Interlude – Jenny Hendricks / Ghost Touch
The battle had been a desperate one, and Jenny knew she had no business being part of it. On the screen in front of her, Ghost Touch had her hands on her knees and was busy catching her breath – something which was not part of an animation Jenny had ever seen Ghost Touch do before.
The last fourteen hours had been full of things Jenny hadn’t ever seen before though. The new dungeons had been expected. Sort of. The new range of motion the characters displayed had not been though. And seeing someone on a live stream vanish in a shower of brilliant sparks? That was ridiculous. Real too. She knew that from how everyone else in the game was talking, but still just ridiculous.
“We should probably sit the next one out,” she told Ghost Touch.
“Agreed. That was too damn close,” Ghost Touch responded. Her words scrolling up the screen as she stood back up and looked around the adventurers who’d regrouped at the Astralogos Observatory.
Almost everyone had made it back, but more than a few hadn’t made it back alive. They were the lucky ones though. From the whispers going around, there were a few raid teams still unaccounted for.
Captives. The word haunted every conservation that was going on. Facing death was easy for most of the adventurers. Injuries didn’t hurt that much (supposedly, Jenny assumed there was a lot of bravado going on there) and death just meant you needed to respawn and try again. Unless the Hounds of Fate caught you, but nobody was really afraid of that (Jenny assumed they were all afraid of it but no one wanted to show it).
“Sorry,” Ghost Touch said. “We’ve danced through so many raids now without taking any damage, I forgot how bad new ones can be. Or how much I had to lose if I messed it up.”
“Hey! You did awesome!” Jenny said. “I was slow on the potions, but your dodging was perfect.”
“I had to,” Ghost Touch said. “You deserve to keep the life you have.”
Jenny felt like she could feel the wry grin in Ghost Touch’s words.
Would living as a ghost in Ghost Touch’s head really be so bad? Maybe not, though Jenny had to admit it was nice to be facing things like Raging Space Janitors with Laser Chainsaws from the other side of a computer screen rather than up close an personal like Ghost Touch had to.
“Jenny…Jenny!” her father called. “You’re not playing that computer game of yours up there are you?”
“No Dad!” Jenny lied. She was supposed to be “sick” and recuperating. She’d set the excuse up the night before to make sure she’d have the whole first full day of the World Shift expansion’s launch free to explore the new zones and be ready for her guild’s raids.
“Get down here then,” her father shouted.
“I’ve got to take care of something here,” she typed to Ghost Touch. “Stay safe till I get back ok?”
“Will do,” Ghost Touch said and added after a second, “be careful with your father. Don’t want him to ban you from your computer.”
“That would suck,” Jenny replied.
She turned off her monitor and the the backlighting on her keyboard before heading downstairs, knowing that if anyone else looked in and saw any part of the computer turned on they’d think she was wasting electricity, but if everything was dark, they’d assume the computer had to be “off”, thereby preserving her secret.
“Jenny get down here!” her father shouted again.
“Ok, ok!” she said and stomped down the stairs to show her displeasure at the arbitrary summons.
“Did you see this?” her father said gesturing at the TV where some random talking head guy was interviewing a “Dean of Computer Science”.
“Like I watch the news?” Jenny said. “I’m supposed to be resting today right?”
“Well listen,” her father said. “There’s some big thing with those computer games. They just said there’s a dangerous one out there. People are getting kidnapped if they play it or something.”
Jenny tried to hide her flinch. It really should have occurred to her that her parents would find out about what was going on. The whole world seemed to either know or was waking up to it.
“You don’t play it though do you? The dangerous one? Fallen Angels or some demonic crap like that?” her father asked.
“Fallen Angels? No, I don’t play that.” Jenny retreated into the lie as deeply as she could. It was at least technically true that she did not play a game called “Fallen Angels”. Explaining that he was talking about a game called “Broken Horizons” and that there was nothing demonic about it wasn’t going to be something he could process though, so Jenny chose the path of least stress and stuck top her story.
“Good. Good,” her father said. “You should be careful though. If one of them is bad, they’re probably all bad. I should just take the that thing away to be safe.”
“I don’t play that much Dad,” Jenny said, panic surging through her veins. “And you know I need my computer for school work too.”
“Is everything ok?” the calming words were whispers in her ears, and the concern that came with them did make Jenny feel a bit braver, but also left her questioning her sanity.
She couldn’t be hearing Ghost Touch. That wasn’t possible. Unless Ghost Touch had died? But then Jenny would have been sucked into the Fallen Kingdoms?
Wouldn’t she? Unless, did she need to be at the screen? Was she too far away? Had Ghost Touch been killed because Jenny wasn’t there for her and now their link was gone?
The thought brought a weird stab of agony into Jenny’s heart. She felt like she’d lost a limb, except the limb was her head.
“I’m fine!” Ghost Touch said. “What’s wrong though. What’s terrifying you?”
