A note from CoCop

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An hour later, Kat was clad in in a dark outfit, made from some sort of alien cotton or flax analogue with a long knife strapped to her belt. The tunic and pants weren’t anywhere near as nice as the clothes produced with modern technology, and they certainly weren’t any sort of actual armor, but they were quiet and had a fair amount of give in them.

The knife wasn’t anything special. Its blade was just over a foot long and made of sharp, blued steel. Kat wouldn’t be using it to cut through riot armor anytime soon, but it was a good sight better than the blade she carried on runs in the real world.

As soon as Arnold had paid for her basic gear with the small amount of marks that he had left over, they left the mud walled village and began traveling toward some rolling foothills covered in tall grass.

“I don’t understand why human society isn’t an absolute meritocracy,” Dorrik trailed after them, a pair of longswords with extended handles crossed on its back. “Clearly your people understand the concept. You’ve told me about this ‘aptitude test’ that you take upon reaching the age of majority. If you removed corruption from the process, your entire race would benefit.”

“I would tend to agree Dorrik,” Kat responded absently as her eyes scanned the nearby grass, looking for any abnormality that might indicate a hidden animal. “Unfortunately, those in positions of power don’t want to release their grip on that power. Right now they can control who enters the upper ranks of our society, and by selecting people who think and act like them, they virtually assure that the cycle will repeat itself.”

“But don’t they care that their actions weaken your race?” Dorrik cocked its head to the side, crest fluttering in confusion. “If only your corporations worked together for the common honor and betterment of humanity, your people likely would have discovered hyperdrives on their own by now.”

“Well they haven’t,” Arnold grumbled, glaring at the giant lizard out of the corner of his eyes, “and they won’t. This isn’t exactly a new problem. Our race has a long history of a small group of people taking power and putting their own interests ahead of everyone else. It just is what it is.”

“How do they stomach the dishonor?” Dorrik shook its head. “Entire clans of Lokkel have committed ritual suicide for allowing travesties a fraction as bad as what you describe occur. Even if your leaders themselves are willing to engage in such despicable practices, surely those around them must make some effort to stop them lest they share in the shame of these ‘CEOs.’”

“Sorry Dorrik,” Kat squinted at a section of the grass that had moved without wind present. “The corporations control our media and our history books. Generally, they have most people convinced that what they’re doing is good. They’re applauded rather than derided, and anyone that tries to publicly take them to task is dismissed as ‘jealous.’ The smart activists drop it there. The dumb ones end up dead.”

“You can’t-” Dorrik threw its upper arms into the air in frustration.

“Shhht,” Kat shushed the two of them, her left index finger perpendicular to her lips while her right hand crept toward the knife at her belt. “Something’s moving in the-”

Before she could get a reply from either Arnold or the chatty lizard, something lept from the tall grass, a dense mass of muscle and claws. Her body moved far too slowly, her artificially lowered stats reducing Kat’s reflexes to a fraction of their usual speed.

Still, the hours and days she spent in the gym weren’t wasted. Even as the creature slammed into her with the force of a linebacker, Kat’s hand hooked around its short neck wedging itself into the fur between the creature’s body and its shell. Her right grasped the hilt of the knife, stabbing it deep into the underside of the monster’s neck.

It’s beaked face registered the monster’s shock even as Kat let its momentum carry her over backward. With the fluidity of hundreds of repetitions, she brought her right knee to her chest, plating the ball of her foot into her attacker’s torso.

Almost as soon as her back hit the dirt, Kat kicked her leg out, using the monster’s own momentum to launch it into the air and rip her knife from its throat. It slammed into the grass at almost the same time that Kat had managed to scramble to her feet, a frown on her face as she contemplated her slow and unresponsive avatar.

The creature staggered to its feet, blood and foam dripping from its beak. It looked like a mad scientist had crossed a snapping turtle and a jaguar, throwing in an extra pair of legs for good measure. It was almost as long as Kat was tall, its back covered in a hardened shell with a black furred face ending in the sharp beak of a snapping turtle. Like its face, the rest of the creature and its six legs were covered in dense black fur.

Even injured, it moved with a feline grace, circling the three of them as its breath rattled through a damaged windpipe. Dark red blood, almost black dripped slowly from Kat’s knife as she kept her eyes locked on the creature.

At some point Dorrik’s swords had appeared in their hands, their inane questions a thing of the past as their eyes surveyed the surroundings with a hawklike intensity. Arnold, well. He’d managed to get his sword most of the way out of the scabbard before he’d somehow gotten himself tangled up.

Kat didn’t have time for Arnold. He’d figure his predicament out. In the meantime, Dorrik had her surroundings under control, freeing her up to go in for the kill.

She floated forward, keeping her steps light and ready to dodge or twist at a second’s notice. It snarled at her, hatred in its eyes as blood flowed freely from the wound she’d managed to plant in its throat.

Her shoulder shifted suddenly to the left, a feint that prompted a lunge and snap from the monster.

Kat kicked off the ground hopping to the right, past its flailing claws and inside the monster’s guard. Before it could turn itself to face her, Kat hopped onto its shell, left hand gripping the blood slicked fur at the top of its neck tightly.

It bucked, trying to throw her off. Kat’s grip held firm as she was thrown in the air only to slam onto its shell, a tiny red icon in the lower left of her vision flashed into being. Ignoring the distraction, she brought the knife down onto the cordlike muscles in the top of its neck. Once. Twice.

Viscous redblack blood stained the grass around them as the monster’s struggles lost most of their strength. It staggered to the side, barely maintaining its balance. She stabbed a third time, cutting deep into the neck once more.

This time, its legs gave out and the creature collapsed to the ground.

