Portals & Paydays: Chapters 15 and 16

portals & paydays litrpg action looter shooter sci-fi



My teammate’s big finale was simple — and proof that he was scary good at predicting what other players would do. 

“Best skill you can have in PvP,” he said, after I lauded his plan for the grenades. “Truth is, most newer players go for the obvious.”

He assumed that Jim and Tony would think the same about us. We’d proven the quonset huts were good hides, and Blackrune deliberately set up a game of tug-o-war over the one that still stood. 

He was sure the enemy would think our plan was to hold this one just like last time. But that was too predictable for Blackrune.

“We hide in that pile of crates, wait for them to rush the hut, then frag ‘em,” he said. Either the grenades would take them out, or they’d come running out in a panic — easy prey.

The ace up his sleeve? This quonset hut was missing a window, courtesy of a few well-placed shots he’d taken while I was busy flanking Jim and Tony.

“Think you can wing these through that hole?” he asked me, dangling the two recovered frags in front of me with a grin.

I nodded, though it showed more confidence in my throwing arm than I really had. 

“Good,” he said, dropping the orbs in my outstretched hands. “‘Cuz I want to shoot ‘em if they run out.”

We took up our concealed position behind the crates, only a few feet from the quonset. I had a clear angle on the missing window, and Blackrune could easily cover the front door just by leaning out. I pulled the pin the first frag, my fist tight around the triggering spoon.


We waited for audio cues, and they came almost right away. Boots crunching on leaf litter, then the brutal shriek of the enemy’s grenade detonating inside the hut. After they were sure they’d cleared the building, Jim and Tony’s footfalls turned dull and resonant against the hut’s diamond plate floor. 

They’d rushed in. 

I sprung up, let the frag’s spoon fly free. After counting a two-second cook, I threw. The grenade grazed the window as it arced into the hut, but it made it in. 

A shout of surprise — Tony  — but I was already tossing the second frag. This time, I took the initiative and hurled it toward the back door. 

A good call. Tony ran right over the frag as it blossomed into an eruption of fire and dirt. I had to look away from the aftermath — but averting my eyes just gave me a clear view of Blackrun’s rapid semi-auto shots cutting down Jim in mid-flee. 

I couldn’t help myself this time, and a victory whoop burst out of me like we’d just medaled in the eOlympics. Blackrune let loose in the wake of it, pumping his arm and belting out a chain of celebratory obscenities. 

“Loot ‘em?” I called out, remembering we only had a couple more seconds to liberate gear from their corpses. 

“Don’t bother,” Blackrune said, smiling ear to ear. “Time’s about up.”

Had he been counting in his head the whole time? Somehow, I couldn’t put it past him. Regardless of how he was keeping track, he was dead on. A few seconds later, the jungle camp blinked out of existence, replaced by a Mission End screen that filled up my entire field of vision.

Kills, headshots, and a comparative timer. I skimmed past it all and focused on the big, glowing words at the bottom:

Red Team Victory

Jim and Tony would be impressed. I hoped.


Closing the Mission End screen put me right back in the Training Center, standing beside the simulation portal that no longer glowed green or red. 

Jim’s face was glowing red in its place, and with his helmet sitting halfway across the room like he’d thrown it, his shaved head looked like a ripening tomato.

Gee gee,” he said, forcing a smile that did nothing to cover up how pissed he was.

I smirked, then as Blackrune popped into the room, offered my teammate a high five.

Tony, who had been brooding silently until then, walked over and slapped both of us on the back. “That was…something else. Good job, guys.”

 “Thanks,” I said, letting my gaze drift back over to Jim. He didn’t look impressed, but he’d get over it. This wasn’t the first time I’d seen him get his ass handed to him in PvP. Not by a long shot.

“So, the million-credit question,” Blackrune said, unstrapping his helmet. “We pass?”

Tony looked at Jim, and when the glowing tomato didn’t say anything, gave us both a nod. “I’d say so. That didn’t go down the way some of us expected…” His eyes flicked over to Jim. “…but that was a hell of a show.”

“We gotta do it again sometime,” Jim cut in, finally stepping over to the rest of us. “Different map. One with no bullshit exploits.”

