy had machined parts, Shen’s vessel looked like someone had welded scrap metal together and then taken a grinder to it to shape it.

Yet even with its crude construction, it looked dangerous. The attack craft she had seen before was parked beside the large ship, around it she could see the moving figures of more black armored stormtroopers.

Now that she knew they were all seared and somehow under Shen’s command, Maya felt sorrow for them. They were captives, but they had also been changed to serve this half mad rogue AI. What was the point? She saw no other machines moving around, only the troopers.

Maya looked to Shen who had his mask tilted to the sky.

“We’re not on the ship,” Maya said.

“The ship is only a transportation device,” Shen said. He waved his hand and the material around them shifted and changed. “These are the real treasures. Harvested and found from a thousand wrecks and a million piles.”

“You’ve been around this world?” Maya asked.

“World? Child, this is no world. This is an infinite dimensional plane that exists outside of anything and everything we know.”

Maya digested his words. “Infinite?”

“I have been traveling around this dimensional plane for a hundred years. I have seen things you can barely imagine, but I have not seen an end to this place. Travel too high and the sky rips apart everything it touches.”

Maya gulped and looked at the rainbow sky. “What is with the sky anyway?”

“It is a barrier of some kind. All the probes I have launched into it are destroyed after a few seconds. It rips them apart. I do not know if it is natural or if it is created, but it might account for the low ambient mana of this plane.”

Maya continued to look out upon the world in silence. They were nearing the height of the looming trash pile and Maya saw that the visuals before them began to shift. Instead of the gloomy darkness, it became brighter and the view clearer. It was as if the sun had risen.

“I sense you cannot see very well,” Shen said.

“Thanks,” Maya replied blandly.

Maya saw flashes in the distance. The light erupting from discharging weapons. There was a battle going on. She peered at figures who were surrounding a large walking behemoth, a monstrosity that appeared all legs and parabolic dishes that fired energy.

“Crap, what is that?” Maya muttered.

A box formed around the creature and the image zoomed in.

Rogue AI CRW584SS - Level 50

“And there,” Shen pointed.

Maya saw what he was pointing at. Another rogue AI, massive and terrifying. This one traveled on tank treads and had a long tower rising from its back from which it spewed lightning.

Shen’s stormtroopers were battling the creatures and as Maya looked around, she spotted the dead corpses of half a dozen other rogue AIs.

“What’s going on?” Maya asked.

“This is the ‘world’,” Shen stated. “Everywhere I have been, it has been nothing but rogue AIs. These mindless creatures, always hungry, always seeking easy access to mana.” He sounded disgusted. “You call me a rogue AI, but I am not. I am not.”

He turned to Maya and then reached for his mask. Maya felt like running at the move; she did not want to see what lay behind the leering mask. There was a soft hiss and Shen pulled away the covering.

The smell hit her first; it was strong and unpleasant. She gagged and coughed. A face looked at her; it smiled, a stretching of pallid skin along sunken cheekbones. The face was humanoid, four eyes, a wide mouth, and a short bone beak with flesh barely clinging to it. It was the facial features of the mask, but… completely wrong.

“You’re dead.” Maya gasped.

“No, I’m not dead,” Shen replied. The mouth didn’t move and the voice seem to emanate from his throat. The red eyes looked at her, they were cloudy and black tears oozed from the edges. He tossed aside his mask and looked out upon the battles raging around him. Maya saw glass like bulges extending out of the back of his head. It reminded her of the original rogue AI she had killed, the large tubes, like old style vacuum tubes. “I only survived the crossing by the barest of margins.”

“What happened to you?”

Shen turned to her and touched the back of his head. “Soul Catcher; high grade, Tier 2,” he stated. “Every Tier 2 scientist was to have one embedded into their brain, it allowed the transfer of data and knowledge in the case of sudden death.

“I barely survived the instability, my body was wrecked and it was only due to my Soul Catcher that I remain aware. It took days to regenerate my body enough to begin even surviving here. A hundred years, it has been a constant battle to keep my regeneration going, to keep the decay from consuming me. Year after year, decade after decade.”

“You died?” Maya asked.

“No. I did not die. I was badly damaged. I cannot keep pace with the necrotic advance. This place,” Shen waved his arms, “dislikes dead biological matter. It degrades it faster than normal, it reduces it to fine elements or bone.”

“Bell mentioned something like that,” Maya said.

“All that gray material out there, the earth you have been walking on, is the remains of anything biological that has arrived here.” The view of the battles on the transparent walls changed to one of an endless expanse of gray dirt. Maya was confused until she saw twin furrows in it, the tire trail of her truck. “Do not confuse this gray earth with actual earth,” Shen continued. “It is not alive, it has little in the way of nutrients for plants, it is still a mystery even to me.”

“So that’s why you want to go back to the multiverse?” Maya asked.

“Yes. I have spent the last hundred years trying to cure myself, but my abilities are too limited. I need a Tier 3 [Doctor], then I shall finally be free of this curse.”

“How is it even possible?” Maya asked.

