(ORDO NEWS) — The long-awaited First Contact with an alien civilization that happened, people frankly did not understand. Just as our humanity did not believe that the time allotted for the Earth to protect against invasion from space is very, very limited. But after the First Contact, there remained a mysterious game brought by aliens to our world.
The goals of this game are vague, the servers are not clear where, and the principles of operation defy explanation. But this game is gaining momentum, engaging more and more people, and soon it becomes difficult not to notice that game events directly affect our reality. And not only ours …
Meanwhile, while people are dealing with this mysterious game, the countdown timer is ticking, and it is completely incomprehensible what will happen when the protection of our home planet expires.
The Russian author of the novel: Mikhail Atamanov
Introduction. First contact
As soon as writers, astronomers, philosophers and the military have imagined the first contact of humanity with extraterrestrial intelligence. And the receipt by Earth observatories of meaningful signals from deep space. And the discovery of space artifacts or even living aliens during the excavation of ancient burial mounds and pyramids. And the appearance of sinister alien starships over the largest cities on our planet. The fall of celestial bodies, the wreck of all kinds of UFOs. Meeting with “brothers in mind” on distant planets. Invasion. War. Extermination of all living things.
However, what was happening most of all resembled someone’s stupid joke, hoax or annoying advertisement, and therefore humanity did not immediately believe in the reality of First Contact. It’s just that on various television channels of the Earth, the shaggy face of a humanoid periodically began to appear, somewhat remotely resembling a Bigfoot with thick dark red hair. This tall, erect creature with piercing black eyes, a flattened dark nose and a wide mouth was dressed in either metal armor, or a spacesuit without a helmet and friendlyly waved at the audience with its clawed paw raised up. With a strong accent, the humanoid pronounced the same text, albeit in different earthly languages, depending on the country of broadcast:
– People of the Earth, by the right of the discoverers of the Shikhars civilization, declares its power and jurisdiction over your world. We guarantee one Tong of security for your home planet, but then the fate of the human race will depend solely on you. People, you have already reached the threshold of development from which it is possible to participate in a big game that distorts reality. So take part in it and earn the right to become one of the great cosmic races!
Then there were frames of some incomprehensible diagrams and drawings, after which the fifty-second video ended. You understand, it was foolish to hope that someone would fall for such a primitive and artless forgery. Even the most gullible viewer understood that in front of him was just an actor dressed in a shaggy suit, clumsily advertising some regular computer game.
For those naive viewers who nevertheless doubted and began to ask questions, experts invited to the TV studio analyzed the so-called “drawings” given in the commercial. So, even the most superficial study of the circuits showed that this is generally sheer nonsense – the equipment shown in the video did not involve a connection to the power supply at all and could not work in principle.
Viewers’ interest in videos with a furry alien did not last long. Then the effect of such annoying ads, suddenly interrupting interesting films and sports broadcasts without warning, became sharply negative everywhere. Dissatisfied viewers cut off the telephones of television studios, wrote letters with complaints about annoying advertisements to various authorities, or simply switched the TV channel.
The authorities fought against advertising contagion and threatened the most serious consequences to unknown hackers who arranged this stupid prank. Television people quickly learned how to quickly block the broadcast of everyone’s boring video. Information security specialists have tried in various ways to identify the cleverly disguised signal source and claimed that they would soon be on the trail of these impudent hackers. And although the attackers were never found in the end, after a few weeks the broadcasts stopped by themselves, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
Thus, the greatest event in the history of mankind, which put an end to the centuries-old dispute about the possibility of the existence of other intelligent races in the Universe, went very chaotic, crumpled and, although it was noticed by many people, practically none of them understood.
Although there were still lone enthusiasts who decided to find out more about the “game that distorts reality.” Despite all the revelations of experts and the repeatedly voiced absurdity of the given schemes, these stubborn eccentrics continued to believe in miracles and even built the device shown in the drawings.
Chapter first. Network tournament
Yes, we knew it was risky and illegal. We understood perfectly well that we would fly out of the university with a whistle if our activities in organizing commercial tournaments in network games, and especially a sweepstakes, were revealed. Nevertheless, we deliberately took this risk. Why? It is hard to say. At first everything was simple and clear – the very first tournaments, I and two roommates in the dormitory, organized solely for the sake of money, since we desperately needed finances for half-impoverished students. And then, when some kind of cash allowed us not to risk anymore, we simply could not stop, and money did not play the main role here. Adrenaline, passion, respect among classmates and interest from female students – this is what drove us and made us take risks.
