Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Adam Online: City of Freedom by Max Lagno

Adam Online - 2
City of Freedom
by Max Lagno

Release - June 20, 2019
Pre-order on Amazon -

In order to gain access to Adam Online's closed locations, Leonarm needs to max out his level pretty quick. Help comes from the most unexpected quarter: a human/NPC hybrid who has access to all of the game's items and is privy to its deepest secrets.

But Leonard is not alone in this race. The rumors of new locations packed to the brim with epic loot begin to spread among ordinary players. The only known transition point to the new map is being controlled by the Black Wave guild  - the very players who killed Leonarm with a mysterious weapon at the very start of the game. The guild now blocks every attempt to get to the new worlds.

This leads to the greatest clan war in the history of Adam Online: a single guild against all the other clans and players. And they won't hesitate to employ their mysterious weapon, the most destructive force in the entire game world.
Chapter 1. White Spots
I walked along a broad street in Liberty City, guided by a map on my tablet. I saw a multitude of NPCs and players along the way. Most of them were humans, supers and androids. Liberty City was their city. Mechanodestructors didn’t feel at home there. They had their own world in Rim One, the capital of which was the city Mechatron; an imposing conglomeration of highly advanced structures designed specially to support mechanicals.
I didn’t know what bizoids did in Liberty City. I knew little about the race — in my day, few would have thought of becoming such a strange, inhuman creature.

Angels also inhabited their own worlds. Possibly the same worlds people visited when they chose magic over technology. Those dreamers deserved each other.
This didn’t mean that there was racial segregation in Adam Online. Mechanodestructors could easily visit Liberty City and the surrounding zones. The question was more why they would need to — the quests and infrastructure linked with leveling up their characters were in other zones. You could buy or find all the same magical items and spellcasting consumables in Liberty City, but they weren’t as numerous or as good as they were in magic zones. By the same token, there was no point looking for UniSuits with fifty upgrade slots in the stalls and taverns of the magical worlds of Himmelbleu or Heroes of Magic.
That said, the grinning maws of some creatures did appear through the crowd from time to time — almost like gorillas or bipedal reptiles with dinosaur heads. I also saw mechanodestructors in the farm of small arachnid robots.
The security of Liberty City was uplifting after that spate of anarchy in Town Zero. Sure, I got punched in the face as soon as I got here, but at least I was alive. The local law-enforcement agencies were tough, and were always dozens of levels above people who just moved here. No matter how hard you tried to fight them, the cops still always won.
Rim Zero was a world around two thousand miles long by two thousand miles wide. Rim One consisted of another eight squares of that size surrounding Rim Zero. Eight worlds, all different from each other.
When Adam Online first came into existence, the worlds of Rim One were enough for everyone. Time passed and more and more players arrived. Those that had leveled up demanded changes, new worlds, new quests. And so appeared Rim Two: another sixteen squares. As the years went by, eventually all those worlds had been explored and settled as well, so Rim Three was added — twenty four squares of unclaimed virtual land. Then Rim Four added another thirty two cells to the already huge world. That was enough for a long time, but by the time Olga and I came to Adam Online, Rim Five had also been added. An entirely unimaginable extra forty squares, not counting their vast and numerous dungeons.
History repeated itself. The opening of new Rims caused a race between players. Not all the worlds of Rim Four had been explored, not all the zones had been discovered, but people were flocking to Rim Five. It seemed to us then that we could spend our whole lives exploring a world like this. Myself, Olga and millions of other young adamites greedily discovered new zones, named them after themselves, filled the world map with white spots.
Olga and I unlocked one of the unexplored squares; an entirely mountainous world with odd gravity effects. Parts of the ground had risen up into the sky. Some floated low, others soared above the clouds. We even staked our claim on a flying island with a whole lake at its center. The island had no monsters and no quests. It was a true virtual limbo. We liked that flying island so much that we built a home on the shore of the lake. Around it we built workshops where I crafted weapons and perfected my skills. That was the house where Olga spent her final days in Adam Online, before the i-entropy destroyed her mind completely.
Even all this wasn’t enough for people. They wanted new worlds and adventures. So Rim Six was launched, and from what I understood, something strange happened to it. It was if the virtual world itself was rising up against human greed. If you imagined the control systems as real characters, you could picture them crying out: “When will you finally eat so much that you burst, damn pests?!”
I wondered if our island and home were still there. I didn’t even remember which square they were in. I doubted that my search for Nelly Valeeva would take me to that world, but I wanted to visit it. I remember that I didn’t even sell the property, I just left Adam Online and promised myself I’d never return.
Well, ten years is long enough to break my promise.


