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B2-38 - Ain't No St. Crispin's 2020-10-23T18:03:23+00:00

Tension filled the Cage as Maya stepped up to the control panel. She looked out at the twenty-seven faces that stared back at her, the Tarvana, Badblood, Bell, and Yosi. Fear was evident, but they all stood firm and ready.

Maya was impressed by the adaptability of the Tarvana. They had gone from cowering in fear inside of a panic room to wailing about Whiteclaw’s death, but now they were all solidly behind Badblood and they followed her without question. They were under leveled and going into battle with some of the strongest rogue AIs in the area and they weren’t cowering in fear as she would have been in their position.

They didn’t need to fight alongside her, they didn’t need to risk their lives, but Badblood had told them what they were going to do and they hadn’t raised any objections.

“We’re going to have to hold our ground,” Maya said at the assembled people. “The rogue AIs aren’t going to like us butting in on their watering hole, they’ll see us as a threat and they’ll come at us with everything they have. You don’t have to do this, this is not your fight, but if you wish to participate, then I thank you for your bravery and steadfastness.”

There was a moment of silence as her words were translated to the Tarvana, then a murmur ran through the crowd as Badblood glowered at her.

“This ain’t gonna be an easy fight. The rogue AIs are crowding the shores of the lake, they’re tough and they’re mean. Under no circumstances are any of you to try and fight the creatures, the level difference is just too great. Focus on your job, Bell and I will handle the AIs.

“Yosi will be in charge of the sensor arrays and will prioritize targeting. Bell and I will go in first, we’ll set up the turrets, Alpha Team, you’ll come after and get the mana netting into the lake. Remember that if the liquid mana touches you, you’re dead. So don’t splash around in it. Bravo Team, once we’ve secured the foothold, you’re to exit and get to work. Charlie Team, you’ll be in play once Bell gets back. You’re in charge of creating the tesseracts and making sure we don’t run out of mana. If everything goes as expected, Alpha Team will be held in reserves and Bravo Team will assist in the creation of more tesseracts and managing the mana flow.”

Maya looked out on the faces, they weren’t human but she could still see the emotions that ran through them. They were scared, they were in over their heads, and if things did go tits up, then they would all be dead.

“This rainbow sky hellscape is a real shit place,” Maya said, easing her stance a little. The gathered Tarvana glanced at one another. “It’s been trying to kill me since I arrived a hundred days ago.” Maya chuckled. “A hundred days, that feels like a life time ago, but for you, the Tarvana, you have been here your entire lives. You have survived in the harshest place imaginable, where nothing grows, where mana is low, and where monsters of great power prowl across the land.” Maya looked at the upturned faces, making sure to meet each and every gaze.

“We are going into battle and I’m not afraid. Not when I have the toughest bastards to ever exist at my back. I have barely survived a hundred days. You all have survived your entire lives. Your people have survived for centuries in this place. The rainbow sky hellscape might have shaped you, but after today, with this power we are gathering… You.” Maya pointed at a Tarvana. “You will now shape the rainbow sky hellscape.

“This is not just a fight for some mana, this is a fight to shape the future you want. One where you’re not hunted, low leveled, and forced into cannibalism. That dream is in reach; it is up to you to grab it and hold onto it.”

Maya looked out into the faces of the Tarvana, they were silent and she felt a bit of self conscious fear spike through her. Had she laid it on too heavy?


[Orator] Level 1

With speeches and words you sway the people… barely.

+ 1 Mental Strength


There was a thumping as the Tarvana began stomping their feet on the deck. Maya paused and smiled slightly, their way of clapping perhaps? It grew louder and soon screeching and hissing were added to the thumping as the Tarvana did their version of cheering her words.

“Nice speech,” Bell said on their comm channel. “A bit… heavy handed.”

“It ain’t no St. Cripsin’s, but I did mean every word,” Maya said. “This is gonna change their lives and ours. With the power we’re gonna get, it’s gonna change everything.”

“I hope so,” Yosi added.

It took a few minutes for the Tarvana to calm down, but now Maya could see less fear and trepidation in their eyes and stances. They stood straighter and ready for action.


[Raid Leader] Level 1

Standup fights are for heavily armed and highly trained SIL, you’re neither.

+ 1 Physical Strength


You have gained [Raid Leader], a low-grade infantry militia command rank, do you wish to create a command platoon? Y/N?



“What’s a command platoon?” Maya asked Bell, she showed him her notification.

“You’re leading people into battle, a command platoon will allow everyone who participates to gain a share of the dropped experience points and loot, since you have the Plunder Ability.”

“So, it’s gonna be divided among all twenty seven of us?” Maya asked.

“Command anything, squads, platoons, brigades, are set up so that those involved or a part of the group get a share of the experience based on their levels. So most experience and loot will go to the highest leveled SIL and downward from there. It side steps the equal splitting up of experience points when two or more people defeat a mana mutation or SIL.”

“Well, that’s bullshit.”

“For support troops or those who aren’t actively in the fight, it is a good thing because they still gain experience points from your kills.”

“So I should choose yes?” Maya asked.

“If you want these Tarvana to level from this fight,” Bell said. “Otherwise you can just not accept it and keep all the experience points to yourself.”

“I did just make a whole speech about this fight changing their lives,” Maya sighed.

Bell chuckled. “Didn’t you learn anything after the Roci Incident?”

“No grand announcements, blah, blah, blah,” Maya waved her hand. She looked to the Tarvana who were still grinning. She then selected ‘yes’ and another murmur ran through them. “Alright, folks,” Maya said. “Get to your stations. Times a-wasting and some rogue AIs need their asses kicked.”


***


Two rogue AIs battled. The first, Rogue AI HD1547VV - Level 51, screeched in defiance and a sort of outrage that their dim mind produced. They had taken a spot from a lowly level 49, but now they were being challenged. A level 55 Rogue AI trundled up, firing beams of hard light at them. Their armor pinged and was singed, the delicate network of rogue tech fusing and burning.

HD1547VV extended an array of fins along their back, a bright light flashing and condensing in a heartbeat. There was a hiss in the air as the supercharged laser tore across the distance between the two rogue AIs; the newcomer screeched in pain and rocked back on their multiple legs, slagged metal sloughing off of them.

Not all fights along the mana lake were duels and leveling up, instead they were of the simple violence variety. The lake of mana was a buffet and they were starving. They were desperate and they were willing to destroy anything in their way.

The two rogue AIs fought and their attentions were occupied as a five meter wall formed behind them. A figure in black armor stepped out and cast a worried look around, then a second followed.

“Fin backed gorilla and disco ball at five o’clock,” Maya announced and hefted a weapon onto her shoulder. “First of hopefully many firings of the new Sullivan rocket propelled pulse grenade launcher, SRPPGL, in stores soon. Just in time for the holidays!”

A screech filled the air as the helix propelled rocket blasted out of the rough tube that Maya carried. The backblast kicked up the gray dirt, but all eyes were on the flaming rocket screeching toward the two fighting rogue AIs.

An explosion blossomed, a normal helix detonation, and Maya frowned. Had the pulse grenade not worked? A heartbeat later, there was a second explosion and she grinned as a wave of blue engulfed the two battling rogue AIs. They shuddered to a stop, the old grenades had been good against low leveled rogue AIs, but when the game was bigger, one brought a bigger gun.

“Loading!” Bell announced and slid in another rocket.

A light flashed and Maya widened her stance, aiming once again at the two rogue AIs that were now beginning to recover from the shock. They barely had the time to digest what had happened when another rocket screeched in between them. This wasn’t a pulse grenade, instead it was one of Bell’s creations.

Alchemy was more than just potions, it was, to Maya, chemistry. One could make anything, from medicines to explosives and Bell was very skilled at it. With their last fight against the rogue AIs not going entirely their way, Bell had finished up a small project he had been working on for weeks, since he had gained access to the alchemical resources from Haltor’s World.

House Domakun had existed for a thousand standard years, although they were a house devoted to alchemy, war and fighting were common occurrences for high tiered Houses. Bell had plenty of training and experience in making weapons and it wasn’t difficult to combine it with the weapons that Maya had made.


Rogue AI HD1547VV - Level 51 - Defeated

Command Platoon gains EXP

Lootable


Rogue AI TN8433OI - Level 55 - Defeated

Command Platoon gains EXP

Lootable


“Alpha, time to roll!” Maya inventoried the RPG. Bell was already summoning turrets from his own inventory, two gatling turrets and three shotgun turrets. Maya followed suit, while a small window in the corner of her HUD displayed the scanners output.

“We’ve got thirty rogue AIs in a five kilometer radius,” Yosi said. “Currently they’re all swimming or fighting one another. We haven’t been seen yet.”

Alpha Team charged out of the Cage, Badblood in the lead. She carried a meter sized ball of black goo mana netting on a long pole, with a power cable attached to it. The small Tarvana were struggling with them, but they made fast progress, knowing that they were in the middle of a dangerous place. They had also gained notifications about the experience that had been dropped by the two rogue AIs and that more than anything spurred them on.

The bundled mana netting were dropped into the mana lake, carefully and quickly, then the team rushed to each of the turrets snapping the cables into the mana batteries that connected to the weapons. It all happened within less than a minute, by the time Maya and Bell had summoned their turrets, the eight Tarvana were already attaching the power cables and the weapons were coming online.

“Good work, people,” Maya shouted. “How’s it look, Yosi?”

“All good. We’ve been noticed, but nothing is coming our way.”

“Bravo Team, your turn.” Maya called. “You good, Bell? I’m heading in!”

Maya rushed for the door as another group of eight Tarvana hurried out, dragging long hoses behind them. Maya moved toward a section of the Cage and looked up at her creation before her.

She met the eight Tarvana on the Charlie Team, they were covered from head to toe in a modified environmental suits. Maya didn’t know if it would provide complete protection, but it was better than nothing. Charlie Team was already moving the twenty liter cans of black goo into place, before a machine that Maya had built from a bit of engineering knowledge, a mention in a manual, and from dismantling a Havin Mk. 2 Mana Purge Field - mid-grade, Tier 1. The same device that Roci had used to help restart the electronic systems on the ISS.

Maya had watched a lot of science fiction in her youth, besides her brothers fascination with it and her own interest, one thing that always caused an eyeroll on her part was when some engineer just claimed to ‘reverse the polarity’ of something and it did the opposite of what it normally did.

Science didn’t work that way and magical Integration system tech didn’t work that way either. Instead Maya had gained some inspiration from the mana purge device, it basically pushed mana out of an area. That meant that mana could be physically moved, it could be interacted with, and it wasn’t too much of a reach to realize she could use the same system tech that the mana purge device used to handle mana.

Force fields, or in this case, resonating mana fields, interacted with ambient mana or generic mana in a strange way. Unfortunately, a type of polarity was at work with the mana purge device. It did not touch the mana, but created a force which moved the mana, thereby removing it from an area. Mana condensers worked the same way, but pulled mana into an area.

Maya created a mana containment device, using the same mana fields that a purger and condenser used, but instead of removing it or pulling it into an area. It held it in place. Normally, such a device would have limited use, as it didn’t do anything more than prevent mana from leaving an area.

She flipped the switch and gulped as the power drain suddenly went from ‘moderate’ to ‘pretty damn bad’.


[Patent Holder] Level 8

House Sullivan has submitted a Patent and has been awarded ownership of the Patents:

Canister Defense Turret - L1

Gatling Defense Turret - L1

Railgun Defense Turret - L1

Sullivan Rocket Propelled Grenade Launcher - L1

Mana Containment Device - L2


Maya flinched from the ringing as the System awarded her a slew of patents. She brushed aside the notifications and scanned the data that was being spat out by the processors. Everything was green and good to go.

The only downside was that the power remaining had dropped from two and a half hours to half an hour.

Bravo and Alpha teams burst back into the Cage.

“Good to go!” Ironwatcher cried as she rushed by. The newly minted [Engineer] joined Charlie team as they began setting out more black goo canisters. The suited Charlie Team moved to the hoses coming out of the machine, their job was to create as many tesseracts as possible to keep the power running for the Cage and the containment device.

Maya took a breath and flipped the pump switch. It wasn’t anything remarkable or special, just a normal water pump she had taken from the Hangy. The machine squealed and chugged to life and a moment later there was a glug-glug noise of liquid being pumped.

Glowing liquid mana began pouring into the containment device, she stood back and the gathered Tarvana also moved to a safe distance. The glowing liquid splattered against the mana field and Maya could see it sizzle against the repelling force. The readings from the processors flashed green and steady.

“Well, the hard part is done,” Maya grinned. “We’re gonna need power soon. Bell. You’re up!”

Maya glanced over the machine one more time before she rushed out the door while Bell raced back in and began ordering around the gathered Tarvana.

A thumping and screeching noise caused Maya to pause as she neared the door; she watched as Badblood and Alpha team moved the defense drones. They were the reinforcements in case they were about to be overrun, the drones had been topped off with the tesseract and their weapons replenished. With the higher than normal ambient mana so close to the lake, the drones were moving without the mana penalty they had been facing. Although Maya didn’t understand why the Cage was still consuming twenty times the mana it normally used, but it was likely due to the Cage ‘existing’ at the Hangy and not by the lake.

“We have incoming!” Yosi announced. Maya cursed and rushed out the door.

Her HUD displayed a half a dozen rogue AIs were moving in their direction. She frowned as they came into view.


Rogue AI DD45872GS - Level 50

Rogue AI ES4712EE - Level 51

Rogue AI BD6135IV - Level 52

Rogue AI AD7541EW - Level 52

Rogue AI QZ5274OP - Level 53

Rogue AI ID5422BV - Level 54


All the rogue AIs levels were consistent with one another, either they were all leveling together or the rogue AIs had formed a level equilibrium along the shore. Either way, Maya was at a higher level than all of them.

She summoned her RPG once more and loaded in a pulse grenade. She braced herself.

“Yosi, light ‘em up after I shoot.”

“Right.”

The rocket screeched across the mana bloom lit world, a fiery trail that was lost immediately as the volex fueled rocket burned out. Although the RPG was a simple weapon, it was effective and cheap to make, but accuracy was something to be desired.

The rocket detonated as it struck one of the rogue AIs on it’s spiky back. The hedgehog looking rogue AI stumbled and then screeched as a ball of blue enveloped them and the other rogue AIs around them. A chorus of pained rogue AI screeches filled the air, followed a heartbeat later by the rattling of the defense turrets. The railgun thumped heavily and the gatling turrets screamed like banshees.

Maya loaded another rocket and sent it flying down range, another blossom of blue filled the air and the screeching of the rogue AIs intensified.


Rogue AI DD45872GS - Level 50 - Defeated

Command Platoon gains EXP

Lootable


Rogue AI ES4712EE - Level 51 - Defeated

Command Platoon gains EXP

Lootable

Rogue AI BD6135IV - Level 52 - Defeated

Command Platoon gains EXP

Lootable


Rogue AI AD7541EW - Level 52 - Defeated

Command Platoon gains EXP

Lootable


Rogue AI QZ5274OP - Level 53 - Defeated

Command Platoon gains EXP

Lootable


Rogue AI ID5422BV - Level 54 - Defeated

Command Platoon gains EXP

Lootable


“Like shooting fish in a barrel,” Maya grinned as she inventoried the RPG. She checked the status of the weapons and saw that they were all in the green. The new railguns she had made were sloppy work, a rushed project that Badblood and Yosi had scavenged parts from within the Hangy. As it were, they were running out of the more exotic components, as the previous tenants had salvaged all they could and now Maya was taking the rest. Soon the gold mine that was the Hangy would be tapped out.

If the day was profitable, they wouldn’t have to worry about to much afterwards. They would be swimming in liquid mana and all their energy needs would be met.

‘The first tesseract crystal is being formed,” Bell announced. She got a small live feed from within the Cage as a black goo can was topped off and she could see the glow that was solidifying. Soon they would be adding direct mana and it would become blood red.

A rumbling filled the air. “Incoming,” Yosi said a moment later. “There’s a horde of them, about fifty low level rogue AIs. two kilometers out.”

Maya summoned her RPG once more and sighed as she saw she was down to her last half dozen rockets. The weapon was cheap and easy to make, but they hadn’t the time to make more rockets, only creating ten workable rockets, with half of them being the pulse grenades.

“They’re stopping,” Yosi said.

Maya pulled up the scanner window and saw that the rogue AIs, insect like in their appearance, had gathered together and were climbing on top of one another. Maya had a bad feeling that they were doing something that she would regret.

“They’re building something,” Yosi said. “It’s a ranged weapon of some kind. Each AI carries a piece and when they gather together, they can make a powerful weapon.”

“Great,” Maya looked down at the turrets. The shotgun and the gatling were useless, as the swarm was outside of their range.

Yosi let out a hiss. “I’m getting a lot of interference from them, they’re jamming our scanners. I’m losing the target locks.”

“Shit,” Maya muttered. Although they had managed to cobble together scanners and other sensor devices, Maya understood that they were all of a low grade quality. Yosi had said there were military grade, or high-grade, sensors out there, stuff that couldn’t be easily jammed or blocked.

“I’m going in,” Maya said.

“What? That’s insane!” Bell’s voice cut in.

“These rogue AIs are all about level twenty. I got this.” Maya leaped over the defense turrets and then sprinted through the small mine field they had created. The swarm was a kilometer away and she could see them crawling over one another, bringing up the image of an ant swarm making a bridge with their bodies.

She skidded to a stop and hefted the RPG, sending a rocket screeching toward them and then hurriedly loading another. The first pulse grenade detonated, causing the heaving mass of the swarm to shudder and a few of the external AIs sloughed off, crackling and seizing as the mana pulse burned through them. Maya fired another round into the small opening that had appeared, the grenade detonated within the pile of the rogue AIs, this time causing more of the creatures to fall away, some ripped apart and others destroyed from the overwhelming pulse.

With the new threat, the swarm abandoned making their weapon and half of the remaining number turned to face her. Maya inventoried her RPG and then pulled out a few mines and tossed them before her. She backed up and summoned a rifle, a Haroskaski Particle Beam Rifle - mid grade, Tier 1.

The green blade of energy struck out from the rifle, cutting through the flimsy armor of the insect rogue AIs. They were like the ants, small and weak, but in groups they could and did swarm their enemies. The key was to keep them at bay and not allow their numbers to overwhelm.

The mines detonated, simple helix explosives, and the particle beam continued to slice through the AIs. With a dozen of the rogue AIs lying dead or dying at her feet, Maya felt a pressure wave as a marsani slug blasted by her. She paused and felt another round tear by, striking a rogue AI that had been charging her.

“They’re not jamming now,” Yosi said. “Get back. I think there’s not enough of them to make the weapon they were trying to make.”

The railgun slugs were tearing up the rogue AIs and Maya inventoried her rifle and turned to head back to the defense turret line.

Her dangersense hit her hard, immediately Maya hit the ground and felt something screech by, missing her by inches. The HUD displayed a creature, birdlike, with a humanoid torso and massive legs that held sharp claws.

“What the hell, Yosi!” Maya called out, scrabbling back to her feet and summoning her rifle.

“They’ve got a cloaking device of some kind,” Yosi reported. “They’re not showing up on the scanners, but I’m seeing some interference, that might mean there are more fo them.”

The swarm rogue AIs began screeching again, not at the railgun slugs still hitting targets, but as their swarm mates were being pulled into the sky by the attacking harpies. Maya watched as the flyers crashed down, their claws piercing the weak armor and then with a massive blast, shot back up into the sky. In seconds they were lost against the black of the sky.

“Fuck,” Maya muttered, scanning the sky. The birds weren’t the shiny metal she had seen in most rogue AIs, instead they were matte black, blending in with the sky. Maya rushed back to the defense line but her danger sense screamed again, she tried to dodge and roll, but she felt something explode across her back and she was sent tumbling. The gatling turrets screamed and Maya groaned as she came to a stop.

Her back was on fire, literally. She felt the heat through her armor and smoke was billowing out from behind her. She rolled in the gray dirt, the flames snuffing out, but her HUD displayed a lot of red along the backplate of her armor.

“What the hell was that?” she muttered.

“A rocket of some sort. Fired by the flying rogue AIs.”

“Awesome,” Maya groaned and activated the mana shield enchantment that Bell had given her long ago.

“I’m cleaning up the interference,” Yosi said. “I think I’ll be able to track them, but I can’t hit them.”

“Yeah, the turrets weren’t designed to fire upward,” Maya said.

As if eavesdropping on their conversation, the harpies screeched back down from the sky and smashed into the defense turrets. Their claws made quick work of the fairly flimsy armor of the turrets. The rush job had them cut a lot of corners, most of those corners being protection for the turrets themselves. It had been a gamble, creating deadly turrets that were easy to destroy.

“Fuck,” Maya cried, firing at the creatures.


Rogue AI SS5482NN - Level 42 - Defeated

Command Platoon gains EXP

Lootable


“They’re gonna tear up our defenses,” Maya said as she made it to the remaining line of turrets. They were down five canister turrets, and a gatling turret, the railguns had thankfully not been targeted.