We understood perfectly well that the scale of the tournaments was gradually growing, the circle of initiates was inevitably growing, and it became more and more difficult to keep secrets from the teachers, police and security services of our university. All the tricks we have undertaken to preserve the anonymity of the participants and the organizers of the tournaments themselves could work only until the moment when the real professionals in the field of information security did not take care of us. We understood this perfectly. More and more often, in conversations with my friends, it flashed that it was time to close the shop, that the next network tournament should be the last. But it was followed by another tournament, then another, and another.
The grandiose PvP tournament between student hostels in Moscow, which began at noon on Saturday, dragged on until 5 o’clock on Monday morning. Thirty-two of the eight hundred players made it through the qualifying fights grid to the finals. I was among them. Yes, unlike my roommates who dealt with networking equipment, traffic encryption and betting, I often took part in network battles myself. And he even often won, tearing down at the same time very good cash prizes.
Moreover, I have never used any “codes for immortality”, cheating mods and other dishonest tricks. A powerful computer with the best video card and a good processor, fast ping, knowledge of game cards and weapons, and most importantly, hands growing from the right place – that’s all, nothing else was required for me to win. I have always participated under different pseudonyms and I was sure that none of the ordinary players would guess that the same person is hiding behind many prize-winners and winners of recent tournaments.
So now I was playing. With a virtual reality headset on my head, with my fingers on the buttons of ergonomic gloves-manipulators, I was completely immersed in the process. The world outside the game temporarily did not exist for me.
Running up the steep steps of a spiral staircase to the third, highest floor of a rich mansion. Stop to catch your breath. Stamina went to almost zero, my thick columns-legs trembled, sides swelled like blacksmith’s bellows. I wheezed heavily and opened my mouth like a fish thrown ashore. There was definitely not enough air. How difficult it is to be a giant!
The idea to choose a hand-to-hand ogre came to my mind spontaneously literally a minute before the start of the final, when a random lot drew us a map for the last game of the tournament – a medieval castle with its huge semi-dark halls, narrow passages and steep staircases. An extremely inconvenient card for a drow archer, with whom I successfully passed all the qualifying stages, and therefore at the last moment I decided to change my playable character.
I had never played as a giant before, and therefore the inconvenience of their heavy body was an unpleasant surprise for me. The three-hundred-kilogram carcass was unable to run and climb the ropes, and even the usual steep stairs became a serious obstacle for the ogre, devouring all endurance during the climb. The giant’s body reacted to all my commands with almost a second delay, it was especially difficult to get used to it.
Such inertia of movements almost cost me my life in the previous fight with the nimble assassin, who easily dodged the blows of my bulky two-handed ax. Then I had to act non-trivially – at some point I imitated a swing with my weapon, but instead of hitting, I rushed forward, spreading my arms wide and knocking down the crouching man from his feet. Having deprived the assassin of his main advantage – mobility, I easily dealt with him, simply twisting it with my bare hands. That assassin became my fourth frag in the final, but only thirty-seven percent of my life remained. Too little to survive. Even critically small.
While my stamina was slowly recovering, I opened the statistics table. Of the thirty-two participants in the final, after almost an hour of play, only four remained alive – my ogre, a human spearman, an elf archer and someone else unknown, whom none of the players could ever notice, and therefore in the table opposite This character’s race and class still had question marks. Meanwhile, this unknown man had already cut off three. Cool, however. Apparently, some kind of invisible stealth, secretly attacking from the back.
A signal sounded informing the participants that there were five minutes left until the end of the tournament. It was necessary to hurry. I opened the map. Judging by the plan of the building, a long, straight corridor was waiting for me behind a closed door. In the place of the elf archer, it was there that I would guard my opponents, attacking rivals from afar. A very convenient place for her, this had to be taken into account.
Deliberately opening the door with a noise, I took a decisive step forward, and then abruptly pulled back. And then a long arrow with red plumage pierced the doorframe at the level of my head. I was not mistaken – the elf archer lurked exactly where I expected. Without wasting a second, I rushed forward, growling terribly like an animal – a loud cry sometimes really helped, causing my opponents to stupor, confusion and fear. All the more so when a huge man-eating giant roared deafeningly.
