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A note from Vincent Archer

This open part 1 "First Spawn" (and no, it's not a book title, unlike the rest)

In any other age and place, the small brown paper bag in Jasper’s hand would have contained a bottle of spirits. But today… today was a different day. Today, Jasper had obtained a private Silvergate.

Possession of a Silvergate was illegal. About every government in the world was trying to clamp down on the use of Silvergates. Freedom activists took potshots at every attempt to justify actions against the Silvergates or anyone in possession of one, and the tug-of-war between the Department of Justice and the galaxy of libertarian associations was an endless delight for one Jasper Hill, geology Ph.D. student… and soon to be another deplorable example of an American as well (if you believed the Attorney General increasingly strident proclamations).

Current estimates had around a hundred thousand “Gaters” in the USA. In a couple of years, there might be more of them than people who used to smoke weed.

 

The original Silvergate supposedly came out of Panama. There were outlawed videos of the original sphere all over the Net, modified, edited, with various music, anything to bypass the automated content filters that crawled the various streaming sites for the “illegal” content.

On average, a Gater managed to find a new Silvergate every three to four months. Some kept at least one of their finds as spares, in case their Silvergate was stolen, confiscated, or otherwise made unavailable. But a sizeable number of Gaters simply gave out their spares, creating an endless cycle of new Silvergates for new people to use.

From a single Silvergate, nearly six years had brought over half a million copies across the world. And despite their best efforts, the various governments couldn’t manage to stem the tide.

 

For over a year, Jasper had plunged into the underworld of the Gater community. Northworld, the world beyond the Silvergates, apparently worked by rules similar to computer RPGs. Stats, skills, experience, the whole works. The same communities that sprung around every MMORPG of the last decades gathered around Northworld. The biggest difference was that you couldn’t purchase a subscription or anything. Until you managed to snag a Silvergate somehow, all you could do was to experience vicariously the world beyond this world, read about the various exploits, the discoveries and everything else.

Of course, since it was illegal, getting access to one of the underground forums was almost as difficult as getting a Silvergate. Most forums were tagged private, hidden behind layers of mundane forums devoted to gaming or innocuous activities. Access codes were handed by trusted parties to groupies – would-be Gaters – like Jasper. Despite that, authorities were slowly stepping up their efforts to seize domains and servers to get lists of Gaters to prosecute as deterrence.

The official reasons why Gaters were criminals were multiples, but everyone knew the major ones. More and more people simply dropped out of college, stopped attending university, resigned from day jobs to take the opportunity to plunge. And why not? Earning yourself a living was far more interesting on the other side of Silvergates. The damage to Earth’s economy was insignificant, so far, but governments anticipated a massive recession when the movement reached a critical mass in the years to come, and were already doing their best to nip that in the bud.

 

It wasn’t as if people emigrated, though. One of the things with Northworld was the so-called “Adaptation Sickness”. The fact that you were, fundamentally, from a different world would start to hit you after a couple of weeks in Northworld. It was tolerable for a while, but given enough time, you needed to head back to Earth to recover. Recovering was faster than accumulating sickness, but you did have to spend a couple of days around the “normal” world.

To fuel their stays on Earth, serious Gaters brought back “stuff” from Northworld. Items translated more often than not. And their properties remained consistent. Despite the FDA trying to clamp on it, there was a serious market for potions coming out of Northworld. Of course, not every potion was equal, which had the regulators tearing out their hair. But you could drink a health potion, and instantly cure your flu. More problematic were the charm potions, already classified as rape drugs.

Exotic food was more tolerated. Black market Drake Meat found its way to the plates of 3-star restaurants if you had the wallet for it – and knew the chef, because it was never officially on the menu. Gems, metals, exotic items were for sale all the time.

 

Jasper sent a taunting text to his best friend, Alan.

“Got it first. You lost the bet.”

The phone buzzed back less than ten seconds later.

“F U. Morden said he’d give to me!”

“Morden who? I know people.”

“Your Carto friends? They deliver?”

“They deliver.”

Unsaid was the fact that Jasper now owed some IOU to the Cartographer’s Guild. There was no way to predict where exactly Jasper would enter Northworld. But the Cartographers invested in affiliates all the time, in case they located new places. A Silvergate was the ultimate in investment, and the Guild would remind Jasper if he was remiss in his duties.

 

The Cartographer’s forum wasn’t the only place Jasper had visited. Once you were “in”, you were in. So, he’d been a good groupie, and done serious research, trying to establish contacts for the future. The only problem was that the most dedicated forum users were also the less dedicated Gaters since the latter spent all the time they could in Northworld.