“I think you should fall back,” Yosi said. “I’m reading a lot of them.”

Maya looked at the scanner read out and grunted. The sky was filled with the creatures and they were coming right at them.

“How are we looking on power?” Maya asked.

“The tank is forty percent full, the pump was corrupted and had to be replaced.”

Maya nodded at the information. It had been something she hoped wouldn’t happen, but as she had seen from the railguns that had been powered by the mana netting in their first fight, the sheer amount of raw liquid mana tended to corrupt the devices they were powering. In this case it was more of the liquid mana being in contact with the low-grade unshielded pumps.

That thought caused her to check the turret statuses, the canister turrets were fine as they barely used any mana, but the gatling and the railguns were edging into dangerous orange territory.

“Send out the drones, we can’t leave.”

“We already have more than enough liquid mana to turn the vats into tesseracts,” Bell said.

“We need this,” Maya said.

Bell muttered something but didn’t speak again. Maya felt herself clenching and unclenching her fists. They needed this mana and it would change everything for them. They could get back to Earth, they could harness the ambient mana there and refill their stocks. They could-

The ground erupted around Maya and she flinched as the mana shield from her enchantment flared to life. Fire blossomed and she felt herself hit the dirt, although the damage was mitigated by the shield she was still tossed around. The ground baked and she saw all the lights on the turrets vanish.

It took a moment for Maya to get back to her feet. The mana shield stuttered and then winked out, overwhelmed by the carnage before her.

The ground was a cratered mess, the entire area between her and the Cage was shredded apart by a explosives. The harpies had bombed them.

“We’ve lost half of the hoses,” Yosi announced. “All the turrets are destroyed.”

Maya took a slow breath. “Alright, send out the drones, send out more hoses, We can fend them off.”

Bell muttered something, but didn’t contradict her. A moment later Alpha Team and the drones exited the Cage. They stomped their way toward her and Bravo Team hurried out with extra hoses.

“Get back into the Cage,” Maya called to Badblood.

“You cannot fight this by yourself,” she called back.

“You’re too low leveled to be anything but a target.”

That was the wrong thing to say as Badblood bristled and glared at her. “I have leveled from defeating Pickman.”

“Jesus, just get back inside before-“

A screech filled the air as one, then two, and then three of Badblood’s team was snatched up into the sky. Maya cursed and fired her rifle after the retreating figure. The particle beam sliced off a wing and the harpy screeched, releasing it’s prey and then tumbling out of the sky.

“Get back inside!” Maya screamed. She launched herself forward, running to the fallen Tarvana. It took seconds to reach the man.


Blackrock - Level 4


He lay there gasping, his chest punctured by the claws and his bones broken from the fall. He screamed in pain as Maya picked him up and rushed back to the Cage. Already she could see the wounds closing up, the major damage stitching itself back together. Thankfully he passed out as she continued running.

Maya cursed, they had lost two Tarvana. The harpies were just too fast and they hadn’t been prepared for aerial attacks. She cursed again as she saw Badblood and the remains of Alpha team still standing with the drones.

“I said get back into the Cage!” Maya snapped.

“We do not fear these rogue AIs,” Badblood announced. “You stand against them easily, so shall we.” They hefted a variety of weapons, Maya hadn’t been able to arm them, but they were well armed with simple melee weapons. A few had some pistols and handguns, but none of the Tarvana were prepared or armed enough to face off against even the insect swarm.

The air was filled with screeching again as the harpies tore down from the sky. The defense drones were able to fire into the air, but their weapons were artillery based and not meant to hit fast moving targets.

Maya dropped the unconscious Tarvana and summoned her rifle. She was already firing into the air as the matte black figures descended. One, then two of the rogue AIs crashed into the ground as she clipped their wings. A dozen more descended.

There was screaming as four more Tarvana were snatched up and pulled into the sky. Maya fired after the targets, but only managed to knock one down, the figure crashing not to far from her companions.

“Get inside!” Maya yelled.

Now, the Tarvana listened. Badblood tried to tell them to hold their ground, but they weren’t trained or hardened troops. They were scavengers and hiding was their main defense, a stand up fight against an enemy they could barely see was suicide. One of the Tarvana dragged her unconscious load away and Maya continued scanning the sky.

Badblood stood amongst the defense drones, still glaring.

“You keep undermining me!” she declared.

“Jesus, you want to have this discussion now?” Maya snapped. “Get inside.”

“I do not-“

Maya stalked to Badblood and grabbed the small woman. “Five of your people just got killed and two are badly injured. You didn’t have to be out here, you didn’t have to make them stand out here. That is on you, kid. Their lives were in your hands and you wasted them. You let them die. Now get the fuck back into the Cage.”

Badblood opened her mouth to say something, but a deep hollow boom filled the air. Maya felt her dangersense screaming at her.

“Maya,” Yosi said, her voice barely a whisper.

A figure blotted out the sky, a massive winged creature that craned their head in their direction. Maya felt her mouth drying up and her knees weaken.


Allosavaro - Tier 3


The mana bloom light glinted off the monstrosity’s back, an array of silver scales that ran from their horned head to the end of their whiplike tail. The massive wings folded back and the creature stalked toward them.

“Run.” Maya hissed and then did so herself. “I’m cutting the door as soon as I’m in!”

Maya’s boots pounded upon the metal decking of the Cage and she immediately cut the door’s connection.

Nothing happened.


Allosavaro has engaged a Dimensional Lock




/Author's Note: Well, seems like I should not try to promise things. I had hoped to keep a consistence schedule, but travel and other things occurred, causing some delay. Hope you enjoy the update.

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Comments (10)
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User #13235254 - 24 Oct 20 05:29
Again Not Looting anything! Why does she not loot anything ? Also doesn't don't Tier-2 and Tier-3 AI's have better things to do - like slurping down ALL the mana that their higher existences require. Seems strange they would bother themselves with a low-level fight. I really hope that is explained.
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User #13235254 - 24 Oct 20 09:02
Ok, this winged robot is not even a Rogue AI! Maybe Maya can give it a [Tesseract] or two and hire a [Bodyguard].
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User #28785581 - 24 Oct 20 10:24
I'm guessing that it won't come down to a fight, more like the AI having a keen interest in the whole Cage and Mana Pump setup. I'd like to think it will either join the crew or become a local customer/contact point for the "enlightened Rogue AI" society in the RSH.
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User #4427353 - 24 Oct 20 21:25
I think it's more likely the tier 3 takes all the tesseracts and leaves the lowly tier 2 with her life as compensation.
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User #7551081 - 23 Oct 20 18:12
Why would she share the experience with a group that was led by someone who literally just betrayed her aaaahhh. Love the story regardless.
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User #8098068 - 23 Oct 20 19:31
Eh, I can understand her wanting to level up her squad. She probably wouldn't level herself, but they would, and it helps her out more to have them get stronger during the fight.
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User #40375755 - 24 Oct 20 20:52
Maya is getting greedy with this mana, gonna end Badly.
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User #4427353 - 24 Oct 20 21:23
Yep, Bell definitely needs to grow a pair and give her a hard no when this happens. Tender did it with Roci, but he is stuck on earth while the mana shenanigans are happening.
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User #21032006 - 24 Oct 20 04:09
The worst of cliffs...
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User #24690460 - 23 Oct 20 20:12
I can't even imagine the amount of exp that the raid got from all those AI. Like its above quadrillion on a 50 ish thing alone. I kinda see why she shared the exp, like it is totally in line with her personality. On the other hand, badblood has earned her name 7 lives over.
B2 - 37 - Pickman's Challenger 2020-10-19T18:39:41+00:00

“We do technically over-level the rogue AIs,” Maya said chewing a ration bar. The crew were gathered in the mess hall, a standard day passing since Bell and Maya had returned.

Weariness was etched into their faces, it wasn’t just the fact that they had been busting their asses the last standard day, there was also the addition of mana being slowly leached out of them. The mana purge was still in full swing and Maya hadn’t realized how much mana was used in normal everyday things.

Her body, she understood, was shaped by mana. It made her stronger, smarter, more agile, and, if she still had mana channels, able to warp and shape her internal mana. Even without channeling mana to do everyday things, the body was still absorbing mana to offset the expenditures of their bodies. A ration bar of condensed biomass provided the nutritional needs of the flesh, but ambient mana provided everything else. Even the low ambient mana of the rainbow sky hellscape was more than enough to keep the body in tiptop shape.

It was a shocking realization for Maya that Bell and Yosi channeled mana when they were working, when they built items, or when they solved the problems associated with their rushed schedule. For the two, channeling mana was like breathing; they did it unconsciously and without effort. The results being faster learning, better accuracy, less mistakes, and leveling in the occupational ability.

It was utterly unfair.

As Maya had her mana channels burned out of her when she Seared herself, she had to make do with Knowledge. The knowledge cubes in engineering and maintenance had been downloaded into her head and she used that knowledge to do things. Besides the knowledge appearing in her head, it was how pre-Integration learning worked. Learn it and then do it.

Bell had claimed she was a strange oddity. She was high mid-grade, when she hit level 75 she would be considered high-grade, Tier 1. The oddity of her situation came from being level 62 and with all of her occupational abilities being far less than that. The highest ability she had was [Trader] at level 12 and that was considered a low-grade ability.

In a normal world, or the multiverse-at-large, her situation should have been inverted. It was normal to have a low-grade ability at mid-grade levels and a personal level still in low-grade. Just as she had been under-leveled while destroying higher leveled entities and suffering from low experience gains; she was now over-leveled, with no mana channeling abilities, trying to use low-grade abilities. The results were the same, work harder and gain less experience from it.

“That’s not entirely true,” Bell grumbled as he looked listlessly at his ration bar. “Rogue AIs might not be comparable to SIL when it comes to levels, but they are still strong in their own right.”

“Yeah, but they only give out one third of what a SIL would drop at the same level,” Maya replied. “That means they’re ‘less’ than a SIL, right?”

“Technically, yes,” Bell said.

“I did say ‘technically, we over-level them’.”

“They are lesser than a SIL at the same level, but not by much. When it comes to strength and destructive power, rogue AIs are built for that. If you’re thinking mana abilities and channeling, they are not able to do that. In addition they aren’t very intelligent, as their programing is more organic in its development.

“The same would go for a mana mutation as well. Those monstrosities are shaped by mana and they may not be sentient or sapient, but they are stronger than rogue AIs because they can channel mana.”

“So rogue AIs are bottom rung?” Maya asked.

“If you think of it in the manner of stats,” Bell said, “Then rogue AIs would only have access to the Physical stats. They are strong, tough, and can survive a lot, but they can’t channel mana nor are they very intelligent. That is until they reach Tier 2, that’s when the Mental stats kick in. They gain a terrible amount of intelligence and that makes them a supreme danger in the multiverse-at-large. When they get to Tier 3, then they’re practically SIL as they can now channel mana.

“Mana mutations have access to both the Physical and Soul stats, therefore they are tough and they can channel mana, but they’re more instinctive about it.”

“So there are Tier 2 mana mutations?” Maya asked.

“Of course. They rarely exist, but some are formed naturally and some are formed from gaining levels from defeating foes, just as a SIL would. They too are a danger to the multiverse-at-large, but not as much as rogue AIs because they’re limited by biological function. A Tier 2 mana mutation can’t mass produce an army of Tier 1 monsters, but a Tier 2 rogue AI can mass produce an army of Tier 1 rogue AIs.”

“This is boring. When are we going to fight?” Badblood announced as she crouched on her chair near Yosi.

Maya held back a sigh. The newly healed Tarvana was a handful. She insisted on trying to gain levels by fighting the others, which had turned out as well as Maya expected. A lopsided fight that ended with Badblood injured and rushing off to heal herself in peace. If it hadn’t been for her ability to consume mana stones she would have drained her mana within the day.

“For someone with zero fighting ability and who has been sick their entire life; you are eager to fight,” Yosi said. “Are you suicidal?”

“You are all mid-grade. You out-level even Whiteclaw, the eldest of my people. I must gain as many levels as you to be seen as equal.” Badblood stated.

“You think you can reach level 40, double what Whiteclaw’s levels are?” Maya asked.

“If she can,” Badblood pointed to Yosi. “I can.”

“What does that mean?” Yosi demanded.

Maya groaned as another fight was about to break out between the two. She rapped her knuckles against the table, causing the two to stop and look at her.

“Calm down, kids. We need to focus, not squabble. How are we looking?” Maya asked.

“We are done, all that is required is assembly, which you stated you would be able to do via VR,” Yosi replied.

“Yeah, that’s gonna be fun,” Maya groaned. Although she could access Scotty’s assemblers via the engineering VR set, it still required her to direct the assemblers on what to do.

“We are nearly complete in our preparations,” Bell said. ‘I have stripped our defenses bare, leaving us critically exposed if any rogue AIs come in our direction.”

“Yeah, well, if the ambient mana stays gone, those rogue AIs are gonna be squatting around that mana lake for the time being. They can’t survive that long without ambient mana, even as low as it is.”

We can’t survive that long without ambient mana too,” Bell stated. “Right now we’re burning through our stored mana. If our goal was to simply wait out this mana purge, we could easily survive off the tesseract for centuries.”

“Big risks, big gains, buddy,” Maya said. “We’re looking at a power source that will totally change everything for us. We’ll have more than enough power to run all the machinery, we’ll be able to connect with the multiverse, we’ll be able to do everything our little hearts can imagine.”

“We’ll be ready and we will succeed,” Yosi said.

“Totally. I’ve been working on the secret sauce and currently there are five additional vats created. Of the nine vats we had already, three were made using Roci’s recipe along with what we had stuffed into the cans,” Maya said. “We’ve run out of our stores of mana stones and ingredients. If Zono were around we could have probably made another ten vats, but that dude is probably lying in a rusting heap somewhere.”

“I feel we should have at least looked for him,” Yosi said.

“Yeah, I’m not that big of an asshole just to abandon the dude, but what can we do for him? Anything that doesn’t have a large amount of black goo coursing through their veins gets drained and drops. He’s probably not dead, just shut off.

“That leaves us with about 1800 liters of black goo.” Maya grinned at that bit of news. “If the calculations are right, we’re gonna need about one hundred and forty liters of liquid mana, it took half a liter to turn a twenty liter can into the crystal and it took another liter to power the crystal up, but it might be able to absorb more power.”

“Time is going to be limited,” Bell said, “Experimentation will have to wait.”

“No shit, Holmes,” Maya said. “Dithering around with that many murderous assholes about is not my plan.”

“If we need only one hundred and forty liters of the liquid mana, why are you building the containment device?” Yosi asked.

“Future reasons,” Maya replied. “It’s not everyday you come across a lake of mana. We’re gonna need all we can lay our grubby hands on.”

“I feel that plan is extremely dangerous,” Bell said.

“Go big or go home, Bell. Big risks, big rewards and all those other cliches about putting your neck on the chopping block to make some cheddar.” Maya leaned back in her chair, yawning. “The math seems right and the containment device has been built before.”

“Yes, but not by you,” Bell said.

“That’s hurtful, buddy. I’m the greatest engineer in a thousand miles.”

“Ironwatcher is better,” Badblood said.

“Oh, BB. I don’t know if I should laugh or cry.”

Badblood looked at her confused.

“Our power usage was more than we expected,” Bell said, looking at a tablet. “We’ll be needing even more power to complete the work that needs doing.”

“You gotta spend money to make money,” Maya said and then paused. “How much?”

“If the projections are correct, we will only have at most three hours of Cage time.”

“Ouch. But that’s fine. If it all goes well, we’ll be only needing an hour or so. Oh, what’s that look for, buddy?” Maya asked as Bell frowned slightly.

“Nothing,” he said.

“Oh, BS, You think this whole thing is gonna go tits up?”

“You said it,” Bell replied.

Maya chuckled. “Luck is on our side, pal. We can do this and we can get away with it and live fat and rich for the rest of our lives. It’s our big score, our white whale, our... I don’t know, we’re gonna turn our lives around after this one last job kinda thing.” Maya paused. “Now that I say it out loud, all of those tropes lead to death, dismemberment, and worst of all, failure.”

***

“Everyone ready? You use the bathroom, lock the doors, turn off your hair straighteners?” Maya asked as she settled down into her ‘command’ seat. Although it wasn’t necessary as there was no feeling of movement in the Cage, she still preferred to be seated when traveling.

Intellectually, Maya understood that the Cage didn’t go anywhere at all. It was still connected to the power source that was the cores, or in this case the tesseract crystal, therefore it would always be connected to the Hangy. The Tier 2 components that made up the Cage created the small bubble of reality in Void Space, where they could interact between the rainbow sky hellscape dimension and the multiverse at large.

The Cage hummed around Maya, with her Dimensional Awareness she sense the void space and the dimensional scar that she had created when using the dimensional bomb. That dimensional wound was what allowed them to leave the RSH, it wasn’t hard to recreate, but Maya didn’t want to go about poking holes it the fabric of the multiverse.

“First stop, Casa de Whiteclaw. Exit to the right,” Maya formed a threshold and a door within the central chamber of the Tarvana warrens.

Darkness greeted them, Maya looked at the view screen and saw that even the small working lights were now winked out of existence. It looked like they too were suffering from the lack of mana. Maya activated the external lights on the wall and the chamber was soon illuminated.

“Well, this is not good,” Maya said, standing up.

In the middle of the chamber were the gleaming bodies of the ants. The same creatures that had attacked them only a few days before. Not only were the ant bodies present, but there were a few of the Tarvana as well, their corpses intermixed with the ants.

A fight had occurred. The rogue AI swarm, it seemed, hadn’t just attacked them; they had also attacked the Tarvana at the same time. With the Tarvana’s low levels and general tactic of staying out of sight, they did not fare well against the low leveled ants.

“What has happened!” Badblood cried, scrambling to gawk at the view screen. “That is Brokenjaw, the fiercest fighter.”

A large Tarvana lay amongst the dead, hacked and slashed by the ants’ blades. Maya took a slow breath and activated her sensors. The strange dirt of the RSH caused some interference, but it wasn’t long before they got back a signal of living beings, two dozen were gathered in a room far within the tunnels.

Before Maya could say anything, Badblood was out the door and running into the darkness. Maya looked to Bell and he nodded; they all walked toward the door and into the warrens.

“I’ll keep an eye on things,” Yosi said, settling down before the control panel.

The smell of death hung in the air as they made their way through the warrens. Badblood lead the way, knowing where the others would be without having to look at the scans they had done. They moved quietly thorough the rock corridors, pausing only as they came across a body or an ant.

From what Maya could tell, the Tarvana had been pushed back, the ants forcing them to fall back into the tunnels and a desperate fight had occurred. A lot of the ant bodies they came across weren’t destroyed; they, like the ants on the surface, had run out of mana. Why the Tarvana had been attacked was easily discovered as they came across an ant that had been carrying away a container full of the mana stones that Whiteclaw’s people mined.

Bell paused to decapitate the ant while Maya scooped up the mana stones. Badblood was franticly looking about, wailing with sorrow when she saw someone she knew.

The Tarvana’s panic room was a well crafted space, a seamless rock wall that slid silently opened. Inside were the two dozen survivors of Whiteclaw’s tribe, along with their stores of food and other items. Ironwatcher staggered out, an axe in her hand, and snarling with rage. She stumbled to a stop as she saw Maya, Bell, and Badblood.

“Merchant,” Ironwatcher said, the axe slipping from her hand. “But the communication array was destroyed. We weren’t able to contact you, how did you arrive?”

“Where is Whiteclaw!” Badblood demanded, grabbing the woman by the shoulders.

“Who are you?” Ironwatcher asked.

“It is I, Badblood.”

Ironwatcher laughed. “Badblood is dead, given to the Merchant to consume.”

“Yeah, we don’t eat people,” Maya replied. “That’s Badblood, she was healed from what was making her sick.”

Ironwatcher blinked and then grinned. “Then help, Whiteclaw, she is injured!”

Badblood shoved Ironwatcher out of her way and stormed into the panic room. Maya stopped and helped Ironwatcher to her feet, the woman swayed and looked at her with dull eyes.

“Are you okay?”

“We have lost much, Merchant. Many are dead and now the mana is gone. We will all die soon, not a glorious death in battle, but as we deplete our mana, we will die slow and painfully.”

“I found the mana stones the ants were taking,” Maya offered the woman the container. Ironwatcher looked at it listlessly.

“Ah, that will help,” she said. “But there are too few of us now, all of our warriors are dead, all of our high leveled people are dead.”

“Then come with us,” Bell said. “We will offer your people protection.”

“I cannot make such a decision,” Ironwatcher said. “Only Whiteclaw can.”

The woman showed them into the room, it was small and lit with a small pile of mana stones. Maya’s black goo lights were blinding to the gathered figures, all small, young, and staring at them with hopeless eyes. In the center of the group was Whiteclaw, wrapped in duracloth and staring at them with sightless eyes.

