The disaster unfolding before Marcus’s eyes was both horribly and comfortingly familiar.
“So that’s where we’re at,” Anna Alexandra said, stepping back to let Marcus have access to the keyboard and screens she’d just been presenting with.
Anna was the Chief Technology Officer at K2 Squared. It was a recent promotion brought on by the fact that the previous CTO had been playing the company’s premiere MMO, Crystal Stars, when whatever catastrophe that had befallen Egress Entertainment and their Broken Horizons game began spreading.
Remi Touremille, the former CTO was, as far as they could tell, stuck in a series of losing battles, trying to hold back a swarm of enemies that registered as corrupted data on the K2 servers. Whether it was really Remi or only his character and a very clever AI controlling it was a matter of some debate, but the fact that Remi had vanished in a shower of light had the advantage of video proof to silence any naysayers.
So of course there were people naysaying none the less.
Marcus was, in theory, an impartial outsider to all that, but given that he’d spent longer than he could accurately track anymore dealing with more-or-less the exact same problem in Broken Horizons, he felt a deep well of sympathy for Anna’s predicament.
He just wished he could offer her any real help.
“I don’t know if this is good news, but I can tell you that what I’m seeing here is almost identical to what we’ve run into,” Marcus said. “We tried the same things you did with the servers and lost one of our Support guys too.”
“Our servers aren’t setup like yours though,” Anna said.
“Yeah. You’ve got a megaserver farm rather than shards right?” Marcus asked. He would have loved to go in depth with how they were configured, but he wasn’t sure they had that kind of time anymore.
“I don’t see how either one could lead to this though,” Anna said, gesturing to a counter running on one of the other monitors. It was tracking the total number of logged in users and the number was dropping with no sign of slowing down. Sadly none of those users were logging off. Any attempt to do so seemed to produce the same result as Egress has seen with Broken Horizons – instant teleportation.
Marcus really hoped it was teleportation.
He couldn’t process the thought that is was something else.
“That’s where this could be good news,” Marcus said. “Your setup is so different than ours, that it can’t be related to the servers. Or even the game code.”
“It’s got to be something we have in common though,” Anna said. “People start disappearing in flashes of light but only into video games? Into MMOs specifically? There has to be something common that’s causing it. Doesn’t there?”
“I wish I knew the answer to that,” Marcus said. “I mean, we’ve got to look for it, obviously, but I can’t help but wonder if searching in the code and the configuration settings isn’t a waste of time. Or maybe I’m just tired and frustrated. I can tell you this does not getting better after spending a couple of nights at it.”
“Thanks. You are so comforting,” Anna said and collapsed into a chair near him.
“You’re welcome,” Marcus said. “Seriously though, this is important. We can dig into your setup and I’m happy to help point out where its the same as ours, but I think its worth taking a moment to realize that this isn’t your fault. Not you specifically, not your team, or anyone at K2 or Egress. We didn’t do this. It’s not like we missed a bug in the code and, oopsie, our player base is being warped off to parts unknown.”
“I wish it was a bug,” Anna said. “An impossible bug that just happened to show up in both of our codebases at exactly the same time and no one else’s.”
Marcus picked up the coffee that some unspeakably kind soul had dropped off for him.
“Yeah, push out a hot fix and boom, everyone’s back safe and sound,” he said. “Except you know that wouldn’t be the end of it. No matter what happens from here, this is going to change the world.”
“Yeah, there’s going to be a lot fewer people playing MMOs after this,” Anna said.
“Fewer? Oh, no, I don’t think we’re going to see that at all,” Marcus said. “There are multiple protest groups setup already who are demanding that we turn logins back on for BH. I had to setup a special email folder for death threats before the FBI got to our office.”
“Death threats? For what?” Anna asked.
“For not letting them play,” Marcus said. “When people found out what was happening some were, reasonably I feel, terrified, others were shocked and silent, and then there were the ones who felt like they’d ‘missed out’. They though they’d been cheated of of a chance to do something amazing. So they expressed themselves in the manner the internet is best at – bawling like babies.”
“I’m surprised they didn’t try to DDOS your servers,” Anna said.
“Oh, they did,” Marcus said. “But it’s not like that’s a new thing. When we patched the lighting The Tomb of Maldren Vos so it didn’t render clothing transparent? Death threats, DDOS. When we adjusted the cooldowns on Taunts to open up room for a second tank on a team? Death threats, DDOS. Really pretty much anything we do or don’t do will send our loving fans in a rabid frenzy. Or, to be fair, some of them. Most of them are good, and most of the one’s I’ve met are amazing, but the Bawling Babies are hard to ignore.”
“If I didn’t know you were talking about another game I’d say you’ve been reading all my emails,” Anna said. “Why do we do so much work for people who are so horrible?”
“Because they pay us?” Marcus said. “That and our work isn’t really for them. I don’t want to speak for your staff, but I think a lot of us do it for the game itself. I don’t get to code anything, but the designers bring all of us in on the early concept stuff for each new release. Those are some of the best times. When we’re all focused on what we could do to make the world better, or to have it feel more real. To tell you the truth, I can understand the death threats a bit. I mean, getting to live in a world like that? I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about sneaking in through a backdoor.”
