Chapter 21:

Shattered Empire

[NO LONGER UPDATING] Ceres's Chaos: A Tragic Space Opera

Ceres woke up in the lobby of the Shattered Empire game server. He noticed Ardan, Erik and Braton all standing there with him in the same position before they queued up.

Ardan immediately grabbed Braton by the shoulders and shook him as hard as his thin white arms could. "Why did you give away our position when we just barely cleared the tunnel!? And why were you not running a ranged exosuit!!"

Ceres had never really seen Ardan get angry before, finally seeing first-hand the toxicity of the game seeping out of the young albino sixteen-year-old kid shaking a jacked 20-year-old bodybuilder.

"Brothers, I thought the game was just about running down your opponents, was it not?" Braton shrugged. "And look, I don't need guns with these 'guns', I'll take anyone down super fast."

"Not if they're sniping from across the map Braton!" Erik shook his head, though he wasn’t surprised. "You basically gave away our position as soon as we got out of the tunnel, running and taunting the artillery warship is basically a death sentence. I really hope we don't get posted to the same Legion after graduation."

"While I did have the intention to charge, I'm pretty sure we died to a bomb though, not an artillery strike," Braton scratch his chin as Ardan continued shaking him.

"Huh?" Ardan paused, stunned.

The three boys looked at Ceres, the only ‘explosives guy’ as the main suspect. "Hey guys, I never really learnt how to use the game’s proximity grenade before. I threw it out the tunnel expecting it to blow up people who were waiting for us, but I didn't expect it to trigger on friendlies too." Ceres held his hands up in surrender.

A wave of groans spread amongst their group. Ardan couldn't handle it any longer, logging out before he said something that he was going to regret.

Ceres shrugged and decided to check out the tutorial of the game first alone. They obviously over-estimated themselves and were in way over their heads in their first match, causing them to die in the first ten minutes of the game.

The tutorial server had a free-use zone, where players could utilize any weapons and vehicles against bots, which was great for Ceres who hardly used any of these before, only having used exosuits in an unarmed fashion.

Even the recent newcomer Gladius ranking match had an AI pilot taking over for Ceres. He recognized that it was a major limitation for himself and would come back to bite him in the ass during the competition.

If Ceres was the exosuit pilot for the newcomer ranking, he would have chosen a completely different fighting style, relying on his swiftness and grenades.

Those were his only primary skills, and he barely knew how to use a rifle. Unarmed combat was currently fairly weak too, though he has been receiving training from Braton. Melee weapons like swords and spears were on the barely acceptable range. Ceres was much more inclined towards the spear, which he had been practicing regularly.

Of course, Ceres went straight for the mechsuit, which had various types. Even mechsuits had different weight categories and specific roles as well.

However, he found that the game didn't allow him to pilot the mechsuit solely relying on his own nerval capacity, as he was still at an extremely low NEIR level.

It also didn’t matter since he didn’t have a nerval jack yet either. He needed at least the very bare minimum of 1 NEIR before being able to pilot even the most basic virtual mechsuit.

He could however, let an AI pilot control it for him while he only gave rudimentary instructions such as move forward, move right, attack etc.

It was fun for a while as he stomped around the training ground in a twenty meter tall mechsuit, but soon the novelty wore off as Ceres was basically a passenger in it rather than an actual pilot.

Forget about atmospheric warships, he couldn’t even muster enough nerval capacity to even man a single gun. No warship commander would ever allow him to join the crew in the game, not with his currently low NEIR level. Ceres hoped that would change when he got his nerval jack installed.

Even the single-pilot bombers in the free-use zone were completely beyond his range and would require heavy AI automation if he ever earned enough war credits to request one in a match.

The game had paid versions of the equipment, in which the player would be able to call in the equipment once every match with a subsidy on war credits required, which slightly made the game pay-to-win.

After fiddling around a bit with some of the energy ranged rifle, which he decided to pick up as a secondary skill, he queued up for a solo match, as Ardan was still off ranting in his own world, Erik was still busy in the tutorial zone and Braton was already challenging other unfortunate players to 1v1s.