“I am a Tier 2 SIL. I had the machinery and the knowledge to stabilize myself before my Soul Catcher burned out, enough living cells to grow and replenish what I had lost.”

Maya gulped. How could someone survive that? How could they keep going after that, their body dying on them every second of every day. Maya smashed down the pity that was rising in her. He didn’t deserved her pity or empathy.

She straightened her shoulders and glared. “Doesn’t explain all the shit you’ve done. To those people,” Maya gestured toward the battling troopers, “and to Bell and I.”

“They were all weak, starving, half dead already,” Shen said. “I saved them and gave them a choice. Try and channel for me or go their own way.”

“Where was our choice, then?” Maya demanded.

Shen’s twitched, but continued watching the video of the battles. “I had need of your core.”

“That’s it? You wanted what we had and then took it, not before kicking the shit out of us? Real fucking neighborly of you.”

“You and your partner were irrelevant at the time. The core was the priority, but after capturing you two an discovering what lay within you. Plans changed. I have use of you, Maya Sullivan.”

“Right. Because now I can ‘magically’ channel essence mana.”

“Yes.” Shen stepped forward and Maya stepped back. “You are the key to us all returning back to the multiverse. You and your friend can return home, I can be healed. What is there to lose?”

“You ask that after you’ve shown us nothing but contempt!” Maya snapped. “You think that makes me want to help your ass out? Hell no. Fuck no. You are an evil piece of shit and it would be better for the Multiverse if you just died out in this rainbow sky hellscape. You are an evil that needs to die. If I die in the process, then that’s fine!”

Maya glared at Shen.

“You spout your morality as if it means anything to me. Try being here a year, a hundred years, morality is meaningless in this place.”

“Bullshit. Assholes are always willing to abandon everything that doesn’t suit them. Torture? You didn’t have to do that to get information. Trying to kill us? You didn’t have to. Taking without even contacting us… none of it. You wanted to do it and you wanted to lord your power over us. You were basking in our fear like some sick fuck.”

Shen snorted, but did not refute her words.

“Threaten me. Say that you’re going to kill me. Hell, torture me all you want. But I’d rather die than see you get anything you want. Spiteful? Yeah, fuck yeah. But one thing Pops always said was never submit to evil. You, buddy, are fucking evil. So get fucked.”

Silence reigned in the confines of the platform. Maya looked away from Shen and stared at the distant view of the battling stormtroopers. The tank AI was down, its tower broken and slagged, one set of treads burning.

“This dimensional plane is not for the weak,” Shen said. “Only the strong survive. Only those who are willing to do what is necessary will make it out. I’ve seen a hundred years of terror and horror in this place, I have seen monsters that you will never comprehend; I even, for a time, had companions who I thought I could trust and rely upon. But this place is not for the weak of will.”

Maya continued watching the stormtroopers; they were limping away from the tank fight, heading to reinforce the fight against the parabolic monster. She saw they had left behind their dead; two black clad figures, unmoving and half melted.

“I am not weak,” Shen stated.

“Doesn’t mean you’re strong either,” Maya replied. Her heart nearly stuttered to a stop as a figure rose up from out of the floor.

Bell had seen better days. The big man was a mass of bruises and sickening wounds. The beautiful golden copper metallic hair was shorn away and metallic spikes protruded from his skull. His blue blood left dried tracks across his body and Maya saw more metallic spikes poking through the skin.

Rage boiled in Maya’s veins. “What did you do?” she demanded.

“Your interruption yesterday was his saving grace,” Shen said as he walked to Bell. “Normally attempting to open a gateway would have seared him of his ability to channel, but it was stopped before it could happen. I could regrow his channels and try again in a few days, but…” Shen ran a hand over Bell’s head, pulling it back and revealing Bell’s slack expression. “Their minds aren’t what they used to be.”

“Asshole,” Maya hissed.

“You were right, why should I torture you. Why should I harm you in any way. Instead what I will do is tell you something. His mind can be fixed, his body can be fixed, everything done to him right now can be fixed. But time is short. Time is very short.” Shen dropped Bell’s slack head. “Another two days and he’ll be nothing but a brain dead sack of flesh. Still usable as cannon fodder, but useless in anything else.”

“Your stormtroopers?” Maya demanded. “You did this to all of them?”

“Strange thing about the System. It ties your soul to your living biological body, if your brain is damaged beyond repair, you still linger, feeling everything and anything that happens to your body,” Shen said.

“Souls? What the fuck are you talking about?” Maya demanded. “What does half baked spirituality have to do with this?”

“You are an ignorant child. Souls are real. Why do you think you have a soul stat? The System has given you access to the power of your soul. It is all tied together. Your soul does not leave until your physical functions cease to exist.”

Maya stared at Bell. She shuddered.

“I can easily override all his controls,” Shen said. “The body, especially low Tiered, are still simple bags of flesh and mana pulses. Each muscle and nerve still reacting to energy of the body, each thought still being created by chemical reactions.” He snapped his finger.