Jasper started by putting aside all of its important – Earthside – possessions. You usually recovered them when you crossed back, but not always. You could lose them easily in the Northworld wilds. So, phone, wallet, ID, everything went into a small bag that Jasper hid very carefully. Burglars had already adapted and knew that a Gater’s home was exactly like a vacationing person’s, except that vacationers usually notified the neighbors about their holiday. Gaters wouldn’t, of course.

A hiker’s backpack held everything Jasper thought he would need at first. The original Gaters hadn’t had as much warning, but most Newbies these days came prepared. You usually got lucky, and be dropped not too far from a human settlement, but Northworld was an entire world, and there were only a couple of hundred thousand people spread over it. Your location wasn’t completely random, but you could pop out anywhere.

The activation was anticlimactic. Jasper simply squeezed lightly on the sphere and let it drop. It inflated in a quarter of a second, filling almost all of his room. The remote location was entirely black, which was expected. The closest person to a Silvergate determined the remote destination – and attempting to do a simultaneous crossing was guaranteed death by spreading yourself over two places. Without a determined destination, Jasper had to undergo first the Setup.

The sphere vanished silently, leaving Jasper’s bedroom empty.

 

The inside of the Silvergate was complete darkness. Not simply black, but an absence of any form of light. Normally, this should have been a terrifying experience, but Jasper felt nothing.

This, then, was exactly what everyone reported. The first entrance left a Newbie in an abstract space, a pure intellect devoid of emotional impact. Speculation was that this was because there was no brain or any organic existence to drive emotional feelings. Just the core of Jasper’s intellect.

 

Initial Setup

 

Jasper Malik Hill

 

Change designation

Accept name

 

The first choice was simple and obvious. And everyone changed their name, to avoid being identified as a Gater. If a law enforcement agent went in, all they would know would be your self-designation. Pick the right one, and they wouldn’t be able to tie it to your Earth name. Not that it had happened, but many a Gater was paranoid these days.

Jasper had been known by his handle of “Vantegaard” on the Gaters forums. The name was chosen by a random name generator site, to avoid picking easily associated pseudonyms. So his new designation was already chosen.

 

The next stage was well documented as well.

 

Initial Setup

 

Vantegaard

 

↑ Strength: 20

↑ Dexterity: 26

↑ Reflexes: 19

↑ Resilience: 23

↑ Perception: 17

↑ Reasoning: 29

↑ Intuition: 12

↑ Fortitude: 20

↑ Presence: 14

=ambiguous skill=

—unknown skill—

—unknown skill—

—unknown skill—

—unknown skill—

—unknown skill—

=ambiguous skill=

=ambiguous skill=

—unknown skill—

Unallocated stats: 4

Accept stats

 

The second stage of the setup involved Jasper’s – Vantegaard now – personal stats. All stats were derived from a newbie’s original physiology, more or less. They spread on a bell-shaped curve around averages.

Forums had endless speculations about why Dexterity would be centered around a 25 median point, while Intuition was averaging 15. People were spread all over the curve, with almost everyone around a total of 180.

Vantegaard has 180, but 4 free stats. Again, some people had only 1 or 2 unallocated stats, while sometimes people had as much as 9. You could choose to increase by 1 any of your stats, up to the number of unallocated points. And therein lay the first real choice.

 

Everyone had nine different statistics, and the Setup offered nine different skills based on each of those stats. But, until you had selected which stat to increase, you had no idea what kind of skill would benefit from that extra stat. Your perception skill could be highly useful to identify each weakness of a predator or very limited to identifying accurately color nuances.

In addition to that, statistics had general use. Strength increased your capacity to carry things, but also your health in general. Resilience increased your physical recovery if you took damage. Perception was key to gear. And so on.

 

What everyone agreed on was that you should try to boost your stats for which you had ambiguous skills rather than unknown ones. Ambiguous skills were a choice between three possibilities instead of whatever was hidden behind the unknown label.

Not only that, but often, ambiguous choices would have rare skills that most didn’t get or high tier skills. In general, the higher a tier, the more the associated stat impacted it. So, the stat increase would have a disproportionately higher effect.

So, increase first thing whatever ambiguous skill you had. Again, some people had only one, some had as much as five. There was a legend that one newbie had all nine of his skills turn out ambiguous. Like all urban legends, it was unverifiable.

People had tried to score each stat in terms of the number of known skills, impact on the person, and so on. Half a dozen orders of importance existed, even if most people tended to follow Honest John’s.