The solo match would help him test what he has learnt from the training zone, and maybe starting at a lower population count would help him get his bearings gradually. He had about eight months till the competition, assuming nothing changes.

The notification popped up.

[Match found: 50v50 Fort Assault. Confirm?]

Ceres was sucked away into a similar open field upon selecting 'Yes', except this time the field was the parade grounds of a large military fortress of unknown design in the middle of a hilly savannah.

It was slightly modern, with reinforced concrete walls plated with metal alloys within. Three major turret towers stuck out at equal distances away from the center and each other, making the fort a sort of triangle when viewed from above.

The fortress was situated on a hill, allowing the defenders a great view of anyone trying to climb up the slope due to the sparse vegetation. It had a single gate, seemingly making the map feel like it was going to be a death push of siege machines against the gate in a single line, forcing everyone to concentrate their attention there.

The main objective was the fort commander's office at the second basement level, situated in a five-storey building right in the center of the fort. The attackers had a time limit to control the objective, while the defenders merely had to wait out the timer.

This time, no one among the defenders that Ceres was a part of was taking commander position, most already started purchasing artillery machines and missile launchers, while others mounted laser repeaters on the top of the walls facing the slope in front of the gate.

A few dedicated melee players stood behind the gate, some ready to rush out in force imagining themselves to be a hero, while the only aerial vehicle defender in the game was a dogfighting atmospheric jet fighter piloted by a rich eleven-year-old kid who didn't know any better, so the players just let him do his stuff as long as he didn't accidentally shoot at them.

Ceres took up an energy rifle that had a burst fire mode, and bought various augmentation that pretty much made it a monster, but apart from that, he didn't have anything else, not even an exosuit as he spent most of his starting war credits on the rifle.

"Well, I'll just treat this as a firing range, all I have to do is just aim down the barrel and fire, right? Should be an easy battle." Ceres was confident that the battle should be easy for the defenders as they had the advantage.

The battle was not easy. An hour into the match, Ceres had already died his third death when the jet of the eleven-year-old crashed into the wall of the fortress right next to the gate, causing a major collapse and subsequently opening for the attackers to waltz right through.

Ceres wasn’t doing too well using the energy rifle in terms of being able to land a kill, despite being in a fixed position and shooting.

Energy beams dispersed as it travelled through the atmosphere due to attenuation and hitting a target would require it to go beyond the shield or armour in order to land a kill as well, making it hard to use even if Ceres aim was steady and true.

With no nerval jack, he found the handle of the rifle a bit unsettling the longer he used it.

They were now fighting a close quarter battle as they tried to stop the waves of attackers who were flooding the main command center of the fortress, in which the objective was right smack in the 'fort commander’s office that was two floors down in the basement.

It was Ceres' final life, and the defenders were temporarily holding back the attackers from entering the 1st level of the basement as he respawned in the fort commander's office.

He had only managed an accuracy rating of 8% so far and had zero kills to his name.

Sure, he got a few assists, but considering he spent the equivalent of two exosuits worth on the weapon, it didn't bode well for his training.

"Looks like I'm not cut out for rifle shooting at a distance," Ceres thought as he headed to the store which had now shifted to the office as it was the final defence point.

Seeing the dismayed players trying to buy whatever they thought could turn the tide, while other players remained stationary due to them not even being logged in, Ceres didn't want his first solo battle to be a loss.

He racked his brains as to what could he possibly do? He pulled up the schematic of the command center, checking the layout and foundation of the building.

He visualized the current enemy force's location and the path they had to go through inside the command center in order to win.

The command center currently had three floors – the ground floor and two floors underground. Wouldn’t it make sense to just blow up the ground floor? Maybe it was time for a pitfall trap version 2.0!

He marked every structural weak point in the foundation between the ground floor and the next floor below, aiming to collapse just a part of the floor.

Ceres then decided to sell his weapon and every modification, earning back a certain amount of war credits.

Buying an aerial Iron Vulture exosuit and loading up three grenade belts and an additional jetpack, he walked towards the workshop that was free to use for repair and modification.

