The Aftermath Academy - CH29 (Olivia)

“Are you screwing with me?” I shout as the giant axe collides with me and shatters apart. “You call this an obstacle course? You don’t even have to dodge anything.” I float over a spike pit daintily.

“It’s not meant for you!” Abe shouts back. “Dammit Olivia, this is the third course you’ve wrecked. Stop breaking my toys.”

“I can’t help it your dumb toys are so breakable,” I say, blocking a laser beam with a finger. It barely even charges my Pride. Maybe I should go break into another hero base. At least their lasers could give me the shivers. “I’m bored. We’ve been stuck down here for weeks and it feels even longer spending most of our time in VR with Albion’s time compression. This is worse than being tortured to death!” Probably not true, but I don’t remember much about being tortured to death, which automatically makes it more pleasant than being cooped up in this basement for weeks.

Admittedly, it no longer looks like a basement. Krieg has carved out well over an acre of area down here. Still have no idea how it manages it without being detected. Or maybe he has been detected, but May can’t get in and as long as she doesn’t know Abe, Lilith or I are hanging around she has no reason to bring reinforcements on her little surveillance mission. I doubt she’d even do it if she knew I was around, despite Hope totally framing me for murdering some guy named Geoffrey.

“Bullshit, you can’t pretend you haven’t been enjoying your time in VR” Abe says. “You get to boss around an entire army, hang out in a Castle, go wherever you want. For all intents and purposes you are NOT cooped up in a basement, like, at all.”

“Fine, it’s an improvement, but you know what I can’t do? Fly.” I say. “Why can’t they port my real powers in? And our castle is maybe five stories tall. That’s not exactly a penthouse, now is it?”

“Because Albion cares about theme and game balance,” Abe responds. “We’d take you to a game world more to your liking, but our contingency plan, called the new Plan A after your little fiasco at the Bastion, is

“The new plan A? We can’t just admit we’re really on plan…G, or something?” I ask him.

“Maybe we could if you ever remembered what letter we were really on,” he says. Is that a glare? I have a hard time telling when Abe is glaring. Yeah, that’s probably a glare. Eh, he’s not entirely wrong. “Fine, but I really don’t want to be one of those people who spend their whole lives hiding in virtual reality just because it’s safer than going out in the real world. Especially since Krieg refuses to use it, which really reduces the fun options of not having my Pride on in there,” I say. Unfortunately, my boyfriend’s mind tends to break the programming in VR interfaces. One of those cases of literally being too smart for his own good.

“It is safer,” Abe says. “There’ve only been a couple of empowered who could hurt people through a virtual environment. Hacker’s A.I., Old Man Jace and Albion itself dealt with them quickly. Why go to a concert hall that could be blown up when you can virtually enjoy one from the comfort of your own personal bunker?”

He’s got me there. I know my abilities give me an abnormal sense of safety that is useful for day to day walking about. Alan Killjoy’s purges killed most of those who would hurt empowered people out of hatred or terror, but that left an awful lot of docile folks with an even better reason to fear my kind than they had before. And those reasons have only grown greater over time.

“If we succeed, do you think fewer people will hide in there?” I ask Abe. He considers the question seriously for a minute.

“Hard to say. Now that so many people are used to living life that way, it might be hard to convince people to break the habit. And given the current discouragement at the Bastion, it’s always possible people will use the opportunity we give them to stack up. Plus, safety aside, normal people can experience becoming as strong as one of us. Even folks without abilities they want, like our dear Lilith, can live as if they had useful powers they enjoy using. The old can feel young again, the infirm can be mobile. The most peaceful scenarios for the long-term viability of humanity all involve population redistributions that would be made easier by having large numbers of the populace preferring virtual reality to the real one. And even those things ignore the benefits of Albion’s time compression or learning enhancements.”

“I guess that’s a no then,” I say, somewhat disappointed. It makes sense, there’s just something about it that leaves me feeling the world will have lost something precious if its inhabitants abandon its physical wonders for synthetic experiences.

“It would have been a lot more likely if the techies hadn’t developed sensory information, but now that you can experience touch, smell, and taste in virtual worlds the line between our world and virtual ones is so blurred in a lot of people’s minds that offering a measure more security isn’t as strong a lure as it once was,” continues Abe, just rubbing it in. “And there’s the community aspect. Lilith and I are part of an awesome guild. You should definitely meet them sometime.”

