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Shattered Lands: A LitRPG Series, page 1

 

Shattered Lands: A LitRPG Series
 


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Shattered Lands: A LitRPG Series


  SHATTERED LANDS

  A LitRPG Series

  Darren Pillsbury

  Mailing List - Deleted Scenes, free books, and updates on future releases

  Website: www.ShatteredLandsBooks.com

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  [email protected]

  Books In The

  SHATTERED LANDS

  Series

  SHATTERED LANDS

  SHATTERED LANDS 2

  The Fall Of Blackstone

  SHATTERED LANDS 3

  Demon Wars

  Coming

  November 16, 2017

  Preorder Now!

  Preface

  A band of hunters moved stealthily through the ancient forest – but not all of them were human.

  The point man was. A male, probably thirty, with leather armor and a gleaming broadsword. He glanced nervously at the massive trees that stretched a hundred feet above them into an impenetrable canopy of green.

  Beside him walked a female elf, her athletic figure wrapped in silk. She carried a bow made of some ivory-like substance, ancient runes carved into its surface. Her eyes peered into the darkness between trees, trying to see what lay just beyond sight.

  Rounding out the quartet was a dwarf in metal armor with a waist-length beard, and a wolf-like creature that walked on two legs. They each carried a weapon – a massive razor-edged mace for the dwarf and two scimitars for the wolf.

  All four of them watched their surroundings cautiously. In the wolf’s case, he sniffed the air, searching for the scent of an unseen enemy.

  None of them could shake the feeling that, despite the early morning chirping of birds, that something was out there in the shadows of the forest.

  Watching.

  Studying.

  Waiting.

  “It looks so real,” the human male murmured, almost in awe.

  “Smells real, too,” the wolf snarled in a half-human, half-beast voice.

  “It’s going to feel real if you get killed. Keep a lookout, people,” the female elf admonished the others.

  Suddenly the sounds of the birds ceased.

  “Do you hear that?” the dwarf asked.

  “There’s nothing,” the man said.

  “Exactly.”

  The wolf sniffed the air. “Oh, there’s SOMETHING, alright.”

  “Get ready, people,” the elf hissed.

  They formed a ring, facing outwards towards the forest –

  Except the threat didn’t come from any particular side.

  It came from above.

  There was a rustle in the tree branches above them.

  The wolf was the first to look up.

  “ABOVE YOU!” it roared.

  Like something out of a nightmare, two dozen insectoid figures boiled out of the leafy canopy like baby spiders bursting out of the corpse of their mother.

  The five-foot-tall, praying mantis-like creatures had flat bodies with four legs, and arms that ended in segmented fingers. Their faces were more human than insect, but still recognizable as neither.

  They used their hook-like ‘toes’ to cling to the sides of the trees at perpendicular angles as they raced down the tree trunks.

  And they had weapons. Lots and lots of weapons.

  Spears flew through the air. They were little more than crude stone tips on mounted sticks, but they were effective.

  The wolf got tagged first as a spear pierced its right arm. It roared in pain.

  “That actually HURT!” it yowled.

  “It’s gonna hurt a lot more if we don’t fight back!” the human male yelled as he waded into battle, broadsword swinging.

  The elf let loose arrow after arrow that punctured the insect-people’s natural armor.

  The dwarf slammed down his mace, cracking exoskeletons like cooked crab shells.

  The wolf swung its arms, scything heads and arms from their owners in a flurry of steel.

  But in the end, there were just too many.

  The elf was the first to die. Three of the insects rushed her and pierced her with their spears, then held her aloft on the points of their weapons until her screams stopped.

  The dwarf was next. One of the insects cut his Achilles tendon. Hobbled, he fell to the ground where another insect skewered him through a gap in his armor.

  The human male roared in pain as three separate creatures speared him at once. At the top of his field of vision, he could see the translucent green matrix that showed him his stats. His Strength and Vitality were dropping by the second. In fact, he could actually feel the life seeping out of him like water from a sieve.

  Even as he felt himself dying, though, he took the time to marvel that he could taste the coppery tang of blood in his mouth.

  “You assholes – these things are too tough!” he cried out in frustration.

  A disembodied voice chuckled from the treetops. “Hey, you volunteered. Deal with it.”

  “You made them at LEAST Level 40s!” the man screamed as he kept fighting valiantly, swinging his sword at the creatures that surrounded him.

  “56, actually,” the disembodied voice said.

  “COME ON!” the guy yelled. He watched in despair as the wolf went down covered in insects, like ants overpowering a larger creature by sheer numbers alone.

  “Don’t worry – you’ll get to start again… right… about… now.”

  Suddenly, everything faded to black, and a computer prompt appeared in the man’s field of vision.

  System Message:

  You have died.

  Respawn or Quit?

  “Bastards,” the man muttered, then laughed. “Respawn!”

