"I'm sorry, but the player would like to remain anonymous. The paperwork has been handled," Alan said, passing over a gold mark.
"Yes, well we must verify your identity," the tour guide continued.
"Of course," Alan said as he let a scan wash over him. His alias checked out.
"Would you reveal your level, ma'am?" the guide asked.
Kitana, in her combat robes, revealed her level for a second. 713.
"Impressive. I daresay you could take the control point yourself with that high a level," the tour guide said, smiling.
Kitana stared at her.
"Right. Well, please step aboard the ferry," the guide said before launching into an abbreviated history of New York Bay and the Statue of Liberty.
They arrived at Liberty Island in a few minutes, passing through the blue shield that covered the 15 acre, 60,000 square meter island.
They passed through three security checkpoints. Alan had to hack into them so they wouldn't detect the weapons on his person. He thought he would need to hide Kitana's sword as well, but it didn't appear to be on her body.
"Normally there would be a great view of the city from here, but due to security concerns the shield was erected. Additionally you are not allowed to move about the island unaccompanied, or proceed past the pedestal level," the guide said.
"We were hoping to see the inside of the statue, though," Alan said. "Are you sure you can't make an exception?" He pulled out a diamond mark.
The guide shook her head. "I'm sorry, but not even I've been up there since the remodel. Military personnel only. It's rumored the Capture Point is in her crown, at the top of the statue."
"Take us as close as you can," Alan said.
They walked along the edge of the island, passed by the occasional patrol squad of soldiers or tour group. They looked up at the Statue of Liberty in the center of the island. The statue sat atop Fort Wood, a star-shaped fortification that had been remodeled to fit four laser cannons in addition to new shielded defenses.
Alan, scan the statue, Eve sent.
Alan did so. Oh shit.
"Excuse me," Alan said, "but I just received an important message regarding the player, can we have a bit of privacy?"
"Yes," the guide said, stepping out of earshot but within line of sight.
Kitana looked at Alan. "What? Is Thiago in trouble?"
"No. It's the statue. It's a mech," Alan said. "They turned the Statue of Liberty into a giant fighting robot. She has to be the boss guarding the Capture Point."
Kitana turned her gaze to the 150 foot tall statue. "Her armaments?"
"I have no idea, we're too far away. I don't even know what metal she's made of, just that it's definitely no longer bronze, iron and steel, " Alan said.
"I'll handle it," Kitana said.
"If it were just the guards and the defenses I'd trust you, but we're talking about an unknown enemy. Where even is your sword? We have another thirty minutes before the operation begins, maybe before then I can take down some of the defenses like I have-"
"I will handle it," Kitana said. She walked back towards the guide.
Alan turned to follow her, then froze. He looked across the island. There, coming out of the ferry building security checkpoint. He jogged towards the building, ignoring the cries of their guide to wait up.
"Sir! I didn't expect to see you here," Alan said.
Icewolf looked at him. He was with three others in power armor and a guide. "I didn't expect to see you here either Alan. Don't you have somewhere else to be?"
Alan glanced at the guide. "About that..."
"Don't worry, he's with us. Speak," Icewolf said.
Alan looked back, Kitana and their guide were still a ways away.
"The Capture Point has a three anchor shield system," Alan said. "Essentially, all three anchor points must be destroyed within five minutes of each other. Otherwise they'll keep each other up, then recharge to full after a few minutes."
"And where are the anchors?" Icewolf asked.
"Here, the New York Stock Exchange and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Kitana was going to handle the shield here, Thiago the Federal Reserve, and I was going to hit the NYSE."
Icewolf looked up at the Statue of Liberty for a moment, then glanced at the time. He nodded. "I have a team raiding the Federal Reserve as well, I'll put them into contact with Thiago. Take Kitana, handle the NYSE. Coordinate with me."
"I'm planning more of a stealth approach, Kitana sticks out too much," Alan said.
'Are you sure you can handle the NYSE yourself?" Icewolf asked. "If what you say is true, we'll all fail if you do."
"I got this," Alan said.
A siren began wailing, and red lights began flashing. The four laser turrets on top of the fort whirred to life.
Alan's guide caught up, whipping her head back and forth as the patrols of soldiers began running around.
"Sir, everyone, please make your way back to the ferries. We have reports of assaults on Capture Points throughout the nation by the Legion of Man, thus for your safety we advise-"
The guide stopped mid sentence, cut in two by Kitana.
"What? Where'd your sword-"
"She talked too much," Kitana said. She sheathed her sword.
