Recreational Reality

Digital Magic

Hi, I'm Josesph Johansenn, and I'm a maintainer of the Nexus. That's about all there is out here, after all. Over a hundred years ago, climate catastrophes swept this planet Earth, and millions died in the resulting aftermath. The people of the world came together and built this, the Nexus. A massive world-spanning computer - well, in truth a collection of trillions of tiny computers, each one simulating a spot within the Nexus. A digital universe where people could live. So much of the population transferred themselves into it, and lived in there, as there were insufficient resources for them out here. A select group stayed behind, as us along with the AIs, are tasked with maintaining it, and improving as needed. That's my job, after all, to ensure all those tiny computers work optimally in concert to weave a great tapestry of digital reality.

As part of my job, I can look inside the Nexus. Kind of like watching a movie, I can see the people who live there, flying around in their ships, building cities from digital dirt - just about everything (that's publicly viewable, of course.) They're fascinating people, living time in an accelerated fashion. I might go on vacation for a couple weeks to find nearly a year has passed. It certainly helps the viewing never get old, that's for sure! But sometimes I look in, and wonder. Do they really not realize they're all living in this massive computer? That their world is just ones and zeroes when it gets right down to it? And is ours, too? I guess people in the Nexus don't have such concerns or worries. They grow and live, fight and compete in tournaments, and just seem to enjoy things so well. Who am I to do anything than help preserve that? My wife works the same job, and the two of us care for our two kids, so they may have a life here, among the last few to keep things running. A noble job I have, I suppose. Universe maintainers aren't exactly the most well-sung of heroes, but certainly the most necessary.

• • •

Hi, I'm Anita, and I'm a 3---. Which is not the best start, but I'm hoping to do better. My parents are sending me to military school on Klamath Station, after all. But right now I live in the Anz Community. A nice small town on the outskirts of the city of Tiobei near the Andazian mountains. Great views and all that. My parents are decorated veterans, and have fought for what feels like centuries. The neighboring factions are less than friendly, although we do have a tenuous truce right now. My parents are all work and no play, as you'd probably expect, and are always hassling me for spending too much time talking with friends and visiting them in holorooms and what not. I just wish sometimes they could relax and enjoy the scenery. This dimension is so nice, and it seems such a shame to work all the time and not enjoy it!

Oh? Which dimension is this? Well, thousands of years ago, our people left our homeworld of Earth, and traveled across dimensions to this universe. It's pretty amazing, as it has magic, faster-than-light travel, and even better - things can be constructed by hand from the basic components of materials we find around everywhere. The ability to manipulate reality has allowed us to live without scarcity, and expand across the galaxies. It's not without its problems, though. After all, that number I mentioned earlier? Everyone has one, and it indicates your Type, Power, Magic, and Stamina. Not everyone is nice to those who don't have the best number. I suppose that's no different from how it has ever been. At least you can improve it, although training is hard! And they'll probably work me to death at school. To be honest, I'm not really looking forward to going.

• • •

So I suppose our story started like any other around here. One day I was watching the Nexus. Patching a connection here or there, making sure all the diagnostics checked out. And I saw another ship leaving for the military school on Klamath Station. Watching the students was always fun. They were young and full of life, and did all sorts of unpredictable things. It was also fun watching and seeing what numbers they would get. Maybe one day I could see someone truly heroic emerge. Of course, no matter who I'd root for, I had no influence on their lives. My job was to watch, and make sure everything kept running, not anything else.

• • •

So today was the day. I was on the transport ship to boarding school, and throughly not enjoying myself.

    "Oh, come on, Anita," my friend, Janice said, "it's not going to be that bad."
    "You don't have my parents!" I said, "they're not going to be happy if I get anything less that a perfect score! On every class!"
    "That's almost unheard of," another friend of mine, Tomal said, "I don't think anyone can expect that."
    "They'll also expect me to have at least one five, anything less will get me practically disowned!" I said.
    "Seriously, we know your parents are hard-asses, but I think you're overreacting," Janice said.
    "Alright fine. We'll see when we get there."

