Mark wasn’t very well rested. His sleep was disturbed constantly as he ran through practice runs in his head. Everything would seem like it was going well and then something awful would happen. His mind took him on fanciful journey to the implausible and ridiculous but he couldn’t stop. In one scenario he walked in on a surprise party where everyone mistook him for the birthday boy. In other versions he forgot to bring clothing and was doing the mission naked. Every now and then a particularly vivid flash of the zombies Liz had spotted to the north came in and invaded right in the middle of their attempt. Those sucked the most, but all of them kept him from a good night’s sleep.
Mana Storm (Class B) Approaching
Clear till 10% capacity availability. If unavailable, please update stabilization crystals for additional levels of capacity.
“Oh you just got to be kidding me!” Mark complained. Like he needed something else to worry about today. At least class B probably wasn’t that bad, but the capacity thing worried him. He knew that the Green Mountain Jungle Zone didn’t have that much room. GMJZ was a horrible acronym though. Maybe he should call it the Golden Jungle since the golden apes seemed to be the main creature there, also Golden Colorado was like, right there. Possibly the Golden Biome. Nah, it had to have jungle in there somewhere.
Now wasn’t the time to worry about that though, since it was all probably going to blow up unless they did something. If nothing else, they could warn the school. Mark rushed out to see if anyone else was awake. Hopefully someone would have some insight into what was going on.
It turned out that most people were already out and about. Whether it was the latest system warning or the fact that today was the day they would attempt to contact people inside the school, everyone was already on edge. Mark asked if anyone had seen Liz, feeling guilty that he probably only knew half the people’s names, but needing to talk to someone about what was going on.
It didn’t take too long for Mark to realize that it was actually stupidly early, and Liz was probably still in bed. He sat down for a second to calm himself down. He had wasted a half hour rushing around pointlessly and he was pretty angry at himself for that. He plopped down on one of the new picnic tables that the camp had constructed and tried to order his thoughts. With so many things going on it was easy for him to forget about the bigger picture, and just focus on what was next, but he knew he had to be better. He had to try to get focused more. He had to be improve. His thoughts were interrupted with a large slap to his back.
“Hey son, you look down. What’s up?” His dad said as he sat down next to him.
“Was that a pun?”
“Only if you want it to be. But seriously, you look troubled. What’s on your mind?”
Mark laid out his recent thoughts and they came tumbling out of his mouth in one vomitous streak. He barely paused for breath as he laid out all his concerns and worries. At the end of it he took a deep shuddering breath and looked to his dad for some guidance. Honestly, he was feeling a little lost right now.
His dad didn’t seem to be expecting quite the level of emotion that Mark just displayed and had a complicated expression on his face. Mark didn’t quite know what to expect, but it certainly wasn’t what happened next.
“Hahaha! Oh my god Mark. You’re a treat!”
Mark was utterly confused. He didn’t think that anything he said was funny. To him it was the opposite. His dad’s treatment of his concern with laughter started to annoy him quite a bit.
“I can’t believe you’re laughing at me. I’m serious! I should be doing a lot more and you’re laughing at me because I’m not? What’s the matter with you!”
His dad sobered up at that statement and looked Mark in the eyes. “Mark, I have no doubt that you are serious about what you said, but trust me. Seriously, trust me. You do not have to worry about everything. I’m sorry for laughing at you just then, you just took me by surprise. I thought you were worried about your plan, or the warning, or maybe just a strange thought you had, because that’s what usually gets you. I laughed because there’s a really simple solution for you in the near term, and I didn’t expect to actually have an answer that could help you.”
“But what? There’s like a million things I need to do and I can barely keep track of one.” Mark said in a pained voice.
His dad put an arm around him and pulled im into a hug. “Mark. That’s just it. You keep track of the next thing. The most important thing. The thing in front of you. That’s what you do. That’s what you’re awesome at. I’ve never seen someone focus on something with such single minded intensity as you chasing a goal. That’s what we need from you now. You realize you went from knowing nothing about your powers to basically becoming a ninja in a week? Sure, Liz has been doing amazing stuff with her archery, but that was building off her experiences. Hell, even with me and guns it’s just doing what I’ve always been doing. You have literally created and mastered a set of magical abilities to a level where you can infiltrate a location unseen and magically float away in a cloud of mist. That is amazing. You realize that, right?”
“But, I can’t keep track of all the other stuff. I can’t even remember the names of the people in the camp! They probably all think I’m a jerk!”