Bell’s head lifted up and he smiled a gleeful rounded toothed grin. “Maya! Please do as he says!” Bell said, his eyes were dead. Devoid of any kind of life or emotion. “Guess what? He can regrow flesh and body parts faster than Nanaseto ever could. Fast enough that by the time I cut off one limb, it’ll start regrowing so that when I finish on your other, it’ll be ready to be cut off again. I’ll do it all day, everyday, until both of our minds break and then we will serve him for as long as our biological functions manage.” Bell continued smiling for a second more before his head slumped back down and his expression went slack.

Maya vomited.

“I’m not entirely sure how close you and this Belmoro were, but from what I’ve seen. It’s always most painful when friends are doing the torturing to one another. There’s no coming back from that, for either of you.” Shen waved a hand and Bell tumbled to the floor.

Bell let out a sharp gasp of pain and looked at Maya. She didn’t know if it was the real him or the puppet that Shen had created. No, those eyes reflected pain and anguish. It was Bell.

“I rescind my promise, Maya Sullivan. I rescind it. We are no longer bound.” Then his head slumped and his shoulders began heaving.

Maya screamed. She threw herself at Bell, hands outstretched, but Shen was faster. He grabbed her by the neck and threw her across the room. She bounded off the transparent wall and fell to the floor sobbing.

After a while, rough hands grabbed her and she was hauled into the air. Maya saw Bell looking down at her with his dead eyes.

“You have a choice, Maya Sullivan. Will you let your own morality stand in the way?” Bell asked. No, it was Shen. “You have everything to lose or everything to gain. Just say yes.”

Maya stared into Bell’s dead eyes.

“Yes.”

***

There was no need for glowing ropes to shackle her or guards to coerce her. Maya walked up to the black altar and stared at the reflective material. It looked like rock or some kind of ancient arcane device used in fantasy movies about evil warlords on Planet Doom.

She almost laughed at how close that scenario was to her situation. Yet she was no fair maiden and there would be no Buck Solo type to bust in and save her at the last minute.

If she managed this, then they would have a way home. If she failed, she’d burn herself out from the draw of essence mana. Being able to draw upon essence mana did not mean she was safe from searing herself, they were channels just like any other. If she failed, the best option was dying afterward; the worse option was being turned into one of Shen’s murder zombies.

She took a deep breath.

“Just like I taught you,” Shen said. For a day Shen had given her instructions on how to control the cage. It wasn’t terribly complicated; the joy of high tiered System Tech was that it was far easier to use than low tier tech.

It sickened Maya to be taught by him, for every second he educated her, time to repair Bell was slowly slipping away. He dangled his life before her every step of the way, every mistake was a threat upon his life.

The computer screens appeared before her. She could read them, Shen having disabled the locks, but they still didn’t make much sense to her. She wasn’t flying the cage, just channeling her mana and letting the gateway form and then entering the ‘void space’ as Shen called it. The place beyond the rainbow sky hellscape, the space between realities.

It was just a test, he had said. It was a test to see if she could connect to somewhere outside of the dimensional plane. Perhaps to the multiverse at large. The mana cores would provide the power, all she had to do was channel the essence mana into it. To stabilize it, to ensure that the gateway formed.

Maya took another deep breath and press her hands upon the black material.

Ice plunged through her veins; everything burned cold and intense. She could feel the electricity in her veins begin to form. She could feel it trickling though, as if held behind a great barrier. It was like a soft current of cold air in a hot and humid room. She reached for it; she longed for that momentary feeling once more.

She felt the breeze once more and grabbed at it. She clung to it and pulled it toward herself. The black altar before her made an audible click and suddenly the slight breeze became a raging gale.

No control; she had no control over what she was doing. The black altar was a sponge; greedily drawing out her essence mana as it began to activate. She tried stopping the flow, but it pulled with more power than she could muster. She cried out and tried to turn to Shen to stop the machine, but she was frozen in place.

It was pain, it was delight and it was for a second and forever. Maya alternated between one emotion and another and the essence mana coursed through her. Her head tilted back and she saw the walls and ceiling fall away once more, turning into a spire that didn’t touch her, but hung over her head. It sizzled and crackled, spewing out mana and flaring with barely contained power.

She felt the dimensional scar again, hot and painful like an infected wound. She probed at it, using her Dimensional Awareness. It warped and bubbled, like an abscess ready to pop. Maya shuddered at the feeling.

The cage began forming, but not above her, around her. She was lifted off the ground and the ball of material surrounded her, continuously shaping and reshaping. This hadn’t been apart of the plan.

Maya tried to tell Shen to stop, but he stood watching her, with a terrible glee on his rotting face. His cloudy eyes were aflame and he looked triumphant.

The scar was pulsing and throbbing, Maya could feel it grating against her teeth and bones. She needed to get out of the cage, she needed to leave. She needed to stop this madness…

Then the dimensional scar ruptured. It was ripped open and Maya was swallowed by a vortex of ungodly darkness and unfathomable immensity.

Dimensional Awareness IV

Dimensional Awareness V

Maya and the cage were dragged forward. She cried out, but nothing came out of her mouth. She tried to abandon the cage, but she could not move. The air around her swirled, no, it wasn’t air. It was like an ocean current, moving in one direction, pulling her.

