LORE

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The earth is frozen. Locked in a modern ice age. The world governments had come together with a plan to save humanity by moving everyone into the metaverse. It had been called "The Paradigm Shift". The first ten thousand volunteers, ready to light the way, were called CyberBrokers. Everything went wrong. Two centuries later, a complacent human race copes with a great awakening.

This is the story of The Paradigm Lost.

The Story of TPL

Chapter One - Project Paradigm

Chapter Two - Cowboy Up

Chapter Three - Valentine's Day

Chapter Four - Gimme a Hand

Chapter Five - A Second Date

Chapter Six - Catching a Ride

Chapter Seven - Failsafe Alpha

Chapter Eight - Bruises

Chapter Nine - Three of a Kind

Chapter Ten - Leap of Faith

Chapter Eleven - Recollections

Chapter Twelve - Legwork


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Credits

CyberBrokers Core Team

  • Josie Bellini
  • cybourgoisie | Benjamin Heidorn
  • m3mnoch | Christopher D. Chapman
  • CyberBrooker | Brooke Walter
  • Ziot | Brett Buerhaus

Cyphage

  • JTobcat | Justin Tobin
  • ziot | Brett Buerhaus
  • motive
  • mattm
  • LeFevre

Circuit Creative Director

  • m3mnoch | Christopher D. Chapman

Lead Writer

  • Juoni

Editor

  • Daeshii | CL Roberts-Huth

Plot Development Decisions

  • The CyberBrokers Community

Writer's Room Lore Authors

  • two.one | Chadwick from Waring
  • cbgb
  • dot_the_bot
  • LoLoGramz | Graceful Cryer
  • Little | LikeLong (@Little20211130)
  • Mags (@Procrastin4tor)
  • pleasant isotopes exploit
  • Samalot
  • Venus | N. Guerrero
  • W1ngman
  • Merk
  • JTobcat | Justin Tobin
  • ladydiamondhand

Mods

  • Charlie Sandor
  • BallisticBanana
RECAP
When Spice’s entire compound is kicked out of the Paradigm due to a Failsafe Alpha, she’s certain it’s no accident. As everyone performs their emergency duties, Spice decides to set off into the snow in search of P.O.S.T., a device that will let her send a message back into TPL. Unironic Ken and Zinc receive her message, and it’s shortly followed by another from someone calling themselves ‘The Moderator’. This mysterious figure promises to help, leading them to information regarding a group calling themselves ShaDAO, who are behind the Failsafe Alpha. With the location of the device causing the kick, and only 100 blocks left to destroy it, Ken and Zinc attempt to infiltrate the ShaDAO facility and get Spice back into the Paradigm.

CHAPTER EIGHT - BRUISES

Ken hunched over as the boom of a grenade shook and echoed throughout the large storage facility. The force of the explosion slammed him into the side of the truck where he had been taking cover. It took a couple of ticks for Ken’s senses to return, and he instantly leaned around the truck’s trailer to lay covering fire across the several squads that were trying to close in on them.

“I nearly got it,” Zinc shouted from the driver’s seat, where he had dismantled the steering panel and was reprogramming the power distributor.

They’d achieved what they came to do: sneak inside and destroy the device that was keeping Spice out of TPL. A strangely powerful and custom-built machine capable of inducing a Failsafe Alpha across her IRL compound. At least, that was the theory, based on the information a stranger had given them. Only now, however, surrounded by guards and gunfire, did they realize that the infiltration had been the easy part.

Beneath the sound of bullets ricocheting off concrete and embedding themselves in the metal of the trucks around them, Ken heard the engine beside him roar to life.

“Get in!” Zinc shouted, hands already at the wheel.

“We got a new problem,” Ken yelled back over his shoulder, still firing. “The gates are closing!”

Zinc leapt down to ‌look. A few seconds later, another grenade’s blast wave shook the courtyard, forcing them both to drop to the floor.

“The security room.” Zinc pointed at the glass-protected space atop the flight of metal stairs two Mercenaries were currently using as cover to rain gunfire down upon them. “Those two must have shut the gates from there.”

“Get back in the truck,” Unironic Ken commanded. He stood up and started running. “I’ll take care of them and get the gates open.”

“What? No! I’ll go!” Zinc cried out, as the sharp, burning sensation of a bullet slicing across his shoulder made him grunt. He maintained focus and shouted, “You won’t make it back out!”

Ken was already gone, dashing behind another truck to flank the two Mercenaries. Zinc drew his pistol and fired at them to draw their attention, giving Ken the opportunity to burst out from behind the truck and take them by surprise before he leapt up the staircase.

