Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Alpha Rome: Volper by Ros Per

Alpha Rome, book 1:
by Ros Per

Release - April 12, 2021

Chapter One. This is Just the Beginning.



The capsule lid closed shut with a soft hiss, cutting off connection to the outside world.

That was it. There was no going back. I meticulously mulled everything over and ran through various scenarios in my head. There was no other option. The only thing left to do was to go forward into the unknown, where I would have no chance of returning to my previous life.

A dense fog enveloped me. I was suspended in it, unable to feel the weight of my own body. Far away, right at the very edge of my consciousness, a light started to emerge. It was microscopic at first, but then it began to grow with every second until it was literally filling my entire mind in a flash.

“Welcome to Alpha Rome,” a voice announced in my head. “Commencing capsule data retrieval... Data retrieval complete. Medical Capsule ANV-734685-EK3573, no disconnect mode... Error! Consulting server administration... Additional contract received... Excerpt from contract: Vladimir Ignatenko has signed a contract with the Administrators of the Alpha Rome Project agreeing to everlasting residence within the servers belonging to the Administrators and the lifting of the 19-hour-virtual-reality-play-time limit that has been implemented in accordance with the Ministry of Health Protection Act № 17554.  This contract is based on a medical report for Vladimir Ignatenko, which outlines a critical health condition connected to Mr. Ignatenko’s advanced age. To gain access to permanent residence within the Alpha Rome Project servers, Mr. Ignatenko agrees to the cancellation of his ability to exchange in-game earnings for real-life currency and accrue in-game bonuses for real-life currency, as well as to paying for access to the game for the next twenty years. Is this information correct?”

“Yes, that is correct!”

Well, what else was I supposed to do? Even though modern medicine was very advanced these days, there still weren’t that many ways for a 107-year-old to prolong his life. The doctors had given me two to five years of normal life, well, up to a maximum of ten, really, by allowing me to live in a medical capsule. I’d built up a large amount of savings over the years, but, unfortunately, I didn’t have anyone to leave it to.

No family... Well, that wasn’t strictly true. I did have a family, a relatively big one, in fact, but mostly grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who were, of course, proud to have a grandfather like myself, but who still hadn’t really kept in contact with me. My wife had died around twenty years ago, my children too, from old age. They’d already gone to another world. My grandchildren and great-grandchildren had their own families, and it was actually my decision to have cut off contact with them so that they could concentrate on family matters, rather than having to deal with a shriveled up old twig trying to live out the rest of his years by hanging around their necks.

That’s why I’d decided to immerse myself in virtual reality, to break off from the real world once and for all. But here’s the rub. According to the Ministry of Health’s latest act, you could only stay in virtual reality for a maximum of 19 hours, after which you were forced to log out for a minimum of four hours. Although it was possible to break this time up into however many sessions you saw fit, for every hour spent in the virtual world, you had to take a twenty-minute break in the real one.

This wasn’t an option for me because I needed to be able to be in the capsule twenty-four seven. With the help of medical certificates, lawsuits, and a contract with a young but flourishing company, and by agreeing to a series of gaming limitations, I’d gotten what I wanted and managed to set a precedent, thanks to which several critically ill patients could now play to their hearts’ content.

However, this all had happened in the last couple of days. Let’s return to the present.


“Would you like to start the registration?”


“Choose your preferred method of interacting with the system: Voice, thought, gesture, other. Attention! In the event that you choose another method of interaction, you will need to manually construct a standard list of commands.”

“I elect to choose voice and thought commands.”

“Confirm voice and thought commands?”


“Repeat confirmation using a thought command.”

That’s that pesky AI for you. You did everything for it and then it still asked you to confirm it five times.

“Yes, I confirm the choice,” I said to the system in my head.

“Thank you for your selection! Please choose your preferred method of receiving system notifications: Voice, text, light signals, other. Attention! In the event that you choose a different method of receiving system notifications, you will need to manually construct a standard list of notification options.”

“Text notifications.”

“Do you confirm that you would like to receive text notifications from the system?”


A tab immediately began to flash in front of my eyes.


Thank you for your selection! Please choose your character name!


Now, I needed to think about this. I’d have this name for a long time, practically for the rest of my life.

So, here goes.



This name has already been taken.


This name has already been taken.


This name has already been taken.


This name has already been taken.

“Fuck off”

This name has already been taken.

“How has that been taken already?”

This name has already been taken.


This name has already been taken.


This name has already been taken.

“Old Man”

This name has already been taken.


Shit, was there anything even left to choose? I’d already spent five minutes trying to come up with stupid names and they’d all been taken already.



This name is available! Would you like to choose the name Volper?


“Yes, of course I damn well would!!!”


Congratulations, your character is called Volper! Would you like to change your character’s age or keep your real age?


Change it, definitely. But to what? If I remembered my youth rightly, then my strength had really developed somewhere between 25 and 35. If I took the mean, that’s 30. Only, I didn’t really like round numbers, so let’s go for a slightly younger body.


“Put my age at 28.”


Your character is 28 years old!


A 3D model of my character appeared in front of me. It looked surprisingly like I had when I’d been young. Cropped dark hair about a quarter of an inch long; dark, slightly crooked, but very malleable eyebrows; gray eyes with a tinge of hazel; a straight nose with a slightly upturned end; small lips, the corners of which turned up into a gentle smile, characterizing me as a joyful sort of person; and a slightly protruding chin. The body itself was quite pumped, but it wasn’t bulging. A height of about 5’8”, and that was all there was to say.  A body is a body.

This examination of the body of my youth was interrupted by a new message which was now hovering in front of my eyes.


Choose your character’s race!

1)               Human

2)               Masked Mutant (adjusts genotype settings)

3)               Mutant (adjusts genotype settings)

4)               Cyborg (starter implants are installed)


Oh wow. The developers hadn’t even mentioned that there would be so many races to choose from.  My God, their secrecy was infuriating! Of course, I agreed with their motto that “In our world, even information has its price,” but would it really have killed them to give me a small amount of info?

Fine, let’s not get too wound up. I needed to choose one... But what was there to even choose? I definitely didn’t want to be a mutant. I had a serious aversion to them, as well as to cramming myself full of hardware. The choice was obvious.


“I will be a human.”


Selection accepted! Would you like to change the appearance of your character?


I’d ended up in a biologist’s wet dream. There was pretty much everything here. You could change the color of your skin, your voice, your eyes. Any pigmentation you could wish for. You could change the shape of your eyes, face and limbs. If you wanted, you could ieven ncrease the number or change the look of various sections of your limbs and other body parts, as well as swap them for almost any biological or mechanical equivalents. You could even change or reconstruct everything down to your nervous or cardiovascular systems.

For me, though, almost all the buttons for character building had been deactivated and shaded in gray. When I focused on any of them, a new message popped up.


Not available for Human race.