• • •

I saw as the ship pulled into dock, and the students off-boarded, probably to get their class schedules and room assignments. Each one of these transport ships was different, which always made it interesting. After all, that's how they built things in the Nexus - each component could be constructed from the basic building blocks of the environment, then you just needed to combine them together to make something that was flyable. Looking cool was optional, but apparently important.

• • •

Ugh. Room 57A. Inner ring, view of the main classrooms. Rarely seeing the planet Oasaia. Very studious and super boring location. At least it was a single, although tiny.

I stood outside the room, looking at the other doors right next to me. I eventually decided to enter. It was microscopic. One bed, suspended above a single desk. Barely enough room for my backpack, but hey, what did I expect? It's not like I'll spend much time here anyways.

I dropped off my stuff, and locking the door, headed back into the hallway. I only had precious hours before I had to go to bed for the night, as classes began at 0800 tomorrow. Jeez, why do they start so early?

Walking towards the cafeteria, I finally saw a good view of my homeworld, Oasaia, from the massive glass windows. It looked so beautiful from up here in orbit, clear blue skies, a few clouds here and there, and the great green oceans and forests. I loved it so much, and from here in orbit, it looked... so far away.

    "Hey! Looking back at Oasaia?" someone behind me said.

I turned around. Oh great, how did he get in here? I mean, I obviously know the answer, it's just... that's Armen, a 4--3, from the year ahead of me. He's... a bit show-offy.

    "Maybe," I said, "I'm sure you've seen it plenty of times already."
    "Never gets old, though," Armen said, "of course, I have a similar view from my room. Where are you staying?"


    "Nowhere in particular," I said. Wait, did I just say I was staying in nowhere. Great, let the gloating begin.
    "Inner ring, am I right?" Armen said, with more than a hint of smugness. "Well, I hope to see you around, I have quite a bit of training to get to, after all."

He walked away, back out the hallway. I furiously searched for a component or something to kick at him, but finding nothing, decided to sulk back to my room.

It's going to be a long year.

• • •

I found a processor needing to be replaced, but noticed it was almost lunch break. At this rate, I'll miss the first day of classes. That, and you never know what craziness the students might get into on their first night there.

• • •

Ugh. It's three in the morning. I really shouldn't be pacing the hallways now. I don't know if it's anxiety or dread, but I just can't sleep!

Three rings on this station. I feel like I've walked them all. Well, except the central section - that's where all the classrooms are, and of course, it's locked. You know, it's not like I blame them or anything, I know I'd lock myself out too.

However... I heard some noises from a nearby room. Walking up to it carefully, I saw her. Jansen Iiola, 4534, one of the head teachers, and one of the best fighters the school has seen. What's she doing training this late? Early? People like that, I don't even know.

I saw her kick down the walls in the training room, as I peeked in from behind the cracked-open door. The components and atoms flew out, scattering across the floor. What I wouldn't give to be able to do that one day. Of course, my parents probably expect me to be like her, if not better!

I snuck away, and back to my room. Best not to disrupt anything too much on my first day. It's not a good idea to upset any of the teachers before you've started. And messing with fives is practically suicide at my age.

• • •

Ah, minasha sandwich, my favorite. I sat inside the great machine, the ribbons of current all around me - the grid of computers stretching as far as I could see in all three dimensions. You know, there was something comforting about being here. The blue sky and mountains were nice for vacations, but there was something about this place. I know I couldn't see them without the scope, and obviously they couldn't see me. But this place - this mess of (highly-organized) digital architecture? Nowhere else felt more alive.

• • •

First day of classes. This is what we'll be covering all year. Whatever. Nothing new. Basic Combat. History. Language. Strategy. Pretty standard stuff. Construction looked at least slightly interesting. But what I really wanted, was to learn about the universe. Exploration wasn't until next year. Sigh.

Oh, and homework. On the first day! The nerve!