The rush of another explosion startled Zinc. He returned to the truck, intent on getting it moving, aiming its hulking front end at the closed gates. He kept his head low as the hail of bullets rained on the metal chassis like an angry thunderstorm, but managed to catch a glimpse of Ken up in the security room. As the truck rolled forward, building speed, he spotted Ken grasping at some controls. Up ahead, a wall of combatants were firing at the truck, as the gates beyond them began to peel apart. For a half-tick, Zinc felt like Ken might actually escape too, until several Enforcers materialized in the room with him, behind the security room glass, and swarmed Ken from all angles.

Zinc stomped the truck’s accelerator, squeezing every bit of power and speed that the groaning vehicle could muster as it barreled through the chaos. No time for regret, not until he made it out himself.

Silhouetted against the dawn, the mech junkyard resembled the black horizon of a battlefield. An abstract painting in ink, pistons and cables broke up the lines of sleek contours and complex machinery. Twisted, grasping, mech arms. Weapons protruded with pointed intensity. Brutish armor bore dents as unique and personal as bruises.

Spice sat on the toppled frame of a Butterfly engine, watching the sky turn from purple to orange. The emerging light gradually picked out details from the piles of broken hardware. The sunrise stirred something profoundly emotional in her. A sense of time that didn’t exist outside TPL anymore. In her underground compound, the lights were either on or off - binary. You had to be a machine to survive in real life, and it was only in the machine that you could feel this human.

“Come on,” she huffed through gritted teeth, yanking a sensor loose from the engine beneath her and twirling it by the singed wires to distract from her own thoughts. She’d rushed back through the snowdrifts to the compound, and upon discovering the Failsafe Alpha was over, she had plugged straight into her rig. Ready for action but instead here, waiting. She hated waiting. It always made her think too much. Wasn’t the point of TPL to stop that?

Beyond the junkyard, Era Novum was quiet now, the chaos subsiding into an uneasy sense of emptiness. They’re probably re-activating safe mode wherever they can right now, Spice figured. I’m not so sure that’s the end of it, though.

An engine sputtered and choked, unseen in the distance. Something big and heavy. The metallic rumbling grew louder until Spice realized it was approaching her location. She tossed the sensor aside and jumped down to watch a truck struggle through the open gates. On the rough ground, the heavy vehicle rattled and bounced, squealing and creaking all the way. The chassis was perforated by bullets, the windscreen cracked in a spider-web pattern, and fluid leaked from the truck.

She ran to the driver’s side as soon as it stopped, the smoking engine sounded a last pathetic groan before going silent. It took Zinc two shoves before he could shunt open the mangled door. He didn’t so much dismount as collapse onto Spice.

“What happened to you?” she asked, helping the wincing, injured man stand up.

Zinc looked at her, a half-smile buried beneath his pain.

“I think I cracked a rib, twisted my ankle, broke my wrist, and got my shoulder grazed by a bullet - but otherwise I’ve never felt better. Enough about me though, it’s good to see you.”

“Stay here, I’m gonna get a Nurse.”

“No,” Zinc grabbed Spice’s arm, stopping her from stepping away. “Don’t worry about me.”

His emphasis on the word was all Spice needed to decipher the serious look on his face. “Where’s Unironic Ken?”

“After you sent him that message, we met up. Someone calling themself ‘The Moderator’ messaged him soon after. I don’t know who they really are, but they helped us figure out the Failsafe Alpha in your compound was caused by a device held in an old factory owned by ShaDAO. We managed to break in and destroy it.”

“ShaDAO? Isn’t that some defunct investment company?”

Zinc let out a tired laugh.

“No. Not an investment company. Not a transport company. Not a little-known holding company that nobody has ever heard of. ShaDAO is… How about I just show you?”

Zinc moved to the back of the truck, still clutching his side. Spice followed, and helped when he struggled with the truck doors. They swung open, and Spice jumped up to inspect the large boxes in the back.

“Whoa. Mech heads.” She lifted the lid from one of the huge boxes. “Factory fresh Ravagers, Behemoths. Even Nexus-tier. They already calibrated these to control a whole army’s worth of weaponry. Zinc, this stuff isn’t easy to come by!”

“That’s why I asked you to wait for me here. I know the mechanic who owns this place. She’ll hide them for us. Imagine thousands of those things, though. The base was full of them.”

“Thousands? But this stuff is expensive.”

“Yeah, well, we definitely paid a pretty heavy price for it.”

Spice stared down at Zinc from inside the trailer of the truck. “Where is Ken?” she said, this time making it sound like a demand more than a question.

Zinc took a deep breath. “He didn’t make it out.”

“D-mezzed?”

“I don’t know. Those guys seem more like the ‘hold captive and torture’ type.”

Spice jumped down from the truck and began walking toward the gate. She shoved off Zinc’s hand when he tried to hold her back this time, forcing him to speed up his limp to keep up with her.

“Spice, hold up!” he called out as she marched to the gates.