"Fuck I told everyone we were starting at 11:12 am EST, 8:12 am PST, who started early?" Icewolf wondered aloud. He gestured to the body of the guide and his three guards stepped around it. He examined it for a second, and then it disappeared.
A useful ability, Eve sent.
I have a theory, Lambda sent. Alan relayed it. "Well, it's 11:14 Standard Time right now. Maybe someone set their in-game clocks wrong?"
"Shit. Well looks like everyone needs to start the operation now," Icewolf said. He opened his menu and sent a mass message. Alan received it. It said: Go now. The mission has started.
Icewolf began issuing orders. "Alan, go. Take the NYSE, my team can handle this." He entered a command on a tablet, and a series of explosions began, rocking the island. Smoke, debris and chaos filled the air. The laser turrets were destroyed.
The Statue of Liberty whirred to life, standing up. The torch in its right hand transformed into a massive laser blade, the tome in its right hand a bright shield.
"I'll handle it," Kitana said, sprinting towards the statue.
Alan ran the other way, back to the ferry building, invisibility activated. He leapt onto the first ferry that left, past the clamoring tourists all insisting they be the first off the island. A few even leaped into the bay and began swimming.
He watched the Statue of Liberty as it attacked, Kitana. She weaved from side to side, evading blows, deflecting a few. She raised her sword. Then they were through the blue shield that defended the island and Alan could see no more.
The ferry made its way back to the city. Alan received a message from Thiago.
Thiago: Got Icewolf's message, comparing plans. Can you start now?
Alan: No, I have to be in range, in line of sight.
Alan sighed. Eve calculated the fastest route.
He stormed the helm of the boat, and took out the two guards with his blades. He eliminated the helmsman and steered the ferry to shore. As he was about to reach the shore he received a message:
[Defend New York (rank B quest):
New York City is being attacked by the Legion of Man! Report to a nearby United World Government outpost to aid in the defense.
Rewards: War Contribution Points
Our chances of succeeding have fallen by 5%, Eve sent.
Overhead a Haxlardian dropship flew by, headed towards the Capture Point. Alan notified Icewolf.
As soon as he reached the land south of the Federal Reserve Bank Alan abandoned ship. Cops and other military personnel were running about. Apparently whatever bombs Icewolf had set up weren't only located on the island, but were in the city too.
Pedestrians stood standing in the street, wondering what was happening. Smoke rose up into the air. A loudspeaker blared a warning, telling everyone to get to get to safety. Where exactly was safe, it didn't say.
Alan reached the Federal Reserve Bank, the largest gold repository on Earth. Alan wondered if there were Administrator vaults that now held more. He met up with Thiago on the roof of a skyscraper across from the Federal Reserve Bank.
"Are you ready?" Thiago asked as Alan stepped out onto the roof.
"Give me a second, I need to hack in," Alan said. he looked around the roof, there were maybe five mercenaries equipped in basic power armor.
"Well hurry, Icewolf's party is taking all the heat right now," Thiago said.
Alan looked down at the entrance to the Federal Reserve. He entered Cyberspace, hacking into the two laser turrets that stood guard at the entrance.
As this mission relied heavily on hacking, Alan had devoted most of his computational energy to maintaining units: six Elite Marines, four Sword Guards and three Medics. That left him 160 energy to work with, 60 with Divided Mind active, but he figured he would make do.
The turrets defenses were trivial, an energy shield and a handful of basic marine units. Alan activated Divided Mind, sending Eve to hack one of the turrets with half his forces, Lambda and the rest to hack the other. Once each AI had control of a turret they began to open fire on the United World Government forces standing guard.
Pandemonium ensued, people running around like chickens with their heads cut off, senseless and frenzied. Half the guards were eliminated before they realized the problem was their own guns.
A man in a black suit stretched out his two arms, arcs of blue-white electricity arced out of each and struck the laser turrets, disabling them. Thiago killed him with a headshot.
A surge of bandits in power armor stormed the building, eliminating the rest of the outside guards. A handful of nearby players tried to assist the UWG forces and were eliminated by Thiago.
"Go Alan, we have this handled," Thiago said.
"Good luck," Alan said as he descended the skyscraper's stairs. He activated basic invisibility and made his way through the crowds of people to the New York Stock Exchange.
The building was being evacuated, people streaming out of the building, blocking the entrances. Alan wasn't sure how he was going to get through undetected.
Use a grenade, Eve sent.
People are panicked, they won't notice you pushing through. Just go. They're too concerned with their own safety, Lambda sent.