    Walking down the hallway, Janice said, "so, what class are you most looking forward to?"
    "Probably construction," I said.
    "So you can build a spaceship out of here?" Tomal said, "I thought you liked punching and kicking things!"
    "Well... weapons are more my specialty anyways," I said.
    "Sounds like you're trying to still be a total downer," Tomal said, "I know something that will cheer you up! Gepache ball!"
    "Really?" Janice said, "already? Isn't this just the regular season? I don't watch a game unless it's a championship. Or at least a semi-final."
    "These games are the best!" Tomal said, "they haven't gotten used to all the new rules, so you can see some crazy strategies!"
    "Hmm, I guess, what do you say, Anita?" Janice said.
    "Oh, I suppose. I have some work to do, but I can take a bit of time."
    "Great! It's playing on screen in like 50 minutes!"
    "Oh right, we wouldn't want to be late," Janice said.

• • •

Lunch time over. Time to replace that processor. Good, no ships or people in that location. I wouldn't want any disruptions. Best to keep the glitching to a minimum, and this way I don't have to hot-swap a replacement. That always takes longer.

• • •

And so the next few days went on like this, training, studying, taking lousy pop quizzes. Typical stuff, really. I still had a chance to hang out with my friends, so it wasn't all bad.

Until that day. That day in basic combat class.

    "Today we will be beginning partner training. Now, everyone pair up based on your seating assignments, and we can begin," the teacher said.

The diagram flashed on the front classroom screen. Oh no! Not Jun! He's a 45-- of all things! Great, just great, he'll probably flatten me at this rate. We all walked over to the training pad, and paired up. Some looked pretty happy - I mostly just tried to hide my fear.

    "Hey Anita, haven't seen you in a while," Jun said, across from me.
    "Yeah, I guess not," I said. And if I have anything to say about it, it won't be for a while too!

We exchanged some basic forms, just like the teacher instructed. It wasn't hard, just tedious. Mostly embarrassing to be next to Jun. I knew him from childhood - grew up just a few blocks away. Saw him in first school, but yeah, even back then he always seemed just... better. I've always felt incompetent next to him, although I bet he doesn't have a problem with it!

Sparring time. Woo.

I blocked and parried, I'm pretty sure he was moving me backwards on the pad with each strike. If only there was an opening! Why is he even in this class? He feels like he's already been training (probably with his parents) for years! Wait! Kick and...

Poop. I ended up against the wall.

Wait, why are people looking? Did I break a component?

I looked down, oh no! This day couldn't get any worse!

I was now a 3--2!

• • •

That must have hurt! I saw the whole exchange - not a good way to get a new number, and not a very good number at that. I'm not sure I've explained the numbers yet - but each person in the Nexus gets four of them. They're ranked on a scale of one to nine and indicate their prowess in a particular area. One or two is usually below average, three is about normal, and four and five are above average - leaders and teachers. A six is a hero, and seven is practically mythical - I think the admiral of the entire sector has a seven, although it's been a while since I've seen her. Eights are stuff of legends, and I've never even heard of a nine.

Either way, I hope she does better. I've been watching these students for a few of their days already, and she really feels like she just hasn't gotten into the groove yet. Sometimes their first years are like that. I certainly hope she enjoys her time more in the future.

• • •

Sulking in my room. Excellent strategy. Maybe if I just study these magical programs forever, I can get a good number. I've always been better at this - even if they don't include it in the first year curriculum!

A knock on the door. Probably not going to answer.

Another knock. Still not answering.

A third. Alright what is it?

I stormed up to the door, and saw Jun standing outside. What does he want!?

    "I just wanted to apologize," Jun said, "I... never expected that strike to give you a number! I was just having fun, and well, sometimes I can't control myself. I really let you down."

Wait, he's apologizing?

    "If there's anything I can do to make it up to you," he said, "I'm just offering."

I stood there, honestly not sure what to say. I've hated him by proxy for years, but... I guess we never really did have a chance to talk.

    "What's it like? Having a four and a five?" I said.
    "It's... a lot of pressure, you know? My parents expect me to be this great hero, and well, I guess they just want me to do better, right? I can't blame them, I just, you know - sometimes I feel like if I don't win everything, they'll disown me or something."

My gods. He's got the same feelings I do!

    "Yeah, I can feel that," I said, "now try living up to those expectations when you have a three and a two! I'm going to get fried when I get home - oh man."
    "Sorry to hear, I guess our parents are more alike than we thought, right?"
    "I suppose so," I said, "hey... maybe we could get together sometime. You know, for a fun activity, or something? Maybe you can help me train up?"
    "Sure! I'd be happy to, I don't... really have much going on these days but training anyways."