Fine. I wasn’t going to torture myself. I’d just stick with my original build. I’d lived this long with a regular human body, I suppose, so I’d just keep this one, my preferred one, without any changes. At least then I wouldn’t have to get used to any changes in its characteristics.


“Complete without changes.”


Choose your basic attributes!

Strength – 5

Agility – 5

Stamina – 5

Perception – 5

Intelligence – 5

Intellect – 5

Luck – 5

Charisma – 5

Available character points: 8


There were two buttons next to each attribute: plus and minus. After clicking around a little, I worked out that not only could I increase the numbers, but I could also decrease them, which then freed up more points. The problem was I didn’t understand what the attributes stood for in this game, and I didn’t think choosing them based on what I imagined they stood for would be the right way to go about it. There should be some kind of explanation, and if there was no information on the official website, then you should be able to get some within the game itself.

Hmm... I think I must be an idiot. Hadn’t I made sure that this interface was completely interactive when I’d just started the download?

I focused my eyes on the “Strength” button and sent a mental command to the interface. “Information.”


Strength is a measure of your muscle development and is directly responsible for the amount of weight you can carry, the force of your attacks in close combat, and your ability to use heavy weaponry or wear heavy protective gear.


Bingo. So, this was how I could find out which attributes were important to me, and which ones weren’t so much. I just had to decide what kind of person I wanted to my character to be.

Right then, let’s keep reading.


Agility is a measure of your flexibility and is directly responsible for jumps, somersaults, fine motor skills and your ability to complete various movements that require flexibility.

Stamina is a measure of your body’s ability to withstand continuous stress and is directly responsible for the speed at which you become fatigued, your resistance to harmful effects and the duration of negative effects.

Perception is a measure of your conscience’s response to signals from the outside world and is directly responsible for the quality of your vision and hearing, your sensitivity to smells and touch and your ability to detect a variety of minute details about the outside world.

Intelligence is a measure of your brain’s ability to understand and remember information and is directly responsible for the speed at which you learn different skills, the speed at which you lose previously learned skills and your ability to process different pieces of information.


I had to re-read the description of the intelligence attribute three times before I understood what it was that bothered me about this text. Namely, it was the line about the speed of losing previously learned skills that didn’t give me any peace of mind. It turned out that there was a chance of losing some of your skills, but it wasn’t clear what the reason for this was and how fast they would be lost. Dammit, I didn’t even understand what intelligence had to do with that! Was it that as your intelligence increased, the speed of the loss started to slow down, or was it the other way around? Thinking like this was enough to burn your brains out as it was. Okay, let’s not clog up the pipes. Better to carry on reading.


Intellect is a measure of your brain’s ability to interact with the world and is directly responsible for the volume of interactions you can perform, your power to resist actions performed on you and the power of your interactions with the outside world.


Oh, for crying out loud! What the hell possessed you admins to write such boring, mind-bending texts? I must have read this five times already and I still didn’t understand a thing. From what I’d read, Intellect, by all accounts, was responsible for the connection between the power of your thoughts and your ability to manage them. So, this meant there were either going to be some kind of mind readers and telekinetics, or a wider range of these types of people known as psionics. Okay, let’s get a bit further.


Luck is a measure of your luck!


Muahaha... That was the most detailed description out of any of them. Well, that had cleared that up. I got the feeling that 90 percent of the players who’d signed up for this would be cursing the admins right now.


Charisma is a measure of your ability to make a good impression in conversation and is directly responsible for your ability to make an impression more quickly, your chances of getting bigger discounts in shops and receiving rarer missions and more prestigious rewards.


So, how was I supposed to choose here? I needed pretty much all of those attributes. I didn’t want to give anything up, but I guess I’d have to choose which ones I definitely needed to go to town on now, and which I should leave to increase whenever I got the chance.

As I was working this out, I mindlessly dragged the character points from one to ten and back down again, trying to make the right decision. Then I was struck by the feeling that I was making a mistake, as if there was something extremely important that I was missing. Let’s add five more points to Luck, get that as high as it would go, then three more for Intellect. Or should I drag all the attributes down to one, and then raise four of them to the maximum of ten, and then put another four points on the first one I see?

STOP! Why didn’t I put all my points on one attribute? No, that wouldn’t work, either. Ten was the maximum. Why? Why did they have to put a limit on it? Use your brain! There should be a reason for this limit, although...

No, it couldn’t be, it had never been done before. But the devs had indeed mentioned in one of their interviews that they’d made some unorthodox decisions on plenty of occasions, ones that hadn’t been made for any game before. That meant it was completely possible that the attributes - or, as many people call them, stats - couldn’t go any higher than a certain level. In this case, ten. Ten was the maximum number an attribute could be. Oh bummer.

Now, the majority of players would most likely have made all their attributes level six and get a statistically average character without any clearly expressed direction. I had the feeling that literally after one or two days, the forum would be wiped out by giant... no, strike that - GIANT waves of uproar.

Having realized this problem, I almost instantly came up with a development plan. It might not have been the best, but it was probably the most suitable for the type of game that I was about to play.

In the end, this was what I went with:


Strength – 5

Agility – 9

Stamina – 5

Perception – 9

Intelligence – 6

Intellect – 1

Luck – 8

Charisma – 5

Available character points: 0


 Once I’d confirmed my allocations, the following message popped up:


Congratulations! You have now created your character! The server will start up in 01:17:23





There was still just over one hour left until the game started. On the one hand, hanging here in this emptiness with the timer flashing in front of my eyes wasn’t particularly pleasant. But on the other hand, it gave me time to collect my thoughts and answer that age-old question: what should I do?

For starters, I needed to break down the information I already had. Firstly, in one hour I, along with a crowd of frenzied gamers, would be starting a new, untested project. Therefore, there were no guides nor any advice to glean from experienced players. It would be a race to gain experience of and information about the world around us. And if my theory about the character points was correct, then there was actually no point in chasing after experience.

From this, it looked like there were a couple of primary tasks for me to deal with. The first was to figure out how and what exactly I needed to increase in order to compete against the other players. The second was to collect information about the world, because whoever had that information was the one that owned the world.

While I was thinking about all this, I didn’t realize that I’d dozed off, even though I hadn’t thought that was actually possible.

I was brought back to life by the ticking of the timer which was now down to its last few seconds.


Attention! The servers will be launched in 00:00:06







The flashing sliced into my eyes. I barely had time to blink when my gaze fell upon the inside of the capsule’s translucent spherical lid in front of me. With a soft hiss, the lid gave way slightly before opening up to the left.


Volper, welcome to Alpha Rome!


Carefully, not yet used to my new body - which, unlike my old one, wasn’t hurting with every move I took, - I climbed out of the capsule which looked like a cryo-freeze chamber that had been laid on its back. I was now standing in a rectangular room about six to twelve feet wide. It was decorated with some kind of tiles the color of ocean waves when they are filled with bits of seaweed; a dirty, greenish color with a hint of light blue. The capsule was on one edge of the room, while on the other wall there was an outline of a rectangular door.