I look at him like he’s sprouted another head. “Wait, you two have friends besides Krieg and me?! I’m not sure how I feel about that. We’ve been playing like…two months with the neural time compression. Where the hell were they when we were raising that army?”

“Don’t be greedy Olivia,” he replies. “And it’s not my fault you went and got yourself an Evil alignment. They’re a Good Guild. They can’t all go hanging out all the time with someone trying to kill the God of Hope.”

I point at myself. “Uh, I’m the Seven Sins, dumbass. Greed is a pretty important aspect of being me. And does your guild happen to worship Hope by any chance?” Because I love Abe and all, but I’ve already crushed several Good guilds for their choice of deity alignment and I will totally do the same to his.

He rolls his eyes. “You really need to think up a new name now that you can-“

“No, no, fuck that. I’m the Seven Sins, end of story,” I say, cutting him off. I notice he’s ignoring my worship question. Huh, going to have to try and get more information on that.

“But it doesn’t make any sen-“ Abe tries to continue.

“I don’t care! I will not let that whore take my name from me,” I say. Some people have argued I don’t have seven aspects of power, or were probably thinking it. Most of those people are dead. Definitely not because of any eighth power aspect. Well, probably. I dunno’, maybe I should get a new name. But it took me so long to decide on Seven Sins! I thought about The Seven Deadly Sins at one point, but that didn’t make sense because most of the aspects of my power aren’t dangerous. Also, way too long.

“Isn’t it more your army’s fault?” Abe asks, refusing to drop the subject. Ugh, boys can be tenacious dicks sometimes.

“She started it!” I shout. Technically true via causality. “Look, if you drop this I’ll go back to playing the game and promise not to murder your guild either. How about that?”

“Throw in a promise not to destroy any more of my obstacle courses? Krieg’s too busy to build me a new one every other day.”

“Now who is being greedy? I’ll stop destroying your obstacle courses if Krieg stops building crappy courses,” I tell him. He rolls his eyes. “But seriously, before I spend any more time in there I’m going to need you to explain what the new Plan A actually is. Enough of this cryptic bullshit.” I get it, they couldn’t tell me in case Hope actually had a way of torturing information out of me. It’d be a miserable backup plan if I could spill the beans the second the first plan failed, and if not for Void taking away my emotions I would have sung like a canary. But I want to know now.

“In a couple of days, we will make our way to an access point where we can commune with Hacker’s A.I. and convince her to assist us.”

“Are you serious? Isn’t that kind of giving away the game?” I ask in shock.

“You already gave away the game to an extent when you got yourself killed,” Abe says. “If she declines our offer, it might make things more difficult. But probably not, since the Consolidated Empire has little official reason to involve themselves if we avoid attacking their embassy during our assault. They won’t be too happy if we have to off some executioners, but that would be difficult given Hope’s protection. Krieg thinks they’d stay neutral, or at worse sell us out to an enemy that already has an idea that we might be coming at some point. And there’s a good chance Albion can scan our minds while playing, so she may already know.”

Albion’s only allegiance is to his players, but Hacker’s A.I. backs her creator’s empire. She could institute an almost complete communications block. She could also probably do it in a way that even if things go south Jared wouldn’t realize her involvement Even if he did, the Consolidated Empire could deny culpability despite her pretty blatant loyalties. If our goal is successful, the end result could be incredibly advantageous to the C.E. Not intentional, but it means Hacker’s A.I. might be willing to aid us. Between an effective communications blackout and the distractions Krieg has planned, the time it could take to get The Butler word of Abe’s existence could increase by an order of magnitude.

“Clever Krieg,” I say. That’s my boy, a lot better at politics than he would have me believe. Or maybe he’s been studying to try and impress me. Not sure why, it’s not like I find politics interesting. Totally boring. Definitely. Absolutely not thinking through what senatorial connections Hacker’s A.I. has and how to best frame things to give them the most plausible deniability.

Hopefully this idea works. Krieg’s Plan…N? Are we on N? Crap, Abe was right, damn him. Ok, the new Plan B for a communications blackout is probably something like carpet bombing Hope’s Bastion with Electromagnetic Pulse Bombs. It might work, or it might draw Jared straight to us.