While Brittany shoved her way through the fleeing crowd a loud gunshot suddenly rang out, causing her to stop her in her tracks. A lanky man wearing goggles and shooting-range styled ear protection stood nearby, aiming at the incoming hoard of zombie-like creatures emerging from the ocean. He fired the heavy assault-styled Saiga-12 shotgun again but missed. He obviously wasn’t using buckshot, but slugs.
She instinctively reached for her police-issued sidearm, but her belt was missing. A brief flash of memory reminded her that she had left it on a tray inside the Decommissioning Room.
I’ve got to get my hands on that shotgun.
She rushed him from behind and kicked him in the back of the knees. He crumpled to the ground and she locked her arm around his neck.
“Police!” she bellowed in his ear. “Drop the weapon!”
Instead of cooperating, he swung the barrel towards her face. Instinct took over. Twisting hard, she snapped his neck, and he crumpled to the ground.
That felt waaayyyy too real…
The game’s development was so real that she had a difficult time dispelling the thought that somehow this was Real Life (RL). Clearly, she was still in the game Conquest. After all, how else could she explain the zombies?
She shrugged off the disturbing thoughts and did a quick pat down of the man’s body. He didn’t have any more magazines for the shotgun, but a 45mm caliber Colt 1911 was also strapped to his side. She armed herself with the two weapons and fled away from the incoming horde. Checking the rounds while on the run, she made a mental note that there were eight remaining slugs for the Saiga and a full magazine of seven rounds for the 1911 with another hollow point in the chamber.
Having broken free from the chaotic crowds near the strange tower, she found refuge on the shoreline to the north. Brittany couldn’t believe her eyes when the message appeared in her augmented vision.
CyberBolt Entertainment servers are back online. Do you wish to log into Conquest?
Yes | No
For the Conquest servers to malfunction when they did was very unprofessional, and she fully intended to have a long rant with a manager at CyberBolt Entertainment once Doug repaired her inability to log out.
She pressed firmly on her right temple, feeling disorientated for a moment as static filled her view. The static then dissipated to reveal a murky darkness surrounding her on all sides. A few moments later, a large blinking cursor appeared. Brittany rolled her eyes in annoyance.
This is ridiculous! I still can’t log out.
Her HUD was malfunctioning just as it had earlier before the servers went temporarily offline. She hoped that somehow Doug had caused the reset in order to make repairs.
A string of code sped past her field of vision, followed by the familiar music-box-like hymn of Conquest. After a moment, the game’s logo disappeared, replaced by a message:
MMO | PvP
She wasn’t sure how to get back to Doug’s virtual cabin, but then she remembered they had originally met while playing in Player vs. Player (PvP) mode.
Now that the servers are back online, maybe he’ll be playing PvP again.
It was a strange thought, but worth investigating. After selecting “PvP,” a chime sounded, and the wisps of darkness swirled around her and she was now clad in metal armor.
That’s more like it!
To her disappointment, no opponent stood to challenge her.
A new screen then popped up:
Our system detects that there are no challengers available at this time. Do you wish to fight an NPC?
Yes | No
Brittany shrugged and selected “Yes.” A toggle screen appeared with pictures of Non-Player Characters and their listed skills. She scrolled through the potential candidates, confused by the fact that every opponent that supposedly best matched her own skills were Level 1 characters. A disturbing thought crossed her mind, and she toggled the screen to her own player stats.
Conquest: Player Stats
Name | @IronVixen
Class | N/A
Level | 1
Experience (XP) | 0
XP to next level | 50
Hit Points (HP) | 100/100
Mana | 10/10
Strength |Total: 1 | Original: 1 | Level Ups: 0 | Bonuses: 0
Agility |Total: 1 | Original: 1 | Level Ups: 0 | Bonuses: 0
Stamina |Total: 1 | Original: 1 | Level Ups: 0 | Bonuses: 0
Intelligence |Total: 1 | Original: 1 | Level Ups: 0 | Bonuses: 0
Willpower |Total: 1 | Original: 1 | Level Ups: 0 | Bonuses: 0
“What?!” she screamed. “Level 1?! Zero XP?!”
