Array - Chapter 3

This third chapter revolves around Jason doing what he can to sustainably gather the food, water, and materials he needs to survive and thrive.



3/26/20247 min read

"I've got no idea how you do it."

With a yawn, Jason sat up, stretching his arms wide.

"Do what?" he asked the stupid alien that had so rudely woken him up.

"Stay so calm," it elaborated. "I mean, I knew you were like this, but seeing it in action is really something else."

"Is it really that weird?" the redhead asked as he got up and walked over to his door, pushing aside the branches and exiting into the great outdoors. "You should probably cut the stream, by the way. I gotta take a leak."

"It did that automatically the last two times you urinated," Rajan replied flatly.

"Ah, forgot about that," he lied. Truth was, he'd been hoping to get the alien banned from whatever streaming platform it was using. "This time it involves defecating, too, so maybe turn it off manually just to make sure?"

"That's not how it works, but thanks for your concern," came the completely unconcerned and not at all genuine response.

After taking care of business, Jason got to work. First, he found a reasonably sharp and hard rock. Next, he wrapped several layers of a thin vine-like plant he'd discovered around one end to form a crude knife. Finally, he ground down one edge as best he could.

"I'll need flint, or obsidian, or something like that if I want it really sharp," he murmured as he gouged a mark into a tree near his base camp. "Assuming that stuff even exists."

"If it forms due to natural processes, it exists," his alien guide informed him. "This isn't some alternate reality. Sure, this place has been cultivated to meet certain standards, and the array allows you to warp reality to some degree, but the fundamental laws of the universe still apply."

"Good to know," the redhead said while picking a random direction and setting off in search of a water source.

Several hours passed by, and while he was in excellent shape, Jason wasn't used to exerting himself for so long. Panting heavily, sweat pouring down his face, he finally gave into exhaustion and sat down on a fallen log to take a break.

"Waste not, want not," he mused as he gathered up as much of the salty water as he could and drank it. "It's not much, but anything helps."

"Your pores release sweat for a reason. I'd recommend leaving it on your skin to disperse the heat building up inside you," Rajan gave its unwanted advice. "Besides, drinking it will have a negligible effect on your hydration levels, and the salt will only make you feel thirstier, potentially negatively affecting your psyche."

"I'll keep that in mind," Jason shot back insincerely.

After taking a short rest, he resumed his exploratory mission. Not an hour later he let loose a whoop of excitement as he heard the sound of rushing water, and, racing forward, he soon made it to the banks of a large river.

"A source of fresh, moving water that is large enough to support marine ecosystems and which might even contain shale deposits," he hummed out happily as he squatted and, cupping his hands together, gathered up some of the life-giving liquid and gulped it down. "I'd love to boil this first, but without a container, I can't really bring it back to camp."

"Bacterial or parasitic infection? There's a skill for that?" He couldn't tell if Rajan was mocking him or being serious. Probably both. "Just kidding! You don't have to worry about most microorganisms. They don't see you as a target, since your biological makeup is quite different from a native lifeform's."

"I'm surprised you didn't alter me--or them--so that they do," he said dryly.

"I did for some of the less deadly ones!" It revealed gleefully, much to his disdain. "I would've done it for the rest, too, but simulations suggested doing so would end very badly." In other words, he probably would've died. "Suffice it to say, I've made a lot of changes to this place in preparation for your arrival."

"I'm sure I'll hate all of them" All he got in response to that was a sinister chuckle. "While we're talking about genetic alterations, do any of the skills I can unlock change my biological makeup? I've been thinking about it since I leveled up my strength."

"Some things will alter your genome at a fundamental level, but due to consent laws, you'll always be given a warning and prompted to accept the changes multiple times," Rajan promptly stated, sounding remarkably upset about that fact. "I'd recommend taking whatever you can get. Sacrificing a bit of your old, inferior self is worth living to see another day--and also boosting our ratings."

"Ignoring that last part..." Jason trailed off for effect. "I'll carefully consider any supposed 'upgrades' to myself before accepting them. I'm not going to turn into some designer protagonist just because you want your TV show to keep running for another season."

"As long as you stay alive, I don't care what you do." The alien wasn't even trying to hide its motives. "I'm just saying that a lot of the more useful abilities you'll unlock require altering your body in some way. The array can only do so much non-invasively."