“She is dead!” wailed Badblood.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” Maya said.

“Who commands here!” Badblood demanded.

The gathered people blinked and looked at one another. They didn’t move for a moment and then a burly miner rose to his feet.

“I do!” the man announced. “I am Pickman, foreman of miners. I am strongest and eldest. I command the Pickman tribe now!” he stood tall and hefted a pickaxe. The people around him slunk away, fear in their eyes.

“I know you Pickman. You are a bully, a fool, and greedy!” Badblood announced. She pulled free an axe that had been strapped across her back and leveled it at the figure. “I challenge you for leadership. Blood shall decide who leads!”

“What the fuck?” Maya said.

Without another word, Badblood leaped at Pickman. Their weapons clashed and people scattered, screeching with fear. Pickman was nearly a third bigger than Badblood, the days of eating well and hardwork had put muscles upon his body. He easily parried Badblood’s attack, sending her sprawling as he shoved her with the haft of his pickaxe.

Maya stepped forward, but Bell grabbed her arm. She looked at him. “This is their way,” he said.

“It’s a bullshit method of choosing a leader,” Maya said. “There’s already been enough death.”

Pickman let out a roar as Badblood’s axe sliced along his left leg, causing him to stumble and then collapse to the ground. Badblood hissed and hopped back to her feet, bringing the axe up to make a final strike.

“Stop this bullshit!” Maya shouted. Badblood stopped, her red eyes glaring at her. “Stop right fucking there.”

“You interfere!” Badblood said. “I do this for you. To bring my people to you.”

“You, Pickman. Do you concede? Do you acknowledge that Badblood has won? That she is your tribe leader now?” Maya asked.

Pickman still clutched at his wound, the blood was slowing and as she watched, it began to stitch itself back together again. He glared at Badblood and then at Maya, but he saw the sharp axe blade ready to descend and his own weapon lying out of arm’s reach.

“I conceded,” he said. “I will follow Badblood.”

“This is not how it is done,” Badblood hissed. Her arms were twitching as if she were about to follow through with tradition.

“Kill him and you will not be welcomed back with us,” Maya stated. “I will not condone murder. If this can be resolved without more bloodshed, then that’s the route we’re gonna go. You can’t go about killing SIL.”

Badblood hissed again and the axe lowered. Pickman used that moment to hop back to his feet, his fist pulled back and a look of rage on his face. Badblood stared in surprised but then began to raise her axe.

Maya was between the two in a flash. She grabbed Pickman by the throat and lifted him off the ground. He was big for a Tarvana, but they were all small people compared to her and Bell. She raised him to eye level and shoved him hard against the rocky wall.

“Did you not just fucking hear me?”

Pickman tried struggling, but realized he was completely outclassed by Maya’s strength and levels. He stared at her, a bit of fear returning to his eyes.

Maya dropped him and he collapsed to the ground. Fear still shone in his eyes as he looked at her. Maya shook her head and turned to walk back to where Bell stood, watching them.

There was a loud thunk and a gurgling noise. Maya spun around to see Pickman had been decapitated, his head rolling to the ground and violet blood pumping out from the stump of his neck.

“What the fuck!” Maya screamed.

Badblood stared at her defiantly, her axe buried into the rocky wall.

“What the fuck!” Maya yelled again.

“You think they would follow me after that?” Badblood demanded. “You undermined me, you chose to show your dominance over us all, you might as well have demanded to be the leader of the tribe.”

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Maya demanded.

Badblood stood tall, staring Maya in the eyes. “I do what must be done to protect my people,” she said.

Maya glared back. “You don’t just go about killing people, damn it,” she snarled.

“The strong command, the strong make the rules, the strong-“

“Oh, shut the fuck up,” Maya snapped. “Enjoy being the big dog around here, asshole. Let’s roll, we’re leaving,” Maya turned and began stomping down the rocky corridor. She noted the eyes watching her, the other Tarvana who had rushed out to find safety, they hadn’t gone far, as the bodies of their dead and the ants forcing them to stay close to the room of safety.

“I know what you are attempting!” Badblood shouted. “I know you cannot do it with only three, that you need more help, more hands!”

“Fuck off,” Maya said.

“We shall help you!” Badblood shouted. “We shall help you collect this liquid mana, for a share.”

“Fuck. Off.” Maya said.

“She’s right,” Bell said. “We need help.”

“Fuck her,” Maya replied.

“Think it through, Maya,” Bell said. “We don’t have much time, we’ve already wasted half an hour here. We need their help if we’re going to do this.”

Maya glared at Bell, but she stopped in her stomping and then turned to Badblood. The woman gave her a sharp toothed grin, her bloodied axe still held in her hand.

“Do you wish to make a deal, Merchant?”




/Author's Note: Sorry about missing the day on Friday. I've been oddly exhausted and b brain dead the last few days. Sometimes you just need to rest up and recharge your thinking machine. I did manage to re-plot out the story and have begun working on some other things that will be provided for you all to judge soon.

Hope you enjoyed the chapter and have a nice day!


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Comments (13)
user avatar
User #19917560 - 20 Oct 20 18:18
for someone who sells weapons to a criminal enterprise Maya is really getting on her high horse there.
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User #5002768 - 20 Oct 20 10:35
Maya was such an A-hole this chapter.
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User #12742646 - 21 Oct 20 19:44
When Maya starts whining about Badblood next chapter, Bell's response better be something like, "Gee I guess the fanatical cannibal inbred death cult have different morals than us, who would have thought. What's phase two of the plan, allow them to exponentially inflate their population and teach the earth benders next to our burried ship Engineering? Good calls all around."
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User #12742646 - 21 Oct 20 20:44
"sure all they've done is attack us, but why NOT teach them how to make the most powerful mana construct in the system?"
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User #417232 - 19 Oct 20 20:13
Honestly, I usually think Maya can be quite annoying. Many of her actions doesn't make much sense, but for once, it did. The basic rule she put up here was understandable, and the only thing Badblood did now was show she can't ever be trusted. It'd be another thing to have Pickman inevitably try to betray them for power and Maya then having too concede that she may have been to nice... But what Badblood did here was absolutely a "Fuck them" decision. Not right away. But after the heist is done. (If they need the tribe. It seems really odd that they'd plan to include Badblood to begin with. Or the tribe.) Anyway, I enjoyed the chapter and thought Mayas reaction was suitable, even if it is odd that they planned on their co-operation to begin with. Maya should absolutely force Badblood and her now Really miniscule tribe to pay out of their own behinds for future help. Fleece them for all they have. (While not witholding help with protection and food. Because Maya wouldn't hurt the others just because Badblood showed herself to be an ass.)
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User #29921292 - 19 Oct 20 19:00
I wont quit reading. And i dont want you to change anything just - i hope you mix the whole thing up a bit. Make it unexpected.
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User #11691022 - 19 Oct 20 19:02
Hah love how consistently self-righteous and belligerent of other cultures she is!
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User #19917560 - 19 Oct 20 23:56
kinda feel like bb is getting harshed on for being from a violent culture. I mean they are space goblins, pack instincts and violence are to be expected
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User #8098068 - 19 Oct 20 19:01
Maya really overplayed her hand. It sucks, but you can't just roll in and apply your own morality and customs to a foreign group, no matter how much better they are. At least not without expecting pushback. In all fairness, the other times she did it the other cultures they were terrible. But it only worked so far because they weren't around to defend themselves, were weaker than her, or needed her more than she needed them.
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User #9991114 - 19 Oct 20 22:50
She is an idiot if she doesn't just kill Badblood this second. She knows it is going to bite her in the butt. She knows Badblood just wants to fight. If she does this she will just power level her and make herself a true enemy. Please don't play the stereo dumb hero and let Badblood live. She has been through enough to know a lost cause. She has seen enough to know where this is going.
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User #34671248 - 19 Oct 20 21:28
I kind of agree with the other comments, I can't feel Badblood as an ally... More like a "Someone that live near you and try to steal from you / kill you, but your stupid moral is in the way and you don't do anything against them" kind of things. The old leader had a brain, and was open to trade, Badblood seem more like a crazy dog ready to go for the jugular if you look weak for a second. Hope Maya realise it, and abandon them before they do stupid things and someone is killed/destroyed (for the AI)...
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User #29921292 - 19 Oct 20 18:59
This chapter was....not enjoyable. I know you need conflict to create a story but the tropes used, create your own enemy and deal with the devil.... She should be smart enough to see where this is going and handle it. But she wont, because the good is kind trope is in place. It feels like i will have to read a lot of predictable, annoying story before it gets awesome again. And i really liked the story up until now
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User #38283660 - 19 Oct 20 23:50
Like...if strength rules then Maya can just kick the shit out of them.
B2-36 - Mana Abhors a Vacuum 2020-10-14T18:25:19+00:00

Ideas were running wild in Maya’s head as they made their way back to the Hanganathorie. An entire standard day had passed since the rogue AIs had chased them from the watering hole, but it seemed they too had better things to do than wait for a few annoying SIL to show their faces.

They dug themselves out of the trash pile and with some trepidation and caution, scanned their environment to ensure that nothing was laying in wait.

Maya glanced back at the gleaming sea of mana and felt a surge of greed and want. She was shocked by the feeling and a little unnerved. Yet, that lake represented everything she wanted and needed. Mana, power, a way for them to remain alive in this unforgiving hellscape she was destined to spend the next five hundred standard years in.

Twenty liters of condensed liquid mana would keep the Cage running for an ungodly amount of time. She could stay connected with Earth and the multiverse for centuries, but Maya was thinking big. The condensed mana was the closest thing to essence mana in existence, without the need of being Tier 4.

With the black goo able to become a tesseract, Maya could feel her profitsense screaming for her to run into that lake and begin scooping condensed mana into her pockets. A source of clean, stable, universal mana that could power anything and anyone. Once the tesseract had been formed, it could exist for thousands of years, able to refine mana to be used by all.

Bell and Maya re-entered the room after an hour of waiting to see if anything else would happen. It was never too late for caution and with the black goo transforming into a white block of crystal, they were cautious around it.

“From what I remember,” Bell said, “You can’t touch it with your bare hands. It’ll tear all the mana right out of you.”

“I don’t have mana,” Maya said.

Bell snorted. “You have mana, it is reshaping your body all the time. It’s just that you can’t channel it and it seems the System is protecting you from the effects of this purge.”

“So this block of crystal is thirsty for mana?” Maya asked, crouching before it.

“It will absorb any and all mana it comes in contact with. It will then store it and change it, turning it into mana that can be tapped to be used by SIL or machine. But it doesn’t pull in mana the way a core or the black goo does, instead when it comes in contact with mana it pulls it all in.”

“Just a better version of a mana battery, got it.”

Bell let out a strangled cry. “That’s wrong on so many levels.”

Maya got close to the crystal and then pulled out her tester, she set it against the block and raised an eyebrow. “It’s dead,” she said.

Bell moved forward to get a better look. “You need to add mana to it,” he said.

“If it has no mana, why is it glowing?” Maya asked.

Bell shrugged. “It’s a tesseract.”

“Then why is it empty of usable mana?”

“The creation of the tesseract from black goo probably used up all the mana that existed within it.”

“So for every block we make, we’re gonna need to get an equal amount of mana to refill it?” Maya asked. “That’s a chore.”

Bell let out a strangled noise again. “You realized that a tesseract this large can only be created by only a few high tiered societies? And I mean societies, not a person, a whole society has to gather the power and materials necessary to create a fraction of this.”

Maya chuckled. “Still a chore.”

***

Maya fused together a box made out of marsani and stuffed the large crystal into it. She had added more condensed mana to it, but Bell was getting twitchy as she added a liter of condensed mana into the crystal and it turned from white to blood red.

“I don’t think it’s going to explode,” Maya said as Bell told her to stop.

“You don’t know that. You’ve already added a liter to it and that’s… about two hundred million gens.” Bell wrung his hands, all four of them, and paced the far end of the chamber.

Maya had tried to test the block after adding the liter to it, but it had begun to only display errors. Yet she could feel the mana coming off the crystal, it was a like a being wrapped in a comforter pulled right out of the dryer on a cold day.

“Fine, but I think it can handle more,” Maya said.

Maya sealed up the crystal in a box and was annoyed when it too could not be inventoried. She had gotten too used to not lugging anything around anymore.

They cut their way out of the trash pile. The scout rats didn’t report any movement or signs of rogue AIs and the sensor box only showed the constant fighting around the shore of the lake. The corpses of her defeated foes were gone and Maya sighed, there went another three bodies that she hadn’t been able to loot. She got the experience, but loot was loot and she kept missing out on it. Bell’s rogue AI kill didn’t drop anything as he didn’t have the Plunder Ability as she did.

They hurried to Bell’s trike and within minutes were swallowed up in the darkness beyond the glowing sea.

***

“Stop. Something’s wrong!” Maya cried.

They had been traveling for nearly two hours and the glowing sea was only a dim light on the horizon. Leaving the mana lake was like being dunked in cold water once more, the lack of mana felt like an icy wind trying to reach into her soul. Even Bell, who had recovered from his mana depletion sickness had slowed down and was struggling to pedal.

Bell immediately stopped and Maya hopped off the trike. She could feel the box of the condensed mana she carried beginning to vibrate. Something was happening and she understood it was nothing good. Her dangersense was beginning to sound off and Maya did the only thing she could think of. She threw the condensed mana container as far away from them as she could. It sailed into the utter blackness before the canister ruptured into a brilliant blue explosion.

Maya was thrown back and Bell’s trike tipped over with him on it. She hit the ground hard, but her armor protected her. She felt dizzy as hot uncontrolled mana rolled over Bell and her, the warm feeling wasn’t there anymore , instead it was like a blast furnace opening up near her.

The sky lit up for a long moment as the mana hung in the air, but after a minute the light faded and they were left in darkness once more.

“What the hell?” Maya asked.

“The canister wasn’t able to contain the condensed mana,” Bell groaned, righting his trike. “We’re in an area devoid of mana and you were carrying around liquid mana, so…”

“So mana abhors a vacuum,” Maya said getting to her feet. “It tried to expand back into the space that didn’t have it.”

Maya pulled off the other pack she carried and unsealed the tesseract crystal. It still glowed the blood red color, even more eerie as they stood in a field of complete blackness.

“This one seems stable,” she said and then sighed. “There went nearly four billion gens of mana.”

“Will that crystal be enough?” Bell asked.

“It should, but still… we should have made more when we had the chance. Now we only got this little sucker left.” Maya blinked still seeing an afterimage of the exploding canister. “Let’s roll, we still got power and we’re gonna need it.”

***

Maya thought on the problem of how to hold onto the mana as they made their way back to the Hanganathorie. Of course, putting twenty liters of condensed mana into a marsani jug had been foolish. There had to be another way to hold onto the mana; Maya suspected that any kind of container would eventually rupture if it were brought back into the mana purged areas of the plane.

That meant they would have to move to the mana lake, which Maya knew was just asking to be killed by the rogue AIs. Another option was that they could hook up a tank to the rover and get there in record time, faster than Bell could pedal his trike. If they managed to load up on condensed mana, they could make it back before everything went ka-boom.

Maya chuckled at the thought, but knew that there was only one option opened to them. The Cage. If the tesseract held as much power as she hoped it did, they would have a chance, albeit a slim one, to load up on condensed mana before they drained the crystal.

It all boiled down to how much energy the Cage would draw when they activated it. There was already a mana strain when the drones were moving around, nearly twenty times what they would normally use. If the Cage did the same, then the two hundred million gens in the crystal would be only five hours of power. Would that be enough time?

The other issue was the black goo, they had nine vats of the stuff awaiting them, but Maya had gone over the records that Tender and Roci had kept. It seemed Roci had been tinkering with the black goo formula and that had increased its efficiency by a few percentage points and also changed the formula somewhat. As they were using the batch that Roci had made, the question of if the adjusted formula was the cause of the tesseract forming or was the old formula able to do the same.

It hadn’t been a thought until Maya remembered seeing the rogue AIs, battered and bloody, plunging themselves into the liquid mana and coming back out healed and ready for another round of fighting. If it only took half a liter of liquid mana to turn twenty liters of black goo into a tesseract crystal, then wouldn’t that also mean the rogue AI’s own blood would become tesseract crystals too? Or was their own black goo a bit on the unrefined side, allowing them to suck in mana but not causing their black goo to become crystals?

Maya didn’t know the answers, but time was going to be a major factor when they returned for more liquid. As the liquid mana would expand when placed in a low mana environment, they would have to be sure that the black goo they brought with them would be useable or else they’d be in for a nice ka-boomy surprise.

“Oh, did Yosi keep the porch light on for us?” Maya asked as they neared the Hangy. A solitary light shined in the darkness near the main hatch. Maya could make out the ten drones stationary at the entrance, with only one turning to track them.

The hatch opened up and Yosi exited, a look of relief on her face.

“We’re back, hale and with gifts!’ Maya cried, hopping off the trike. Bell sighed with relief and joined her at the door.

“I’m not pedaling that thing ever again,” he said.

“But it was your pride and joy. The penultimate creation by the lone alchemist lost in the wilds of the rainbow sky hellscape,” Maya said.

“You seem happy,” Yosi replied.

“To return to a face as lovely as yours, why would I not be happy?” Maya grinned.

“We found a lake of mana and she wants to steal it,” Bell summarized.

“A lake of mana?” Yosi stared.

“I’ll tell you all about our adventures, but first I need a shower and a nice-“Maya caught something at the edge of her vision, her dangersense flashing for a brief moment before a figure came at her.

Instinctively, Maya met the approaching figure with the back of her hand. She felt a thud on her gauntlets and then a squeal of pain filled the air. A figure bounced off a defense drone and crumpled to the ground, moaning in pain.

Maya blinked and saw that it was Badblood.

“Oh, shit!” she cried. “I’m so sorry!”

Yosi gave a sigh and looked exasperated. “Badblood’s awake now and she’s a real handful.”

***

“Three broken ribs, a fractured arm, and a concussion,” Yosi said as they walked down the corridor to the mess hall.

“Jesus,” Maya muttered looking down at the unconscious figure in her arms. Badblood had been a wretched dying thing when Whiteclaw had ‘given’ her to them. But with her cancer healed, well fed, and out of the mana sickness that the purge caused, the small Tarvana looked almost cute.

“It’s an impressive regeneration ability,” Yosi said. “But that just makes her reckless and kinda crazy,” she added. “She woke up about twelve hours ago, then tried attacking me. Being level 2, it was almost comical, but she escaped and has been harassing me with attacks since then. I tried to be gentle, but I’m nearly level 40 now and she’s just… so delicate. It’s scary how easily she breaks. The good thing is that she can heal herself and nothing is permanent.”

“Poor kid.”

“Well, by her accounts she’s considered a full adult in the tribe.”

“You’ve spoken with her?” Bell asked.

Yosi ducked her head. “I accidentally shattered her knee and she couldn’t escape.”

“Accidentally?” Maya asked.

“She attacked me when I was taking care of Junior,” Yosi said defensively. “I just… reacted and kicked out.”

“Why is she still out?” Maya asked.

“She’s probably faking it,” Yosi replied.

At that moment, Badblood opened a crimson eye at her and flashed a sharp toothed grin. She jumped up with surprising agility and was about to flee, but Maya grabbed onto the woman and yanked her back.

Badblood struggled and snarled, like an animal caught in a trap. She turned and tried to bite down on Maya’s gauntleted hand and Maya winced, not from pain but from the fact that she saw a few of Badblood’s teeth shatter against the metal.

“Calm down!” Maya hissed, not letting go. “Calm the fuck down!”

Blood dribbled down Badblood’s mouth and she snarled at her again, trying to rake her thin claws against Maya’s armor.

“This is what I’ve been putting up with,” Yosi said as they continued down the corridor. “She doesn’t understand that our level differences means she can’t really hurt us. Her tribe is pretty low level and even at her level, she could hurt them.”

“Calm down, damn it,” Maya snapped. She didn’t let go, but Badblood continued struggling and snarling. Eventually she ran out of energy and hung limply in Maya’s hand.

“Don’t trust her, she’s faking,” Yosi said watching them.

Badblood opened her eyes and hissed at Yosi. “Traitor!” she snapped.

“You’re attacking the person that saved your damn life, moron!” Yosi snapped back. Maya could see the frustration and anger lining the small woman’s face. She could only imagine the strain she’d been under since they left, with Badblood running amok not helping in the slightest.

Badblood glared at Maya, her crimson eyes narrowing to thin slits. The blood from her mouth had stopped dripping and Maya saw that the teeth had begun to regrow, visibly moving up from the exposed black gums.

“That’s awesome,” Maya said, watching as the Tarvana’s wounds healed up before her eyes.

“It is painful,” Badblood snapped.

“That’s your fault,” Maya said, without compassion. “Bite me again and you’ll lose more teeth.”

Badblood hissed and tried yanking herself free. She wasn’t successful.

“I’m like sixty levels above you, kid. You think you can do anything that’ll hurt me?”