Once Vantegaard had improved his Strength, Perception, and Intuition, the next one everyone recommended was Resilience. Further improving his Reasoning, which was already above average, was tempting, but Reasoning featured chiefly on certain builds, whereas physical stats were more useful in the general case.

 

Initial Setup

 

Vantegaard

 

Strength: 21

Dexterity: 26

Reflexes: 19

Resilience: 24

Perception: 17

Reasoning: 29

Intuition: 13

Fortitude: 21

Presence: 14

=ambiguous skill=

Sure Strike 7

Bladed Parry 5

Sprinting 5

Night Sense 4

Evaluate Minerals 6

=ambiguous skill=

=ambiguous skill=

Sculpting 3

Resolve ambiguities

Accept skills

Vantegaard now had a better idea of his initial skills. Some of them were probably derived from his geology background. The Sure Strike and Bladed Parry were possibly based on his kitchen knife mad skills – he could slice vegetables as fast if not faster than a Top Chef competitor. Night Sense… might be related to his habit of walking home after many a late party.

 

Rather than accept the skills and let the Setup pick the ambiguous skills at random, Vantegaard started to resolve the ambiguities. Starting with Strength skills.

 

Strength skills

Door Knocker. Tier 2. No door can resist a good kick, especially when backed with overwhelming strength.

Weight Measure. Tier 3. Use of your strength to evaluate the density and solidity of materials, giving insights into their use in construction.

Fist and Furious. Tier 1. The power of the fist, backed by indomitable strength, prevails against both enemies and obstacles.

 

Each choice could be complicated or straightforward. Here, the real prize was the Fist and Furious skill. It wasn’t a very rare skill – Jasper had seen it discussed as a staple of Monk builds on the forums. Any serious build turned around multiple tiers 1 and 2 skills like the Fist.

And therein lay the problem. Vantegaard had two weapon-oriented skills already. Picking an unarmed skill, even a high tier one, would be a gamble that he’d get more skills feeding on a Monk build.

The measuring skill looked more or less useless. Presumably, the Evaluate Minerals covered some of the results he’d get from it.

Door Knocker looked like an interesting skill for ruins exploration and dungeon diving.

Despite the temptation of a tier 1 skill, the door skill won out. It was useful in any build, and besides, going unarmed combat didn’t appeal him much. People had invented weapons for a reason, Shaolin notwithstanding.

 

Intuition skills

Sense the Leylines. Tier 1. The power of the earth courses within the land, and those attuned to it can find its course and reap its essence.

Anatomic Theory. Tier 3. Elaborate guesses about function from any animated creature’s part.

Lay of the Land. Tier 1. You can figure out, with a simple look, where the best opportunities await for whatever activity interests you.

 

The second choice was an unexpected pearl. Two tier 1 skills, and ones that Vantegaard didn’t remember seeing. They might be exceptionally rare skills; he might even be the first to obtain them. Or he might just have missed them. There were thousands of skills, after all. Unfortunately, he could not leave Setup to try to find spoilers on what they did. Once on Northworld, he’d have a better description, but he had to decide which one to pick based on the flavor description.

Lay of the Land looked like one of so-called “fate” skills. The Interface didn’t have quests, minimaps or anything like. Fate skills helped overcome that. Knowing the lay of the land might mean he’d be able to find the closest settlement, the most lucrative dungeon, the best trails…

Sense the Leylines… while he had never heard of the skill, leylines were a topic well discussed on the forums. There were multiple magical systems on Northworld, and Earth Magics were one. Geomancers relied on leyline power. There were entire guilds build around access and control of leylines.

Methods to map and locate leylines were discussed on forums, but they were all very complicated and took a long time. The existence of skills to locate leylines was theorized, but any of such was kept a closely held secret by any magical guild that had it.

Sense the Leylines was a highly marketable skill. Unlike the Fist and Furious skill, even if Vantegaard didn’t end up an Earth Mage, he could end up selling his services using the skill to mages and guilds. He could get associate membership in a major guild with that one.

The disadvantage of starting 5 years after Northworld opened was that the originals had big advantages. Vantegaard might need to spend time in a smaller guild, distinguishing himself and establishing a reputation before being recruited. Sense the Leylines might cut the line, unlike the Lay of the Land. That was the bet he needed to take.

 

Fortitude skills

Anchor the World. Tier 3. The indomitable will of the world extends beyond yourself, increasing the fortitude of those with you.

Stand your Ground. Tier 3. If you are fighting, nothing will shake your determination.

