Array - Chapter 4

The fourth chapter revolves around Jason getting out into the world and exploring it. In doing so, he learns a few lessons the hard way.



3/26/20247 min read

While somewhat rocky and uneven, the riverbank was easy to traverse for the most part. This, combined with the lack of needing to mark his path all the time, allowed Jason to make excellent progress over the following couple of hours.

"I really wish I knew what was edible," he sighed out as he examined a clump of bushes a short distance from the water, their branches laden with bright orange berries. "Oi, Rajan, do I have some sort of identification skill?"

"A database does exist, but you don't possess access at the moment," the alien told him with far too much pleasure. "You'll just have to experiment."

"And die from some sort of toxin or poison," he muttered as he plucked one of the tangerine fruits from its stem and rolled it between his thumb and finger. "Should've asked for an appraisal ability instead of universal language comprehension. Oh well, no point in delaying the inevitable."

Hesitantly, he crushed the berry, allowing its juice to cover his skin. So long as it wasn't hyper toxic, he'd get off with a nasty rash instead of a painful death. And, if it was fine, he'd have at least one food source for a while.

"Nothing so far," he commented after several minutes had passed. "Not even a hint of irritation. I've got no idea how nutritious it is, or whether it tastes any good, but I think-"

Jason cut himself off, his eyes going wide as he noticed something rapidly approaching in his peripheral vision. Whipping his head around to face the threat, he dodged the incoming attack by mere millimeters, the massive spike coming so close to impaling his head that it carved a furrow through his hair.

"What the-?!" That was all he managed to get out as yet another projectile the size of his arm whistled through the air towards him, the source hidden from view on the other side of the river. The adrenaline had already kicked in, and despite the spike's insane speeds, he just narrowly managed to avoid the second attack by leaping to the side.

A loud roar that shook him down to his very bones reverberated through the forest, prompting flocks of birds to soar into the sky as dozens of small, defenseless animals scurried for cover. Jason was one of them.

Taking off at a full sprint down the riverbank, his heart seemingly pounding out of his chest, Jason continued to just barely dodge the incoming attacks launched by his unknown assailant. Whatever the thing was, it was smart enough to compensate for his actions, and he found it increasingly difficult to avoid the huge spikes. Right as he was sure it had his evasion pattern down, the assault stopped, the final projectile falling far short of its intended target.

"Looks like that's its max range," he observed calmly, though he didn't stop running--he wasn't willing to test his theory's veracity. "What a terrifying creature."

"You really do stay composed even while in a life-threatening situation." Jason scowled up at the sky as Rajan spoke up. "Your body reacts just like any human's would, but your mind doesn't enter fight or flight mode. I knew all that from the initial scans of your physiology, of course, but it really is intriguing to see in practice."

"Hey, you, stupid alien!" the redhead nearly screamed out. "I thought this was a safe zone! There's absolutely nothing 'safe' about that thing that just nearly took my head off!"

"Firstly, you've wandered quite a way outside of the initial starting area, which I can guarantee is within your capacity to survive." The human clicked his tongue but didn't argue back. While the radius of the safe zone was absurdly small, and it would've been nice if Rajan had warned him, he couldn't rightly complain about it. "Secondly, that 'thing' you encountered is, well... I won't divulge too many details, but let's just say it's not anywhere near the top of the food chain."

"You've got to be kidding," he spat out in furious disbelief. "I couldn't even take on Spikey, much less anything that hunts it!"

Out of nowhere, a window popped up in front of his face. Giving it a quick once-over, he rolled his eyes and groaned. It was a bestiary entry showing a black blobby shape, some basic info about the creature he'd discovered, and its scientifically accurate name of 'Spikey'.

"If you train your abilities properly, I think you'll find yourself more capable than you could possibly imagine," the alien reassured him. "Try not to die before then, okay? Remember, this game is set to hardcore difficulty. No saving, no loading. One life, and that's it. Good luck."

With those ominous words and an amused chuckle, Rajan stopped speaking.

"Thanks for nothing," Jason muttered.

By the time he made it back to his original spot, the redhead had managed to increase his perception, endurance, speed, and evasion. The difference in his abilities was minor, but it could prove enough to save his life under the right circumstances.

"Guess I'd better stay around here for now," he said aloud as he sat down on the riverbank to take a much-needed break and rehydrate. "I was hoping to find people, but that's not going to happen for a while, it seems."