My hearing slowly adapted to this noisy new world.
Rim Zero was intentionally made relatively ordinary — with deserts, junk heaps and half-destroyed buildings to remind players of the real world.
But Liberty City was too flashy for me, too overwhelming. And this city was nothing in comparison to Londinium, the capital of Rim Five.
A couple of players tried to catch my attention as I walked, offering to sell me stuff; a map to a supposedly secret zone, miracle pills that would restore ‘a thousand percent health’ or ‘the fastest jeep in Rim One.’ These shysters thought I was new. I tried not to upset them. I shot them a dumb smile and walked on.
The Lakeview Estates living complex was a group of two-story buildings on the shore of a small lake. A few people sailed on catamarans at its center. Hmm, a pretty good place to start with. It was strange that the driver and his family lived in some dump in Rim Zero when they had property like this in Liberty City. The lives of NPCs were full of logical flaws. You could go crazy if you thought about them too much.
I quickly found building 1884, and the right apartment on the second floor. An open staircase led up to it on the rear side of the building. Two stations stood in front of the apartment buildings in a square covered by an awning. They both looked like snack vending machines.
The first was a Projectoria station, a system for fast travel between zones in a Rim or city. To use a station, you first had to find it and then it appeared on your map. Each teleport cost money depending on the distance. These stations also fulfilled the role of respawn towers, where you could revive after death for ten thousand gold. If you didn’t have enough money, you’d go to an ordinary respawn tower.
The second station was a Respec-T system. It provided ‘respec-tification,’ which was a chance to redistribute your base stat and skill points. A useful procedure when you had to quickly strengthen a certain stat at the expense of others. It also had the ability to strengthen any stat or level up a skill for twenty four hours. Respec-T offered boosts for one, five and ten points.
These stations were usually close to each other, but were sometimes far apart — it all depended on the zone. Numerous vending machines for weapons and ammo often accompanied them. There were single-brand vending machines and multi-brand types too.
To refresh my memory of how all these systems worked, I approached the Projectoria station and selected a map. It lit up on the front of the machine. I had two teleport points available: this station itself, and another one between the respawn tower and Lakeview Estates. They were automatically added to the map when you walked within thirty feet of them. You often didn’t even notice. I’d have to walk around the town for a while before I’d be able to teleport everywhere. I could have invested in my tablet and bought maps with the Projectoria stations marked on them, but I needed the money to upgrade my weaponry and UniSuit.
I moved to the Respec-T station and saw that one respec cost two hundred and fifty thousand gold. An expensive pleasure. Boosting one stat by one point cost a hundred thousand, by five points — five hundred thousand. Ten points didn’t cost a million as you might expect, but ten million.
I left the stations alone and went up to the second floor, opened the door to room number four and entered an empty apartment full of sunlight.
Three large rooms with pristine white walls. Both large windows opened up over the lake. Next to one window was a white chair. That was all the furniture. I opened a window, sat on the chair, put my feet up on the windowsill and faced the morning sun. A warm breeze brought in the scents of the lake, a barely audible whisper of waves and birdsong.
It was pretty cool. How much would it cost to buy real estate in this district? Five hundred thousand at least. If it weren’t for the quest from the driver, I’d have had to get a room in some stinking hotel, in a stinking district with high criminal activity, which meant a high chance of some headhunter trying to cash in on the price on my head. That ‘Whitelist’ again. So much needs attention, so much to do...
Never mind. That was an insignificant question. Those were for people who afraid to think about the significant ones...


The longer I looked at the world through the window, the more afraid I got: how could I find Nelly Valeeva here? If she was a player, fine, I could have easily found her through a search. If it were as simple as that, the Moscow Security Bureau wouldn’t have set up a whole clandestine operation and spent a fortune in leveling up characters.
If she was an NPC, that would complicate the search a little, but it would still be possible. But she was an old binary array that the CSes never deleted for some reason. Although... Wasn’t the reason obvious? For them, Nelly was a player, an adamite that was outside the influence of their algorithms. And the fact that this player hasn’t left the game in a hundred years doesn’t bother them: the QCPs are responsible for kicking players off when their time runs out, not the game algorithms.
I jumped up off my chair; it seemed my laziness and idleness had provoked some thought. Nelly Valeeva was an anomaly. That’s exactly how the MSB detected her. They were the ones who said that since she’s an anomaly, she appeared in anomalous zones in the generation of new worlds. After all, it was the control systems that created them, and nobody knew what exactly happened at the moment of creation.
But all this could be wrong. If Nelly’s anomalous ghost existed in Adam Online, then it existed everywhere, or more precisely — could have existed everywhere.
I rose from the chair and walked around the room, glancing at the lake shore where a group of girls lazed around in the sun. Some of them took off their swimsuit tops, exposing their breasts to the morning sun.
There was a possibility that the MSB agents weren’t the only ones to see Nelly Valeeva when deciphering a random chunk of code caught in the unimaginable ocean of traffic in Adam Online. Players might have seen her too. After all, adamites didn’t have to decode or convert anything — they just had to be in a zone where Nelly Valeeva might appear.
I had to search for messages from players about incomprehensible missions or strange phenomena that might originate from the conversation that Makartsiev showed me, the one between Nelly and an unknown stranger.
It was easier said than done. There were millions of players, and they generated millions of messages. Nearly a third of them kept blogs where they wrote about their travels, shared their leveling experience or just posted an endless stream of porn with various NPCs or players. There was no way to properly process such a torrent of information. You had to be a CS, and even the CSes only processed local information in the vicinity of the player or players.
The corridor of puzzles led to a dead end. I’d missed something or failed to understand something. But what?
I watched as two cops approached the naked girls and made them put their clothes back on.
Adam Online was a game, a form of human activity built on already defined conditions. How could I use those conditions to solve this problem? If, for example, I started randomly wandering the world and questioning players, there’d be a certain chance that I’d happen upon a description of something similar to Nelly Valeeva. It’d only take five to eight hundred years.
Even if I put up ads on all the noticeboards, few would reply. I couldn’t forget that millions of people had posted trillions of ads that nobody had ever looked at or read. People only read ads that offered some kind of reward: money, gear, weapons, maps to secret zones and quests.
If I put up a reward for the information, then the ad would get attention. And firstly, I’d be drowned in replies from all kinds of psychos, fraudsters and perverts. I’d spend my entire taharration rotation sorting through messages. Secondly, I’d draw attention from people I wouldn’t want attention from — competing security services.
No, looking to the community for help wouldn’t solve the problem, it would only make it worse. I returned to the window and leaned through it, looking at the lake. The girls, whether players or NPCs, looked nice even clothed. My Eagle Eye let me admire them in all their details.
I turned away from the window to keep my thoughts on track, but it was too late. I was tired of all this thinking. Yes, I’d felt out some kind of path, but it wasn’t a path to my goal, it was just a possible way out of the dead end of previous conclusions.
Chapter 2. Floating Range
My tablet had signalled me about events quite a while ago. I grabbed a Penny Packer bottle of whiskey from my backpack and took a swig. I’d probably gotten a debuff or buff for drinking, but my Knowledge was too low to see the details. I had to increase it. I had to level up everything, I had to hurry. I was too weak to find Nelly, who could be in places where even the grass or a frog could kill me. There are zones like that...
I switched on my tablet:

Welcome to your new home, Leonarm.
There is nothing here, but after all, a house is a reflection of its owner’s internal world. Is your internal world really so empty? Don’t you want to start some interior design?

Sure, I’d get right to it, sounds essential. Although... it actually was. I needed to buy wardrobes for my clothes, safes for weaponry. Where would I keep my loot? I could throw it on the floor, but I wasn’t some tramp.
I’d need to buy a bed too. What if I brought a girl home? I couldn’t expect her to indulge in the joys of sex on that chair. Although I’d be up for it. Life in reality wasn’t exactly full of dates with the opposite sex. Most of the women in my country brought all their fantasies to life in Adam Online, so I could only look for a partner among people who didn’t play Adam Online. That was a very small group. Very, very small.
The second message was more interesting:

From: Liberty City Police Department.
Dear Sir, our colleagues from Town Zero have reported that you provided assistance in the elimination of a gang of dangerous criminals. They have transferred 10,000g as a sign of their gratitude. We will transfer this sum to your account without delay as soon as we receive your bank details.
The department needs people like you, sir. Our door is always open to you. Liberty City is a fine place, but it has its flaws, one of which is a hydra of organized crime that rears its ugly head in certain districts of the city.
We believe that as a new resident of the city, you will respond to this call to fight against the criminal underworld. I have a special quest for you.

Yours truly, Detective Joshua Culkin,
Chief at PCPD Third Detective Department.

‘PCPD — preserving honor since 1877.’
You can find us at:
Central Park, 23rd Street, 105.
Open every day from 9 to 19.

Money in Adam Online could be stored digitally in your tablet or neurointerface, but that meant that you could be robbed after death and left with nothing. It was better to store large sums in one of the banks. Many of the banks in Adam Online were representatives of real banks. A player’s virtual and real accounts were synchronized when they left taharration. The local currency was converted into real dollars, and then into rubles or yuan. People in virtual reality earned money so they could pay off bills and loans for their pods and dissociative fluid in real life.
Considering that the only thing associating me with Leonarm was the nickname, I wondered where the money I earned would go after I emerged from the pod. Hmm, now that’s a question... What if I became a millionaire? I had to link Leonarm’s account to my bank account. But was it worth putting my bank details in the spotlight, transferring cash from the account of a player called %Username%, who entered Adam Online through an illegal landing?
The trouble was that until I opened an account in one of the banks or linked my real-life account to Leonarm, I wouldn’t get the reward from the Rim Zero cops.
My quest list opened:

True Detective.
You should visit Detective Culkin and find out what he needs.

I opened the map, found Central Park and put down a marker — it was a long way from me.
The other message read:

Furnishing Lakeview Estates Apartment.
All you have is a single chair. It’s shameful. What will your neighbors say?
Bonus: create the ideal combination of interior design items and get a bonus reward.

Kitchen furniture — 0/5.
Weapon safe — 0/1.
Bed — 0/1.
Table — 0/1.
Chairs — 1/5.

And so on — there were another ten or so interior items, from pictures on the walls to paint for those same walls. After this, the tablet squawked a series of signals and I got over a hundred messages from furniture stores. Each of them offered ‘an exclusive choice of furniture to suit any taste.’
I tapped on an offer from the middle of the list at random. I was certainly not about to start studying trends in interior design.
On the other hand, since I was planning to woo NPCs to get at least someone into bed with me, that meant I’d need to buy the right bed. I had no plans to seduce players after my experiences with Amy McDonald and Vildana.
I examined the advertisements more closely, chose a store called Sensuality. Their vulgar pink and red tones caught the eye. The store immediately offered a bed called the Sexodrome, which was, of course, shaped like a heart. It was accompanied by a gleaming red sheet and all the trimmings. The Sexodrome cost 3999g.
I aimed my tablet art the wall and dragged the bed from the tablet screen. The Sexodrome appeared in the room and thudded against the floor, taking up most of the space. I aimed the tablet at the floor and chose a color — black. I dragged the skin of some furry animal off the screen and dropped it on the floor. I put heavy burgundy drapes on the windows. The bright apartment was immediately plunged into darkness.
I found a fireplace and put it opposite the bed. A soft light battled the darkness, but it was still gloomy. I placed red lamps in the corners. Candles on the mantelpiece, a painting of some virtuous Renaissance orgy above the bed. I couldn’t show too much obsession and scare off my guests.
These preparations reminded me of another game setting that I wouldn’t be able to change... I opened my settings to check it.

