[NO LONGER UPDATING] Ceres's Chaos: A Tragic Space Opera
Ann Lesion was resting her legs on her new sleek black office desk in her office, about to enjoy her latest brewed cup of supposed 'ancient original coffee beans' when one of the teachers, Mr Walt, who was supposed to be here 3 minutes prior was sent flying through the door that clearly had no more hinges to speak of, smacking into her desk and spilling her precious cup of coffee onto the concrete floor.
A young short girl and a muscular young man dressed in the orphanage’s military uniform were being grabbed by two bodyguards and dragged into the room, screaming.
Or more specifically, it was two bodyguards who were doing their best to not hurt the girl while she thrashed and screamed, while the young man simply walked in, admiring the office that he never had the pleasure of being in before despite living in the orphanage his entire life.
"Ah, dear Lisa Qiu, to what do I owe the pleasure of this violent entrance? Last I saw, you were kicking the calf of Ceres outside my orphanage dorm a week ago. I didn't expect you to come back again after skipping school for nearly three weeks now." Ann said calmly.
Ann hardly seemed shocked by the absolute devasting black stain of coffee that was spreading across the stone floor or the sprawled Mr Walt who laid on the ground like a toppled over human doll. It seemed to be almost a recurring event for her.
The girl stopped thrashing and screaming and stood up straight, as though everything previously was an act.
Confused, the two bodyguards suddenly felt that continuing to hold her would probably constitute as a crime of some form, leading to them releasing her and watching Lisa warily.
"My school flunking’s punishment is to be revoked from today onwards. I'm attending school again." Lisa stated with a tone of importance, making Ann Lesion, who was the orphanage cum school director feel a bit disgruntled at the obvious lack of respect.
"But I have already informed your father about your flunking and was about to inform your mother as ..." Two pairs of hands slammed on the office desk who’s height was giving the owner of the hands some difficulty, before Ann could finish her sentence.
Ann squinted at her: "You do know that I'm officially a lieutenant of the Athen's Local Garrison, and I am the director of this school too. You attending the Zone 17 Military Orphanage School also means that you have an 'extremely high' rank of recruit and this counts as military insubordination and may be treated as such."
The girl was undaunted, continuing to stare in the director's eyes with focus. The staring match went on for a while, with the young man still being completely confused as to how was he even involved in Lisa's personal affairs at this stage.
Eventually Ann relented: "Alright, you're clear. Go."
"I hope we won't be having this conversation again." Lisa strutted out of the room, the young man still in a confused state of the highest order.
Did he just witness a 19-year-old short girl talk down to the orphanage director and get away scot-free? THE director?
Ann's now furious gaze stared daggers at the young man. "Now I know you're a lot more polite than that girl just now, Braton." Braton vigorously nodded his head, explaining how he even got here in the first place, which essentially amounted to Lisa starting a fight in the gym with Braton for absolutely no reason just before Mr Walt was about to send her for detention.
Sending Braton away with Mr Walt to the clinic, she sighed as she leaned back in her office chair. She didn't always used to be such a pushover, but her motherly instinct that has been honed since 16 years ago had let her give way to Lisa.
She believes more in not giving out any punishments more than absolutely necessary, especially when they were external students that were not orphans, like Lisa Qiu and Ardan Fye. She also shuddered as she recalled the last time Lisa threw a real tantrum, sending fifteen older kids to the hospital.
The orphans however, were exposed to a harsh military training boot camp style from young, which made them obedient to her.
But they also meant the world to her, every single batch of them since she began the job 16 years ago as the youngest orphanage director of 38 years old to ever work in New Saint.
The previous director bungled the financials of the orphanage, and while she didn't do much better when she was posted here, she managed to stabilize the budget well and provided a safe space for her precious 'kids'.
The orphanage had to take care of kids from all ages till 20, which made it very large but yet vastly underfunded as well.
She was just about to leave the office to attend to her next meeting regarding the competition coming up in less than 6 months, when an older man wearing a simple red polo shirt and anti-gravity pants and dress shoes literally floated into the room through the door without so much as a knock.