Jenny wasn’t sure how she could answer, but it didn’t matter.
Her father had seen her panic.
“You’re hiding something,” he said, getting up off his couch with narrowed eyes. “Aren’t you?”
“No! I’m just…I’m just not feeling good,” she said.
“I can see that,” her father said. “You should go back to your room. Come on, get up there.”
Jenny’s mind raced in every direction it could. It flew back to her room where she would…what? Pretend to be resting? Could she afford to leave Ghost Touch without her help for that long? But if she tried to play, she would totally be caught, and then Ghost Touch might be without her forever.
Her thoughts raced out her door and down the street. Could she run away? Take her computer with her? It was heavy but…but she could carry it, just not without losing her internet connection.
What if she ran and, when they went out looking for her, she snuck back inside and…maybe she could slot in a USB wifi card? And a UPS. That would let her move the computer without losing her connection. Not that she had the money to get a wifi card or a UPS, but that didn’t stop the idea from screaming out to her as her one best hope.
“Why don’t you go back to laying down,” her father said as he followed her into her bedroom. “I’m just going to take this out for now. You can have it back for your homework once all this nonsense is over.”
Jenny turned, whirling in what felt like slow motion as she saw her father yanking on her computer’s power supply.
“No…” She got only the smallest word out before sparks of brilliant light began to rise from her skin and her body blazed away.
Interlude – Beijing
It was a committee who acted. No one person was at fault. A Western company was responsible for several thousand disappearances and there had to be a response. Others might question if it was a good response, or even a wise one in the face of no good choices, but those others were not people the committee had to answer to.
At 6:20pm UTC, 2:20am local time in Beijing, “the Great Firewall of China” descended on the connections to Egress Entertainment’s foreign server cluster and their partner company inside the People’s Republic of China was disconnected from the network as well.
Also at 2:20am local time in Beijing, just shy of forty thousand people vanished in showers of brilliant light.
News of the event was immediately restricted, but videos from hundreds of sources began appearing on foreign video hosting sites minutes thereafter.
At the highest levels of the government liaisons were being made, and the powerful scrambled looking for any options to save face.
On the ground though, over forty thousand Chinese families began the fight to save their loved ones and the world.
Interlude – Beth Myers
The call had come at two in the morning. Beth had finished a twelve hour shift and was less than two hours into a deep and dreamless sleep which she desperately needed.
But the call had come.
Leslie was more than her best friend. They’d grown up together.since they were two years old. They’d faced the worst that their teenage years had to offer and stayed close as the frictions of adult life and diverging careers had struggled to tear them apart. Beth would jump on a grenade for any member of her squad, or anyone else in the service, well, almost anyone else, but there was no one in the world that she would get out of bed for at 2:00am in the damn morning and drive for three hours through the night for.
Only for Leslie.
And for Trixie.
“When’s mommy going to be back?” Trixie asked when, twelve hours later, Aunt Beth had finished reading her “How The Cheetah Got His Spots” for the seventh time.
“She’s still out saving the world,” Beth said, having no better answer to give.
It hadn’t been Leslie who’d called. It had been someone who’d never met Leslie in person. Someone who Beth had never met. An online friend of Leslie’s with the most impossible story. And an impossible to deny request.
“Is that gonna be before bed tonight?” Trixie asked.
“I think it’s going to take a bit longer than that munchkin,” Beth said, reaching for another book.
Trixie was quiet and curled up closer to Aunt Beth.
“Its gonna be scary when its dark,” she said. “We should turn the lights on.”
“Oh we will,” Beth said. “But it’s not going to scary at all. I’m going to be here with you, until your Mom gets back, and you know I’m soldier right. So I know all kinds of things to keep you safe.”
“No,” Trixie said. “I’m ok. I’m not scared.”
“Of course not,” Beth said. She’d never had kids of her own. She’d always been comfortable with the idea that Leslie had that taken care of for her. At least until Terry, Leslie’s husband had been killed in a car crash, leaving Leslie a single mother and reliant on pastimes that let her be at home when her daughter needed her.
Sitting down at a computer when Trixie was in bed wasn’t supposed to leave a little girl alone in their apartment with no one to care for her and Beth had violated the hell out of state and local speed limits to ensure that by the time Trixie woke someone was there to take care of her.
“But mommy. She might be scared. If it gets dark.”
“Oh, we’ll leave a light on, but I grew up with your mommy, and you know what secret I know about her?”
“No. What?” Trixie, eager and alert to learn something special about her mother.
“When I was your age? I used to be so scared of the dark I’d cry. I’m not scared anymore though and do you know why?”
“Cause you’re a soldier and you can karate chop bandits!” Trixie said, miming a decent karate chop.
“That I can, but I stopped being scared of the dark a long time before that and it was all because of your mommy.”
“My mommy? Can she chop bandits too?”
“Your mommy? She can do a lot more than that. Your mommy is so strong that it’s the things in the dark who are afraid of her.”