Sexual realism — [maximum]

Hmm, not quite what I wanted. The process would be recreated precisely, down to every last physiological detail. How could I have been dumb enough not to check the section in the MSB contract about control over settings?
I put a Belorussian-made wardrobe in a corner, a place for me to store civilian rags. I was done with the bedroom. I moved to the room that would be the kitchen. I decided not to flaunt my lack of taste here. I put in some light and cheerful furniture from Ikea. It all cost around three thousand gold. I moved nine bottles of whiskey into a cupboard and put one on the table, grabbed a glass and drank.
Ice wouldn’t hurt, but for that I’d need a refrigerator. Drinking and eating wasn’t essential in Adam Online, though many enjoyed the pleasure. The food here was far better than what we ate in real life, synthetic pasta and meat from soy and unknown animals. Food restored health a little. Some rare foods gave buffs, but you couldn’t rely on food in battle: eating a chocolate bar gave you plus one to health, but it took so much time to eat it that you could die three times over before you finished.
I drank some more whiskey and moved to the third room, which was marked Study on the tablet. I actually intended to turn it into something between an armory and a toolshed.
I approached my choice of a weapon safe a little more seriously, studying the offers on the market. But with my funds, my search was over quickly. I was limited to the cheaper options.
I had my eye on the Vault Slim Fit weapon safe with a built-in durability regenerator. It restored one durability per hour to weapons inside. Which wasn’t a lot. There was a safe from Tula manufacturers called the Old Master. It restored ten durability per hour, but cost ten times as much.
I aimed my tablet at the wall and dragged the safe onto it. It appeared in the room with the clang of metal, its doors invitingly open. It could store one of each type of weapon apart from heavy weaponry like grenade launchers and shoulder-held rocket launchers. Liberty City was a relatively quiet place, so I could get by with just a knife and a standard Glock.
Incidentally, when I got to Rim One, my booklets updated to ‘Guidebook on Rim One of the Adam Online Universe’ and another standard Glock appeared again. Phew, it’s a good thing the previous booklets updated. I was afraid that error would come back and make the booklets multiply and fill up my inventory.
I moved my Uzi, Marble sawn-off and Tesla revolver into the corresponding slots in the safe. They could restore durability and save me some money on repairs.
I picked up my tablet to keep decorating. I got the decoration progress bar up to seventy five percent, and a message popped up:

Decorator skill learned: +10 XP.
Keep leveling it up and people will ask you to arrange the furniture in their own homes!

One last interior item remained. I scrolled through the list and dragged a LockerDouble cupboard for special gear into a corner of the room. It had two sections for storing two UniSuits. One section was also equipped with a durability regenerator. I put my UniSuit in there right away.
The other section of the cupboard could store one helmet, a pair of gloves and a pair of shoes. There was a funny conditionality to it: if you put one helmet on the shelf, then you wouldn’t be able to fit another in even though there was plenty of space. An invisible wall just blocked the second one.
It wasn’t always easy for the CSes to combine maximum realism with maximum playability.


My decorating quest showed that it was ninety five percent complete. Strange. I thought I’d added all the items from the list. I probably had to figure out for myself which was the last missing item. I took a swig of whiskey.
I walked around all the rooms, looked at the walls. What was missing? A trash can? An ottoman, a nightstand, a table lamp? A pet? A statue? Loud neighbors?
A strange unevenness on the wall next to my crockery cupboard caught my eye. Hmm, what was that? I ordered paint for the walls, wasn’t leveling out the walls included in that service? I aimed the tablet at it:

There may have been a hole here that was poorly patched. It’s probably a hiding place.
Eagle Eye skill increased: +10 XP.

Naturally, I kicked the spot on the wall. A chunk fell off. I kept kicking until the hiding place was completely revealed. Inside was a metal box nearly four feet in length. I pulled it out, afraid that I might need lockpicking skills, but the locks on the box turned out to be simple latches.
Inside the box was a sword in a scabbard wrapped in rags. I took it out and read:

A beautiful sword of an unknown design.
Composition: iron and an unknown quantity of unknown components.
Slashing damage: 50 or 900.
Cutting damage: unknown.
Strike damage: unknown.
Block: 50 or unknown.
Durability: 500/100.

Enchantment: unknown.
Unknown property.
Unknown property.
Unknown property.
Unknown property.
Value: 250,000g or unknown.
There is a high chance that this item is a rare collectible. But this is not guaranteed.