She cursed under her breath. It had taken her over a thousand hours of play time to achieve the minimum 1,400 XP to achieve Level 8. The last time she had checked her character sheet, she was only 40 XP shy of meeting the 2,000 XP threshold required to reach Level 9.
While she scrolled through the NPC options, she did a double-take when she recognized Doug’s avatar.
She clicked on the profile for @Andrex, and confirmed her suspicions. It was him, but he somehow seemed to have lost a significant amount of his XP, and was at a lower level than the last time she had seen his character sheet. Brittany shook her head in disbelief.
Doug is just an NPC? He can’t be!
She was really starting to gain an attraction for him, and this was a new blow to Brittany’s self-esteem. Had she really fallen for a computer program? There was only one way to find out for sure.
Do you wish to choose this opponent?
Yes | No
Brittany chose ‘Yes’.
Across the clearing, a gust of wind swirled. In a brilliant flash Doug’s avatar appeared. Unlike their last encounter however, he was brandishing a spiked club. His armor wasn’t quite as impressive either.
There was no answer, and then a new system message appeared.
Please choose a weapon from your inventory
She quickly toggled to her inventory screen, and her jaw dropped. It was empty.
What?! Where’s my flaming broadsword? My mace? My potions? My battleax?
She cursed even louder. Clearly, someone had hacked into her avatar while she was offline and stolen her entire inventory.
A disturbing thought crossed her mind. There was only one person she knew with the capability to pull off such a feat.
Her eyes narrowed at her opponent, “You!”
Doug’s avatar stood at the ready, a mischievous look on his face.
“Where are my weapons?!” she demanded. “And my gear?! What’d you do with it?”
A new system message popped up.
Would you like to browse the Conquest eStore for suitable weaponry?
Yes | No
Brittany rolled her eyes. It always frustrated her to no end when she had to spend RL money inside the game, but she was left with little choice. Begrudgingly she selected ‘Yes’.
The eStore loaded, and only two weapons were available to select. One of her eyebrows raised in confusion as she read at the stats.
45 Colt 1911
Ammunition: 7 rounds with 1 hollow point in the chamber. Delivers 30% damage with a 50% chance of Instant Kills. An Instant Kill requires the use of either a HeadShot or a CardioBlast skill. Chances of longer range accuracy are 25%. Greater chances for Instant Kill increase with higher levels. Requirements: Level > 1, Agility > 1, Intelligence > 1
Assault-Styled Saiga-12 Shotgun
Ammunition: 2 rounds expended, 8 rounds available in the magazine. Delivers 60% damage with a 50% chance of Instant Kills. An Instant Kill requires the use of either a HeadShot or a CardioBlast skill. Chances of longer range accuracy are 25%. Greater chances for Instant Kill increase with higher levels. Requirements: Level > 1, Agility > 1, Stamina > 1
Since when did Conquest become a First-Person-Shooter game?
It didn’t make any sense. Conquest was a game in a fantasy setting. Standard weaponry choices were usually swords or battle axes infused with magical properties. What was even more confusing was that the weapons were the exact same calibers that she had recovered from the man’s body on the beach. Instinctively, her hand went to her waist where the sidearm hung in its holster. Likewise, the strap of the Saiga rested on her shoulder. It was a strange sensation when she looked down, for she couldn’t see them while logged into the Conquest server.
With a shrug, Brittany chose to purchase both since they were free.
Conquest servers detect an unfair advantage in your choices of weaponry. Your PvP Match has been forfeited, and you will receive a penalty of -20 XP.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!” she said through gritted teeth, “You’ll pay for this, Doug!”
You do not have sufficient XP to receive a penalty. You will hereby forfeit your next 20 XP earned.
She wanted more than anything to wipe that childish smirk off his smug face. His refusal to respond was quite telling. With a heavy sigh of annoyance, she switched to MMO mode and watched Doug’s avatar disappear in a wisp of darkness.
In a flash of light, Brittany found herself back in MMO mode of Conquest. An alert popped up in her augmented vision.
Please choose a Class:
1) Ballistics Expert
Brittany was upset. Prior to the game malfunction, her Class was Warrior and she had gained a significant number of associated skills. Starting over from scratch was not only frustrating, but being forced to choose a Class of Ballistics Expert in a Fantasy MMORPG was just downright confusing.
