HAM0101062019-04-16T02:06:59+00:00

01.01.06

“Why the fuck is there a nuclear missile in here?” Anya demanded of the AI. It had been floating in lazy circles around her and Tori as they browsed, but perked up when Anya shouted at it.

“It’s a weapon,” the AI said and shrugged. “It goes in the ‘WEAPON’ sub-menu. Is it not enough?”

“It’s a nuclear-god damned missile!” Anya said and jabbed a finger at it. She jabbed a little too hard and pressed the “BUY” button and she and Tori both screamed.

“Don’t confirm!” Tori said.

“I know! I know!” Anya shouted and pressed “CANCEL” with a trembling hand. She then backed out of the weapons menu entirely and tapped her chest to close her menu. “Jesus Christ!”

“You almost bought a nuclear bomb,” Tori said as her voice trembled.

“Would you like a bigger one?” the AI asked. “There’s a small anti-matter bomb that will do approximately ten times the damage of that nuclear missile without the resulting fallout. There’s more too but you can’t afford it.”

“No!” Anya said. “Why…why would some alien species give a random person the ability to just buy nuclear weapons or worse?”

“I don’t know,” the AI said. “The particulars for the menu system remain locked behind several levels of sealed data.”

“Thank god you’re not a psychopath,” Tori said.

“No shit,” Anya agreed and glared at the AI. “What if I was, though? What if I just wanted to order a nuclear bomb and blow up New York?”

“Then you could totally do that!” the AI said and gave her a thumbs up. “I believe in you!”

“No!” Anya snapped at it. “No thumbs up! That’s not a good thing! No believing!”

“Oh,” the AI said and deflated a bit as it dropped its smile. “Sorry.”

“It’s not your fault,” Anya sighed.

“These aliens are sadists or insane or…” Tori shook her head. “Maybe just so utterly alien that they have no concept of morality or consequences.”

Anya bit her lip as she thought about that. It would explain some things. She pulled up her menu and Tori winced. Anya held up her hand to calm her and left the RAC store and returned to the main stats and skills menu, where she pulled up the “PHYSICAL” skills menu.

“Look at these,” Anya said and pointed at the exhaustive list. “You’ve got torture techniques and hacky sack on the same skill list together. Zero-G combat, nose-picking, shadow puppetry, walking, Jiu Jitsu, marksmanship, it’s all just thrown together. It all costs the same too! One physical skill point raises it one level. So for the same cost, I can learn how to murder somebody with my thumb, or more effectively get boogers out of my nostril.”

“So?” Tori asked.

“So what you said makes sense! Either the aliens who sent me this are insane or they fundamentally do not understand humans. They might also be sadists, but I dunno. If they wanted to hurt me, or humans, I feel like there’d be better ways to do it than this,” Anya gestured at the menu.

“Okay, so some out-of-touch aliens send you this menu thing at random…why? That’s what I still don’t get. So you can make yourself into an Amazon warrior queen who can make the coolest shadow puppets and also has a nuke. Why? If humanity is such an unknown for them, why would they send such impossible technology here?”

“I still don’t know,” the AI said. “I don’t even know if there is a reason. I won’t know until all the data unlocks.”

“And how do we get it to unlock?” Anya asked. The AI winced and looked away.

“I also do not know that. It’s locked——”

“I got it,” Anya said and held up her hand.

“You should try putting some points into a skill,” Tori suggested.

“Uuuhhh,” Anya winced.

“Not a dangerous one! A normal one. You ordered the dragon steak and that was awesome,” Tori gestured at the cushion-sized slab of meat still taking up most of the kitchen counter. They’d stuffed themselves on it and barely made a dent. Even with Anya’s new prodigious size and with an appetite to match, the steak looked almost the same as when it had appeared. “Maybe learning a skill will help you understand the menu system more?”

“Maybe,” Anya said. She found the Yoga skill and pulled up its sub-menu. Her skill in Yoga was at a 3, according to the menu, with the progress bar about a third of the way full.

“Oh yeah, you do Yoga sometimes,” Tori said.

“Adding points into this won’t change my body again, right?” Anya asked the AI. It shook its head.

“Nope! You have it set to keep your current form. Internal changes may occur, however, but you will look the same,” it said.

“Internal changes?” Anya asked and raised her eyebrows.

“For example, you have pulled up the Yoga skill. Your muscles may be adjusted to match what a level 4,5 or higher skilled person may have based on collected or extrapolated data, but you will look exactly as you are now.”

“And if I made myself even stronger?” Anya asked. “Like, put another six points into my brawn?”

“You would receive more strength, but your muscles and bones would become more efficient and powerful and possibly change into non-human forms of musculature, but you would maintain your current form.”

“Non-human musculature?”

“Different shapes, different organic components from non-human species that have greater strength potential,denser bones and muscle fibers, and other options all combined to give you greater strength than natural humans are capable of attaining.”

“Makes sense,” Tori nodded.

“Fucking weird though,” Anya said. “But if I just stick to Yoga, it’s probably okay. Right?”

