As the TIVI cycled on, everything went black and Cian felt a strange sense of floating. A loading screen popped up in his view, with a bunch of random technobabble messages. “Scanning consciousness. Connecting to remote storage. Installing packages. Preparing transfer.” and so on. Cian figured they were probably just gibberish added for flavor, so he didn’t pay much attention to them.
Suddenly a young man appeared in nothing but his underwear, floating in the void but lit from every direction. Cian quickly realized he was looking at himself. A box popped up asking him for a name. He wasn’t feeling very creative, so he simply entered “Cian” and was surprised that it let him. His name wasn’t that common, but he still expected it to be taken. Next it had him enter attributes. Making a last minute decision to go for the Marksman class, he assigned the points by focusing on the various + and – buttons. Another box popped up asking his Class. It had a listing of various Tier 1 classes, none of which appealed to him. He mentally entered Marksman and confirmed it. A character sheet popped up, and he checked over it.
Small Arms: 10%
Long Arms: 10%
Precision Aiming (C): 10%
Speed Shooting (C): 10%
It was pretty much as Cian had expected. His character still floated before him in his underwear, with no apparent starting equipment. The little (C) marked his class-specific skills. He checked his skill descriptions.
Marksmanship – The skills and techniques for judging distance and accurately firing ranged weapons of all types. Requirements: 20 Wit*
Small Arms – The skills and techniques for firing one handed armament, such as pistols and SMGs. Requirements: 15 Wit*
Long Arms – The skills and techniques for firing two handed long firearms, such as rifles or shotguns. Requirements: 20 Wit*
Precision Aiming – Specialty techniques for firing accurately over long distances. Can be used with any ranged weapon, but benefits more from weapons with a scope or laser sight. Requirements: Endurance 30, Will 30, Class Marksman or Sniper.
Speed Shooting – Specialty techniques for rapid-firing semi-automatic weapons accurately. Can be used with any ranged weapon, but provides more benefits for semi-automatic weapons with recoil. Requirements: Agility 30, Will 30, Class Marksman or Gunslinger
A little disclaimer at the bottom stated that the Wit requirements were bypassed due to class selection, but the fact that all the skills required more Wit than he had seemed like a bad sign – 25 Wit was considered average, so with 10 he was pretty far below average. Every skill he had also required a firearm. If he didn’t start with one, how would that work? His real life bank account was basically empty, so currency exchange was out. Cian debated just going with Brute, but finally decided to just go with it and hope for the best. He mentally pressed Confirm, and was brought to an interface allowing him to make changes to his appearance.
Cian thought about shrinking his character so that he would have a smaller profile to hit, but he had read warnings on the forum that being of unusual size meant having a harder time finding equipment you could use and being smaller made you take extra damage when you did get hit. There were preset faces you could pick, but the default was your own face and body shape – adjusted based on attributes. Cian had never really wanted to look like a different person, but he was liking the buff look that 30 strength and 40 agility was giving him and adjusted the “Fat” sliders down a little extra before continuing. He was happy with the result, looking like a version of himself that had spent the last few years playing sports instead of studying at a desk.
A screen popped up showing an arid looking world, with large swathes of brown broken up by small patches of green. It was Kiana Prime, and it asked him to select a starting location. He read over the description of it.
“The Kiana system’s star is an orange giant, and the system has four planets: Kiana 1, an extremely hot, volcanic world that orbits dangerously close to the star; Kiana Prime, the only habitable world in the system; Kiana 3, a large gas giant, which was host to an orbital fuel mining facility; and Kiana 4, a cold, lifeless rock out near the system’s dense asteroid belt. Kiana is a hot, mostly dry world with forests, plains, and vast swaths of desert. The planet has deep aquifers full of water, and the larger cities are tapped into them. Alien species from across known space make it their home, and it is a major trading hub.” it read.
Cian looked at his starting options. Numerous cities popped up across the planet. Valcim, the capital of the planet located in one of the largest patches of green, was the default option – but Cian didn’t think the capital would have much work for newbies. He wished he had spent some time researching the best starting location, but didn’t want to log out now just to look it up. Instead, he picked a nearby town called Holray that was listed as a farming center. The overhead view looked like it was mostly farmland. After he confirmed the choice, Cian was met with another loading screen with more technobabble about generating his form and transferring consciousness to it.
