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A note from CoCop

Word Count: 76720

“The neighbors are starting to talk Kat,” her mother was nervous, wringing her hands together, eyes on the two barrels in the living room. “I’m sure the company has noticed the extra power you’ve been drawing to keep them warm too.”

“Of course they’re talking Mom,” Kat shrugged, her ribs still tender. “The entire floor smells awful and at least a couple of them must have seen the thugs come in here.”

“But what are we going to DO Kat?” Penelope asked nervously. “They have to know that something is happening, and I received a notice from the apartment board. Apparently they are voting at the end of the week to find us guilty of ‘promulgating unwholesome odors.’ I’ve never been censored by the apartment council before.”

Kat didn’t answer, instead checking the instructions that Xander had manually uploaded to her smartpanel, not trusting the public networks in the arcology.

“They’ve cooked for almost two days now Mom,” Kat responded, her eyes unfocused as her eyes flickered over the morbid guide. “By now, the fat and muscle should have separated from the bodies. We just need to keep heat and pressure on for the slurry of lye and… organic compounds.”

Kat winced as she repeated the term used by Xander, causing her mother’s eyes to widen. While the wording might technically be correct, the information broker wasn’t exactly known for his tact.

“Why did they break in Kat,” Penelope was pacing back and forth, anxious energy pouring off of her as she wrung her hands. “We don’t have anything worth stealing, and I still don’t understand why they’d be after Michelle.”

“I don’t know Mom,” Kat tried to keep the frustration out of her voice. “Xander has decrypted enough information to know that someone is gunning for me personally, but all we know right now is that they’re corporate and a big deal. He’s going to need a little more time to figure out what organization we’re dealing with.”

“Have you tried asking that nice Arnold boy you used to tutor?” Her Mother asked desperately. “He might know something or his dad might be able to find out. I’m sure a connection in the arcology would go a lot further than some sheller hacker.”

“Mom,” Kat shook her head. “Arnold isn’t an option. He isn’t responding to my e-mails anymore, and honestly I’m wondering if he’s involved with whatever’s going on. I just don’t know anyone else powerful enough to send a team like that after me.”

“As for Xander?” Kat shook her head. “He’s a very good hacker, but more than that he has people in this and other arcologies. I don’t know the full scope of his operations, but it sounds like he has agents seeded throughout the entirety of GroCorp territory. More than that, he has a fair amount of chrome and samurai that owe him favors. He might be a sheller, but I think that even executives would think twice before crossing him.”

“But there has to be something we can do,” Penelope begged Kat. “I don’t want to get censured, but at the same time I can’t let anyone into the apartment to find the bodies.”

“They’re likely partially corroded skeletons by now,” Kat corrected, a teasing smile on her face.

“That’s not better!” Penelope threw up her hands. “I don’t see how that’s any sort of improvement.”

“Look Mom,” Kat replied placatingly. “We’re in a tough spot, but worrying about it isn’t going to fix anything. In about eight hours they should be done and you can call the guy I rented them from about pickup.”

“Who is he?” Her mother asked, a flash of hope in her eyes. “I’m going to hold you to those eight hours.”

“His name is Rex,” Kat tapped her spartpanel, transferring his contact information to her mother. “In the arcology, he goes by Quality Artisanal Soap Products or QASP, but if you’re talking about our kind of business, make sure you call him Rex. The fancy name is for when he’s selling, not buying.”

“Selling?” Penelope asked, cocking her head slightly. “I’ve never heard of his soap. Who does he sell to?”

“It’s too expensive for us,” Kat chuckled. “His clientele are people who are upper management or executive wealthy. Apparently this soap ‘rejuvenates skin’ better than gene therapy.”

“Sounds like bullshit to me,” Kat shrugged. “I think it’s just a bunch of rich people paying extra money to show how much richer they are than their neighbors, but I’m not going to shame Rex for earning a living.”

“Do they,” her mother glanced at the barrels in the living room and bit her lip. “Do his customers know where the soap they’re buying comes from? They can’t-”

“I think it adds to the appeal,” Kat grimaced. “The rarer and more forbidden something is, the more a certain class of people will talk it up to themselves. I mean, not everyone buys it and as far as I can tell a good portion of the upper levels are disgusted that QASP exists, but he has some very loyal and very wealthy customers.”

“That’s…” Penelope trailed off, sentence unfinished.