“But you stayed,” Anna said, “And came to help us.”
“I know. It surprises me too,” Marcus said. “Though I don’t know how much help I’ve been yet.”
“Honestly? Just know that this is something you folks were already going through? That helps,” Anna said. “Of course if we could find a fix for it that would help a lot more.”
“You’re right. So let me see here,” Marcus said and called up the connection logs for The Crystal Stars. “Your usage spike looks pretty typical for the last couple of weeks. That’s a good baseline. You had a big drop off at the start of the week though. Is that usual?”
“Monday’s are always a little slow, but that is lower than average,” Anna said. “I can’t imagine what else was happening then that might have drawn our players away.”
Marcus was puzzled for a moment. Had Monday been a holiday? No. Those tended to add active players? A worldwide power outage? Obvious not. Then what…
“I’m an idiot,” he said. “Seriously though? Is there that much overlaps between our players?”
Monday having been the launch of the World Shift expansion for Broken Horizons felt like an eternity ago. In Marcus’s mind years had passed though according to the calendar it had only been a few days.
“Could that be what we’re looking for?” Anna asked, perking up at the idea.
“What, that the people who are being swallowed up by Crystal Stars are all BH players too?” Marcus asked. “Damn, that’s an interesting idea. Can you generate a list of the players who have been drawn in?”
“Easily. The question is how to match them to the players in your game?”
“Fair point. They could use different login names in both games.”
“I’d bet that’s relatively few of them though. I think most people pick an online handle to use and stick with it,” Anna said. “If that’s a problem though, we could try to using their credit cards info?”
“Shouldn’t have any false positives with that,” Marcus agreed. “Though we may also find that some of them use one card for one game and another for the other. And then there’s the people who buy timecards and never gave us any credit card info.”
“Let’s start with the user names,” Anna said. “There’s probably a dozen state and federal laws about using peoples credit card info like that.”
“I can call back to Egress and have them send a list over. Should take about five minutes,” Marcus said. “Though, I expect if the FBI isn’t heading here yet that will get them rolling up to your door in an even bigger hurry.”
“I’m surprised they’re not here already,” Anna said. “I know Josh over in legal was going to call them as soon as…well as soon as we saw it happen here and we knew it was real.”
“I think the FBI has bigger problems to worry about at the moment,” Yasha, one of the developers Marcus had been introduced to, said.
She’d come into the room at something below a sprint, which put both Marcus and Anna on their feet.
“What happened?” Anna asked, the concern in her voice a clear indication of how unusual it was to see Yasha panicked.
“I…you gotta see it,” Yasha said.
“Where?” Anna asked.
“Outside. Here. You can see it from the 4 East conference room. Come on,” Yasha said, offering no further clues as she led Anna and Marcus down a hallway, past a cube farm and to a conference room where every developer on the floor seemed to be gathered.
Marcus wasn’t interested in shoving past them, but Anna didn’t hesitate at clearing a path to the window.
Outside was a sunny, typical Las Vegas day. Everything was normal. Normal people walking the streets. Normal cars cruising up and down the road. Normal weak spot in the fabric of reality twisting in the air like the strands of a colossal helix of DNA.
The usual stuff.
Nothing eating away at the fundamental unpinings of reality.
Just a regular day.
Not the end of the world.
Marcus shook his head.
He’d been staring at whatever was out there for too long.
His brain felt like it was full of cotton balls.
Or was made of cotton balls.
Vertigo swirled the office around him.
Was it real?
Was he real?
“Woah, steady there,” Officer Smith said. “Sorry, I thought everything was going to be okay here. Probably shouldn’t have left until we were sure though.
At her side Officer Astra stood.
Officer Astra wasn’t human.
Marcus wasn’t sure which was worse; that he knew that without there being any visible proof to support the idea, or that, after staring into whatever was outside, Astra’s humanity or lack thereof just didn’t matter in the slightest.
“What’s going on?” Marcus asked. “What’s out there?”
“You tell me,” Officer Smith said. “You were the one looking at it for a half hour.”
“I don’t know,” Marcus said. “I can’t even remember. Was it half hour.”
“At least,” Officer Astra said as she guided Anna and then another one of the staff away from the window and into sitting positions.
“This is important I think,” Officer Smith said. “What did you see out there?”
She was asking for something more than a simple answer. Marcus could feel her question burrowing into his mind. It was searching for something?
It was calling to him. She needed him to do something.
She needed him to tell her what was out there because to do that he’d have to give her it’s name.
Not give her its names.
Give it a name.
Not just a word.
Something that encompassed what it was.
Something that defined it. However badly.
Something that would make it real.
He wanted to call it something silly. Or something harmless. Force whatever it was to be as unthreatening as possible.
None of those fit though.
“It’s an [Armageddon Beast],” he said and heard the strangest echo in the name.