She stabbed it twice more for good measure before rolling off of the monster’s back and finding a clump of grass to wipe its blood off of her knife. Kat had no idea what the thing was made of, but the last thing she needed was for the weapon her life depended on to end up pitted or dull.

With a ‘shing,’ Arnold’s sword finally cleared its scabbard. Kat carefully didn’t comment, inspecting her knife for signs of wear one last time before sliding it into its sheath.

“Holy SHIT Kat,” Arnold’s eyes were as wide as saucers as he took in the blood stained clearing. “I know you said that you’d been in a couple fights, but what in the hell was THAT?”

“That,” she replied with some dissatisfaction, “was me not being able to move or react as quickly as I’m used to. Admittedly, I think I’m a little bit physically stronger here than I am back on Earth, but I’d trade that for the full use of my reflexes in a heartbeat.”

“That okkle had just over fifty percent the strength and fortitude of a starting player,” Dorrik observed evenly. “I believe it had another point in agility as well. They’re meant to be a team encounter for a group of three.”

“It was strong, fast and mean, but it was dumb,” Kat shrugged. “There are a lot of people in the Shell bigger than me. Some of them have chrome too, but so long as you can out think them, they have to outmatch you pretty badly for you to lose a scrap.”

“I mean,” Kat glanced at the dead monster. “Even if it is bigger and faster than me, it was just a matter of getting all that muscle and speed moving in the wrong direction. At that point it was dancing in the palm of my hand.”

“Are you sure that neither of you have a class?” Dorrik’s eyes narrowed into slits. “You seem awfully competent for a first timer from a probationary world.”

“Hey,” Arnold interjected, frowning at the big lizard. “I’m classed as a thug and I’m almost to rank two in my longsword I skill. Kat might be a newbie but I’ve managed to kill a couple things on my own.”

“How pray tell did you manage to do that without drawing your sword?” Kat was taken aback by the sudden acid bite to Dorrik’s voice. “You, Mr. Arnold, have the bearing of a new player. The tower has granted you some skills, but you don’t carry yourself like a predator.”

“She does,” Dorrik flicked their head in Kat’s direction. “If I am not mistaken, Miss Kat, you’ve killed before haven’t you?”

Kat opened her mouth to respond before sneaking a glance at Arnold. He was looking back and forth between them in confusion and anger. The thought hit her, what would he think if he knew about the samurai and the junkie on the day of the aptitude test? Arnold knew he was a runner, but he didn’t know that she was a murderer.

“I’m sure you had your back against the wall,” Dorrik continued, their voice soothing as they noticed Kat’s distress. “Miss Kat doesn’t strike me as the type to simply kill for the fun of it. Now tell me, what exactly is it that you do on Earth?”

“We work for Ike Holdings, a wholly owned subsidiary of GroCorp,” Arnold butted in, his voice defensive. “She’s a clerk at a convenience store, but given her test results she’s about to receive a promotion. What’s your deal anyway? You need to stop grilling Kat.”

Kat sighed. She might not want to talk about what happened in the abandoned building, but letting Arnold and his temper defend her didn’t sit right with Kat. He’d find out eventually, it was just a matter of sooner rather than later.

“I think Dorrik means my other job,” Kat put a hand gently on Arnold’s forearm to calm him. She turned to face Dorrik, mentally preparing herself. “I also work for an information broker transporting sensitive information between secure environments. The job is dangerous, but modern scanners will pick up pretty much any type of firearm, so I carry a knife.”

“I,” she glanced at Arnold out of the corner of her eye before biting the bullet. “I’ve had to use the knife on occasion. People have tried to rob or kill me during deliveries, and sometimes a handspan of cold steel is what just what it takes to convince them otherwise.”

“Sometimes,” She shrugged uncomfortably, “there’s no convincing them. I’ve had a few fights where I’m pretty sure the other side didn’t make it to a doctor. I don’t know for sure what happened. I got out of there as soon as possible because the people I fought weren’t alone and certainly weren’t unarmed, but to answer your question, yes. I’m pretty sure that I have killed before.”

“What?” Arnold looked at her, his mouth partially agape in shock.

“Excellent!” Dorrik slapped their hands together. “A smuggler that actually knows her way around a weapon. That is something I can use.

“Look,” Dorrik grinned excitedly, showing many more teeth than Kat was comfortable seeing. “Most of the players here have taken a couple lessons. They know some basic forms and which end of the spear to stab into the monster, but only a couple of the greater martial clans actually train their youths before sending them into the dreamscape. It is rare to find a worthy individual in the starting villages.”

“Before,” they rubbed their two sets of clawed hands together eagerly, “I was mostly interested in the two of you out of intellectual curiosity, but now it makes sense for us to form a more formal hunting party. I have a partner who won’t be available for another couple of days, he is very competent but he hasn’t been initiated into the dreamscape yet.”

“It is about time for us to wake up,” Dorrik continued, ignoring Arnold’s growing irritation, “but tomorrow we should reconvene. Now that I have a better Idea of Kat’s abilities, we should be able to grind monsters and get her a class or a skill in no time.”

“What about me?” Arnold asked, struggling to keep his voice calm as the excitable lizard gushed over Kat. “Kat and I come as a package deal.”

Kat frowned. Arnold was right, she owed him far too much to simply abandon him and go adventuring with the more experienced alien, but still, it didn’t sit right with her for Arnold to simply exclude her entirely from the decision making process.

“Oh don’t worry,” Dorrik waved a hand dismissively. “You can come too. Thugs might not be the rarest class in the Tower, but their abilities certainly suit your temperament. Hopefully you won’t be as much of an impediment moving forward.”


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About the author


  • United States
  • Founding Member of the Zard Skwad

Bio: I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the streets at dawn looking for an angry fix of machine translated light novels, burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of the night

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