“What?” That was Soleil, her eyes darting around the room. “Are you sure?”
“Yes.” Violet shrugged a little. “In my building alone, there are five people who have been blitzed.”
“Why?” Soleil shook her head. “Why?”
Violet shrugged again, her eyes serious. “How would I know? You’re the one who’s from the big company that takes care of these things. Why don’t you tell me how people’s accounts are getting all messed up and we can’t even do simple things like buying food anymore because we have no way to get to our bank accounts? Why don’t you tell me how this can happen?”
Soleil blinked, trying to understand what she’d just heard, and Willow felt bad for her. Soleil had no idea about the scale of all of it, that much was obvious. Soleil had been sending Willow into HF, she’d had contacts all over the place, trying to get a grip on what was going on, but she honestly had no idea about the real scale of the blitzing.
“I have no idea.” Soleil’s voice sounded small, odd for the strong person she normally seemed, and Willow saw Violet’s face fall immediately.
Violet let out a dismissive sound. “It’s not like we don’t have our ways here. Most of us are not dying of hunger or anything. The woman the police found was unlucky, she’d gotten locked out of her own house, but most of us don’t have the whole house decked out in BASE platform security. The system is too unreliable here. And we have our own ways of taking care of our own. But we’ve lost all our savings, everything that we need to live a somewhat normal life here. All of it is gone.” She frowned. “Nobody has ever heard of this before, blitzing on this scale. It’s unheard of.”
“It happens, though? Blitzing? I thought it was some urban legend.” Willow stared at Violet. “Are you sure?”
Violet shrugged. “Yeah. Sometimes. Someone pisses off someone high up the food chain and suddenly they can’t get into anything anymore. It also means that lots of people here don’t have legal jobs, exactly...” She looked a little sheepish. “That’s reality here. Blitzing happens. Just not on this scale.”
Soleil nodded and Willow could see her think.
But it wasn’t just the blitzing itself that bothered Willow. “Can you at least buy food and stuff like that?” She wanted Violet to be safe and taken care of first and foremost.
Violet nodded. “Yeah. I can buy food and I’ve found a new job. It’s just... the hours are a little more inconvenient than they used to be before, but at least it’s closer to home now. So that’s a plus. And no more annoying system bugging me about my ‘optimal sleep times’ and everything.” Violet shrugged again, like these things didn’t matter much, but then she frowned. “But not being able to talk to my friends... that’s harder. It’s very lonely not being able to talk to anyone.”
“We miss you. I miss you.” Willow felt her tears come on again. How did she keep getting all cry-y like that?
“I miss you guys too. How is Mira?”
“Bigger. Though I’ve not seen her recently, I’ve been...” Willow eyed Soleil. “I’ve been playing HF.”
“What?! No.” Violet turned to Soleil. “Please, tell me she’s joking.” Her voice dropped, sounding a little out of breath, but her eyes were wide with panic. “You can’t have...”
“It’s okay.” Willow tried to get Violet’s attention, to make her stop staring at Soleil like that. “It’s okay.”
“It’s not okay.” Violet stood up, still staring at Soleil. “Are you serious? Is she serious?”
Soleil looked away. “She is. She’s playing HF.”
“Get her out of there. I’ll do whatever you need, but get her out of there. Get her out of that game.” Violet’s voice wobbled, and Willow saw tears in her friend’s eyes, her friend who she’d rarely ever seen upset like this.
“I need to be in there. I can’t help otherwise. There is no other way.” Willow hated seeing Violet upset, it made her own tears almost spill too. “We need to find out what happens, why the blitzing even takes place. We can’t if we’re not...”
“There has to be another way.” Violet shook her head. “Has to be. That game... It...” She shook her head more. “I’m sorry. I have to go. I can’t do this.” Violet started walking off.
When Willow tried to follow her, Soleil grabbed her arm, holding her there. “What?” She had to go after Violet.
“Nothing. Just... I’m sorry for bringing you into all of this. She’s right, you know? I’ve put you into too much danger already...” Soleil shook her head.
“I don’t care. I want to help her. I want to help other people who got blitzed. I want to stop this. But now... I need to...” She looked after Violet again, who just went through the door. “I need to go after her.” Willow’s heart was hurting and she couldn’t let things end like this, she couldn’t let Violet just walk away. She had to help her friend, no matter what.
Soleil let her go, nodding, and Willow ran after Violet. She had to tell Violet why she was doing this, she had to tell her that they were just trying to help.
As she left the cafe, she looked around and saw Violet walking away, her shoulders hunched up high, her whole stance broken. Then she rushed after her.
“Violet.” She was close to her, but didn’t grab her, giving her space. “Please. Hear me out.”
“Why?” Violet turned to her. “Why would you put yourself in danger? Why?”
“To help. I want to stop this. I want to stop people going missing. I want to stop this.”
“You really have no idea, do you?” Violet shook her head. “We’re not missing. We’re right here. Like we’ve always been.”
“But your BASE accounts are gone. Nobody can contact you. Nobody can even figure out who you are. Nobody has an idea about who the missing people are, or where they are.”
“Well, someone in HF knows.” Violet’s eyes went hard. “Someone in HF is targeting very specific people and somehow they know people’s BASE and personal ID, or we wouldn’t be able to get scrambled. Someone is targeting people in HF and it’s getting worse.”
“It’s not just HF.” Willow swallowed hard. “People have gone missing playing DoE and other games too.” She looked away, somehow not wanting to tell Violet, but still feeling like she had to. “It’s not just HF anymore.”
“Crap.” Violet sighed. “Why?”
Footsteps behind them made them look around, Soleil came walking up to them, looking serious. “I’ve got an idea, from the things you’ve been telling me. But you’re not going to like it.”