Lambda set a path and Alan followed it, pushing his way through the crowd and into the building. A few people glanced his way when they were pushed by an invisible force, but most kept moving forwards, not even glancing backwards.
Eve mumbled something about bonus xp.
Alan proceeded through the doorways that he had placed bugs in, and was at the entrance to the main server room in minutes. Two guards stood by the entrance.
Invisible, Alan began the hack. He backed up as far away from the guards as he could.
In Cyberspace his combined forces had a little over 1500 damage per second, which meant it would take around 10 minutes to take down the shield.
30 seconds passed.
On the security channel, which Alan had gained access to the previous day, someone said, "There's someone hacking into the main server. Stop them now."
The two guards looked around.
One said, "There's no one here. The attack must be coming from off site."
"This is supposed to be a closed system. Hold on, we're bringing down a sweeper team."
Alan notified Eve she would need to stop attacking the shields to help him activate his armor's advanced stealth field soon. Due to the fact he still didn't meet the armor's requirements he needed her help to operate the armor.
The sweeper team arrived, two additional guards with a portable scanner. Alan activated the advanced stealth field.
"Nothing here," the scanner team reported.
"Damn it, the hack is still happening. Shields at 50%."
"Activate the defenses."
In Cyberspace four squads of units emerged from the shields; each squad contained an elite marine and three regular marines. Eve and Lambda each took on one squad while Alan commanded the rest of his units to destroy the remaining two.
The Sword Guards charged forwards, deflecting basic laser fire from the marines with ease. Their armor class was too high, only the elite marines managed to damage them.
Alan focused down the elite marines then finished off the rest of the enemy units. He brought the sword guards that were damaged back to his medics, which he kept way back. Once all his units were healed up they resumed taking down the shields.
He looked over at Eve and Lambda, they had taken out the enemy programs with ease.
"Our defense programs were destroyed," someone said over the security channel.
"What the hell? How were the defenses destroyed so easily? Those were D-rank programs!"
They think D-rank is powerful? Alan thought to himself.
"What do we tell the higher ups? The general wants a status report!"
"Tell him we need cyber security experts here, and fast. We're about to hit the first circuit breaker, the S&P is down 6%. Down 7%, all trading has been halted for 15 minutes, but someone is still hacking into the system and they aren't slowing!"
Alan checked in on Kitana and Thiago:
Alan: My anchor is at 10% shields, we'll take it down soon. How are you guys doing?
Kitana: We've taken ours down. It keeps recharging, but I am destroying it. Additional reinforcements arrive every few minutes, but they are dealt with.
Thiago: I need a few more minutes.
Alan waited, and had his forces stop attacking the shields when it reached 500 energy. He listened in on the building's security channel.
"What's happening to the markets? How have they dropped 7%? That's billions of credits lost."
"I don't know. A number of companies bailed this morning, dumping all their Earth investments, buying up commodities and stocks in off-world companies. Then the Legion of Man renewed their assault, with new reports of attacks coming in every minute. Investors have to be scared. We could see an unprecedented Level 3 drop today; if the market is down by 20% we shut down all activity for the day."
"But the government is winning the war, right?"
"It doesn't matter who wins, it's all about perception. If the UWG wins the war but all that's left is a worthless charred mess, of course any Earth company is a bad investment."
"But my money is safe, right?"
"Sure, you're in-game and have credits. You'd be even better off if you invested in gold like I told you to. I'd hate to be someone still holding onto any dollars or other Earth currency though."
"So what if the stock market does shit the bed, what do we do then?"
"We find jobs off-world. Don't worry Steve, the government will bail out the banks. They always do."
"I'm not so sure about that. Haven't you heard about the UWG's debt problems? A buddy in the marines tells me he's owed three months back-pay. And I hear someone's hitting the Federal Reserve as we speak.
"Wait, they are? If that gold is stolen the UWG better pay up for the gold it loses. Shit, I hope the thieves fail."
Thiago: The shield will fall any second now.
Destroy and deactivate that shield, Alan sent.
Eve and Lambda attacked shield, it hovered at one energy for a moment. The two streams of light that emerged from the top of the shield thinned then vanished with the shield.
They were in.
The inside of the shield was a fairly standard base set up, with two barracks, an energy pylon and an advanced shield generator at the center.
Alright, first thing we do is lift that trading halt, Lambda sent. He ran to the center of the base and manipulated a console that appeared.
"Hey, Bill, what are you doing? The market is supposed to be halted, why is it open again?"