Badblood struggled some more. “The strong make the rules, the strong take advantage, the strong sell me like a piece of trash!” she struggled again and Maya let her go. The woman staggered back and crashed against the bulkhead.

“Look.” Maya crouched before the panting Badblood. “You’re free to do what you want. You were ‘given’ to us by Whiteclaw because you were dying and they didn’t know what to do with you. Our doctor healed your illness, we made sure you survived, but you don’t owe us anything. We would have done the same thing for anyone in that same situation.”

Badblood stared at her and didn’t say anything.

“Oh, why does she understand what we’re saying?” Maya asked.

“Nan installed a language module, a low-grade one, in her.”

“Without her permission?” Maya groaned. “That woman…”

Maya sighed and looked back at Badblood. “You can stay as long as you like, you can leave if you want, but there’s some weird shit going on out there and there’s no more ambient mana. So you’re healing factor is probably going to stop sooner or later.”

Badblood’s eyes widened at that.

“No ambient mana?” she asked. “What of my people!”

Maya shrugged.

“We must go and see if they are unhurt!” Badblood scrambled to her feet.

“They literally gifted you to us so that we could dissect you and figure out what nutrients they needed to live,” Maya said.

“They are my people!” she cried.

“Okay…” Maya shook her head and got to her feet. “We got a lot of other things to talk about first, but your peeps are apart of my plan. Also, they chow down on mana stones and that’s about a third of their diet. I’m sure they’re fine.”

***

“The Nerigana have been trying for centuries to make this,” Yosi breathed staring at the tesseract crystal. “Even the Tier 4s have a difficult time creating them. I cannot believe it’s made from the black goo.”

“Our little creation is paying off more than we thought,” Maya said, chewing on a ration bar. The crystal sat in the center of the mess hall while Bell hooked it up to various lines and cables, using its own stored power to bring the Hangy back to life. “Unfortunately the mana usage on anything is twenty times what it used to be. For once we have a massive amount of mana at our disposal, but the price of everything has gone up and we’re back in the poor house.”

“But we can still use the Cage, right?” Yosi asked.

“Yeah, the 16Mg threshold needed to start that sucker up hasn’t changed, but it’ll be chugging nearly 40Mg an hour.” Maya finished her ration bar and took a swing of water. “That doesn’t give us much time, in addition to that, we’re also going to need to do a lot of manufacturing for what I’m planning.”

“Your liquid mana containment field?” Yosi asked.

Maya grinned. “All that engineering knowledge I’m downloading as finally paid off.”

“It’s a theoretical concept, you don’t know if it’ll actually work,” Bell said.

“I’ll run some scenarios in VR and see what that says. It’s usually about right.”

“Usually,” Bell muttered.

“What’s the worse that can happen?” Maya grinned. Bell sighed.

“I don’t understand the rush,” Yosi said, “that lake is not going anywhere.”

“Who knows what the System will throw at us tomorrow,” Maya said. “That lake wasn’t there two days ago and it formed within minutes of the mana purge occurring. It could just suddenly vanish in the next five minutes for all we know. We need to get to it fast, grab as much as we can, haul ass back here, and wait out the mana purge.”

“What am I to do?” Badblood demanded. “You have given these two tasks and yet you have ignored me.”

“What can you do?” Maya asked.

“I can… I can…” Badblood frowned and shrugged. “I have been sick my entire life, my mother cared for me and I was not able to obtain a trade.”

“Well, many hands make light work. You can help Yosi in what she’s doing.”

“Must she?” Yosi asked.

“Or help Bell.”

“Pass,” Bell said as he pointedly ignored everything and focused on the crystal.

“Right. Off you go kids. Railguns and explosives aren’t going to make themselves.”

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Comments (4)
user avatar
User #40375755 - 15 Oct 20 01:27
She's a little Fireball and I love her already XD hahahahahah!
user avatar
User #5927544 - 14 Oct 20 22:11
Badblood is so cute! Maya has her own crazy version of X-23 now!
user avatar
User #300276 - 14 Oct 20 19:26
Badblood's got spunk. Not sure how good it is for her, but it's there!
user avatar
User #28785581 - 14 Oct 20 18:55
Thanks for the chapter! Shouldn't House Sullivan get a Patent for the ultra-cheap Tesseract manufacturing process/formula? If the Black Goo can be patented, so can this, right?
B2-35 - Like in the Marvel Movies 2020-10-12T19:59:09+00:00


The roars of the rogue AIs filled the air, a trumpeting sound that announced her doom. Maya stood firm, taking a moment to summon the mana pulse mines that she had packed for such an occasion. She tossed them around the railguns in a small arc. It wouldn’t stop the rogue AIs if the used ranged weapons, but if they tried to rush the guns they were in for a surprise.

Bell’s figure was dwindling in the distance, but Maya still didn’t chase after him. A calm settled down around her as she took another moment to check her status page. She had gained eleven levels from the death of the three rogue AIs, although the experience points had been split in half, the level 69 rogue AI had been split between Bell and her, and the two damaged AIs she had only gained half of their experience points.

The world moved in slow motion as Maya bumped up her physical stats by twenty attribute points each. With 11 levels she had gained 286 attribute points; she had been prioritizing her mental stats, with her physical coming in second, and her soul stats trailing behind in third. It wasn’t the best set up, but Maya couldn’t use mana like a normal SIL and she had been focused more on the engineering and building side of things.

Power surged through Maya as she patted a railgun turret.

“Buy me some time, buddy!” she called out before turning and running for her life.

With a flat 60 points in every Physical trait, Maya could feel the sheer difference in power. The gray dirt sprayed out behind her as her boots dug into the ground and thrusted her forward.

Even as death loomed behind her, Maya began laughing. Every atom of her body was surging with power; she could lift a mountain, she could fight a dragon bare handed, she could run forever.

Her sensor box blaring shook her out of her momentary delusions. It screamed at her that the rogues AIs were on her tail and they were catching up. Even with the boost to her physical stats, it wasn’t enough for some rogue AIs that had specialized in speed.

The railguns winked out of existence without taking down any additional rogue AIs. She could feel the mana pulse mines detonating, again not taking any rogue AIs with them. Either the AIs behind her were far stronger or it had been just bad luck. Maya didn’t know, but she pushed herself to increase her speed.

From her inventory she summoned the last of her pulse mines and then the grenades she had packed. The mines she tossed behind her, activating the proximity sensor to turn them into grenades of a sort. They detonated behind her and she heard the screams of a rogue AI caught in the blast. She didn’t turn to see what damage she had caused and since she didn’t get a notification about its death, the jury rigged pulse grenade didn’t kill it.

The two kilometers between the shore of the lake and the trash pile had seemed a fair distance when they had been sneaking across it, but as Maya ran flat out; the trash pile was suddenly looming over her. She spotted Bell; he was running on all fours, with two arms clutching the box of condensed mana.

Maya checked the readout from the sensor box on her HUD. Three rogue AIs weren’t far behind them, the rest seemed to have given up the chase or were enjoying the new spot they could occupy on the shore.


Rogue AI BH5475HH - Level 66

Rogue AI JB5714ED - Level 65

Rogue AI VF7511RE - Level 55


“Bell!” Maya yelled into her comm. “I’m out of mines and grenades!”

Without stopping, Bell summoned and dropped several helix satchels behind him. Maya snatched up the mines and then activated them, throwing them behind her as she ran. The pressure wave of the explosion pushed her forward, nearly causing her to stumble, but she was out of the blast zone quickly.

A rogue AI screamed in pain and Maya finally glanced back, to see BH5475HH had half of its legs blown off. The rogue AI crashed to the ground, its spasm of pain knocking down JN5714ED with it. The two rogue AIs crashed to the ground, causing the third to pause for a second to see what was happening

“Here!” Bell cried, gaining Maya’s attention. There was a Bell sized hole in the trash pile. Bell disappeared into it and Maya followed him.

She nearly collided with Bell as he turned around and began summoning the shotgun turrets he had packed. He was breathing heavily, but seemed fine. Maya skidded to a halt and helped him activate the turrets, aiming them down the short tunnel they had entered.

“See where this goes,” Bell said and Maya nodded, rushing into the darkness.

Maya paused as she neared the end of the tunnel, instead of the debris she was expecting, there was a hatch. She shrugged and pulled out her lock picking terminal, dismantling the control pad of the hatch with a practiced hand. It took all of a minute for her to override the locks and send enough power into it to activate the hatch. It hissed open and showed another dark room.

The shotgun turrets began thundering behind her, along with Bell’s own rifle. There was another screech of pain and the whole tunnel they stood in shuddered. Maya gripped the hatch frame for support and realized the tunnel wasn’t apart of the structure as it tilted slightly when the rogue AIs began tearing at the trash above them.

Maya pulled a scout rat from her Inventory and grinned as it began moving. They, like the ants, had been dead when the mana purge occurred, but with the high ambient mana this close to the lake, the rat scurried forward into the darkness, looking for danger.

“What do you got?” Bell asked, breathless.

“A room. Dunno what’s in it,” she responded.

“It’s better than what’s out here,” Bell said.

“We could be jumping from the frying pan and into the fire, buddy,” Maya said. The tunnel shook again and Maya noted that the metal began denting as the rogue AIs were trying to cut into it. “Okay, but who knows if this will protect us.”

Maya summoned another rat and set it down in the tunnel.

“Keep watch, little buddy,” she turned to Bell. “Age before beauty.”

Bell grumbled but hurried into the dark room, Maya followed suit, shutting the hatch and activating the lock on it. The hatch looked tough and sturdy, but that didn’t mean much if the rogue AIs could just dig through the trash pile to get to them.

Bell’s lights flickered on and Maya followed suit. They were in what looked like an airlock, bare metal walls and what looked like machinery built into the bulkheads. The room was a ten meter square, with the ceilings three meters high. On the far end of the room was another hatch.

“Wanna see what’s behind door number two?” Maya asked.

Bell grunted and then stopped. “Shotgun turrets are down,” he said.

Maya brought up the rogue tablet and spied through the rat. VF7511RE had punched a hole through the ceiling of the tunnel and managed to get behind the shotgun turrets. Maya frowned as she saw a design flaw in the weapons, they were designed to only traverse a 180 degree arc. The rogue AI made quick work of them, before turning and stumbling on a satchel mine Bell had left behind.

The room shuddered with the explosion and the rat was destroyed. “Aw, man. We lost the rat.”

Bell grinned. “Got the rogue AI, though,” he said.

“Tender’s gonna be pissed one of his rats bought it through friendly fire,” Maya said, summoning another rat.

Bell sighed heavily and sat down in the middle of the room. “We almost died,” he said.

“Just another day in the rainbow sky hellscape,” Maya said. “We got the condensed mana, so that’s a plus. In addition, we also slagged four rogue AIs and injured a couple more.”

“And we’re trapped in here,” Bell added.

“As long as you don’t snore, we should be good,” Maya said. She returned to the hatch they had entered through and re-opened it. Heat blasted into the room, raising the temperature and causing her to flinch. The helix explosive had turned the entire tunnel into a molten inferno. She immediately closed the hatch again. “Looks like the exit is blocked.”

“It’ll cool down within a standard day, then we can dig our way out,” Bell replied.

“Might be rogue AIs lying in wait. I’m tapped for explosives and turrets. I’ve got some weapons, but nothing that’ll do more than tickle anything above level 50.”

Bell began setting down several rifles and other weapons on the floor.

“Well, I can’t fault your overpacking ways,” Maya said crouching down before the weapons. They were all mid-grade, not the strongest, but enough to hurt the rogue AIs. “I think we can overcharge a couple of these, might be able to pull some components out and make another railgun.”

“They’re fine as they are,” Bell said defensively.

“Railguns are the way to go, man. Did you not see the awesome way they killed three rogue AIs?”

“They’re power hogs,”

“We literally have a can of condensed liquid mana,” Maya pause and looked at the canister of that held the mana. “I threw the black goo net I was carrying into the mana lake and it powered the railguns. The black goo net isn’t supposed to work like that, its supposed to pull in and store the mana. The net was designed to hold only 25kg, but I saw the readings, it was pulling in over 25Mg. The guns would have melted just from the amount of power burning through them after a few more shots, there was too much mana and it was already corrupting the components.”

“What does that mean?” Bell asked.

Maya shrugged. “We got some time, it’s time to experiment,” she said. Bell groaned. “Don’t give me that, instead give me your black goo pack.”

Bell undid the backpack he had been wearing. “Its nearly depleted,” he said.

“Cool. Just what we need,” Maya set the pack down before the mana canister.

“What are you doing?” Bell asked.

“I’m gonna pour some of this mana into the black goo and see what happens.”

“Are you crazy?”

“Science, pal. Science.”

Bell mumbled something and then stood up and moved himself to the far corner of the room. Maya chuckled and opened the black goo container. She shone her light into the dark liquid and then began pulling some tools out of her inventory.

“From what I can tell, the mana can’t be tapped directly, because it’s mana. But the black goo seems to absorb and transfers it fairly well, so that means it somehow goes from the usual protomana to full on generic machine using mana,” Maya said. “That means it’s either bypassing the protomana stage or it’s boosting the black goo’s conversion of protomana into generic mana, or hell, it might just be generic mana.”

“And adding that condensed mana to the black goo is supposed to solve that question?” Bell asked.

“Well, if it is condensed mana and the black goo can convert it, I wanna know how much power we’re looking at in this can. If it’s a lot, we’re golden, if it’s not that much, we’re gonna have to take another trip to the lake. We don’t know how long this whole mana purge is going to go on, so best we prepare.”

Bell merely nodded from his corner.

“50 kilogens,” Maya muttered as she tested the black goo. She undid the top of the condensed mana canister and leaned back as brilliant light seemed to rise out of it. “Why does it glow?”

“It’s mana,” Bell said. “What else would it do?”

Maya didn’t have a response, so she set out the tools she had. Tender had built or salvaged some alchemy tools that he used while he made the black goo, Roci had taken over from him after he left, but Maya still had the original tools he had created. She used what amounted to an eye dropper and slowly extracted an amount of condensed mana.

She cautiously moved the dropper to the black goo container and deposited there. The golden liquid faded away as it seemed to sink into the black goo, soon it was gone and the black liquid seemed unchanged. Carefully she closed the condensed mana canister again and then tested the black goo pack.

“If this black goo was fully charged, we would be looking at about 2Mg of power from it, but as this was the last batch that Roci made, it was still absorbing ambient mana so we only had half of that.” Maya set the tester onto the pack and stared. “Oh, shit,”

“Should I flee for my life?” Bell asked, leaning forward trying to see the tester readout.

“Uh, I added ten milliliters of the condensed mana…” Maya trailed off shaking her head. “The tester is saying that there’s a hair over two million gens in the black goo now.”

“Two million?” Bell said slowly. “Out of 10ml?”

“Yup.”

“How much is in that canister?”

“It was supposed to hold twenty kilos of black goo, and it has the density of water, so twenty liters…” Maya said. “Twenty thousand milliliters or about… four billion gens.”

Bell sat there quietly for a long time. “That’s a lot,” he finally said.

Maya sat down heavily and looked at Bell. “We’re mana rich,” she said, grinning. She looked at the container and grinned again. “How much can it hold?”

Bell groaned.

***

“Oh, shit!” Maya cried, throwing herself away from the black goo container. She had been carefully adding 10ml increments of condensed mana to the black goo and it seemed to be absorbing it without issue.

Five hours had passed since Maya had begun the experiment. Bell had gotten bored of her slow moving of 10ml to and from containers, then testing the mana amount, then doing it all over again, therefore he had decided to explore the chamber they were in. He took Maya’s lock picking terminal and tried leveling his own lock picking knowledge.

The structure they sheltered in extended another thirty meters into the trash pile before coming to an abrupt end. It seemed the structure had been apart of some kind of environmental station, as there were signs of airlocks and suits used for harsh exterior environments.

There were no signs of the original occupants, but Bell had found what looked like a medical diagram of the creatures. They were squat fleshy creatures with bulbous heads and long thin arms that ended with two fingers and a thumb. The remaining rooms didn’t hold much, besides some equipment and tools, but nothing they needed.

Bell decided to remain as far away from Maya as she experimented so he settled in at the far end of the structure.

Maya cried out and threw herself from the black goo container that had up until that point been easily containing the condensed mana. She was at half a liter of condensed mana and the black goo was holding onto it fine, but as she added the last 10ml, the black liquid began bubbling and churning.

She barge through the hatch and slammed it shut behind her. Bell was already on his feet and glaring at her with an “I told you so” look on his face. It didn’t last long as he saw the fear in her eyes and then summoned his armor back on and hid in an alcove that offered some protection.

Maya joined him and together they waited for ten minutes, but nothing happened. Maya eased out of the alcove and moved toward the hatch.

Bell mumbled something, but she didn’t hear it. She pulled out her tablet and activated it, the scout rat she had left behind was still alive. She had it approach the black goo container and stared with puzzlement at what she was seeing.

The black goo container had ruptured, the marsani shell of the container was lying in pieces around the room, but she didn’t spot any of the black goo on the deck. Instead where the black goo had once sat was a gleaming white crystal that radiated its own light.

“Holy shit,” Bell said, startling Maya as he said it in English.

“What is it?”

“Holy shit,” Bell said again, this time a grin formed on his face. “It’s a tesseract.”

“Like in the Marvel movies?” Maya asked. “Also, it’s not a cube, either, more…. Oblong and ridged.”

“It’s not the shape that matters,” Bell said.

“Then why call it a tesseract? A tesseract is a four dimensional cube thing, right? Why not call it a Marvelous Mana Crystal?”

“Because when tesseracts are created, they’re created in laboratories and they come out cube shaped,” he said. “Plus, it’s what the System calls it.”

“Fine,” Maya muttered. “What does a tesseract do, then?”

“It’s a Tier 4 creation that powers the greatest an most powerful devices in the known multiverse,” Bell breathed. “It’s the pinnacle of SIL crafting and system tech, the creation of a crystal that can store vast amounts of mana and at the same time allow that mana to be used by anything, SIL, AI, or machine.”

“Universal mana?” Maya asked.

“Yes.”

Maya looked at the crystal on the tablet and then back at Bell. “That only took half a liter of condensed mana to create,” she said. “We still have over nineteen liters remaining.” Maya continued staring at the crystal. “How the hell is this even possible, you said Tier 4, right? Shouldn’t there be a huge and expensive process to create these things? Instead all it required us to do was add condensed mana into it until it changed itself.”

“The black goo hasn’t existed outside of this dimensional plane,” Bell said. “Perhaps that was all it took. Plus, condensed mana never forms naturally, it’s only created by SIL using a huge amount of time, machinery, and energy to create it.”

“By my calculations, there’s a hundred million gens in that there rock,” Maya said. “We need to get back to the Hangy. We need to get back and prepare.”

“Prepare for what?”

“We’re gonna steal us a god damn lake,” Maya grinned.

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Comments (7)
user avatar
User #28785581 - 13 Oct 20 06:38
I hope she doesn't try to sell them, I can see everyone in the Multiverse coming to raid her store for those.
user avatar
User #13235254 - 13 Oct 20 17:27
Thank god for sane and greedy MC. Most authors would have their MC just celebrate here and return to ship boringly. If Maya, can inventory the [Tesseract], she should make a fortified base a short distance away from the Lake: aka [Tesseract Production Facility] and leverage it to make tesseracts and store them in [Inventory]. SOP: rush to Lake, fill the jerry-can, rush to prod facility, [Rinse and Repeat] Does this mean that EVERY Rogue AI at the Lake will turn into an [Unstoppable Tier-4 Monster]. If so, it's curtains for the Sullivan Survival Society.
user avatar
User #40375755 - 13 Oct 20 19:15
Unlikely. A T4 power source does not make a T4 construct.
user avatar
User #5783303 - 13 Oct 20 01:46
I hope she can store the Damn thing.... Else it should attract all AI and high tier SIL to it.
user avatar
User #10418600 - 12 Oct 20 21:11
Interdimensional Lake Thief, Wanted for Crimes against the Rogue AI Lake State.
user avatar
User #7945544 - 12 Oct 20 20:48
It’s awesome that Maya always thinks big :D
user avatar
User #34671248 - 12 Oct 20 22:39
Maya is a praticioner of "Tactical Retreat", and coming back to trop the sh*t on her enemies 😆
B2-34 - Watering Hole 2020-10-09T18:11:49+00:00

“I must say that’s the most insane thing you’ve said in the last few months,” Bell said. “I thought you had gotten better in your decision making.”

“What’s insane about heading toward the mana bloom while scores of high leveled rogue AIs are flapping, crawling, rolling, and skipping their way toward the only mana source that exists?” Maya asked.

“All of it.”

Maya chuckled as she looked toward the west. “There’s mana in that direction. We need mana. We need it to survive and we need to know if we can take some of that mana back with us, inside the black goo or batteries.”

“It’s still an insane attempt,” Bell said.