  ***

  In a gleaming control room filled with dozens of computer terminals and hundreds of monitors, three technicians watched the largest one in the room – a thirty-foot-wide TV on the wall, big as a movie theater screen. On it played footage from the forest battle. A third of the screen was a bird’s eye view of the action, another third was POV from the players, and the last third was a scrolling readout of a wide variety of statistics hovering over the characters.

  “Would you look at that?” one of the techs marveled. He was tall, mid-forties, with light brown hair. It was his voice that had boomed out of the treetops in the fantasy world. “The specs on these insect things – what did you call them?”

  “Kytins – they’re a new class,” said the other man. He was shorter, nearly bald, with a sizeable paunch under his white lab coat. “From chitin, the material that makes up arthropods’ exoskeletons – ”

  “I took college biology, I know what chitin is,” the tall man interrupted, annoyed. Then he looked behind him. “Rebecca, why aren’t you watching this?”

  He was talking to a blonde woman in a lab coat seated at a computer station. She was attractive, though she did nothing to accentuate it. Her hair was pulled back into a severe bun, and she wore no makeup. The light of the screen reflected across her black-framed glasses as her eyes stayed glued to a monitor filled with nothing but streaming numbers.

  “I am watching,” she said.

  “You’re watching data feeds,” the tall man chided her, and gestured at the movie screen towering above them. “You’re totally ignoring what’s really going on.”

  “On the contrary, I’m seeing something neither of you are.”

  “Yeah? What’s that?”

  “The AI’s real-time stochastic tables for character-based generation.”

  “Wow. With that kind of talk, you must get a lot of guys hitting on yo
u at the bars, huh?”

  “I don’t go to bars,” the woman said tonelessly as she stared at the screen.

  “Yeah, that was a joke.”

  “Not a very good one.”

  The bald man snorted with laughter.

  The tall guy looked over at him, annoyed – and the bald guy played off his reaction as a cough.

  “You’re missing the show!” the tall man said to the blonde, gesturing at the massive movie screen on the wall.

  “I only care about the AI,” Rebecca said flatly.

  “Yeah, I kind of got that impression over the last three years.”

  “Hey, Lauer,” a voice said over the room’s intercom system. It was the same voice that had come from the human swordsman in the game. “You think maybe you could lower the stats on those bugs so we don’t get slaughtered next time?”

  The tall man – Lauer – walked over to the far end of the room, where a ten-foot-long glass window overlooked a warehouse-like bay. There were a dozen ‘pods’ on the floor – bed-sized chambers with glass doors that opened and closed like gull-wing doors on a foreign sports car. Inside, test subjects lay immobile on comfortable mattresses, with massive black helmets on their heads connected by thick cables to the interior of the pod.

  Outside on the warehouse floor, twenty technicians in lab coats went from pod to pod, checking computer readouts on the side and syncing up computer tablets they held in their hands.

  “You just have to level up, Martinez,” Lauer joked.

  “How am I supposed to level up when you keep KILLING me, huh?”

  “Hey Kowalski,” Lauer said to the bald man. “Drop the stats on the Kytins down to 40 – ”

  “Twenty-five,” Martinez interrupted.

  “Wuss,” Lauer called out, then nodded to Kowalski. “Twenty-five. And have them respawn immediately at the clearing.”

  The bald man nodded, then walked over to a computer terminal and began typing away.

  Lauer walked over next to Rebecca and stared at another screen filled with charts and numbers.

  “Total sensory immersion,” he said absentmindedly, talking to himself. “Visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory – even taste – ”

  “Gustatory,” the bald man spoke up helpfully.

  “Are the levels programmed yet?” Lauer barked.

  “…no…”

  “Then focus on that instead of SAT vocabulary prep.”

  Chastened, the bald man went back to his numbers.

  Lauer looked over at Rebecca. “Aren’t you at least impressed by that?”

  “Your incessant berating of Kowalski?”

  “No,” he said, annoyed. “The total sensory immersion.”

  “The Army’s been using the same technology on the battlefield for the last decade,” she said tonelessly. “I don’t get excited about ten-year-old tech.”

  “Yeah, but come on – this is leaps and bounds over their drone piloting systems, not to mention this is the first time we’re bringing it to the consumer market! This is going to revolutionize the entire entertainment industry! It’s going to make all the gamers out there crap their pants!”

  “I certainly hope not, or stock prices will go down.”

  “Was that a joke?” Lauer said in mock surprise. “Did Rebecca Wolff make a joke?”

  “The only joke in here is the one standing next to me.”

  “Ha ha,” Lauer said mirthlessly. “Come on – you’ve got to be impressed by something other than your damn Artificial Intelligence.”

  “I’m impressed by how much money corporations will spend to make more money.”

  “If they weren’t sinking twenty billion dollars into this, you wouldn’t have your precious AI to play with.”

  That got Rebecca’s goat. She stopped looking at the screen and instead regarded Lauer coolly. “I hope they have another twenty billion for the PTSD lawsuits.”

  “What are you talking about? No matter how many times their mech or drones got hit, the Army never had any soldier suffer neurological damage from NICI.’”