• • •

Time to leave. Time to see how wife was today, and how the kids were at school. I'm sure they'll grow up to be great maintainers as well, if that's what they want. And so, I packed up my tools, and said my customary farewell - it didn't matter if no-one could hear it, it felt real nonetheless.

Goodnight sector 679022. And goodnight Oasaia, and the Klamath Military School. May you enjoy your next few days, and may everything continue to run smoothly. The night shift will be on if you need anyone.

• • •

Three in the morning. I was about to do something really dumb. But hey, I was with friends, so it's not that bad.

    "I still can't believe we're going to do this!" Tomal said.
    "I still can't believe you invited Jun!" Janice said.
    "You know I'm right here, right?" Jun said.
    "We need someone with the strength to bust open this door! I already disabled the security systems, but this thing is massive!" I said.

We all stared at the large metal maintenance door. It led straight into the spaceship hangar. These ships were mostly used for dogfighting practice. But today? They were our ticket out of here.

Jun went up to the door, and lifted. No luck.

    "Try punching it, I've always wanted to see a five in action," Janice said.

I made a brief disgusted face, then rolled my eyes. That should be sufficient to get my point across.

    "Uh, maybe a kick?" Jun said, kicking the door strangely silently.

Maybe a disconnection program? I waved my hands and spoke the words of power. I lowered the weight of the door, and weakened the joints.

    "Try again," I said.

He kicked again, and the door creaked off the wall, and landed down with a loud thud.

    "There's no way someone didn't hear that! We should go!" Tomal said.
    "No way, we just got here, let's hop in before anyone notices!" I said.

The four of us rushed into the docking bay, and hopped in the nearest speeder.

    "Does anyone know how to fly this thing?" Janice said.
    "I've done basic flight training, come on," I said, hopping in the driver's seat.

Punching the accelerator, we took off through the forcefield, and flew off into space.

    "Woo!" I said, not being able to help myself. "I mean, well done everyone. Now, we just have to be back before classes start, and no-one will know any better."
    "Where are we going first?" Tomal said.
    "I always wanted to see the Coranian Waterfalls," Janice said.
    "I heard the Deserts of Velar are quite nice. Although come to think of it, it would be night there now, right?" Jun said.
    "Yeah, probably," I said, not remembering the timezones. "Waterfalls it is!"

We coasted down towards Oasaia, and flew low through the clouds.

    "This is so cool!" Tomal said.
    "Glad we didn't leave?" I said, smirking.
    "Yes," Tomal said.

The jungle rushed beneath us, as I flew us low and fast. With luck we won't raise any defense alarms. This ship had a friendly transponder, and no-one was out here in the middle of nowhere anyways.

Unless - there was!? A huge tower was dead ahead! I swung us around to the right - but it was too late, three ships were following us already!

    "What is that?" Janice said.
    "I don't know! There's not supposed to be anything out here! That's why I went this way!"
    "Maybe it's a defense outpost?" Jun said.
    "Not unless they just built it! I've snuck way too many looks at my parents' defense maps to know this area is empty!" I said.

I dodged closer to the trees, heading away, but they were still following!

    "What's that warning about?" Tomal said.
    "Missiles!?" I said, noticing the panel was flashing and beeping. No defense outpost would shoot at us! They must be... the Fanshan Union! One of the rival factions just a few light-years from here!

Points of light hit us from behind. The ship disintegrated, and we fell into the trees.

• • •

Morning sector 679022! Probably uneventful the last few days, but I took a look nonetheless. Always good to see how they're doing when starting a shift.

Huh. That's a lot of ships heading to the school. I wonder what that's about. I peered into the command center to see if I could get a better view.

    "Sir, there is a very large number of ships heading towards us. Transponder indicates Fanshan Union," I saw one commander say.
    "What?" the head teacher said. "How is that possible? The defense grid should have picked them up! Battle-stations! Send for emergency help, and put all students on lock-down!"

Well. That explains that. Good news is that battles are always spectacular. Bad news is that they really shouldn't be attacking a school! I know people in the Nexus can't die from combat - but that's still a scumbag thing to do.

