Portals & Paydays: Chapters 7-9

portals & paydays litrpg action looter shooter sci-fi


What up, Silkies?!

I just finished reading up on everything in the game that isn’t about portal raiding. Turns out, they pretty much built a new world with a functioning economy in Meta Mercs.

Tradeskilling, researching, reselling. There are even paying jobs you can take — so I’m signing up. I didn’t feel like working the chow line or doing construction on the Hub, so I took guard duty. A thousand credits for a ten-hour shift, plus chances for combat-related skill raises.

Sounds sick, right? Hope so, ‘cuz I’m about to start my first shift.



“You signed up for guard duty?” Jim asked after logging back in. “Noob mistake, man.”

I frowned. “Why? You’re the one who suggested it!”

“Nah. I was just…ya know…listing the options. You should have found some videos on it…”

“Screw it,” I cut in, my frown turning into a scowl. Jim was far too obsessed with letting people on the internet tell him how to play games. “It’s a paycheck. I get actual combat, not just a mauling from space lions.”

Jim sneered. He was still mad that we botched the Limited Portal and had to be locked out for so long.

“It’s boring,” he said. “You stand around getting tiny amounts of XP in Perception and shit. No other faction ever attacks the Hub because the base assault PvP mechanic sucks.”

“What about infiltrators?” I asked. “The guide said something about spotting and arresting infiltrators.”

Jim shrugged. “I guess if you’re lucky. There are NPC and PvP infiltrators. They steal faction points. ‘Spose you could just walk around scanning every single person in the Hub.”

“If I have to, then I have to.”

Jim nodded. “Just make sure your shift is over by tomorrow morning in-game. Three day lockout on the Limited, but we can still do a Quick Raid once a day until then.”

“Yeah,” I said, “I saw that in the guides.”

Even after finding out about time locks, the mechanic still surprised me. It seemed like a lot of players spent a majority of their time locked out of the portal combat — which is why I assumed anyone played in the first place.

Though there were ways to bypass lockouts. Passes bought with real-life money was one of them. You could also shorten the lockout times by playing on higher HFLs, joining a Clan with bonuses in effect, or when your faction spends points to reduce wait times.

And these were all things that had become part of that functioning economy. Not just the manufacturing and sale of weapons and tactical gear, but research, point farming, stat boosting, and all sorts of ancillary trade.

As for me, the great SilkieKD, feeder of space lions, I had to get to my first work assignment.


The devs made it feel like a real guard assignment. I had to report to the Security Department building toward the dome’s center, sit through a briefing, and put on a special uniform by touching an inventory unit in the Security locker room.

Fifteen Ouroboros guards of varying levels filed out of the building and started our patrols. We all looked alike, although we were permitted to keep our personal weapons as long as they fit the Security Department uniform and safety codes. No colorful skins, and nothing that would pose a danger to the dome or its inhabitants. Like no grenade launchers on foot patrol.

It really came across as a legitimate job in so many ways. Thankfully, they didn’t push it to the limit with designated lunch breaks or anything. There were checkpoints scattered around the dome, and that was pretty much how the game tracked our deployment and patrols. Our shift was essentially free to roam the Hub as long as all thirteen checkpoints got scanned every half hour.

“Hey,” a voice game from behind me, accompanied by running footsteps.

I turned and saw a fellow guard catching up. “What’s up?”

“I’m new, too,” he said, fidgeting with his guard issued helmet. “Just started today, and I’m not ready to jump into the raids. Want to partner up?”

“For the patrol? Sure,” I said, shrugging. There were enough guards to scan all the checkpoints even if a few of us teamed up. “I’m Silky.”

My new partner smiled. “I’m Blackrune,” he chuckled as we shook hands. “My name in Lords of Magic. Makes less sense here.”

I laughed, smacking him on the shoulder. “Not a lot makes sense here, bro.”

He agreed, then asked what my plan was for riding out ten hours of guard duty. I told him my hope was to walk a circuit of all thirteen checkpoints and basically get the full tour of the dome. I’d run ID scans on everyone I saw along the way, and maybe snag an infiltrator.

“Fire,” he said. “We walk, talk, and explore — then get paid for it.”

And that was the gist of it. Blackrune and I walked to the outer wall of the dome and used security access doors — a perk of the job — to reach catwalks that gave us better sightlines around the Hub. We chatted about our experiences in other games, stopping every few minutes to run security scans on the players walking around below us.

“Seems weird that there are only fifteen of us on this shift,” Darkrune said, absently holding up the security scanner to click the next person. “If another faction raids our Hub, we’re the only ones who can access the perimeter defenses. No one else can fight until the attackers are inside the dome.”

I shrugged, also point-and-shooting passersby with my scanner. “My bud told me no one ever does base raids. I guess they’re not fun or too risky or something.”

“I guess…” Blackrune trailed off. He did a double take at his scanner then shoved it in my face. “Is this what I think it is?”

The device’s small screen showed a red indicator around the last person he’d scanned.


“Oh snap,” I said, trying not to freak out and scare the target. “That’s an infiltrator! Who’d you scan?!”

Blackrune stared back into the crowd milling around ten feet below our catwalk. After a slow sweep, he pointed a gloved hand at someone in a light gray Ouroboros lab uniform. “Him! Is that an NPC or some kind of tradeskiller?”

“I dunno, but stop pointing. If he runs, someone else might get him first.”

Racking my rifle’s action and chambering a round, I took off toward the nearest stairwell. Sure, I could radio in the find and let someone else arrest the infiltrator… but what’s the fun in that?


I learned the downside of the catwalks real quick. Great vantage, terrible access to the main floor. It also gave the target a pretty good view of us, so Blackrune and I had to alternate between laying low and booking it when the Infiltrator in the lab coat wasn’t looking.

Luckily, the bastard’s path was pretty parallel to the catwalk itself. We only had to worry about losing sight of him in the crowd of players below, not so much him putting too much distance between us.

“Almost to the security door!” I said, slowing down at the edge of the dome. “You stay up here, Blackrune, and keep eyes on him in case he tries to duck out. I’ll run down, bag him.”

My patrol partner nodded before snapping his eyes back to the Infiltrator below. I shoved through the inner security door and down the stairs, taking three steps at a time. Sweat beaded under my guard helmet, and my palms got clammy as hell around my assault rifle’s grips.

By the time I burst out of the lower security door into the Hub’s common area, I probably looked like a sweating, shaking lunatic. But it was only adrenaline — and I didn’t care how it looked.

Grinning, I scanned the crowd. We were about to take down an Infiltrator on our first ever guard shift.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t see Lab Coat through the crowds of armed players that always seemed to be streaming from place to place under the dome. I waved to Blackrune to catch his eye, and he pointed down and to my right.

Hugging my weapon tight against my body armor, I strode off in that direction. That meant shouldering my way through a few crowds, but most of the other players seemed understanding that I was a guard on a mission.

Eventually, I caught sight of him when he strolled into an empty alley between a cantina and some kind of accessory shop.

Since he wasn’t the only character around in an Ouroboros lab coat, I popped him with the security scanner one more time to be sure.

Yup, still unregistered.

Shoving the scanner back into its belt holster, I took a firm grip on my rifle. A couple of quick steps got me within ten feet of the bastard.

“Ouroboros security! Stop!” I yelled, shouldering the weapon and placing the holographic sight square over Lab Coat’s chest.

The guy took a short step, then turned. He didn’t seem jumpy, but he didn’t look like he planned on freezing, either. Now that I could see his face, wrinkled and emotionless, the whole thing made me feel uneasy.

I clicked off my safety. “You’re being detained! Stop moving!”

Lab Coat tilted his head and smiled.

Then I unknowingly made the freaking huge mistake of blinking the sweat out of my eyes.

That split second was all the Infiltrator needed to close the distance. By the time I pulled my trigger, he’d grabbed my forward wrist and pushed my rifle’s muzzle toward the sky. I ripped off two shots before realizing I might be shooting the dome. Somewhere overhead, Blackrune was shouting orders — or expletives. I was panicking too hard to tell.

Split second thoughts flashed like strobes. Try to break his hold on my weapon? Go for my sidearm? Kick him in the goolies?

Lab Coat was much more decisive, and with a strike to the inside of my elbow, he disarmed me, kicked out my knee, and used my own rifle to put me in a chokehold.

Yeah, it was fast — he moved like a blur — and seeing as how I was still getting used to the Haptic Feedback, it hurt like hell.

Good thing the Infiltrator wasn’t as skilled at choking people as he was with kicks and jabs. I was able to at least wrestle the rifle off of my throat and keep him busy while Blackrune…wait.
What in the hell was he doing?

“Shoot him!” I yelled into the air. Not being in the position to look around and take stock, I had no idea where my patrol partner was. “Blackrune! Come on!”

Then he appeared around the corner in front of us. A Level Two savior, greener than beer on March 17th. Blackrune didn’t bother yelling — he just took his stance, aimed his rifle, and fired.

I knew he hit the mark when my rifle eased off my throat and clattered to the floor. Rolling forward over my knees, I snatched it up and turned sideways to face the Infiltrator.

The bastard reeled from the smoking hole in the front flap of his Lab Coat, but a couple of unsteady steps backward gave him the recovery time to charge, leap over me, and shoulder-check Blackrune onto his ass on his way out of the alley.

Between both of us, we must have squeezed off another ten rounds at our target, but none of them landed. No time to take score — Blackrune and I both ran after the bastard, our boots squeaking on the polished concrete floor.

Now, Lab Coat was the one shoving his way through the crowds, leaving us a wake of confused and cursing players to follow. Handy, but I worried that every one of them could potentially steal our target. I wasn’t sure about the rules when it came to non-guards taking down Infiltrators, but it wouldn’t be hard for some rando to put the pieces together and tackle him before we had the chance.

“He’s too fast!” Blackrune said, huffing and puffing at a full sprint beside me.

I didn’t answer. Lungs burning too much.

“Screw it,” he added, skidding to a stop and raising his rifle.

I barely caught sight of him taking aim — just enough time to leap out of the line of fire and yell something about holding his fire. Lab Coat was only one fleshy target in a sea of meandering player characters.

There was no way Blackrune could make the shot…

His rifle cracked three times, splitting my ears just as I stumbled off to the side. The shouting came next — a hundred players going nuts at once. The meandering turned into running and trampling in every direction. Before I knew it, six Ouroborus mercs in high-level gear were bearing down on Blackrune with their weapons drawn.

I stepped back further, letting my rifle hang from its three-point sling and holding up my palms. “Security issue, guys!” I called out. “We’re tryin’ to catch a…”

The biggest merc, an obvious portal vet, glared at me just long enough to tell me to piss off. Then two others grabbed Blackrune by his arms and dragged him toward a bloody body on the floor, now fully visible with the chaos dying down.

And it wasn’t a guy in a Lab Coat. It was a merc in high-level gear bleeding out on the floor.

I just watched, eyes wide, mouth shut. The Guide didn’t say crap about this kind of situation. Ten feet away, the mercs took turns yelling in Blackrune’s face. Then the big one put his pistol to my patrol partner’s forehead and fired.

It wasn’t real. I knew that. But it was so real.



Seeing Blackrune executed — murdered — was almost as painful as getting strangled by the Infiltrator. I fought back the sudden need to empty my stomach by repeating the mantra…

It’s only a game. None of this is real.

If only I could turn down my Immersion hardware so it wasn’t so damned convincing.

“Hey,” called out one of the mercs standing over Blackrune’s body, “dongwipe! Yeah, you. Pissing your guard trousers.”

I knew who he meant.

“Come ‘ere!”

With the eyes of six pissed-off mercs watching my every step, I trudged over. They were the sweatiest of high-level sweaties, no doubt. Legendary gear. Limited edition skins. The big one’s gold-plated revolver — still smoking from putting one through Blackrune’s head — was a Prestige reward. So, he reached the highest level at least twice over.

I stopped at the edge of their circle, just short of the large pool of blood that had formed under my patrol partner’s corpse.

“Your friend screwed us,” the big one said, holstering his revolver. “Shot two of our Clan, so their lockouts mean we’re missing a portal. An expensive portal.”

Thanks to the short avatar meta, I had to look down a few inches at all of them. But that did nothing to make their bulging muscles and Epic firearms less intimidating. I swallowed the lump in my throat. “Sorry.”

“Shut up,” he continued, pointing two fingers at my nose. “And now I’m locked out for TKing his ass inside the Hub.”

Another merc — a female with two purple braids falling over her shoulders — smirked. “Worth it.”

The big one gave her a sideways glance before turning his intense eyes back to me. “You owe us. And you don’t want to be in debt to Afterlife.”

“Afterlife?” I asked, fighting to keep my voice steady.

All six of the mercs either scoffed or chuckled. Some did both.

“Newb motherfucker,” the big one said, shaking his head. “We’re the controlling Clan for Big O. Have been since launch.”

Purple Braids busted out laughing. “Look at his face! He really didn’t know!”

More laughter broke out behind me. Glancing around, I noticed we’d drawn a crowd. Dozens of other players had come to see these tools make an example out of Blackrune.

But Blackrune was already gone — at least he didn’t have to deal with it. I was catching all the heat for stepping on the wrong jack-booted toes. And I really didn’t want to owe this Clan any favors. The merc was right about that.

I pointed to Blackrune’s corpse. “Shouldn’t he be the one that owes you?”

The big one sniffed and wiped his sleeve across nose. “You’d think that. But now I’m gonna have to petition the GMs to have his ass banned. Your girlfriend won’t be around to pay off any debts.”

My heart sank. Not just because my first new friend in the game tripped dingus-first into a raw deal, but because these jerks had the power to affect the game itself. Bans? Just because some noob made a mistake? That was not on.

“I’ll do whatever stupid thing you want,” I said, “but only if you don’t have Blackrune banned. It was an accident, and I’m sure he’d be happy to…beg for forgiveness. Or whatever it is you want.”

Every merc turned to watch the big one’s response. Their leader, for sure. And he just stared back at me, smirking.

The silence itched, so I kept going. “I don’t know how you expect me to pay you back anyway. I have no credits, no gear. Nothing.”

The big one barked a single laugh, his entire posture easing like it was a release valve on his anger. “Alright. Whatever stupid thing I want.”

I nodded.

“We’re gonna hold you to that.”

With some restored confidence from winning the negotiation, I forced myself to look each of the six Afterlife mercs in the eyes one-by-one. They had to know I was serious, even though I wasn’t so sure what I’d agreed to.

Purple Braids shrugged like she was getting bored with the whole thing. The others responded with varying looks of appraisal — or disappointment.

The big one slapped me on the shoulder, and I’m sure it was intentionally hard to prove a point.

“We’ll be in touch,” he said, his face set back to ‘full-on serious’. Then he turned on his heel and disappeared into the crowd with the rest of his Clanmates.

My eyes drifted down to Blackrune. Silent, still, and bloodied. But, hopefully, not banned.

I would definitely be having a chat with him. If I was gonna owe Afterlife a debt, he was sure as hell gonna owe me.


I linked back up with Jim and Tony in our shared quarters. Thanks to the speed of in-game gossip, there was no need to tell them what happened.

“Afterlife?” Jim had asked me before the door even closed at my back. “You’re bringing the Rat Kings the wrong kind of attention, man.”

That was followed by a lecture about noob behavior, being stupid, and how pissing off the controlling Clan can lead to everything from longer lockouts to permabans issued by GMs that are in their pockets.

I stared at the empty fourth bunk the entire time, knowing what I would say when the ranting died down. Eventually my friends got tired of pointing out my flaws and relented.

“I found us a new member,” I said, taking advantage of the lull.

Jim raised his eyebrows. “Better not be the idiot who shot a 99th-level friendly in the middle of the Hub.”

“It was an accident…”

“No way, bro!” Tony cut in. “It’s bad enough you made promises to Afterlife. Slapping our Clan tag on the shooter is asking for trouble.”

“I get it. But now he owes me.” I cleared my throat. “And it’s not like they don’t know he’s gonna keep playing. The whole reason I made the deal was to keep him from getting banned.”

Tony and Jim exchanged a look. It wasn’t promising.

After a minute of rubbing his temples, Jim sighed. “Is he any good at shooting Exos, or is friendly fire his only skill?”

I shrugged. “Dunno. He did make a couple of clean shots…before.”

“Screw it!” Tony said, flopping down on his bunk. “We can make him farm materials or something. He doesn’t even have to come with us on raids.”

Jim nodded. “True. But he has to go on at least one.”

“The initiation?” Tony asked.

“Yup. And Silky can go, too,” Jim smirked, but I could tell he still wasn’t too happy. “Least he can do is start at the bottom after getting us mixed up in this.”

I smiled. There was hope. “Sure! Let’s do it.”

I’d already done my Clan initiation back when the Rat Kings were playing the non-Immersion shooter Call of Honor. But if running their gauntlet was what it took to get things moving, I’d take on whatever they dreamed up in Meta Mercs.

“It’s not gonna be easy,” Jim said, “and this ain’t no PC game. It’s gonna hurt.”


Share this story!

Join Me.

Sign up for updates, freebies, and contests!