Well, hello, Alpha Rome. I’ve just been re-born.

Chapter 2. A New Reality



After leaving the room and casting a quick glance back to make sure I was relatively safe, I started getting my body used to its new form.  I ran through a short series of warm-up exercises and entered a state of indescribable joy. Nothing was hurting; my body was responding beautifully. Sure, there was a bit of roughness to my movements, and I didn’t manage to do some of the actions completely correctly, but this was probably down to needing more practice. Just give me a bit of time, and I would fully adapt to my body. Then my muscles and nerve endings would obey me just fine.

Okay, so it looked like I’d managed to come to grips with my new sensations. My surroundings and all six of my senses, it was all so real. True, I still needed to check and see whether I could actually taste anything, and I hadn’t tried out the entire spectrum of my touch senses yet, but that would come later. Considering I had to live in this body for the foreseeable future, I needed to be consistent to make sure I didn’t botch it up. If I screwed something up now, I was bound to have problems developing later on.


Character Status.”


Silence. I didn’t understand. How was I supposed to look at my information?

Dammit! Okay, how about this:





Information about character.


No matter how I formulated the command, all I got in response was silence. Well, that’s exactly like it is in the real world! I guessed that I would just have to take a look around and see what there was to do. I was wearing a light, silvery long-sleeved t-shirt, trousers in the same color, and some kind of moccasins, or rather thin-soled slippers, also in this same silvery color. I hadn’t managed to find any pockets or bags, or anything else that I could use to store and carry things in. There were three options. Option number one: I was just a dumbass who was out of the loop and didn’t know the basics. Option number two: the starter kit was somewhere close to the place my character had come from. Option number three: somebody was supposed to give me the starter kit. All three options were viable. I couldn’t check my own stupidity right then and there, but the other options were certainly worth investigating. After taking a more detailed look around the room, I still hadn’t found anything. I walked along the walls feeling around for suspicious tiles, but unfortunately, that didn't produce any results either. As a last resort, I even tried looking in the capsule, but all that was waiting for me in there was disappointment: just the automatic lid and some bedding made out of a strange soft material.

After wasting another twenty minutes in the room, I eventually moved toward the door, which was almost taking up the entire wall opposite the capsule. On the right side of the doorjam was a display in the shape of a hand. Only a real numskull wouldn’t have been able to guess what you needed to do with this. I didn’t see myself as a numskull, so I confidently placed my right palm on the display. The door opened softly to the left in response. The hum of voices almost knocked me out immediately.


“Shit, people, what the f***?”

“Who wants to be in my company?”


“Where do you pick up quests?”

“People, what are we supposed to do here?”


There was an enormous amount of different questions, offers, and screaming. To the point that some people had simply resorted to piling obscenities on top of obscenities. All this noise was starting to drive me crazy. I was only happy about one thing: if I was being dim-witted or a dumbass, then I wasn’t the only one. It was these crowds of players making all the noise. They were either running around or standing in the corridor, all dressed in the same silver-colored gear as I was. The corridor was about thirteen feet wide and was the same dirty green color as the room. Only, in contrast to the room, the walls, floor and ceiling were made from the same material. It looked like painted concrete. Dome lights had been mounted along the ceiling and walls at ten-foot intervals, giving off a pleasantly soft light. A row of yellow LEDs ran from right to left across the center of the ceiling. The walls were lined with doors like the one I had just come through. On the left doorjam of each one was a grid with letters and numbers, which could only be differentiated between by looking at the last few symbols. These were probably the room numbers. On every right doorjam was the familiar, hand-shaped panel. I turned back around to my door and immediately looked at the number: V – 3/27. I needed to remember that.

I placed my palm on the panel and closed the door to the room just in case, before heading in the direction indicated by the lights on the ceiling. These LEDs really reminded me of the emergency exit lights that they use on military bases. The only difference was that here there weren’t any different colored LEDs on the walls directing different units to where they needed to be. My suspicions were confirmed after forty-nine feet. Even though the corridor continued, the yellow lights didn’t stop. They moved closer together and at the point where they converged, there was another small branch of LEDs directing you toward a door that didn’t look any different to the others, but which had a sign above it that read “ELEVATOR”. A small crowd of players had gathered next to the elevator and were entering it one at a time. Each time the elevator doors opened I saw a tiny box-room, about six feet by six feet. Whenever a player entered, a part of the energy barrier began to flash in the doorway.

“Why only one at a time? There’s space enough for three, or maybe even four if they squeezed in,” I asked a player standing next to me.

“Beats me.”

“I suppose it’s most likely to protect the players from the control system,” another player joined in. “Well, you might be able to give someone permission to get in with you, but we haven't figured it out yet.”

“I see. Thx for the info.”

“Ah, no problem.”

After about three minutes, it was my turn to enter the elevator. Inside there was just one control panel. The buttons were laid out in two columns and you could scroll up and down through a list of floors. The right column was gray, meaning it was inactive. The word “HANGAR” was written underneath the number. The left column was simply numbered and fully active. Right at the bottom, next to the number one, was a label that read “HALL”. Suspecting that there was nothing for me on the other floors, I went to this one. The elevator moved horizontally at first and then went down.

The atmosphere in the hall was a little different to the previous place. Directly across from the elevator was a wide, glass exit, about sixty-five or eighty feet wide. Several streams of players were trying to squeeze through it. A person in uniform was standing in the middle of the exit, occasionally straining to shout,


“Before you leave the Replication Center, I recommend you consult one our specialists. The green light above the door shows that a specialist is available.”

Some of the players who were already running toward the exit stopped dead in their tracks and began looking around in search of these specialists, while the most perceptive were already running to the right and left along the corridor looking for a door with a green light above it. I moved into one of the corridors, noticing as I did so that there wasn’t just one elevator on the first floor, but fifteen. Apparently, each elevator lead to just a few floors. Having said that, my elevator had initially started moving horizontally, which probably just meant it had been moving to an unoccupied shaft, allowing the elevators to be used that bit more intensively than if each one had had its own shaft like in the olden days.

To be honest, I couldn’t understand why everyone was flying through the corridor like they were conscripts doing their basic training.  In the twenty minutes I had spent trying to find a free consultant, I was almost hit in the face about fifty times, and each time people called me “noob”, “schoolkid”, “crab”, or other similar epithets. After my long wander, I finally had some luck: one of the doors directly across from me opened and a player leaped out.

“Let’s hit the road, rookie!” he shouted as he pushed me to the side at full speed and dashed toward the exit.

“Well, well... Looks like I’m in luck,” I muttered under my breath as I stepped into the cubicle that weirdo had come out of, above the doors of which the green light had lit up again.