After what seemed like a long time, Cian woke up in a little tube-shaped chamber not unlike the TIVI unit. He was still wearing nothing but underwear. A moment later the top popped open, revealing a small room full of other, similar chambers. Cian felt the cool metal of the side of his chamber and looked at his hands in awe – the game really did feel realistic. He fumbled a bit with his interface before finding an “Inventory” tab and was disheartened to find it listed nothing but ‘Underwear, Plain.’ His thoughts were interrupted when a big, burly character wearing nothing but underwear and sporting a buzz cut hopped out of the chamber across from him. The name Jolan came into view when he looked at him.
Jolan went over to a terminal against the wall and scanned his hand on the screen, then tapped a couple buttons. A loud series of clanging and grinding noises came from the wall, then a little panel slid open and a box fell out into a tray. Jolan grabbed the box and opened it, starting to pull out clothes and put them on.
Cian slid out of his chamber and walked over to the same terminal. Text popped up in his vision as he did so, telling him to “Retrieve starting package from beginner terminal.” The terminal still had a message that said “Brute package dispensed” when he reached it, but it quickly changed to an image of a hand print. He put his hand on the hand print and the screen changed.
Starting Equipment Selection for: Cian, class Marksman.
Packages available: General, Survival, Marksman
“Marksman, huh? Gutsy move. You got backers to help you power level? You know you gotta hit at least 30 just to get basic energy equipment?” asked Jolan, looking over Cian’s back after having pulled his shirt on.
“Uh, no. I’m just winging it. This is my first character. What’s the difference in the starting packages?” said Cian.
“Oh, you are new. Surprised you got such a basic name, I thought all the good ones were taken. Always pick the class one if it’s available, it’ll get you the best stuff. The other options suck. General just gives you a knife and some bandages, survival gives you a crappy tent and a canteen but no weapon.” answered Jolan.
“Thanks. I was surprised the name wasn’t taken, too.” said Cian, tapping the ‘Marksman’ option and again to confirm his choice. After a few moments of rattling and clanking, his box slid out. Cian grabbed it and used his thumb print to open the box.
Inside was a shirt, a pair of cargo pants, socks, some decent looking boots, a big knife, a gun, an extra clip, a box of bullets, a metallic card of some type, and some little wrapped packages. Cian quickly got dressed. The pistol came with a hip holster and the knife had a small sheath, which he placed around his ankle. He stuffed everything else in his pockets.
“Could be that the name is taken. I heard about some poor noob who got hunted down and killed just because he took a name of some big shot in between him dying and making a new toon.” said Jolan.
“Oh. I hope not.” said Cian.
He checked his “Inventory” tab again, which indicated that he had basic clothing, basic boots, a combat knife, 5 self-sealing bandages, 5 days of rations, a 100 credit chip, a 9mm Pistol, an extra clip, and an extra 50 round box of ammunition. The inventory didn’t actually tell him where it was – apparently the game kept track of what he had, but he had to remember where it actually was to get it. It did offer descriptions of what he had, so he checked over the equipment.
Knife – A basic combat knife. Damage: 10 + ½ Strength + Agility. Durability: 100/100.
9mm Pistol – Standard semi-auto 9mm pistol with inertial stabilizer to reduce recoil, fires standard 9mm cartridges at 365m/s. Damage: 60. +50% against shielding. Semi-automatic, fifteen round clip plus one in chamber. Effective range: 100 meters. Maximum range: 1000 meters. Ammo: 16/16. Durability: 100/100.
With the box and extra clip, he had 81 rounds for his pistol. It seemed like a decent enough starting weapon, but Cian didn’t really have any frame of reference.
“Nice gun. All I got was a bat!” said Jolan, smiling and hefting a large iron-shod club that resembled a baseball bat with bands of steel embedded in it.
“Mean looking bat, though.” said Cian.
“Nah, it sucks. The local wildlife are resistant to blunt weapons, so I’ll sell it and buy a sword. All the best melee weapons are basically swords and benefit from the skill. We’re close enough to Valcim to get cheap drone delivery of gear.” said Jolan.
“Cool. I guess I’ll need to use that to buy ammo. Say, why’s all the gun stuff listed in meters but the character creation was inches and feet?” said Cian.
