Portals & Paydays: Chapters 1-3

portals & paydays litrpg action looter shooter sci-fi


I’m about to log in for the first time. I’m just stuck waiting, so I’m streaming over this stupid patch download — like I haven’t been waiting long enough, feel me?

Ya’ll know I’ve never been more excited about a new game, especially since Cap_nJim and SkywalkerTony have been on my ass about getting Meta Mercs since it launched.

Guess some people don’t realize how hard it is to buy a Direct-Link Reality gaming system on a starving artists’ budget. Still, I was able to justify it as a business expense. If you’re watching from an IRS office, that was a joke!

Anyway, ya’ll know RedDev and my obsession. They’re the studio that made Meta Mercs, and that makes them the hottest game developers in the world right now. And lucky me — their HQ is right down the road in Great Oak.

So, really, I’m playing two games here. The blockbuster looter shooter that you’re here to see… and the job hunting game.

I just need to get deep into the community. Maybe meet some of the in-game guides and shoehorn my way into a job interview. If nothing else, I’ll be able to create some kick-ass fan art from the game and get RedDev’s attention on social.

Because I’ve tried everything else. And I’ll admit, if I was gonna take one last hail mary shot at landing my dream job, there are worse ways to do it than playing the most badass game ever made.

Alright! Patch is done.

This is SilkyKD, ready to strike it up!


There were no loading screens. No title cards or opening credits.

Logging into Meta Mercs was like waking up in the morning. You open your eyes and the world is just…there. A ceiling, a bedside lamp, pillows. All of it with some concept artist’s futuristic slant, but there nonetheless.

Of course, I didn’t know that’s what it would be like going into it. I’d just gotten the game, and I hadn’t even demoed a DLR system before. I was the definitive noob. No stats, no gear, no history with plugging games directly into my brain.

But, man, finally breaking those barriers was a rush. I wondered if it felt this crazy every time you logged in. Then my second thought was that I was experiencing the thing that would end the human race. People used to worry about VR leading to a declining civilization, but stupid goggles and gloves had nothing on this.

Being in a Direct-Link simulation was like being in a high-def dream that I could control. Completely indistinguishable from reality. No wonder I had to save up for a year to get it.

And it was all real enough to be better than reality. There was no doubt in my mind that we’d all be slugs strapped up to DLR consoles before long. Who would still be around to care if the world was falling apart? Nobody.

Boom. That was pretty much the first ten minutes of my reaction.

RedDev had brilliantly set the new user experience that way. You wake up in a futuristic bedroom and walk through an amazing domed city. The whole time, you’re looking up through the curved glass at a cosmic art gallery. Stars, nebulae, massive ships floating by.

And you go through these huge hydroponic gardens during the walk. You catch the breezes and the smells of evergreen trees and grass. Birds sing and drones buzz overhead. You hear it all.

It’s brilliant because they wanted you to get instantly hooked to the sensations. The realism.

Where you are at that point doesn’t really matter. The futuristic city probably doesn’t even have a name. What matters is that the walk ends at a corporate recruiting station. This is where new characters sign up and log in for the real action.

Guns and greed. The whole point of looter shooters.

The first thing the recruiter asked me was to pick a faction — a corporation I’d be willing to die for.



The recruiting station was so packed with new players, it was hard to believe the building was the size of a real-world city block. A severe, concrete structure with exposed beams and cables — kinda like a massive hollow cube. The scale and style hit me like a gut punch after walking in from the lush gardens and view of the stars.
It’s like the recruiting station was all business. They’d assailed my senses outside, and now it was time to direct my focus squarely on one objective: the game.
That didn’t mean the building lacked its own stunning sights, though. When I first walked in, a giant holographic RedDev logo hovered in the lobby’s expansive space. Paper-thin video monitors hung from the walls like fifty-foot tapestries, each streaming a player’s POV from inside the game. Every one strobed with muzzle flashes and tracer rounds. About halfway through my walk to the desk marked ‘Registration’, an explosion filled one of the screens and bathed the entire lobby in a red and yellow glow.
The spectacle was enough to make hundreds of people — including me — stop and look up. When the fire and smoke cleared, the screen showed a pile of bodies and limbs around a smoking crater. I didn’t care about the carnage. My eyes fixed on the glowing symbols hovering over the battlefield. The orange, purple, and green icons were Drops.