The cubicle was a pleasant surprise. In contrast to the miserable colors of the corridors, which I’d already started growing tired of, here everything had been decorated in white tones with a soft, pleasant blue hue. A young, dark-haired girl with emerald eyes was sitting behind an office desk next to the far wall.  She was wearing a white blouse, an austere, dark-brown blazer and a practiced smile. Her eyes were heavy with fatigue, looking as if to say, “I am so sick of dealing with all your shit!” The devs were really trying. She looked like a real human being, even though she was clearly a non-player character, or, as they’re called in gamer-slang, an NPC. The emotions that were flitting over her face and flickering in her eyes, her minute facial movements, the slight scanning movements her eyes were making. The way she looked like she was evaluating my figure and appearance; it all suggested that a lot of work had been put into this. How interesting! Let’s see how the devs did with the dialog and emotions. Hadn’t they promised we wouldn’t be able to distinguish between NPCs and real people?

“Welcome...” she began, but I interrupted her straight away.

“Good day, young lady! I’m sorry, but I’m looking for a specialist from the Replication Center.”

“Umm... That would be me...”

“It can’t be!” I interrupted her again, not giving her a chance to gather her thoughts. “Such an enchanting young woman, wasting her time consulting regular philistines like us... I can’t believe it!”


“Yes! It’s just so kind of you to help us needy folk to understand the basics of this world and give us the opportunity to behold your beauty...”

The girl began to get embarrassed. Her cheeks went red, making it clear that, even though she was a little confused, she clearly liked what I’d said. I continued to drown her in admiration, choosing my words very carefully.  Especially considering that, according to what had been written about the story of the game, everything was happening far in the future and I wasn’t sure which flirtatious words or acts of courtship were still in use here. I continued to soften her up for three more minutes. In this time, my outpouring of words had touched the girl so deeply that she was sitting there all red, smiling sheepishly and, with her eyes cast down, was twirling a strand of hair that had tumbled out of her up-do. Just as I was running out of steam, she jumped out of her chair.

“Oh, I should have taken you through the instructions and activated your neurointerface!”

“Not a problem! Don’t worry...”

“No, no, it’s really important!” She jumped up toward me, grabbed my hand and pulled me to the table, in front of which was the visitor’s chair. “Sit here. Now I will show and tell you everything!”

After sitting me down, she ran around the desk and began rummaging around in a drawer, not noticing that in this position she was displaying her entire bottom half to me.  Her tight little butt in the fitted, mid-length skirt, her slim legs and neat shoes on short, thin heels. As all of this was looking at me from behind the desk, I was forced to feel like a young officer again; a young officer who never left a single girl behind. This was a real surprise. A long-forgotten feeling had awakened in me, one that I didn’t think I was even capable of feeling anymore. No, I wasn’t surprised — I was in total shock! Sexual arousal was sinking its claws into me once again, luring me in with all of its trappings to the point that I started to get an erection! And at my age, too. Just take a deep breath, breathe... One more... Pheewwww, it’s gone. I knew I wanted to check how well the NPCs had been programmed, but I’d been led astray. Although, considering how real my reaction was, I wouldn’t even call this an NPC; it was more like an artificial person. In which case it was worth trying to see them as real people and act accordingly. Maybe something good might come out of it. For me. While I was thinking about all this, the girl had taken out some kind of appliance that resembled a swimming cap with microcircuits sealed into it.

“Here we are! Put this on, please, and relax. I am now going to activate your neurointerface, and then we’ll move onto the tutorial.”


I took the cap in my hands and began turning it around, trying to figure out which bit was the front and which bit was the back. The girl smiled, took the cap back and, after putting it on for me, like the lady she was, started smoothing it down onto my head. As she was doing so, her chest (which, now I’m mentioning it, was rather large) almost buried my face. Holy shit, I’m going to have a breakdown after all! After she had put the appliance on for me, she stepped back and began making strange gestures in the air with her hands. The world rippled before my eyes, but everything returned to normal after a couple of seconds. Only now multiple icons and panels were hanging in front of me. Multi-colored bands were hanging in the top left-hand corner of my vision, while in the bottom left-hand corner, judging by the image of the fist, was where my equipped weapon was displayed. At the same time, in the top right-hand corner was a small image of a map, and in the bottom right-hand corner was a small icon. A message was taking up half of my field of vision:


Congratulations! You have completed your first task: “Activate Neuronetwork”. You have activated your neuronetwork with one of our official representatives. You have now been identified in the government network.

Reward: You can now use the interface.


Aha, that’s why I couldn't call up the interface. Something in my subconscious was concerning me but I couldn’t work out what it was. I had only just started trying to find the source of it when I was distracted by the charming specialist’s voice.

“That’s it, the neurointerface has been activated. Now, let’s move on to the tutorial.” She sat down on her chair and continued. “Right now, we are in the Replication Center. On the fifth level of the multi-level city of Alpha Rome. Taking into account the problems that we’ve been facing over the last few decades, the government has decided to extract some of the original replication casts that aren’t currently being used from the archive. By doing this and increasing the population, we are planning to use these replicates to regenerate the infrastructure of the fifth level. If this project pays off, we will rebuild the rest of the lower levels. Consequently, the decision was made to give each replicate a room in which they can be replicated for free for either a period of seven days, or up to ten replications. All further replications must be paid for according to the tariffs in place. Also, each replicate receives one thousand credits to start with. You will now receive a file that shows you all the main buildings in our outpost. Be aware! The zones which have been shaded in red are not patrolled by our security services as there is a significant danger to life there. Phew... That seems to be it.”

Oh wow. Had she learned this all by heart or had she been reading through it all using her own neuronetwork?

I was surprised to notice that the girl was looking at me with a sad expression. She seemed happy and was twittering on quite merrily just a moment before, so why the sharp mood swing?

“Forgive me, but what is your name? I, for example, am called Vlad... Hm... Volper. And yourself?”

“Oh...” Her eyes widened and she automatically covered her mouth with her hand. “Did I not introduce myself?”


“Litara.” And after a second, she added, “But you can call me Lita.”

“What a beautiful name! Tell me, Lita, why did you suddenly become all sad?”

“Well, you see, now you, like the rest of the replicates, are going to dart off to who knows where, screaming strange words!”

We sat and looked at one another. One second, two... Five... Ten... I couldn’t hold it in any longer and asked,

“Well? Have I run off yet?”

“It doesn’t look like it.”

“Strange... After all, you said, Lita, that I would run away.”

“And why haven't you?”

“Well, why would I?” I was trying very hard to not to laugh at our conversation.

“I don’t know.” Perhaps my unorthodox ways had started to panic Lita.

“Perhaps, until you decide why I would run away, you could answer a few questions for me?”

“Ask away!” She smiled at me. “At least, I will if I know the answer.”