“I know,” Kat agreed, a sour look on her face. “Look, when you call Rex, I’ve already paid him, so he’ll just send some people up and dispose of the bodies. He’s done it before, and he’ll do it again. Most of the factions know who he is and what he does because everyone uses him. The guards will know to look the other way.”

“How did you pay-” her mother’s eyes widened dramatically. “No! Kat! You didn’t have to do something sexu-”

“No,” Kat cut her off hurriedly, finally flustered by the topic of the conversation. “I’ve earned and saved credits from my runs. He’s been paid in cold hard cash, nothing else. Rex’s workers should know better than to push for more. Xander might not be the biggest name in the Shell but he’s still not someone you cross lightly.”

Her mother glanced at the barrels uncertainly once more. “I don’t know Kat,” she mumbled.

“My ribs are killing me Mom,” Kat lied smoothly. In reality, the pills Dr. Ramirez had given her worked wonders. They still hurt, but after only a couple days of bedrest, Kat was capable of light activity without immediately regretting it. “I need to go to bed early. If you want the barrels gone, give Rex a call. Otherwise I’ll do it tomorrow while you’re at work.”

Kat ignored her mother fretting nervously while she went to her bedroom. Michelle was stuck doing her homework on her own bed, exiled away from the main living areas by their mother to keep her away from the heavy stench of rendering street thug, as well as their slowly dissolving bodies.

Her sister didn’t look at Kat, staring at the ceiling, her eyes twitching slightly as the smart panel on her face picked up the miniscule movements and flipped pages in whatever assignment she was reading.

Kat quickly changed into her pajamas and laid down in her bed. She’d already eaten what light food she could choke down through the omnipresent smell, and as much as she wasn’t terribly tired, Kat was more than fed up with being her mother’s anxiety sounding board.

She meant well, but if Kat let her have her way, Penelope would fret and complain for hours, often repeating the same points as if asking a rhetorical question multiple times might change its answer.

Her eyes closed, Kat began to count backwards from one hundred. Her thoughts kept trying to race off and explore tangents from the day and her excitement about entering The Tower of Somnus, but she squashed them down and focused on the numbers. Once she reached zero, Kat restarted, this time climbing upwards.

Sometime in the eighties, she dozed off only to awaken blinking next to the town bell. A small smile curved Kat’s lips as she looked around the quiet bustle of the village square.

Tomorrow had finally come.

Excitedly she opened up the dialogue box from conquering the Poisoned Hive.

You have reached Level 1 in the skill Light I, please select a first tier spell.


Dazzle

Shadow

Laser

Mirage

Highlight

Eagle Eye

 

She’d wanted to sleep on the choices. From Dorrik’s description, all of the low level light abilities were a bit lackluster, pun intended. Laser could be used for offense, but it was single target only and its offensive power wasn’t really comparable to other wood tier attack spells.

Other than that, the entire bottom row were borderline useless. Mirage created a simple illusion that wouldn’t survive direct scrutiny. Enough to confuse or distract an occupied foe, but that was where its usefulness ended. Highlight would outline an enemy, preventing it from hiding or otherwise obscuring itself, and Eagle Eye would increase the amount of light her eyes could take in, functionally giving her sharper vision that would operate in darker areas.

Her finger jabbed into Dazzle and the box disappeared. Kat wanted Shadow as soon as she gained a level, it wouldn’t exactly make her invisible, but the spell would make her harder to see, a definite plus for the way she fought. That said, Dazzle started as a cone of riotous flashing lights that disoriented a handful of enemies, and at higher it was very comparable to one of the military flashbangs used by corporate security and street samurai.

A smile on her face, Kat pulled open her full character sheet.

Name

Katherine Debs

Class

Elementalist Initiate

Max Level

1

505 Marks

HP

18

Dodge

Insignificant

MP

26

Damage Mitigation

Insignificant

STA

19

Strength

3

Agility

4

Fortitude

3

Endurance

3

Mind

3

Reaction

3

Charisma

3

Spirit

3

Spells Known

Gravity’s Grasp

Levitation

Pseudopod

Dehydrate

Dazzle

Skills Known

Knife I - 7, 09%

Gravity I - 6, 11%

Water I - 6, 71%

Cat Step - 3, 07%

Light I - 0%

Penetrate

Perks

Nightvision

 

Kat nodded approvingly. Pretty good, but not quite where she wanted to be. She’d gone to bed early so there was still time before the rest of her team showed up.

A smile on her face she made her way over to Gasoot’s stand, waving cheerfully at the rock pillar of a player. Surprisingly, one of their tentacles waved back at Kat.

“Hey Gasoot,” She called out to them. “My team is about to challenge the floor guardian. Do you have anything that you think could help me out for a big fight?”

They stared at her inscrutably, the tiny eyes lodge ther the top of their pillar beady and unblinking. Finally, just as Kat began to squirm under their gaze, Gasoot spoke up with a voice that sounded like a landslide.

“Congratulations human,” their tentacles writhed, likely expressing some unknowable emotion. “As bad as it will be to lose your business, it is good to see another team prepare to ascend.”

“Thanks,” Kat felt herself flush. As many times as she’d shopped at Gasoot’s small store, this was by far the most small talk she’d made with the rocky being.

“I have a thought,” they continued, tentacles darting down to retrieve a number of wicker containers from beneath the counter. “What is your budget human?”

For a minute, Kat thought about holding back some money. She’d likely need it once she went to the second floor.

She snorted. All of the good items were incredibly expensive. It wasn’t uncommon for more cautious teams to spend months or years killing okkles in order to earn the marks needed to buy the skill stones her team had earned from a couple much more dangerous days of hunting perytons.

“500 marks,” she shrugged. “I have 505 but I’ll need to buy myself lunch once I get to the second level.”

Once again, Gasoot just stared at her. Obsidian eyes boring into her as their tentacles rapidly sorted through the wicker baskets in front of her. Finally they put a skill stone in front of Kat, a gleaming star vaguely visible in its depths.

“500 marks,” Gasoot tapped the stone with a tentacle.

“What is it?” Kat asked, squinting at the stone, unable to make out what exactly it did.

“It is worth 800 marks,” Gasoot replied, as if that were an answer. “You shop from me often, and you know that I am fair human. You must purchase on trust. Or not purchase, the decision is yours.”

Kat bit her lip, trying to get some sort of read on the giant pillar of stone. Unsurprisingly, she couldn’t make heads or tails of their body language. Still, something inside Kat told her to go with the deal.

Gasoot was right. They always turned a profit, but their deals were fair. Kat hadn’t questioned their rates up until now, happily selling goods to the player at rates higher than the tower stores would buy, and purchasing what she needed far cheaper than the tower would sell.

“500 it is then,” Kat grinned, decisively shoving her hand toward the creature before she could lose her nerve. “Now that I’ve taken the leap of faith, do you mind telling a girl what she’s spent all of her money on? I hope it's something good enough to justify trying to borrow pocket change from Dorrik and Kaleek.

“Humans are untrustworthy,” Gasoot replied, rather than answering her question. “They scheme and plot as easily as they eat and breath. In countless villages my siblings have learned this lesson.

“Every shipment must be weighed, and every pelt must be measured,” their tentacles corkscrewed mournfully. “You seemed better than the others. Because you always seemed reasonable, thought I would give you a chance to trust and cooperate with a stranger.”

“You passed the test human,” the rock pillar inclined, a fraction of a degree, presumably an acknowledgement of o some sort. “You were willing to trust based solely upon past experience. That is the foundation upon which the Galactic Consensus is built..”

Kat felt the 500 marks transfer out of her hand and into the shopkeep.

“Your team always comes to me to purchase sage leaf,” Gasoot withdrew their tentacles. “That makes me think that you don’t have a healer. You will never be as good at a healer’s task as a proper classed player unless you gain the class yourself human, but a Cure Wounds I skill stone will at least help you pick up some of the slack in your party.”

“Really,” Kat’s eyes widened. It wasn’t a hard and fast rule, but generally spell crystals were worth a good deal more than physical skill crystals of the same level. Especially for something as useful as Cure Wounds I, Kat would be flabbergasted if it sold for ‘only’ 800 marks, let alone the 500 she paid.

“It is my way of telling you that trust is not a weakness,” Gasoot intoned, their voice an emotionless grind of one great boulder against another. “Also, when the time comes, I hope that we will both remember this moment where I offered a gift, and you chose to believe that I was not trying to steal from you. If you ever return to the first floor, please be sure to visit my stand.”

“Thank you,” Kat’s eyes sparkled almost as much as the stone in her hand. “I really can’t express how much easier this will make things.”

“I believe I understand,” Gasoot replied, their tentacles wavering with amusement. “Now go human, your friends are calling for you and you have a floor guardian to overcome.”

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About the author

CoCop

  • 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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