  He pronounced it ‘nicky,’ though it was an acronym for Non-Invasive Cerebral Interface – the technology behind the immersive experience of the game world.

  Rebecca returned to her screen. “But the Army never included pain as one of their sensory parameters.”

  Lauer scoffed. “Pff – the pain levels are minimal compared to real injuries. Besides, there have to be real stakes in this thing for it feel real.”

  “Again,” Rebecca repeated, “the Army never included pain as one of their sensory parameters – and they still had PTSD cases.”

  “Not nearly a quarter as bad as in previous wars.”

  Rebecca arched an eyebrow. “So you’re fine with a generation of gamers walking around with PTSD only 25% as bad as those in the Middle Eastern War.”

  “That’s not going to happen.”

  “You’re so sure, hmm?”

  “Yeah – so sure I even pre-ordered a full immersion unit for my kid,” Lauer said. “You think I’d risk his safety if I wasn’t 100% convinced that there’s not going to be any lasting effect that carries over into the real world?”

  Rebecca didn’t look convinced.

  Lauer sighed, then called out to the air, “Hey, Martinez – how did those spears in the chest feel?”

  “Not good!” came the response.

  “Can you be a little more specific?”

  “Uhhh… I guess it felt like a hit from a paintball gun…”

  “Are you hurt? Do you still feel it?”

  “Naah, it was gone as soon as I died.”

  “As soon as you died,” Rebecca said sarcastically, with a tone of voice that sounded more like I’ve made my point.

  Lauer glowered at her, then asked, “Yeah, but do you feel any lasting effects?”

  “Naaah, I’m okay.”

  “Did it put you off playing again?”

  “Hell no!”

  “Thanks, Martinez,” Lauer said, then turned back to Rebecca triumphantly. “There – put that in your pipe and smoke it.”

  “I don’t smoke.”

  “Good God, you are so damn literal,” Lauer groaned, then walked over and looked at the screen. “Why are you so obsessed with this?”

  “I only care about the – ”

  “Yeah, yeah, you only care about the AI, I know, you’ve said it a thousand times over the last three years. But you’re always watching the thing like a hawk, like it’s going to blow up on you. Why?”

  Rebecca paused… then said quietly, “Something’s bothering me about it.”

  “What? It’s running fantastically. There haven’t been any observable glitches for the last six months.”

  “That’s what’s bothering me.”

  Lauer looked at her incredulously. “Let me get this straight – you’re upset because you’ve done your job too well? Wow. Somebody’s a glutton for punishment.”

  “You don’t understand – there are always problems. Always.”

  “But now there aren’t, and that bothers you?”

  “Yes,” Rebecca said.

  “What’s the big deal?”

  “It does diagnostics on everything inside of the world – from terrain generation, to NPC psychology and interaction, to the entire simulation of physics in the game universe… wind, water, fire, weather patterns – everything.”

  “Like you said, the Army’s been doing that for decades.” Lauer faked a yawn. “Old hat.”

  “No, the Army system was transmitting real data from real events. We’re simulating it in a world that doesn’t exist.”

  “They did that in the actual combat systems, but they had to train operators on simulated versions… so yeah, they have been doing it for decades,” Lauer argued.

  “But the Army never included psychological evaluation of soldiers,” Rebecca shot back, her voice filled with emotion for the first time. “Our system is studying the players. Their actions in the game, the choices they make – th
eir motives, their beliefs, their psychological makeup – and it devises quests with moral quandaries built in. The AI is like a psychologist crossed with a physicist, all while overseeing this simulated universe.”

  “So? That’s what you were hired to make it do. That’s why you get paid the big bucks.”

  “But there should be an occasional glitch. Just as a matter of course, the AI shouldn’t know how to mimic something in the real world, and it should get it wrong. But it’s not.”

  “So you’re saying… it’s what, self-correcting?”

  “More than self-correcting – it’s…”

  She struggled to find the words – then suddenly shut down, as quickly as though someone had flipped a switch on her emotions.

  “Never mind,” she said dully.

  “No, I want to hear what you have to say.”

  “It’s nothing. Pre-release jitters is all,” she muttered as she studied the screen.

  “Well, you’ve got eight months to get over those,” Lauer said. “And then get ready, because Shattered Lands is going to be the biggest hit in the history of gaming, and Varidian’ll immediately start screaming for version 2.0.”

  Rebecca didn’t say anything to that.

  How could she? Her fears sounded ridiculous even to herself.

  The fact that the AI wasn’t making mistakes suggested that it wasn’t just studying the computer world it had generated according to the programmers’ initial input.

  It suggested that the AI was studying the real world as well, and adapting to what it saw.

  But that was absurd. The program had very specific boundaries. Anything inside the world, it was practically omniscient. But outside – in our world – it was just another computer program on a hard drive. A very sophisticated program spread out over millions of hard drives on millions of servers, true – but a program nonetheless.

  It wasn’t even true artificial intelligence. It was simply a massively complex computer system that regulated a universe according to programmed rules with algorithms to allow it to improvise.

 
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