Taking the additional jetpack and ripping it apart, he integrated the thrusters into his suit, making his exosuit look like a walking thruster pack, with outlets strapped all over his body allowing for any direction of movement.

A few players stared at him, wondering why he was donning an aerial suit in an underground basement fight.

Ceres was now in a fully functional aerial assault suit, but while the basement could be large, the ceiling was only 10 meters high, allowing any other exosuit player to easily reach him if they had good jumping suspensions on their legs or just a ranged weapon.

"This battle is over, starting from now!" Ceres grinned.


Adrian Seras was having the time of his life. His fireteam knew the defenders were about to be smashed in no time due to the absolute disaster of a pilot crashing his jet into his own fortress, dooming the defenders.

He was currently embroiled in a fight of the main command center's ground floor, an expansive lobby waiting area, trying to push through without collapsing the entire building.

Using any massively heavy weapons would level the building and make it impossible for them to reach the objective, hence there were no warships or mechsuits trying to blow up the entire place.

With this, the 50-men attacker team gave up all their siege and vehicular weaponry and dedicated themself to infantry close quarter combat, fighting for every inch of the ground floor.

The attackers also had the benefit of moving their respawn point forward, a simple machine the size of a car, which they placed right in the middle of the ground floor, causing the defenders to be unable to stem the waves of continuously respawning attackers.

The defenders could only barely hold on to the three staircases at the end of the ground floor from falling into the attacker's hand.

There wasn't a second respawn beacon, partly because people didn't want to waste war credits buying a secondary respawn point that hardly anyone would use, seeing as they already had a significant advantage over the defenders.

"This game is so easy, I don't deserve to be in this rank! I should be platinum or even diamond!" Adrian smirked, as he continued taking pot-shots at the defenders who would continually pop their heads out of the staircase entrance, if you could call the demolished door and walls an entrance.

Suddenly, a flaring aerial exosuit dashed forward from the stairwell, catching his fire team by surprise. Taking a moment to think about it, the fireteam immediately realized the enemy had made a terrible mistake!

Who in their right minds would run an aerial exosuit in this cramped space? They started to take pot-shots at the vastly limited aerial exosuit due to the ceiling only being 20 meters high. A few balls dropped out of the air as the enemy continuously fired their thrusters rapidly, causing Adrian's blood to almost freeze.

"He's planning to bomb the respawn point, don't let him get close!" Adrian screamed, while his fireteam moved in front of the respawn point, not willing to take pot-shots at the enemy with the respawn point between them, as it could potentially damage the respawn point.

Most of the attackers started to do the same, with a few melee exosuits trying to do running jumps and just barely failing to catch the feet of the enemy.

The maneuverer of the enemy's aerial exosuit was extremely high, as though he was a veritable dragonfly with the additional jetpack providing impetus.

A few grenades were lobbed by the enemy at the respawn point, which cause a few backup defender players who weren't already forming as the tank towards the staircase to use their barrier to either knock away the grenade or block most of the impact. At this stage, a few bullets managed to hurt the aerial exosuit, but not enough to be considered fatal, keeping the exosuit still operational.

Adrian held his breath and aimed his scope of the kinetic gauss rifle he bought with real money, intending to put down the enemy in a single shot.

"I got him!" was Adrian's last thought before he saw a smirk on the enemy's face whose helmet was now slightly shattered, revealing the lower face.

Another rapid thought fired through Adrian’s neurons, amounting to "I might know that face" before a circular chunk of the floor surrounding the respawn point exploded and he fell into a medium size pit that was the 1st basement level, dying on impact.

Whatever was left of the attackers who surrounded the respawn point, tried to get up despite the sudden collapse, only to be greeted with defenders surrounding them and already blasting the survivors to pieces.

The respawn beacon was already damaged and soon got turned into molten slag by the incoming fire, and it was the only one the attacker team had because no one wanted to waste war credits buying a second one. This caused Adrian's next view to be the attacker's starting point, a good distance away from the fort.

"... What happened...?"

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