“Well, we can just take a gander at what’s up over there, then. We mosey on over, have a look-see, then skedaddle if the shit hits the fan, alright?”

“Half of what you just said doesn’t make any sense,” Bell said.

“I’ll take that as a yes.” Maya grinned.

“We don’t have anything to travel the distance, anyway,” Bell added. “The rover runs off of mana.”

“We still have your trike,” Maya replied. “It’s been sitting in storage for months now, just waiting for the right moment to come out and save us.”

“It has no will of its own. It is a mechanical machine,” Bell stated.

“I suppose I am staying?” Yosi asked.

“Sorry, gal, you pulled the short straw. Plus Bell is the only one that can pedal that trike of his. Also Badblood needs someone to watch over her. We shouldn’t be gone that long, although…” Maya looked at the distant light, “I have no idea how far it is.”

“On this terrain I can pedal up to twenty kilometers an hour, up to six hours before I have to rest.”

‘Okay, that’s about a hundred and twenty kilometers, if it’s farther than that, we’ll just come back. At a minimum of a standard day.”

***

Maya couldn’t stop grinning as she and the others quickly set up cabling to power the lights in the mess hall. Junior and his vats of clones were a needy bunch, in addition Yosi required access to her computer along with the tablet that ran the rogue AI drones.

She spent a few hours working on other things she might need, as there was no mana to activate the turrets she disabled a few of them and loaded up on the pulse mines she had created. They after all were going where the rogue AIs were headed and she knew how easily their luck could turn. After a few more hours of preparing they were ready to leave.

“Stay safe, Yosi. We’ll be back with a tale to tell and hopefully a source of mana,” Maya paused and crouched before the woman, smiling at her. “A Sullivan must always be at Winterfell. If things go sideways, you have all the supplies and extras. Find Whiteclaw and her crew if we don’t come back.”

“You’ll come back,” Yosi said. “I shall protect Badblood and secure the Hanganathorie.”

“We’re off then, see you in a day or so.” Maya waved and then headed down through the dark ship and out into the dark world beyond.

***

Maya wasn’t afraid of the dark, but she found herself shivering slightly as they made their way across the lightless landscape. The sensor box mounted on the front of the trike was their only source of sight, a weak burst scan creating a wireframe image of everything before them for nearly half a kilometer.

They traveled in silence, the darkness around them was a suffocating weight, extinguishing all words and idle chatter. Bell continued methodically pedaling with his large upper arms, while Maya stood behind him in the small cargo area, trying to spot anything that was either danger or of interest.

They came across their first find two hours after leaving the Hangy. A body of an ant lay before her, one of the creatures that had been attacking the Hangy not so long ago. There was no damage to the metallic shell of the creature.

Maya walked up to the body. She heaved it over onto it’s back and saw that it was whole and hale. “Think it’s mana was purged?” she asked.

“Most likely. Perhaps due to it’s small stature and relative weakness, its black goo wasn’t enough to sustain it.” Bell replied.

Maya nodded. She adjusted the sensor box’s range and sent out a larger burst. Immediately it responded with dozens, then scores of hits. They were at the edge of a field of dead ants, hundreds lay motionless in the dirt, lying where they had run out of mana.

“If mana returns, they’ll all wake the fuck back up,” Maya said.

“Indeed.”

“Feel like taking a break from all that pedaling?” Maya grinned.

***

Maya sat down heavily and drained a bottle of water. She was sweating in her armor and gasping for air. Even with her improved Physical stats, she felt the burn in her arms and ache in her hands. A few minutes of chopping had turned into two hours of rushing about decapitating as many of the ants as possible.

It wasn’t just the fact that the ants would awaken if mana returned, but after Maya had decapitated the first ant, she had run a quick scan of its head. Within it lay a complete rogue AI processor, low-grade, but with enough computational power to create more drones.

Brain power was a resource they were running low on. They had the processors they had purchased from Haltor’s World, but most of that was tied up in creating sensor boxes for the turrets, and their last trip hadn’t netted them much besides a few additional ones. Tender on the other hand was well versed in creating bodies from the rogue AI manufacturer that Maya was still trying to figure out how to use.

The ants low grade cores could be wiped, a process they had learned when making the scout rats, and reprogrammed to do all kinds of things. With an entire field of hundreds of ants, Maya indulged in the free resources.

Bell sat down heavily beside her, he pulled off his helmet and let out a grunt of breath. “This is more work than I thought it would be.”

“Yeah, totally. I’ve got two hundred and twenty heads, how about you?”

“Two hundred and thirty nine,” he said.

“How? I’m stronger than you?”

“Not faster though.”

Maya chuckled. “It would be far better just to wipe their processors and dump a new program into them, but that would take about half an hour for each ant,” she said. “If we did it that way, we could have kept them whole, allowing us to use them as they are.”

“We can always come back for the bodies,” Bell said. “If they aren’t harvested and recycled by other rogue AIs.”

“Yeah.”

It had been entirely the smaller ants that had succumb to the mana purge, Maya hadn’t seen the larger beetles or even the bigger artillery bugs. There was also the absence of the smaller, nimbler ants she had seen in the fighting. It was possible that they were a higher grade than the regular ants, with access to better refined black goo.

“No rest for the wicked, Bell,” Maya said groaning as she got to her feet. “I want a thousand ant heads by morning!”

***

“Jesus, it’s a watering hole of death,” Maya gasped.

“That’s what you’re focusing on?” Bell said. “Not the massive glowing lake of mana before us?”

“Yeah, that’s pretty cool too, but look at that.” Maya gestured toward a massive crab like rogue AI battling a T-rex looking rogue AI. They were tussling at the edge of a massive glowing pool of light, miles across and stretching far into the horizon.

They had reached the edge of the trash piles, where the endless plains that Maya had first arrived began. Instead of the flat plains, they were greeted with what appeared to be a glowing sea.

Bell had nearly crapped his pants as they paused at the last trash pile to ascend its peak. From the top they could see the near endless expanse of the glowing sea of liquid, the only liquid Maya had ever seen naturally in the rainbow sky hellscape. It, of course, was not liquid. Bell had marveled at it and through some stuttering and shocked expressions, claimed it was liquid mana.

It was as liquid as the black goo or even mercury, in that it wasn’t liquid at all. Instead it was mana so concentrated that it went beyond the solid that were mana stones and became a liquid.

“It isn’t just concentrated mana,” Bell said, practically drooling at the sight before him. “It’s the purest form of mana that’s only been created in labs or by high tiered SIL, and then in only small amounts. A single liter of this could power the Cage for days. This entire lake… it could power an entire galaxy for years.”

“So a lot of mana,” Maya said nonchalantly.

“That doesn’t even begin to describe it. At this concentration, in this amount, it can warp reality, it can turn those weak rogue AIs into full fledge monsters. It can be used to create the most amazing enchantments and devices that have rarely been seen in the multiverse.”

“Yeah, we’re totally going to have to get our hands on this,” Maya said. Bell nodded in agreement. “There’s a ton of liquid mana there for everyone, why are they fighting over it?”

“They’re rogue AIs, they fight for everything,” Bell replied.

Maya thought over his words and shook her head. One would imagine that artificial intelligences would be logical and calculating in the extreme, but from her experiences they were more animal like in their thinking. Mana harvesting being the top priority of their existence.

From the trash pile where Bell and she sat, they watched as hordes of rogue AIs surged and fought one another in pitched battles that ranged from one on one to a hundred to one.

They didn’t need their sensor box to see, instead the entire area was lit up with mana bloom, the interaction between various natural elements and high concentrations of mana. There was so much mana in the air that Maya could feel it tingling on her skin, enough that Bell had said the black goo packs they were carrying to power their computers were recharging faster than before.

“What I’m pretty curious about,” Maya said, chewing on a ration bar, “is that this was a flat plain and now it’s a lake. This entire plane of existence is one flat plain, no hills besides the trash piles. Where did the lake come from?”

“You said you traveled through here, perhaps its the place where this lake forms every time the System does maintenance. You said nothing existed out here, perhaps this is why.”

“Good point,” Maya said finishing her bar. “Well, let’s go see if we can collect some mana.”

***

“The trick of being sneaky is not to be seen,” Maya said, pulling out a device from her inventory. She had cleaned out her inventory before their scouting mission and in doing so had discovered some of the items she had forgotten she had packed away long ago.

One being the cloaking device that was harvested from a rogue AI long ago. The last time they had used it was when Shen had said hello by cutting a hole into the Hangy and sending in his zombies to fight and capture them.

It produced a small cloaking field and was a huge power consumer, but with the heavy ambient mana this close to the lake, their black goo packs were being overcharged. It was a two kilometer trek across the empty gray plain to reach the nearest edge of the lake, but that area was being patrolled and fought over by a group of spider-rhinos and condor-hydras that constantly clashed while trying to sup from the waters of life.

Maya didn’t fully understand what liquid mana was, for her it was just concentrated mana, but Bell seemed to be drooling at the sight of it. She began to fully realize what it meant when she watched a beaten and battered rogue AI drag itself into the mana pool and then a few minutes later, surge back out gleaming with power and completely healed.

There was a lot of fighting going on around the edge of the lake, but Maya saw that there wasn’t a lot of dying going on. The torn, shredded, and battered rogue AIs would limp to the lake and then replenish themselves, then go back to fighting once more.

“I don’t think they’re fighting for control over the lake or just to fight. Most of these rogue AIs have some sort of special attack, like Big Snake. I don’t see anyone using them,” Maya said. “They’re leveling and evolving.”

She watched as a rogue AI emerged from the waters bigger and stronger than before, returning to a fight with its former combatant and dominating them in moments. The loser crawled its broken way back to the pool and the process started all over again.

Bell frowned and they continued watching for a while longer. “You’re right. They are evolving. Just what we need.”

“We do this quick and fast, don’t let them see us and don’t let them touch us.”

Maya had emptied an entire vat of black goo, acquiring nearly 5Mg of mana which she divided up into twenty-five kilogram jerry cans of black goo. She had taken the time and a little bit of mana to create straps for the cans, turning them into backpacks. She had ten packs in all, with enough mana to get them to their destination and back again.

Things had changed as Maya wasn’t just wanting to fill the black goo pack with ambient mana, she wanted to take some of the liquid with her. She dumped out a can of black goo, grimacing at the waste and prepared herself for the charge forward.

Bell warned that such a mana concentration, the liquid mana would outright kill them if they touched it. When liquid mana was created, it was a dangerous thing, with a lot of safety precaution and delicate procedures to handle it. They had none of that here. Liquid mana should not exist in this form, it would have dissipated long ago, but instead the lake seemed stable.

They waited for nearly four hours before making their move. The fighting and evolving of the rogue AIs ebbed and flowed with time, at moments there was a constant brutal battle going on and other times, there was peace and tranquility as all opponents were too battered to keep fighting. Maya watched as smaller rogue AIs, probably decent leveled but not geared to brawling, snuck in and grabbed to go boxes of the mana juice. That sight had formed Maya’s own plan, if the little rogue AIs could snatch up some and scurry away, she could too.

The fighting came to a stop as two massive rogue AIs beat the ever living hell out of one another and both collapsed far from the shore of the lake. They had claimed a large area, nearly half a kilometer wide and any who trespassed was immediately stomped to death.


Rogue AI BV5472EW - Level 60

Rogue AI GI72143AA - Level 62


The two titans rumbled and groaned as they tried moving their battered bodies toward the lake. Maya tapped Bell on the shoulder and they began hustling forward. The other rogue AIs were too occupied with their own fights or still fearful of the two that they hadn’t moved onto the spot yet.

Maya’s heart hammered in her chest as she made a slight detour around the collapsed rogue AIs. She could almost feel their red eyes tracking her; the cloaking field had come off a low leveled rogue AI and she wasn’t entirely sure it would work against the bigger high leveled AIs.

They skidded to a stop before the edge of the lake, Maya gasped, not from exertion, but from the sheer amount of mana that was pummeling her. It felt physical, like a body-sized fist slamming into her soul repeatedly. She slid the metal pack of her back and tossed it into the liquid, careful not to let any touch her.

The glug-glug noise of the liquid mana filling the metal can nearly made her laugh hysterically. It took many painful breaths for the can to fill and Maya reeled back her catch.

“Shit,” she cursed when she looked at the can. The liquid mana had easily run off the metal, but the straps she had made here of duracloth and they were soaked through with mana. The cloth straps nearly glowed with the amount of mana in it.

“Just inventory it,” Bell said.

Maya touched a spot on the can and willed it into her inventory. It didn’t budge.

“No go,” Maya said. “I think it can’t be inventoried.”

Maya pulled out her axe and sliced away the straps, working fast. All that remained was the boxy metal can and she hefted it under one arm and turned to flee.

They came face to face with another rogue AI.


Rogue AI FN5578TZ - Level 69


It was a centaur like creature, six legged and a humanoid torso that was covered in metallic tentacles. It lacked a head, instead it had a singular red eye within the center of its chest.

Bell and Maya didn’t hesitate, Maya swung her axe and threw it right for the red eye, it was followed closely by Bell’s own throwing weapon It seemed the rogue AI was as shocked as they were at seeing one another, it paused in its rush for the lake and it gave them the second they needed to attack.

The rogue AI let out a screech, deathly loud in the relative silence of the area they were in. Maya’s axe embedded itself into the red eye, but it didn’t destroy it. Bell’s aim was slightly off and chipped against the remaining lens before bouncing away. A tentacle pulled the axe out and Maya could see the cracked and broken outer casing of the red eye.

She tossed Bell the can. “Run.”

“What are-“

“Run!”

Bell didn’t say anything, instead fleeing beyond the stunned rogue AI and into the mana bloom lit world.

Maya didn’t waste anytime. She summoned a mana pulse mine, activated it and then threw it at the rogue AI before her. The burst of mana from the device was far stronger than she realized, shoving the massive rogue AI back and nearly throwing her into the mana lake.

She scrambled back to her feet and summoned the black goo netting she had carried before, then threw it into the mana lake. From it extended a long power cord, which she made use of by summoning a railgun turret. It was the heavier version that she had created to defend the Hangy. While it hadn’t been used that much in the fight against the swarm, Maya knew its worth.

The rogue AI recovered from the mine and seemed pissed. It roared and charged at her, but Maya had the turret up and running in seconds. She grinned as she saw the power output, far beyond what the black goo netting should have had. Liquid mana was saturating the black goo and from it power surged into the railgun, there was an almost unlimited amount of mana to draw upon.

The railgun cracked and there was a audible ping as the marsani slug slammed into the centaur rogue AI. She saw the metal of its chest dent, but not penetrate. The railgun spat another round and another, forcing the rogue AI back, but the slugs weren’t piercing its armored form.

Maya cursed and then summoned another railgun turret from her inventory. She connected it to the power source and it came to life, firing beside its companion. She then pulled the last railgun out and connected it.

Their fight went unnoticed as the other rogue AIs in the area were battling one another, but that didn’t last long. The three turrets combined slammed slugs into the centaur, Maya overriding some of the safety protocols to dump more power into the weapon. The black goo netting was sucking up mana faster than the three turrets could use it.


Rogue AI FN5578TZ - Level 69

Defeated

+ 100 QNXP gained

Lootable


As the centaur died, the turrets automatically turned and began firing upon the two damaged rogue AIs that had been watching the fight. Maya cursed.


Rogue AI BV5472EW - Level 60

Defeated

+202 QDXP gained

Lootable


Rogue AI GI72143AA - Level 62

Defeated

+768 QDXP gained

Lootable


Level up! (Level 52)

Level up! (Level 62)


“Oh, shit!” Maya cried.

She turned to see scores of red eyes turn upon her.

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Comments (5)
user avatar
User #300276 - 9 Oct 20 20:07
The liquid mana will sell for tons
user avatar
User #16050838 - 9 Oct 20 21:12
No way would u sell it unless u had to
user avatar
User #13235254 - 9 Oct 20 18:54
Yeah time for a [Levelling Spree]. I hope Maya *really* [Loots] the corpses this time. Just imagine if you are are a [Mage Class] in that area. [Infinite Grand Fireballs].
user avatar
User #5927544 - 12 Oct 20 18:35
Set those turrets on autofire, load them with ammo, and RUN BITCH!!
user avatar
User #24690460 - 9 Oct 20 18:34
Thats one way to power level.
B2-33 - Purged 2020-10-08T15:15:24+00:00


Maya had to give Yosi credit where it was due. She had been the main face of the trading in Ibadan and although Maya hadn’t gone over what she had purchased or traded or even sold, one thing Yosi had obtained was a decent amount of gasoline. As vehicles and generators of newer make didn’t work anymore due to the mana saturation doing weird stuff to the electronics, Yosi had gotten a fairly good deal on gasoline.

Although life had changed for Maya, she still kept the small emergency bag that had originally been in the food truck all those months ago. It was a small duffle bag the held a simple first aid kit, some tools, and most importantly a small bundle of flares. In the beginning, her inventory would automatically separate anything within a bag, but as she got a hang of using her dimensional inventory she had realized she could make it keep everything within a bag with just a thought. Since then she had kept a few things on her that she figured she would need one day, fifty kilos of food, water, for herself, Yosi, and Bell, along with some pre-Integration items, like her old iPhone and other stuff.

Maya ignited a flare and wandered through the piles of items they had purchased from Haltor’s World and from Ibadan. She immediately found the gasoline stash, nearly forty gallons of fuel that were in everything from a milk jug to a steel jerry can.

She grabbed the five gallon jerry can and headed to another part of the ship where she had stored all of her ‘old’ stuff, everything she had salvaged from the Bonita before Big Snake had toasted her. Inside she found the original Honda generator she had used so long ago.

It felt odd using the pre-Integration technology and in a normal world, it wouldn’t’ have worked, but from what she understood; the low ambient mana of the dimensional plane didn’t interfere with electronics like it did back on Earth or the rest of the Integrated Multiverse.

The generator roared to life, terrifyingly loud in the absolute quiet of the mess hall. She attached a work light and brought illumination back into the mess hall.

Bell, Yosi, and Badblood were unconscious. Maya didn’t know what had happened, but it wasn’t too hard to guess. The System had purged all the mana out of the dimensional plane, that had been a brutal punch to the gut of anything that absorbed mana. Not only did the System suck the mana out of the dimension, it also sucked it right out of everything that used mana; SIL, machine, and AI alike.

Yet some things still worked, Maya’s dimensional inventory for one, along with her Skills, Abilities, and even the downloading engineering knowledge cubes were still active. She hadn’t been struck by the removal of mana in the dimension, most likely due to the System. It needed her to continue being its Point of Contact, so Maya assumed that it was some kind of residual protection that kept her from being knocked out.

Maya plugged in her phone and charger into the generator and smiled as for the first time in months the device lit up. She let it charge for a while, as she moved among her unconscious friends. They were breathing deeply and normally, showing no signs of distress or pain. She hoped they would be okay, as the extent of her medical knowledge was relying on Nan to do it.

“What the hell am I gonna do now?” Maya asked the empty room. There was no response. She pulled out a tablet and tried to get it to work, but like everything she had tried that used mana, it was dead. Maya sighed.

It had been months since she had been entirely alone, she realized. That first week had been hell, alone, scared, and with limited food and water. She had found the pub after that, then Bell, and finally Shen.

Maya looked around the mess hall and took a breath. She decided she needed to do something. The others would be fine, as there didn’t seem anything dangerous around anymore. Maya pulled out some extra duracloth and wrapped it around her marsani axe. After some minor experimentation she had a torch to light her way back to the surface.

The world outside shocked Maya so much she dropped the torch and nearly burned herself.

“Shit!” she cried, dancing back from the flaming axe.

She looked up at the sky and saw only absolute black. The sight sent a blast of fear down her spine that made her legs shake. The rainbow sky was gone, only a endless black greeted her. Maya cast her eyes around and saw that the world was pitch black also, the gloomy light she had gotten used to was gone and only her small patch of torch light illuminated anything.

Maya paused as she looked at the distant horizon. No, there was a light in the distance. It wasn’t bright, but in the absolute pitch black of the world, she could see it shining like some kind of beacon. The light came from the west, the orignal direction she had first arrived from. It was the endless flat plain of gray dirt that she had traveled across to reach the trash piles.

The heavy cube that was the Hangy’s mana core was silent and dead. She checked the batteries that were still hooked to it and saw that they too weren’t operational. Everything that ran on mana was drained. Maya continued onward and soon the Hab loomed over her as she made her way across the dark landscape. She nearly screamed as she came across the motionless figure of one of the defense drones. She nearly screamed again when it slowly turned its body toward her.

“Holy shit!” Maya cried, rushing toward the mech. She looked it over and saw that it was still functioning, albeit slowly. That meant its own mana hadn’t been drained completely.

Maya felt herself grinning. All the mana batteries and cores were all drained, but it seemed like the black goo was somewhat resistant to the mana purge. Maya’s grin immediately turned to a frown. Her defense drones weren’t the only thing that used black goo, every rogue AI did. Which meant all the rogue AIs were still operational.