Brittany’s shoulders slumped and she selected Ballistics Expert. Another prompt followed:
Conquest Servers detect a shortage in your armory inventory. Would you like to begin a Weapons Quest?
Yes | No
She sighed. It seemed there wasn’t much choice, so she selected ‘Yes’. A virtual map appeared in her augmented field of vision. She beheld the entire layout of Conquest, and a zoomed-in map identified her location with directions to what appeared to be a nearby city called Sariel.
Considering the placement of the city on the map, she was acutely aware that only a few hours earlier she had seen a strange plume of smoke rise into the atmosphere from that direction. Had she not known better, she would have thought it was a jet or a rocket – but that seemed highly unlikely inside this fantasy setting. Then again, guns were rather out-of-place too.
The game had certainly taken on some strange new characteristics. In the corner of her augmented screen she could see that her Class had updated to Ballistics Expert. Upon purchasing the virtual versions of her recently acquired weapons, she could now see the Saiga in her hand and the 1911 holstered to a belt wrapped around her waist. It looked rather odd, and clashed with her armor. She felt silly, and wanted nothing more than to find some standard medieval weaponry as soon as possible to replace the awkward belt.
Glancing at the map again, a looming icon in the top-left corner of the screen caught her eye. In the many times she had studied the map, never before had it identified the location of the legendary Tower of Babel. Her most recent quest had bequeathed the secret location to her, and she had been only seconds away from achieving Legendary Class when the server malfunctioned and whisked her to a faraway beach on the southern continent of Zion. Of all the places she could have respawned, the southwestern shoreline was as far away from her desired destination as she could get.
She grinned mischievously.
Maybe I can still get there before Doug and claim my Legendary Class!
She pressed on the icon. Instead of being transported, however, an error buzz sounded, followed by the brief flash of a red X on the icon.
Transport Portals are offline. Please try again later.
She tried again, with the same result. Her eyebrow rose in consternation, and she pressed on the icon of the nearby tribal camp of Naphtali instead. The same error occurred.
What’s going on here?
Brittany muttered a string of expletives and stared out at the path that lay before her.
I guess I’d better start walking.
A few minutes later she reached a line of rocky hills where several NPCs had gathered. From her HUD she could see their stats. All the potential targets were easy kills. It didn’t appear that any of them were carrying weapons, so at a meager reward of only 5 XP each she’d have to kill at least four of them to satisfy the PvP Penalty and another six to Level Up. She cringed at the thought, knowing her total arsenal contained only 16 rounds of ammo.
I need my broadsword back!
She toggled her screen, confirming that her martial arts skillset was still intact.
At least I’ve got a fallback. I’m not wasting my bullets on these losers.
Brittany crept forward, careful not to make her presence known. It was common knowledge that lower-level NPCs like these would often scatter like rabbits upon seeing or hearing an approaching player.
A spray of bullets filled the air, sending Brittany diving for cover. She peeked over the edge of a rock. All the NPCs were now dead. A lone man carrying an AK-47 walked smugly into the clearing toward the bodies.
Sweet! A worthy opponent.
The man was no match for her prowess. She pulled the 1911 from its holster and aimed. Despite the distance, she took him down with a single shot to the forehead.
-15 XP Penalty Tax
Skill Unlocked: HeadShot
Delivers an Instant Kill when in close range. Chances of longer range accuracy are 25%. Greater chances for Instant Kill increase with higher levels. Requirements: Level > 1, Agility > 1, Intelligence > 1
Brittany quickly read the new skill facts and logged it away. Despite successfully killing her opponent, she didn’t venture out into the clearing yet. She hovered there for several minutes, and as she anticipated, another player entered the clearing.
She aimed and fired. He crashed to the ground, a bullet through the back of his head.
A medium-level opponent. Figures.
-5 XP Penalty Tax
Well, at least I’m out of the penalty box.
Brittany waited several more minutes to ensure there weren’t any more stragglers, then cautiously entered the clearing. She stooped over the bodies, admiring her new loot.