At this point, the word ‘unknown’ was practically seared into my eyeballs. It indicated I didn’t have enough Knowledge. But the fact that Slashing Damage was still shown in a floating range was a result of my Blade Combat skill. The two-hundred and fifty thousand gold value was a nice surprise, but I still wasn’t sure that it was accurate, and not higher or lower.
You didn’t have to be an Adam Online veteran to know that there was a quest behind this sword. I unraveled the rags around it and found a scroll of paper attached to the round pommel. I unrolled it, but couldn’t read it. I waved my tablet over it to find out why.

A scroll of text in an unknown language. Maybe it’s Elvish?

Well, what next?
I could just palm off the find at the nearest Curiosity Store, a chain specializing in items like this. Considering that I knew nothing about the sword, I could sell it for half a million or for peanuts. There’d definitely be someone in that store who could read the scroll. If it was an NPC, I’d have to be certain that they wouldn’t take advantage of me. After all, my Reputation was only a few points higher than someone who should be taken advantage of. I could look for a player who could read the scroll. But since I’d be practically a stranger to them, they’d definitely trick me.
I decided to leave the mystery of the sword for later. Judging by the fact that my tablet had fallen silent, it was clear to me that I wouldn’t get a quest until I could read the letter.
I ordered some more paint for the walls to cover up the hole. More costs. And the quest to decorate the apartment still didn’t want to finish. What was going on? What was the problem?
I looked at the sword... what if...
I looked through the catalog and found a ‘Hanger for Paintings or Other Decorative Items.’
I placed it above the bed and put the sword on it in its scabbard. The tablet squawked in satisfaction.

A great detail! You appreciate the value in subconscious phallic symbols, Leonarm.
Sword above bed: +10% chance to seduce an NPC of any gender.
Decorator skill increased: +10 XP.

Quest complete: Furnishing Lakeview Estates Apartment!
Earned: +100 XP.

Congratulations, Leonarm, you leveled up!
Your current level: 12.
Obtained: stat points (1), skill points (1)

I decided not to spend the points for now. The future would let me know where best to invest them.

The Sensuality store appreciates the brazen lack of taste in your bedroom and has given you a Sixth Sense lamp. +10% chance to seduce an NPC of any gender.

The image of a lamp shaped like a person on their knees appeared on the tablet, with the option to choose between a man or a woman. I chose the woman and put the lamp on the nightstand by my bed. A dim pink light emanated from the girl’s open mouth.
I looked over my bedroom with satisfaction: like a real Lothario’s pad! Yes, I’d rather call myself a Lothario than desperate.
I drank the rest of my whiskey to celebrate my victory and got another message:

Achievement: Reveller.
Are you alone, with no family, job or friends? You’re in the perfect position to become an expert on alcoholic beverages.

Alcoholic brands tried:
Спирт: 0/1
Whiskey: 1/5
Vodka: 0/5
Cognac: 0/5
Wine: 0/5
Port: 0/5
Champagne: 0/5
Beer: 0/5

Achievements are something you’re better off not keeping track of. The idea was that they’d complete themselves as you lived in Adam Online. Anyway, it was time for me to go out. I was already starting to think that I could forget about my military skills and just live in Liberty City, enjoying all its pleasures, leveling up to level three hundred in peaceful professions and shipping off to Rim Six.
Of course, I didn’t seriously consider it. Interior decorating skills didn’t exactly mesh well with monster battles.
I left the apartment and walked down the stairs.
On the other hand, what if I leveled up a peaceful character? Did business, got into real estate, financial machinations. Selling the Lakeview Estates apartment would provide some starting capital. If I got rich, I wouldn’t need to fight. I’d have enough money to hire an army of powerleveled warriors of all races and creeds. I could even hire players or a whole clan.
Dreams, just dreams. I knew from past experience that I didn’t make a good capitalist. I remembered I tried to play the stock exchange once, even opened my own shops, sold crafted weapons. If it weren’t for Olga, I’d have ruined myself and been in debt. She managed all our finances, and thanks to her we only ever got richer.
I walked away from Lakeview Estates and looked around. The sun had already risen and it shone gently, rather than burning as it did in planes zones. Alright, where to first? To the detective or...
My gaze was drawn to the lake, where three times as many girls were already sunbathing. But no. I had to get myself tidied up, I couldn’t wander around this magnificent city in standard noob gear.
So first things first — I had to earn money. The Liberty City Police Department was the main goal of my outing. I’d check out some stores on the way.
Aside from clothes, it was also time I upgraded my tablet, got some augmented reality goggles or at least a voice assistant. I was sick of having to wave some prehistoric device over stuff to get information.
I threw a farewall glance at the naked NPCs and walked toward Central Park. It was a long way to go.