"If it can make me stronger without changing my muscular structure, I'm sure it can do enough," he said as he drank another handful of water.

"It can't let you breed with the natives." He promptly spat out the liquid in his mouth in shock. "What? If you want kids, it's the only option. Your genetic material isn't naturally compatible with-"

"That's not the problem here!" Jason shouted out; his face nearly as red as his hair. "Putting aside whether I'd even be attracted to these people--whose appearance I know nothing about--my priority isn't to get one of them into bed!"

"Who ever said anything about one of them?" The embarrassed look on the young man's face intensified, which prompted Rajan to start laughing in amusement. "It's not like they have any laws against it, so if you're interested..."

"Would you just go away and leave me alone?"

The ball of light just broke out into further guffaws as Jason stewed silently.

After drinking his fill, the redhead started back to camp. Using the marks he'd carved along the way, it proved to be an easy task, but he noted it would be infinitely more difficult in the dark. About halfway to his destination, a window popped up in front of him.

"Endurance this time, is it?" he murmured, waving the notice away. "Stuff seems to level up pretty quickly."

"For now," Rajan quipped. "It'll get harder as you go along."

"Even so, each level gives a notable increase, and I'm already at average, fit human standards on most of them." While talking, he jogged in place, noting the slight difference in tiredness he felt. "It wouldn't take a whole lot of them to push me past superhuman."

"That is the point," the alien told him cheekily. "It's no fun if you're just 'some guy' surviving in a hostile new world by the power of your wit and survival skills alone."

"Sounds like the most interesting kind of premise, but what do I know?" Jason mumbled out in retort.

Eventually, the young man made it back to camp, where he promptly made a fire making bow out of a curved stick and some more of the same vine that he'd bound his knife handle with. Only, this time, he braided it into a much sturdier string-like form before tying it to both ends of his bow frame.

"My gramps showed me how to do this while we were out camping with the family," he remembered aloud, making a loop in the cord and threading a second stick through it. He usually couldn’t talk with others about this subject but speaking with a disembodied alien voice made things a lot easier. "It's easy to learn, but hard to master. Never could do it as well as the old dude. Man, I miss him."

Jason had never been especially close to anyone in his immediate family. His father didn’t really care about him, always busy with his career. His mom hadn't been much different, except that she cared more about her side-piece boyfriend than her own husband and kids. Naturally, he'd gone with his father after the divorce, though he would've rather lived with his grandparents had they still been alive.

Thankfully, Rajan didn't say anything this time around, instead respectfully remaining quiet. Because of that, Jason could focus on coaxing his first ember out of a small bunch of especially dry moss. It wasn't an easy task, especially given his shoddy technique, but he eventually managed to get a tiny fire going. After that, it was a simple matter of transferring the miniature flame from the piece of bark he'd started it on to a collection of kindling. Once that had caught, he began adding in some twigs, then sticks, and before long, the bigger branches.

"It would be nice if I had some logs," he sighed as he sat in front of the now-blazing inferno. The warmth was nice, especially since night had fallen while he'd been slaving away to get it started, but he knew full well it wouldn't last long without some bigger chunks of wood. "Oh well, I won't be staying here long, anyhow."

"I'd ask where you're planning on going, but I don't want any spoilers," Rajan stated. The alien's sudden appearances were taking Jason by surprise less and less.

"Then why did you even say anything?" the redhead asked neutrally.

"Because, I don't want to lose my relevancy," it almost sulked. "It's happened before, you know! The playwright stays silent for too long, and before they know it, the audience has completely forgotten they exist!"

"Considering you just won't shut up, I doubt that'll ever be a problem," Jason muttered out quite seriously. It only got a snort of amusement from the disembodied voice.

As expected, the fire eventually burned out, so he did his best to cover the embers with rocks--leaving room for ventilation--with hopes they'd last until he could get some more fuel. Then, he crawled into his trunk, covered himself in moss and leaves, and bedded down for the night.

The following morning, he rose early and gathered some wood. The embers were still just hot enough to get another fire going, and after letting it burn down, he covered it again and set off towards the river. Upon arriving, he drank his fill, then looked down either side of the roaring body of water.

"They say civilization springs up around water sources," he said, deciding to start downstream. "Let's see if that holds true in this world, too."