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Willow opened the note, the handwriting on it strange, loopy. Then she remembered a conversation she’d had with Violet a few years back. Violet loved what she called ‘cursive’, a handwriting type that was practised a lot in the last century, but with everyone going digital and especially with how easy it was to just send voice messages these days, nobody used it anymore. It was rare enough to find someone with legible handwriting, let alone something as special as cursive handwriting.

Dear Willow,

When you find this note, please don’t worry and tell the others not to worry either.

Better yet, tell them that I’m fine, that I’m just playing Helheim Fallen and that I’m deep into the game.

That didn’t feel right. Why would she lie to their friends? Why would Violet ask her to lie?

I’m writing you this message to tell you that I’m safe, I’m okay.

I’ll contact you again soon.

Love,

Violet

What? Why? There was nothing in the note that could help her out. Nothing.

Then she looked over the small note, trying to find any distinguishing marks. But there didn’t seem to be anything on the paper. It was simple dark blue paper, folded a couple of times, and then just dropped into her delivery box.

Wait! Her delivery box!

It had shown that she had a delivery earlier, she just hadn’t seen anything in it at the time. The small note would have been too small to be visible from the top of the delivery box... How long had this note been in there? How long ago had Violet been here?

She went over to the delivery box and a menu showed up in her AR vision.

[Send Delivery]

[Last Received Deliveries]

[Settings]

She hovered her eyes over the ‘Last Received Deliveries’ option and it gave her a list.

[Last Received Deliveries]

[From ‘Dad’: ‘42 - 03 - 24 18:32]

[From ‘ ’: ‘42 - 03 - 24 12:12]

[From ‘Management’: ‘42 - 03 - 24 09:45]

[From ‘Management’: ‘42 - 03 - 23 17:45]

[From ‘Management’: ‘42 - 03 - 23 9:46]

Willow checked the time. It was just past nine in the evening now, so that meant that Violet had left her the message nine hours ago...

Nine hours, and she didn’t have a clue.

Although... The delivery notice came from an unknown account, while a message from Violet should have come from her account. But if Violet really delivered it herself and her account really was disconnected from the BASE platform...

Willow’s head spun. This was crazy. This was not right. How did things get even more confusing?

She opened the envelope from Soleil. If she couldn’t get in touch with Violet and Violet didn’t want her to tell any of their friends that she may be in trouble... there was only one other person Willow could reach out to.

Inside the envelope was a small plastic stick, square in shape and with a cap on one end. When she pulled the cap off, a rectangular metal computer plug became visible. A USB Type A drive? It’d been years since she last saw one of these... They were proper old school technology. Wow.

Then she found a note in the envelope.

Plug the USB into your computer, you’ll find the important files there. Don’t connect the computer to the net when you do, and don’t save anything from it onto your computer.

There is also a list of websites on it, you’ll find cables and things to connect your computer to the net there, if there aren’t any with your computer, or if they don’t work at your place.

With everything going on, Willow still smiled a little. It was like Soleil really knew her dad, or maybe her getting her old computer back and needing the supplies for it was just an obvious thing for her to do. Soleil did seem to know and understand her pretty well…

If you want to talk privately, pull up a command prompt on your AR and put in the code below. That will open a secure link right to me.

Thank you for helping out!

Soleil

That was quite a big leap to make, to just assume that she was able to do these things. That she’d know how to get to the command prompt in the BASE platform in AR. Not that she couldn’t. But Soleil probably expected at least some level of competency from the people she worked with...

Willow read the code at the bottom, then she pulled up a command prompt, something she wasn’t supposed to be able to reach this easily, but with the amount of times she overrode her ‘low sensory protection protocol’ settings, it was almost a reflex.

*You are now in a chat with Rotnem*

No invitations that were being sent. Just a direct chat without any questions or hurdles or privacy protections. Interesting.

Willow: What happens when an account is blitzed?

She looked at the chat, waiting for an answer, almost holding her breath.

Rotnem: The ID is scrambled, all your data is basically unusable.

She knew that part.

Willow: But what if you’re supposed to be clocked by a system? What would you show up as?

Rotnem: Show up as?

Willow: The name or account, what would show?

Rotnem: I have no idea. Sorry.

Rotnem: Do you have an idea?

An idea was a little too much for the small inkling that she had, but at least she now knew that there was no one way that blitzed accounts worked, or at least, it wasn’t common knowledge. She only suspected that Violet’s account had been blitzed. With everything she knew right now, that seemed to be the only explanation.

Willow: Maybe. I don’t know yet for sure.

Willow: My missing friend delivered a note to my place, and the delivery box didn’t register a name. Literally, no name.

Rotnem: Okay. Interesting.

Rotnem: I’ve not been able to talk to someone who’s been in contact with someone who’s been blitzed. At least not in a way where I could get information about their accounts showing up in the system.

Rotnem: I’ve been having to rely on assumptions about the BASE platform code and how things should and would work within it.

Rotnem: But this is interesting and new...

Rotnem: Thanks.

Willow looked over at the box with her old computer. Trying to decide if she should set it up now.

Then a notification blinked at her, and her heart jumped. Was she now really going to get jumpy at every notification she got?

It opened without her input, that only happened when the system thought the notification was too important to ignore for her.

[New Results for Search: Helheim Fallen + missing]

[New Results for Search: Destruction of Elysium + blitzed]

Oh, no. Not good.

She selected the first search and a short list of topics opened. In the last couple of hours, three more people had posted about friends going missing, all of them got beta keys at the same time as Violet and all of their accounts immediately had become unreachable. This could be three different friends or they were all people posting independently from each other about the same friend. Still... Some people, like Violet, went into HF and their accounts were gone right after, that much was obvious.