“So, tell me, Lita, why did this neuronetwork need to be activated?”

“Well, how would you cope without it?  It’s what controls your entire body. It lets you find out about the condition of your health; about which skills you’ve mastered and lots of other things. Plus, for convenience, it translates everything into numbers and can track your progress. But the most important thing is that the server processes all of your actions and the government can instantly give you various bonuses and prizes. So, again, without the neuronetwork, you wouldn’t be able to get to a useful position in society, which directly depends on you completing your missions and the volume of work you do that’s useful for the city.”

“So, I won’t be able to see the levels of any humans or mutants?”

“You will. You’ll be able to see the level of potential danger they present to you.”

“I see... Lita, you’ve already mentioned that we need to rebuild the infrastructure of the fifth level. Will we be having to carry out construction work?”

“Well... Perhaps some construction work, but to start with we need to clear the territory of any threats. You see, the fifth floor became uninhabitable for humans about three hundred years ago. After that, various mutant creatures and groups of bandits settled here. Some aggressive security systems have been at work in several places since then. Various droids will turn up occasionally, some ours, some theirs, and you can also come across mutant people who are trying to hide from the government.  That’s why we need to clear the territory before the reconstruction work can begin. It needs to be strengthened, and then we can start work on the infrastructure.”

“And is there an army?”

“They, unfortunately, are almost all occupied with fighting mutant breakouts,” Lita replied with a sadness in her voice.

“So, we’re just gun-fodder that you're going to use to clear out the territory?”

“No, of course not! Multiple replication centers have been built across the entire fifth level specifically for this reason. We have installed the most expensive human replication equipment and all the replications are carried out at the cost price of the biological material. So that none of you have to worry about dying.”

“In that case, why doesn’t the government just replicate the soldiers?”

“Unfortunately, the technology for creating full replication casts was lost a long time ago. Now, we can only carry out changes to those that already exist. And the server doesn’t allow several replications to be done at the same time. I’m not sure why that is.”

“I see, that means the only way of earning any money now is through rewards and killing dangerous creatures?”

“No, almost everything you’ll get within the outpost walls can be given to other departments. For example, the body of an under-researched mutant will be happily bought up by the labs in the Research Center. The engineers there are working on a variety of devices that we no longer have any information for. If you get your hands on some armor or weapons, you can take those to the shop. They’ll probably give you a good price for them. And if you’re really struggling for cash, you can collect any old junk beyond the perimeter and drag it back to the Administration Building. They buy it up on the cheap and re-purpose it. So, as you can see, there are many ways of earning money even if you don’t have any professional skills.”

“Thank you very much, Lita, for giving me such detailed information.”

“Oh, don’t mention it. That’s what I’m here for. Although, unfortunately, few people are interested in finding out more than the basics.”

Despite the fact that I had desperately little information, I didn’t know what else to ask. I still needed to figure out how to work the interface, plus I was very stressed out about the idea that this server had total control over me. But this probably just meant that the devs had created a logical, mutual link between the recreated people and the explanations for the NPCs. All I needed to do now was to say goodbye to Litara, promising, as a final thing, to come back to her if any questions came up. After stepping out into the corridor and walking for about thirty-two feet, I stopped next to the wall and studied the interface. The map displayed the small area around me and was seemingly limited to what I could actually see. At my mental command, it opened out to take up my entire view, detailing my location. Almost all of it was covered in the so-called “fog of war”, which is usually used in the gaming industry to refer to those parts of the map where there weren’t any players. The only thing I found surprising was the key for the levels and floors, even though this was completely logical from the point of view of a game world in which you didn’t just have to orientate yourself on a horizontal plane, but vertically too. I turned the map over and cast my eyes over the pictographs. These were also just like what I had been expecting: character status, mail, friend list, system menu. After calling up the character status, I immediately dove into reading what was there as some of the points sometimes gave information about the possibility of developing in the future.


Character Status:

Name: Volper

Level: 0

Experience: 0/250

Armor (Mean value): 1

Health: 50/50

Hunger: 12/100

Thirst: 17/100

Fatigue: 3/50

Weight: 0.9/50



Strength – 5

Agility – 9

Stamina – 5

Perception – 9

Intelligence – 6

Intellect – 1

Luck – 8

Charisma – 5

Skills: --

Professions: --


Personal Account: 1,000 CR


I concentrated my vision on the “Armor” heading and a detailed layout of my body parts popped up. Apart from my wrists and head, everywhere had a value of one which seemed to have been given to me based on my starter gear. I drilled my eyes into the remaining stats, but they didn't respond. The bands in the top left-hand corner were responsible for the floating parameters. Red for health, gray for hunger, light blue for thirst and orange, naturally, for fatigue. Out of all the indicators, health was the only one that was full. The rest had only just started to fill up.  I was very interested in two headings: “Skills” and “Professions”. The problem was that there wasn’t any description to go with them. That and the fact they were empty, even though they would clearly be very important in terms of my character development. They hadn’t been grouped together with the main stats for nothing.

Okay, information was all well and good, but I needed to level up before I fell behind the quickest players. I just needed to find a shop, buy some things if I had enough money, and try and throw myself into battle.



Chapter 3. Hardcore! Or Have the Devs Just Lost Their Minds?



With the help of the map I reached the shop in just three minutes. I then stood in the queue for almost half an hour. It was a good opportunity to examine my surroundings. To be honest, I wouldn’t have minded overhearing something interesting, but the only people within my hearing range were newbies. So, unfortunately, I didn’t pick up anything useful from their idle chit-chat. The outpost was comprised of just five buildings: the five-story Replication Center; a similar sized residential compound; a three-story research center; a five-story administration building; and the hangar that housed the shop. All of these buildings were laid out in a ring around an open square. The perimeter of the outpost was closed off by a twenty-six-foot-high modular fence, which had presumably been built in preparation for the next stage of the expansion. Behind this fence there were gigantic buildings in various stages of disrepair and multi-level highways; but what was even more surprising was what was above my head. There was no sky, not even a dome. Your eyes were drawn to a ceiling that was made out of concrete, or something that looked similar to concrete, which covered the entire city. This was the moment when what Lita had said about the levels finally started to make sense. Judging by the fact that we were on the fifth level, there must have been at least one city just as big as this above our heads and four more beneath us.

The entrance to the shop was flanked by two security guards wearing some kind of mechanized armor which vaguely resembled the body armor worn by our space marines. Only, in contrast to the space marines, these security guards had yellowish power lines running along the contours of their visors, the outside of their arms and legs, and around their waist. They were each holding an assault rifle — a power variant, if the module that was giving off blue light was anything to go by. It looked effective, but in terms of practicality and camouflage, it was a terrible choice, not just because you could probably have spotted them from outer space, but because they were illuminating their most vulnerable areas!