“Beats me, half the game is metric and the other half is imperial. As for the bullets, there’s a local general store that stocks ammo cheaper than shipping it from Valcim. I’ll show you where it is if you want. They just don’t carry good swords. Say, what made you pick Holray? I thought I had this little gem to myself. Everyone always picks the big cities or the towns marked resource rich. There a forum post about it already?” asked Jolan
“Oh, no. Not that I know of. I just thought maybe a town near the capital would have more work for newbies than the capital.” said Cian.
“Lucky guess! All the guides say to start in manufacturing towns since they buy monster parts for more. But this place has a standing bounty on Kel rats worth more than the hides, and you don’t even have to skin them! The whole region is infested and they get in the crops. I always start here. Keep it on the down low, will you? If this place gets swamped with people, there won’t be any Kel rats left to hunt.” said Jolan.
“Oh. Cool. Yeah, I won’t tell anyone. How many times have you restarted?” asked Cian.
“More than I’d like to admit!” said Jolan, laughing. “My buddies keep telling me I need to play it safer, but what’s the fun in that? My last run was my best yet. I made it to level 60 and had some sweet gear. I joined a group heading into flesh reaver space as a marine. We got our asses handed to us, though.”
“Flesh reaver space?” asked Cian.
“Yeah, it’s a nasty place. Let’s head to that store and I’ll tell you about it while we wait. All the worlds are super dangerous and mostly uninhabited. The flesh reavers are crazy cannibals that live there. There’s a standing bounty with the Peacekeepers on them, a million credits a pop. Some of the top guilds raid there and make bank capturing their ships and bringing back the bodies. Their tech is pretty sweet too. The Peacekeepers give full salvage title to any of their ships brought back.” said Jolan as they walked out of the spawn chamber into an elevator.
The elevator opened to a small building with kiosks and a little food court off to the side.
“But you got killed?” asked Cian as they stepped out.
“Yeah. Hold up a sec, let me order my sword.” Jolan said. He approached a kiosk and started punching buttons as he continued. “We found one of their smaller ships and boarded it. Were half way to the bridge when one of their capital ships jumped in. The guys running the raid didn’t tell us, they just quietly pulled their guys back while me and the other new guys held the line. By the time they told us about the enemy ship there wasn’t time for us to get out. They just took off and told us they’d send us our share. They took back some bodies for the bounty and left us to die.” said Jolan.
“Ouch. That sucks. Did they send you anything?” asked Cian.
“Yeah, they did send us the agreed upon share of the bounties. Not enough to cover our gear and the exorbitant level buyback costs, but I have enough to get some nice gear when I’m ready for it. I can’t use the good stuff until I get enough Wit for the advanced skills. I’m still pretty salty about being left behind.” said Jolan as he worked his way through the kiosk’s interface.
“I can understand that. I would be too.” said Cian.
Jolan finished his order on the kiosk before continuing, “Alright, got my sword ordered. It will be delivered to the store here soon. Come on, the store is down the street a bit.”
As soon as they stepped outside, Cian was overwhelmed with the view. The town wasn’t much to see – but the sky was vibrant. The sun was huge and orange and the sky had a beautiful aquamarine tint. It was breathtaking, and Cian stopped for a moment to admire it.
“Cool, right? All the planets have different color suns and junk. You should see the sunset.” said Jolan.
“Wow. Really cool.” said Cian.
They headed out the nearby doors into downtown Holroy. It was a pretty small town, with only a few streets and a handful of buildings. Cian saw an assortment of small businesses – a mechanic shop, a restaurant, a doctors office, and a few others. The streets were almost empty, with a few vehicles passing by but no other foot traffic.
“Huh, this place is pretty small.” said Cian as they walked down the street.
“Huh? Oh, yeah. This is the town center, the whole area is covered in farmland for miles and miles. There’s a couple dozen farm complexes around here. Not that you need to visit them, they don’t buy or sell anything. Sometimes they offer quests, but that’s about it. The bounty is offered through the general store. It’s right over here. The kiosks back there give you access to the Valcim auction house and shops, but you have to go pick it up or pay for delivery. Not much else here.” said Jolan.