As much as I wanted to correct him — hidden entry points weren’t exploits — I let it slide. Luckily, so did Blackrune, who humbly agreed that a rematch was definitely in the cards. 

Honestly, I was proud of his sportsmanship — how was he not bragging about turning Jim’s stupid initiation against him? I don’t know what the Meta Mercs equivalent of a teabagging would be, but I’d probably be cutting loose with it if I was in Blackrune’s place.

Instead, he just punctuated the congrats and back-slapping by asking what was next for the clan.

“We’re gonna have another go at the portal that killed you, Silky,” Tony said. “Maybe get past the lion Exos and actually pull out a relic.”

So that’s what we were there for. I had been wondering what kind of loot we’d be able to pull off of dire lions — if they hadn’t eaten our faces. Seems like they were just an obstacle between us and snagging some kind of Exo artifact.

Not what I expected since it didn’t fit the ‘Resources, Relics, and Research’ division between factions. Ouroboros was all about the last one — it was Akhur Industries that was supposed to be after alien artifacts. 

“What’s the relic?” I asked.

“It’s pretty sick…” Tony started.

Then Blackrune cut him off. “A small disc that you can stick in your pocket. Creates some kind of kinetic field that absorbs a single bullet.”

My eyebrows raised. “Then what?”

“Then it recharges two hours later,” Tony answered. “Might not seem like much, but it’s the meta for surviving a sniper round to the head right now.”

“Avoiding it, really,” Blackrune corrected. “But same difference.”

I’d have thought Jim was fuming through the whole conversation, considering his sealed lips. But glancing at him, I could tell his excitement was overpowering his embarrassment. 

I shot him a grin, and he smirked back. Jim was catching on — Blackrune wasn’t some stumbling idiot who I’d taken in like a feral dog with mange. He was a real operator. An asset to the clan.

“When do we go?” I asked, equally eager to get some real portal time under my belt.

Tony pulled up his combat shirt’s sleeve and looked at his watch. “Portal opens for us in an hour.” Smiling, he walked over to Jim’s helmet, kick-snatched it like a soccer pro, and tossed it to him. “Which means we have time for chow.”

“And some planning couldn’t hurt,” I added. “I’ve been eaten by lions enough for one week.”




After switching to our ‘walking around gear’ in the training center’s locker room, the four of us — Rat Kings, one and all — made our way toward the food stands near the center of the Ouroboros dome. 

We were greeted by the typical surging crowd of fellow players as soon as our boots hit the pavement in the shadow of the training center’s big, ominous cube. Dozens of men and women in our faction’s grayscale gear moved up and down the thoroughfare. Some had long arms, shotguns and rifles, slung from their shoulders or across their chests; others traveled like us, sans full armor, with sidearms strapped to their hips or thighs.

As I learned during my very short stint as a guard, carrying weapons inside the dome was largely a matter of showing off. Unless you were on your way to a portal and didn’t want to gear up right before the raid, it seemed like walking around fully armed was just an unnecessary burden — of both weight and risk.

Personally, watching Jim two paces ahead of us, struggling to carve a path for our little troupe, I was thankful not to have two tons of battle-rattle hanging off me.

“Does anyone accidentally shoot someone walking around here?” I asked Tony, who was fighting the crowd to stay in step with us. 

“Accidental discharge?” he replied. “Sure. Not often, but it happens. Most peeps are careful so they don’t get banned.”

His eyes flicked over to Blackrune, but our new member didn’t seem to notice. That he had been outright executed in plain sight was proof that Afterlife had connections among the Game Masters. Maybe even the developers. 

Deep in the back of my mind, that was probably why I let myself get indebted to them. Not so much to save a stranger, but because something in my gut said that if I wanted to get the developers’ attention, Afterlife could help.

But where’s the magnanimity in that? At least Blackrune took it as a selfless act. And now we’d added a kick-ass player to our ranks.

That’s what went through my head as we maneuvered through alleys and piles of sci-fi set dressing. I not only wanted to keep it to myself, but had a strong desire to push the thoughts away entirely. I liked the idea of ‘Silky the Selfless’ a lot more than ‘Silky the Guy Who Creates Problems for His Own Gain’.

“What’re we eating?” Jim asked over his shoulder. He immediately collided with a girl wearing so much armor she looked like a turtle, groaned, and rolled his eyes.

“Chow Hall has a line, as always,” Tony said, standing on tip-toes to see around the masses. Smirking and looking back our way, he added, “There’s no wait at the Nutrivat.” 

“Ugh,” Jim replied as if it were an instinctive response.

I threw up my hands. “This seems like a lot of crap to go through to turn on the dermal patch.”

Nutrients pumped into our bodies via the Immersion tech. A brilliant way to keep people playing longer, but it was all part of the simulation. You want it, you’ve got to pay with in-game currency. Eat that simulated cheeseburger and pay out the ass for it — or save credits with a tube full of food paste from the Nutrivat.

“Beats paying to have a pizza delivered in RL,” Blackrune said, shrugging. “And I’d rather not chug Nutripaste. Tried it, hated it.”

I raised my eyebrow at him. “Thought you didn’t have any credits left after buying the crowbar.”

“Got a few,” he said, smirking. “But I figured the clan would be buying for the new initiates.”

Jim’s judgmental gaze snapped to Blackrune so fast, I thought his neck might have snapped. Tony nodded, though, and I had more reasons to support the suggestion than I had credits. One reason being enough, in that case.

“Fine,” Jim said, rolling his eyes again. “Then it’s my pick. Sushi stand.” He stormed off toward the array of food vendors without waiting for our input.


Luckily, the huge courtyard of tables near the food stands had a lot less cross traffic to worry about. Round tables for four were abundant enough that we were able to hunker down with our food right after the NPC — if it was an NPC, not a player earning credits — handed it over in little plastic trays.

Jim didn’t hesitate to dig in, devouring rolls covered in eel sauce with his fingers. “Funny how I love this stuff in game, but can’t stand it in RL.”

Tony chuckled. “Probably ‘cuz in real life, it doesn’t taste like whatever you’re eating.”

“Whatcha mean?” asked Jim, looking up from his tray while still shoveling food to his mouth.

“It’s sim food, bro. They could be making it taste like something you do like. And that something could taste nothing like sushi.”

Jim shrugged. “Guess so.”

I took a mouthful of the Ouroboros Roll — yellowtail, mango salsa, and cream cheese — from my own tray. I used chopsticks. 

“Tastes like the real thing to me,” I added after scarfing down two more bites.

Tony shook his head. “‘Cuz that’s what you want it to taste like, feel me?”

“Whatever,” I said, chuckling. “It’s good.” Glancing to Blackrune, I asked him about his tray full of California Rolls. 

“They’re alright,” he came back, “but it really makes you wonder. This is like…the definition of price gouging. They can make anything taste like anything. The Nutripaste could taste like lobster.”

Tony laughed. “That, it does not.”

“Exactly. They inflate the prices kind of arbitrarily, don’t you think?”

“How’s that different from a restaurant?” I asked. “Costs less to eat from a drive through than from a place with cloth napkins.”

“That has a lot to do with the ingredients. But not here. It’s all just an on-off switch for the dermal patch. They’re selling brain chemistry.” 

I pensively watched Blackrune down a couple more bites, thinking. 

“Okay, so not like a restaurant,” I added. “But that’s pretty much how game economies have worked since forever. People spend hundreds of bucks on skins. They’re not real. They don’t even do anything.”

Blackrune shrugged. “Yeah, I s’pose so.”

“Hey,” Jim cut in, narrowly hitting me in the face with a flying grain of white rice. “Stop questioning the logic and just be glad you’re eating on our dime, new guy.” Then he smiled, and I realized he’d switched to being friend-level abrasive and wasn’t trying to be a dick.

Blackrune laughed and held up his palms. “No doubt! Thanks for the chow.”

“We start hitting these portals hard,” Tony cut in, “and you’ll never have to eat Nastypaste again.”

“Sounds good to me,” Blackrune said. He was still smiling, but something about the light behind his eyes said that he wasn’t done questioning the game.

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