Once I had reached the front of the queue, I entered the shop. I immediately spotted eight twin-barrel gun-turrets on the ceiling, close-mesh grating in front of the counters and an enormous amount of CCTV cameras. It was like something straight out of a center for paranoiacs, especially considering there were no more than two dozen customers allowed in the shop at any one time. The shop floor itself was divided up into sections by item type. Weapons were here, ammunition was over there, this was the armor section, and so on. I went over to the weapons stand and scanned the assortment on display. My gaze was momentarily drawn to an electromagnetic pulse rifle which had a concentrator attached to the end of the barrel. Holy cow! If you loaded that thing up with plasma ammunition, you could burn through any combat robot’s composite armor! I looked at the price and whistled in my head — seventeen million credits. Wow... I would’ve had to farm for half a year to get that; although, I didn’t really know how much the loot the local creatures dropped was worth yet, so it might have taken even longer than that.

“Good day!” I turned to the assistant. “What do you have for an aspiring soldier?”

“What class of weapon are you interested in?”

“Hm... What is there?” I’d be damned if I knew how they classified their weapons.

“Well, the main types are contact weapons and small arms. Contact weapons are separated into cold, power, laser, and pulse.  There are three types of cold weapon: bladed, chopping, blunt...”

“Stop, stop, stop, let’s try it a different way. I need a cheap pistol, a drop-leg holster, a knife with a fifteen-centimeter blade in a tough protective case, and something compact and automatic.”

The assistant stared at me, tugged at his chin a few times and, after deciding something in his head, gave me an answer.

“As I understand it, you only have the starter allowance, yes?” I nodded, but he had already turned to somewhere deep in the shop window. “Levi, bring me starter kit number three!” he shouted.

“What kind of gear is that?”

“Before we started working with the Replication Center, my colleagues and I got together and decided to create some gear sets based on some minimum requirements. To make it so you could get it for a thousand credits. Usually, you replicates ask for either a machine gun or a cannon. Or, at the very least, a rifle. But people rarely ask for a variety of things for different situations like you just did. So, we have a couple of gear sets. Just don’t judge. They’re not very good quality, but you won’t get anything better for your money.”

“Thanks for this. How much is it?”

“Seven hundred and thirty-two.” As soon as he saw my eyes widen, he added, “Don’t worry, you’ve got quite a lot of stuff here: a small rucksack with some rounds, dry food packets and a hydration system with almost a gallon of water.”

That was a load off my mind. I didn’t want to have to go without armor just because I didn’t have enough money. I took the bundle and confirmed the charges in a small flashing window before heading over to the fitting room the assistant had pointed out. I pulled the curtain across and immediately dove in to look at what I’d bought. I had some short, black boots with plastic clasps. Some trousers that were made out of a leather-like material with two side and two hip pockets. A long-sleeved jacket in the same material as the trousers with eight external pockets laid out symmetrically across the left and right sides — two on the chest and two below the ribs. Fingerless gloves with padding on the knuckles. A strange looking pistol without a slide and with an open barrel and a small movable part where the bolt usually was, as well as a hidden trigger. After turning the pistol round to look at it from all angles, I still couldn’t find the safety catch, and the trigger could be pulled without cocking it first.

Next, I picked up the small, short-barreled submachine gun that had a folding butt, but to my horror, the bolt was way in front of the trigger and the magazine was right below it. What’s more, not only did it spit from the recoil, it didn’t even have a bull-pup system so you could lower the chances of getting “recoil shoulder”. In short, it wasn’t a weapon, but something that had been made to look like one. It also only had two firing modes: automatic or semi-automatic. And I hadn’t even started on changing the type of ammunition. I was just going to have to take it. I felt like banging my head against a wall. But, on the other hand, what had I expected to be starting the game with? Whatever, I’d done enough reacting. I needed to see what else there was. A simple, synthetic belt and a synthetic gun holster with two elastic loops that would fit around my thigh and a tough clip to attach it to my belt. A polymer one would have been better for open carry, of course, but I couldn't afford that yet. On the other hand, unlike this one, a polymer holster would have needed to fit the exact model of the pistol to make sure everything stayed firmly in place.

I then looked at the small, roughly twenty-liter rucksack that had a load of straps sewn onto it. If I wasn’t mistaken, these kind of fastenings were used before the trustworthy magnetic locks were discovered. Inside the rucksack I found five small boxes of rounds, two magazines for the SMG and one for the pistol. At the very bottom there were two vacuum packs of dry rations.  In a special pocket on the back I found the hydration system which had a pipe that had been threaded through one of the straps of the rucksack, just above the shoulder. The last thing in the bundle was the knife. Altogether it was slightly longer than thirty centimeters with a straight, one-sided, fifteen-centimeter blade, and a gently curved handle. The handle was wrapped in some kind of cord so that it didn’t slip out of your hand and all of this was neatly put together in a tough case, which had a belt loop on the upper part and two elastic loops with regular clasps on the middle and lower parts which were most likely designed to  be attached to your thigh. I stood and looked at all of this and realized what an idiot I was being. I was in a game, this wasn’t real life, and all I actually needed here were thoughts. Having identified myself as a moron, I started to open the information about the items one by one.


Boots “Rekvord”

Foot/ankle armor:

            Kinetic: 2

            Penetration: 3

            Thermal: 1

Condition: 100%

Weight: 1.2 kg


Trousers “Saomi”

Additional slots: 4 pockets

Thigh/knee armor:

             Kinetic: 1

             Penetration: 2

             Thermal: 1

Condition: 100%

Weight: 0.7 kg


Jacket “Oster”

Additional slots: 8 pockets

Body/forearm/elbow/collarbone/shoulder/partial wrist armor:

              Kinetic: 2

              Penetration: 2

              Thermal: 2

Condition: 100%

Weight: 1.1 kg


Gloves “Klemor”

Hand/finger armor:

             Kinetic: 1

             Penetration: 2

Condition: 100%

Weight: 0.12 kg


Rucksack “Cargo”

Main slots: 2

Additional slots: Hydration system slot (full), external MOLLE system.

Volume: 18 liters

Capacity: 20 kg

Condition: 100%

Weight: 0.4 kg


Knife “SR-17”

Damage: 5-7

Total length: 285 mm

Condition: 100%

Weight: 0.26 kg


Pistol “PMK 428”

Ammunition: 4.2x8

Effective Range: 20 meters

Rounds Per Minute: 30

Firing mode: semi-automatic

Condition: 100%

Weight: 0.42 kg


Magazine for Pistol “PMK 428”

Ammunition: 4.2x8

Number of Rounds: 12

Condition: 100%

Weight: 0.11 kg


Pistol Round “4.2x8”

Kinetic damage: 4-6

Penetration damage: 2-3

Condition: 100%

Weight: 2.4 g


Submachine gun (SMG) “Hornet”

Ammunition: 4.2x8

Effective Range: 30 meters

Rounds Per Minute: 400

Firing mode: semi-automatic, automatic.