“They do not. I can promise you that. They know we’re all in this together. You, me, your sister, your mom, and everyone in camp. You know that, right?”
“And all the stuff you just said. All that worry, it’s just. How do I say this. Mark, we got your back. Mom is a brilliant organizer, as is your sister. I’ve literally been planning for this for years. We have people doing everything they can to support us, and you’re doing your best to support them. You’ve probably cleared out ten times as many monsters as anyone else here, and you’ve worked your butt of so Haley can get word on George. Everyone sees your efforts son. Everyone knows what you contribute. But maybe it’s time you take a look at what everyone else is doing.” His dad paused and lifted his chin pensively. “Yeah, that’s a plan. You do not have to do this all by yourself Mark. You need to know that, because I can see the stress is killing you.”
“I guess?” Mark was still unsure.
“I know. Let’s go see how everyone is doing.”
Mark passed the rest of the morning greeting everyone, and even remembering a few names here and there. The camp had settled into a routine, and he started to notice things he hadn’t seen before. The laundry groups, the people getting furniture from nearby houses, the groups who processed the meat and tagged the cores. There was even a place that was processing a ton of leather. Mark had wondered what was happening with those experiments. Apparently one of the stay-at-home mom’s had gotten an anti-smell ability, and that why Mark hadn’t noticed any tanning going on. It was a strange ability, but walking into the area not protected by it he was suddenly very glad that she had managed to find a way to prevent the smell from spreading.
Seeing how everyone was pitching in, Mark’s mind settled into a much more peaceful state. Sure, he was only focused on the thing in front of him, but as his dad said, he was really good at that. He couldn’t make things not stink. He couldn’t sew at all. Well, maybe a button, but that was only one time and it fell out the next day, but technically that meant he actually did know how to sew, but that wasn’t the point. The point was that Mark had been so caught up in trying to be better, he didn’t stop to notice how everyone else was contributing to share the load. He knew what he needed to do. He still needed to be better, but he just needed to be the best Mark he could be, and the community would shore up his weak points. Also, Liz would probably point out his weak points, because she was annoying like that. It wouldn’t get him down though, because he knew the rest of the camp had his back.
By mid-morning Mark’s mental state had turned around completely.
“Thanks Dad. I needed that.”
“No problem son, it’s pretty much what I do. Remember, you are a huge part of all of this. Without you we wouldn’t have gotten this far this fast. You just worry about being the best Mark you can be.” His dad chuckled to himself.
“Because, honestly son, I love you a ton, but my god, if we were depending on you for long term planning we’d all be living in trees because you randomly thought it would be fun to make tree houses.”
“You are so right! We should totally start making tree houses. That would be awesome!”
“Mark, that wasn’t what I... You know what, you do you, but leave the urban planning to me and your mother. Now go get some food. We’re heading out to the school in a bit and it wouldn’t do to reveal your position with a growling stomach.”
Mark nodded and wandered off to find food in a much better mood and visions of a tree house city dancing through his head.
*knock knock knock*
“Liz! Are you awake? I need to talk to you. Please?”
Liz’s eyes attempted to fight the enormous pressure keeping them closed and slowly but surely she won. An eye half cracked open looked towards the offensive door. She called out asking who was knocking.
“Liz, I know it’s early, but I did the thing you told me, and I got a response, and I don’t know what to do next.”
The thought of finally getting answers sent enough of a jolt to Liz’s brain that both eyes were able to temporarily overcome the terrible downward force keeping them closed.
Liz oozed out of bed and lay on the floor for a moment. She would need to stand up, she supposed. She would just close her eyes for a moment to steel herself and then figure out whatever else she needed to.
“Liz? Are you awake? It’s been like five minutes. Is everything ok?” Jocelyn’s voice whispered fiercely again as she rapped her knuckles on the door.
Realization finally hit Liz. The message Jocelyn had sent was most likely from the system creators and that spurred Liz to bolt upright. “I’m awake! For reals! Awake now!”
She stumbled over herself in a rush to get the door trying to shake the last tendrils of sleep from her mind. As she opened it Jocelyn was standing there looking nervous, cradling her arm and casting furtive glances down the hall. She seemed incredibly uncomfortable.
“Come in.” Liz stepped aside letting her enter.