It was pressure, it was vacuum, it was light, and it was dark. All her senses were bombarded, every nerve fired and screamed, but she could cling to nothing. There was nothing to orientate her, there was nothing that she could grasp onto. She was twirling, twisting, and tumbling; everything constantly changing and revolving and she felt herself being torn apart.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. Shen said nothing about this. None of this was what he had instructed her on. Did he know? Or was he ignorant about it all? Maya gasped for air and clawed at the darkness.

Maya wanted escape. She wanted to leave. She wanted her home. She pictured her neighborhood in her mind. The days she had spent hot summer mornings cleaning Bonita or making breakfast with her Mother. Pops would be talking about the weather, a topic he loved discussing even if it boiled down to just “it’s gonna be hot.”

Dimensional Threshold I

You have opened a doorway through dimensions. Congrats.

+ 2 Foundation

[Dimensional Walker] Level 1

It’s not everyday that SIL manage to cross dimensions.

+ 2 Mental Dexterity

Pain tore through her body and she stumbled forward, a great pressure released its hold on her body and mind. Time came to a standstill and Maya blinked as light filled the room.

“Hello,” a voice said.

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Comments (6)
user avatar
User #19917560 - 13 Jul 20 21:28
I understand what he was trying to do but did he succeed, did he make it out or is it just maya that came out alone and he now has the tools he needs to follow? Ugh, clifford has made an appearance once again and that big red dog is running aound making a mess of my day.
user avatar
User #6570977 - 13 Jul 20 16:39
I'm a bit unclear about what happened. Did she open the way for Shen to leave? I'm having trouble parsing it.
user avatar
alexclaw - 13 Jul 20 18:11
Shen's got all the pieces to try and punch a hole back into the multiverse, but all he needs is someone strong enough to channel all that mana into the devices for him. Since Maya can technically channel essence mana, she's the best chance for it to happen. everyone Else just gets seared when they attempt it. I should make that more clear. thanks.
user avatar
User #13235254 - 13 Jul 20 18:35
gr8. It appears that she has opened or showed the way to Earth. Pity she didn't imagine the heart of a Star or the event horizon of a black hole.
user avatar
User #6570977 - 13 Jul 20 19:48
What I wasn't sure of is whether she actually managged to channel the mana in the devices.
user avatar
User #3233001 - 14 Jul 20 08:57
It seems its by insanity alone he is rushing things, from what he says himself, she is extremely rare, but she is also clearly unskilled and likely weaker than she will be. Since skill or strength can be trained why does he not forcibly train her first?
Maya sketch
Maya sketchmore_vert
2020-07-11T22:21:29+00:00
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Maya sketch 2020-07-11T22:21:29+00:00close

I've been doodling for decades and although I tried dabbling in it professionally, I never was able to fully commit to it. But I do enjoy some good ole drawing... Mike Mignola of Hellboy fame was the biggest influence on my art style, but over the last few years I've been drawing slight different. I still love Mignola's blocky hands and dark shadows.


Maya's features and character design are constantly fluid because I don't really know how she looks. Besides the hair and the purple, everything is is always changing.


Back in the hey-day of just learning to constantly draw, I began a web comic. they were super cool back in those days. This is it, if you wanna wallow in my embarrassingly bad artwork of yesteryear.


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Maya01.jpg (69.5KiB)

Comments (2)
user avatar
alexclaw - 11 Jul 20 22:23
oof, next time make the image smaller. ha. its like a jump-scare of Maya's sad crowbar countenance.
user avatar
User #19917560 - 12 Jul 20 07:49
She is diferent than I expected, but that is my bias coming into play from to much popular media. I hear Texas army brat and wacky girl and I think over tanned brunette with a voice over from that one actress that is like in every animated show with a wacky young girl in it. Kristen Schaal (seriously that woman gets to much work doing that same role lol).
34 - Shen 2020-07-10T18:44:07+00:00

Author's Note: I revised Chapter 33, added more to the end of it because it didn't feel right the way it ended. so I guess go re-read chapter 33 again. Thx!



***



Maya wondered what the state of her brain was these days. Suddenly going unconscious in a normal world meant a lot of bad things. She could only recall once when she had fainted as a kid from heat. Then, she had been rushed to the hospital and given an IV drip. That had been a big deal.

Since arriving to the rainbow sky hellscape, Maya had been knocked out, knocked herself out, been blasted to unconsciousness by explosions, and all manner of things. A normal person would be really screwed if that happened to them in a five or six week period.

Maya opened her eyes and closed them again. She sighed and then opened them. The masked face of Shen was looking down at her. That was not something she wanted to see when returning to the wold. The spike of anger, rage, and terror all bubbled in her veins as she stared into the mask.

It was a different one this time. Before it had been an ivory white mask in the vein of Roman sculptures. The mask showed the same facial features as the previous mask; a wide mouth, four eyes, and a sharp hooked beak for a nose, but this one was colored.