Condition: 100%

Weight: 2.4 kg


Magazine for Submachine Gun “Hornet”

Ammunition: 4.2x8

Number of Rounds: 50

Condition: 100%

Weight: 0.23 kg


After reading through each items’ attributes, all I wanted to do was get myself out of this squalor. I took a deep breath, changed my clothes, put the rucksack on my back, attached the pistol to my right thigh and the knife to the outside of my left calf. It was always much more comfortable to grab things with the opposite hand. Sure, I had to suffer for a while until I had readjusted the knife and attached it to my belt, but in the end, the sheath began to fit like a glove. After loading all the magazines, I shoved the spares from the SMG into my chest pockets and the extra pistol into a special holster pocket. I hung the Hornet over my chest with the barrel facing the ground and repositioned the strap so that when I pulled it onto my shoulder, the strap wouldn’t pull on the back of my neck. It didn’t take long for me to decide to throw the little slippers I’d been wearing in the trash. Then, I jumped up and down a few times and made sure that nothing jangled. I was just about to leave when I realized that I wouldn’t get very far like this. I quickly ran along the counters and bought myself some thin but strong wire, a rope, a pound of bandages and some anti-septic spray. Incidentally, I was very surprised that they didn’t sell any elixirs or stimulants that could heal wounds in an instant. After taking a moment to think, I bought a two-pound gas canister that had a directional nozzle and an electric lighter. I ate my way through what was left of my credits after noticing that my hunger and thirst bars were at zero. I looked at my load capacity and was satisfied. Almost fourteen and a half kilograms out of the available fifty. It was only my account that I was disappointed with, as it only had thirteen credits left in it. I looked myself up and down once more and decided I was ready to set off. I lightly jogged over to the closest of three gates and, after passing through the gateway with a group of players, I was in the outside world.

The territory beyond the perimeter greeted me with the sound of shots being fired. It was coming from all directions and from varying distances, but probably from no further than about five hundred and fifty, maybe seven hundred and sixty yards away. After quickly glancing to the sides and making sure I wouldn’t be in any immediate danger, I hurriedly seated a cartridge into the Hornet. I didn’t load the pistol for fear of carrying around a loaded gun that didn’t have a safety lock and something embarrassing happening. The players with whom I had gone through the gate had split up into small groups and drew off along the streets in different directions.  I, on the other hand, logically assessed the streets opposite the gate and, after noticing that they were already pretty crowded, moved along the wall to the right of the gate. Having already got about halfway to the next gate, I spotted a small alleyway which led away into the depths of the city and headed down it. As soon as I had rounded the first turn, a creature lunged at me from behind a pile of garbage. My reflexes, which had stayed with me from the real world, saved me from having to respawn. As soon as my brain had registered the potential danger, I immediately fell onto my left side, pulled the trigger on the Hornet and fired at the blurry shadow that was now hovering just centimeters above me. To my surprise, the creature didn’t even notice the ten bullets that had just been fired into its gut. I pushed myself off the ground using my left arm and adopted a solid stance on my right knee. Then, through the scope on my weapon, I watched in astonishment as the monster, slowly, lazily even, turned its muzzle toward me.  Panic was racing through my mind trying to find a way out, especially after the name and level of this mob suddenly lit up in red above its head.


Flesh Eater, Level 9


Are you freaking kidding me, devs?! Why the hell would you put a level nine in the noobzone? How on earth did they come up with the idea of shoving a level nine mob where level one players were running around? As these thoughts were sprinting through my head, my body went into cruise control, centering the sight on the Flesh Eater’s head before opening fire and spewing out a short rope of bullets into its muzzle. It really didn’t like it. It took two large strides and was literally two meters away from me. It bent its hind legs and jumped straight at my head. I got away by rolling onto my side. I started praying to every possible god in the hope that they would raise my agility to the max and, after turning my face to the Flesh Eater, I screamed at the top of my lungs like a green recruit going into his first battle.


I didn’t wait, I just poured lead into the creature straight from my hip, holding the Hornet with one hand while the second tried to pull the spare magazine out of my chest pocket. In the meantime, I noticed the Flesh Eater’s health bar wasn’t going down particularly quickly, so I continued to douse it with lead. This wasn’t the time to scrimp on rounds; there was no way I could take aim. Either I messed this creature up right now, or it would be sending me to respawn with its next jump. Without any money, and possibly without any ammunition. Just think how long it would take to get new gear if I had to keep depending on social quests without being able to level up soon. One of the bursts went straight through the Flesh Eater’s front paw. It tripped and was sent sprawling across the concrete. By this time, my left hand had already managed to reach the spare magazine and, making good use of this opportunity, I quickly swapped it with the old one. I had only paused for a second, but the creature had already had enough of this misery. Pulling its front paw to into its chest, it darted off to the right and ran along the wall on its three legs. The monster then used the wall as a springboard and leaped at me, accepting all the bullets fired at it as it flew through the air. My agility helped me once again. Instead of my neck, the creature latched onto my left shoulder with its jaws, while its mass, which had been multiplied by the acceleration it had reached as it leaped, took me out. After tearing off a good chunk of meat from the outer part of my arm, the mob flew off to the side. The momentum sent us rolling over the concrete in different directions. I struggled back up onto my feet and spotted the Flesh Eater convulsing about sixteen feet away from me. Its health bar was flashing alarmingly, indicating that it was at the point of exhaustion. I walked over to it, my legs shaking, pointed my gun at the monster’s head and pulled the trigger. In response, I heard a dull click — the magazine was empty. I spat to the side in anger, grabbed the pistol, cocked it in my teeth (how else was I supposed to do it when my left arm wasn’t obeying me at all?), awkwardly loaded it and put all the bullets into the Flesh Eater’s head. After making sure the monster was dead once and for all, I sat down, exhausted, and leaned back against its bulk. Then, a system message flashed up. I was irritated, so I sent it straight to the inbox by pulling it down into the right-hand corner and started tending to my wound. With the help of my knife, the scraps of my sleeves and some bandages, I wrapped up my shoulder in a make-shift sling, all the while cursing quietly from the pain. Jesus Christ, that’s realism for you. In all its glory. The pain was absolutely unbelievable. I cursed and gritted my teeth as I twisted to get the spray and some bandages out of the rucksack and dressed the wound well. Just as I was finishing my first aid, my hits froze at seven points.



