01.03 – Level Up

Their taxi shuttle zoomed over fields and passed other shuttles and various farming equipment working below.

“Cool. I didn’t know this game had affordable fast travel.” said Cian.

“Oh, it has all kinds of travel methods.” said Jolan, going on to explain “These little shuttles, bigger planetary shuttles that can take you anywhere on the planet, interplanetary shuttles that can bring you to other planets and stations. You can even book trips to other star systems, but it takes days for the trip. Ships can jump and fly along these threads from star to star. They call it the Weave, it’s pretty cool. It’s like a network of connections to all the systems with habitable planets. They have a few systems you can go to without habitable planets too, mostly for mining stuff. I never got into the crafting or mining side of things.”

“Wow, this game is big. I didn’t realize how much there was to do. And it’s so realistic! That Reinherd guy was so lifelike.” said Cian.

“I know, right? Most people don’t pay them any attention, but the AI in this game is really stellar. The game is huge. You can land on and explore every planet, and some of them even have ruins and junk. You can even just take off into space and fly. They have these big ships that fly off at light speed to nearby stars to make new links, but that takes years so I’m pretty sure it’s just a cool lore way of adding new systems. I don’t think anyone would actually spend years sitting on a ship with nothing to do. I do know a guy who spent over a month flying out to a comet and back. He landed on it and prospected it. All he found was ice and rock, so it was a huge waste of time and fuel, but he was able to do it!” enthused Jolan.

Cian looked surprised “A whole month just flying a ship? Did he have to take shifts with someone?”

“Oh, he used autopilot. He didn’t really play during the trip. You can do the same thing with traveling if you’re in a ship, though you can get killed while offline so you have to be careful.” said Jolan.

“I thought you disappeared when you logged out?” asked Cian.

“Kind of? I know you can’t see a logged out player, but anything that destroys the area you logged out in will kill you. NPCs can still kill you while offline, too. That’s why most people rent rooms to log out in.” said Jolan.

The shuttle slowed and began a vertical landing.

“Oh. I’ll have to do that before I log out.” said Cian.

“How long you got to play today? I just got off work and have the weekend off, so I’m planning on staying on for at least sixteen hours before I crash.” said Jolan as the ship landed.

The doors popped open. Jolan tapped a few buttons on the console in the middle as Cian got out. Jolan followed shortly, holding a small touch pad about the size of a credit card.

Cian checked the time in his HUD. It read 7:23 PM. “Um. I have to leave for work tomorrow, in like twelve hours. I have to eat and sleep at some point, though. By the way, what’s that little card?”

“Remote. Cost a hundred credits, but it can call us a ride from anywhere around here.” Jolan paused for a second, showing the small device to Cian, before continuing, “Protein bars, man. Stock up. You can scarf em down with a bottle of water in like two minutes and log right back in. The TIVI handles everything else. Pretty sweet piece of tech. You try the sleep mode yet?” said Jolan.

“Heh, you’re pretty hardcore on this game huh? I didn’t even know it had a sleep mode.” said Cian.

“More real than reality, man. Sure beats work. I’m gonna quit and play full time soon. Sleep mode is awesome. Once you get in the pod, before you log in, check the options. It puts you out like a light, no matter how amped you are from playing. Wakes you up on time, and it’s the best sleep ever. I got rid of my bed. I only sleep four hours a day and always in the TIVI.” said Jolan.

“Huh. I guess I’ll try it.” said Cian. Only logging out for minutes at a time and four hours of sleep? This guy was addicted. Then again, the game was pretty enthralling. Cian took a moment to marvel at the area.

The taxi shuttle had already left. All around them were fields growing neat rows of some kind of orange leafy vegetable. It looked kind of like heads of cabbage, except covered in fuzzy hairs. They were standing on a small, well used dirt path between two fields. In the distance to Cian’s left was a large compound with a house and several large green metal structures that resembled barns. To his right was a stand of small, scraggy trees.

“Careful around the… orange fuzzballs. I forget what the locals call it, but they suck. The little fuzz is barbed and will stick to your clothes. It burns like hell if it touches bare skin.” said Jolan, pointing out the fuzzy vegetables.

“Sounds like you speak from experience.” replied Cian.