• • •

A few more ships flew overhead as we trudged through the swamp. We just had to get shot down by a rival faction here! Couldn't it have been at the beach or something! I sure hope my parents are okay! And everyone else for that matter - if they managed to set up an entire tower undetected - this is probably a serious invasion! You always hear about faction wars, but you never expect to find one in your own home.

    "I can't believe the Fanshan Union is really here!" Jun said, "I thought we had a truce."
    "You know they were planning on breaking it as soon as it was convenient for them," Janice said, "and I guess that's now."
    "Obviously!" Tomal said, "we're totally busted, though! We don't have a ship, and the planet is being invaded! I don't even want to know what the penalty is for that!"
    "We're not responsible for the invasion - grow up," I said to Tomal. Sheesh.

However, responsible or not, it was coming for us. Loud crashes could be heard up ahead. Probably tanks, headed straight for our position, taking down any trees in the way.

    "Quick! Are there any components around we could use? Ships? Weapons?" I said, looking around nervously.
    "No! Of course not! We're in the jungle, it's just plants and water, you can't craft anything useful out of this trash!" Janice said.

Great, just great. I didn't want to die here! Of course, I would respawn at home. But then - oh man. I would be in a planet-sized amount of trouble!

The crashing came closer. Maybe... just maybe... I could make a magic shield, and protect us from the tanks.

It was a long shot the length of the galaxy - but hey, desperation can really give you confidence!

The trees in front of us crashed down. Three tanks, sporting flags of the Fanshan Union all right. Ask us to surrender? Nah, we were of no value to them. They lowered their guns to us.

I spoke the words of wisdom. A powerful reflective shield I had read about. Fourth-year stuff for sure - if we were lucky, it would take out one of them. Well, at least a fourth-year would be able to cast one like that.

But I didn't.

The tanks fired at the blue energy shell, and it exploded.

A powerful blue light blinded us temporarily. But once it passed, we looked around. All the tanks were gone, along with half the surrounding trees.

    "You... you..." Tomal stammered.
    "What? It worked?" I said, sounding confident, "I told you I have been studying." Sulking does give you plenty of extra time, after all.
    "Look at yourself," Janice said, looking shocked.

What? What are they talking about?

I looked down. I had a seven!

I was 3-72!

• • •

Well now, this battle wasn't going too well. The defense fleets were tied up defending the cities. And the school was practically left alone. Escape pods constantly streamed from it, as the students were evacuated planet-side. The head teachers were valiantly defending, when disaster struck. The Fanshan Union's invasion specialist, a 4763, decided to show up. The bolts of energy were spectacular, and I could have sworn he stepped out personally, and cracked the station in two. The school's leader had a six, but was no match for him. The station gave off smoke, as the main section had been broken. A few spare components floated out and were picked up by the invaders. I didn't look into the bridge, but I could almost hear their smug laughing. They had clearly been planning this for some time, and caught everyone (myself included!) by surprise.

It was times like these I wished I could help. You know, restore the balance and fight the good fight. But that was not my lot in life. I had to keep everything running smoothly and silently. All I could do was root for the home team, and make sure nothing was burned out by the battles raging around the sector. They were rather computationally heavy, after all.

• • •

I still couldn't believe it. I just stared at my hands. At my number.

    "So, Miss 3-72, where to now?" Jun said.
    "I uh," I said, still shocked myself. "I guess the mountains? We'll have better luck with raw materials there. I seem to have vaporized the tanks, and I don't see any more ships overhead." And frankly, seven or no seven, I wasn't feeling confident enough to attack!

We walked back into the foliage, trudging once again through the swamp, until the trees began to thin out, and a light snow could be seen above the mountain peaks to our east.

Walking through the chaparral, we saw a glint of metal in the distance. If we were lucky, it was a wreck of some sort that we could salvage.

Coasting down the tree-lined foothills, we saw it. It wasn't a wreck, nor a base, nor, well, anything we had seen before.

    "What is this place?" Janice said.
    "Looks like a temple to the gods or something," Tomal said.

