INTERLUDE : EARTH 3B
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EARTH 3B

Day 56; 0845 (Morning)
Focus: TL7

As the convention gained steam, more interest pertaining to the world of Halios became apparent. Questions regarding local flora and fauna, climate, plate tectonics, gravity, Natural Energy and how it influences Earth's laws of physics, and so-on, were asked merrily.

Unfortunately for the guests, inquiries regarding how the world was generated in the virtual space were all rejected -- mostly in-part, due to confidentiality or lack of hard proof.

Eventually, the guest's questions veered-on to different topics, while those still interested in the virtual space revised their methods of questioning in order to squeeze-out more information from the panel.

For TL7, who was prepared to wait for quite some time before having to speak-up, the time to provide answers arrived unexpectedly quick.

*TAP* *TAP*

A nervous-looking guest tapped the microphone meant for guests who had trouble yelling their questions to the panel.

Nervous Guest: "Ah. S-sorry. Yes. H-hello. Uhm…I was told that there was an issue with the 1st Beta Phase of experimental force-transfers...that one person was adversely affected by the procedure. Could you explain the situation to us?"

*MUMBLING* *WHISPERS*

Naturally, with how the question was asked, a few voices of concern emerged from the crowd.

Man: "Force-transfer?"

Woman: "There was an accident?"

Before the situation got out-of-hand, TL7 intervened. Answering this type of question was the only reason he was part of the panel after all.

TL7: "Hello. I can answer the young man's question as soon as the room settles down."

After a couple seconds, TL7 continued.

TL7: "Thank you. There were a few terms used in the question that require explanation. So, I will clarify those terms first, prior to moving-on to the answer."

"The term: 1st Beta Phase, refers to the first batch of closed beta participants testing-out our full-dive VR tech."

"The term: force-transfer, refers to our in-house or on-site term for 'plugging-in' or 'logging-in' to the virtual space. As the term implies, one's consciousness is 'forcibly' transferred into the virtual world after a verification procedure is passed, similar to how a car is forcibly turned-on with a turn of a key or push of a button."

"However, the word 'force' conjures-up negative connotations regarding the procedure, even though it is completely harmless. Because of this, we collectively have chosen NOT to use the term force-transfer outside of our research."

"As to how or why the young gentleman asking the question managed to acquire this information...well, all I can say is that, it is rather curious. But that is a matter we will investigate for another time."

The very moment TL7 completed his last sentence, the nervous guest involuntarily flinched. 

The warning message SC5 gave to all the guests earlier in the day, replayed itself over-and-over inside the young man's mind:

"Ask your questions...At. Your. Own. Risk.”

After confirming that his not-so-subtle message got through to the nervous guest, TL7 moved-on to the answer.

TL7: "As for my answer. It is true that one of our beta testers suffered from ill-effects during the log-in procedure. But after thorough investigation, we ruled-out the process as being at fault. Rather, we found that an individual with a grudge against the participant was responsible for the wrong-doing."

"The specifics are confidential, however, we guarantee that those responsible for such misconduct have been apprehended and given a method of punishment fitting of their crime."

"In addition, we have amended our procedures and security protocols to ensure that another incident similar to this doesn't happen again. We take the safety of our testers very seriously."

TL7 internally cringed after telling such a blatant lie, but he kept his poker face composed, without a hint of his true thoughts.

Salvaging what remaining courage he had left, the nervous guest asked a follow-up question.

Nervous Guest: "W-what happened to the...participant? The tester?"

[So that's what you're after…] TL7 thought as he stared at the young man. [...too bad.]

TL7: "I apologize, but that information is confidential. For the safety of our testers' identities, we will not disclose anything more than generalized statements."

With TL7 quickly ending his answer, topics for the Q & A session once again bounced around incohesively.

Eventually, they veered back towards the world of Halios. This time inquiries regarding medicines, sciences, logistics, languages, land masses, governments, and so-on were asked. Each question varied in complexity and specificity.

It was around late morning when the next ground-breaking question was asked.

Investor: "Greetings. It might be a tad bit early for me to ask this question, however...as a current investor in Project Prometheus, I feel the need to sate my curiosity sooner rather than later...can the panel explain to us what archetypes are? Are these specifically assigned roles given to the close beta testers? If so, how varied are they and what is their purpose?"

*MUMBLING*

Man 1: "What does she mean?"

Man 2: "Be patient, lad. We will all know in time."

Whispers amongst the curious crowd came in waves until SC5 finally decided to respond.

SC5: "The archetype system currently being tested was not originally slated to be part of the first closed beta test. However, due to large advancements in that area, we as a whole, decided to create a minor exception, allowing 30 of our testers to experience the archetype system on their own."

Scanning the six team leads responsible for forcing the operation's hand, SC5 held-in her contempt.

[These irresponsible people. To force the operation to lose 30 baseline test subjects just to feed their own egos...they better bring results...if it wasn't for SC4's convincing argument to let them continue with their work, they'd already be disposed of.] 

*WHISPERS*

Mumbling amongst the crowd quickly jolted SC5 out from her mental space and back to reality. After recovering, she continued.

SC5: "Ahem. Pardon my silence. As the name archetype implies, the system is our first attempt at creating a role-system unique to select users. These roles range from leadership, trade, management, and even combat."

"Once the initial testing of the archetype system ends, a new derivative system will be created, boasting better controls and a wider range of role options catered to each user. We believe this will lead to a genuinely unique experience inside our virtual world."

"As for specifics…these six here are responsible for monitoring the progression of the 30 participants currently testing the archetype system. I'm sure they will have more suitable answers to give."

SC5 stared down at the six team leaders, causing all but one to fidget nervously.

TL2: *scoffs* "No problem. I can take over if you want."

The prideful TL2 announced without a shred of respect.

TL2: "To add to what was already said, the archetype system delves deep into the human potential. What I mean is that, those with role-specificity will be capable of achieving feats far greater than those without."

"Take for instance, the Commander archetype or the…"

Looking around the room, TL2 smirked before continuing.

TL2: "…the Magus archetype."

*MUMBLING* *WHISPERS*

As he expected, announcing such a role riled-up the guests, but rather than clarify, he proceeded to dish-out information at his own pace, paying no mind to the crowd's mixture of confusion and excitement.

TL2: *scoffs* "The simulated natives on planet Halios are fully capable of achieving the roles I had just mentioned. However, doing so will take many years of hard work."

"What if we had the ability to accelerate that role designation so that the user can immediately experience the responsibilities that the role entails? Wouldn't that provide invaluable experience for the user? That is essentially what our archetype system is attempting to do."

"Now, I know what some of you might be thinking: Halios is a virtual world, why not just alter the world itself to fit the user? *scoffs* My answer to that is...it isn't as easy as you might think."

"Halios is a virtual world generated using the accumulated data of Earth's greatest scientists and research institutes. In essence, it is a unique world in its own right -- one we can't easily tamper with without wiping-out the entire virtual space. Doing so-"

White Gloved Man: "Pardon me. I hate to interrupt, but what do you mean by Magus? Would you mind expanding on the subject? 

TL2 arrogantly smiled and dismissed the questions.

TL2: *scoffs* "Relax buddy, I will get to-"

White Gloved Man: "Clearly none of us here are interested in leaving, so performing such under-handed tactics like dangling a piece of information above our heads to elicit our interest in your research is...well, simply beyond moot. We are already interested, and we are already listening. Why not spell it out for us? I believe the proper question has been asked to grant us such information, am I not wrong?"

TL2: "Ahem. Why are you in such a rush? Is the information I am providing not sufficient? Why haven't you spoken-up when the others were giving their answers?"

White Gloved Man: "Simple. I do not appreciate your attitude."

TL2: *scoffs* "My attitude? You must be joking."

White Gloved Man: "It is as-if you are looking down at your guests -- everyone here -- from atop an ivory tower. You are condescending, and rather irritable."

TL2: *scoff* "Look here-"

SC5: "Answer our guest's question and be done with it. We don't need anymore of your antics."

SC5 interrupted with a commanding tone.

TL7: "Haaah…"

TL7 sighed while rubbing his temples.

[I wonder if I can excuse myself for the remainder of the convention after today. I can't take anymore of this mind-numbing charade.] TL7 silently thought to himself while playing observer to the exchange.

TL2: "Tch. Fine. I get it. The role of Magus is self-evident, meaning mages are real...in the virtual space."

"There is a foreign type of energy present in the simulated world of Halios. The natives call it Natural Energy or Life Energy. Strictly speaking, this energy is what is often referred to as 'magic' from stories of fantasy and superstition."

"What's more interesting is that, since the world was generated using real data collected by scientists here on Earth, it is highly plausible that a world similar to Halios, including its unique form of energy, exists in the universe."

"Now onto-"

SC5: "Thank you for your answer."

SC5 cut-off TL2 before he got too carried away with disclosing restricted information, silencing him indefinitely. At least, until another question requiring his expertise is asked.

Turning to both the white gloved man and the female investor who had asked the question, SC5 continued.

SC5: "I hope that satisfies both of your inquiries."

With a simple nod of agreement from both, the matter was settled.

[I'll have to find a good reason to reprimand this bastard after the convention is over.] SC5 thought to herself.

The convention resumed at a normal pace after TL2's pitiful exchange, ending for the day at noon.

◊◊◊◊◊◊

Day 56; 1215 (Afternoon)
Focus: TL7

TL7 left his seat on the Q & A panel after all the guests had left the conference room to attend a catered lunch in another area. His overall feeling about the convention was that of disgust.

[Even if I wash myself continuously for an entire day, I don’t think I’ll be able to rid myself of this distasteful feeling.]

While he contemplated over methods to redeem himself, SC4 stealthily walked toward him and gave his greetings.

SC4: "Hey there! TL7, come walk with me."

TL7: "..."

Having no clue what SC4 was up to, TL7 omitted a verbal response and just followed along.

SC4: "What are your thoughts on the conversation thus far?"

SC4 asked, as the two men walked towards the cafeteria.

TL7: "A bit messy."

SC4: "Messy. Hmm, I agree."

TL7: "It's to be expected."

SC4: "Oh? Why do you think so?"

TL7: "The convention was a last minute event announced by the execs. There really wasn't much we could do when given only a few hours to prepare."

"It's a miracle SC1 was able to hide such a defining feature on the planet when she presented that hologram."

SC4: "You mean the massive whirlpool in the northern region of the planet's ocean?"

TL7: "Yes, the one roughly the size of Jupiter's Red Spot."

SC4: "Interesting. Interesting. You sure are talkative today. Especially for someone who does not approve of my ways, don't you agree?"

SC4 mocked.

TL7: "Hmm. That may be true. However, now that I am aware of your certain peculiarity, I'm not really that inclined to give you any grief."

TL7 responded, stone-faced.

SC4: "Hahaha. Now I'm curious what type of rumors are being spread about me. For someone like you to pity me is well..."

SC4 smiled mischievously while imagining inappropriate things.

TL7: "Something in the realm of schizophrenia."

SC4: "WHAT!"

TL7: "I'm paraphrasing of course."

SC4: "Acting is not the same as schizophrenia. It is ACTING! Acting, damn it!"

SC4 protested as he tried to justify his random personality changes whenever he talked with TL7. It was a method he employed to understand the true faces of his subordinates.

TL7: "You are pretty good."

SC4: "...pardon?"

TL7: "I've got to hand it to you, I can't tell if the face you're putting-on is the real you, or one of the many psychopaths that live inside your head."

SC4: "God damn it. Look here you little shit-"

TL7: "Oh, boy! Another special character. Should I be honored that you graced me with so many different versions of yourself?"

TL7 mocked with a monotone voice.

SC4: "..."

Feeling that he had reached his limit of goading, TL7 eased-off and went back on-topic.

TL7: "Ahem. Anyway...what did you want to talk about?"

Rubbing his head in frustration, SC4 sighed before responding.

SC4: "Haaah. Alright...I wanted you to hear this straight from me. Once this 2-day conference convenes, you will be assigned to work with TL1 -- who oversees Subject 502 -- and TL3 -- who oversaw Subject 513 -- in a special co-op involving what we had discussed previously."

TL7: "Oh? Care to remind me what that was?"

SC4: "TL7, there is a limit to what I am willing to endure."

TL7: "..."

[Looks like I've walked just beyond the line of contempt.] TL7 mused.

The two men remained silent as they entered the large cafeteria and ordered their food. Only after sitting down did they resume the conversation, this time with cooler heads.

SC4: "Continuing where we left off, the answer is: the search for 513. Since your scientist was involved in the incident, you will be taking part of the co-op as a way of taking responsibility."

TL7: "Fair enough."

TL7 quickly responded while stuffing his face with fries.

SC4: "Since the archetype holders can no longer be considered part of the 1st Beta Phase's primary group, I have ordered Pre-Alpha and Alpha teams to break protocol and establish limited contact."

"In 502's case, he is being trained by a large, militaristic group approved by the team in charge of observing Travellers taking residence in Cole's Keep. The goal is to have him establish a search party to look for 513 once the winter season on Halios comes to an end."

"Since the Kingdom of Colesty is the most revered nation on the continent, it will undoubtedly become a hot-bed for current and future Travellers. Luckily, we have plenty of observation teams around the area to monitor the situation."

"Anyway, back to 502. I've read the research paper regarding the tweaks made to his brain chemistry. Apparently, the paper submitted by TL1 claims that the 'Hero' title isn't just in name, but also mentality. I believe that he is the best candidate for the job."

TL7: "You've told me this before. How certain are you that 513 is still alive? Honestly, I lost interest in him once I became inundated with work."

SC4: "I've received news that the Teroseribe family had another vision. Same location as before; new monster..."

"...by the way, thank you for clearing-up that political mess involving Joseph Miller and the Saren family. We would never have gotten this information so quickly if it weren't for your efforts."

TL7: "Eh, he was my responsibility."

TL7 responded while casually shrugging his shoulders.