“What is it?” Willow hated the way her voice sounded so feeble.
“Violet, you said that people here don’t always do legal things, right?”
“What if that is how people are selected? It explains why there are so many of the blitzed people here, lots of people here have come in contact with law enforcement in not-so-good ways.” Soleil didn’t sound happy about figuring this out, but yeah, it wasn’t really good either. “What if they somehow cross-check people on the HF beta list with people who have come in contact with the law?”
“And then what? Why would they do it?” Violet didn’t sound convinced.
“I don’t know. I have no idea. That’s the part that makes no sense. They totally destroy blitzed accounts, more severe than any blitzing I’ve seen before, totally gone. You can’t even backtrack the accounts anymore in games. They’re totally wiped. But there seems to be no real reason for it. It’s like, even though we know who are getting targeted, there still doesn’t seem to be any clue as to the why.”
Willow nodded. It made sense, in some stupid way. “And now what? What are we going to do with this? Are we going to tell anyone with a criminal record to not log onto the game? They’re not just getting blitzed in HF, they’re getting blitzed all over the place. You can’t log out of your BASE account, there is no way to get off that beta list anymore. So, now what?”
“I have no idea either, I’m sorry.” Soleil shook her head.
That question seemed to have gotten them all stumped.
What were they going to do with this information, could they even do something with it? They had the who but still no why or how and those were a lot more important when it came to figuring out what next.
They walked back to Soleil’s car slowly, everyone lost in their own thoughts. When they were at the car, Willow looked at Violet. She wished she could do something for her, something real, something useful. Then she realised that there was something she could do for Violet.
“Do you have a way to connect an old school computer in your place?” Willow looked at Violet.
“An old school computer?”
“Yeah, like they had at the cafe?”
“Maybe? I don’t know, I’ve never checked. Why?” Violet looked a little curious now.
“I’ve got a computer at home. It’s old, really old, but maybe we can get it to interface with a text chat or something?” She eyes Soleil, who shrugged. “That way we can at least stay in touch.”
“Probably. It sounds like something to try out.” Soleil nodded. “And I should have some bits to connect it, if it requires extra cables and such.”
“Really?” Violet blinked, slowly smiling. “Are you sure? Those things are rare.”
“I can probably get my hands on another one, but you’ve got nothing left. It’s the least I can do.” Willow shrugged.
Violet reached out and pulled her close. “You have no idea how much this means to me. Just... Can you stay safe? Please? I don’t want you to end up like this too.” Her voice was low and Willow nodded.
“But I can’t stop playing HF. I’m sorry. I need to find out what happened. Now we have some idea of how people are chosen, we need to find out what is happening, why they’re doing it.” Willow tightened her arms around Violet. “Please, trust me on this.”
“I do. I trust you. You know that.” When Violet pulled back, Willow could see how serious she was. “I trust you.”
Willow nodded again. “And if we can get the computer working for you, at least we can talk again. We can do something. That’s good.”
“Yeah.” Violet smiled a little, then she looked over to Soleil. “If I can get it to work. I want in on whatever you’re doing. I want to be right there, I want to know what is going on and how I can help too. I’m right here with other people who are blitzed, I can get you information you need. Just let me in on this.”
Willow looked back at Soleil, who nodded. “Sure. We’ll figure something out. And I’ll see about... maybe getting some help down here, see what we can do about those blitzed people.”
“You can do that?” Willow was somehow surprised by the offer.
Soleil shrugged. “I can see about trying it. I have no idea if it actually works. Maybe, maybe not, but this isn’t right and you shouldn’t be getting in more trouble because someone somewhere is being a controlling ass. I can try it, that’s all I can promise.”
Violet nodded. “Still, thanks.” Then she looked more serious. “It’s five days until the official release of HF. If we can prevent putting more people in danger by somehow getting the word out about what HF is doing or something. I don’t know, maybe it helps?”
“That’s what I’m hoping for too.” Willow sighed. If she could prevent more people getting in trouble, that would mean everything to her. “I’m just... I’m glad to see you’re okay. I was really scared. We were all scared.”
Violet nodded, her eyes soft. “I know. Tell the others that I’m okay. And tell them about what you’ve figured out, about the criminal record thing. Just... just to protect them.”
“Will do.” Willow nodded. “What are your work hours at your new job? That way we can drop off the computer, right?” She looked at Soleil.
“Yeah.” Soleil nodded. “If you know your hours, we can drop by whenever it’s convenient.”
“What’s the time?” Violet looked at her.
Willow pulled up her little program in AR. “It’s four in the morning.” No wonder she was so exhausted.
“I’ve got work in about five hours, a twelve-hour shift. And then another shift from about midnight to six in the morning.” Violet sighed like this was frustrating but somehow she was used to it. “I know, not technically allowed, but I don’t have a BASE account anymore, so they can break the rules all they want because there is no reliable way to track what hours I’m really working.”
Willow looked at Soleil, a panic starting in her chest. They had to do something, and soon too, because this wasn’t right, really not right.
“We’ll come by between ten and midnight tomorrow.” Soleil nodded. “And I’ll see about getting you a few other old school things. Maybe a handheld phone or something like that. It would mean that people can actually contact you and it works as a clock and alarm too.”
Violet nodded. “Thanks. That’s been… a little out of my price range, if I can even find someone selling them.”
Willow hugged Violet tightly. “Take care. Stay safe.”
“You too.” Violet’s voice was thick, but Willow tried to ignore it, because it made the tightness in her chest worse.
She’d learned so much tonight. So many things she never really wanted to know, but also so many things that seemed to sort of get them ahead in their search now.
But in this all, she was still wondering why people would do this. Why would they hurt people by blitzing their accounts? what was their end goal? What was the purpose of all of this?