I was not inclined to disagree. It was a great metal sculpture. Platforms on either side, and small circular one in the center. Spires extending towards the heavens, and all pattered with strange lines and circles - like nothing I had even seen before.

    "What could it be?" Jun said. He tried punching a spire, but it didn't budge. "It feels indestructible!"
    "Yeah, I'm not even sure this is made out of normal components! Whoever made this was a crafting genius!" I said.

We walked around, marveling at the strange architecture, and also looking for anything useful.

• • •

Only one burned-out processor. That's actually really good for how much had been going on here. Oh wait - that looked like a problem. A loose connection.

I shimmied my way over to a dusty section of the sector. It looked like this area hadn't been maintained in years. And not their years, but physical years - so practically an eternity by their standards.

I took a look inside the Nexus to see where this mapped - just to be sure no-one would see any maintenance glitching if anything needed replacing.

Looked like the Andazian mountains. No wonder, nothing but snow and patches of forest, one of the most remote places on Oasaia. Even more remote than space in many ways.

But wait - the loose connection corresponded to a processor which handles... a strange circuit-board-looking thing? Huh. Never seen that design in the Nexus. How historical. It was probably some kind of strange reference to their world's true nature. If only they knew.

Hey! There are those kids too - how did they get here? I feel I missed some of the story, as I doubt an escape pod would have crash-landed in this spot. Anyways, might as well test fixing the connection, they look pretty distracted anyways.

I touched my circuit manipulator to the connection, allowing data to once again flow.

• • •


    "What was that?" I said, looking behind me at the loud sound.
    "A huge lightning bolt! It just came out of nowhere and struck the center platform!" Tomal said.
    "Lightning? On a clear day?" Janice said, "that's ridiculous."

We all looked at the center platform, and boom! Another bolt of golden lightning struck, then vanished as soon as it had arrived.

• • •

Huh. This connection just doesn't want to stay. I already tried it twice, and it just keeps tripping itself off. I'd never seen this before. In all my thirty years of service. Never.

I looked again at the Nexus to see if anything had changed, and all the kids were staring at the center of that circuit-board temple. Huh. I hit replay on the viewer, and saw that lightning had struck there. Twice. Just in time with my connection fixing.


There's no way.

The two worlds are completely separate, right?

We can't influence each other.


• • •

How. How is this possible? I've never seen anything like it. Never even heard of anything like it!

    "It's a message from the gods! It's the only logical conclusion!" Tomal said.
    "They want someone to stand there, I bet," Janice said, "that's what this place is built for. That center platform is only big enough for one person."
    "But what would happen if someone stood there?" I said, "I don't exactly fancy dying by lightning."
    "You should go, though," Jun said, "don't you see? The invasion? Your seven? It's like a mythological prophecy."

Nah. That's ridiculous. Stories like that haven't happened for centuries. If they ever happened!

    "I don't know about that, seems pretty far-fetched, if you ask me," I said. That, and I was frankly crazy-nervous about the possibility of him being right!
    "It... makes a strange sort of sense," Janice said, "maybe you should try it?"
    "Go on Anita, we believe in you! Someone has to test it, and you're by far the best candidate," Tomal said.
    Jun nodded his head in agreement.

This was ridiculous! Suddenly I've gone from being a total nobody, to having a seven, now they're all thinking the gods have chosen me for something? Well, I can't blame them. Sevens are crazy rare! I still can't believe I had one. There might only be three or four others in the entire sector!

    "Alright, fine. We've done so much crazy stuff lately I guess this is just the next step to the looney bin," I said, stepping up and standing in the center platform.

I still can't believe I'm actually doing this. I feel like I just accepted a dare to try breathing in outer space!

    "And if I die here, you're buying my lunches for the next year!" I said.

• • •

And... she was standing right where the lightning had struck. Do I dare see what happens? Is this strange circuit-board temple indicative of something greater? It hasn't been used in years, and nothing is available in the information system.

What should I do? Wait for guidance? They'll leave before that happens. Do I dare?

Do I try...

To make a difference?

• • •

Lightning struck once more. And surprisingly, I didn't die! I felt fine - really good, even! I looked at my friends, their mouths open in surprise.

