Session 5: Simulations and Live Battles
Since waking up in their respective rooms, two weeks and a half have passed, and the terrans have undergone daily training sessions: the morning consists of learning (battle strategies and command tactics for the white team, nanites for the black team) while the afternoon sessions were fighting and training. Within days, scoreboards appear in both rooms while a system ranking people based on their performances. In the white room, Ashlee leads the scoreboard, followed by Adriana, while Sarah is tied for third with Rajiv Harish. For the command team, training sessions consist of fighting battles: matches of randomly paired fighters utilize a virtual reality system to give them the ability to either command their armies from a distance, giving them full view of the battle and the ability to give commands to each unit, or to command within the battle in the midst of it and actively participate.
Pain is very real in these simulations, and it’s apparent to everyone that these battles affect placement on the scoreboard. After some time, Ashlee faces off against Wen Shan, an average opponent. Early on in the battle, she gets a notification on her headset that she has an infiltrator behind enemy lines, behind their commander, with assassination capabilities. Taking advantage of this, she orders her troops to feign a weakness in order to entice Wen Zan to advance and lower his defenses. The other Command Squad members, who are spectating the combat, are shocked at what seems to be the worst possible move she could be making. Ashlee remains out of the game, while Wen Zan takes the bait, and suddenly the stimulation ends, and even though it seems like he met the victory criteria, he takes off his helmet while cursing, rubbing at his back. He asks Ashlee how she won: everything was going right for him, until he felt a stabbing pain in his back and saw blue flames before the stimulation ended. She refuses to tell him, since the rules state that they can’t discuss the battles until the end of the day. After some other fights, Adriana pairs off against Rajiv Harish. During the fight, they are evenly matched, until Adriana things she sees an opening. She presses forward, but suddenly she feels an excruciating pain going up her ribcage, and the stimulation ends. Shocked, she listens to Rajiv brag about his victory, but she trips him on the way out. More time passes, then Sarah goes into the room to face Hans, who is low on the leaderboard and seems already defeated. When the battle starts, it’s clear that Sarah is at a huge disadvantage, and none of the Command Squad thinks she can win: Hans has a mountain pass and a much larger army with an arcane squad raining down destruction on Sarah‘s army. Quickly after the fight starts, Sarah receives a notification which tells her that she has a demolition/assassination expat behind enemy lines. She tells him to set off explosives on the cliff side, to divide the army and distract them so he can kill Hans. Sarah joins her fighters on the battlefield, and as soon as the explosions go off they charge, forming a shield wall to deflect spells and falling rocks. They easily smash through Hans’s forces. As they run, Sarah looks up to the cliff side. Her infiltrator, holding out a metal arm with a detonator, pulls back his hood: it’s Marco, and they make eye contact before he jumps into the falling debris. Moments later, the stimulation ends with Hans holding his neck and sighing sadly.
Sarah walks back to the main hall with Ahmose, who congratulates her (since they’ve begun training, Ahmose has taken to calling her Little Bull and often tells her that she’ll earn her brass ring some day, something which is obviously important to the minotaurs) and pulls out a suspicious flask to help her celebrate her victory. Eager to tell them about what had happened, Sarah rushes to her friends, but they stop her to ask about the flask. Ashlee, brave but also wanting to drink, volunteers to try it: it’s salty but strong. Adriana tries some, which is less salty, and Sarah gives it to Ashlee after a small sip. They recount their experiences in their battle simulations. Ashlee didn’t see her infiltrator, but she saw blue flames before it ended. Sarah tells them about Marco, reassuring Adriana that her brother is alive and appears to be well, and they wonder if Joel is similarly okay.
Meanwhile, the black team also undergoes their daily simulation training. Joel and Marco lead the scoreboard, since they were the only team to succeed in the sneak training, even though they technically killed the command team. They are closely followed by Avdotya, Liza, and Natalia, a trio of Russians who have consistently demonstraded their skill, effifiency, brutality, and love of inflizcting pain. Joel goes first in his stimulation: he is told to follow his orders exactly, and soon he is commanded to assassinate the commander of the enemy’s army. He does so with ease, stabbing a Chinese man in the back and leaving his trademark blue flames behind. Hemaka praises Joel for his attack. After some time, Natalia, one of the Russians, goes. While spectating, Joel watches as she attacks Adriana. Instead of killing her quietly (like Joel, Natalia was supposed to kill quickly and ensure that her target couldn’t scream), she makes sure that Adriana suffers by stabbing her in the back and gouging up through her ribcage. Natalia makes sure to kill all of Adriana‘s guards as the stimulation ends, eager to make them all suffer as she leaves them to die. Joel is disgusted, but he’s glad to see Adriana alive. After a few more matches, Marco goes in, with Joel‘s encouragements. He easily sneaks through the enemy camp, setting demolitions on the cliff wall with any problems. Pulling off his hood in a signature move as he detonates the devices, he makes eye contact with his charging commander. Though Marco doesn’t recognize her, Joel (spectating through Marco’s eyes) immediately knows that it’s Sarah, even though she’s covered in blood. The stimulation ends, with Marco getting also perfect praise from Hemaka, and the Russians are yet again ranked behind both Joel and Marco. When they all return to the black main room, Ahmose comes and asks Joel to go with him. Joel asks about Adriana (who Ahmose calls Evil Eye) and Sarah, and then he asks to speak with Natalia, and he steadily burns an eye into her skin without her noticing.
He leaves with Ahmose, who takes through a series of hallways and doors to a room which overlooks a planet. This room is a bright white, with gold and silver trim, starkly different to the room Joel has been starting in. Asgardians walk about, along with Geb, and Joel finds himself face to face with Loki. He holds out a hand to shake, but Joel coldly rejects him, referring to their earlier conversation about feedstock. Loki tries to have civil discourse, and he clears up some misconceptions Joel might have about their situation. He tells Joel that there is a mission for him, and a team from the command squad, to go down to the planet and investigate a Synodian ship crash site. Joel agrees, even after a reminder that if any one else finds out about this mission, they’ll kill Loki and all of the Terrans. Ahmose, cowed by Loki, takes Joel to the white room, where they find Sarah, Adriana, and a drunk Ashlee hanging out. Surprised, they greet Joel and bombard him with questions. Pip immediately interrupts, and he quickly irritates the others with his literal nature. Ahmose promises to get Ashlee some more to drink later. Joel is given a key to access both the white and black rooms, and they agree to set off in the morning one they’ve all rested and Ashlee had sobered up. The next morning, the PCs are told about the terrain and given equipment to investigate and mark the Synodos for attack.
When they arrive, they realize that they have no idea where they are. Ashlee suggests climbing higher to get a birds’ eye view, but the other PCs are skeptical. Sarah asks Pip to fly up to investigate, forgetting his literal way of following directions, and he files into the air and yells down at them. When he returns, he tells them that there are lots of enemies around, and they are coming from below. After a brief fight, the PCs defeat two iron defenders (which appear as dogs) and an iron cobra, and they are left wondering what their next move should be.