Her frowned deepened as she realized that all the weapons she had, besides the few melee weapons, relied on mana to operate. Her guns, her explosives, and her turrets, they all relied on mana. But if the black goo wasn’t susceptible to the mana purge, or not as susceptible, that meant the giant vata of black goo she was cooking up was still useable.

“Pardon me, buddy,” Maya said as she popped open a maintenance panel on the drone. She fiddled with the internal connections and found what she was looking for, the mana battery. There was a small indicator that showed its charge levels, the drone was at seventy-five percent charge. “Sorry about this.” Maya detached the mana battery and then used a connector to attach it to her rogue AI tablet. The screen flashed once and then immediately died.

Maya frowned again and looked at the battery. A small depleted icon flashed and then it too went dark.

“What the hell?” Maya muttered. She reattached the battery back into the drone and saw the small indicator light flash, showing that it was charging. One percent.

There was another defense drone not too far away, so Maya moved toward it and did the same. This drone’s battery was at fifty percent and Maya extracted it. She plugged it into her tablet once more and it flashed and died once more. She plugged the battery back into the drone and watched as the battery showed it was charging once again, back down to one percent.

Her third attempt verified what she was figuring was happening. The mana purge was still going on, but for some reason the black goo within the drones was still holding onto it’s mana. The moment she pulled out the battery, it was sucked dry as she tried to use it. She didn’t remove the battery this time, instead directly connecting with the drone and watched with glee as her tablet blinked to life.

She ran a quick diagnostic and it showed that the dozen drones that were guarding the Hab were still operational, but they were on low power stand by. It was an automatic built in program that prevented the drones from fully running out of power, as to do so would cause a long restarting sequence. She noted that they were all burning through their batteries, nearly five percent an hour. Usually with the ambient mana their energy expenditure was steady, until they were in a fight, then they would have to topped up with mana from the cores.

Maya reactivated the ten useable drones and sent them to the hatch of the Hangy. They lined up in a defensive pattern and Maya hung on as the mech she was riding moved into position. She frowned as she saw the energy expenditure from the simple movement. On average the drones burned nearly five percent of their remaining power just moving a short distance.

The mana usage math wasn’t right. Maya ran the numbers and determined that they were using twenty times the amount of power they should have. She pulled out a few diagnostic tools and spliced them to the battery of the drone. It took a few minutes but she discovered she was correct. The drones were using far more power than they normally did, not only that but the tablets and devices she had hooked to the drone were drawing more power than they used to. Either that or the mana was being purged as it was being used.

Each of the defense drones ran off of a 500 kilogen battery, their bodies were large enough that the black goo within them could keep it seventy five percent charged. That would normally allow them about three standard days of constant patrol, but with the new power drain, they would only get about four hours of usage before they drained their battery and the mana left in the black goo.

Maya pondered in the dark for a moment, her torch having gone out and the only light coming from the tablet. She sighed and decided on a course of action.

They were still in some danger so Maya went the defensive route. She pulled out a sensor box and selected the drone with the lowest battery power to be the sensor drone. She splice the box to the battery and watched as it came to life. Maya then realized her computer wasn’t working either. She sighed and after a few more minutes managed to splice her computer to the battery also. A window appeared and Maya began adjusting the settings of the sensor box. The box wasn’t a power intensive unit, but it was still drawing a lot of the battery power. Maya estimated that she had a hundred hours of passive sensor ability on this drone before its black goo ran out of mana.

She then activated one of the drones, it was on standby mode and would be at reduced power usage. Maya figured she had twenty hours of power in the drone. That would mean it wasn’t going to be patrolling, instead it would stand guard beside the hatch and if anything arrived it would begin firing at them. Once that was done, Maya re-entered the Hangy, shutting down the sensor box until she got what she needed.

The black goo room was as dead as everything else, but Maya marched up to the test netting they had created long ago. It was a hundred square meter of netting that was able to hold over twenty five kilogens of mana. It had been untouched since Roci had last run a test on it and showed that the new method of making the netting was able to store more power.

Maya rolled up the netting, cursing as it tangled and bunched up as she tried moving it in the near darkness of the chamber. An hour and two torches later, Maya compressed the large netting into a meter wide ball. She was glad that the black goo netting was light and thin, otherwise the sheer bulk of it would have been a hinderance.

Afterward she attached a tool mana battery and began splicing wires and connectors to her computer and a series of mana lights she had found. After another few minutes she extinguished her torch and stood in a sphere of illumination.

Maya sighed basking in the light for a moment before heading toward the vat of black goo.

The black goo was a mixture of mana stones and other ingredients, not true alchemy, but more of a natural reaction. Like mixing Mentos and Coke together. There were ten vats of black goo. Each vat would be able toe create nearly ten thousand square meters of netting and once they impregnated the duracloth, would store up to 25Mg of mana. Currently all the vats were ready to be soaked into duracloth. Since Tender had left, the project was mostly abandoned, but Roci had been making more black goo as a side project. Maya was thankful for the little AI at that moment.

Once the Mentos reaction occurred, the black goo was ready to be used. Maya estimated that each vat would fill about five of the defense drones and they had been marinating for days now. She took out a tester and grinned when the readings came back with total of 50Mg for all the vats. It should have been nearly two hundred, but most were still charging and absorbing mana before it was purged from the dimension.

They had power, but with the two thousand percent penalty for using it, they weren’t going to be basking in mana for all that long.

Maya left the room and returned to the mess hall.

“You’re awake!” Maya cried, rushing to Yosi and Bell as they were sitting at a table. They looked like hell and stared at her with bleary eyes.

“What are you wearing?” Bell asked.

“Like it? It’s my mana purge collection.” Maya twirled a moment as the two stared at her with expressionless faces. “Fine. Here’s what’s going on.”

“No mana,” Yosi sighed after Maya had explained everything to them. “Is that why I feel so terrible? I feel like I’ve been sick for weeks and everything hurts.”

“I’m sorry about that,” Maya said. Yosi looked deflated, sickly, and absolutely tired, Bell wasn’t much different.

“But the black goo wasn’t purged,” Bell said. “There are still rogue AIs out there, then?”

“Yeah, that’s what I figured. I’ve got a sensor box scanning and a single drone operational, but they’re not going to last that long if there’s no ambient mana to recharge them.”

“How long do we have?” Yosi asked.

“I don’t know. If we stick to only lighting up this area, probably months with the vats of black goo we have. But if there is a fight, we’re looking at maybe hours to days. It’s too hard to determine right now. I think I have enough power to start up the Cage. I can get you three out of here if I ask the System. They promised me that I’d be allowed to send people back home if they wanted to leave and you have the golden ticket, Bell.”

“No. We’re not leaving,” Yosi and Bell said together.

“Badblood?”

“She’s from this place, maybe they’re immune to this mana purge,” Bell replied.

“She’s still out and probably will be for a couple of more days,” Maya said.

“We need mana potions,” Bell said. “I think it might work, I have four potions left over from a while back.” Bell took a breath and summoned a tube into his hands. It glowed a faint blue in color. He grinned and lifted it to his arm, but the moment it moved the glow faded and the vial seemed become inert.

“It’s depleted,” Bell said mournfully. He looked down at the vial and set it on the table. Maya stared at it and sighed.

“Everything we pull out of our inventory get’s drained,” she said. “The moment it leaves, mana purged. Even if you managed to get the potion to work, I don’t know if the purge would just rip it right back out of you.”

“We need mana,” Bell said. “We can’t remain in this state for very long. Our bodies will start breaking down if we don’t absorb some mana.”

Maya looked at the two and thought of something. “Maybe…”


***


“Will this work?” Yosi asked, hesitant but hopeful.

“I have no idea,” Maya said as all three stood above a black goo vat. “The mana in the black goo is not being drained. It is an area of concentrated mana, generic mana sure, but it’s still mana, right?.”

Yosi and Bell shrugged.

“It is an interesting theory,” Bell said looking at the black ‘liquid’. “Is it poisonous?”

“I don’t think so. Nan said it would be inert if consumed,” Maya replied.

Bell looked pained and exhausted from their short trek. He moved like an old man and Maya paused to wonder just how old he was. He had been level thirty when they met, that would mean he could live up to three hundred standard years, but after she had given him his share of the experience shards he, like Yosi, was now level thirty-nine.

“I’ll try it,” Bell said.

“Strip and fully submerge,” Maya said.

Bell grunted in agreement and then began pulling his ship suit off.

“Look away, Yosi. It’s pretty chilly in here,” Maya chuckled as the dinosaur woman hurriedly turned away.

“I feel that is a joke at my expense,” Bell grunted as he lowered himself into the vat. He let out a gasp of surprise as he sank chest deep into the vat. “I can feel the mana.” He grinned and then fully submerged himself.

After a long and concerning minute passed, Bell bobbed back up. A marked difference in his demeanor showed that the mana potion had been successful.

“It worked,” he said.

“Awesome. Now join him, Yosi.” Maya said.

“What?” the woman cried.

“He’s got the potion in his inventory, if he takes it out, it gets purged,” Maya explained.

Maya chuckled at their discomfort, not out of maliciousness but out of relief. They weren’t going to die, a little discomfort and awkwardness was better than death.

Once they were done, they wheeled in Badblood and did the same for her. She looked more terrible than she had been, but once she had been dunked and the mana potion added, she looked a lot better.

“I guess the purge only happens the one time,” Maya said as she watched Bell and Yosi move around with a pep in their step.

“I don’t think I can channel anything,” Bell said. “But my body is working fine, albeit a bit on the low side. That potion wasn’t that strong.”

“Can you make more potions?” Maya asked.

“I don’t think so. Creating a mana potion requires channeling mana into the potion. The quality of the mana potion along with how much mana is stored in it is a deciding factor. It takes nearly three times as much mana as the potion gives back and it can only be stored outside of dimensional containers for a few days before it goes inert. But I believe the saturation in the black goo was fairly heavy,” Bell said. “If we soaked ourselves in it for several hours, we might be able to absorb some of the mana.”

“But it’s generic mana, right?” Maya asked. “Shouldn’t that be impossible?”

“That mana should have been purged along with everything else,” Bell said. “Perhaps it does have some special properties.”

“Black goo for the win, I guess.” Maya grinned at Bell. “Now that you’re not going to die, let’s get planning on how to survive this whole ordeal.”

Maya opened her computer and pulled up a window. “Now, we have about-“

An alarm began screeching from the sensor box. Maya cursed, opened another window and shared it with the two. She looked at the screen and her eyes widen.

The passive sensor box created a wireframe image of what it had seen. In the pitch black sky above, a winged creature was flying.

“Is that a dragon?” Maya gasped. It looked like a dragon, long, reptilian, with massive wings that were as wide as the creature was long. She brought up the resolution and saw that it wasn’t a living being, but a rogue AI. It’s skin was metal and she could see the telltale red gleam in its eyes.


Ginishava - mid-grade, Tier 2


They all stared at the image of the creature for a moment, then the alarm blared once more. The sensor box produced another image of a different creature. It was a massive hundred legged creature that was scurrying across the gray dirt three kilometers from their position.


Rogue AI JU8547NZ - Level 80


The three exchanged glances and then the sensor box spat out more alarms.


Rogue VE8485UI - Level 90

Rogue YN7419LN - Level 77

Rogue AI GG5479VC - Level 62

Rogue AI WW7517CO - Level 57

Rogue AI XN8449MV - Level 99


“They’re all high leveled and they’re all going in the same direction,” Maya said. She looked at the two others. “Are they running from something or are they running to something?” Maya looked at the direction they were going and then snapped her fingers. “There was a glow on the horizon.”

“What kind of glow?” Yosi asked.

“I don’t know, but it was the only light out there. There’s no rainbow sky anymore and far off into the west was a light gleaming. Like a beacon or something.”

The three hurried from the Hangy and Maya winced at the alarm blaring once more. They felt a thump as something marched off in the blackness, according to the sensor box it was heading west.

They clamored to the top of the Hab, as it gave them a somewhat higher vantage point. Maya could see a silhouette of a trash pile and beyond it blue glow in the distance.

“Mana bloom,” Bell said immediately.

“You mean like due to high amounts of mana?” Maya asked.

“Yes. There is mana in that direction and everything over level fifty is going there,” Bell said.



Author's Note: I'm sorry about not posting yesterday, life comes at ya and you gotta tackle it before it scurries off. Tomorrow will be a regularly scheduled update. Hope you enjoy.

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Comments (2)
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User #13235254 - 9 Oct 20 18:23
Remove all the cheese from a continent and then keep them in one spot. Watch the Rats scurry to the [Trap].
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User #13235254 - 9 Oct 20 13:26
There seems to be a missing chapter between 32 and 33 ? The change is very abrupt - one moment they are all panicking and screaming and in the next moment Maya is calmy going through her duffel. I think you need a couple of paragraphs for continuity. The transitions between chapters are becoming quite abrupt even for a web serial.
B2-32 - Maintenance 2020-10-05T23:14:04+00:00


The armored beetle screamed as Maya shoved the sawed off railgun into its abdomen and fired both marsani slugs. The resulting explosion knocked her back, slamming her hard against the hull of the Hangy. She immediately threw herself forward as a hissing blade embedded itself in the spot she occupied.


The railgun was lost so she summoned the last weapon she had on her, a low-grade marsani axe. An ant reared up before her, it’s deadly blade appendages flashing in the gloomy light. Maya parried the descending blade and slammed into the torso of the ant with her shoulder and the full weight of her armored form.


As the ant staggered back, Maya spun throwing all her strength and momentum into the axe as it flashed in her grip. The marsani blade connected with the weak joint that held the bulbous head of the ant to its segmented body. A screech of metal sounded and Maya decapitated the ant.



Rogue AI Swarm - 11ARCN54B - low-grade, Tier 1

Defeated - lootable



She wasn’t safe yet, though, as the beetle she had shot was still kicking. Maya launched herself forward and slammed down the axe upon an exposed limb. It wasn’t any ordinary limb, instead it was a weapon mounted to one of the beetle’s many arms. The metal snapped under the blade and the plasma bolter fell away; with it the beetle’s main offensive weapon.


The ants were simple creatures, they swarmed and fought with melee attacks, but the beetles were mobile weapon platforms, carrying an array of plasma bolters and laser beam weapons mounted to a pair of their arms. They were slow moving, but heavily armored, and they were destroying their defenses.


The beetle reeled back but Maya gave it no reprieve. She snapped forward, embedding the head of the axe into the face of the creature, it was the weak point of the beast. The heavy marsani blade tore through metal and there was an audible crunch as something important broke. The beetle shuddered, black goo gushing from the hole in its face, then it crashed to the ground.



Rogue AI Swarm - 11ARCN54B - mid-grade, Tier 1

Defeated - lootable



Maya gulped in air and cast her eyes about the gloomy landscape. Before her were the bodies of three additional beetles and over two dozen ants, along with the remains of two canister turrets and a gatling turret.


There was little in the way of tactical thinking on part of the ants, they just swarmed. Dozens had swarmed the cluster of six canister turrets and a gatling turret; and they had been ripped part. When one went down, another ant was ready to take its place. They had taken the turret position by sheer attrition and the fact the turrets had run out of ammunition.

Maya stomped over to the canister turret and snapped open the large box shaped magazine that held long tubes of puck sized canister rounds. She pulled a arm length sleeve of canister rounds from her inventory and snapped it into place. The small indicator showing it was out of ammo flashed from red to green.


The gatling turret was a loss, as the ants had torn it up in a madden frenzy. It hadn’t gone down easily, though, taking down more than forty ants and two beetles before it was finally silenced. Maya checked the ammunition magazine and pulled out the remaining one hundred rounds before inventorying the whole thing. The turret base could still be salvaged and the sensor box was still operating.


Maya pulled out three replacement canister turrets, they were the last turrets they had. With Scotty on low power, there was no way they were making more turrets. He and Roci were working on the manufacturing module, claiming it didn’t need as much mana as the assemblers and they could begin making ammunition. They were also running low on ammunition.


The initial attack had begun with a swarm of over two hundred ants and ten beetles rushing her guns, that wave had been torn to shreds before they even reached the turrets. The second wave was suicide bombers, armed with explosives and shrapnel. They were fast and they were hard to hit, but when they were struck it was a terrifying thing to see. Whatever they were using as explosives created a ten meter smoking crater. Maya assumed it was some kind of plasma bomb and she wanted one.


The ants had changed their tactics once more, using smaller and harder to hit ants or armored ants to act as bullet magnets. They rushed, fell back, hid or forced the sensors to track and try to hit them, thereby wasting ammo. It had worked on one section of turrets; then they had swarmed the turrets with glee. The helix mines had did their work on dozens of them, but there were always more ants willing to die for the cause.


It had been two hours since the fight began and things were looking bad. Maya hadn’t figured on a fight that would take this long, the railguns were being held on standby just in case something bigger came along. Also, Maya had to shut down two of the railguns as their mana was needed to top off the smaller tool batteries.


Maya ran a quick diagnostic and swapped out the ammo for the surviving turrets. Afterward she summoned the threshold and entered the Cage.


She had contracted the Cage back to its original fifteen foot size; she formed a chair in the center of the room and sat down heavily. With the added emergency mana battery, she had four more hours of Cage time left. If the ants were going to draw out the battle, they would have to fall back to the Bonita’s Revenge as the Hangy didn’t have the BR’s defenses and weapons.


Maya opened a door back to the Hangy and walked out into the mess hall. It was empty, but she moved toward the manufacturing room as she heard thumping machinery and a blaring alarm.

She entered the room as Roci began shouting enthusiastically at something. Maya saw that the manufacturing module was up and running.


“Good news?” Maya asked.


“The best!” Roci cried. “The manufacturer works better than we thought. It’s accepted the schematics of the ammunition and now its beginning to make casings.”


Maya grinned as Roci held up a metallic bullet casing.


“We can make all the ammo we will ever need.”


“Fantastic news,” Maya said.


“Maya, we have another swarm approaching,” Yosi announced over her comm. Maya sighed and opened a window. On it she saw a large amount of the rogue AIs, the smaller ants, along with beetles, and behind all of them, massive lumbering artillery bugs.


“Damn it,” Maya hissed. “Get the railguns up and running. Take out those big bastards. Gotta go, kids. Good job, by the way. Glad you’re making progress!” Maya opened a door and raced through it, a moment later she was on the bridge of the BR.


“I believe the main weapon is a type of plasma thrower,” Bell said. “These rogue AIs seem to be using a simple plasma shell system, instead of the focused plasma beam that Big Snake used.”


“Whatever it is, it’s doing the job,” Maya said and watched as the hoard of rogue AIs began to assault a section of their defenses. They were using the same tactics as before, pushing forward the smaller and more nimbler of their kind to get the guns firing at them. Maya grimaced as she wished she had programed a more manual control over them. The sensor boxes were simple, if it wasn’t SIL or wasn’t recognized, they’d be fired upon. She could remote override the guns if she wanted, but she wasn’t able to remote fire them or control them.


The railguns powered up and Maya watched as the big artillery bugs were prioritized.

“I’m getting a lot of interference,”Yosi said. “I think they’re trying to jam our sensors.”

Maya watched as the targeting locks on the big bugs failed. She sighed. “It looks like the shotgun turrets and gatling turrets aren’t being effected, they’re only shielding their big guns. I can patch into the guns and fire them manually,” she said as she began to open a door.


“I’ll help,” Bell joined her in the Cage.


The air was filled with the sound of fighting, the sharp bark of the canister turrets and the cloth ripping noise of the gatling turrets filling the air. She could hear the screeches of the ants as they died and the heavy roars of the beetles as they were torn apart.


Bell and her stood on the very top of the Hangy where the railguns had been clustered. The ants had originally approached from the direction of the BR, but after they had been hit with missiles and beam weaponry, they had decided to come at them from a different front. Their weakest side being the area guarded by the turrets. The BR could, in theory, throw up a defensive shield that was effective against ship-to-ship fire.


She quickly connected to the targeting system of a railgun, double checking its load out and battery power. The three remaining railguns were all they had left to fight anything heavy that came their way. She regretted pulling two of them offline.


“All good?” Maya asked.


Bell nodded as he connected with the gun’s sensor box. Maya had to grin, only a few months before he had been solidly against the use of system tech. Now he used it like an old hand.


“Let’s show these ass-“ Maya choked on her words as pain burned through her head. She heard herself screaming, but she wasn’t the only one, Bell also cried out beside her.



WARNING!

Mana purging has begun.

Mana condensing will occur.

Take shelter.



“What the shit,” Maya cried as she got to her feet. Bell shakily rose to his own and looked around.


The sounds of battle had stopped, the guns fell silent and the ants were in full retreat. Did they get the message too? If they were running then something very bad was about to happen.


“Oh, crap.”


“That was the System,” Bell said.


“What is mana purging?” she asked. Bell shrugged.



I would suggest you remove your AI companions from this plane for the time being.


