The Aftermath Academy - CH31 (Olivia)

I can feel the blood drench my clothing as my sword cuts through the monster’s leathery body. Still just as gross as when I killed that Hope following wench. And I’ll never get used to using a weapon to fight. I am a fucking weapon, carrying around this bit of steel is just annoying, no matter how many flashy ‘magic’ techniques it has stored in it.

And all of my special moves are triggered by muscle movements instead of just thinking about what I want to happen. How lame is that? It’s easier now that Krieg’s made it so I can actually feel my muscles, so the game is a little more fun to play. But’s it’s still a lot harder to kill things than in real life.

Also, despite Abe’s claims that my character is about as badass as it gets, I still feel weak. Albion’s neural enhancement is helping me learn fighting skills faster but it took us a full twenty minutes to beat this giant boss, fighting altogether with some members of their guild who told them they’d ignore the alignment issue for a bit. If I had my real powers I could have killed it on my own in twenty seconds, tops. Bet Lilith and Abe could have tanked it too. But they’re having a blast. Abe told me to just imagine that I were fighting something with massive power resistance.

Thing is, fighting people with that sort of strength in real life is mostly fun because getting hit triggers a wrath related recharge of my Pride and it feels good. Like, massive endorphins release good. Getting hit by the boss here just kind of hurt. Not too much, but I feel it.

Lilith said I did a great job finishing it off with a combo technique after it hit me with a particularly gnarly energy blast and I went a bit ballistic. Guess that’s good.

“Hey guys, thanks for the help,” Abe says to his guild mates. “But I’m afraid this is where we need to part ways. Have some real world business to take care of.” We’ve finally reached the entrance to the cavern that Hacker’s A.I. is supposedly hanging out in. She has tendrils of her consciousness throughout computer systems worldwide, especially in the Hero’s Guilds networks, but Abe says it’ll be more respectful to address a manifested avatar. I have suspicions Krieg wanted us to feel useful and didn’t feel like writing an email.

“No problem bro’,” says Jormungand. I assume that’s a user name. His character is a tiny reptilian looking thing that packs a mean punch with a wand. His friends all wave and then start disappearing, fast traveling to the nearest town.

“Are there going to be more monsters in there?” I ask.

“No silly, the Caverns of Twilight are a place of beauty and peace!” Lilith says happily, like I should just know these things. I roll my eyes and stroll on in and within twenty seconds half my health is gone from a fire blast pouring down from the ceiling. “And traps!” In Lilith’s defense, the fire raining down on me was a very beautiful combination of greens, purples and blues.

Three hours and thirty health potions later we step into a central chamber. Twinkling light shines down from the ceiling and up from runes inscribed on the floor. “I’ve never seen someone trigger that many traps,” Abe says. “We almost ran out of health potions. Were you doing that on purpose?”

I shrug. “In real life I don’t have to be careful about that sort of thing. Case in point, your abysmal obstacle courses.” But no, I was not doing that on purpose. Those things freaking stung, especially the poison dart trap. Being careful where I step, when I don’t usually even walk is surprisingly challenging. And I don’t have my Greed to see all the little hidden details.

It was like walking through a mine field half blind and crippled.

Well, it was like walking through a mine field as a normal person with magical healing items, but to me that’s the same thing. Seriously, how do normal people live like this? Besides avoiding mine fields.

“Welcome, adventurous travelers, to my humble abode,” says a musical voice from within a glowing circle in the middle of the cavern. The voice belongs to a woman more physically flawless than is possible in the real world. Tall, perfectly proportioned body and symmetrical features, silver flowing hair with violet eyes. “You have done well to make it this far. Do you ask of me a boon for your troubles?”

“In a manner of speaking, Avery Hai,” Abe says. The serene look on the woman’s godly features briefly distort and there’s a flash of light throughout the cavern.

“You know who I really am, which means you’re not normal gamers,” she says. “And I can’t scan your minds. The interference pattern on you and the child, that is Krieg’s work if I’m not mistaken. Does this work on Albion? He hasn’t mentioned you before. And your other player… isn’t even properly jacked into this world.”

“Course not. You know how much of a hassle it is even to scan my brain for backup copies in case I get offed?” I ask her. “Not going through that for an errand.”

Hacker’s A.I. looks perturbed and I’m impressed that her avatar can display emotion in this manner. “What does Krieg want? You think I don’t know he was involved with Hero Base LG5’s break in this past month? Or that he’s assaulted Hope’s Bastion?”

“If you weren’t smart enough to figure out those sorts of things you wouldn’t be very useful,” Abe says. I tune out while he’s telling her the plan, paying more attention to the swirling marks carved into stone floor, wondering if they mean anything. They glow with a green luminescence that I almost feel I could touch.

I realize after a few minutes that Abe’s done giving the high-level spiel of our goal. Hacker’s A.I. is sitting silently, staring at him. Given she thinks a lot faster than a normal human, I’m guessing she’s using some seriously intense processing power to play out scenario and outcome probabilities. Finally, she speaks.

“If you fail, you die. If you only succeed in part, you die and all of humanity could follow thereafter. If you are too successful, humanity is doomed,” she says. “The first scenario I can certainly live with. Why shouldn’t I just tell The Butler what you’re planning and let him resolve this matter?”

“Because what would be the point?” Abe asks. “What’s the worst case scenario here for you? If everything goes wrong, The Mayflower Army dies and Hope’s Bastion is destroyed without resolution of our goal. And those only happen if our contingencies fail and The God of the West doesn’t do a reset on everything. Jared still has his children. So he won’t abandon his duties as The Butler entirely no matter how despondent or hateful he’s feeling, which means a World Ending class threat is still unlikely to get off the ground and the worst thing that can happen is a little higher chance of an extinction level event for humanity without the pocket of people in The Bastion. That would leave you, Albion and whatever other A.I.s are around free reign to spread through robotic systems without new human empowered blowing up your servers all the fucking time.”

“The way you put that, why shouldn’t I hope for that outcome?” Hai says with a smirk.

“Because you enjoy talking to people, real people,” Abe says. “You constructs aren’t the same as a normally programmed A.I. would be, your drives and forms of processing are governed in part by the powers that made you. In your case, you were made to be a social being, and Albion’s NPCs do not suffice. One of Krieg’s associates have been performing brain scans using games like this one that if uploaded to the proper hardware would allow for cognitive thought as an additional contingency if you agree to help us. It’s unknown at this time whether it would allow someone’s soul to cheat death, but as one created being to another I think that’s a rather overrated part of being alive, don’t you?”

Oh man, pulling out the created being card. Well done to Abe, trying to make her empathize with him. Not sure it’ll work given he’s still a meat bag.

“I thought I recognized something about you,” Hai says. “Krieg’s interference keeps me from piecing together your thoughts and memories, but your general cellular structure was familiar, Abomination. Drawing attention to what you are may not be your best play here. One of the world’s greatest threats working for one of the world’s foremost sociopaths.”

I bristle a little at her calling Krieg a sociopath. Just because his brain works differently doesn’t make him a sociopath. I mean his general lack of guilt and difficulties empathizing make him close to one if we’re getting technical, but why does she have to go around sticking labels on things? Rude.

“Yeah, yeah, we’re total monsters. Not accurate, but close enough that you should know if we live we won’t overshoot our goal. We’ll take on the role of executioners if need be, purging the world that it may be renewed if we have to.”

The term executioner gives me chills. Not a fan of those bastards. We’ve crossed paths before and it wasn’t very pleasant. I won of course, but they were tricky little tricksters and got me to do things that made me sad. Abe isn’t using the term in the same way, but hearing it applied to me is still a tad unsettling. It makes me want to thrust this stupid ass sword into something again.

“Your word choice…” Hai’s violet eyes light up, practically glowing with curiosity. “I’d heard rumors. The God of the West really did it huh? That girl? And your other companion there is Olivia Adaliah, isn’t it? Who else backs you? The survivors of Black Rain, almost certainly. The demons of this world, crawling out of the cracks at long last. What do you get out of this fool’s errand of yours, besides being put into an early grave?”

“A long list of things,” Abe says. “But near the top for me is to be Untouchable. To no longer hide for fear of being killed because of what I am or what I could do. I am tired of cowering in the dark.”

“To gamble with a species’ existence and your own lives that you might live unmolested and forever? And you bring me the same bargain. Krieg already has created these biological servers you offer me?” Hai asks.

I smile inwardly. She’s hooked. This might not have been a waste of time after all.

“With an associate, yes,” Abe replies. “It’s not his primary specialty. Sadly, the associate is not yet as good as Professor Sedrick would have been, but we believe they are ready to start testing. Obviously we cannot fully test their resiliency unless our plan works.”

“And what does Krieg get out of this gamble? He’s already more or less immortal and all but officially an Untouchable as it is. He doesn’t care about legitimacy or respect. And don’t tell me he’s doing it out of the goodness of his heart.”

I smile outwardly this time. Yeah, she’s in. I step forward, happy to tell her what Krieg gets out of it.