This is an excerpt from the upcoming novel ESC:AI, set in the same universe as Guns of Penance, but focusing on Asia and a bit farther on the timeline.
Rei watched the scene repeating itself over and over for awhile, then walked away stumbling at first but quickly regaining her self composure. heading in a vaguely northern direction. The city in this place felt familiar, like a blended copy of Tokyo, Osaka, even Neo-Beijing. It was as if the metropolises had been scanned and then merged together as a single entity. She spotted an exact duplicate of the Naihaiden building from the Meiji Jingu Shrine in the middle of a park across from a replica of the brick and stone pagoda of the Cishou Temple. She watched as several people approached a prayer collection table in front of the Naihaiden-copy. They paused, tossed a coin through the dark black wooden slats of the collection table, bowed, clapped their hands twice, and prayed. Just beyond the park was a building that looked like the Mori building from Roppongi hills merged with the Tsutenkaku Tower that rose from the building’s center. It was ungainly, but looked utterly natural.
It was all fake. But it felt more real than the Realm ever did. Still, Rei thought, if it was the game world, and it followed Realm rules... She swiped her hand, palm out in front of her, as if opening an invisible sliding door. The Realm’s user interface menu appeared, and she selected the Map option.
The Realm universe map appeared, floating as a large glowing web of light in front of her, her vision darkening slightly to better see the map’s features. The city she was in was called Godtown, and it existed where the human starter player city should have been. As she studied the map it shifted slightly, following her gaze and revealing more detail that scrolled into view. None of the cities that she remembered from the original Realm game were here, instead either replaced by strange city names or gone altogether. Fire City...Cannonsville Starcliff, Redwater.... all of these names were alien to her. Except one.
White City. That was place where she was last logged in to the real Realm game and the location of the campaign where she had her the Kurimoto’s seizure that put her in the hospital. She grabbed the node of light next to the name of the city. The familiar sensation of a thousand small coins sliding down her body was interrupted by a strong lurching sensation, and she stood at the teleport point of White City, or what was left of it.
The White City, a large opulent non-player metropolis (modeled after a Neo Rome set a thousand years in the future) was once a beautiful mixture of ivory marble, white Corinthian columns, brushed aluminum and perma-glass facades lit with open flame that poured like water through spiraling tubes inside the perma-glass walls. Once a bustling economic center for players who crafted in game items for other players, the White City was swarmed with non-player Machine battalions during the last game expansion. Repeated battles had turned the city into a vast apocalyptic no man’s land. Perma-glass, (despite its name) had been smashed into perhaps millions of shards, marble walls had been scorched, crushed, and bombed to pieces. Cars and other vehicles had been crushed under collapsing buildings, and the buildings themselves had either been bombed, slagged by molten cannon fire, or just smashed from robotic fighter unit combat. Not one of the cities famous columns remained standing. It was impossible to see the streets without the aide of the AugReal map lines and names.
Few of the original buildings remained standing in the city, and what rubble did remain was piled little more than 5 meters high. Rei looked at the wasteland of the Machine Faction’s aggressive campaign, and sighed. In a month or so, the city would slowly begin to rebuild itself, and the players who lived in the city would return some time after that, salvaging their wares, or making them anew from the raw piles of rubble that remained. In truth, Rei thought as she stood their, for players high enough in skill to salvage the city, the place was a gold mine of free resources that might be hard to gather otherwise.
But for now, with fires still smoldering and squads of Machine Stalker units standing guard a few hundred meters from each other the White City was clearly off limits to non-combat players.
Rei stood near the teleportation site quietly and looked at the numbers of enemy non-player units. Judging by the sheer amount of battalions the Machine faction had here they must have a full legion of at least five thousand Machine fighters in the city proper alone. If that was the case it meant the Machine faction had beaten all the player groups who tried to retake the city, which was a huge embarrassment for the player groups and human players in general.
It might be that human players were simply waiting for the inevitable reset of the game’s servers, which would remove the Machine Faction’s present military successes and allow players to rebuild their resources before the Machines returned to mount another assault.