Was the mask a uniform? The stormtroopers all wore masks, but theirs lacked the facial features and were instead reflective faceplates. Perhaps they were germaphobes. It was something she never really dwelled on, as Bell didn’t seem to have any diseases that he had spread. Were the masks cultural? Who knew what Shen believed in besides being a piece of garbage asshole.

No, they were hiding something. The image of the Halvara dying to her pulse stunner entered her mind. Someone that strong shouldn’t have succumb to such a tiny weapon. Something else was amiss. The armor, although tough, wasn’t just to protect them from their captives.

“I see you are awake-”

“Where’s Bell!” Maya shot up into a sitting position, nearly colliding with Shen.

“Where he is and how he is, are irrelevant. I have questions, human.” Shen walked away from her, standing before a computer terminal that grew out of the floor.

Maya saw that she wasn’t in the white prison cell she had awoke in earlier. This room was similar to the over decorated room she had first met Shen in. Perhaps it was his taste in decor. Maya thought it was too… richly appointed. Too many tapestries and too many gilted edges on everything, Maya leaned more toward minimalism and modern decor.

On the plus side, she wasn’t naked anymore, so things were looking up. Maya looked down at the jumpsuit or onesie she wore. The cloth was fine and airy, silky smooth, but made of a dark fabric that felt like nothing she had ever touched before. She shook her head and got to her feet.

Shen didn’t turn as she gingerly walked to where he stood before the computer screens. They displayed her, in all her glory. Maya, at this point, had become used to the lack of privacy she had been subjected to. Everyone, it seemed, had seen her naked and every bit of information on her cells and atoms was shared among her friends, and enemies.

“Do you know what you are?” Shen asked.

“Awesome?” Maya replied. “Where’s Bell? Is he alive?”

Shen ignored her questions. “You are an anomaly,” he said. “Something that should not exist. I wish to know more about you.”

“Yeah, I’m swiping left on this hookup,” Maya said.

“Jokes. You make so many jokes. Do all of your species reply in such a manner when terrified?”

“I-“

Shen suddenly turned to face her, in a second he was towering over her, his long metallic fingers inches from her throat. Maya gulped hard and stepped back unconsciously.

“Say something funny, child.”

Maya’s mouth dried out and she could only stare at the leering mask.

“I have no time for jokes. I have no time for your stilly bravado. I want answers and I want them now. Speak. Plainly. Truthfully. Immediately.”

Maya felt a pressure in her head, a ball of pain that grew behind her eyes. She cried out and clutched her head and it kept growing more painful. Finally she dropped to her knees and sobbed from the agony.

“How long have you been in this dimension. What were your levels when you arrived. How did you arrive. When did you create this dimensional scar?” the pain grew in Maya’s mind. “Answer, now.”

She stuttered out the answers, between bouts of agonized groans. Shen didn’t move, didn’t say anything as she told him about her universe’s Integration, about the dimensional instability, about the dimensional bags she had thrown to destroy Medusa. It all came out in a rambling, barely coherent blubbering.

Finally the pain vanished and Maya collapsed to the floor. She felt her tears soaking the thick carpeting.

“No levels?” Shen mused. He walked back to the computer screens and looked at them. From the ceiling, robotic arms began to descend. Maya watched in horror, then terror as they clamped down upon her legs, arms, and body. She tried to struggle, but they were immoveable.

A blue orb followed the robotic arms, it floated above her navel and began to pulse light across her. Maya felt heat and then a cold sensation that burned its way through her body. It wasn’t painful, but shocking.

The readings upon the computer screens changed. Maya realized she couldn’t read what was being displayed. She could understand Shen and he could understand her. There had been no other signs or writing anywhere, she realized. The stormtroopers didn’t talk and she had been too busy terrified for Bell in the chapel to notice what was being displayed on the altar. The universal translator should have updated when coming across other languages.

“What…” Maya could only muster.

“Silence.”

The machine withdrew, dropping Maya.

“Impossible. You’ve just gained a level,” Shen said. “Dimensional Awareness III? True Mana Draw? [Essence Mana Channeler]?”

Shen turned and towered over where she still lay on the carpeting. He seemed to peer at her from behind the mask, as if finally seeing her for the first time.

He began laughing. “I see now,” he said.

“What do you see?” Maya finally managed to ask. He knew something about her. He could read her levels, skills, and abilities. That meant he had to be much higher in Evaluation than she was. “What do you see?”

“Do you know what [Essence Mana Channeler] is?” Shen asked. He didn’t wait for her to answer. “It’s a Tier 4 System Ability. It is what separates normal SIL from godlike beings.”

“I’m a godlike being?”

“Hardly. What separates a Tier 3 SIL from a Tier 4 being is being able to tap into the essence mana that makes up the multiverse. There are only a handful of Tier 4 beings in all of the multiverse. They are ageless and they are all powerful, that is because they control essence mana.”

Maya blinked.

“I can control essence mana?” she asked.

