Glimmerglass didn’t want to see her old friend die, but as she entered the the treatment tent she felt an unfounded and irrational dread burrowing into her. There was a time when she would have killed or died for BT – she’d done both many times in fact – and despite the gulf the years had put between them, Glimmerglass knew that she still would do either one if the need arose. But, a poisonous whisper in her mind asked, could she really be sure the woman resting on the cot was Burnt Toast? Or was it something far more horrible simply wearing her friend’s skin?
“I think I’m getting a handle on this glitching thing,” BT said as Glimmerglass sat down beside her. “Watch this.”
BT’s body crackled with static, flexing and writhing in a manner that only a localized distortion of space could produce. It looked unbearably painful, as though BT were being shorn apart by a thousand grasping claws all at once. Once it passed though, BT lay before Glimmerglass looking unperturbed.
“I can trigger it with some concentration now,” BT said. “That seems to buy me a window of time where it doesn’t…”
She writhed again the clutches of a glitch, though only for a second.
“Ok, maybe I don’t have a handle on it yet,” BT said. “I thought I could manufacture periods of stability but its like the hiccups. I just can’t make it go away.”
“Is it getting worse?” Glimmerglass asked. She knew the answer. She’d had Damnazon keeping an eye on BT and recording the duration and frequency of the glitch episodes. Glimmerglass knew what the reality was, she just wanted to see how BT reported it.
“It’s more frequent, but not worse,” BT said, shifting so she was sitting up more and could meet Glimmerglass’s gaze directly.
“And how are the glitches coming more often not a sign of things getting worse?” Glimmerglass asked. She wished she had a spell to cure BT or at least diagnosis to share with her, but this glitching status effect wasn’t like any malady she’d encountered from any monster or environment.
“The glitches are disruptive but they haven’t erased me yet,” BT said.
“Erased you?” Penny asked as she joined them in the tent.
Glimmerglass knew Penny had been listening in, but the plan had been for Glimmerglass to talk with BT for a while before Penny openly joined them. Glimmerglass wondered what was important enough about BT’s words to draw Penny in early.
“We lost one of the support reps when he tried to use his GM privileges,” BT said. “As far as we could tell, his account was erased entirely.”
“Was that something that could have happened to you?” Glimmerglass asked.
“I didn’t think it would, but it’s not like we’ve got the rules worked out for this yet,” BT said.
“That’s quite a lot to risk,” Penny said. “We appreciate the support you and Marcus Mashall have given us, but couldn’t you have sent the information without personal risk?”
“Probably?” BT said. “I left a message for Marcus to send the information over to you if my plan didn’t work out, but I thought there’d be a better chance of being able to do the direct file transfers with BT active to facilitate them.”
“Could you elaborate on ‘your plan’?” Penny asked.
“It was pretty simple. I just knew I needed to be here,” BT said. “Hailey wasn’t in a position to make much of a difference, but I knew BT could make sure the information EE had made it to where it could do the most good.”
“Why?” Penny asked. “Specifically why risk your life – all of your lives – to help us? More than one adventurer I’ve spoken to as explained that they feel like they come from another world, one where our world is only known as a myth or a story. Why risk so much for a fiction?”
“How could I think you’re a fiction when I’m as much a native her as I am a traveler from Earth?” BT asked.
“What does that mean? Exactly,” Glimmerglass asked. She suspected if she could understand the nature of what BT had done, and who this ‘Hailey’ person was, she could work out some method of fixing the damage the two had sustained.
“That’s hard to explain,” BT said. “I mean, I could say ‘I’m as much the Burnt Toast that you know as I am Hailey MacGilfoyle, not to mention all of the others, but that makes it seem like they’re each just fragments of me. Like BT wasn’t a complete person in her own right but just an aspect of Hailey being adventurous.”
“If this Hailey is as much of a person as you are, how they both be you?” Penny asked.
“I just am both of them?” BT said. “It’s easier to understand from the inside I think. Glim, you know what I’m talking about right?”
“No,” Glimmerglass said, shaking her head. “I’m just me.”
“Wait, what about Tessa?” BT asked, sitting up straighter.
“Who is Tessa?” Penny asked.
“Glim’s player,” BT said. “I know she’s here. I talked with her…” A look of dawning horror broke across BT’s face. “I talked with her before. When I was on my GM account. But she wasn’t playing as you. She’d rolled a new character. How are you here? How can you not be her?”
“I’m…I’m just not,” Glimmerglass said.
“Do you know who this Tessa is?” Penny asked.
“I think she’s my [Inspiration],” Glimmerglass said. “She helped me when we were on the Consortium ships. When we were caught in the stasis field.”
“But we only showed one account login for Tessa. I thought…wait, how would that have worked?” BT asked, her eyes darting left and right as she searched for an answer to a question she didn’t seem to be able to form.