Even the greenest newcomer understands that such a massive living machine cannot be stopped with one arrow in the chest. Where would a fragile archer, at which a huge, brutal ogre rush, begin to aim? A headshot, causing increased damage, suggested itself. Therefore, at the moment when the elf let go of the bowstring, I covered my face with a wide ax.
Trenk! Lucky – the arrow with a rattling sound ricocheted to the side. The girl is giving! She would have to shoot in the legs, slowing me down and thereby buying time for more shots. But the sharp-eared one acted too predictably, and after the failure she was completely confused, hesitated, dropped the next arrow, and then belatedly tried to run away from the approaching hand-to-hand fighter. Well, I do not. I slashed with a swing. Fifth victory. And even without losing my health!
I stopped and opened the map again. Time was running out. Where to look for two more enemies? And at that moment, as if answering my question, literally twenty steps from me in front of the next door, there was a distinct cry. Another minus is the enemy. I wonder who this time? I opened a table with a list of participants. The spearman’s name faded, but a four appeared in front of the last remaining rival, signifying another frag. Again, the victim did not have time to see his killer. Dexterity, contagion, to be sure.
In the upper right corner of the screen, a timer chirped alarmingly, announcing that there were less than two minutes left until the end of the finale. If there are several survivors by the end of the time, a replay will be scheduled – the eight best cyber athletes according to the results of the final will meet again on the same map. Oh, how I would not like – I was already barely thinking after many hours of playing marathon. In addition, today, at the third pair at the university, an important test was to take place, for which I would like to prepare, and before that, at least a little sleep. So go ahead, take the risk!
Sharply opening the door, I immediately staggered back, repeating the trick that the archer had bought into. But nobody attacked me. It’s strange. Having calmed down a bit, I looked around. A tiny semi-dark room cluttered with furniture, from which two exits at once led from different sides to the same semicircular balcony twined with ivy. Round hatch in the ceiling and overhanging rope ladder. Perhaps the mysterious invisible person has already climbed up in this way. But most likely my opponent was somewhere here in this small darkened room, hiding in invisibility and waiting for my mistake. Now I was faced with the task of somehow detecting it without exposing my vulnerable back – for many game classes, a blow to the opponent in the back was considered critical and caused increased damage.
I cut the ropes of the ladder, then I chopped the air crosswise with my ax, then a couple of times I sharply dragged the blade along the floor. Empty. Either my opponent was so skillful that he dodged my blows completely silently (which is unlikely), or he was not here at all. But then where is he? Upstairs? It is unlikely – he, too, probably wants to finish the final here and now, and not participate in a replay. Is he waiting for me on the open balcony well-lit by the sun? Oh, well, some kind of nonsense, why should a “stealth” betray himself and come out of the shadows?
I looked around again. There was absolutely nowhere to hide in this small room. Bedside tables, a small table, an open wardrobe with rickety doors. Once again I slashed the space of the room with my weapon, and again I was convinced that the enemy was not there. The siren howled disgustingly – the last minute of the finale went. So, it was necessary to decide – through the right or left door to go to the balcony. A rival was waiting for me behind one of these doors, probably now, from invisibility, watching my mental anguish. Pure lottery – will I be able to go out to the enemy face-to-face and kill him, using the advantage in the giant’s strength, or the mistake with the choice will lead to the fact that the invisible will go in my back and win.
Sighing heavily, I made a decision and with all my strength, at once wasting all the accumulated stamina, I slashed the wardrobe with an ax!
My heavy weapon slammed into something soft. There is! Bingo! Instead of planks and chips, I hit the enemy. A metamorph that takes the form of objects. Waits for prey and attacks an unsuspecting victim from behind, usually killing with a single blow. The class is extremely rarely used in network tournaments due to its slowness, the need to be very close to the victim and absolute helplessness if the first attack did not lead to the killing of the enemy. An unexpected choice, but we must admit that it almost led to victory.
– How am I! Have you seen?! – I shouted enthusiastically to my roommates, removing the virtual reality helmet from my head.
There were many people in the dorm room in gray spotted police uniforms. My friends lay sprawled on the floor, their wrists handcuffed behind their backs.
– Yes, we saw, – grinned a mustachioed man with a shortened submachine gun in his hands, apparently the leader in the group. – Come on, too, fall to the floor, legs to the sides, hands behind your back. And don’t make me say my words twice, champion.
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