They approached a small, two story shop. The sign simply said “General Store” and it looked more like a grocery store than where you would find adventuring gear. A short, stocky fellow wearing dark sunglasses and grey overalls walked out. He had jet black hair, a very dark five o’clock shadow, and deep, reddish brown skin. He reminded Cian of a typical fantasy Dwarf, other than his lack of a beard. His interface identified him as a Boralan and Cian took a quick peek at the description that it offered.
Boralan – Sentient. Humanoid. Original origin unknown, largest population existing on the planet Boralas. Ranging from 3.25’ to 5.25’ in height. Intelligence similar to humans. Adapted to high gravity environments. Typically darker skinned similar to humans, with some individuals possessing shades of red and grey.
“So Boralan’s are basically space dwarves?” asked Cian after the man was out of earshot.
Jolan laughed. “They look like it, don’t they? Don’t tell the shop keeper that. It will just piss him off. Most people don’t realize this, but the AI shops actually give you a better deal if you role play and don’t be a dick. There’s a hidden reputation system. It’s even persistent between characters if you keep the same name and appearance.”
“Oh, cool.” said Cian as they walked inside.
It was a grocery store. There was a produce section with various alien fruits, a meat counter in the back, and all the shelves were lined with various packaged foods. The entire ceiling glowed with a soft light and had no obvious seams.
Jolan waved to a dark skinned Boralan behind the counter. “Hey Reinherd! I brought a friend. Won’t be buying much yet, but he’ll need ammo soon and we’re both interested in the Kel rat bounties. This is Cian. Cian, meet Reinherd.”
Reinherd’s skin was shriveled and charcoal black, with strikingly white hair cut short and a beard down to his belly. He looked absolutely ancient and walked with a limp and the aid of a cane.
“Ho there Jolan! Always good to see you. And well met Cian.” announced Reinherd, walking over to offer his hand in greeting.
Cian shook the offered hand and added “Uh, Well met Reinherd! I’m new in town. I don’t have funds yet, but I wanted to see what you had and ask about any work.”
“I see! Come, come. Let me show you my stock.” said Reinherd, walking to an empty spot of floor near the counter and waving them over.
Jolan stepped next to Reinherd and Cian followed suit, stepping a bit closer when nudged with Reinherd’s cane.
Reinherd tapped something on his wrist and suddenly the floor lurched upward.
Cian lost his balance and fell to his knee, but Jolan was prepared for it and chuckled.
Reinherd stood impassive as the lift sped toward the ceiling. Just as Jolan’s head would have hit, a section of ceiling shimmered and vanished.
The lift stopped at a smaller second floor, and only then did Cian realize the lift beneath him was completely transparent. From the center of the lift he could see the entire first floor.
Reinherd began speaking and pointing to different sections of the upper level, “My selection of ammunition is over there. I have medical supplies on that aisle, including rinjorn antivenin. I have some energy cells and basic energy equipment over there. My available weapons are in the cases against the walls, let me know if you want to take a closer look at any of them. And I have a few sets of body armor over there. The light chain mesh isn’t expensive and it’s good protection against Kel rats.”
Cian looked around. The upper level was smaller than the one below, but it was stocked with a variety of items. To his left the space was taken by dummies equipped with various armored jackets and jumpsuits, with a full-length mirror on the wall behind them. In front of him was a rack of various ammunition, with a floor to ceiling gun case loaded with an assortment of pistols and rifles behind it. To his right was a long shelf full of various medical supplies, the wall behind it held a case containing a variety of weapons – knives, short swords, hatchets, what looked like tasers, and devices that Cian didn’t recognize. Turning around, Cian found a rack of various electronics. The shelves had what looked like batteries of all shapes and sizes, and the case behind the rack contained guns and other devices with slots for the batteries – presumably energy weapons and other energy equipment.
Jolan stepped over to the shelf of ammo and pointed to a box. “Here’s your nine mil. Two fifty a box, not bad.”
Cian stepped over and looked. It was a box labeled simply ‘Standard 9mm Rounds – 50’ with a price tag of 250 credits. “No options? No hollow points or armor piercing or whatever?”
Reinherd cleared his throat. “The standard rounds are quite effective. Tungsten carbide cores with a polymer coated alloy casing. You can get specialty rounds in Valcim, such as hollow points, shield breaker, or sabot, but they aren’t as effective against local wildlife. Hollow point or shield breaker rounds would be nigh ineffectual, sabot would leave smaller wounds.”
