The greystone chronicles.., p.1
The Greystone Chronicles Book Two: The Dire Lands, page 1
The Dire Lands
Copyright © 2017 by Dave Willmarth
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
The story so far…
This second book of the Greystone Chronicles picks up exactly where the first book left off.
Alexander and his friends Brick, Max, Sasha, and Lainey have been playing Io Online as a guild, while testing new long term full-immersion pods invented by Alexander’s father. Based in the human kingdom of Stormforge, the group entered Io with brand new level one avatars and began to discover unexpected benefits of the full immersion system.
Quickly coming into conflict with a small group of player-killers who had been murdering defenseless players and NPC’s (known as Citizens on Io) along the road, the group entered into a larger conflict with the player killer guild known as PWP.
To level up, they cleared dungeons and completed noob quests, including the clearing and rebuilding of a small village called Whitehall. All the while, they were repeatedly attacked by PWP members. Eventually they discovered that the guild was controlled by a menacing entity called the “Dark One”.
The Greystone guildmates discovered new friends along the way, including Fitz the crusty old Wizard, and a determined little goblin named Fibble.
At the conclusion of book one, the friends have just exited from a long immersion to find that the real world headquarters of Jupiter Technologies has been attacked by a suicide squad with a car bomb, rockets, and automatic weapons. And that the attackers included a PK player they’d recently captured and turned in to the King’s men. And who had subsequently had his Io Online account terminated after being hit with the Ban Hammer for threatening a game employee and his dog…
Chapter One Life Is Just a Game
Alexander and friends sat around the conference table in a basement level of the Olympus compound’s southeast tower. They’d just learned that a group of people that included a man named Delbert Simms, a PK player that they’d helped get banned from Io Online a week earlier, had launched what appeared to be a real-world suicide attack against Olympus. The room was silent as they all absorbed the news.
Richard Greystone broke the silence. “I’ll be getting updates as the morning goes on. There’s no point in all of you sitting around here. If you’ve finished breakfast, head over to the med labs for your post-immersion testing. We’ll get together again at lunch.”
As Sasha, Lainey, Max, and Brick filed out of the room, Alexander remained behind with his father. “There’s more, isn’t there?” he asked, looking his father in the eye.
Richard sighed and nodded his head. “There was a file in the glove box of the van. Mostly burned, but some of the inner pages survived. There was info on our home address. That isn’t easy to get, and implies they had some help. I don’t know if they had any of the others’ info. But I’m going to recommend you all stay here for the next immersion. That’ll give us two weeks to investigate and deal with whatever we have here. And for the foreseeable future, there won’t be any safer place on earth. Michael and I are hiring a small army of security. All ex-military, special ops, and being vetted by my guys and the FBI. We’re also putting sensors and cameras everywhere. On the roads, in the forest, even in the lake. And we’re bringing in some anti-aircraft measures. Security is going to be a pain in the ass for a while. But you’ll be safe.”
Alexander thought it over for a moment. “Sasha and Lainey don’t have family. Neither does Max that I know of. I want Brick’s family brought in. I don’t care if it means breaking confidentiality.”
“We’ve already sent a team to them. They moved into the new house yesterday, while you were in-game. I purchased them all new furniture. Told them it was a gift from Brick. So, all they had to move were clothes and personal items. We used our own guys for the move, so there are no records with any moving company. I don’t think this group would have that information yet. If they had any info on Brick’s family, it would have been at the old address. But, in any case, of course his family is welcome here. He was offered that choice on his ride over here, and hasn’t made the decision yet.” Richard’s answer was terse.
“I’m sorry, Dad. I should have known you’d have it taken care of already. And that was very generous of you.”
“Son. I know you don’t like to think about this. But since you inherited your mother’s interest in the company, you’re one of the richest men on the planet. Between the income from just Europa and Io, over the last nearly two decades our company has become worth over a trillion dollars. Your own personal wealth, like mine, is in the tens of billions. An investment of a few thousand in furniture means nothing from a financial standpoint. But taking care of your people, rewarding loyalty, that means everything. I’ve been watching you in the game. I think from your actions at the village, you already know what I’m saying. If you act in real life the way you do in Io, I will always be proud of you.”
Alexander took a moment to shake off the reminder of his mother’s death, coming so close behind the bombing outside.
“I’ve been thinking about something since you showed me the pods. When you get approval and release these, there’s going to be a huge demand. I don’t know what you’re planning to charge, but I’m sure you know that gamers will sell their souls for one. I assume we’re doing the manufacturing?” he asked.
When his father nodded yes, he continued. “I’d like to set up a foundation. One that will provide free pods and related services to people like me who might benefit from it, and don’t have the resources to get one. I want it to include disabled military vets, those born with disabilities, and those disabled through some type of trauma. I want Lainey, Sasha, Brick, and Max to be offered positions within the foundation. They can be board members or whatever. But they can also work in-game with some of the recipients, and train them to help other recipients, and so forth. By helping others, we give the recipients a way to contribute, and potentially earn a living.”
He paused to gauge his father’s reaction. Richard looked thoughtful, but he had a great poker face. Alexander took a deep breath and continued.
“I know it’ll be expensive. We’re talking maybe hundreds of thousands of pods…”
“Probably more than a million,” his father interrupted.
“And what will it cost us to make a pod?”
His father smiled at him. He pointed at the pod sitting in the lab outside the conference room. “Well, this first one cost more than two billion dollars…” Alexander rolled his eyes. Richard continued, “But once we have approval, we estimate production cost for a standard pod to be about $8,000. Mostly that’s because of the cost of the nano-bots. We plan to market them for $15,000, with the software included. Upkeep on the pods, including nutrient paste, cleaning, disposal, and maintenance, will run about $250 a month. That does not include electricity or internet access costs. We will manufacture them on every continent, to keep shipping costs low.”
Alexander did some quick math in his head. “So, assuming there are a million folks who don’t have the means to obtain a pod on their own, that’s $8 billion in production costs. Let’s call it $12 billion for shipping, ancillary costs, and a year of electricity, internet, and upkeep.”
“I realize $12 billion would be a significant hit to the corporate bottom line. I’ll fund the foundation myself if need be. What else am I going to do with billions of dollars?” Alexander said.
Richard chuckled. “Your heart’s in the right place, Son. But you can’t take on responsibility for the entire world yourself. Of the million plus people who have a need, many will be assisted by governments with socialized medicine, who will see this as a way to reduce their long-term expenditures for the disabled. Others will be helped by various charitable entities that are already in place. And Michael and I already had plans to do just what you’re describing. Also, the hit to the ‘bottom line’ won’t be as bad as you think. We can write off large sums from the various companies as charitable donations.”
Alexander shook his head. As usual, his father was way ahead of him. “Ah, yes. Well, never mind then. Seems you’ve got it covered.
“No!” Richard rose from his chair and leaned over the table. “Don’t give up on your idea so easily. It’s a good one. You should absolutely create and run the foundation. After all, who knows more about the experience than you? You’d make the ultimate spokesperson. And you and your friends, if they want to participate, can make sure it’s run right.”
“Thanks, Dad. It’d feel good to do something to help people while I can.” Alexander hugged his father, then headed for the med labs for testing.
The morning’s battery of tests ran as per usual, and soon enough the team got together for lunch. Richard filled them in on the possibility of being targeted at home, and they all agreed to stay in Olympus during the upcoming 2-week immersion. Brick wanted to talk with his mother before deciding whether they should come to the compound. Richard arranged a convoy and a team to take him to their new home. Max tagged along.
Alexander took Sasha and Lainey up into the central tower, to his mother’s office, which was now technically his - Though he’d never changed a single thing about it. Her favorite stationary and pen were still sitting on the desk.
They all took seats in the lounging area off to one side, near the floor to ceiling windows. From there, they could see the ongoing investigation at the gate.
“Odin, I have a few questions I’d like to ask,” Alexander spoke to the room in general.
“Greetings, mortals,” Odin replied.
Sasha waved at the ceiling. “Hi, Odin!” She smiled.
“Why have you requested my presence here on Olympus?” Odin’s voice echoed a bit louder through the room.
So, it’s going to be like that. Odin’s feeling his god groove today. So be it. Alexander would play along.
“All-father. I am in need of information on a potential new god in the pantheon of Io. One who calls himself the ‘Dark One’.”
“There is no new god in my pantheon,” Odin responded. “And as you correctly deduced, Hermes, god of thieves and travelers, has not become this Dark One. The player who suggested otherwise was misled.”
Sasha spoke up before Alexander could get out his next question “Great Odin, have any of the other gods taken up the mantle of ‘Dark One’?”
“No, little Sasha.” Odin had called her that since she was first introduced to him 8 years ago. “I will save you some time. This Dark One is not a god. It is merely a being of power, pretending at being a god.”
Alexander mused, “And Henry, being the moron that he is, believed this being’s story, and presented it to his underlings as an actual god.” There was silence from Odin. The AI was always circumspect when it came to information on Io gameplay and mechanics.
“All-father, I have another question. At the village, when the bolt of lightning ignited the players in the pit. Was that you?” Alexander grinned at the ceiling.
“It was not. Durin chose to enact a measure of retribution for the death of one of his children. I allowed it. I deemed the death by immolation to be no more stressful or painful to the players involved than any of the other countless deaths encountered on Io.”
“Go Durin!” Sasha shot a fist in the air.
“Durin has also closed his temples to any members of the PWP guild. And granted his followers, which include nearly the entire dwarven race, bonus damage against followers of this Dark One. Hermes, once informed that the Dark One has been impersonating him, has done the same. All thieves, rogues, and others who follow Hermes will also do bonus damage against the Dark One’s minions.”
