The tags. I am no comedian. The included comedic aspects may only be amusing to a select few. I'll be aiming for a bit of satire, and only occasionally. I don't know if I'll be able to maintain it throughout. Drama because I'm sure I'll be attempting to include some dramatic moments. This story, however, won't be a drama. Mature because I use profanity. Also, I will not shy away from gore when/if necessary. Adventure because that is the nature of these types of stories. I do not write action-packed stories, but there will be occasional action sequences.
Updates will likely not be frequent. I simply do not write that fast. I have no idea how so many of the writers on this site maintain the frequency they do. They are writing beasts! I am envious. I'd love to write quicker, but wanting to doesn't preclude being able to.
Finally, if you find yourself disliking the story, please leave a short (or long) comment explaining why (providing you can put your finger on it).
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
“Integration into Powermongerer actualized.” Danica was greeted by a talking two-wheeled personal transportation device (PTD) when what was commonly known as the vast nothingness of pre-VR retreated. The vehicle’s blinking lights and voice were designed to draw new users’ focus upon entering the VR world for the first time. Studies had proven such conventions effective for mitigating the transitional disorientation inherent to the system.
“Please place your hand on my display screen for identification and registration.” Danica did so as she took note of her location.
She was in a small, white rectangular room more suggestive of a closet. Its length was such that she doubted she’d be able to lay down and stretch out on the floor (if there was space to do so). The ceiling stood at nearly twice her height, and she estimated it wasn’t much wider than her outstretched arms. The entire thing appeared to be coated with some kind of plastic or ceramic. A silver circle was clearly etched in the material beneath her feet and directly above her.
“Welcome to Space Station Paparas4, Barbzilla. I’ll be your information resource, guide, and exclusive portable save point during your acclimation period. You can call me Pod. Hop on. I’ll give you a tour of the facility.”
As Danica (or Barbzilla) stepped on Pod’s standing platform, the seemingly seamless wall she was facing slid up to reveal a narrow hallway running perpendicular to the room. But, that wasn’t what took her breath away. Opposite the doorway was a semi-circular floor-to-ceiling window protruding into the void of space. It consisted of a single pane that followed the curvature of the station along the hallway. She pictured it as the typical circular tube depicted in science fiction with the apex of the outside curve made of a single sheet of glass. And, like that typical section, she could tell it was rotating around an inner axis. In the distance, she could see nebulas, stars of different sizes and colors, and other heavenly objects, the most concerning of which were asteroids.
Some of the asteroids looked as if they were dangerously close. The lack of any suitable frame-of-reference caused a distortion in her perception, resulting in a failure to understand the magnitude of the objects she was seeing. She couldn’t tell if they were hundreds of meters long and hundreds of meters out, or hundreds of kilometers long and hundreds of kilometers out. For all she knew, the smaller ones could be thousands of kilometers long and thousands of kilometers out. There was just no way to tell given what she could see with no further information at hand.
Except she did have access to information. Supplying it was one of Pod’s main functions, as said so by himself (of course she knew Pod was a machine, but the timbre of its voice struck her as male; so, in her mind, Pod was a male).
“Hey, Pod, aren’t those asteroids awfully close to the station?” She stepped off his platform and walked up to the window, leaning into and placing her hands against it.
“Sensors indicate they are orbiting outside the danger zone. However, if they make you uncomfortable, might I suggest you take up the proximity artificer profession upon completion of your training.” Pod pulled up next to her.
“Proximity artificer? Sounds boring and filled with tedium, like lots of maths and calculations and stuff; not really for me. I think I want to be an idol. Everyone in the system should get to experience my awesomesauce.” She stood up straight and spread her arms wide in a gesture towards the cosmos while spinning in place. A brilliant smile was expressed upon her face.
“beep beep Does not compute. beep beep Idol is not a certified profession within Powermongerer. Idol is a product of your fame, of which 100,000 is required to achieve as a system status at the local level. Universal-scale status requires exponentially more, but can’t be achieved until you’ve gone through planetary, multi-planetary, solar system, multi-solar system, quadrant, multi-quadrant, galaxy, and multi-galaxy. You’ll need a real profession to gain fame. And, as far as professions go, proximity artificer is a well-respected one.”