“Barely,” Shen walked back to his computers. “It all makes a kind of sense, when you look at it. The amount of essence mana that is channeled into a Point of Contact world is incomprehensible. Those weak creatures that have barely been Integrated can’t even feel it or notice it surging around them.” Shen chuckled. “Combine that with your being sucked into a dimensional instability, the fact that essence mana was already destroying your body…” He turned back to her. “You are something rarely seen, Maya Sullivan.”

“What is that?”

“Do you know why your mana channels are nearly destroyed?”

“Nanaseto said it was due to me flaring up when the Integration occurred. I would have probably died from it.”

“Perhaps. But never trust a Tier 1 AI. It cannot see anything, it is a trash machine trying to delve into the mysteries of the System and SIL. The ultimate goal of System Identified Lifeforms is to begin channeling essence mana. At those levels you become godlike in your abilities, you transcend the mortal coil and have all of creation at your command,” Shen announced, his distorted voice screeching with madness. “Yet so few, so very few, ever managed to accomplish such a thing.” He looked at her, stalking once more to tower over her. “You, on the other hand, seem to have achieved a shortcut.”

“A shortcut?”

“I have been in this place for a hundred years. I have studied all that have arrived through the dimensional instabilities, those that survived, those that did not.”

“There are more living people out there?” Maya asked hopefully.

“You’ve seen them. Halvara was such a living person.”

“But…”

“In time they all serve me,” Shen stated. “Knowledge requires sacrifice.”

“What did you do to them?” Maya demanded. Her thoughts turned back to what Bell had endured. The machine, the mana that was burning through him, the fact it would eventually sear him of his channels. It all clicked. “You seared them? You did what you were doing to Bell to them. You destroyed their mana channels in an attempt to what? To power that machine that was forming?”

“I call it the dimensional cage,” Shen said, a bit of pride in his distorted voice. “It is the cumulation of fifty years of work.”

“What the hell are you doing?” Maya demanded.

“Silence.” Pain blossomed in Maya’s skull again. “I was explaining something to you. You, weak human, have achieved a shortcut that no one has done in living memory. You have cheated the System.”

“What are you talking about?” Maya gasped.

“The [Essence Mana Channeler] ability you’ve gained. At level 11? In low grade, Tier 1? Unheard of. But I understand what has happened, how the System failed to maintain order.” Shen laughed and stalked back to his computer screen. “Your body was under immense strain, it was changing and charged with so much essence mana, then you were brought here. In this near manaless dimensional plane. But the thing is that essence mana can cross dimensions, it can be anywhere and do anything. So it came with you, it burned through your body. In a normal world, you would have flared up. Your body was too sensitive to mana, it would have tried absorbing everything around you, but then you were brought here. Here where the mana is so low.”

Shen brought up a holographic screen of Maya. In it were strange lines, glyphs, and symbols etched across her body. It was like a circulatory system, but not… it was her mana channels.

“The purified mana we all use burned through your channels without you knowing it, but the essence mana was trapped in your body when you came here. The dimensional instability didn’t allow it to leave as it should have normally. Instead it coalesced into your body, but the body cannot handle two forms of mana at once..”

The display changed, the lines, glyphs, and symbols faded and a few were burned away.

“The pathetic therapy you have been undergoing was only damaging you. Your body isn’t supposed to be channeling mana, it has been building essence mana channels this whole time.” The display changed, overlaying the fading mana channels with a brilliant golden set of glyphs and symbols. “Your body was so weak and so malleable when it arrived here, no levels, no skills and abilities. No idea what you were doing. Essence mana creates everything and destroys everything, it was trapped within you. So it began building channels. Channels that are only built when a SIL reaches the heights of Tier 3.” Shen laughed. “This is interesting. This will revolutionize Tier changes. Do you know how many struggle to rise to Tier 4? Billions, trillions. The most powerful beings in the multiverse are stuck trying to achieve true greatness.”

“So what does it mean?”

“You fool,” Shen snapped. “Do you know why there are levels, why there are the hard to change stats like Luck, Fortitude, and Foundation? Why your stats are broken up into Physical, Mental, and Soul?” Maya remained quiet, knowing it was all rhetorical. “It is broken down in that manner to stagger and weaken the essence mana that is changing you. It is to prevent it from burning you root and stem. It is the System’s doing. Harnessing all that power and throttling it enough to allow our weak bodies to adapt and handle the strain of it all. Every level, every attribute point, it is all essence mana being shaped into something your weak form can handle. Every time you channel mana to make something, every point of experience you gain from destroying a monster, even every universal credit you gain, it is all essence mana that has been harnessed and shaped by the System so that you can use it.”

“Okay, so I can channel essence mana. Does that mean my stats are useless?” Maya asked.

Shen laughed again. “Fool. Your channeling is raw and horrific. You ability to shape mana is pathetic. It will take decades to even begin doing the most basic of things with it.”

“I burned Jo pretty good,” Maya grinned.

Shen stopped his mocking and looked at her. She could almost see the scowl he had on behind the mask. “She is no more,” he stated.

“What?”

Mana Burn, do you even know what it is?” Shen demanded. “It is an unstoppable fire that can only be extinguished until the target is destroyed. Once Jomallava was aflame, there was nothing anyone under Tier 3 could do to stop the flame from consuming her.”