“Why would it be surprising for both to be active here?” Penny asked. “You said that both of your selves are full beings. Wouldn’t it be more likely to have them acting independently than together?”
“It would. Sort of. But there’s problems,” BT said. “Two big ones. First, when I spoke with Tessa yesterday – my god how has it been that long? – I did a search for my friends and her new character was the only one who showed up. How long have you been active?”
“For several years now?” Glimmerglass said. “Oh wait, you mean when I started adventuring again? That’s more recent. The last few days I think?”
“About when the [World Shift] began?” BT asked.
“When the call went out for troops to repel the Consortium’s first attack, I knew I had to join them,” Glimmerglass said.
“I wish we could tie that back to an event on Hailey’s world,” BT said. “But there’s a more important piece of data we need. From what the EE systems can see the players are logged in to only one account, so we assumed that the number of active adventurers was equal to the number of players who were logged in. We – Hailey and her team – assumed that the players who weren’t logged in couldn’t be in any trouble because their characters wouldn’t exist.”
“Oh,” Penny said, following BT’s concern faster than Glimmerglass could. “The disaster on the other world could be much worse than we understood. We need to compare a census of the adventurers who are taking part in the [Defense Coalition] to the list of players and characters Marcus has records of.”
“More than that – we need to check on the adventurers who opted out of joining the coalition,” BT said. “They’re could be the alts who weren’t being played, or whose players weren’t logged in. We especially need to know if any of them have died and respawned since the [World Shift] began.”
“Marcus will need provide us with his census records,” Penny said.
“That’ll be difficult,” BT said. “The user and characters tables aren’t stored in a flat file format. They’re kept in a database. He’d need to work with one of the developers to get the data exported if he was going to send it to you, and that might take some time. Or wind up with a developer getting eaten. We still don’t know what’s safe for them to do really.”
“That presents a problem then,” Penny said. “You’re asking for a comprehensive list on all of the leveled people we can possibly discover. I’d be inclined to trust you based on the assistance you’ve provided but this war is far from won, and the information you’ve requested would be enough to expose any and all of our true capabilities.”
“That’s not a problem though!” BT said. “We already know what your stats are.”
“But you don’t know exactly how many adventurers we have in reserve,” Penny said. “It would be one of the few plays which would be worth exposing the information you’ve provided so far.”
“If we waste time on this, people who think they’re safe will get pulled over here too, no matter what they do,” BT said.
“I am aware of this,” Penny said. “In that case we will care for them as best we can.”
“I don’t understand! Why can’t you trust…trust me?” BT sat forward, almost rising out bed as the strongest glitch yet shook her body. When it finished, she sat with her head hanging low. “Oh, right, that’s why.”
“None of the other [Disjoined] have been as coherent as you,” Penny said. “None of them have been as peaceful either. I want to believe you are an ally, but I am playing a game against a terrifyingly thorough opponent.”
“There’s not a lot I can do or say to convince you that I’m not an agent of the Consortium is there?” BT asked. “An actual agent in my position would make every protest and offer everything imaginable to get a full census of the adventurers.”
“We could compare notes on our past,” Glimmerglass suggested. “Things only the real you would know?”
“That would be viable under other circumstances,” Penny said. “In this case though, the capabilities of the [Disjoined] aren’t fully understood. They might have complete access to their subjects memories.”
“Maybe Marcus could offer some proof?” BT said. “No, because what could he say that I couldn’t? You’d still be sending the census information out into the aether with no guarantee it wouldn’t eventually wind up in the enemy’s hands.”
“Exactly,” Penny said.
“How about this then,” BT said. “I’ll tell Marcus to get you the information on the full account and billing list and you respond with whether anyone on the ‘Not Logged’ in list is present and, if there are people like that, you find out if any have died and, if so, if they’ve been united with their [Inspirations]. Just those three answers, in general, not for specific characters or players. Once Marcus has that info, he can share it with the people in Hailey’s world who can get the right message out.”
“There is one thing we need to do first,” Penny said. “Win this war. In the heat of battle, census data is going to be impossible collect accurately.”
“The war may go on too long though,” BT said. “I know we’re making a lot more headway on it now, but the Consortium doesn’t give up easily. I know in the game scenario, they were going to be a continuing menace for the new few years. By then the damage will be done.”
“I wish there was another way,” Penny said.
“Maybe there is,” Glimmerglass said. “We don’t need a full census. All we need is a single datapoint which provides an answer to those questions. As soon as we have that, the other world will know what it needs to do.”
“Yeah, but how do we find those datapoints?” BT asked.
“Let the guilds spread the word,” Glimmerglass said. “Guilds chat constantly. Some of them almost certainly already know the answers we seek!”
“Glim! You’re brilliant! I could…could…arrghhh!” BT screamed as another glitch tore through her, this one drawing forth a scream of agony for the first time.