SC4: "I know, it's not much, but the vision clearly showed something interesting regarding the man fighting that...incarnation of death…"

SC4 shivered after remembering the vivid depictions of the grub.

SC4: "...he was...the man was wearing segmented, laminate leather armor and used a modified kite shield"

Lifting one of his eyebrows out-of curiosity, TL7 responded.

TL7: "Oh?...are you saying the natives aren't capable of manufacturing such equipment? They are not incompetent you know. There are a few nations capable of rivaling even our latest technologies."

SC4: "What you say isn't wrong, but that is not what I implied. I don't expect team leaders to know this information since your focus is on other aspects of the operation, but historically speaking, the natives have NEVER used laminates for armor -- on Halios, lamination is a technique reserved only for decoration."

"This is because the random mixture of materials makes it difficult to enhance and reinforce items with Natural Energy. It is much better to produce goods from a single type of material. Frankly speaking, laminate armor is wasteful and inefficient in the eyes of natives..."

"However, a person from our world wouldn't think this way. Especially if they know nothing about Natural Energy or how to use it. That said, not just anyone can produce laminated armor from scratch."

"It makes me wonder just who 513 was before he became a test subject..."

"I've heard rumors that Subjects 501 through 530 were individuals specifically targeted to be used in the archetype program. If that is true, then those subjects are likely more compatible with their assigned roles than I had previously thought."

TL7 chose to ignore the last portion of SC4's statement, knowing that a breach in a subject's personal record was a punishable offense.

TL7: "Hmm. Let's say that I'm convinced about the laminated armor. What about the shield?"

TL7 asked while biting into a burger.

SC4: "A kite shield is not a shield design used by the natives. They don't use horses in battle."

TL7: "That's it?"

SC4: "Strictly speaking, even here on Earth, the usage of kite shields were limited to Europe and wherever the Byzantine Empire had firm control."

"The shield design is tailored for horseback riding and combat."

"Since natives use larger, more powerful mounts on the battlefield, the design for the kite shield was never considered. Most native shield bearers preferred round shields, oval shields, crescent shields, convex shields, or large tower shields for auxiliary protection."

"When factoring Natural Energy into the equation, the need to use a shield drops, since natives could simply boost the defensiveness of the armor they already wear."

"In summary, it is highly unlikely that the person described in the Teroseribe visions is a native of Halios."

"Since all other subjects have been accounted for, it could only mean that the man fighting those hellish monsters is 513."

TL7: "Hmm."

Seeing reluctance in TL7's eyes, SC4 continued.

SC4: "Whether you remain skeptical or not, does not matter. The assignment has been finalized. You will work with your designated partners for the full duration of the co-op, which will continue until the mystery surrounding 513 is resolved."

TL7 shrugged as he casually accepted his assignment.

TL7: "By the way, where's Layla?"

SC4: "Oh, her. Her assignment to me has ended, so she left. To where, I don't know."

SC4 said while smirking at TL7.

TL7: "Is that so? Then could you explain this note for me?"

After talking, TL7 handed SC4 Layla's note, which had 'Land Acquisition' written on it.

SC4: "What's the meaning of this?"

SC4 asked while staring dumbfoundedly at the note.

TL7: "No need to be coy with me. None of us working here are saints, but I cannot condone a full-scale invasion of a planet we are still investigating. We still don't even know why the Guardian reached-out to us or why it helped us develop force-transfer technology."

SC4: "...TL7, you may not believe me when I say this, but I have no such plans. My only interest is in research. World domination, especially in another world, is beyond the scope of any of my personal goals. Hell, it's beyond the scope of any nation on Earth."

"The very moment the natives catch onto the idea that we plan to invade their homeworld, they'll exterminate all of our test subjects." 

"Travellers aren't the omnipotent beings that some of your counterparts seem to think they are. Sure, they have an advantage over the majority of the native population, but they are no different from high-born natives blessed with powerful genes."

Once SC4 finished talking, TL7 feelings on the matter became complicated. Even if he didn't believe SC4's sincere response, he couldn't deny the truth behind what was said. He knew very well that Travellers -- the test subjects -- only had a slight advantage over the average populace, and that the natives could easily wipe them out.

TL7: "...then…"

SC4: "Haaah. You'll have to ask Layla in-person for those answers. Now that she's gone, well-"

TL7: "I'm S.O.L."

SC4: "Yep...Well, I'll be heading back first. I still need to brief your other colleagues of their assignments."

TL7: "Alright. Til' our next meet."

SC4 nods to confirm TL7's sentiment, then leaves.

As he watched SC4 disappear into the crowd, he turned his gaze towards the note that was handed back to him. 

After a few moments of confusion, he scratched his head in annoyance and muttered to himself.

[Layla...why give me such a foreboding message?]

---Chapter End.

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