As he gulped down some crisp, fresh water, he wondered just how strong the sapient species Rajan had mentioned must be to have built any kind of civilization in this place. The Spikey--he hated that name, but it worked--could probably have killed a polar bear back home, yet somehow it was on the lower end of dangerous.

"I bet this is all that dumb alien's doing." He knew it was listening in on him, but it didn't react to his insult. "If you want your weird show to have a long and healthy runtime, I'd recommend giving me something I can use to avoid sudden and unnecessary death!"

"You've already gotten your free gift," Rajan finally said something. "I'll give you a hint, though. Just remember, it'll be the last one for a while."

"Spit it out," Jason demanded grumpily.

"Look carefully at everything around you. Note every single characteristic. You'll get something useful if you're persistent."

"Yeah? Bet there's some catch, like it'll take me years of training before it's actually helpful." The alien's silence was quite telling. Picking up a rock beside him, Jason sighed and lazily inspected its beautifully polished turquoise surface. "Not like I've got anything better to do."

After recovering his stamina, the redhead set off for home base. On the way, he made sure to carefully observe the things he hadn't paid much attention to before now. All he really got out of the exercise was the knowledge that this place was only one step off from a forest back on Earth. Plants and animals were similar in form but quite different in general appearance, the colors of nature were a bit browner than he was used to, and the planet's gravity felt just a touch lighter than his home world's. Other than that, there was nothing particularly special about this place.

"What is this supposed to accomplish?" he complained while strolling into camp, his arms folded behind his head. "All I've done is confirmed this isn't Earth, which I already knew from the start."

"Try studying a piece of charcoal," was the only reply he got.

Muttering various insults to himself, he squatted down and fished around in his firepit, grabbing one of the coals that had cooled in his absence.

"Okay, I'm looking at it," he grumbled out, spinning the charred wood around.

"Smell it."

Things were getting kind of weird, but he reluctantly did as he was told.

"Lick it."

Jason threw the charcoal on the ground and aimed a finger up at the sky. "You're just messing with me, aren't you, you stupid alien?!"

Unexpectedly, Rajan didn't burst into laughter, which gave the redhead pause.

"As much as I like watching you do silly things, I'm actually trying to help you out here," it finally informed him. So, it was enjoying him making a fool of himself. "Come on, just taste the charcoal. It's the last thing I'll ask you to do, okay?"

"...Fine," he spat out, his grumbled insults increasing in severity as he roughly grabbed the blackened wood. "This better not be some kind of joke."

He stared down at the charcoal for a few seconds, then, bringing it to his mouth, he hesitantly stuck out his tongue and dragged it across the blackened surface.

"Tastes like-" he began dully but paused mid-sentence as a window popped up in front of him. "Evaluation?"

"It's only level one, but I think you'll find it useful," Rajan explained chipperly. "Look at that charcoal again."

Glancing down at the item in his hand, Jason noticed it now had a small tag attached to it. Examining it closer, it showed the name, 'Charcoal', as well as several rows of question marks.

"Think about expanding it," his alien guide suggested.

Upon performing the advised action, the small box expanded into a much larger one. Unlike the compact version, this info sheet displayed several things he knew about charcoal, such as its smell, texture, uses, and method of manufacture.

"This is pretty cool, but it's not all that helpful right now," he stated while bringing up his primary menu, noting that there was a new tab that led to an index of all the things he'd encountered so far. "In the future, having a mobile encyclopedia of everything I know will be invaluable, but right now I need knowledge I don't have."

"Your ability to evaluate has nothing to do with your encyclopedic skill," Rajan told him vaguely.

"What's that supposed to mean?" he asked, but after waiting in vain for a reply, he just waved a hand and snorted loudly. "Great help you are."

"I can't pamper you too much, or this wouldn't be interesting to our viewers."

"Yeah, yeah."

Just then, Jason's stomach growled loudly, and he remembered he was absolutely famished.

"Wish I could've gotten some of those berries before nearly being slaughtered," he murmured longingly. "No way I'm going back for them anytime soon. Oh well, they probably would've killed me anyway."

Bringing up the entry on the yellow fruit, he looked at the toxicity section. The information written there just made him narrow his eyes and groan.

"Of course they're safe to eat."