“Don’t see how Yoga ever hurt anybody but people who didn’t do warm-up stretches,” Tori agreed. “Speaking of, maybe try a couple poses before you increase it? See if you can tell the difference!”

“Good idea,” Anya said. She had never gotten too far beyond beginner poses like the bridge, cobra, and chair poses. She’d wanted to at least try to get to the crane pose, where her hands were flat on the floor and her legs were lifted up, knees resting just above her elbows. Her instructor could do it in a single smooth motion, but Anya always fell on her face or side, grunting from exertion and frustration.

She was strong now though, and figured she might be able to do it. She took a breath and got in a push-up position, hands flat on the floor. She brought one of her legs forward, knee up and angled toward her upper arm. She leaned too far to the side, almost fell, tried with the other leg, and failed again. She tried with both legs at the same time and fell over.

“Well, shit,” Anya said. “It wasn’t nearly as hard to stay in the starting position, but damn, the points in brawn have done nothing for my balance.”

“What about with one or two points in Yoga?” Tori asked, her eyes bright. Anya hesitated as she looked at the skill and the up arrow beside it. It wasn’t going to change her body again. It wasn’t going to hurt anybody. It might inform her about what the hell was going on. She couldn’t think of a reason not to.

Anya tapped the up arrow twice, increasing the skill from three to five, and then she confirmed her decision. Her physical skill point decreased to twenty-six, and she waited. She didn’t have to wait long. She felt her muscles twinge and she had a brief headache, but both were already gone before she fully registered either.

“Well?” Tori asked and leaned toward her. “What happened?”

“I dunno,” Anya said. “Got a cramp and a headache for half a second. Lemme just——”

She got down on the floor again and while she was expecting to have to take it slow, her body moved with the easy grace of somebody who had been doing the crane pose for years. She was already in perfect form by the time she registered what had happened.

“Whaaaaat,” Anya breathed. She had no difficulty with her balance, no sense of incoming cramps or aches, no stress or pressure on her joints.
“Whoa!” Tori said. “Very nice! You sure you weren’t just faking before?”

“Tori, I swear,” Anya said. “This is just really, really weird.”

“Weird how? It’s just another Yoga pose, right?”

“Yeah, but like, I have muscle memory for it. I’ve never done this before! I was never able to. I shouldn’t have muscle memory but my body just did it, like I’ve done it a million times.”

“Geez. That’s only two points, huh?”

“Seriously,” Anya shook her head. She had been holding the crane pose with ease during their conversation, and now eased out of it. She half expected to fall over from fatigue or stiffness, but her body moved with a smooth glide back to her starting position as she stretched out and then stood. Tori clapped and Anya smirked and gave her a mock bow. The AI clapped too, and gave her a thumbs up before dropping it with a frown.

“Thumbs up for Yoga are fine,” Anya said.

“Oh, great!” the AI said and gave her two thumbs up.

“What were those other skills?” Tori asked. “The weird ones. Like magic and stuff.”

“I can’t access them for another two years,” Anya said. “Level 30.”

“Don’t you have all those side objectives?” Tori raised her eyebrow. “Those make your level go up. It’s only like one or two percent, but you had a ton of them.”
“Oh yeah,” Anya said and brought up her side objectives. There were hundreds she had completed.

“You got anything to put that dragon steak in? Shame to let it sit on the counter like that,” Tori said as Anya scrolled through the menu.
“I don’t think so,” Anya shook her head. “Plastic bags and old take-out containers.”

“I’ll go buy you some. Plus, I wanna take some home with me, if you don’t mind.”

“I couldn’t eat that thing in a month,” Anya said. “Take as much as you want.”

“Cool. I’ll be back in a few. Just gonna run down to the bodega around the corner,” Tori grabbed her coat and waved as she left. Anya waved back then returned to her menu. Clicking on her first side-objective had seemed fairly benign: just more points and RAC. She spent the next several minutes rapidly clicking on her completed objectives and watching her progress and RAC go up.

By the time she clicked on her last completed objective, (”SPIT MORE THAN 10 YARDS”) she had a total of 467,320 RAC, and she had risen to level 31. A notification appeared that declared “YOU HAVE UNLOCKED ALL SKILL MENUS” and then vanished.

“You can check out the ‘OTHER’ skills now, if you want,” the AI said. Anya started to say she wasn’t sure, but her experiment with the Yoga skill had been a success. No dramatic bodily changes, no weird side-effects. She was just better at Yoga. In the span of a couple seconds she’d gone from a total novice to an advanced intermediate. It’d also be a test to see if some of the more fantastical skills were actually real or if it was all bullshit. Sure the menu could make meat appear and make her big and strong and better at Yoga. But could it actually let her use magic? Was that a real thing too?

She opened the “OTHER” skill menu and scrolled through the list of strange abilities.

Mind Control. Definitely not. Too many ethical dilemmas.

Shapeshifting. Gross.

Demon summoning. Anya had read enough horror stories and fantasy to know that was always a bad idea.

Arcane Sorcery. Anya paused and brought that skill up. It was a skill that allowed her to cast any number of useful spells, but relied on outside energy and focusing tools like amulets and staffs that she would have to purchase from the RAC store. It also sounded like it was more about borrowing magical energy used in objects and from other sources than anything inherent to the caster.

Maybe.

“Hey, AI?” she asked. It floated up beside her, its tiny round ears twitching.

“Yeee-eees?” It asked.

“Okay, first, that’s kinda weird. With the ear twitching. Second: there was some kinda fire magic skill on here I saw earlier. Can’t remember the name though.”
“Was it pyromancy?” the AI asked and brought that skill up. It was similar to sorcery in that it relied heavily on calling or borrowing power from outside sources, spoken spells, rituals, and summonings to control fire. Anya shook her head.

“No, it had another name…”

“Flame dominion?”

“I think that was it,” Anya nodded as the skill appeared on her menu. Unlike sorcery or pyromancy, flame dominion was a skill that allowed her to directly control heat and fire through force of will and focus. While pyromancy and sorcery sounded like they were about directing purely external forces, flame dominion sounded like a mix of that and innate power.

“So flame dominion lets me control fire?” Anya asked the AI. It bobbed its head side to side.

“Sort of! It allows you control over fire, intense heat, etc. You will have a natural reservoir of energy within you that you can draw on, amplify, or replenish with heat energy around you or after resting. You require a lot of focus and endurance to maintain control, however, it isn’t reliant on external foci like wands or talismans, rituals, or summonings. It’s all you!”

“That sounds pretty damn cool,” Anya admitted. “Can I make fireballs?”

“Yes!”

“Would I be immune to fire?”

“I only have access to the first ten levels of data until you start to put points into this skill. However, it does come with a much higher heat resistance and fire affinity at low levels, so I would guess that yes, fire would not harm you at higher levels.”

“And am I gonna know how to use it? Do I need mental points or another skill for that?”

“There will be changes made to your body and mind that allow you to use flame dominion. However, the menu classifies this skill as ‘Other’ and includes any physical or mental enhancements as separate from those categories. You only need to spend your ‘Other’ points to gain benefits in this skill.”

Anya stared at the menu and the “FLAME DOMINION” skill. She’d always liked fire spells and attacks in games and movies. They looked cool, and even basic stuff like summoning a tiny flame had practical purposes. She’d save a small fortune on her heating bills too. It also felt like a good fit with her reddish hair.

One point.

Just one.

As a test.

Anya studied the skill menu, the grayed out progression boxes, and the pair of arrows——up and down——on the other side of the menu. Anya took a deep breath and pressed the up arrow once. She was asked to confirm and the change happened as soon as she did.

There was fire in the center of her chest, just below where the menu system had struck her last night. It flared outward from her heart and extended to the tip of every hair on her head and down to her toes. It wasn’t painful, like the changes that happened before, but it was an alien sensation. She felt like her insides her been submerged in a hot bath, and that she had something inside her chest, some new organ. It burned in her center and its heat ebbed and flowed with the beats of her heart.

Anya put her hand over her chest to the right of her heart and felt a second one, but far warmer than the first. She sat on her bed for several moments, taking the sensation in and deciding if she liked it or if it was too weird. She decided it would take some getting used to, but that it was mostly good. Comforting, in a way.
She looked back at the menu and saw that a number “1” had appeared beside “FLAME DOMINION” and one of the grayed out boxes flashed and filled with orange light.

Text beside it read:

LEVEL 1: INHERENT FLAME ATTUNEMENT AND SUN’S HEART. FEEBLE FIRE CONJURATION. FEEBLE HEAT SENSE.

“Huh,” Anya said. “What’s…”

Before she could even finish asking herself what it meant, she already knew. Her head tingled as a rush of information appeared in her thoughts, as if it had been there since her birth. She could sense the water heater out in the maintenance closet below her, the dull radiance of people moving around in the apartments immediately around hers, the fading heat at the center of the dragon steak, and more.

But most of all, she could feel a well of fire inside of her, a source of power and light and flame that she was attached to with the same natural connections as her arms and legs. She knew what she could do with it.

Anya stared at her right hand, felt the heat of her blood, felt it warm her skin, felt her skin touch the air, felt the warmth she gave off.

Anya snapped her fingers and a tiny, flickering flame flared to life at the tip of her nail.

She let out a soft whine as her eyes goggled in her head and she brought her finger closer to her face.

The flame was hot, but being as close as it was to her finger, it didn’t burn. What’s more, she felt it, like an extension of her own body. She felt a pull from within her, from that bright new center, when she had snapped her fingers. It connected her to the flame at her fingertip and fed it. The flame itself was a living thing: a tiny wriggling life that danced just above her skin. She took a deep breath, as if she’d just jogged up a flight of stairs.

“What the fuck?” she said. And stared at the flame over her finger. “I’m winded?”

“Woooooooow,” the AI said. “Congratulations on gaining flame dominion!”

Anya stared at the AI, then back at the flame, then back at the menu.

“I can use magic,” she said, then jumped to her feet. Her adrenaline swelled and she didn’t notice the flame growing.

“I can use maaagiiiiiii——” she yelled, and was cut off as the flame exploded.

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