“You find a Nurse,” she said, swiping fingers across her bracer to bring up Ken’s prior locations. “You’d only slow me down in your state, anyway.”

“Spice, listen to me for a tick.”

“Damn it, Ken,” she muttered into her bracer and stopped in her tracks. “Why didn’t you share your logs?”

Spice rounded back on Zinc. “Where is this base?”

Zinc grunted from the sudden stop, the exertion on his injuries weighing on him. “They weren’t some small-scale, chem-smuggling, drifter-kid operation, Spice. We only got in because The Moderator helped us, and they’ve probably doubled the security now. Besides, I figure they’ve jumped Ken several nodes away by now.”

“So what exactly am I supposed to do?” Spice asked, exasperated. “Play some video games while I wait for him to escape from the goon squad on his own?”

“If you want him back, we have to learn more about ShaDAO.” Zinc looked over at the open truck and shook his head. “Asherah, but I’m starting to think if we want the Paradigm to even continue existing, we need to learn more about ShaDAO.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, the information is still on Ken’s bracer, but from what The Moderator gave us, it looks like ShaDAO is making a final push for 51% control.”

“Impossible.” Spice bit back a laugh at the absurdity. “TPL’s too big for anyone to get that much power without someone noticing.”

Zinc raised a finger at her. “‘Without someone noticing.’ That’s the thing. It’s all in Ken’s bracer, from the info dump The Moderator gave us - how ShaDAO operates through these shell companies, puts their people in powerful positions, leans on politicians, and controls back-end infrastructure like the jump stations.”

“But 51% of the Paradigm?”

“Do you really doubt it? Spice, we just found out brokers are AI after, what? Over two centuries? They’re stockpiling thousands of mech parts now. It’s like they’re preparing for war. Probably looking to make the final push, and it looks like it’s going to be a violent one.”

Spice rubbed her face with a palm and sighed, overloaded by the magnitude of it all.

“Maybe it’s just something to do with the upcoming mech olympics?” she said with empty optimism.

“And maybe sending half an army to try and blow us up was a clerical error.” He sighed. “They kicked you out of TPL, Spice. It doesn’t get bigger than influencing the real world from within the Paradigm, right? The fact none of us knew any of this about ShaDAO doesn’t mean they’re harmless - it’s a testament to how effective they really are.”

Spice paced on the dirty, rough ground of the junkyard, trying to put all the broken pieces in her mind together in search of something hopeful. Something upon which to build her resolve. Despite her focus, in her periphery, she noticed Zinc watching her with something more than concern in his expression. Something intimate and unfulfilled, and entirely unrelated to what they were talking about.

“Ok.” She jerked her head, motioning him to follow. “Let’s go.”

“Where?”

“Ken’s apartment.”

Five blocks later, they had hailed a couple of monowheels, and sped along the elevated rails that swirled through the city. The trip afforded them a bird’s eye view of the night’s aftermath. The buildings, no longer on fire, were charred and skeletal now. Smashed windows and doors hung like broken teeth over voids beneath. The adverts on electronic billboards glitched, broken like glowing pastiches of their former selves. There were few people around now, this early in the morning, and those they saw scuttled and ran, as if the daylight might bring about justice for their sins.

When they finally entered Ken’s apartment, Spice made a beeline for the arcade machine while Zinc took in the playful decor.

“We probably shouldn’t hang around too long,” Zinc said. “ShaDAO might send some guys here.”

“I wish they would.” Spice deftly flicked the arcade stick.

Zinc watched her play the game for a few seconds. “Well, ok.” He clutched his side, looking around the apartment. “Since you’ve decided to play video games after all, I’m gonna check if this guy has any chems that’ll make my continued living a little less painful than it is at the moment.”

“Cow!” Spice shrieked triumphantly.

Zinc stopped to watch her pump her fist, then bang away at something on her bracer. “Cow? Man, you drifters come up with the goofiest slang sometimes.”

“C-O-W.” Spice spelled, glancing up for a second, grinning. “Unironic Ken had a Spectre friend. He never told me much about them, but he did mention once that they were a killer at this arcade machine.”

The realization hit Zinc, “So you pulled the name they put into the high-score table.”

“And now I’m looking through the Alpha Command database to find a Spectre it might fit.”

“Well, ain’t you as smart as a contract.”

“Not Contus Oxhide… Can’t be Crusade the Knotted or Wire Castro… Rocky Circuitmacer? No. That’s it! Catch of Wolfe. C. O. W. They’re initials. It’s got to be her. I’m sending a message.”

“Ok, hold on.” Zinc nodded toward the screen. “You’re not gonna just announce to some Spectre you think maybe knows Ken that he’s been captured by ShaDAO, right?”

“I’m not stupid, Zinc.” She finished with a final tap to her bracer and looked back to Zinc. “I’m just going to ask Catch if she’s heard from him.”