“Oh, okay. Wait, shouldn’t a hollow point bullet penetrate a rat?” said Cian.
Jolan interrupted “Oh, you never looked up what the local wildlife was like? Kel rats are way nastier than they sound. They’re reptiles about the size of a dog with big teeth, tough hides that can blend color like a chameleon, and long ratty tails. They’re scavengers, but they will eat anything – crops, other Kel rats, people. They lay sticky eggs that do the chameleon thing too, so finding their nests is really hard. The lore is that they’re native to Kel, but I don’t know where that is – from there they spread across known space hitching rides on ships and are an invasive species pretty much everywhere. They’re even in the cities and are everywhere in the wilderness. Your basic newb fodder, but with tough enough skin to be an actual challenge. Hollow points would probably bounce right off.”
“Wow, okay. I should have looked up a bestiary or something.” said Cian.
Jolan smirked. “They’re tame compared to the rinjorn. They’re basically giant scorpions. Ambush predators that hide in the sand. They’re native to Kiana with eight legs and a huge stinger. The fun part is they never stop growing, so you can find them from the size of a large dog to the size of an SUV or bigger. Their poison isn’t deadly, but it paralyzes you. The paralysis is pretty much instant, so you have to take the antivenin before you get stung. Oh, and they have jaws strong enough to bite through steel plate. I got stung and eaten alive once – not a fun experience, even with the pain and sensation dampeners of the TIVI unit.”
“Ouch.” remarked Cian.
“Yep. Another reason I like it here, few rinjorn outside the dunes. Anyway. Reinherd, I’ll take one of these first aid kits, a dose of rinjorn antivenin, and a set of your chain mesh. Also, give us both a set of the transponders for the Kel rats. We’re going hunting. Say, Cian, you wanna team up? You can pull with your pistol and I can finish them with my sword. Oh, that reminds me. Reinherd, do you need another club?” said Jolan.
Reinherd was gathering the items Jolan ordered when he looked back at the club and frowned. “Not particularly, but I can find a use for it. I’ll give you fifty credits for it.”
“But you gave me two hundred last time!” argued Jolan.
“That was before thousands of humans started selling them. Whoever supplies you humans flooded the market. Fifty, and you’re lucky to get that.” answered Reinherd.
A monotone voice suddenly blared from outside. “Package for Jolan. Please prove identity and collect package. Delay of more than five minutes will result in additional delivery fees.”
“Hey, there’s my sword!” announced Jolan, walking back onto the platform.
Cian followed him.
Reinherd tapped his wrist again and the lift gracefully floated back down, the ceiling seamlessly closing behind them.
Jolan ran out and got his package while Reinherd put the items on the counter and waited. Another player walked in.
“Outta my way, noob. Vendor buy nine mil bullets. Two boxes, and make it fast geezer.” said the player. Cian’s interface showed that their name was Badbadmo.
Reinherd rolled his eyes and walked to the lift. He zipped up and came back down a few moments later with two boxes of ammunition. He walked over to the counter and picked up a tablet, tapping a few buttons and showing the device to Badbadmo.
The other player looked over it, and Cian noticed that the amount on the screen was 1000 credits. He was being charged double! You really did get a discount for role playing, or at least not being a jerk. What a strange feature.
Jolan walked back in, waiting beside Cian.
“Okay, but first validate my quest. I killed thirty two rats.” said Badbadmo.
Reinherd checked something on the tablet before calmly stating “I only see twenty five identified by the drones. That’s 1,250 credits.”
“Bull! That’s barely more than the ammo! You only gave me twenty five markers. I killed thirty two, I should be paid for thirty two!” shouted Badbadmo.
“You fulfilled the bounty on twenty five targets. If you prefer, I can provide two boxes of tags this time for an additional deposit.” said Reinherd.
“No. Your quest sucks! I don’t want more tags and I want my deposit back!” yelled Badbadmo.
Reinherd calmly held up the tablet set to transfer 350 credits.
Badbadmo tapped to confirm angrily, nearly knocking the tablet from Reinherd’s hand. “Whatever. Screw you, geezer. Your shop sucks and your quests suck and this town sucks. I’m heading to Valcim.”