    "What? What are you looking at? Nothing happened?" I said. Or at least, it felt like nothing happened.

Jun pointed at me. I looked down.

No way.

I was 3972!!!

• • •

A 9. She had a nine. And was it really me who gave her that number? A maintainer influencing the Nexus? Unheard of! I didn't even know it was possible! And yet somehow... some way... the two worlds met for that one moment.

My pad pinged. A message from the AIs. That guidance I had requested. Took them long enough.

'Leave as-is. No further work required.'

I was done with that section. Did they know? They said the AIs knew everything, and saw everything. That they would tell you before you did anything wrong. So it must be right. A gift from my gods too, in a sense. The ability - to make a difference.

• • •

Yep. This is definitely a dream. I pinched myself, I looked at my hands, I waved them around.

Nope. It was real.

    "3972!" Tomal said, "no way! Uh, can I call you that now?"
    "Heck yes!" I said, stepping off the platform, feeling more confident than in my entire life.
    "It is an honor to be at your service, 3972," Jun said, "and I hope we have many more adventures together."
    "Thanks!" I said, "wait - if this is a gift from the gods, then you know what that means, right?"
    "We stop the invasion," Janice said, "although this also means you can't complain about your numbers again, right?"
    "A fair trade," I said.

Now if I remember correctly, all we need is a magic program to allow flight. And vacuum breathing. I remembered them, but yeah, no-one would be crazy enough to fly into space by themselves during an invasion, right?

Oh who cares. I have a nine! We're doing this!

• • •

I watched them take off from the ground. My hero, Anita 3972, soon to be the hero of Oasaia, and many other places, most likely. I felt as though - well, I couldn't really describe it. It wasn't a feeling I really wanted or needed, but it was... strangely satisfying nonetheless. It was like I had reached inside, and given someone a great gift. As if... as if... I was there with them.

Well, enough existential pondering. This battle, I had to see. And probably from the Fanshan Union's flagship. They had no idea what was about to happen.

    "Detecting a small group of energy signatures heading towards us," an officer said, "looks like four small people, using magical programs to traverse space."
    "What?" the Admiral said, "not even in an escape pod? Are they... defecting?"
    "I have no idea," the officer said, "they're approaching one of the lead ships."
    "Do they even have any weapons? What are they hoping to accomplish? One hit and they'll be sent back home!"
    "The lead girl is carrying a magical sword, sir," another officer said, "and she is now swinging it at the ship?"

Yep, that ship just exploded in a massive white fireball. You see her seven for magic? Pretty amazing - stuff of heroes. Her nine for power? Well, she could almost crack a planet with a single swing.

    "What!?" the leader said, "how? What is her number?"
    "Checking now..." another officer said, "no way - she's 3972!"
    "Retreat! The entire invasion! Everyone leave now!"
    "But sir, don't we have a seven?"
    "Versus a nine? Are you kidding me, get us out of here - oh no -"

She flew towards the lead ship, the one I was watching, and with a single strike, snapped it in two, and it too exploded. Components flew everywhere as the other ships scattered.

You know, as fun as this is to watch, I better make sure nothing else gets burned out. This is some serious power on display - even if it is deep down all just ones and zeros.

• • •

And so that's how it went. Blew up the invasion fleet, flew back down to Oasaia, and destroyed their tower base in the jungle. Was hailed as a hero. Then of course, sent back to school.

Well, 3972 or not, I haven't completed my training! At least they fixed the place up, that's always good.

And better yet? Room 370 - outer ring, and a gorgeous view of Oasaia.

So I guess that's the end of my story? Hero of the sector, 3972.

Signing off for now - after all, I still have a lot to learn, and teach. Because the truth of the matter is, no matter how low it might seem right now, the future could always be brighter than you might ever imagine.

• • •

Time to sign off for the day again. And this time I will have quite the story to tell. Should I mention my influence? Or is it better left a secret? Was the gift from the gods to me? Or to her?

Perhaps both of us received a gift today, and I look forward to many more wonderful days in the future.

So goodnight sector 679022.

And goodnight Hero 3972.

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Published on Recreational Reality by Metafictional Press. First Version 2019 January 5, Latest Version 2019 January 5.