He looked like a regular rich old man on his way to play golf, his hair greying. "Is everyone going to enter my room without even the basic courtesy of knocking," thought Ann, but she didn't let that show on her face as this was a man that she couldn't afford to offend.
"Doctor Wu, how nice of you to come to the outer zone to visit me in person. I was sure that we would be having a virtual meeting only later." Ann bowed with respect, hiding the slight anger that has been boiling in her chest since a storm known as Lisa rolled through just earlier.
"Let's not waste time. 35% of the cash here, the rest after the competition." Doctor Wu condescendingly stated, marking this as the second demand that was made of Ann Lesion today. She almost crushed the holster of her chair when she heard that.
"That was not what we agreed on, 50% now, 50% after installation!" Before Ann could muster up more confidence to make her not seem like a pushover, a sense of killing pressure emitted from Doctor Wu who stared her down, causing her to immediately change her mind.
"The terms are as I say it is, and we're bringing forward the installation to two months prior to the qualifiers. I hope you don't mind us taking the additional liberty of having more time to verify the installation is correct. It is a critical year for us, I hope you understand."
Ann tried to protest. "This is vastly different from the previous years. I don’t understand why the need for this change! My orphanage is relying on that advance payment..."
"I don't actually need your agreement or understanding. 3 months from now." Doctor Wu floated away out of the office, not before dropping a thumb-sized chip on the floor that could be deposited as unmarked L-credits into any bank.
Ann Lesion grudgingly picked it up, stuffing it behind an office drawer.
Clearing out the office security recordings for the past 10 minutes, she could finally get on with her day, hopefully with people giving her the respect that she deserved.
It's been two weeks since the ranking match of Ceres, and the four of them have been gradually building up their capabilities.
Ardan became better at doing rapid and simplistic modifications thanks to Ceres, Erik learnt way more about nerval theory and processors from Ardan, Ceres learnt more about unarmed and melee combat from regular matches with Braton, and Braton was just... well, he was Braton.
It was an important day today, as the four of them recently found out that their VR pods could access outside servers without having to pay.
A slight bit of illegal modification was required, but it wasn't anything three exosuit repairers couldn't handle, and Little Melody hopefully was none the wiser.
Naturally, Braton found out and hence the group of young mans were about to play one of the empire's most popular game --
"I know this is a solution to training group combat for the competition, but I thought we agreed to play Glucose Rush first!" Ceres stubbornly stood in front of his VR pod.
"Look, we voted yesterday, it’s three to one, we're not as addicted as you are to Glucose Rush. And how is tapping faster than your teammate actually good for group combat training. At best it trains your personal hand speed!" Ardan wondered why he even came up with the mentor lie as he prepared himself in his own VR pod.
"Glucose Rush!!" Ceres repeated like a broken machine, while Erik ignored him, walking past him to climb into his VR pod.
Soon, Ceres was the only left in the real world, with the other three not bothering to even try to convince him.
Succumbing to the peer pressure, Ceres let out an exasperated sigh as he climbed into the VR pod, where he logged on to the Shattered Empire Lobby VR server.
"Why am I playing this and why is it not Glucose Rush?" Ceres asked.
"Look I've played this before, it's gonna be much better!" Ardan excitedly said, swiping and tapping multiple parameters that allowed them to search for a match as a group.
Before Ceres could stuff another mention of Glucose Rush into the conversation again, a notification appeared in front of him.
[Match Found, 500v500: Confirm?]
Seeing the rest of his friends clicking "Yes" and disappearing in front of him, he also gingerly pressed "Yes".
Ceres had only ever been in a private VR server since he met Ardan. The orphanage didn't have money for even an external server connection, and VR pod rentals were too expensive for Ceres considering he had to spend money for other forms of training.
Feeling the sensation of his consciousness being warped, Ceres appeared at the edge of an open field, where four hundred or more users were wearing different exosuits and some even piloting mechsuits, ground vehicles or crewing a warship.
"Holy shit, fuck Glucose Rush, this shit is amazing!"
Ceres stared around him at the virtual sights of military equipment of the Empire from the past hundred years. New players were appearing at the edge of the open field too, all walking towards the center where there was a provision, weapon and vehicular store run by NPCs.