Violet went into HF, all happy, her account fully intact, and now her whole BASE account seemed to be missing. It took moments, but the connections between just a handful of people going missing every time the beta keys were sent out was… alarming.

Then she opened the second search and there were ten topics talking about people being blitzed in DoE, though, it wasn’t exactly obvious how many different people had been blitzed or if people were just asking and worrying about it a lot.

Willow: How many DoE blitzes have been reported?

Rotnem: From just the videos and screenshots I’ve seen... Three at least. I’m not sure about the fourth yet.

Wow. No way.

Rotnem: And I’ve also seen videos and screenshots of at least two in Bullet Pack Online and another three in Biome Defender IV in the last three days.

Crap. What the hell? Those were the largest three multiplayer games in BASE. So there definitely could have been more people who got hit, they just wouldn’t be found if they mostly played single player games or in smaller games where fewer people hung out.

Willow: You think that HF is at the heart of this?

Because this was hitting a lot of games at the same time.

Rotnem: Yes. It didn’t start happening until after they started sending out more beta keys for HF, and every player hit by the blitzing had been on the beta key waiting list.

Willow didn’t even want to know how Soleil knew that.

Rotnem: Also, we don’t know what happens in HF to the people who go missing.

Rotnem: Their accounts also look blitzed, but without any visual proof, we don’t know.

Rotnem: You can’t reach those accounts anymore. There isn’t a way to contact them. And any posts on the HF forums about this are getting deleted and accounts banned and otherwise preventing people from talking about this.

Willow: Could it be a bug or accident?

Because thinking that something on this scale was intentional was scary.

Rotnem: Even if it’s a bug, we kind of need to know what the bug is so that we can fix it, you know?

Yeah... That was kind of important.

Rotnem: I know I’m asking a lot of you. But I really believe that you would be the right person. You’re also in a very unusual situation which can really help me.

Willow: Unusual?

Rotnem: Don’t get angry, yeah?

Why?

Rotnem: You being officially diagnosed as autistic means that people don’t pay attention to you. You’re smart, you know a lot of things about coding and nobody is looking at you. You don’t have a job to show up at, you don’t have to worry about people wondering where you are or what you’re doing most of the time.

Right...

Rotnem: We can use that to our advantage. You’re invisible in the best way.

Willow: You’re sure-sure that going into HF is the only way that we can figure this out?

Rotnem: Yes. Nobody but the developers know what’s really going on in there. Nobody seems to be able to get into the code of the game from the outside.

Rotnem: I can’t even get in from the outside as a BASE developer and we can get into most things. They’ve been really strict about closing the game off. The only way in is by the front door, you need to go into the game itself as a player to see what’s going on.

Willow: You can’t do it yourself?

Because trusting her with such a task seemed kinda silly with Soleil’s expertise.

Rotnem: No. They know my account, they won’t let me in.

That sounded strange, and didn’t make her feel a any safer.

Willow: Why?

Rotnem: I’ve had a run in with some of their developers in the past. They’ve got a search out for my BASE account.

Willow: But I can get in safely?

Rotnem: Yes. I promise. I’ve...

Rotnem: Someone else is helping us out and they got us in. I just can’t do it myself because of the flag on my account and you’re the only one I know who has the right expertise to pull this off. To get us the information that we need.

Did Willow want to put herself in danger? For people who were basically strangers?

But she couldn’t help herself. The messages about people going missing tugged at her. She couldn’t imagine the fear they were going through, their missing friends, not being able to reach them. And also, she couldn’t imagine the fear of the people who’d gotten blitzed, who were now without friends or family, or a way to get in touch with other people. They were all alone, no way to get to their finances or anything like that. Scary.

Willow had to do this. If there was one feeling she knew well, it was loneliness. Loneliness and fear of being alone all the time.

There was no other thing she could do.

Willow: I’ll do it. What do you need from me?

Rotnem: Thanks. Thank you so much!

Willow: What do I need to do?

Rotnem: If you log onto your VR system, you should see a code in your store cart. That code gets you into HF, there will be an item in your inventory which will help you to see through the game and into the code.

Rotnem: But as soon as you’re in, you’re on your own.

Rotnem: I won’t be able to contact you anymore.

Right. She’d be on her own until she logged back out.

If she’d be able to log out and didn’t get blitzed herself.

Willow: If I don’t log back out and check in with you in twelve hours, meet me at the Dome at noon tomorrow.

That way she’d at least be able to get in touch with Soleil somehow. Safety and all... Although, this was far from safe. This was definitely a ‘nope’ when it came to safety.

Rotnem: Will do.

Willow sat down on her bed, taking a deep breath.

Willow: I’m going in.

She closed the chat window and pulled the VR headset on, then she let herself fall back on her bed and checked into the BASE VR platform.

The world around her changed and she was in her VRHome, it all looked so calm and still, like nothing was going on.

She opened the store menu and Soleil had been right, there was a code in her cart, giving her access to Helheim Fallen.

She accepted the ‘purchase’ of the game and watched it download. It was pretty fast, but then again, the connection in this place was really good.

The icon for Helheim Fallen appeared and she took another breath.

Now or never.

She hit the icon and was transported into the game.

The world around her went dark, until a small light in front of her appeared, growing bigger.

“Helheim is the realm of the underworld, of the darkness, underground. It is ruled over by the goddess Hel, daughter of Loki, but where once this world was hidden, now the veil between worlds has thinned and the creatures of other worlds are invading it. Hel begs every person to help her protect her world from falling any further.”

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