“Yeah. Trust me, stay clear. Let’s head toward the trees over there at the edge of the field. Be on the lookout for trails and damaged crops. The Kel rats blend, but the damage they cause doesn’t.” said Jolan.

“Right.” said Cian.

“Oh, almost forgot. We need to form up a party so the experience is shared.” said Jolan.

Party invitation from Jolan. Accept? [Yes] [No]

Cian mentally hit ‘Yes’ and a chime sounded.

Joined with Jolan. All experience will be shared equally. Current party bonus: 20%.

“What’s this party bonus?” asked Cian.

“It shares the experience equally, but we get a bonus for every member who joins of 20% up to 200%. So you get 100 xp alone, 60 each with two guys, 40 each if you have five, or 30 each if you get ten guys. It’s to encourage making groups.” said Jolan.

“Ah. Nice bonus.” said Cian.

“Uh huh. Let’s get moving.” said Jolan.

It only took five minutes before the two of them found their first Kel rats, munching on one of the orange plants. Cian spotted a large patch at the edge of the field where the heads had been eaten off the vegetables, and Jolan pointed out the animal, standing still next to one of the half-eaten heads about a hundred yards away.

Cian lined up a shot with his pistol and fired. The bullet hit the ground a few feet shy of it, and a message box floated into view.

Attacked Kel rat with 9mm pistol. Miss!

Distracted by the floating message, Cian didn’t notice the six snarling Kel rats sprinting toward them.

Jolan cursed and drew his sword, shouting frantically “Shit! Shoot! Shoot them! I can’t handle six at once yet!”

Cian raised his pistol and started firing again. He tried to ignore the distracting combat messages and focus on hitting his targets, but most of his shots went wide.

Attacked Kel rat with 9mm pistol. Miss!

Attacked Kel rat with 9mm pistol. Hit! 60 damage.

Attacked Kel rat with 9mm pistol. Miss!

Attacked Kel rat with 9mm pistol. Miss!

Attacked Kel rat with 9mm pistol. Miss!

Attacked Kel rat with 9mm pistol. Hit! 60 damage.

Attacked Kel rat with 9mm pistol. Miss!

Attacked Kel rat with 9mm pistol. Miss!

Attacked Kel rat with 9mm pistol. Critical Hit x3! 180 damage.

Kel rat defeated.

Attacked Kel rat with 9mm pistol. Miss!

Attacked Kel rat with 9mm pistol. Miss!

Attacked Kel rat with 9mm pistol. Hit! 60 damage.

Attacked Kel rat with 9mm pistol. Critical Hit x2! 120 damage.

Kel rat defeated.

Attacked Kel rat with 9mm pistol. Miss!

Attacked Kel rat with 9mm pistol. Critical Hit x10! 600 damage.

Kel rat defeated.

His final shot put a hole right through the nearest one’s head mere feet away from them. It took Cian two more trigger presses to realize his gun’s slide was locked and the magazine was empty. He clumsily ejected the magazine, dropping it, and dug into his pocket for his spare.

Jolan stepped into the remaining three animals while Cian worked to reload. He thrust his blade straight through the skull of the one in front, and hit the second with a swipe. The blow knocked the beast aside, cutting deep into its armored hide. The third animal clamped down on Jolan’s armored leg, and Jolan cut at its side ineffectually as he tried to position his too-long sword in a way pierce it effectively.

The one that had been knocked down leapt at Cian right as he clicked the spare magazine in place. It lunged at him before he could chamber a new round.

Cian pistol whipped it hard in the eye, feeling a crunch as it crushed the soft tissue.

Attacked Kel rat with improvised attack. Critical hit x4! 90 damage.

Kel rat defeated.

Despite the defeated message, the creature shrieked and whipped its head, fangs bared and fluid leaking from its shattered eye, knocking the weapon away and slicing a deep cut into Cian’s unarmored hand.

Attack from Kel rat. Glancing Hit! Take 22 damage.

Cian screamed and drew his knife, but the rat let out one final shriek and collapsed.

Jolan yelled and shook his leg, hacking at the rat. It had clamped down on him like a bulldog and refused to let go. The sword sliced the skin and flayed scales, but Jolan wasn’t getting a good enough angle to penetrate deep enough.

Cian ran over and frantically slammed his knife once, twice, three times into its side. More messages spiraled into view.

Attacked Kel rat with knife. Hit! 65 damage.

Attacked Kel rat with knife. Hit! 65 damage.

Attacked Kel rat with knife. Hit! 65 damage.

Kel rat defeated.

Defeated Kel rat x6! Gain 720 experience.

With the animal finally dead, Jolan pried its jaws off his leg. The wide, dagger-like teeth of the Kel rat hadn’t penetrated Jolan’s armor more than a centimeter – but the force of the bite had caused a nasty bruise around the shallow cuts.

“Woo, that smarts. Good job! You got most of them! Gotta work on your accuracy a bit, but that was real good for your first fight. I didn’t expect six of them! If that’s how today is gonna go we’ll make bank out here and get some levels in no time.” said Jolan, pulling out his first aid kit.

Cian clutched his hand and stared at the dead animals as his heart raced. He was in shock. It was too real. He could feel the blood soaking his clothes, dripping down his hand. Bits of eye fluid spattered on his face. The pain in his hand was dulled, but it hurt. And the smell. Feces, offal from the rat that had been disemboweled by the sword, and blood everywhere. He could taste the iron in the air.

“You okay? First fight’s a doozy, I know. You get used to it.” said Jolan. He had pulled back his armor and was applying some kind of salve and a bandage to his leg.

“Uh. I think so. My hand is cut pretty bad.” said Cian. He had a deep gash all the way across his right palm that was steadily dripping blood.

“Here, let me show you. You can get yourself a kit once we turn in our first haul. It’s good stuff.” said Jolan, showing Cian the first aid kit. Inside were several tubes labeled wound ointment, clear bandages, glue, gauze, tape, and various tools like tweezers and clippers and clamps.

Jolan squirted a little of the wound gel onto Cian’s hand and the pain immediately ceased. He used a swab to apply a small amount from the tube labeled ‘Glue’, and he helped Cian squeeze the cut back together and hold it for a few seconds. The wound closed. Jolan then stuck a clear, flexible bandage over it and pressed it down firmly.

“There. Good as new! Your hit points will start to tick back up pretty quick. The numbing might make it a little hard to use your hand, but it shouldn’t be too bad. Little cut like that should be healed in half an hour or so. My leg will be good as new in an hour. Would have been worse without the armor.” said Jolan.

“Wow. Everything else feels so real. I guess it’s good the healing time isn’t. It would suck to have a sliced up hand for a week or two.” said Cian.

“Yeah. It’s not too far fetched, really. If we get lasers and faster than light starships, why not really good medicine?” said Jolan, grinning.

“Sorry I freaked out in the fight. I thought it would be more like a game. Like some kind of aim assist, you know? I have fired a gun a few times at a range in real life, but never against moving targets.” said Cian.

“Hey, you did great. Way better than the other newbies I’ve played with. You just need to practice. Gotta have the reload ready to go quick, you can practice that without wasting bullets. And you only hit what, six shots out of sixteen? Lot of wasted ammo. That’s 50 credits down the drain for nothing. Your share from this fight will be 150, but you got 80 credits just in ammo used. That’s one reason people don’t play the Marksman class. If you were skinning them and selling hides for 30 each like most poor scrubs, you wouldn’t have made hardly anything.” said Jolan.

Cian winced. “Yeah. I’ll have to make my shots count more. Hey, uh, speaking of. Is there a way to disable the combat messages? They were popping up in my vision every shot, making it hard to focus on actually hitting anything.” said Cian.

Jolan looked at Cian incredulously for a moment, then broke out laughing.

“What?” said Cian.

Jolan calmed down after a moment, slapping his knee. “I just can’t believe you hit anything with all that crap in the way! I forgot, I should have told you. Oh, man. Check your settings, under UI and then Logging. You can set it to come at the end of the fight or make it go into a separate log that you can check through at your leisure.”

Cian checked and set it to go into the separate log. “Ah. That should help.”

“I’ll bet! Shooting blindly through the text boxes, that’s hilarious. You even got that one in the head! Did you even see its head when you shot it?” said Jolan.

“Uh, not really.” said Cian sheepishly.

Jolan just laughed more.

Cian picked up his discarded magazine and began reloading, taking care to chamber a round and reload the mag again so that he had a full sixteen rounds in the gun.

Jolan pulled out his transponders and started tagging the dead rats, carefully stepping around the orange fuzzy vegetables.

Cian took a closer look at the Kel rats now that the fighting was over. They were ugly things, like a cross between a monitor lizard and a nutria.

“Tell you what. You try to conserve ammo and keep kickin’ ass, and I’ll go halvsies on replacing your bullets. As fast as we took down six, we can make bank together here.” said Jolan as he was tagging the rats.

Cian smiled. “Sounds like a plan.”

Ten minutes later they spotted another, larger patch of ravaged vegetables and stealthily approached.

“I see two. Over there, and right there.” said Jolan, pointing out the camouflaged animals.

“Another there by the closer one. Is that one there too?” asked Cian, pointing out another beside one that Jolan had identified and another spot where he could swear he saw movement.

“Okay, so at least four. Possibly six or eight, we need to get a set of thermals for this crap. Same plan as last time then? Give ‘em hell and I’ll try to do a better job with the sword.” said Jolan, grinning.

“Got it.” said Cian, carefully lining up his shot at the closest one.

It hit the animal right in the eye and it dropped. Cian was so stunned at the shot that he stopped to check his combat log.

Attacked Kel rat with 9mm pistol. Critical Hit x10! 600 damage.

“Nice! But keep shooting, there’s a lot more and they’re ugly!” said Jolan with a hint of panic in his voice, moving ahead a bit to get between Cian and the rats without getting in the line of fire.

Cian snapped out of the combat log and realized eight very angry Kel rats were heading their way. He aimed more carefully than the last fight and managed to drop three of them and injure a fourth before his pistol was empty. He ejected the empty magazine and reached for his spare.

Jolan charged the rats as soon as they were close, plunging his sword through the first one while Cian was firing off his last few shots. A swipe across its side finished off the one Cian had wounded, and a mighty swing decapitated one that had been heading for Cian.

The two remaining rats leapt at Jolan.

Jolan thrust his blade through the mouth of the first and attempted to swipe at the other, but his blade was wedged firmly into the first rat’s skull. He desperately tried to pry it out as the second rat clamped down on Jolan’s arm.

Cian rushed forward and took aim at close range. BANG

The rat fell limply off Jolan’s arm, a hole clean through its head.

“Whooo! Nice shooting! Level up!” exclaimed Jolan, holding his bloody hand up for a high five.

Cian winced at the gore, but gave Jolan the high five before checking his notification.

Defeated Kel rat x9! Gain 1,080 experience.

Level up! +1 Agility.

“That’s nine more! This place is boss today, man. I am so glad I found you! We kick ass!” said Jolan.

Cian smiled and began reloading his magazines. “Yeah. You usually solo this place?”

“Oh, this is more than normal. Trust me, this place is bomb today. I usually have to run around for an hour to find half as many, and they come in ones or twos.” said Jolan as he worked to tag the dead rats.

“Ah. I’m going to have to go back for more ammo soon. I’m already down to 48 rounds. I used 33 in the last two fights.” said Cian.

“Three more fights like that and we’ll be set pretty good to go back and get you more ammo. We already have 15 kills, that would pay for three boxes. If we look we can probably find the nest, gotta be a big one with this many around. Let’s take a breather first, though. Gotta get my stamina back.” said Jolan as he found a nice clean spot to sit down.

“Okay.” said Cian. He sat near Jolan and finished his reloading.

The adrenaline from the fight faded and they both relaxed a bit. A cool breeze blew, blowing away the bad smells and carrying a slightly sweet scent from the field.

Cian smiled. This was nice. He checked his character screen, it looked like he had gained some skills too.

Name: Cian
Class: Marksman
Strength: 30
Endurance: 30
Presence: 10
Health: 288/300
Level: 1
Agility: 41
Wit: 10
Will: 30
Stamina: 211/300
Experience: 1800/3000

Marksmanship: 14%
Small Arms: 18%
Long Arms: 10%
Precision Aiming (C): 12%
Speed Shooting (C): 13%

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