"Hey guys, I'm a commander specialization, so if you would have me as your general..." The self-declared commander barely finished his sentence before five other users grabbed him off the flimsy shipping box he was standing on and stabbed him viciously in the chest.
He respawned immediately at the edge of the open field, storming back into the center and starting a brawl with the guys who stabbed him.
Ceres watched others booed and jeered at the commander.
[My mom's a commander specialist too, why don't you let her take over you twat!]
[My cat's an actual general in real life, let me fit her into the pod real quick.]
[Hey guys I'm new, how do I play this game?]
[Fucking noobs, go back to your tutorial servers!]
[READ THE MANUAL! DOES NO ONE READ THE FUCKING MANUAL WHEN YOU BUY SOMETHING NEW?]
[THE LATEST SEX-TOY IN THE BORDER – TAKE FULL CONTROL OF YOUR TOY – VISIT SEX999VRNETATHEN FOR MORE INFORMATION. We also sell in-game currency at a good rate!]
Ardan placed his hands on Ceres' shoulder: "Don't worry about them, they're just a fucking group of bronzies! Organization and cohesion are a myth until you get to the higher ranks.”
Ardan was ranked somewhere in Gold, making Ceres surprised that there was actually a ranking system in this chaotic war game, especially after seeing the team chat.
"Generally, players here are all from the same planet, you got to reach high gold or platinum to be able to play with the whole Leoric Empire. I heard near the top ranks you get to play on a galactic level!" Ardan taught the other three young mans, glancing over at Erik who was starting very intently, his hand on a virtual write pad jotting down information...
"Erik, you don't have to memorize everything I say, I know that look now."
Erik ignored him and started analyzing all the machines and weaponry that the stores in the center of the starting field had to offer.
There were 15 minutes before the match started, which didn't give Ceres, Erik or Braton loads of time to work out what their roles were in the game. They had done military drills and exercises together, but never on this large scale.
The orphanage barely had enough to run a 50v50 exercise, much less a 500v500 with warships and mechsuits! It literally seemed like a team deathmatch with no rules and alllowed using any tool.
Ceres tried to reach out for a mechsuit, but was blocked by a holographic sign in front of him: [NOT ENOUGH WAR CREDITS]
"Everything here cost war credits, you guys started with an initial amount, but most of the other players here usually carry over unused war credits from previous matches, allowing them to start off bigger." Ardan explained.
"I know we're all exosuit repairman, no offense Braton, but it's better fighting at the frontlines just to get a feel for the game. It's a two-hour match with objectives and control points, so just keep an eye out on your map. Let's all take a ranged exosuit and stick together as a fire squad."
Picking up a simple lightweight ranged exosuit, Ceres selected an energy rifle to pair with, considering this to be a perfect opportunity to practice the energy weaponry that Uncle Dawn always worked on for his customers.
Seeing as there were no commanders for their team due to the bickering of players, Ardan became the defacto leader of their four-man fire squad. "Alright, so here's the map,"
The battle map was a land-based spaceport, with multiple launch site and cargo containers. It was a squared compound of about 10km wide, with walls towering at 30 meters at all sides.
"The objective of our 500-man team is to blow up the command center, but in proper ranked matches, each fire squad has a dedicated role. The most important part to break through first and clear would be the underground tunnel leading to the onsite town area on the western side. That’s the closest to our side's starting point."
The job was simple for their team: break through the underground tunnel that led into one of the buildings in the town where the supposed spaceport employees would stay and rest and eat too.
It was a bona-fide mini city in that area, providing lots of cover assuming the enemy warship, if anyone had enough war credits to buy it, don't decide to blow it all to pieces.
Ceres' squad was to stay there and form a beachhead for other players to continually flood through the interior of the spaceport without having to contest with the gates along the compound wall.
[Match begins in 1 minute, assume positions]
Ceres felt a sort of adrenaline, one much more than those he experienced from Glucose Rush as he heard the announcement. The sheer scale of the fight excited him much more than any military drill or exercise he had gone through.
Not even the solo fight against the Athen Defender had him this excited! Standing next to Erik getting ready to charge out of the spawn zone, he smirked to himself.
"This might be my next addiction!"
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