(Illustration: Flesh Eater)


After loading the last of my magazines into the SMG, I turned my head, meticulously examining the locality and paying particular attention to any places that might have been housing new mobs. Having convinced myself that there were no new dangers for the time being, I started to fill up the empty magazines once again. Fearing a new attack, I kept glancing to the side every couple of seconds. According to general game mechanics, every mob should have its own agro-zone, but these devs had already proved that we could expect anything from them. It was good that I was still in the habit of stuffing the first empty magazine in an empty pocket rather than having to crawl on the ground trying to find it. I grabbed the magazine out of my pocket and found that there were still seven rounds in it. Hardcore! I’d spent ninety-three bullets on one creature! Ah wait... One hundred and five. I’d completely forgotten about the empty pistol magazine. That was almost half my ammunition. But there was no use thinking about that; I needed to collect the loot and head back to the base. There I’d be able to figure out the system and think about that eternal question: what should I do? After turning the Hornet’s half-filled third magazine in my hands, I involuntarily screwed up my face and stuck it into my lower jacket pocket. It was now for emergencies only. For monsters like these, twenty-one rounds per magazine was nothing. I turned to face the Flesh Eater’s corpse and touched it with my hand, expecting the “Collect Loot” window to appear. Hm, strange... What if I used a thought command?



“Collect Loot”



Every one of my attempts was in vain. Did I need to flay this bastard myself? Of course, I wasn’t averse to doing that. I’d done worse things in my own life, but loads of kids were playing this game, kids who’d just pull out of it after the first incision. And again, I couldn’t just dismember it right there on the spot. God forbid another creature turned up while I was pulling a stint as a butcher. Dammit. I also couldn’t drag the body back myself — it weighed at least a hundred and thirty pounds, maybe even one fifty! But wait, I had some rope. Well, not some rope, some wire. I folded the wire in half and tightly wrapped it around the body, leaving about three meters of it loose. I then made a large loop at the end, through which I stuck my right arm and my head so as to spread the bulk of the weight diagonally across my chest. That way, my arms would remain free and I could drag the corpse. Sure, my rucksack got in the way a little, but I’d survive. Straining, I pulled the load along behind me for a couple of yards, well, I say pulled, it was more like heaving, slowly and with short breaks. My left shoulder was on fire.

This is how I returned to the base, dragging the carcass of this unknown creature behind me, this time making sure to examine any potentially dangerous areas. At least the devs hadn’t included sweat and other bodily necessities, otherwise I would have been dripping and gasping for breath. Fortunately, I didn’t run into any monsters on my short trip. Well, that’s if you don’t count the small group of about five players who followed me to the outpost with dumbstruck looks on their faces. The security guard on duty at the gates didn't even lift an eyebrow at my arrival. His eyes might have looked a bit surprised but there was no hint of it on his face. The other players, however, were all staring at me and making snide comments as I hauled my load to the Research Center.

“Here, get a load of this! Looks like you can even get a job as a carthorse.”

“No, he’s just had enough of the bland dry food. He’s got himself some meat for dinner.”

“Muaha-ha-ha, this noob doesn’t even know that you don’t get loot from those.”

“Look, look, look... He’s puffing like a steam train. Let’s see if they make him take it all back.”

And so the pile-on continued. I was just a stupid noob who didn’t know a damn thing; I was dragging it around for nothing, blah-blah-blah. Only one group of three humans stood out from the masses of players. They were coming out of the Research Center just as I was reaching it. The words “Level 10” were glowing above each one of them and they were, naturally, pretty well equipped compared to the rest of the players. This group gave me a very thoughtful look and, as soon as I had gone through the doors, I noticed they had started talking about something again. That was fine, as long as they were also contemplating whether to drag some carcasses back here too. But if it was something more aggressive, I would need to have eyes in the back of my head. Two young female assistants were standing, bored, behind a small counter in the reception hall.

“Good day!” I said to them. “I was told that the laboratory buys the organs of some mutants. Would you mind telling me if they will take entire carcasses?”

“Um... Just a second,“ one of them said, dumbfounded.

While the first girl was trying to think of something to say in response to my question, the second, judging by her blank stare, was trying to connect to someone through the neuronetwork. Not even a minute had passed when a disheveled-looking man in a yellow boiler suit stepped out of the door on the left of the counter. Without paying any attention to me, he walked over to the girls and asked, “where?”, to which they responded by pointing to me. He turned around and immediately rushed toward me. No, that’s not right. He damn near ignored me. He ran over to what was left of the Flesh Eater and, while he was examining it from all angles, he started wailing,

“You heartless beast! You’ve damaged the specimen. Which idiot decided to stuff this poor mutant with lead?” Upon hearing this comparison, I started seething quietly.

“I’m sorry...” I started, but this crackpot scientist interrupted me.

“And you are?” Then he turned back to the girls behind the counter. “Ladies, please escort this unauthorized individual from the building. He is disrupting our research.”

I couldn’t hold it in any longer. I stepped up to the scientist and drove my good hand into his face with full force. I don’t know what came over me; it was like a flash of emotion that I’d never seen in me before, and it certainly wasn’t like me now, at my age. Perhaps it was the stress of my first battle taking its toll on me; maybe it was some kind of unfamiliar hormonal outburst which I shouldn’t really have been experiencing at my age, but what was done was done. The scientist fell to the ground with his arms spread out and, by the look of things, became unconscious.  A single round of applause came from behind my back. I turned around to see a young guy in a tight yellow boiler suit which fitted him almost perfectly, particularly in contrast to that of the scientist on the ground, which looked like a sack.

“I told him to watch his language or he’ll get punched, but no... What did he say? ‘These Neanderthals won’t lay a hand on me because even their half-witted brains recognize the importance of science and my contribution to it.’” The guy quoted, clearly mocking the scientist. “Let me introduce myself. My name is Alfred. I am a representative of the biology department here at the Research Center.”

“Ehem... Volper, nice to meet you. Please forgive my jerk-like behavior, but I couldn't stand it. That thing almost had me for dinner, and your um... colleague was sticking up for it, saying I’d damaged the specimen and whatever else.”

“Take no notice of him, he’ll lie down for a while, come round and turn into an almost sane person. At least until he gets distracted by a new specimen...”

“I understand, but could we move onto business? Will you buy this carcass? Or should I palm it off as a nutritious delicacy?”

“Hm... Actually, we need to do an analysis on the soft tissue to see if we could use them for food, and if the analysis comes back positive...”

“I’m still here.” I interrupted him again. I didn’t need to deal with another scientist nutcase.

“Yes, yes, sorry, I got distracted. Well, considering that no one has ever brought us a whole Flesh Eater before, and it’s almost a mature individual... Well then, if we count all the organs, add a little extra for the rarity... Plus, take the age of the individual into account... That comes to... Six thousand credits. We can also throw in a regeneration tablet to heal your wound. As a bonus. How does that sound?”

“That suits me.” Well, even though I still didn’t know the exact price of a mutant, that was a pretty large sum for me at that point.  And they were going to patch me up and everything.

“In that case, follow Alika.” He pointed to one of the girls. “And while you’re regenerating, I’ll transfer the funds.”


Release - April 12, 2021

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