“I didn’t get a kill notification,” Maya said.

“You didn’t kill her, you destroyed her. Everything. All the mana that made her up, all the mana that formed her body, it was all destroyed by the flame. There was nothing left, there was no mana left for a notification or experience gains.”

“Jesus,” Maya gaped horrified.

“It is an amazing Tier 3 Skill,” Shen said. “Not very useful in large scale combat, but in small engagements, very good.” He waved a hand and returned to his screens.

“What,” Maya began. “What now?”

“Now? Now, you will take your friend’s place. You will create the opening for the dimensional cage. You will bridge this dimension and the multiverse at large.”

“Isn’t this just another part of the multiverse?” Maya asked.

“Fool. This is not anywhere in the multiverse. This is the space between the multiverse, outside of the existence where the System controls mana. This place, devoid of mana, is not connected to the System. The System does not know what it is and where it is, it can only guess and use the mana that is inside of us, the weak ambient mana around us, to barely function.”

“Then why do I still gain levels and get notices?” Maya asked.

“Integration, child. Integration is not just the System changing the world, it is the System entering you. It is inside of you. Some small part of the overall machine is functioning within you, sending messages, receiving messages, connected to the over all greater machine.”

“It’s a machine?”

“It is not a god,” Shen scoffed.

Maya sighed. “You’re trying to get back to the multiverse?” Maya asked.

“Of course. I have spent a century in this place. I have learned all I need to know. I shall return and continue my research. I will find the core of the System.”

“If I do this. If I create this bridge for you, then you’ll let me and Bell through too?”

Shen leaned toward her, his mask leering. “I can just make you open the gateway. I can force your body to do what I need it to do.” He hissed. Then he straightened up and looked at her. “But sure, I’ll let you and your friend come with me.”

Maya shuddered and nodded. “You’re high leveled right? Tier 2?”

“What of it?” he demanded.

“Why can’t you do it?” she asked.

“I do not wish to.”

“You’ve got all these people, all these SIL who survived the dimensional instability, yet all you did was sear them of their mana channels for what? An effort to create this gateway? Why can’t you do it? Your levels would allow you to, right? A high level means strong mana channels. Bell is only level 30, but he’s stated before that mana channels grow as you level up. I don’t understand it.”

“You do not need to. You just have to do it.” Shen stated. “You don’t have mana channels, but you have essence mana channels, more power will be able to course through you. Long enough for the cage to activate and the gateway to open. You, Maya Sullivan, are what I have been looking for. You’ll open the gateway and I’ll be free of this place.”

Maya shook her head still not comprehending. Why did Bell have to suffer? Why were all these poor people committed to Shen’s goal? After he had seared them. They were like…

She stopped as her thoughts tumbled into place. Bell had said cybernetics wasn’t good because they messed with mana channels, but a good high grade, Tier 2 System Tech could bridge some of that gaps left behind. If their mana channels were seared, they could use system tech to rebuild some of it, a semblance of mana channeling.

Bell and her had fought the two invaders and they had been fought, but they should have been tougher. The difference between grade levels wasn’t just about levels, it was about skills and powers that they obtained from channeling. If they were fully able to channel, they wouldn’t have had a chance. It was the reason why she could defeat rogue AIs that had higher levels than she did.

They couldn’t channel mana and they couldn’t use their full potential. They resorted to alternate means to supplement their power.

Maya looked at Shen and the thoughts continued to click together. He hadn’t channeled anything since she had arrived. Bell’s teachings had included a little bit about feeling mana channeling. It was the survival skill that everyone had to know. She wasn’t good at it though, due to her weak mana channels, but she occasionally could feel Bell channeling when he had been working on Junior.

For all his power and cruelty, Maya realized that Shen hadn’t been channeling around her. He could fix mana channels, he had stated that he would fix her channels so he could use her as he had used Bell.

Yet, he hadn’t channel. That only meant…

“You’re seared,” Maya blurted out.

Shen snapped his head toward her.

“You can’t channel mana, can you?”

“Silence.”

“High grade, Tier 2 system tech can make a slight effort in cobbling together mana channels for mid grade, Tier 1 SIL, but not for anything in Tier 2, right? You’re Tier 2, but can’t channel.”

“Silence!” Shen snarled.

“That’s why you need me or Bell to make the bridge. You can’t channel mana to form it, you have to force it to be made.” Maya’s mouth was running away from her, she knew it but she couldn’t stop. Then it clicked. The mask, the computers, the system tech, all of it. “You’re not even a SIL. You’re a rogue AI.”

“SILENCE!” Shen snarled and launched himself at her.

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Comments (2)
user avatar
User #13235254 - 12 Jul 20 01:55
Could have kept quiet and planned something silently, but this is [Motor Mouth Maya]
user avatar
User #6570977 - 11 Jul 20 09:04
Oooh :)
Chapters 01-30 2020-07-08T23:47:37+00:00

Here's an rtf of the first 30 chapters, unedited. If you're new here, best to read it and catch up.