“So, now we wait to hear back from them. What do you want to do in the meantime?”

“Take your clothes off.”

Zinc raised an eyebrow.

Spice laughed, “So I can patch up your wounds.”

Zinc had only just undone the collar of his top when Spice’s bracer pinged again. She checked it quickly, then started moving to the door.

“Actually, keep them on. We’re meeting her in ten blocks.”

“But… I’m wounded…” Zinc said, his hands still lifted over his head, but she was already gone. He let his arms slump and followed her.

The meeting spot Catch had given Spice was the rooftop greenspace of a tech ed complex just a short walk away. They emerged from the stairwell and looked around. There were only a couple of vehicles in this quiet, unremarkable corner of the city. So boring even the graffiti artists didn’t bother with it. The precise spot a Spectre would love.

Eventually, they found her sitting on the hood of a red, wedge-shaped sports car. A morning breeze weaved through her white, ethereal clothes in a way that made it seem as if she might float away.

Around them, the city was waking up. Skyscraper glass and steel beginning its gleam. The stream of hovercars flinging themselves between the buildings growing larger by the tick. Down the street, a bug-shaped vehicle hovered beside the cratered edge of a bridge as it performed repairs.

“Spice,” called Catch of Wolfe as soon as they were within earshot. “Unironic Ken’s told me a lot about you.”

The comment took Spice off-guard for a tick. Maybe it was the way Catch had said it. Spice quickly put it down to the weirdness of Spectres. They always seemed to know more than they let on and interpreted more than they heard.

“This is Zinc.”

Catch nodded a curt greeting. She had quick, assessing eyes and the relaxed manner of someone who was three steps ahead of everyone. “So what happened?”

Zinc cleared his throat. “Spice’s compound got kicked, and we found out it was caused by a device at some facility. So Ken and I busted in to destroy it. We succeeded, except only I managed to bust back out.”

“What kind of facility?”

Zinc shrugged. “Some old factory in the industrial district. A fenced-in place opposite the south jump station there. All we know is that ShaDAO was using it. The place was full of mech parts.”

“ShaDAO?” Catch repeated, visibly tensing up for a moment. “You sure about that?”

Zinc nodded.

“That’s not a name you want to be throwing around.” Catch paused a tick. “People who do, tend to get disappeared.”

“I’m not afraid of getting d-mezzed,” Zinc said.

“No. I didn’t say d-mezzed,” she replied, looking directly at him to emphasize her point. “Disappeared. Gone. Zero-trace. Off-chain. No respawns. I could tell you a dozen rumors about why, but at least most of them are fairy-tales–and even I’m not sure which.”

The sway of solemn silence lingered among the three of them. Spice finally blew a strand of hair from her face. “So where do we start looking for Ken?”

“You don’t do anything, except forget you ever heard the name ShaDAO,” Catch said. “Leave it to me. I’ll let you know if I find anything.”

“I thought you said Ken told you a lot about me?” Spice crossed her arms. “If he did, you’d know that I’m not going to just stand by and wait. ShaDAO or not.”

Catch looked up at her and broke into a slow smile. She glanced at Zinc, wrinkled her nose, then returned her gaze to Spice.

“Ok,” Catch sighed. “But you better forget my name, too, the second you leave this parking garage. I’ll find you if I want an update.”

“Of course,” Zinc nodded.

Catch stood to leave, then appeared to change her mind.

“I’ve got a lead - but it might already be cold. Something went down a little while ago in Magnetic. Some Phisherman or Hacker netted more than they bargained for. I don’t know what it was, but from the sensation it caused in the information community, I’d place a pretty big bet that it had something to do with ShaDAO.”

“Magnetic?” Zinc winced, and not just from the pain. “Man, I don’t have enough money to even think about Magnetic, let alone go there and start asking questions.”

“You’ll have to rely on your good looks and charm, I guess.” Catch winked. “Besides, you shouldn’t be traveling by jump station for now, anyway.”

Spice and Zinc looked at each other.

“My mech’s still being fixed,” Spice said. “But we can find our way there.”

“Here.” Catch tossed a hardware fob towards them. Zinc lifted his hand, but Spice snatched it out of the air before it reached him. “Take the Velocista, it’s clean. No trackers, no malware. If you guys want to survive more than ten blocks chasing ShaDAO, you’d better start thinking about such things. I’ll go check out that base you mentioned.”

Catch of Wolfe stepped past them towards the stairwell.

“You sure?” Spice said.

Catch spun to face them, now walking backwards. “It’s a bear market. Everything’s going cheap now, anyway.”

They watched her go, looked at the sleek ride, and then at each other, neither able to hide their smile. Spice spoke first.

“You ready for a road trip?”

CYBERBROKERS

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