367 Goralpri part two

    The sturdy set of double doors burst inward in an explosion of flame and wood.  The charred remains of three guards were the only occupants of the large warehouse besides  Alpha team.  A second disturbance that echoed with the shattering of glass announced the arrival of Ronnie and Bali.  The two ranged fighters stood leisurely on a catwalk that extended around the interior of the building.

    /Hotness: Bali: A dozen guards are closing in on... Eleven guards are...  Nine guards-  HEY!

    /Hotness: Ronnie: What?

    /Hotness: Bali: Could you stop shooting long enough for me to report properly?

    /Hotness: Ronnie: Sure, sorry, Bal.

    /Hotness: Bali: Six guards are closing on our position from the courtyard.

    Nix nodded and searched the nearest body.  A quick cut through the dead guard's melted armor confirmed his suspicion. He held up the dragon scale that had been covering the heart of the corpse.

    /Hotness: Semmi: Tainted.

    /Hotness: Ronnie: We'll check the courtyard bodies.

    Ronnie and Bal disappeared through the broken windows while Alpha team spread out and started searching.

    [Dragon Eyes]

    Nix's eyes turned deep orange as he started scanning the interior of the warehouse.  The person that they had followed inside was no longer present.

    One side of the warehouse was stacked to the ceiling with wood crates Nix wrestled one of the insanely heavy containers to the edge before pushing it off with a loud crash, causing bright metallic ingots to spill everywhere.

    Nix picked one up; it was bright silver and very heavy.  \"Fajii?\"

    The Aquarion alchemist knelt on the floor while removing a small kit from her bag. \"Give me a few minutes.\"

    /Hotness: Nix: Search a few more of the crates.  How's it look outside?

    /Hotness: Ronnie: Eerily quiet.  Nothing is moving out here but us.  All bodies are tainted so far.

    /Hotness: Nix: Back in a bit.

    Nix stepped away from the group and focused his thoughts on Leva and her office in Chyanama.

    [Nether Walker]

    Nix appeared in the tidy office a moment later; Leva did not seem surprised by his sudden appearance.

    The fallen chancellor smiled at Nix; her fanged expression wasn't quite able to convey the warmth of friendship. \"Hey, Nix!\"

    Nix walked around the desk and took her hand \"Come with me please.\"

    [Nether Walker: Return]

    Alpha team was waiting when Nix returned a few seconds later. Several more crates had been pulled out and opened in that short period.

    Leva has joined Hotness.

    Nix whistled when he saw the ingots on the floor.

    An apologetic Fajii shook her head slowly. \"It's a metallic element that I'm not familiar with.  Compared to normal steel, it's much stronger and has a higher resistance to other elements.\"

    Bali and Ronnie approached through the new doorway that Pon created.  The small ranger was looking at her hud while they walked.  \"The person we followed is below us, Commander.\"

    Nix grabbed an ingot and motioned toward the huge stack of crates.  \"There must be an exit in there, find it, and I'll be right back.\"

    Nix activated Deep Blue and chose a binding point that he had labeled as 'Grove.'


    \"That person reminds me of someone.\"  Glory waited until the rest of the students and Marshal left the classroom.  Director Obrien was still looking at her personal hud.

    Sahara smiled at the comment.  \"Really?\"

    Glory nodded slowly, \"I use to call him Nix.\"

    Sahara's face seemed to freeze suddenly,  her brown eyes darting toward the door.  \"Come with me.\"

    The Director escorted her to an office that had \"Director Sahara O'Brien stenciled on it.  She closed the door after they entered and gestured toward the couch.

    Glory suddenly grew quiet; Nix was dead.  It had been all over the news.

    \"Tell me everything you know.  Starting with Nix.\"

    \"No.\" Glory stood suddenly, making up her mind.

    Sahara stared at her for a few moments.  \"I love this man, anyone who deep dives will tell you that VR love is real.  I'm the reason his account wasn't deleted before this expansion.  I only wish to protect him.\"

    Glory considered the words for few minutes before sitting down again.  \"The person I know was a felon, I broke the rules and made sure he became part of the Gladis Work program.\"

    Sahara swore under her breath. \"The Nix I know, escaped from the Gladis Hub while still in their holding area.\"

    Glory watched as Sahara used her desk hud to bring up the character info on Nix.  She looked at the date of his first log-in and when he logged off for the first time several months later.