“I just got a message from the System,” Maya cried and summoned the doorway.



***



“Move, move, move!” Maya cried as she hustled Roci, Scotty, and Nan into the Cage.


“I don’t understand!” Roci cried back.


“The System told me to get your asses out of here. Whatever is happening with this mana purge is not gonna be good.”


“What is going on?” Roci cried again.


“Maintenance,” Maya said. “The god damn System is running maintenance.” Maya rubbed her arms, having taken off her armor. Her skin felt like it was tingling, as if electricity was flowing across it.


She had made the deal with the System, to be its Point of Contact as it did maintenance upon this plane of existence. That had been weeks ago and she realized she had put it in the back of her mind. It was something that was going to occur, but the System stated that it was going to happen over the course of five hundred standard years. She wasn’t expecting it to happen so soon, especially not now.


It was the feeling of dread she had been feeling all day. It wasn’t the swarm that was causing it, it wasn’t the fight they were in that made her feel it; the System was already using her to do its bidding and she somehow felt a small portion of that.


“Where are we going? We barely have three hours of mana left,” Roci asked.


“You’re going to be spending time with Tender. Gather up everything you can and get going. We need you out of here.”


She was glad she had kept the Cage operating. It would cost them a million gens to reconnect to the ISS, but there they would be safe for the time being.


“What about Badblood?” Nan asked, concern creeping into her voice. “She needs to be watched.”


“We’ll deal with it,” Maya said. “I need you all to leave now.”


Roci grumbled, but they worked quickly to detach Scotty’s AI core. Nan gathered up her own mana core and AI core and hustled into the Cage. Roci paused and then began loading up tools and supplies.


“What are you doing?” Maya demanded.


“I might get bored,” Roci said as she carried various pieces of machinery with her. “If the System is doing maintenance, it might be days or weeks or months before we can come back.”


Maya stopped and stared. “Oh, shit,” she said. The System worked not in moments, but in decades, centuries, and millions of years. It was focused on the long game. This mana purging and condensing might be going on for a long time.


“Alright. We have enough food and water to last us at least a year,” Maya said. That was their emergency stash, the one thing that Maya had been insistent that they create in case everything went tits up. There had been the addition of Badblood’s food, but if Nan was right, she could basically eat anything and be fine. “We have the cores and we can keep things powered. Junior’s growing strong.”


Maya felt a rising panic, but tamped it down. She looked around the manufacturing room and grabbed some tools and equipment, tossing them into the Cage.


“What’s that?” Roci asked.


“If this goes on for a long time, those astronauts are going to need your help. We’ll load up all the food that Nan was producing and hopefully that’ll be enough.”


“Is it really going to be a long time before this resolves itself?” Nan asked.


“I have no dang clue,” Maya said. “The System does things on its own time.”


Nan nodded and began packing up some of her own supplies. “I will need to maintain the health of the astronauts,” she said.


“Good point.”


It took half an hour to load up everything, all the while Maya felt as if her skin was slowly burning up. She could feel the System using her access to essence mana to change the world around them.

“Hurry up, people. I think whatever is gonna happen is happening soon.”


There was no time to greet or explain to Tender what they were doing. She sent a burst message to him and then they began shoving everything through into the new area that Tender and Veskari had built. Now that she had a visualization of the place, she could form the threshold on the interior bulkhead, no need to enclose one of the airlocks just to allow access.


Maya’s body began aching and she cried out for everyone to bail. Roci looked at her in worry.


“Be safe, Maya,” she said.



“Scram, kid. I’ll be fine.”


The door closed and Maya let out a gasp of pain. She shook and throbbed, the feeling seemed to only intensify as everyone had left the Cage. Maya collapsed the Cage and shutdown the power running through it. She felt the Tier 2 components begin crumbling around her as they reverted back to their standby status.


“How are you feeling?” Yosi asked, helping Maya to her feet.


Maya looked down at the little woman and grunted. “I feel like I have a fever and my skin is about to burst into flames. Otherwise, I’m good.” Maya chuckled and moved to a seat. Her head felt too big and her muscles were aching. It reminded her of the first time she had arrived into the RSH, waking up in her truck feeling as if she were hung over from a night of drinking. “Anything going on outside?”


“All is well. Bell is watching over Badblood and the sensors show no movement. I have not been able to contact Zono.”


“Oh, shit. I totally forgot about him,” Maya said. “Our defensive pact was to protect one another, but that turd just bailed.”


“I fear that the swarm was even too much for him to handle,” Yosi said.


“I don’t think he’d be taken down that easily. He’s probably chewing on a trash pile a safe distance away until he gets the all clear, then it’s back to pretending he didn’t flake on us the first chance he got.” Maya sighed and pushed away the issue with Zono. That mining barge was a weird creature, with his mysterious origins he wouldn’t talk about and the even weirder personality he had been programmed with.


Maya opened a sensor window and stared. “Oh, boy. That’s just creepy.”


She shared the screen with Yosi and both of them stared mesmerized by what was occurring. The rainbow sky was freaking out. Maya didn’t fully comprehend what she was seeing, but the normal vertical stripes that made up the sky were now swirling and warping. The multicolored sky was moving like an ocean, a stormy ocean, but that wasn’t all. Maya could see a color bleeding through, what looked like a patch of blue sky, brilliant and clear.


“What the shit,” Maya said softly.


“Chaos,” Bell said, suddenly appearing.


Maya looked up at Bell and frowned. “What?”


“That is chaos,” Bell said. “I have heard of it before, where essence mana bleeds into the multiverse, where it comes in contact with SIL thoughts and it manifests chaos.”


“That’s crazy talk,” Maya said staring in awe. “It’s blue skies.”


“No, it is not,” Bell said firmly. “No one knows why, but it looks different to each species of SIL. The blue skies you claim to see for me is a void of teeth, gnashing and gaping.”


“Jesus,” Maya said. “That’s what you see?”


“I see green grass,” Yosi said. “Covered in the faces of people I knew.”


“Holy crap,” Maya muttered, shuddering. “What’s going to happen?”


Bell shrugged. “Its chaos, anything could happen. It could destroy us all or it could cough up a single feather,” he said.


“So wait and see?” Maya groaned and rubbed her arms. The strange feeling that had been effecting her was beginning to ease. But her own worry began to rise. She did not like not knowing what she was facing and now the System had thrown some crazy chaos BS at them.


“Hopefully this will be o-“


The rainbow sky flashed, the colors seem to invert for a long second and then it all became blue. It was a brilliant blue, but it wasn’t like the blue skies and sunlight she was expecting. It bathed the entire plane in a harsh blue light. Maya flinched, Bell and Yosi looked away in fear.


“Can you feel that?” Bell gasped.


Maya frowned, but then she looked around the mess hall to see the lights suddenly flicker and begin to fade.


“The mana,” Bell said. “It’s like it’s being sucked away.”


Yosi and Bell let out a gasp of pain and they crumpled to the floor. Maya rushed to them and saw that they weren’t injured, already moving and beginning to get back to their feet.


“I’m tapped,” Bell said shakily. “Its Mana Depletion. All the mana we’ve been absorbing was just ripped out of us.”


Maya quickly opened another window and checked the sensors. The computer seemed sluggish and the screen before her flickered.


“Oh, shit,” she said when she saw the readings. “There’s no ambient mana.”


“That’s impossible,” Yosi said. “Unless it’s a non-Integrated universe.”


“Look at that,’ Maya gasped. The brilliant blue sky had faded and what she saw shook her terribly. The entire sky erupted in what she could only call lightning, but it wasn’t lightning. Where lightning traveled in branches and crooked lines, what she saw came down in thick white bars from the sky.


It rained down; Bell and Yosi cried out once more and then the world went dark.




/Note

Excuse the late post, Patreon was being weird and it's been a long day. Thanks for reading and your support!






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Comments (2)
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User #3712562 - 6 Oct 20 00:17
Was it just me or did that feel super short?
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User #28785581 - 6 Oct 20 06:26
I think Maya and the others are gonna be stuck in the RSH for a while, considering there's no ambient mana to charge the Cage anymore. Well, I guess they could go mining for mana stones or something...
B2-31- Swarm 2020-10-02T18:34:59+00:00


“How do these assholes know exactly when to crash our party?” Maya demanded as she exited the Cage onto the bridge of the Bonita’s Revenge. Bell looked up with relief as she entered, followed by Yosi and Nan.

Roci stood by the threshold and grumbled as Maya sent the Cage back to the Hangy and the mess hall. She was on offloading duty as Maya dealt with the rogue AI attack. She pulled up the view screen and pulled out a rogue tech tablet connected to Tender’s mech-drones and scout rats.

The mech-drones were in a defensive stance around the Hab, as it lacked any kind of defense. Most of the Hab was being dismantled anyway, as Maya slowly tore out parts of the structure and then rebuilt the damaged areas of the Hangy where she, Yosi, and Bell required quarters and workshops. Eventually she would remove all the medical equipment, but with Badblood occupying it, that would have to wait.

“I didn’t expect you to take the entire forty hours,” Bell said.

“Sorry about that, Nigerian princes wanted to give us money,” Maya replied. “Plus it was only thirty eight and a half hours.”

“I shall man the scanners,” Yosi said.

“I shall return to the Hab and check on Badblood,” Nan said. “Unless you require my assistance here.”

“No, Nan. If we get something blown off, we’ll call you. Set the Hab to repel boarders until the All Clear is sounded,” Maya said and took a seat on her captain’s chair. She had did as she once promised and installed a swivel chair. The cheap low-grade view screen showed panned the area where the rogue AIs were building up. “Any word from Zono?”

“He called in the sighting,” Bell said. “You did not open a threshold to this side for the last ten hours.”

“Yeah, our bad, bud. We were on a spending spree back at Haltor’s World.”

“Anything good?”

“Nan stocked up on your supplies and we got a lot of explosive gel to make more ammo. Plus we killed a giant whale and didn’t even get any of its meat as a thank you.”

Bell sighed. “I am getting dreadfully sick of ration bars. What I would give for a bowl of Terrigos stew.”

“We did get word from Peg, looks like we’re gonna be rich. The enchanted gear are hot ticket items in the Sword Union,” Maya said. She opened a window and connected to the cluster of railguns that sat upon the Hangy, then slaved the targeting system to the BR’s own sensors. “Fire at will, Yosi.”

“Me?” the woman gulped.

“Why not? We’ve got some beam weapons, some good old rockets, and a few additional railguns that Shen built onto this ship, not to mention what we created as defenses. It’s time to give this girl a good workout.”

“I fear that we aren’t going to be able to sustain the amount of enchanted gear we initially gave him,” Bell said. “We’ve stripped all of the officer and high leveled quarters, before you even left. I would estimate there’s another ten million credits worth of items remaining, but beyond that we’ll need a new source of income,” Bell said.

“Yeah, don’t worry. I think if we get the black goo nets up and running, we might have a top seller on our hands.”

“If we ever get around to it,” Bell said.

“Easy there, pal. It’s just that we’ve got a lot of things on our plate. We need to level up to the industrial age first. We got the tech and the knowledge, we just don’t have the base to make everything we need.”

Maya felt the rumble of the BR and looked to the screen to see a white blast of an explosion that wiped out a rank of rogue AIs. The creatures weren’t that tough. They were dog sized ant like creatures, six legged, with a small head, a thorax, and an abdomen that glowed as it charged up a beam attack. There were also one a hundred of them.

Rogue AI Swarm - 11ARCN54B - low-grade, tier 1

“That’s an odd designation,” Maya said.

“It’s a rogue AI swarm, from what I’ve heard, they don’t have levels as we know it, but are considered… machines. I suppose. They have grades and are all apart of a collective hive mind,” Yosi explained. “The higher the grade of the swarm the worst they are. They’re smart, brutal, and nearly unstoppable when they set up a base and really get to work.”

“A singular mind controlling all of them?” Maya asked.

“No,” Yosi replied. “It’s a type of super organism. Each unit of the swarm contributes processing power to the overall hive, so the more units the smarter it is.”

“So, the more of the little guys we kill the dumber it gets?” Maya asked.

“Basically. Dealing with swarms is about attrition. If one manages to get away, it can start the whole process over again. That’s why they’re the worst. The Nerigana had a few systems that were overrun by swarms. ”

Maya drummed her fingers on her chair arm. “How dangerous are these things?” she asked. If they could take out a whole solar system, what would that mean for them? Their entire defense measures hung on the BR’s own weapons and barely two dozen turrets.

“Depends on the grade and tier of the swarm,” Yosi replied. “This looks like it’s a low grade, Tier 1 swarm… so it shouldn’t be too difficult. I’ve heard that it usually takes a entire company of Nerigana soldiers to clear out a low-grade hive.”

“Not to difficult?” Maya said. “There’s like only three of us that can fight. Five if we add you and Roci to the mix.”

“Ah, right,” Yosi fidgeted nervously.

Maya grimaced. “This means there’s a hive out there, right?”

Yosi nodded. “Yes.”

“We’ve gotta tell Whiteclaw. If these AIs have set up a hive, they’re in trouble.” Maya pulled up the comm channel for the communication’s array that she had given Whiteclaw. She toggled it on and dialed up the other array. “Whiteclaw Tribe, this is Maya Sullivan calling, ya’ll there?”

Only silence greeted her. She tried for ten more minutes, but there was no response.

“I don’t like it, but those guys are smart and crafty. I’m sure they know how to survive anything this place throws at them,” Maya said. Though she recorded a message and set it on repeat for the next hour. She turned her attention to the battle that was occurring. “The railguns are a bit too big for these little guys.”

“The gatling turrets would have chewed them up,” Bell said. “But we don’t have any installed in this area.”

“The BR’s own defenses are more than enough to hold them a bay, but that all depends on how many they have,” Maya said. She pulled up a count that the sensors were tallying. “Eighty destroyed and seventy still kicking.” Maya watched as the rogue AIs fell back for a moment, regrouped, and then surged forward once again.

The rockets from the BR flashed amongst the creatures, tearing them into shreds. The heavy beam weapons fired and left behind chunks of molten metal. The surviving rogue AIs shrugged off the devastating attack and continued to scurry forward, those that were badly injured were left behind and still tried to crawl forward on damaged limbs.

“They don’t seem to have any kind of self preservation,” Maya said. “They’re just running into the weapons fire.”

“That’s a swarm,” Yosi said. “They don’t stop until they are all destroyed or they reach their goal.”

Maya frowned again and pulled up their inventory. Shen’s ship had been well armed, but she watched as the small battle chewed through a quantity of their ammunition. She had no idea how to make the missiles and rockets they were firing, but at least the railguns and beam weapons were easy to maintain and arm, but the power consumption was becoming a tad worrying.

“Ease up on the missiles and rockets,” Maya said. “Stick to the moderate railguns and beam weapons.” Maya got out of her chair; she could feel the Cage still operating. “Roci?”

“Yeah?”

“You finished yet?”

“Half way, one of these blasted sacks of biomass ruptured!” she cried. “It’s filled with rotten meat!”

“Gross.” Maya heard Bell chuckling. “Wanna help her?” she asked.

“I would love to help my fellow companion in securing the biomass we need to survive, but Yosi needs to have someone ready to assist if the swarm gets too out of hand,” he said.

“Right.” Maya switched her comm and contacted Scotty. “Hey, Scotty. How many turrets have you made since we left?”

“I have assembled twelve canisters turrets and have completed the remaining three gatling turrets. I have also built fifty pulse grenades.”

“That’s cool, buddy. I’ll be there in a moment.”

“What are you up to?” Bell asked.

“Don’t you feel that this whole thing seems too weird?” Maya asked.

“How so?”

“I’ve got this feeling, like we’re being tested,” she said. “I think that little swarm out there is just to see what we can do.”

Bell and Yosi exchanged looks.

“How big are these low-grade hives?” Maya asked.

“I’m not sure. If a company of soldiers can deal with it, maybe a thousand or less?” Yosi replied.

Maya looked at the screen and tallied dead once more. Nearly the entire swarm was dead now, only a few badly injured continued moving. A hundred and fifty rogue AI ants and it had taken nearly a quarter of their ammunition and power.

“I don’t like this,” Maya muttered as she opened her comm once more. “Nan, can Badblood be moved?”

“Yes, Maya. She’s in stable condition, but still unconscious. Is there trouble?” Nan asked.

“There’s always trouble. Something about this swarm that is attacking us feels wrong. I want you to move Badblood to the Hangy ASAP. Load up all the meds and once you get to the Hangy, prepare to defend it, Roci will be there to lend a hand. I want you to hook your mana core up to Scotty and keep him running. We might need to draw power from the Hangy’s core if this goes sideways.”

“Alright, Maya,” Nan said.

Maya turned to Bell and Yosi. “You two protect the BR, I’m going to grab those extra canister turrets.” The two nodded and Maya summoned the Cage threshold.

In the multiverse at large, the Cage wasn’t able to form less than 200 kilometers from its previous position, but in the RSH the rules were different. Every threshold opening didn’t drawn an additional 1Mg and she could open the threshold anywhere she wanted. It would have been a great method to explore and seek out needed resources, but she couldn’t remote engage the Cage and the mana needed to keep the Cage active was too great.

A terrible smell struck her when she entered the Cage. Roci was covered head to tentacle in yellow green flesh and liquid. She looked at Maya and her purples eyes narrowed in outrage.

“This stuff is disgusting!” Roci cried.

Maya refrained from chuckling and created another threshold into the manufacturing room. Roci was still crying out her disgust and as to why she had to do this when Maya ducked out of the Cage.

Roci’s drone was clumsily, but helpfully, moving a finished canister turret into an out of the way spot. Maya looked at the machine and it turned it’s ‘head’ toward her.

“Hello, Maya,” Scotty’s voice came out of a speaker attached to the drone.

“Hey, Scotty. I’m collecting the turrets and what you’ve made. We’re going into low power mode for a bit, Nan’s going to hook her core up to you and we might need the Hangy’s core.”

“I understand. I have been keeping myself abreast with current events. I fear that these rogue AIs will not be deterred so easily.”

“Yeah, same here, bud.” Maya inventoried the twelve canister turrets and a box of pulse grenades. She paused as she looked at the stored containers of helix explosive gel. She walked up to it and inventoried a fifty kilo stack.

“That’s a lot of explosives,” Scotty remarked.

“Always be prepared,” Maya said.

“Understood. There is an additional emergency mana battery that has been fully charged since you left,” Scotty said. “If you require it, it is available.”

“Cool, we can get another railgun up.” Maya grinned.

“I suggest you not use the emergency battery for a weapon,” Scotty said. “The advantage of the Cage is that you are able to form a threshold anywhere you deem. If the fight to come is very difficult, may I suggest that you use the battery to power the Cage instead? It will offer you many more options than just powering a weapon would.”

Maya grinned again. “Are you sure you’re not a strategic AI instead of a manufacturing AI?” she said.

“It is an obvious advantage you have over anyone else in this plane,” Scotty said.

“You’re right. I need to use everything at my disposal. I’ve got a feeling, not dangersense, but dread that something is coming that’s gonna be bad. I can feel it in the air, like a storm is coming.”

“I would not know,” Scotty said.

“Thanks for the hard work, Scotty. I’ll be back later.” Maya opened the threshold again and was assaulted by the smell. Roci saw her and began complaining about buying faulty biomass containers. Maya opened another threshold to the Hangy’s core and exited.

When they had returned to the Hangy, the core had been sealed in a massive block of marsani, but over the weeks, they had built a shell around the core. Although there wasn’t any need to protect the heavy block from external weather effects, Maya thought that it was more aesthetically pleasing to have a room built around it. Maya entered the core room and saw that the nearly fifty emergency mana batteries had been brought over and stored. She walked up to the core and found the thick cabling that snaked into the ship itself and which powered everything on the vessel. Beside it, spliced into the cable was a small box that had many leads coming out of it. It was a jury rigged set up that allowed them to charge their mana batteries.

Maya pulled her battery tester out and checked the emergency battery. It showed a hundred percent charge and was holding steady. Maya smiled at the read out, this was one of the refurbished batteries that Bell and Yosi had fixed. They were a lot better than the ones that Maya had cobbled together out of old components and gel from other batteries. She had made five and once she had the tester she saw that they were only eighty percent effective.

She inventoried the battery and hooked up another before re-entering the Cage. Roci was cursing and restitching the biomass container. They were made out of duracloth and had a marsani skeleton to keep it all together. Somehow one of the skeletal beams had snapped and tore a hole into the duracloth, spilling its contents. Maya watched for a moment and then exited the Cage into the medical room of the Hab.

“Hey, there, little lady. Need a lift?” Maya asked. Nan looked up from where she had been working. The doctor had detached Badblood’s medical pod from the wall and was wheeling it out of the door.

“I suppose it would be easier to use the Cage,” she said.

They wheeled in Badblood and Maya dropped Nan off at the mess hall inside of the Hangy. Although the medical room would have been better, Maya had already managed to reinforce the mess hall bulkheads and decks. It would take a decent sized explosion to break into it.

Finally Maya stood before the array of batteries that were powering the Cage. They existed within the Cage itself, but Maya always figured it was a separate area from where she and the others were. It felt different, like a pocket within a pocket. Maya removed the emergency battery and hooked it up to the power outlet, feeling the mana surging into the Cage.

They had an additional five hours. Maya worried that it would not be enough. Roci mumbled something and finally began moving the patched biomass container out of the Cage, once Maya formed a door for her.

“Maya, it looks like your worry was justified,” Bell said.

Maya opened a window that connected to the sensor of the BR; an army of ants marched at them. There were the smaller low-grade ants they had butchered only moments before and behind them strode larger and bulkier machines that looked more like tanks on skinny legs. Thier dull yellow armored bodies gleamed in the reflected light of the rainbow sky and Maya could see the snouts of weapons peeking out behind the armor.

Instead of fear or more worry, Maya felt a sense of relief. The unknown dread that had been filling her was finally exposed. She had a face to what was bothering her and although it was a terrible army of rogue AIs, she wasn’t facing the unknown anymore.

“Hit the tanks first, they look like trouble. I’ll deal with the ants,” Maya said and headed back into the Cage.

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B2-30 - Replenish 2020-09-30T18:13:36+00:00


Maya flopped down onto a comfortable chair as the last customer exited the shop. It wasn’t that there weren’t anyone else interested in buying stuff, she had just run out of things to sell. Even the excess duracloth that she had was snatched up by people once she explained it could be made into tents or other things. That was after all the emergency tents she had made were taken by Oyekan and Adenuga.

She should have been happy, but Maya stared at the stress filled faces of the survivors of Ibadan. They had seen death and destruction on such a massive scale and they were still in the middle of it. A city of over six million had been reduced to just over a million people in nearly nine days.

“We can only do so much,” Maya said as Roci stood beside her. They watched as the people continued to dismantle the whale, hauling off the flesh. It was a miracle of spontaneous organization, with no input from Adenuga or Oyekan, Lidapo had vanished off somewhere. People were working together, helping one another and they formed a human chain to move the flesh from the beast to awaiting trucks, carts, and wheelbarrows to be hauled off where they could be stored.

“There are so many of them,” Roci said.

“An entire world of people like that,” Maya said. “Broken, starving, scared, and trying to survive Integration.’

“I understand why the System has to force Integration upon universes, but…” Roci shook her head, trying to comprehend the scale of the destruction she was seeing for the first time. “It’s terrible.”

“All we can do is use what we have to ease their suffering a little, to help them stabilize, and eventually help them grow.” Maya stood up and closed the screen. “Alright, we’re done here,” she said briskly. “We have about twelve hours of Cage time left and we still need to see Tender.”

Maya had brought along a communications array to contact Tender, but had instead given it to Ezra. Maya understood what she had done was messing with the political structure of Ibadan, she had forced her decision upon them and there would be repercussions.

Ezra knew that his life would be in danger, but as the whole world was in the grips of an apocalypse, that wasn’t a new thing. He would have to fight against the entrenched leaders and Maya knew that they would not relinquish power any time soon. Oyekan had his own base and people, Adenuga and Ladipo were seen as the city’s leaders, even though they were knee deep in their own forms of exploitation and corruption; people still looked at them as a source of security.

Maya didn’t envy Ezra in his mission. It was a lot to throw upon a person, but as the saying went ‘sink or swim and it was all the deep end here’. There would come a time, Maya realized, when one of the Reps she would make would fail. Either from incompetence, political maneuvers, or monster attacks. She knew she would have to steel her heart against that kind of failure, sooner or later.

“Ready?” Maya asked.

Maya closed her eyes and thought about the space station. She thought about Tender and his half dozen eyes, about the work he was doing, about the astronauts who were in the station and the planned orbit they would follow if everything went well with fixing the station.

Pressure filled her head and she felt the threshold release it’s hold on the city of Ibadan. She could felt Ibadan falling away, she was disconnected, untethered in a vast darkness but a feeling called to her. Maya could feel the ISS, a shape and feeling of what it was formed in her mind. She grasped at it and opened a threshold.

She opened her eyes and activated the view screen.

“Am I getting better at this or what?” Maya asked as she saw the space station. She had managed to settle the threshold upon the Pris Airlock once more.

“It appears Tender and Veskari have been busy,” Yosi said as she watched the screen.

“It’s been over a standard day and they’re not limited to biological limitations,” Roci said. “Plus they’re also pretty knowledgeable.”

“Well, they’ll be surprised to see you talking,” Maya said getting to her feet. She opened the door at the Pris airlock, forming the balloon shell over it and activated the short range comm device. “Hey, Tender. We’re checking up on you and Vesky.”

“Boss?” Tender’s voice returned.

Maya felt herself smiling. It had been nearly two weeks since she had last heard his voice. “Ah, the dulcet tones of Tender. How I missed it.”

“It is good to hear your voice also, boss.” Tender replied.

“How’s Veskari?” Yosi asked.

“I am here, Yosi,” another voice chimed in.

“If you two wanna whisper sweet nothings to one another, I can open another comm channel. This is just a check-in to see how things are. We’re on our way to Haltor’s World after this and running low on power.” Maya created a small side room for Yosi and activated a different channel for her and Vesky.

“All is well here, boss. Veskari and I have managed to create a module with gravity and power, a place where the astronauts can work and study if they wish. The astronauts have been very helpful and inquisitive about system tech and its usage. I hear they have all completed the first knowledge cube in the engineering set,” Tender reported.

“That’s great news,” Maya responded as she pulled up an image of the new space station that Tender and Veskari were building. It wasn’t some grand design, but a simple box attached to the ISS. A twenty meter long and five meter wide structure that was one fifth of the ISS’s size.

With Big Snake’s mana core the ‘station’ was fully powered Eventually it would be detached and pulled into a higher orbit. The joy of science fiction system tech was that those inside the new station wouldn’t have to worry about pesky radiation and with the mana core, it would be far more compact. Maya had plans of making it a livable space, albeit very spartan in amenities, and one of her eventual goals was to see if she could move people around via the Cage.

She felt that it was possible, but also that it was somewhat dangerous. Maya knew it was her Dimensional Awareness giving her the gut feeling, but she still needed to experiment with it. But power was the bottleneck.

“How is the mana core doing?” Maya asked.

“The core has finished its reactivation sequence,” Tender said. “It has begun producing power and within another standard day should be ready to begin charging the mana batteries.”

“Awesome,” Maya grinned. “We’re gonna need that power soon. We just discovered the main mana battery for the ship and have refurbished fifty emergency mana batteries.”

“That’s a lot of batteries,” Tender replied.

Maya gave her own report, telling him of their new additions, Badblood and Scotty, along with the Tarvana and what she thought it would mean for their future in the RSH. Roci also chimed in, telling Tender about her engineering abilities and the turrets she had made.

“We’ll be back soon,” Maya said. She felt a tug of emotion as she looked at the station. She hadn’t realized how much she had depended upon Tender until he was gone. Maya shook her head. “We’re off. See you soon. Stay safe and be good.”

“Yes, boss.”

Maya smiled and closed the threshold. She sighed and closed her eyes once more and focused upon Haltor’s World.

***

Nothing much had changed on the Tier 1 hunting planet. Maya pulled up the image of the former settlement of Kobono’s Town and saw it was still abandoned, the vast crater that had been formed after the dimensional instability that had brought its destruction was slowly becoming a small lake from the rain falling.

Maya watched the area and scanned for signs of life. It seemed once the salvage had been taken from the town, it was abandoned. Yosi claimed that sites of dimensional instabilities were considered cursed. SIL did not want to live near it as they feared another instability would occur again. Maya didn’t know if it was a Nerigana cultural thing or if a lot of SIL in the integrated multiverse believed it, but from what she saw of Kobono’s Town perhaps seeing a tear in the fabric of reality made everyone nervous to be around a spot it happened.

“We got a million credits to spend,” Maya said. “Prioritized food and processors, if we can find something to machine metal, that would be great. We have eight hours”

Maya pulled out the shipping pallets from her inventory. There had been plenty of resources within the Hangy to produce half a dozen pallets. Eventually she planned on making shipping containers, but they were resource intensive.

Roci focused on the engineering materials they would need. After Scotty had been set up, they had realized they needed more tools to streamline the whole assembly process of making turrets and weapons. There were some dumb bots that Yosi claimed were used in manufacturing, but they were on the pricier end of things. Roci and Maya’s solution was to make more drones and use relatively cheap processors to power them.

Nan continued to peruse medical supplies and biomass. She had been well received by the people of Ibadan as she managed to patch up and heal a lot of wounded men and women. There were even a few diseases she had cured, including one case of cancer. Although Maya would have liked to have stayed until their power ran out, they were in need of more biomass and supplies.

Yosi focused on what could make them profit. She had a keen eye and nose for making credits and dug through the near endless amount of data of items being sold on the Network. It had taken a moment for the people of Ibadan to get used to Yosi, they hadn’t ever seen an alien creature before and then they hadn’t been ready to be aggressively haggled with by her. But once they figured out that she was a merchant, Maya was amazed at how quickly people adapted to it. By the end of their stay in Ibadan, Yosi was making deals and quipping with the customers like old friends.

Maya took a shower and then a nap while the others busily marked items for purchase. She immediately dreamt as she closed her eyes.

She walked in a vast field of red grass under the rainbow skies of the RSH. On the horizon was a massive mountain and as she watched, it began to erupt. Spewing out hot blue lava, not molten rock but something else. She gasped and looked to see Roci standing over her.

“Maya, you have a message from Pegarios,” she said. “Are you okay?”

“Just a dream,” Maya yawned and got up. She pulled up a window, shared it with the others, and activated the message.

Pegarios’ blue face appeared before her. He looked more tired than he had before, but also extremely happy.

“Maya, I come bearing exciting news. Mother has reached out to some contacts in Tzonia and they are all extremely interested in what we have,’ Pegarios grinned. “I have sent the specs of the items, even the damaged enchantments, and there is already a bidding war going on.” He laughed. “We are nearing to Tzonia now and once we arrive, we might have sold everything. I look forward to your response and also hope that you are acquiring more goods.”

Maya grinned at the message.

“This is good?” Roci asked.

“Very. We’ll be millionaires when they sell,’ Maya said.

“We already are.”

“We gave Peg about nine million in goods, wholesale value. If he can sell them at retail, we’ll be looking at nearly thirteen million credits and Peg will get about four million.”

“That is good,” Roci said. Maya smiled at the girl and realized that Roci wasn’t interested in business. She, like Maya, wanted to build and create, not sell.

Maya put her arm around Roci. “The more money we have, the more we can build and the more we can help others,” she said.

Roci nodded. “I understand.”

“Alright. Now we need to send a reply.” Unlike her first communication with Pegarios, she didn’t send an e-mail and instead sent a video. “Hey, Pegarios. Good to hear from you and that’s some great news. We have a few more items that will pique your interests along with some ‘you know what’ parts. I believe I can meet you in Tzonia, if you got a secure spot I can park my wall. I don’t know how it looks on sensors, but probably somewhere out of the way. If you got a spot in Tzonia, send me all the info you can about it. How it looks, the area around it, all that stuff. I need a decent grasp of the place to form this door. Hit me up as soon as you can.”

Maya sent off the message and sat back and sighed. “Things are working out well,” she said. “You make your wish lists?”

“I have mine,” Roci said.

Maya opened a window to see Roci’s list of things she wanted to purchase. “That’s a lot of volex explosive gel,” she said.

“I have run the numbers on how much ammunition we will need if we intend to scale up, not only for our defenses, but also for the fight back on Earth. I believe that with this manufacturing module, we will be able to begin mass producing your SAK.”

“My SAK,” Maya chuckled.

Although Maya could create the turrets that had been designed, she discovered that making the SAK was on a whole different level of industrialization she just didn’t have. She could source the material, but she couldn’t make it just yet, the same went with ammunition.

Maya brought up the information on the manufacturing module.

Karzonn’s Light Industrial Manufacturing Module - low-grade, Tier 1

Karzonn provides you with the best tools to create what you need when you need it. Using our patented rapid manufacturing system, you can create machined parts wherever you are. Ultra efficient mana usage and capable of making nearly anything you wish.

150,000 credits

“Not bad.” Maya hit the ‘buy’ button. Roci happily rushed to the pallets to see the machine appear, once it did, she rushed off with it, surprising everyone with the casual strength she displayed. “Holy shit,” Maya muttered as Roci moved a machine that was a three meter cube of metal.

“What?” Roci asked.

“Nothing, kid. Just when did you start hitting the ‘roids?” Maya asked.

“What?”

Maya chuckled. “Don’t tell Tender how much you can lift, that boy’s got issues about his strength.”

Roci shook her head and set down the module, already crawling over it to figure out how to make it work.

“I have my list ready,” Yosi said.

“Not much.” Maya replied as she looked at the list.

Yosi sighed. “There isn’t much to buy in this backwater,” she said. “In regards to tools, weapons, and the like, especially low-grade items. Although this is a Tier 1 hunting world, the companies that deal in such low value items aren’t going to be selling on the Network.”

“We got some pretty cool stuff last time,” Maya said.

“Most of it was items that the owners were willing to take a loss on or salvage,” Yosi said. “If we’re going to access bulk goods and low-grade goods, we need to move to a higher grade system.”

“Well, hopefully Peg comes through with a place we can go to in Tzonia,” Maya said. “Otherwise we’re stuck here.”

“I understand, but don’t you feel the economy of this place is stagnant, there is no real profit to be made here.”

Maya paused and thought on what Yosi said. “You’re right,” Maya said. The adage of ‘buy low, sell high’ was the driving force in commerce, but Maya had realized she was ‘buying medium, selling low’. Her profitsense and her own accounting books told her she was losing money. “Weird, I didn’t even notice that until you told me. When you think on it, we’re a shitty business.”

Yosi chuckled. “I agree. Our profit margin is abysmal. The only way we are making credits is by finding the enchantments on the Hangy, if not for that, we would have run out of credits a long time ago.”

Maya nodded. “Maybe Peg can help in this regard too. Their family is in the mercenary business after all, ” she said.

“Ah, they should have access to low-grade weapons and armor,” Yosi said grinning. “I hadn’t thought about that. They just seem so… criminal. I suppose.”

“We all have our biases,” Maya said. “I think I’ll send him another message. If he can gather up a few million in simple weapons and armor, re-designed to fit a human body, I might be able to make a legitimate trader out of him.”

Maya sent off another message, asking Peg if he could get his hands on low-grade weapons and armor, tools, and equipment needed in low infrastructure environments. She wondered what he would think about that. She hadn’t told him her own business at all, all he knew was that she had access to some old enchantments and wanted money.

If she were fully honest with him, how would that change things? Would he be more receptive or would take advantage. The frustrating thing for Maya was that she didn’t know the full value of the items she was buying. She knew she was probably being ripped off by the Network purchases, but she didn’t have a choice in that matter. She needed the stuff they were buying and Haltor’s World was the only place she knew to go for those items.

Once Tender got the mana core up and running around Earth, then they would have enough power to at least attempt some exploration of the multiverse. She didn’t need to have any face to face interaction with the locals if they were savvy enough to have Networks operating. Maybe there were some places in the multiverse where she could get far better deals on weapons and armor.

Maya signed off on the items that Yosi was purchasing.

Last of all came Nan, she had a simple order of more biomass and alchemical ingredients that Bell had told her he needed. The items were cheap and they were also massive in quantity.

“We will need to get those food processors up and running,” Nan said.

Maya grimaced. She had only managed to fix one food processor and that along with Nan’s medical equipment from the Hangy and the Hab were what was making the ration bars they were eating. But the medical equipment was designed to heal and replace limbs, not make food, therefore it wasn’t as efficient as the food processor.

“There is a industrial processor that is available for sale,” Nan said.

Maya pulled up the info. “It says it’s for livestock.”

“With some slight modifications, it can be used to mass produce ration bars,” Nan said.

“Do we know how to make these slight modifications?” Maya asked.

“I am sure you will figure it out. But on a base level, the livestock food processor does the same thing as a SIL food processor. All you would need to do is put in the parameters of the creature you are creating the food for and then allow it to work.”

Maya looked at the processor. “You’re quite the saleswoman, Nan. You got me sold on this.”

“I will take that as a compliment,” Nan said, flashing a sharp toothed smile.

Maya ran the numbers and sighed. “We’re gonna be eating ramen for the next couple of standard weeks,” she said. “If we buy this processor, we’re gonna be in the low five figures, credits wise.”

“I understand the processor is expensive, but the benefits are simply too good to pass up. With the biomass we have purchased, we could feed all of Whiteclaw’s tribe for a decade.”

“You already sold me on the idea, Nan. I just like grumbling.”

“Understood.”

Maya rubbed her eyes and yawned. “Alright, we all set on what we want? We need to head back and make sure Bell hasn’t gotten lonely with our absence.”

***

“Hey, Bell. You awake? Come and lend us a hand getting this stuff into storage,” Maya called out on her comm as she exited the Cage.

“You’re back!” Bell said, relief flooding his voice.

Maya paused. ‘Uh… what’s up?”

“Rogue AIs,” he said. “A lot of them!”

Maya opened a window and ‘a lot’ did not do the amount justice.




/athor's note: More of a house-keeping chapter. Next, more rogue AI shenanigans.

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Comments (5)
user avatar
User #5927544 - 30 Sep 20 18:52
I feel that there comes a point when you need to skip a few fight scenes. We've had so many rogue AI battles... Unless this battle provides something unique or important plot-point wise I suggest you skip to the aftermath. I can't speak for others, but I came here for the base and trade empire building shenanigans. The "Merchant" part of the title, basically. Maya interacting with her customers I always look forward to, her time playing survivalist sometimes feels like a chore.
user avatar
User #24690460 - 2 Oct 20 18:55
After reading the next chapter, i totally agree with you. I always hope for more economics, earth/human interactions and dimension exploration. Like we got so much rouge Ai combat in the first book it has gotten kinda stale after a while. It must be a trend, in the story Magic-Smithing readers are constantly shouting for more smithing/crafting contend and leveling stuff, not economics.
user avatar
User #42561475 - 30 Sep 20 21:16
I'm surprised she hasn't tried going home yet. Since she only needs to visualize her destination, I expected her to see if she could find her family instead of randomly popping up on earth.
user avatar
User #5783303 - 1 Oct 20 01:23
I would suspect this has to do with how her father is such a large icon in her life. she may not feel she is up to par enough to face him yet. that and she cant stay with her family and she probably doesnt want to face the reality of THAT situation yet.
user avatar
User #300276 - 1 Oct 20 04:03
She could also be afraid they've died. Doesn't want to check..
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 (6)
user avatar
User #5927544 - 30 Sep 20 18:28
Hmmm... question: Can they not see Maya's level or the fact that she's Tier two? I forgot how the identification mechanic works.
user avatar
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.
user avatar
User #38283660 - 29 Sep 20 16:37
I find it funny that these people are acting like hot shit when Maya could pulp them with a tap.
user avatar
User #34671248 - 29 Sep 20 22:04
Maya love politicians... Like everyone (and politicians love only themselves...)
user avatar
User #8651414 - 29 Sep 20 09:13
I can see Ezra setting up a government like Australia were he is the governor-general and Maya is the queen.
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)
user avatar
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.
user avatar
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.
user avatar
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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Comments (1)
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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)
user avatar
User #9946352 - 16 Sep 20 20:15
Is it Kalashnavok because it's a knock off? Or is that a typo?
user avatar
alexclaw - 16 Sep 20 23:37
Most def a typo. Ha.
user avatar
User #34671248 - 16 Sep 20 23:50
After Rogue AI attacks, a Goblin/Kobolt/Ratman attack! 🤔
user avatar
User #11691022 - 17 Sep 20 06:18
Looking forward to the SIL meeting :-)
user avatar
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.
user avatar
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)
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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. 😁
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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.
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User #34671248 - 11 Sep 20 20:45
She will retire 2 seconds after the kingdom is created 😆
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User #9591449 - 11 Sep 20 23:35
Hail King Roci! Long Live The King!
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User #6326700 - 14 Sep 20 02:23
I thought they couldn't leave the dimensional cage without dying?
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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.
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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.

flag
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.”

flag
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.
user avatar
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)
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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
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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?
user avatar
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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Comments (2)
user avatar
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.
user avatar
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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Comments (4)
user avatar
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.
user avatar
User #9946352 - 13 Aug 20 06:05
Think she just lost the levels in it, due to the searing.
user avatar
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!
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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)
user avatar
User #19917560 - 7 Aug 20 20:59
why do you tier me up, Tender baby, just tier me down, and skill around (music)
user avatar
User #19000351 - 18 Aug 20 05:01
Resister -> register had had ^ think these are lil mistakes :)
user avatar
User #13235254 - 12 Aug 20 05:56
Only just started on the edited chapters. This is so much better.
user avatar
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