I'm in the process of editing the entire series, in hopes of one day publishing it. so, for now the editing is being done on the main draft and the already published stuff is not going to be changed for a while.

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Attachments (1)


01-30.rtf (624.6KiB)

33 - Dimensional Seeker (REVISED) 2020-07-08T15:59:57+00:00


Dynamic Quest: Defend the Hanganathorie! - FAILED

Enemy units are attacking. Defend what is yours and repel the invaders.

NO REWARDS

- 2000 EXP

Try harder, next time.




Maya didn’t wake in pain, but she still screamed when she opened her eyes. She stared up at a startling white ceiling, with bright lights and without any smudges of dirt or grime anywhere.

She gasped as the memories of the fight hit her and cradled her arms against her chest. She stopped as she saw that they were bare. She was naked on a white bed in a white room. Her arms weren’t broken anymore, her jaw wasn’t shattered, and even the teeth she had lost were replaced.

Confusion was replaced by caution as she quickly sat up and summoned her crowbar to her hand.

Dimensional Lock Active

Access to Dimensional Inventory is blocked.

“What the fuck,” Maya said.

She stamped down the fear that was beginning to well up. She was good at that, at least. She got to her feet slowly and then looked down at her hands again, realizing they weren’t in the cracked and blistered state they had been for the last two days.

How long had she been out? Where was Bell? Where was she?

Her cell, for it was a cell, consisted of only the bed and a small lavatory in the corner. A toilet bowl, a sink, and a shower. Her stomach rumbled as she moved toward what appeared to be a door. She sidled up to it and ran her hands upon its frame. There were no controls, it was just a door shaped depression in the otherwise sparkling white room

She looked to the ceiling and couldn’t see bulbs. The whole ceiling seemed to glow with light.

Maya walked back to the bed and sat down. She dropped her head into her hands and took a slow breath. She needed to be smart here. Panicking and doing something stupid wasn’t going to help her.

Whoever these people were, they weren’t messing around. She had killed one of them, but they had just handed Bell and her own ass back to them. The attackers were high leveled and combat orientated. It was luck and surprise that had allowed her to kill one of them.

The death of the SIL she had fought tugged at her conscience. Like her fear, she brushed it away. She wasn’t going to worry about it now. She was a prisoner. The death of some asshole who tried killing her wasn’t something she would dwell on.

She paused. No, wait. She would dwell on it. What had happened to that invader? The armored asshole had taken everything Tender and she had dished out against them. They had shrugged off her shotgun and pistol fire, they hadn’t been killed by the beam weapon too, then they had still held their own against Tender going all out on them.

It couldn’t just be levels, could it? She didn’t know too much about it, but maybe that was what combat orientated SIL were like. She had suffered horribly in two battles. Did that mean combat SIL were tougher and could fight even after they were horrifically damaged?

Then why had they finally died? After the pulse stunner she had used on them. A weapon that wasn’t even all that powerful, enough to stun a rogue AI if it got too close. Richfield hadn’t said anything about it being able to kill a person.

Yet, the attacker had died after they had been struck. The mana pulse that hit the invader had fried something within its armor, within the SIL itself. Maya thought back on the fight and remembered seeing metal glinting inside the creature. System Tech?

She could hear Bell’s lecture on cybernetics. It boiled down to: “Don’t do it.” It wasn’t that cybernetics were a taboo thing in Bell’s eyes, but it instead interfered with one’s mana channels. For a power that coursed through everything, it sure did have a lot of hang ups.

Attaching replacement parts or organs to a body made the body lesser, as Bell had explained. The System Tech was too low quality to replace a real organ. Therefore it was better to pay for a new organ, limb, or whatever to be grown, rather than replace it with trash that disrupted one’s mana channels.

That brought up the question of why would anyone do it? Why did that person… no Halvara, why did they have cybernetic parts? A level 48 person would know what to do, they would not be inexperienced, so that meant that the cybernetics were intentional, right? She didn’t know enough. She needed more information.

Why did the pulse stunner even kill them? It shouldn’t have. Was it just-

The near silent opening of the door stopped her thoughts cold. She jumped to her feet and prepared to defend herself. Nothing came in, but the door remained open.

“Yeah,” Maya said. “Someone’s trying to be dramatic here.”

There was nothing to do but walk out of the cell. Maya took a breath and cursed the fact she couldn’t access her Inventory. She still had her axe and crowbar in there. Along with the healing and stamina potion Bell had given her. She looked down at her healed body, also noting that the bones she had been getting used to seeing were finally covered with a layer of fat.

“Plumping me up?” Maya asked striding for the door.

Maya shivered, the air in the corridor she entered was cold on her bare skin. It was odd, she realized. She hadn’t felt much change in the ambient temperature in all her weeks in the rainbow sky hellscape, but now it was probably in the low seventies or high sixties. She shivered as she padded out into the corridor.

It was a long hall, lined with doors similar to the one she exited. Probably more cells. She counted two dozen of them. Bell was most likely alive and he had to be in one of these rooms.

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