“Fine, Mr. Buzzkill. I’ll humor you. Tell me more about it.”
“The name is Pod, but if you want to register Mr. Buzzkill as one of my aliases, the option is available. Now, if you’ll get back on me and grasp the handles to either side of my display, I’ll tell you as we continue your orientation.”
Barbzilla put a finger to her chin, pursed her lips, and looked up. “Yes, please register it.”
“Mr. Buzzkill is now registered as an alias to Pod.” If she didn’t know better, she’d have sworn he sounded exasperated and slightly depressed.
She stepped back onto Pod and said, “Onward, gray chariot of mine,” while holding on with one hand and pointing to the right with the other.
“The proximity artificer’s job is to monitor and manage their assigned proximities. The size of these proximities range from personal space to galactic scale. As such, their skills and technological savvy are geared towards achieving this end. It is more than just keeping track of where objects are. It also entails the relocation and, if necessary, removal of said objects by whatever means most suitable.”
“You mentioned skills. What skills are available to this profession?”
“As with any profession, any and all skills are available for acquisition.”
“If that’s the case, then what’s the point of having a profession in the first place?”
“Although any skill can be acquired by anybody, what makes professions beneficial are the free skills and affinity bonuses associated with them. For the proximity artificer, some of the more common ones are astrochartation, cartography, demolitions, direction sense, electro-field manipulation, heavy gunnery, and strategy. Proximity artificers serve more of a support function during interpersonal combat than on the front line. However, when it comes to large-scale battles, their usefulness shouldn’t be underestimated.”
“Sounds great and all, but how can it help me become an idol?”
“That’s easy. Crowd control.”
“Alright. I’m convinced. How do I get it?”
“Excellent choice. I knew I had you pegged. I’ll finish the tour at the appropriate training room for maximizing the desirable stats.” Because extensive training had become the norm in VR games, the developers had begun including specialized training zones for the most popular classes/professions/jobs many game-generations ago. Powermongerer was no exception.
The scenery for the next few minutes was both monotonous and stunning at the same time. On her right were an endless series of identical door outlines of the same white material as the room she appeared in. On her left was the splendor of space, and as amazing as it was, very little changed. The asteroids were spinning slowly, an occasional one flew by, and a distant star or two appeared to blink. The nebulas were a sight, but not much different than looking at a fine piece of art.
She was never much interested in art, something her parents had a harder time accepting than her cis-hetero-ness. Sure, it was nice to look at, but she didn’t see the point in staring at it for hours. Whenever she was forced to go to museums or galleries, she’d look at a particular piece, and think ‘cool’ or ‘meh’ as she shrugged her shoulders before moving on to the next one. To her, there was no existential debate going on in her mind over what she thought the artist had been thinking/feeling while creating the piece, what she’d been trying to elicit, and whether either had been conveyed or influenced the other; or whatever else the pretentious mother fuckers around her had gone on blabbering about.
So, after seeing the nebulas and space gases and such, she was only interested in what was next. But, there was no next, because celestial bodies are enormous and far as fuck away, and the station followed a strict spinning path upon whence the same scenery repeated ad infinitum.
“Jebuz, Pod, just how big is this place?”
“Funny you should ask. I was just about to tell you.”
“Uh huh. Sure you were.”
“That is what I said. What we have been traveling through is the station’s outermost module, and only ring. Its sole purpose is for receiving new Powermongerer players like yourself. The circumference is roughly four kilometers and there are 2500 access portals. Players are afforded fifteen minutes to get their bearings before they must leave the room, either by choice or forced log-out to make room for another one. As such, this station, Paparas4, can process 10,000 new players an hour.”
Barbzilla took a good look around her. “Um, so then where is everybody?”
“You are currently the only person on this station.”
“What? How is that? If 10,000 people can be processed an hour, then why am I the only one here?”
“About that. Starting locations are unique to each race. The Paparas stations are where elven-kin start; and, Paparas4 is the only starting space station for space elves. It is the smallest-sized space station that can be built for game-introductory purposes. As you are the 25th space elf player character ever created, and the first in a game-year, you are the only occupant of this station. And, may I say, I’m ecstatic to be a part of your journey, however short it may be.”