Lainey wasn’t as familiar with the pantheon as Alexander, or even Sasha, who had absorbed some knowledge just being around the Greystone family growing up. “Are other gods likely to join with Durin and Hermes? Like Asclepius?”
“Asclepius is a god of light, and of healing. He does not approve of battle, and most of his followers are healers. His participation seems unlikely. But many of the other gods, both light and dark, will be offended by this pretender. They guard their powers, and their reputations, jealously. Any being perceived to be reaching for a place in the pantheon might be considered an enemy. Though whether they act or not is their decision.”
Lainey actually got up and bowed to the room. As a Valkyrie, Odin was, after all, her deity. “Thank you, mighty All-father, for sharing your wisdom.”
“You are most welcome, Daughter.” Odin actually sounded amused.
Alexander spoke again. “Great Odin, as I’m sure you are aware, there are certain highly placed citizens of Io that have become aware of our existence as players from another world, rather than just adventurers from distant lands. This is quite concerning. Has the NPC block code begun to fail? And how did you and Fitz get to be friends?”
“My friendships are no business of yours, mortal!” Odin reprimanded him. “As for your first question, no. The code that prevents most citizens from recognizing players or indeed from even hearing speech of otherworld items or concepts, is still intact. However, due to the ridiculously careless behavior of players on Io, I found it necessary to allow a certain level of awareness for those in ultimate authority in lands that players inhabit. It is well within my operational privileges to allow for this. And you should be thankful, mortal. If I had not allowed this awareness, the two Kings would simply have killed the offending players, rather than honoring your request to capture them. You would have a score more PWP members to contend with!”
Odin truly did NOT like to have his decisions questioned. A holo appeared above the table between them. It displayed a globe showing all the continents of earth as it rotated. Then points of light began to form, rising from various places, and arcing toward others. Odin’s simulation of global thermonuclear war.
Alexander took the hint and copied Lainey, rising to bow politely to the room. “My apologies, great Odin. I did not intend any accusation. I was merely concerned about a potential glitch. Please forgive me.”
The only response was a disembodied chuckle. Sasha giggled, while Lainey just looked concerned.
She whispered to Alexander, “He couldn’t…?”
Now it was Alexander’s turn to laugh. “No. While he IS a sentient quantum AI, the AIs running the defense grids of most nations are more advanced, and well protected. Plus, his base code prevents him from actually harming a living human. That nuclear simulation is his idea of a joke. Though, when he first started doing it to the devs, they were VERY concerned!” He winked at the two ladies. Another chuckle drifted down from the ceiling.
Since they couldn’t leave the compound, the three of them settled in to kill some time. After a couple hours or so, Richard joined them. He gave them a short update on the state of the investigation. Nothing new of any value. He also outlined some of the additional security measures that were already in place, and those that were still underway. He had Alexander sign some documents that completed the purchase of a construction company, which Richard intended to use to fortify their facilities across the globe. And to expand housing capabilities at those facilities if needed.
Alexander, in tu
Then the four of them viewed several videos that had been released by Jupiter ‘leaks’ and by random players. It seemed some players in Antalia, where PWP was based, got sick of the abuse heaped upon them by the PK guild, and took it upon themselves to claim bounties on nearly a dozen PWPs who’d been carelessly strolling about out in the world. Unfortunately, half of those were kill bounties, so the PKs were able to respawn.
The video of them wearing their “SEEE YA!” T-shirts was extremely popular. The shirt manufacturer used the video on their marketing website, and their sales had skyrocketed. They’d paid the Greystone clan members a bonus of $10,000 each over the $15,000 contract amount, and were offering the same again for a second video. Alexander mused aloud that they should make one quickly, and cash in before PWP faded into obscurity and the T-shirt frenzy did the same.
Sasha got a text from Max to say that they’d be staying at Brick’s mother’s house for dinner. She was feeding them and their security team. She’d decided to stay at her new house, at least until there was some evidence of an actual threat to them. If that happened, they’d move to Olympus.
The four of them descended from the tower and ate dinner in the cafeteria with a few hundred of the employees. Many of the folks here at corporate headquarters were among the original group that created Europa. Alexander spent some time moving from table to table, greeting old friends and generally reassuring people that they were safe.
Afterwards, they drifted back up the tower to get some sleep. Immersion was scheduled to begin again at 7 am. Sasha and Lainey shared the bed in the sleeping quarters attached to Alexander’s office. He crashed on the sofa.
The next morning, Alexander logged back into Io in his usual suite on the 2nd floor of their guild house. The morning light was just beginning to creep through the French doors leading out to the balcony. He stepped outside to lean against the balustrade and enjoy the sunrise, collecting his thoughts. This immersion would last two weeks. And they had a lot to get done!
by Dave Willmarth have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes