The War (Play to Live: Book #6)

 

Play to Live

by D. Rus

 

Book 6

The War

 

Play to Live

 

Book 6: The War

Copyright © D.Rus 2015

Cover Art © Kadziro

Translators © Alisa Bogodarova 2015

All Rights Reserved

 

Chapter One

 

I
got some great sleep. Twenty hours at least. My body heeded the warning of my budding prophetic gift and did all it could to save enough energy for later.

I would have slept even longer if it hadn’t been for the loud and clearly deliberate argument that started right behind the thin curtain covering the entrance to my room. Talking in a stage whisper, the warriors were discussing the problem at hand; should they wake me or simply kill the unwanted truce envoy who had so conveniently arrived with no weapons to defend himself?

Truce envoy?!
I thought, quickly sitting up in bed. Tossing my head, I called out hoarsely: "I’m about to do some killing of my own! Bring me some kvass and report immediately; who’s here to give themselves up?"

In half an hour, I was standing at Station 11 with most of my officers who happened to be awake. I was looking pensively at the assault droid that was holding a piece of white plastic in one of its arms to represent a white flag.

The robot didn’t look well. Aside from the fact that it had clearly gone into sleep-mode, which made it look like a dozing chicken, its trunk was studded with holes in places where it used to have modules. Its reactor block had been scraped with a file and wrapped up in some cloth which was supposed to lower its heat emission and save 0.5 percent of fuel.

One of the boys couldn’t hold back and burst out laughing: "It needs one of those girly kerchiefs on its head! Then it’ll look just like a European in the winter of 2022 when they shut off that Russian gas pipe."

The sound of a human voice made the droid twitch. The dim light in one of its optical sensors came on. The barely-audible droning of its servomechanisms could be heard.

The robot waved the piece of white plastic, signaling that it was indeed a truce envoy, then began a long tirade by emitting creaks and squeaks of fluctuating volume.

The warriors exchanged disappointed glances, hoping that someone might be able to translate what the droid was saying.

"Well, this un rants like an ancient dial-up modem," said one of the old-school warriors.

I shook my head as I took a step toward the robot and said: "We can’t understand you. Can you communicate in sign language?"

Slowly, trying to make as little moves as possible, the droid pointed its three-fingered hand to where its mana drive was poking out of its body, then began to chatter accusingly.

"Oh, yeah!" someone said. "He’s upset with us for doing that."

I nodded.
Duh, no interpreter needed for that.

Meanwhile, the robot reached into its innards, making my personal guard a bit nervous. The Drow girls stepped forward in unison, blocking my view and possible attack sectors.

With a grunt, the droid pulled out a battery module which I had already grown somewhat familiar with. It was about the size of a fist, weighing roughly twelve pounds. It was a sturdy piece made of those heavy elements listed on the bottom line of the periodic table.

The droid’s spare battery howled, barely able to compensate for the absence of the main power source. The robot swayed forward and indignantly shook the module. Its charge indicator was about to go out.

The ear-choppers forming the wall before me remained indifferent.

I turned to the others. "Can we charge its batteries?"

"Why would we?" someone asked defiantly.

I frowned.
What is this, an outlaw camp?

The anarchist got pushed back as one of the clan’s crafters approached me.

"Sure thing, Sir!" the crafter said. "Mana can be converted to electricity in a snap. Five minutes to throw together a simple converter, and ya get a high-voltage current. That’s how we once powered up a small power crystal. Why, that bang even made Chronos jump; time actually sped up. The next shift arrived in less than two minutes according to our time!"

The officers shushed the rambling crafter who had grown socially awkward during his years in the underground.

A lieutenant-storekeeper struggling to see over the others raised his hand in a disciplined manner.

I nodded. "Speak!"

"Based on what I can see from back here, this is a standard Mk II accumulator block, or what we came to call a double ‘A’ battery. We have about three hundred of those here, all fully charged per master Durin’s request." He parodied Durin’s voice: "Anything that can be filled,
should
be filled!"

"Fetch us a couple of those. Move it, funny guy!"

We heard the sound of a personal portal as the lieutenant left for his bind point. In five minutes, which the droid wisely spent in sleep-mode to save power, the officer hurried back with the modules I had requested.

"Hey, mister!" I knocked on the robot’s mithril armor. "Dinner’s served, dig in!"

The awfully dim light of its optical sensor went on again. After a couple of seconds of focusing its vision, its microactuators buzzing like mosquitoes, the droid was able to see the new battery.

Clank!
Its arm shot forward but missed. I barely jerked my hand away in time. "Not so fast! You’re a bold one. It’s not nice to take things without paying for them. Let’s barter! You give me…hm…Hey, boys, let’s see one of those platinum coins!"

Everyone instantly fell silent. I could hear them breathing heavily through their noses.

"Hey!" I turned around impatiently. "I know at least one of you has some of those coins stuffed up your ass! Do I have to frisk everyone?!”

"Just found one…" someone said as they stuck their arm out from behind their pals to hand over the octagonal coin, then instantly pulled it back to remain anonymous.

Buncha cheaters!
I could have easily found that person later by the unique rings they wore.

I turned back to the droid. "Here! You give me one of these platinum coins, and we’ll provide you with gas station services,
verstehen
?"

The assault droid understood. Twitching impatiently, it reached into its droning torso again. The next second, a thin coin, weighing one fourteenth of an ounce and bearing the map of a foreign starry sky, dropped into my palm.

"Nice piece! Here’s your battery. Stop shaking before you drop it. Go on, charge up. You look like crap with your eyes out and all twisted up like that…Oh, and hand over your dead battery so we can recharge it, ’cause you sure ain’t keeping ours."

The droid didn’t mind. It let me take the dead battery from its weakened arm, then started blindly poking the new battery into its belly. The droid kept missing the awkwardly positioned port, growing weaker by the second and nearly bursting into tears.

"Will someone help him already?! Does anyone here know droids?!"

"What’s to know?" a sturdy, shaggy-haired crafter grumbled, stepping out of the crowd. "It’s a modular system, like a kids’ construction set."

He carefully took the battery out of the droid’s hand and reached into its open torso, saying tenderly: "What a clumsy creature."

Click.
The crafter sharply moved back, and just in time before the droid was revived.

Its hatches snapped shut with a clang, both vision sensors lit up brightly, and its force fields and peripheral units blinked as it went into test mode. Its antennas shot out. Its rigging began to drone, coming back to life.

The robot whistled something, sounding happy, then, by all appearances, slightly bowed its neckless armored head. After that it hurried back into the depths of the spiral tunnel.

"Sir, maybe we shouldn’t have recharged it? It was nearly dead. What if they’re all drained right now? We could take ‘em with bare hands!”

"A possibility," I said, nodding. "But to sell is always more profitable than to fight. Pause those mana circuit repair jobs. Also, set up battery sample displays in here. We need casters to turn mana into electricity. We’ll run a little market, a re-fueling station, and a repair shop in here. Let’s see what these guests from the future can offer. Hurry up! I swear to the Fallen One, this place’ll soon be crowded with starving droids who had all gone lame without proper technical care!"

I was right. The muffled buzzing of servodrives, the whistling of anti-gravity devices, the clang of tracks, and the heavy footsteps of war machines were already coming from the depths of the dungeon…

Rubbing my hands together with content, I headed back. The day was off to a good start, the gods were on our side. At least the Dark gods, ha-ha.

By the look of things, we would have those unique coins pouring in again, which was very important. What independence can there be when your enemy is printing your nation’s currency?

A storekeeper scratched his head in thought as he entered the Crypt. There was an alchemist’s pencil in his blue lips. He eyed the dusty demijohn in his hands.

"Why so sad?" I asked him.

"Well…all alcohol we get we bring down here for testing. We compile the wine list according to the ages and flavors of various drinks. We mix new cocktails. Many come out quite interesting, although not without mishaps. That Oroch wine,
Three Axes
, for instance. Its stats are growing like it’s on steroids! But after ten years, it gets too thick, starts to stink, and gets labeled as ‘For Orcs Only.’ I can’t figure out whether it’s a bug or some feature."

I smiled, wishing I had this viniculturist’s problems, then headed back to my private quarters. I ordered a light breakfast, not wanting to stuff myself before going into battle. It wasn’t like I was worried about getting shot in the stomach and the peritonitis that would follow, being in AlterWorld and all. But you do feel sleepy after a big meal, and the battlefield is not the place to sleep.

Having finished my snack, I sat on the bed, closed my eyes and tried to pull my thoughts together. But my meditation was cut short. For the first time in my life, my soul suddenly demanded a prayer. Not so much a prayer to the Fallen One, but rather a prayer to the powers of the Great Balance.

I didn’t ask for an unconditional victory, nor did I wish death to my foes. Justice was all that I wanted. A coalition formed in just a month, capable of resisting the government of the world’s most democratic country along with an army that totals hundreds of thousands of soldiers – that’s not something you find very often.

Time!
I thought.
Give me more time, son of a scabby seraphim! I got the rest covered!

We would’ve made good partisan fighters, but they persistently put us in the defense to fight in deciding fisticuffs battles. In other words, battles that are won by numbers, not maneuvers.

Having expressed my complaints to the Universe, I made the sign of the Holy Circle on myself and gazed upon the fragment of the spider dagger sticking out of the wall, not without a hint of regret.
Have I been too hasty? Perhaps the dagger could have served me in battle just one more time?

Level 500 in five minutes.
How tempting
…It would have taken decades to climb this high by regular means,
if
level 500 was even attainable by such means.

Very few creatures could have helped me level up like that. The risks associated with hunting them were insane. The death penalty was monstrous, instantly wiping out weeks of backbreaking work…

A portal wiz helped me get outside to what my clan mates called the guarded Station 0. It was a high-traffic area, with portal arches opening so often that their roar resembled a deafening cannonade. Cargo traffic was going both ways, day and night.

It was getting dark quick. This was another downside of the fact that we were not the ones choosing when to start the battle. The Lightsters would probably begin their attack at 4 a.m. And this had nothing to do with Nazi habits. It was because early morning was that time when most of our players were offline, and most of their players were, on the contrary, online. Seven p.m. New-York time marked the beginning of the most massive online presence time period on the North American continent. That sucked for us…

At least we got to choose the
place
of battle…We could work with that.

Station 0 was filled with lines of Reenactors. Their faces gray with exhaustion, they were heading into the Crypt for their twenty-four hour break.

I approached an archer with an empty quiver and a peeling, frayed bow-string.

"Greetings!" I said. "Just getting out? What’s the situation down there?"

The warrior looked at me with red, teary eyes, then glanced to the side at the portal wiz choking on cinnamon, and finally deigned to reply: "At first, it was like a shooting range. I fired up to a hundred frags, got three achievements. At any given second, I had three arrows in the air at once. I’d fire till I was utterly exhausted and my bow was nearly unusable. And then, the suckers woke up! There’s about 50K of them down there now, and they’re still pouring in non-stop, from twelve portals. The sky is black with bolts and arrows. We’d gone through six cartfuls of our own ammo before we had to switch to yours. Nice iron, but it’s all outta balance."

"Balance? Arrows don’t have such a parameter, do they?"

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