“Why do you say that: ‘however short it may be’? Is there something you’re not telling me about my race? Are we like hunted for our skins or something?”
“No. Nothing like that. Most players don’t keep their initial custodian beyond the acclimation period.”
“Why not? And I didn’t realize there was a set acclimation period?”
“There’s not. You can stay on-station for as little or long as you want. We aren’t kept because we have limited functionality, most of which is dependent on the station’s systems.”
“I get it. So, your job is to basically nudge the players and get their asses moving, in-game. Yes?”
“Correct. Part of my job is to facilitate forward-movement in the initial game stages.”
“What do we do afterwards,then?”
“That is up to you. You can either keep me with you for a small monthly fee, purchase me outright, purchase a different model and either transfer my personality or request a new one, or go without.”
“And I suppose the fee is in real-life currency, right?”
“Yes, the monthly rental fee is based on real-life currency. However, the purchasing options are available in both real-life or game currencies. My display is hooked up to the station’s store. Feel free to browse it at your leisure. I can assist you with any transactions that interest you.”
Finally, there was a break in the path of doors, a three-way intersection as it were. “What we are coming up to is one of the four spokes connecting the outer ring with the station proper, which is our destination.”
This new side pathway was twice as wide as the one she was on, and looked as if it could comfortably accommodate six PTDs across. How those six would would navigate the path was anyone’s guess. For, not only did it have a tubular shape, but it was completely transparent, except for the blinking green karats indicating which direction the central station was located.
“I suggest you hold on to me tightly. This section tends to be especially difficult for newcomers to handle. Legally, I’m required to inform you that we will be entering a gravity-free zone. HPLS, Inc., and its subsidiaries and affiliates, have taken every precaution required by law to insure and ensure your safety. However, Powermongerer, at its core, creates a new, virtual, reality based on space exploration and combat, with fantastical game-like effects and simulation at 99% of normal. Because the game world contained within Powermongerer is essentially indistinguishable from real reality, it is possible for the resultant sensations and effects to sympathetically manifest on or within your physical person in the real world, as well as is possible for potential mental or emotional consequences to develop due to experiences encountered during full, sustained or limited, immersion in the created environments. As such, you should not partake of this activity if you are too scared to participate, or if you have any pre-existing conditions or injuries, including without limitation: heart, nerve, muscle, back, neck, bone, joint, brain, eye, ear, or other ailment or injury; or if you are pregnant. HPLS, Inc., does not, and cannot, guarantee your health. By continued participation in Powermongerer, you implicitly agree to and accept all terms and conditions associated with said game, and you fully assume all risks of any activity experienced henceforth.”
“Yeah yeah, got it. Already signed the documents. Moving on.” Barbzilla paid little attention to the safety warnings. As she said, she’d already agreed to similar conditions when she registered for the game (not that she paid much attention to it at that time either).
“Absolutely accept!” Barbzilla shouted. She was excited to get the game on the road.
As they crossed the threshold, the gravity disappeared as she had been warned. Her excitement quickly faded as a sudden nausea overcame her. Fear gripped her insides as the sensation of falling from a great height was brought on by the vacuum of space darkness surrounding her. Her natural reaction had been to squeeze Pod’s handles tighter. It was the only other solid thing in her immediate vicinity. She tried to scream but her breath was caught in her throat as she perceived its muscles to be constricting her windpipe. Of course, she did not feel the breeze that would normally be associated with falling. The station’s entire environment was a sealed system at equilibrium.
“You are currently experiencing space sickness. Maintain contact with my frame and eventually your mind will catch up with your organic instincts.”
Ding! A semi-transparent game box appeared in her vision with more detail on her condition.
90, 89, 88, 87,… The big blinking red timer in her vision counted down.
“Don’t worry if you need to vomit. This passage has been designed with the effects of space sickness in mind and contains self-cleaning scrubbers.
78, 77, 76,… Barbzilla couldn’t tell if they were moving with everything spinning around her. Even the darkness behind her closed eyes seemed to spin with pinpoint pulses of neuronal light rotating around the countdown.
51, 49, 48,…
“You need to fight the space sickness. Total Body Failure at this point will result in you being ejected and banned from the game until you get professional real-world training and two independent physicians’ certifications of status.”
39, 38, 37,… Barbzilla focused on the only two stable things she was experiencing: Pod’s handles and the countdown clock.
28, 28, 28,… It seemed to be working.
28, 28, 28,… But it was hard for her to concentrate for so long. Her lungs were burning.
28, 27, 26,… No, I won’t give up!
…, 23, 23, 23,… She felt a new sensation: perspiration. With the climate control still engaged, she could feel it evaporating on her skin and lowering her elevated body temperature.
…, 23, 23, 23,… Aghh! She screamed inside her head, fighting the affects.
…, 23, 23, 23,… But it was too much for her to handle and she began to feel light-headed.
22, 21, 20,…
9, 8, 7,… No matter how hard she tried to force it, her brain was exhausted and she felt limp. She couldn’t stop the clock again.
4, 3, 2,… Dammit! I don’t want to fail! My teacher will mark me down! Aghh!
Slowly, the screaming she’d failed to manage came into existence. First, as a little squeaking, almost like a wheeze or whistle. But, after a short time, her throat relaxed and it came out in full force in volume. That’s when she felt the floor beneath her.
She opened her eyes to find herself lying on the floor at the far end of the connecting tunnel. Her screaming wound down to laughing as she realized she’d made it across. She was glad she was the only one in the station, and could only imagine the scene of a bunch of newbies starting the game. She’d been lucky enough to hold the vomit in, but pictured the chaos if the station were at full introductory capacity and others hadn’t. She didn’t think she would’ve made it if she would’ve had to fly through gobs of zero-g’d vomit, too.
How horrible it must be to start as one of the main races.
“Good job. I was worried about you for a bit there. But you made it. Welcome to Paparas4 station proper! Please climb back on so we may continue the tour.”
Congratulations! You have completed the first quest!
|Through the actions utilized to complete this quest, respective attributes have been increased accordingly.|
|Space Sickness resistance acquired!||Beginner (1)|
|Space Sickness Penalty:||STATS reduced to 50%|
By surviving your first bout of Space Sickness, you have acquired a resistance to it.
“What the Rand was that about? Wasn’t that only supposed to be an E-level quest? Why do I feel like I almost died?”
“It felt like you almost died because your in-game self almost did. Powermongerer was designed for maximum realism. How real would it be if dying didn’t feel like dying?”
“But that’s just ridiculous. It’s irresponsible. It’s, it’s, it’s … unfair!”
“I do not think unfair means what you think it means. The fairness doctrine clearly states that everyone, given the same opportunities and making the same choices, must receive equal treatment. Nothing was altered to affect your experience.”
“So everyone has to go through that. Why/how is this game still in existence?” She got to her feet and brushed off her beginner clothing (even though there wasn’t anything on them): a tight-fitting gray utility/body suit with multiple seams along the joints.
“Yes, the scenario is the same for everyone. It’s not unusual for players to get space sickness. However, my readings indicate you had an extremely adverse case of it. The only thing I can think of is that you have some sort of condition which makes zero-g especially difficult to handle. This is well within our operational parameters because Powermongerer, Inc., is not responsible for those playing with pre-existing conditions. The data has been logged and sent to corporate.”
“There is nothing wrong with me.” Barbzilla clenched her fists and stomped her foot.
“Have you ever been tested for zero-g sensitivity?”
“No. Why would I? It’s not like normal people have much chance to go into space. Duh!”
“Then that answers your question about why Powermongerer is so popular. Anyways, until you get tested and are found to be free from any conditions, including zero-g sensitivity, HPLS, Inc., is released from liability for anything that may happen to your real body while you are in-game, or affects that can be traced back to your in-game experiences. Your continued use of Powermongerer constitutes your acceptance of this liability release.”
Now that her vitals had returned to normal and she was no longer subject to danger or the sickness effects, Barbzilla reverted to her usual, lackadaisical, self. “Whatever. What’s next?” She climbed onto Pod’s platform.