Chapter 3. Middle Class

You could buy clothing the same way I’d bought furniture, through special advertisements that materialized the items you ordered. But there were two advantages to buying them right in the stores: variety and social opportunity. Items from the stores were always better than from the ads. You only found rare items in the stores. And, of course, visiting a store was more fun than just scrolling through adverts.
It wasn’t as if I was desperate for a social life... but then why did I spend so much money on fitting out my bedroom?
That was why, when I found a whole street of stores, I turned onto it even though it wasn’t on the way to the police department. The Projectoria station flashed a soft green, marking itself on the map.
Centerline Avenue was a broad and long road street with people. On occasion, there were even almost as many players as NPCs.
I hadn’t been on this street before. I once knew Liberty City well, but Adam Online was a living world. Everything had changed here since my time. The city lived like a real city, constantly rebuilding and updating itself. Although the proportion of districts was the same as before. There had always been slums full of gangland mayhem, and elite districts guarded by the police or even the military.
And something else that hadn’t changed: Liberty City was an amalgamated image of a megapolis of the mid-twenty-first century, before the wars and cataclysms that made our world look more like the Mechanodestructor Heap. A happy time for humanity, when you could enjoy the pleasures of life and trips to real tropical islands. The architecture, car design and fashion in Liberty City fluctuated from 2007 to 2041.
Bars plays songs from that era, the cinemas showed its movies, the stores its games consoles so people could play archaic games. Liberty City conserved that era: many adamites were content to live in the city and never bother with other zones. Although in Rim One, there were a few more zones that recreated the life of that time.
Swiftville, for example, a place not far from Liberty City. It was a city zone where everything was built around racing with different forms of ground vehicles. Or the aeronaut city Aerial, where nobody walked on the surface, everyone flew, at the very least with jetpacks. Or other zones where historical battles were reconstructed such as the Siege of Saigon, the Germano-Russian Occupation, Ukrainian Secession or the Capture of Syria.
Needless to say, in the real world many of those historical places no longer existed. They’d burned up in atomic flame like Saigon and Beijing, or drowned like London, or they were in highly radioactive zones like Mecca and Jerusalem.


I walked past window displays, trying to choose a store.
I needed to make the right impression on the chief of the detective department, and I shouldn’t dress too smart. My choice fell on a store with the alluring name Middle Class.
A very cute salesgirl greeted me at the entrance, probably an NPC. It wasn’t that players couldn’t work in stores. There was plenty of opportunity for that, especially if you preferred to play a peaceful life simulator. You start as a simple sales rep, completing quests like ‘serve ten customers in an hour’ or ‘sell goods worth X amount.’
Something else gave away the fact that she was an NPC: the girl looked too good. To achieve such an appearance, a player would have to not only reach the required level, but also pay a large amount, and that means it’s unlikely they’d work in a store.
The salesgirl’s hair was tied back in a bob and she wore a humble uniform that looked a little like a maid’s outfit.
“Need any help?”
“I’m just browsing,” I said, glancing over her figure. “But you can help me.”
I wanted to add the question “What are you doing tonight?”, but thought better of it. Without the right skills, I doubted I’d achieve much except a drop in Reputation.
Instead, I said that I had a business meeting to go to, but I didn’t want business-style clothes.
“Alright, smart casual, it’s over here.”
She moved nimbly through the aisles and I followed her. I aimed the tablet at her at the same time.

Irene Laggan.
Level: 32
Class: unknown (requires 12 Knowledge).
Occupation: saleswoman in a Middle Class store.
Interests: unknown (requires Insight skill).

Irene stopped next to a clothes rack and pulled out a jacket, then grabbed some pants from a nearby stand.
“These go well together.”
I aimed my tablet and read the clothes’ stats. The saleswoman froze obligingly.

Furr Velvet Jacket.
Increases NPC trust by 20%.
Improves relationships with NPCs of the opposite sex by 30%.
Worsens relationships with NPCs wearing a cheaper jacket by 5%.
Unknown property (requires Seducer skill).
Unknown property (requires 12 Knowledge).
Price: 5,999g.

Gap Pants.
Increase openness of NPCs in conversations about their personal life by 10%.
Unknown feature (requires 15 Knowledge).
Unknown property (unknown requirements).
Price: 1,999g.

Hmm, that was a great jacket, but I wasn’t planning on seducing Joshua. He was most likely a brutal old cop that wouldn’t be very tolerant to same-sex love.
“Irene, the person I’m going to meet doesn’t care about fashion. I need something to make the impression of a good guy on him. I need to convince him that I can be trusted.”
Irene Laggan shook her bob teasingly and said,
“You don’t earn trust with clothes.”
Uh-huh, the CSes had got involved, activated their creative functions. The girl wasn’t just a bobblehead showing clothes to customers now.
“For sure, but clothes might help make a good first impression.”
The salesgirl put the jacket back.
“Alright, what kind of impression do you want to make, and who’re you meeting?”
“He’s a policeman. I need to get a job from him.”
“Oh!” the salesgirl cried. “Then this is what you need.”
She pulled out a long leather jacket that somehow looked worn. I raised my tablet uncertainly.

Max Payne Leather Overcoat.
+1 Agility.
+1 Strength.
+1 Pistols and Revolvers skill.
Improves relationships with military-type NPCs by 15%.
Improved relationships with quarrelsome NPCs by 5%.
Unknown property (requires 10 Knowledge).
Unknown property (unknown requirements).
Price: 4,999g.

I tried the overcoat on right away.
“Well done,” I praised the salesgirl. “Just what I need! And it looks awesome.”
The girl averted her gaze shyly.
“No problem, it’s my job. Although I actually have bigger dreams than being a salesgirl.”
“What would you rather be?”
Instead of answering, the salesgirl sighed and offered me a shirt that was so colorful it bordered on the obnoxious. I had my doubts, but Irene encouraged me.
“Don’t worry, you don’t want to look perfect. You need a flaw.”
Alright, why not listen to her? The overcoat almost completely hid the shirt anyway.