Jocelyn glanced nervously around the room. Dark bags were clear on her face and red veins stood out angrily in the whites of her eyes. Liz was about to ask if she was ok, but it was pretty obvious she was not. Rather than make small talk she decided to just get right to the point.
“What did they say?”
Jocelyn didn’t speak, and instead walked over to Liz’s laptop. She plugged it into her makeup mirror and started to boot-up the laptop. Seriously though, what the heck was she plugging in and where did that cable come from. It was driving Liz crazy, but she stood silent as she waiting for whatever was going to happen next. Fortunately, whatever Jocelyn’s was doing took very little time and after a few keystrokes she stood up.
“Read it. Just read it. I don’t know what to do.”
Liz could barely breathe as she sat down to read the message.
[OMG i am so glad someone is out there, although I can;t tell you how many security protocols this is probably breaking. The boss would freak if he knew people could do this. Ok,mq typing quick cause so much to do not much time. We can trade text files back and forth, should be fine. I jr admin on the System protocol call me Eversor its my handle i found a lot of bugs and it stuck. dont ask, boss has thing for latin/ god so much crap going on. System not booted fully stuoud mana wave way early. missing ha;f the main systems but we have a patch to at least get messaging up. no other admins in house to do PR request so need someone to approve god i hope they are still alive out there. I can’t change your security level, but I think I can piggyback on a stabilization crystal mod. If you can gfet asccess to crystal admin, I can get you to approve my checkin since it’s only for messaging doesn’t require top level admin and crystqal mod high enveough to do that. jesus just read message so many errors sorry tired not slept for like 4 days and no spel checkler on flat text interface for system. I’d kill to get vim on this thing. ok fer serious here. Get to a crystal, access admin, closest one to admin unlock is CO80228. Looks like its gonna bloow tonight. Get there before it blows, i’ll add in apporval to msg system update, if you approve checkin, i get that running and we can let people know what the f is going on. will sleep for a few now, can’t stay awake, ill get it added, plese please let me jknow that you can do this or we’re further screwrd. people need to know how to dael with the system and i have barely enough juice to hihjack system notifications.]
Liz read and re-read the message, trying to understand exactly what it was saying.It didn’t make a who lot of sense to her though.
“Jocelyn, please tell me you understand what this means? It sounds like whoever is typing needs someone to get to a crystal to help fix something though?”
“Yeah, I mean, assuming it’s talking code and stuff, I think he’s asking me to approve a PR so he can patch some systems on prod.”
“Again, one more time, but in English please?”
“Ok, sorry, just gimmie a sec.” Jocelyn sat down on Liz’s bed and pulled her thoughts together.
“The system is probably some massive code thing, but it’s not on a computer. At least, not like a computer we know. I mean, I’m accessing it by shoving mana into a makeup mirror so yeah, this is not a standard development environment. And a PR is a pull request, which is something that you do if you’re working on a big project and you want to put code you wrote into the main system. Basically it’s a way to prevent people shoving bad code into the system until someone else looks it over to make sure it’s okay.”
“So this person wants to fix some of the systems and needs your help to do it?”
“Yeah, apparently there is some sort of access panel or something at the crystal and if I get there, he said he can send the request to that place and then he can fix the system, or at least part of the system.”
Liz thought about it for a while. “I guess the question is can we trust this person, or I guess it could be anything, at the other side of this message? What if he’s trying to get control of it and is really just an evil jerkface?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know Liz. But if what he’s saying is true, how many people will die because they don’t know what’s going on. If there’s information that can save lives sitting around in a magical box somewhere, and it just needs for me to click a button to fix it, if they die it will be all my fault. What should I do?”
Tears started to flow down Jocelyn’s face.
Liz didn’t have an answer for now, so she just sat down next to Jocelyn to give her a hug.
“We’ll figure it out. We still have some time and the evenings have been relatively quiet. Even if we decide to trust this message and have to make it out to Green Mountain it should be pretty clear.”
Just then, a warning about a Manastorm popped into her view.
“Oh my god system, you are such a jerk!” Dammit, she knew better than to jinx herself, but she was just trying to make Jocelyn feel better. “Ok, new plan. Let’s talk to my mom. She’s crazy smart and this is just too much for us to decide on our own. I know you wanted to keep quiet about this, but I think it’s bigger than what we can handle by ourselves, okay?”
“Great. Let’s go.” Liz found herself relieved. As strong as she considered herself, she wasn’t quite ready to make decisions that could impact the entire human race yet. That’s what moms were for.