"I don't know, it did it on its own, I didn't touch anything."
"Shit, we're done for. Tell the general we need the best security analysts they have yesterday, and to tell everyone to stop trading. Look, the markets are already panicking from the sudden restart! We don't have control of the servers, idiots, stop trading!"
Alan glanced, the market had fallen 8% now, and was continuing to decline.
Activating the salami slicing program, Lambda sent. He took out what looked like a data chip and attached it the console in Cyberspace.
Salami slicing? I still think we could have come up with a better name, Alan sent.
Hey, it's a standard term for this kind of fraud, Lambda sent. You cut away such a small amount of the salami that no one realizes you've stolen any. All we're doing is rounding down transactions to the thousandth of a credit and putting all those extra little slices into our pantry. A thousandth of a credit isn't much, but millions of transactions take place a day, maybe billions on a day like today.
And the other programs? Alan asked.
Sure, I'm activating them, not that they'll do much, Lambda sent. Credits are like your beginning cryptocurrencies, every transaction can be traced. A footprint anyone can follow. Even though I can create fake purchases, people will see where the credits go and can get the Administrators to reverse the charges.
Do it anyways, Alan said.
Your wish is my command, Lambda sent. There, we have 10 billion credits spread throughout a couple hundred fake players, guilds and companies. Happy? We won't get to keep any of it, and if the Administrators trace it back to us it means penalty points. They don't like people messing with the Market.
"Hey, Steve, we have reports of investment companies orders bugging out, they say they bought 100 million in power crystals and it just vanished."
"Tell them we're hacked, and to deal with their own god damn problems! I told them to stop trading!"
He didn't, Lambda sent. I stopped that message from ever getting out.
Alan watched as the stock market and other financial markets continued to struggle as chaos reigned. Numbers swam in front of his eyes. Every indicator of the stock market was red.
Now for the nail in the coffin, Lambda sent.
Alan received a message, he didn't bother looking at it, he knew the contents.
The markets began a free fall. Down 10%... 11%.. 12%, and sinking.
"Holy shit Steve, do you see this message?"
"No I don't, what's it say?"
"It's a publishing of the United World Government's books, from some whistleblower. They're in a bad way, they'll be bankrupt in years if this analysis is right."
"Let me look at that. There's no way this is right, this is a practical joke; it has to be, right?"
Alan received a message from Icewolf:
Icewolf: Alan, what did you just do?
Alan: I instigated a market crash, like you asked me to.
Icewolf: Stop, stop the market now.
Stop the transactions¸ Alan sent. He looked at the final NYSE totals: S&P down 22%, Dow Jones down 17%.
Alan: Isn't this what you wanted?
Icewolf: Not like this. How many players did this go out to? How did you send the message?
Alan: A few thousand, it's a something you can do through the Administrators. You can search for players and mass message them, though it costs 10 credits a player, thus I narrowed it down to the players above level 100 in the city. They have to have their settings open to other players messaging them too. It's like the call to arms quests that capture point holders can send out.
Icewolf: I've never seen this option.
Alan: You probably don't have the required standing with the faction.
Icewolf: Shit. You're going to go through with me what else the Administrators can do for you when this is done. For now, just hold the server room.
Alan: Very well.
We have incoming, Eve sent.
Incoming? Alan asked.
In Cyberspace, a new connection formed, another base appeared in the distance. It had a basic blue shield surrounding it, with 1000 energy. A figure flew out of it, a robot composed of blocks in a humanoid shape. It carried an advanced laser rifle but didn't shoot it.
Eve flew out of the captured base to approach them. "Halt. State your business."
"We at Nyan Tech demand you return the stolen credits and allow us to resume trading on the Market," the robot replied.
"I cannot do that," Eve said.
"We demand that you return the credits and open the market."
"I cannot do that."
The robot raised their rifle and began firing at Eve, who dived at them and sliced with her swords.
Alarmed, Alan glanced at Eve's HP, which had taken a small hit. It looked like this enemy could actually damage her. He sent out a squad of units to assist her.
The enemy AI managed to put up a decent fight against Eve, taking her HP down by 5% before being destroyed. When destroyed it left behind a pile of scrap metal, which Eve gathered up and returned to the Armory in Alan's base. It was apparently worth 50C.
"Shit, it looks like the financial institutions aren't going to go down without a fight," Lambda said as three new connections formed. He entered a few commands into the console at the center, then strode out onto the open battlefield. Alan sent four Elite Marines and a medic to assist.
"How are they connecting to the server? It's a closed system," Alan said.