That was one aspect of the Realm game that Rei always hated. Yes, she understood why portions of the game reset themselves to prevent various areas from becoming too hard to ever play, but it ruined the sense of realism and any real consequence from the game. Secretly she wished the Machines would be able to stay and turn the White City into a Machine operated super-fortress. It might upset new players and power-gamer groups, but it would certainly shake things up.
She swiped her hand in that “opening a sliding door” gesture. The UI menu returned with a flash, and Rei navigated her way to the Equipment and Weapons section. She didn’t really think she stood a chance at surviving combat here, but since the teleportation center was destroyed she’d need a vehicle to make any hope of an escape. Her trusty WSR Mark III Weapons Platform tank did get a decent speed considering the amount of missiles and Ion cannons it had aboard. If she could upload it here, eject all the weapons to save weight drag, and drive like hell she just might be able to get out of the city far enough to lose pursuers.
When the Weapons and Equipment menu loaded, Rei’s mouth dropped. Her WSR Mark III was gone, as were all her other siege weapons. Where they had been was now filled to the brim with non-player weapons usually only reserved for Game Monitor staff. She had complete access to weapons, equipment and armor that was strictly for use by Omegicom employees in order to deal with players who were breaking rules and harassing other players, or in rare cases, when high level non-player characters were glitching and attacking cities or other safe zones. It didn’t happen often, but there were cases of higher level players attacking lower level monsters, luring them to a low level player area, and then either logging out or leaving via personal teleports. Normally the monster would leave the area when its primary target did, but not always.
Rather than have a battle area reload command that would reset all the monsters, the developers of the game gave the Game Monitors super powered weapons that would destroy any non-player character with a single attack. The weapons and armor also had the added benefit of looking very sleek, dark and imposing, which was a useful look to have when dealing with wayward players caught harassing others.
Rei remembered stories in the early days of the Realm where Game Monitors would come under attack from Player Killers by the dozens, and simply stand there chatting and laughing at the players whose attacks did no damage. When the players’ weapons were depleted or damaged beyond repairs, the Game Monitors might use the attack called a Gentle Sneeze on the player. The attack looked exactly like a simple sneeze, but the effects were devastating, killing the player’s avatar instantly. Most of the time when this happened the Game Monitor would resurrect the player for free—it went against good customer service otherwise.
It was also rumored that in the most severe cases, or where clearly illegal activity was taking place, a Game Monitor could simply delete a player’s avatar and account forever, essentially banning them from the game, though these occurrences happened so rarely they bordered on the edge of mythical legend.
And now she had access to all that power.
She couldn’t help herself. She equipped sets of body armor, one after the other, just to see what she looked like in them. She settled on a form fitting white cuirass made of the rarest Realm metal, polyceramium. It was trimmed with white eagle feathers and ivory bone buttons with lace. It came with matching gauntlets, greaves, pauldrons and polyceramium leggings with with leather straps up her calves and inner thighs. It even came with the Wings of Godstone, large angelic hawk’s wings that warped into a feather cape when not in use. There were two weapons available, the Tremor Mallus, which was an elegant needle of a rifle, and the long slender silver colored blade, the Black Xifos.
A cursory check of her player stats while wearing the armor simple said “Dev Mode Enabled” in the hit points, energy, ammo, and mana fields. She equipped the rifle and walked towards the nearest trio of Machine Stalker tanks. They looked like absurdly tall crabs with mushrooms for bodies and cannon tube eyestalks.
The Machines swiveled to face her as she approached, and the lead Stalker took a few tentative steps forward, extending a slender wire in her direction. A detection scanner. For a few seconds she held her breath, never having been this close to a Machine squad before. The detection wire trembled a moment, and Rei waited for the shrill attack alarm that normally followed it, but the Stalker simply withdrew the wire into itself, and turned back.
Of course. If she had been given the power of a Game Monitor, then her avatar’s level and faction would make her immune from the non-players like Machine Stalkers.
She grinned. In a moment of absolute childishness Rei aimed the rifle at the Stalker and fired.
Tremendously oversized bolts of white, orange, and red lightning leaped from the rifle barrel and arced across the gap to the trio of Stalkers. All three exploded instantly in a shower of light and debris, the burnt out husks tumbling down to the rubble in the street.