Bershka Shirt.
Worsens relationships with stylish NPCs by 25%.
Improves relationships with NPCs indifferent to fashion by 5%.
Price: 99g.

“You didn’t tell me about your dreams.” I said to Irene.
The girl offered me some thick-soled boots.
“I want to move to Swiftville.”
“The car city? Why?”
The girl answered with another sigh, indicating that she didn’t want to talk about it. I must have needed some higher skill to get her to talk.
I put on the shirt and the overcoat above it, then the boots.

Dr. Martens Boots.
+1 Agility.
Unknown property (requires 10 Knowledge).
Price: 1,999g.

I twirled in front of the mirror. Needed to change my haircut. Then I wondered, should I buy the velvet jacket too? It had a really good bonus to relations with the opposite sex. I counted my money and decided against it.
I paid, nodded to Irene and walked toward the exit.
“Wait!” the girl caught up to me at the door. “This will really complement that outfit.”
She rose up on her tiptoes, entwined her hands around me and clasped a medallion around my neck. I took it in my hand and pointed my tablet at it.

A simple medallion bearing the Middle Class store logo.
Provides a 15% durability boost to all clothes bought at the Middle Class chain.
Price: free.

“Although we give one to all customers who spend five thousand or over. Heh heh, and we tell them all it complements their outfit.”
The girl winked and went back into the store. Now it was my turn to shout “Wait!”. Irene turned.
I took a risk and asked,
“What are you doing tonight?”
“Getting ready for bed. See you later.”
The girl disappeared into the store, and I nervously checked my tablet, which had flashed after Irene’s words. I expected to see a Reputation drop, but instead:

Insight skill learned: +10 XP.
Now you can evaluate the mood of creatures around you.
Level up this skill to recognize other character features and learn to influence mood as a result.

Unlocked additional NPC stat: Character.
Unlocked additional NPC stat: Mood.
Attention: the accuracy of these measures depends on your Knowledge and Reputation in combination with your Insight skill and others.

At this stage, knowledge of an NPC’s character didn’t really help much. It was determined basically the same way as you figured it out with players, through behavior. But knowledge of tbheir current mood and influence on NPCs’ emotional behavior would come in handy. It wasn’t that I couldn’t influence them just by talking to them, but the influence wasn’t as extensive as I’d like.
The more the influence, the better the quests and the more generous the rewards.

Chapter 4. Hundreds of Fine Braids
Central Park was a little old park at the center of a business district of the same name. It was ringed by roads packed with cars on all sides.
I decided to cut across the park to the police department building. Surprisingly, there were plenty of players in the park.
They weren’t doing anything, just lying or sitting on the glass, watching the sky. Some drank beer or ate sandwiches out of picnic baskets. Probably the same hedonists that enjoyed the virtual world of Adam Online without chasing after levels, skills or other perks.
I wondered whether it was worth it for them to go into a virtual world just to fool themselves. The fact that they couldn’t see their stats or level didn’t mean they weren’t playing the game. Each of them probably had a bunch of achievements. Like ‘Beer Barrel’ — drink two hundred pints of beer. Or ‘Garfield’: eat a million calories.
As I walked past, one of the hedonists called out to me.
“Hey, dude, catch!”
I turned and just managed to catch a bottle of beer thrown at me. Damp and pleasantly cool.
“No worries, bro.”
I opened the beer and took a swig so as not to offend the player. He could be anyone. My encounter with the laughing gentleman in the top hat was enough to keep me wary. Nearly getting sent back to the respawn tower with one punch will do that.
I waved the bottle at the player and moved on. I liked the fact that there were places where you could just relax and keep your hand away from your holster. Where you could just live and play a simulator of real life. A beautiful version that you couldn’t get in the real world.
Another endless traffic jam blocked my path when I needed to cross the road at the other side. A bright blue race car came up to the back of it. I could tell from the style that it was a player’s personal car. Instead of numbers, the license plate was stamped Swiftville and bore the nickname Hasty. The car’s windows were black mirrors.
The player tried to get around the traffic jam. Violating the highway code and scaring passersby, the car rolled onto the pavement. I barely managed to jump back behind the protection of the park fence. The bottle slipped from my hands and smashed. Then I heard a police siren and saw cops on motorcycles appear from between the rows of cars. They chased after the lawbreaker.
The racer and the police disappeared around a bend in the street, spreading panic and destruction, but I had no doubt about it: the cops would catch him. A helicopter thrummed in the sky, and several police drones flew by overhead. Even the best racer in the world wouldn’t shake that tail. If that Hasty didn’t kill anyone on the road, he’d get away with a large fine. Otherwise he’d lose his Reputation and be hunted until he was killed or left Liberty City. He’d only be able to return to the slums, the gangster districts. In civilized districts, the cops would start tailing him again as soon as he got into their field of view, or the view of an upstanding NPC that would immediately call the police.
Even without the plate, it was clear that Hasty was from Swiftville. There everyone drove at ridiculous speeds, and the police didn’t chase them, they chased people who drove slow and got in the way of everyone else. This Hasty didn’t seem to be a man of great intellect, since he’d decided to test out his racing skills right in front of the Liberty City Police Department.


The department building was noticeable: tall, decorated with columns and a long broad staircase. Its facade was dark brown marble, but that made it look solid rather than gloomy. You could see it right away — this reliable institution stands up for law and order in Liberty City. At least in those districts where there are no criminal gangs to stand up for lawlessness and disorder.
I ran up the long staircase and pushed through one of the heavy wooden doors. I found myself in a big hall, part of it cordoned off by a barrier. The floor was covered with plastic sheeting. Several workers stood on gantries and painted the walls. Repairs?
A police robot stopped me. It was a ten foot tall machina standing on two legs. Its knee joints were bent backwards as if the robot was preparing to leap at any moment. Its arms ended in two machine guns fitted with silencers.
“Purpose of visit?” the thing squawked.
“I’m here by invitation of Detective Culkin. He sen...”
Some small police drones descended on me from the ceiling, scanning and checking me. One started flashing in alarm and exuded a red projection of my Glock, Lefaucheux musket and knife.
“You must surrender your weapons.” the robot clattered backwards from me and aimed its machine guns.
I took out all my weapons. The drones grabbed them and carried them off.
“Proceed to the registration desk,” the robot ordered, waving its machine guns toward a row of windows with police officers sat behind them.
I approached a window with a cute black policewoman behind it. Her nametag read Heylia Grant.
“You got some serious security here.”
The girl took off her cap. Her hair was woven into hundreds of fine braids.
“Sorry for the inconvenience,” she smiled. “Ever since someone brought a bomb in here, we’ve been forced to take precautions.”
Now I saw why they were repairing the hall.
“Several officers and civilians died. Mayor Weinhardt even declared a time of mourning. You new to Liberty City?”
“Arrived today. Who was the bomb from?”
“It was an act of vengeance by the Golden Piranhas syndicate. We arrested their leader’s chief assistant recently. Incidentally, it was Detective Joshua Culkin who led that investigation. You’re here to see him?”
I nodded.
The girl closed the window and stood up.
“I’ll show you the way.”
“I can find it myself.”
“All visitors have to be accompanied by police officers. But if you prefer, I can send him,” she nodded at the police mech.
The robot clicked its paws in readiness.
“Civilian, walk ahead of me at a range of no more than ten feet. Do not turn or make any sudden movements. I will shoot to kill.”
I turned back to the window.
“No, I think I’d prefer you.”
Heylia left the booth and walked ahead of me, not only showing me the way, but also showing that her police uniform did a great job outlining her alluring curves. We walked along a corridor and began to climb some stairs. I couldn’t take my eyes off her back and legs. Eh, no guts, no glory!
“What are you doing tonight?”
“What do you mean?” the girl said in surprise. “Getting ready for bed.”
I sighed helplessly, but then she suddenly helped me out.
“On the other hand, why sleep when the weather is so good in the evenings now?”
The Max Payne jacket had an effect on military-type NPCs. Now I had to continue the conversation and not mess it up. If I let on that I’d built a whole love den, Heylia would be unlikely to agree to come home and see it. She mentioned the weather, which meant she’d rather take a stroll in the great outdoors.
If I’d had skills for deeper discussions with NPCs, I’d have known exactly what kind of exercise she wanted to get. I’d have to guess.
“Want to meet in Central Park after work?”
Heylia stopped smiling.
“In the park? What would we do there? Drink beer? Feed the birds?”
“We’ll just meet, then I’ll tell you where we’ll go next. I promise you’ll get to enjoy the weather in full.”
Heylia Grant shook out her thousand braids.
“Alright then.”
The tablet gave off a signal:

Insight skill increased: +5 XP.
So uniforms do it for you, huh? Or do you just like the handcuffs that Heylia Grant must have?
Reputation with Heylia Grant increased: +1.

Then a second signal:

Seducer skill learned: +10 XP.
Want to crush the shards of broken hearts beneath your feet? Careful, someone might break your heart too.

And a third:

Congratulations, Leonarm, you leveled up!
Your level: 13.
Attention: you have unused stat points (2) and skill points (2). Spend them wisely!

It was odd that I didn’t get a quest like Seduce Heylia Grant. I probably hadn’t met some condition or other just yet. But I’m sure the quest will appear when we meet in the park.
Heylia led me through several large rooms full of tables covered in the transparent screens of old computers, from back in the days of Nelly Valeeva and gyrorbs. The decor here underlined Liberty City’s association with those times.
Police employees scurried back and forth, spoke on the phone or on video links, opened maps of the city on the screen and marked something. One closed door was marked Police Archive. I even stopped for a second. Here it was — a way to find information on Nelly Valeeva. There was a small chance that she might have left a trace in some archived cases. I didn’t know yet whether my guess was right, but all the same, it was a lead. What if...
“Why’re you standing there?” Heylia asked. “You can’t just hang around, come on.” We moved on.
We entered an empty corridor with a row of doors. We stopped by one of them and Heylia turned to me.
“Josh will meet you soon, please wait here.”
“So see you tonight?”
“Yep, see you tonight.”
Heylia flashed me another gleaming smile and walked leisurely back down the corridor. A police drone flew into the corridor and hovered above me. Safety measures, I guess.

Release - June 20, 2019
Pre-order on Amazon -

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