“You don’t have to be a jerk. It sounds like it’s your fault if you didn’t tag all the bodies. Reinherd can’t reward you for kills you can’t prove.” said Cian.
“Reinherd? What, are you one of those AI rights nutjobs that acts like they’re human? Piss off! I’ll do what I want.” shouted Badbadmo, storming out of the shop and setting off walking toward Valcim.
Cian waited before he was out of the store before laughing. “You charged him double for being rude?”
Reinherd coughed. “Oh, you saw that. Merely an… inconvenience fee. His type does not shop for himself, and thus does not see my prices. Worry not, I deal fairly with those who treat me fairly.”
Reinherd rung up Jolan’s purchases and Jolan tapped the screen, quietly accepting the offer for his club. Then the Boralan held the tablet to Cian, with a charge for 100 credits displayed. “Merely a deposit, for the markers. Fully refundable if they are used properly or returned, as you have seen.”
“Okay.” said Cian, tapping the screen. A red mark appeared, stating the transaction was declined.
“Oh, did I forget to tell you how to transfer your physical credits to your account? You can do it at any banking terminal. Nobody carries hard currency, it’s too easy to lose.” said Jolan.
“I accept hard currency.” stated Reinherd.
Cian sheepishly handed over his 100 credit chip and Reinherd put it into a well-hidden drawer that popped out from behind his counter.
“Try to avoid damaging the crops, you will be held liable if it is determined that you were needlessly trampling fields. The bounty is fifty credits, regardless of the size. Attach one marker to each dead Kel rat, push the button once, and leave the body in the open. Ensure the animal is dead before attaching the marker, you are liable if a drone is damaged from retrieval of a marked rat that is still living. My drones will collect the bodies and confirm numbers. If you find a nest, press the button twice and then hold the button until the blue light appears. Stay near the eggs with the marker. A priority drone will arrive shortly to scan and incinerate the eggs, please wait to confirm complete nest destruction before leaving. Nests are worth ten credits per egg. The marker can be reused to tag bodies once the drone has arrived at the nest site.” said Reinherd.
Quest Alert! – Exterminate Kel Rats around Holray. Rewards: 50 credits per rat. 10 credits per egg. Variable experience.
Cian accepted the quest. “Wow, how big are nests?” he asked.
“I found one in a tree once. It had over fifty eggs in it.” said Jolan.
“They can be anywhere from dozens to hundreds of eggs, depending on if it is a single individual or multiple females nesting together. Now, if you gentlemen are ready, I would recommend starting at the Holden or Burr estates. Both are dealing with significant crop damage this season, and one of the Burr hunters was seriously injured. I suspect there are hidden nests in both areas. I can call a transport to the area.” said Reinherd.
“You have a transport?” asked Cian.
“Not me personally, no. The city has small, solar powered transportation shuttles that can bring you anywhere in the region for a modest fee. My store is simply a free pickup zone.” said Reinherd.
“They can even take you to Valcim for fifty credits.” added Jolan.
“Wait, so that guy could have gotten on a shuttle for a few credits instead of walking all day? But no one told him so he doesn’t know?” asked Cian incredulously.
“Correct. Shall I call you a shuttle?” said Reinherd without a hint of emotion.
“Yes. Thank you Reinherd. We will head for the Burr estate. Sound good, Cian?” said Jolan.
“Sure.” answered Cian.
Jolan showed off his new sword while they waited. It looked like a typical medieval long sword. It had a 9” two handed grip, a plain flat cross guard, and a long, thin, double edged blade tapered to a point at the end. The whole thing was about 5’ long. Jolan swung it around a bit experimentally, smiling. Cian examined it.
Star Alloy Longsword – Made with the same strong, flexible material used in starship construction and sharpened to a bi-molecular edge. Damage: Two handed: 100 + Strength + Agility. One handed: 60 + ½ Strength + Agility. Durability: 100/100.
In less than a minute, a small oval zoomed overhead and came in for a flawless vertical landing in front of the shop. A door popped open, revealing a cramped interior with four seats – two on the left, two on the right, all facing a small rotating console in the center. Jolan and Cian hopped in. The small space would have been cramped with four passengers, but wasn’t bad with just the two of them. Reinherd had set the destination and prepaid for the trip when he ordered it, so as soon as the door was closed it quickly rose into the air and zoomed off.