    Sahara zoomed in on the dates.  \"Does this match?\"

    Glory nodded. \"That would be when he was put into stasis at the Gladis hub.  This second date corresponds with the accident at the Gladis stasis facility.\"

    Sahara pursed her lips while she considered the possibility.  \"Nix may have testified against Gladis in return for his character card.  Although that should have been destroyed in the accident.\"

    Glory slowly shook her head.  \"Nix died in the accident; it made world news.\"

    Sahara brought up all of the log-on data associated with the Nix character.  \"The character was part of the Gladis Hub program, after the accident it was attached to an anonymous client of Vasai Virtual.\"

    Glory remembered the arsonist was one of the quiet ones; he refused to speak until the last day she saw him. Because of this, they had many one-sided conversations where she talked to him about herself. \"Maybe someone bought the character or assumed ownership of it.\"

    Sahara shook her head slowly. \"Trust me when I say, the same person who logged off also logged back in.  There would be no way to fake something like that.\"

    Glory didn't comment; someone replacing Nix probably wouldn't be able to fool his friends. \"I remember the Gladis trials; there were a handful of character cards presented as evidence. The legal team from Gladis tried to get them thrown out because they had been attained illegally.\"

    \"Nix must have attained his card during the accident.\" Sahara was still looking at her hud. \"Could the accident at Gladis be a cover-up for a theft?\"

    Glory shrugged slightly.  \"That's not something I would know. I did hear that Gladis lost close to a billion dollars because of it.\"

    Sahara stared at the former corrections officer; her face bore a remarkable physical resemblance to Ronnie's character.  Was that why Nix always seemed to back the crazy archer?  Did Ronnie's character remind him of this woman?

    The black woman's lips curved in a smile, Nicholas Phire was still alive.  There was no reason why it should make her happy, but it did.  \"What now?\"

    The redhead used her hud for several minutes before answering.  \"I deleted his old log history; the character's connection to Gladis is gone.\"

    \"You said that the current expansion is reactive to Nix?  Is this normal?\"

    \"No.  He has created a variety of problems for Colonial since he started playing.\"

    Glory thought back to the quiet felon she remembered.  He was calm through his trial, whatever rage he must have felt during his revenge had obviously been spent.  \"Why hasn't he been removed then?\"

    \"There are a few reasons.  The first is that I won't allow it. I have a lot of pull at Colonial, and I let them know that I would walk away  if they touched him.\"

    \"You said that you love Nix?  What's the word I'm looking for?\"

    The redhead smiled and leaned back in her chair.  \"Love interest or LI.\"

    Glory nodded.  \"Are you his love interest?\"

    \"One of them.\" Sahara nodded her head. \"This can be blamed on Balto and me. As a DRP, I fell in love with Nix; it was meant to be a passing thing.  My character was supposed to perish, but that damn VI stepped in.\"

    \"Balto is the VI?\"

    \"Yes.  It's constantly adjusting NPC behavior according to our DRPs and the player's reactions to them. It's given latitude to make small adjustments to events as they unfold.\"

    \"How did Balto step in?\"

    \"It governs NPCs almost exclusively.  Nix reacts strongly whenever the NPCs around him are in danger, Balto has judged my DRP character as too important.\"

    Glory's dark eyes showed her confusion. \"It's a VI, can't you just change its functions?\"

    \"Yes.  However, player satisfaction is at an all-time high.  NPCs are developing stronger characteristics and becoming a larger part of the game.  I call it the 'Inferno Effect.'\"


    \"It's the guild I mentioned, the one that has been running amok in Colonial for the past year.  Regular NPCs and players are living and exploring together.  Balto considers Inferno vital to his mission.\"

    \"What is his mission?  To create more realistic NPCs?\"

    \"To completely erase the lines between NPCs and players.\" Shae brought up the data so that Glory could look at it. \"For the first time in Colonial, Guilds are creating strong bonds with NPCs.  Alliances, friendships, even marriages, and families.  It's the main reason why we are approaching a billion subscribers.\"

    \"Wait... You said one of his love interests. Does that mean there are more than one?\"

    Sahara didn't bother to hide her amusement. \"It's a position that I'd never thought I'd be in. I'm sharing him with three others.\"

    Glory laughed at the Director's expression.  It seemed more mischievous than angry.  \"And everyone is okay with that?\"

    Sahara answered with a shrug.  \"It isn't just a game anymore.  A lot of players have stopped adventuring and are taking up jobs in Colonial.  We've become the biggest VR in the world.\"

    \"This is attributed to Balto and the DRP program?\"

    Sahara nodded.  \"Directly.\"

    Glory stole one last glance at Nix before the Director closed her hud. \"What are the odds I'll ever see him in Colonial?  Given the size of the place and my position as a trainee.\"

    The redhead leaned forward, her voice lowering to a conspiratory whisper.  \"Quite high.\"
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