Absolute Meditation. Tier 1. You can enter a state of meditation in any circumstances, clearing your mind and regenerating mental powers.

 

The last ambiguous skill… blew away Vantegaard’s mind.

The two tier 3 were solid skills. Stand your Ground was known staple of frontline combatants, being used to defend against mind-breaking effects in higher danger zones. Door Knocker, Stand your Ground and two sword skills would make a solid base for a Swordsman dungeoneer build.

Anchor the World looked like an aura skill. Good marketable skill again – from the description, it would enhance the Fortitude stat of people in his group. People loved stat addition, and auras were always welcomed in a dungeon dive.

But Absolute Meditation… the name and description did confirm it was one of a set of Meditation skills. The only tier 1 known, Boundless Meditation, was exceedingly rare. Only three people were known to have it, and it was widely credited for being the reason why Zarakan was considered the strongest Archmage on Northworld despite being a Year 3 Gater. There was no way to check exactly what it did in detail right now, but the general mechanics of Meditation were known, and any tier 1 was going to be a way overpowered version.

Having two tier 1 skills that fit a build pretty much meant you were going to go that type of build or a hybrid of sorts including it. Okay, Sense the Leylines might not be directly a combat magician skill, but it certainly could shape his ability to be one.

The average Gater might obtain three or four tier 1 skills. Starting with two was an enormous advantage, even if they did not synergize. With this setup, Vantegaard was off to a roaring start.

 

Final Setup

 

Vantegaard

 

Strength: 21

Dexterity: 26

Reflexes: 19

Resilience: 24

Perception: 17

Reasoning: 29

Intuition: 13

Fortitude: 21

Presence: 14

Door Knocker 11

Sure Strike 7

Bladed Parry 5

Sprinting 5

Night Sense 4

Evaluate Minerals 6

Sense the Leylines 14

Absolute Meditation 22

Sculpting 3

 

Accept skills

 

Northworld awaited.

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A note from Vincent Archer

Another chapter, another bit of appendix, notably "Gater" jargon.

Silvergaters, like everyone else, tend to use jargon to refer to things related to their specific context. Most of the jargon will be familiar to people playing Computer Role Playing Games, although there’s differences in the details.

 

 

Adaptation Sickness – A debuff that appear after a few weeks on Northworld, potentially deadly if too long. Gaters need to spend around a day on Earth per week on Northworld to clear all traces of it.

Ambiguous – A choice between three different skills that the Interface offers rather than providing a single skill.

Archmage – General name for Builds based around three different magical systems. Known magical systems include: Arcana, Geomancy, Mana, Necromancy, Druidism, Psionics, Aetheric, Rituals.

Aura – A permanent effect that provide a buff.

Buff – An effect that increase your stats.

Build – A set of stats and skills used for a specific purpose.

Earth Mage – An alternate name for Geomancers.

Gater – Short for “Silvergater”; a user of a Silvergate. By extension, anyone who has ever entered Northworld even if he or she’s currently not there.

Geomancer – A sub-build of Mage, based around Geomantic Power (or Power, for short). Earth Mages can supercharge and keep a massive amount of Power by using leylines, allowing them to cast a massive amount of spells in succession, until their power is exhausted.

Groupie – Slightly derogatory name for someone wanting to become a Gater

Interface – Name for the system that manages a Gater’s numeric statistics and abilities. Only available while in Northworld.

Leyline – A ground feature that increases Geomantic Power for Earth Mages. And other things.

Mage – General name for Builds based around the use of one magical system. Usually qualified by whatever variation is used.

Monk – General name for Builds based around unarmed combat, derived from Asian folklore.

Northworld – The name of the world beyond Silvergates.

Setup Space – The virtual abstract location where every Gater enters when first using a Silvergate.

Silvergate – A mirror-like wormhole that can be used to move between worlds.

Swordsman – General name for Builds based around the use of swords and bladed weapons (daggers, knives).

Skill – an ability provided by the Interface. Skills simultaneously limit and enhance people.


About the author

Vincent Archer

  • France

Bio: Vincent Archer wrote his first story around age 11. On a mechanical typewriter, with carbon paper for a mimeograph to distribute in class. His teacher knew enough to make vague encouraging noises rather than really tell him what she thought. He wrote more stories afterward, but Time has thankfully managed to erase every trace of them.

Now that his career has settled in a mix of routine and insanity and that he's figured out that herding cats would probably be easier, he's finally started to write stories again on a media rather than inside his brain. Some of those are even potentially good enough to show to other people.

Silvergates is his first attempt to finish one rather than admit defeat against the usual writer's block.

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