Loot. The stuff we were all signing up for.

A cheer surged from the crowd around me. I joined the roaring and clapping that shook the recruiting center itself. My fellow noobs clearly didn’t care that there was no one left alive on the video stream to claim the glowing treasures — and neither did I. It was like we were already brainwashed, indoctrinated into that ‘kill-loot-repeat’ dopamine loop that we all paid good money for.

After the uproar, it was like someone had fired a starter pistol. Noobs who’d been standing around watching the screens or lounging around the lobby rushed Registration. And even though the lines instantly filled up, they cleared twice as fast.

Fortunately, patience was my virtue. Possibly my only virtue, depending on who you ask. I didn’t rush the desk, so I didn’t have to deal with the trampling and fist fights that broke out in the commotion. At one point, a guy took so many punches to the face that he gave up and logged off — a downside to being invulnerable during the character creation process, I ‘spose.

By the time my turn came, everything was back to civility. I stepped forward, confirmed that I was the one and only SilkyKD, and headed for a medical exam as instructed.

The decor was about the same on the other side of Registration. Concrete, metal, and monitors, with the only standout addition being a trio of glass display cylinders that ran along a bottleneck in the walkway. Each one featured a mannequin in a top-tier gear set from one of the three corporations we’d be choosing from.

The first was Akhur Industries, made obvious because of the Ancient Egyptian details that marked their specialty gear. Nothing so garish as a Pharaoh headdress or anything, but the glowing hieroglyphics and huge Eye of Ra symbol on the chest armor were a dead giveaway.

Next up was the Krieger Corporation’s display. They had a sort of dieselpunk, sci-fi mashup aesthetic that worked for me. I liked the dark browns and grays of the uniform, and the trench coat and helmet that looked like a gas mask from the 1920s just made it even better.

Sadly, the rest of my clan — if you can call three semi-casual gamers who used to work together a clan — had already joined the third option: the Ouroboros Association. This was a high-tech corporation with a boring backstory about exploration and science. Their mannequin was dressed in a sort of sleek tactical uniform with a lot of glowing circles that — in my mind — would just make the wearer a huge target.

Still, I was stuck with it. Jim and Tony had already been grinding away as Ouroboros mercs for a few weeks, so I didn’t get a vote.

Taking a final, flat look at my future uniform, I stepped off toward medical. Inside the examination area, I went through a scanning process that was largely set dressing for changing my appearance. Sure, RedDev collected medical data for player safety, but this was really about making my avatar taller or enhancing the bulge in his pants.

I did both. I kept my face the same, though. And there was no way I was changing the shaggy black mohawk that was the closest thing I had to a signature look.

Once cleared, I was sent to the final step — choosing the faction that I’d be sworn to for the rest of my time in the game. The medical center opened up to a wide atrium with three huge doors opposite. One for each faction, and all three were appropriately stylized with the aesthetic of their corporation.

In front of each door was a counter manned by in-game moderators and NPCs who helped players choose their allegiance. The one good thing about not having a choice was that I could bypass the crowd of noobs asking questions and go straight to the Ouroboros door.



What up, Silkies!

Hope you didn’t think this was another one of my digital painting streams, ‘cuz you’re about to see me walk into the Ouroboros Hub for the first time.

I didn’t have to wrack my brains for a faction. I’m all Ouroboros thanks to my boys Jim and Tony! Just hope they picked the best corporation to fight for.

You know Ouroboros is all about that research, so they’re kinda like the crafting faction in Meta Mercs. Prolly why Tony was so die-hard for going with the Big O. Personally, I think the Kriegers are tight — and they’re into pulling resources and credits from their raids. But I’ll be shooting the Kriegs instead of repping ‘em.

Never thought much about going Akhur, since they’re into those weird space relics. Plus all the stick figure birds and pyramids, amiright?

Anyway, I’m in the Hub now. Let’s check it out and hook up with the rest of the Rat Kings!


My next stop was Ouroboros Central Labs. Everyone in our faction called it ‘The Hub’. As far as I knew, every faction called their base of operations a Hub, regardless of its lore name.

Our Hub happened to be on the moon, and I got to experience a pretty sick spaceflight from the Recruiting Station — which turned out to be on a massive space station orbiting Earth — down to the craters and regolith of the lunar surface.

After my shuttle docked, it dropped me and fifty other noobs into a passenger terminal with an immense airlock entrance. We passed through it as an eager, awestruck group. Once we stepped into the Hub’s main facility, I wasn’t the only one craning my neck around to take in the view. And considering the domed structure was about the size of a football stadium, there was a lot to take in.

The Ouroboros aesthetic dripped from every square foot — dark, polished metal and blue glowing accents made the station’s interior look sleek and orderly. Huge screens displaying mission details and in-game news covered entire walls, and some were even projected on the transparent dome overhead.

In the dome’s center, a cluster of buildings created a sort of miniature cityscape, with every structure featuring hard lines and a clean smoothness that spoke to the faction’s stated ideals — precision, efficiency, and technological superiority.

Directly ahead of where I stopped to gawk, a directory display waited to point me and the other noobs to the Hub’s key locations. When I spotted my clanmate, Tony, rushing over from the buildings, I knew I wouldn’t need the map.

“Silky!” he called out, waving and grinning ear to ear.

I was so struck by seeing him decked out in combat gear that I couldn’t do anything but wave back. Can’t say I’d ever seen Tony, fellow former barista, in body armor with a handgun holstered on his thigh. And it was pretty much him down to the smallest details — not counting the twenty pounds he shaved off during character customization.

“Whoa! You lose some weight?” I asked, smirking.

Tony chuckled, pointing at my own modifications. “Says the asshole who looks like he’s smuggling fruit in his pants. You seriously thought that was smart?”

“No,” I replied, shaking my head. “I thought it was funny.”

“Won’t be when an Exo shoots it off,” he laughed. “I only told you a million times how much the haptic feedback sucks in this game.”

He didn’t mean it was faulty. My friend just meant that haptic feedback — what RedDev called the simulated pain in Meta Mercs — hurt like a sonofabitch.

“And you’re taller, aren’t you?” he continued, throwing up his arms. “Bigger hit box, bro!”

I looked around at the hundreds of other players milling around the Hub — nearly all of them decked out with weapons and armor, and most of them barely over five feet tall.

“That’s why everyone on the shuttle was so short,” I said, slapping my forehead. “I didn’t think of that.”

Tony nodded. “That’s the meta right now. Might change like it does every couple of weeks, but everyone is rolling short avatars.”

“I’m sure the devs balanced out height advantages, right?”

“Min-maxers worked out that your movement speed is faster when you’re taller.” Tony smirked. “And I guess you can reach higher shelves.”

I laughed. In an old-school game, that wouldn’t make sense. But in full immersion, my physical size was more than just numbers on a stat chart. In the right situation, being a foot and a half taller than everyone else could actually matter.

Or it could just make me a bigger target, like Tony said. Either way, I was stuck with my decision unless I wanted to pay for an account reset — which I couldn’t afford on a broke freelancer’s income, even if I wanted to.

“Now that the proverbial — and sorta literal — wang measuring contest is over,” I said, “you gonna show me the important spots in the Hub?”

Tony slapped me on the shoulder. “No time for that. I’m taking you to the barracks to gear you up. Jim and I have a timed raid queued, and it starts in twenty minutes.”

I cocked my head, grinning at the prospect of sliding right into combat. “Throwing me into the fire already?”

“Threat scaling, bro!” he said, leading me toward the cluster of buildings. “We’ve got to power-level you up quick, and grouping for higher level raids will give you a fat XP bonus. It’s a lot faster than the noob training missions.”

We pushed through a crowd of players gathering around a burger stand built into a sleek kiosk. Why players were eating simulated food, I had no idea. With my first portal raid less than twenty minutes away, I’d have to find out later.

“But don’t I need the training missions?” I asked, the smell of nearby deep fryers and flat top griddles making my mouth water.

“Nah,” he said, glancing back over his shoulder. “We got you.”

For the first time since buying Meta Mercs, I felt nervous. Something about the realism of the food and how it actually made my stomach rumble triggered an epiphany.

If everything looked and felt so real, what was getting killed by an Exo going to be like?

Share this story!

Join Me.

Sign up for updates, freebies, and contests!