New Weapon Aquired: AK-47
Ammunition: 22 rounds expended, 8 rounds remaining in the loaded magazine, 30 rounds per magazine, 6 spare magazines. Delivers 30% damage to opponents in automatic mode. Delivers 75% damage or Instant Kills in manual mode. An Instant Kill requires the use of either a Headshot or a CardioBlast skill. Chances of longer range accuracy are 25%. Greater chances for Instant Kill increase with higher levels. Requirements: Level > 1, Agility > 1, Stamina > 1, Intelligence > 1
Her first fallen opponent wore a utility jacket with six extra magazines in the pockets. The magazine clipped to the gun was fully expended, so she chucked it aside and loaded a new one. The man had no other weapons on his body, but she found a wallet in his pocket – which seemed out-of-place.
Is this RL?
She shook the absurd thought away and rummaged through her other opponent’s pockets. She found a small folding hunting knife.
New Weapon Aquired: Hunting Knife
This weapon features a serrated blade. Delivers 30% damage to opponents when thrown with a 25% accuracy rate. Delivers 60% damage or Instant Kills in close combat. An Instant Kill requires the use of either a HeadStab or a CardioTwist skill. Greater chances for instant kill increase with higher levels. Requirements: Level > 1, Agility > 1, Stamina > 1, Willpower > 1
As she pocketed the knife, she found a wallet on this man as well.
What’s going on here?
A sneaking suspicion entered her mind. Somehow the NPCs she saw earlier might have been actual people, and the thought made her stomach sour.
It can’t be…
Her thoughts were interrupted with the flash of a giant shadow. Squinting in the sunlight from the two blazing solar giants, her status bar recognized the massive flying creature as a Level 12 medieval-styled dragon with 1200/1200 HP.
“It’s just a game!” she scolded herself.
With a deep sigh of relief, she grabbed her loot and took off at a dead run. The last thing she needed was to battle a creature well above her skill level. Then again, she’d likely get some serious kill points off of the beast…
What’s the worst thing that could happen?
Brittany weighed the options in her mind. Really, her only risk would be that she’d lose the meager 5 kill points she’d recently gained and would respawn back at the tower by the beach.
“Why not?” she shrugged as she crouched behind a boulder.
The ground shook as the massive beast landed. It quickly went to work shredding the fallen bodies of the NPCs with its razor-sharp teeth. She knew the Saiga would be her best weapon at taking the beast down, but it’d have to be at close range. Worse yet, she’d have to be aiming at its chest.
Brittany took a deep breath and entered the clearing again. The beast’s back was to her as it ravenously feasted on the fallen victims. She crept ever closer, the shotgun shouldered. She’d likely have to expel all 8 of the slugs in rapid succession, but the kill would be totally worth it.
She was almost in position when the beast suddenly stopped eating and raised its head. It sniffed twice, then turned its menacing head toward her.
Their eyes locked. Fresh blood dripped from its scaly chin, its teeth stained red. Its massive jaws opened wide, letting loose a deafening roar.
Brittany reacted quickly, diving to the left as the whip of its tail barely missed her. She regained her stance and fired off the first two rounds. Both slugs penetrated, but only served to anger the beast.
It roared again, slashing an arm toward her with its mighty talons extended. Ducking for cover again, she rolled out of the way and repositioned herself. She got off three more rounds, and the dragon staggered backward.
Keeping a close eye on her prey’s lifebar, she did a mental calculation and realized that the 8 slugs would be insufficient to take down the beast. She spent the last three rounds and swung the expelled shotgun over her shoulder.
Lifebar: < 33% >
Brittany unholstered the 1911 and charged at the beast. It reared forward. As its gaping jaws descended on her, the dragon’s left eye exploded while 3 hollow points ricocheted through the beast’s skull. She jumped out of the way just in time as the massive body crashed to the ground.
“That was an easy kill?!”
Skill Unlocked: Ricochet
Delivers an Instant Kill when a hollow point bullet is embedded inside the eye of an opponent. Chances of longer range accuracy are 25%. Greater chances for Instant Kill increase with higher levels. Requirements: Level > 1, Strength > 1, Agility > 1, Stamina > 1, Intelligence > 1, Willpower > 1
Brittany beamed. Had the opponent been a Level 1 creature, the maximum kill points she could gain would have only been +15 XP.
A wisp of darkness swirled at her feet and a chime sounded from the sky.
Another chime sounded as her character ascended to Level 3.
You have subdued a Level 12 opponent. In addition to your gained XP, for your bravery and prowess you will be rewarded with the following: