Array - Chapter 1

The first chapter of Array, in which our protagonist, Jason, finds himself faced with an interesting offer from an ethereal being.



3/26/20245 min read

"Welcome, Jason Tyler," the illuminous ball of floating energy greeted him with its disembodied voice.

"Uh... hi?" the young man replied hesitantly, his chocolate brown eyes scanning the seemingly infinite horizon around him, the paradoxical nature of it making his brain hurt. "Where am I? Who are you? How do you know my name?"

The glowing orb chuckled in amusement. "This is a pocket dimension where the flow of time is greatly reduced, you wouldn't be able to pronounce my name, but you can call me 'Rajan', and I've been watching you for quite some time now."

"Hang on, so this isn't Heaven or whatever?" the redhead inquired with a slight frown. "And what do you mean you've been 'watching me'? Are you some kind of god?"

"From your perspective, I might seem divine, but I'm required by law to assure you that I'm just as mortal as you are," the thing told him, then seemed to consider its words. "Well, maybe not just as, but I will eventually die. On that topic, you were just about to fall to your doom, which is precisely why you're standing there right now."

"You didn't explain why or how you've been observing me," Jason noted with narrowed eyes. "What are you, and why are you so interested in me of all people?"

It might've been his imagination, but the young man could've sworn the sphere of light got a bit brighter as he broached that subject.

"You've just stumbled upon the meat of the matter, as it were," it told him happily, dancing around a bit. "I'm what you'd term an 'alien', one from a very advanced race. For us, building one of your 'Dyson spheres' would be child's play--and I do mean 'sphere', not 'swarm'."

Jason paled a bit hearing that. To casually construct a mostly solid structure that could entirely encase a sun meant that the entity before him hailed from at least a tier-three civilization--probably much higher, all things considered.

"As for why you're here and not someone else, let's just say that I, as a..." It trailed off for a moment, trying to think of an appropriate word. Considering it likely had an incomprehensible amount of computing power at its disposal, the slight pause made the redhead a bit nervous. "I suppose 'playwright' is the closest concept. Anyhow, a species as advanced as mine craves nothing more than entertainment, and I'm one of many individuals eager to provide it. As for you, I suspect you'll prove an intriguing protagonist. That is, if you're willing to accept my offer."

"And what, exactly, are you offering?" Jason inquired skeptically. He'd seen plenty of scammers in his day, and this felt a lot like a con job.

"I can't divulge too many details without spoiling the plot, but simply put, I would transport you to a primitive and rather dangerous world. In order to help you survive as long as possible, you would have limited access to an array, a piece of our technology that would allow you to--in this case--manipulate reality in a manner modeled after one of your 'role-playing games'."

"You mean... I'd be able to level up and stuff?" The doubt in his voice was rapidly being replaced by a mounting excitement. Growing up, he'd been downright obsessed with RPGs, and even as an adult he spent most of his free time playing them. "Swords, magic, health, mana, looting-?"

"And much more!" Rajan interrupted him with barely contained zeal. "I don't want to ruin things for you, but I've really gone all-in on this stage! The leveling system is fairly simplistic--previous attempts at more detailed offerings have proven... overwhelming for the subject, and inadvertently detrimental. To make up for that, I've crafted a complex world for you to explore, one with lots of challenges to overcome! And not just in terms of warfare, either." It laughed somewhat mischievously as it said that last line. "The planet in question has a... rich and varied history, even if it is only just getting started in the grand scheme of things. There are even sapient beings present, so you won't go insane from loneliness!"

"Great," Jason uttered out sarcastically. He wasn't entirely sold on this whole idea, but he had to admit that it did sound appealing. "So, what are my chances of dying right away? I'm not exactly a survivalist."

The fact the orb didn't reply immediately concerned him slightly, but after a couple of seconds it did speak up.

"I'm legally compelled to divulge the statistical probability to you," it sighed out in an almost disappointed tone. That didn't bode well for a trusting relationship going forward. "Based on your most likely course of action, and assuming I place you in a safe area--which I will, despite shoving you into a treacherous location being far more interesting..." Again, it wasn't making it easy for him to place any significant degree of faith in it. "...the odds of you living to a ripe old age are approximately seventy-nine-point eight percent."

"So, better than back home, then?" The alien snickered hearing that. "What happens if I reject your offer?"

"Nothing special," it told him, pulsing in, what he guessed, was the equivalent of a shrug. "You'll leave this pocket dimension and return to where you were before I brought you here. In all likelihood, you'll then proceed to die. Should you choose that course of action, I'm obliged to inform you that there is an afterlife, however not even we know what it is, exactly."

Jason took a deep breath, closing his eyes as he slowly sat down on the cloud-like ground and folded his legs together. There he stayed for several minutes, his mind repeatedly going over the two choices laid out before him. Knowing he wouldn't outright cease to exist should he choose death made it a far more nuanced decision than it otherwise would've been. Then again, not knowing what awaited him was, perhaps, even more daunting than attempting to survive on some unknown planet devoid of advanced civilization.

Finally, he made a choice, and as he rose to his feet, Rajan began dancing around ecstatically.

"I'm so glad to be working together with you!" it exclaimed joyfully, floating up next to him. "Together, we'll rise to stardom! Hit the top of all the lists! We'll attract so many viewers that, well... We'll get a lot of attention, so that's neat!"

"You guys don't have much to live for, do you?" the redhead practically stated. The ball of light beside him dimmed slightly at that.

"You've got no idea," it muttered out.

"By the way, can you use telepathy? Because I never said I'd do it."

Sparks began shooting out of the orb, and it quickly backed away from him, almost as if it were feeling anxious.

"Uh, sorry about that. I'm not supposed to interpret your neural signals without your permission, but I got so excited that I sort of broke the rules."

"I don't really care," Jason told it dismissively before adopting a greedy sneer and rubbing his thumb and pointer finger together. "But, if you're really sorry, give me a bit of a boost when you send me down, eh?"

"Heh, I knew I made the right choice," the alien murmured aloud. "In order to proceed, I need your verbal confirmation. Do you, Jason Tyler, agree to be transported to another world, given limited control over an array--with the possibility of unlocking further authority dependent on actions taken--and to attempt, to the best of your capacity, to complete the scenario laid out for you?"

"Depends on what I get out of it," came the calm reply.

"Full control and ownership of the array and its power source should you survive long enough to fully unlock its full capabilities, and whatever possessions you are able to obtain by utilizing said device."

"Sounds fair to me," the redhead said with a broad smirk, extending his hand towards the luminous sphere. "Give me a nice starting gift, and we've got ourselves a deal."

A tendril of energy shot out of the glowing sphere, and Jason felt a slight buzz similar to electricity but far warmer and more pleasant course through his body as it wrapped around his extended appendage.

"All right, let's get started."

Suddenly, everything went black.