"They're making use of their existing connection to the Market, these are the AI's being used to analyze the market. Each is rank F-D, I expect. This may be challenging," Lambda said.
"Do you need my help?" Alan asked. "Should I-"
"NO. Stay as the commander, use the rest of the units to defend the base," Lambda said.
Alan examined Lambda's stats:
[Lambda, Rank A AI. (Limited to Rank B by hardware)
Attack rank: C. Predecessor strength.
Defense rank: A. Predecessor defense.
Movement rank: B. Predecessor speed.
Estimated Attack: 500 damage/sec.
Estimated Defense: 500 armor.
Estimated Health: 1500 hp.
Estimated Movement: 11.
Special Abilities: ???]
As the three new connections finished, structures appeared: a medieval castle, a beast's den and the typical military base. Units began swarming out: swordsmen, attack dogs and marines. Enemy AI's appeared as well: a knight in shining armor, a giant wolf and a scorpion light tank.
Lambda charged straight into the middle of it all, shrugging off all attacks aimed at him, even the tank's explosive rounds. He crushed basic units with brute forced, and pummeled the knight to death before jumping on top of the wolf.
Meanwhile, five additional connections to the server materialized. Eve flew over to meet the new threat. Alan sent his remaining units to assist her.
The five bases that appeared were connected somehow, a true army base consisting not only of barracks but factories, laser turrets and a single airport.
A company of marines lead by a marine in heavy power armor emerged from the base. Alongside them a handful of Light Armored Vehicles with chain guns and machine guns emerged. An attack helicopter began to power up, and then rose up into the air.
"Eve, are you sure you can handle this?" Alan asked.
"Probably," Eve said.
"Don't worry, I'll help," Lambda said as he finished off the tank by tearing off the manhole and crushing the pilot.
A new connection began to form to the server.
"Damn it, when is the end? I'll help you once I finish with this threat," Lambda said. "Finish off the heli, I can't reach it easily."
"Affirmative," Eve said as she flew towards the helicopter flying over head.
The company of marines and LAV's fired up at her, but failed to pierce through Eve's armor. Still, the sheer amount of fire damaged Eve; her health dropped at a rate of around 0.5% a second.
The attack helicopter fired a salvo of rockets, Eve managed to dodge all but one, which brought her HP down by a few percentage points, to 80%. The two chain guns on the helicopter began firing at Eve. The helicopter itself steered to the side, away from Eve.
Eve tried to chase the helicopter down and gained on it slowly.
Alan ordered the rest of his units forward to take on the bulk of the enemy's army.
Meanwhile, the other connection finished.
A dome the size of a small town appeared.
"Shit," Lambda said.
A stream of Haxlard soldiers emerged from the dome. They fired their laser rifles at Lambda. It took more than a few blows for Lambda to take down a Haxlard's shields and then kill them, but they didn't appear to do any damage to him.
Then three Haxlards in white masks appeared out of nowhere, and activated a trap that spawned a blue shield that surrounded Lambda. Lambda was stuck, unable to get out. He pounded his fists against the prison, but it didn't waver.
Alan turned his attention back to Eve, she had caught up to the helicopter and destroyed its rotor. It fell to the floor and exploded. She had 60% hp.
Alan had let his attention waver for too long, his units had taken heavy casualties, half wiped out though the majority of the enemy army was destroyed as well. Alan pulled his units back, to try to stop the Haxlard forces that were now marching on his base. Eve flew down to finish off the remaining human army.
Then a flash of red. An AI appeared, a red haired girl, armored with Haxlard stealth technology and a high damage laser rifle.
The sniper bolt pierced one of Eve's wings, sending her tumbling towards the ground. She landed, hard, with 40% hp remaining.
The Haxlard army turned, advancing towards Eve.
Lambda pounded against the shields he was trapped in.
"NO," Alan shouted.
He deactivated commander mode.
He exited the base, sprinting towards the sniper, invisible.
Eve charged the Haxlard forces, which eliminated Alan's remaining units.
The sniper took shots at Eve. Haxlard soldiers fired at Eve. Marines fired at Eve.
Her hp fell to 25%.
Alan reached the sniper. He cut off the AI's head with his laser sword. The sniper rifle fell to the floor.
The three white masked Haxlards reappeared and attacked Eve, wielding laser swords.
Eve cut two of them down, under heavy laser fire.
Then a laser sword pierced her stomach. Her health fell to 0.
Eve died. She fell to the floor.
Her body disappeared, leaving behind a pair of angel wings.