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A note from EEngberts

Flu caught up with my updates last Thurs, so double update today!

Willow looked at her dinner, not really feeling like eating. She should really eat something, since she barely had anything today, between waking up late and then seeing that press conference by Daryl and then Sage going missing… Stuff was a little crazy in her head and eating had sort of gotten lost in all of that. And being hungry and having to get things done were not a good combination. If she was hungry, she got grumpy and that was bad, very bad…

But Soleil would come by soon to pick her up to go to Violet’s place and drop off the computer and a few other things so that Violet wouldn’t be totally locked out anymore, and she didn’t really feel like bringing her dinner with her in the car again.

Today, dinner was boiled potatoes, some broccoli and something that was probably chicken breast or something, at some point in time. It was… bland and boring. Some of the dinners they would give her really didn’t appeal to her at all, and somehow there was this big thing about ‘giving her what she needs’ but then as long as she didn’t get full-on panic attacks they would give her the grossest food that they could give her…

As she shoved a bite of ‘chicken’ into her mouth, she scanned through the messages on the DoE and HF forums, seeing if there had been some interesting posts today, while she’d been doing other things. But even though everywhere people were talking about the press conference, a quick glance didn’t give her anything new about what was said or real theories about what Daryl meant by it.

Apparently, some people were insisting that the specific words that Daryl had used were ‘just his way of talking’, while others were freaking out about people going to be round up because they’d been in jail… Neither was very useful and none of them seemed to really grasp that the ‘disappearances’ really were connected to HF and that Daryl had just told them in exactly what way they were.

So, apart from once again realising that the world really was filled with people who had no idea how those with money thought about those who didn’t have as much money to spend or those who they deemed ‘useless’ to society, like they usually thought about her. There didn’t seem to be any new information that she could use to figure out what to do next. None.

Too bad.

She felt like she was running out of options, out of avenues on how to find what had happened, what was going to happen. And that didn’t leave her with a good feeling at all.

She wanted to fix this, she wanted to stop Daryl from potentially blitzing a whole load of new people, just because of his deranged ideas.

Then a call came in. Soleil.

Willow accepted the call. “Hey.” She was tired but she knew she had to go on for a while longer.

“Hey.” Soleil also sounded just tired as her. “I’ll be there soon. I’m on my way.”

“Okay.” Willow stabbed at her food a couple of times. “Any news?”

Soleil was silent for a few moments, but when she spoke again, her voice was quieter. “Yeah. They found Sage, and… Yeah.”

That didn’t sound good. “What is it?”

“You’re probably going to want to talk to them yourself. There are some things that even I don’t know how to explain.”

“Bad things?”

“Depends on your definition of bad. Honestly. There is ‘good news’, but it’s being overshadowed by everything else.”

“You’re being confusing.” Willow pushed the plate away from her, really not feeling like eating any of this right now. Then she grabbed her jacket, put it on, and went out the door. Soleil still hadn’t said anything. “Soleil?”

“Yeah, sorry. Was reading something. Ehm. We’re going to have to set up a call with Sage so that they can explain everything themselves. But right now… I don’t have much else for you.”

“What can you tell me?” Willow went to the food machine at the base of the building, getting herself a wrap and a simple salad. That seemed much more appealing to her right now, much more than the potatoes and other bland food she still had upstairs.

“Sage is part of a group who have found something in HF that can explain what’s been going on, but it’s going to be hard to fix and I don’t know how safe it will be.”

“Will it ever be? Safe?”

“No, I guess not.” Soleil sighed. “Are you ready to go?”

“In a moment, I still have to get the computer and everything.” She went back upstairs to her room, putting the food near the door so she could grab them on her way out.

“Okay. See you in a moment.”

“See ya.” Willow disconnected the call and went over to the box with the computer. She’d opened it before, but never did much with it, too preoccupied with the blitzing and the people going missing and the trying to get her friends back. It just didn’t seem like good use of her time to actually play with it.

She took the coding books out of the box, that would at least make it a lot lighter and it wasn’t like Violet would need those.

Then, as she was reorganising everything in the box for easier and safer transport, the bell rang.

***

The trip to Violet’s place seemed a lot longer this time, now that she knew what they were going to do and now she actually looked forward to seeing Violet again. The box with the computer was in the back of the car, they had to carry it down together because it was so heavy, but they managed it, even though it hadn’t been easy. And now they were just waiting until the car got them to where they had to be.

Willow looked out the window, her eyes going over all the different buildings, her mind somewhere else entirely. Then she opened the chat screen.

Willow: ??

Rotnem: What is it?

Willow: Where does Sage live?

Rotnem: Not in the slums. If that’s what you’re worried about.

Willow: Where?

Rotnem: I don’t know if it’s okay if I tell you, so I can’t right now.

Soleil had already said that it was hours away by plane, but not which direction that would be. So Willow still had no idea. She kind of wanted to know where Sage lived, if only to figure out what she could do to help them.

Rotnem: Sage is fine. They actually have an old school computer to connect to the net, and we should be able to talk to them soon.

“Talk to them?” Willow now looked straight at Soleil. “I can chat with them?”

Soleil nodded. “We’re just waiting until Violet is here too, that way we can all talk at once.”

Willow sighed. They still had quite a way to go before they would reach Violet’s place, and now she had to wait until they were there before she could talk to her friend. But at least she could talk to them, that was a good thing. Right?

She closed her eyes as she leaned her head against the cold window. Maybe she could just nap for the rest of the trip, just sleep for a little while so that she wasn’t so exhausted when she actually saw Violet and spoke to Sage later.

She started as someone touched her arm.

“Willow?” That was Soleil, and then she realised that the car was no longer moving. It had stopped. And they were at Violet’s place. Okay…

“I’m here.” She felt drowsy, she must really have fallen deep asleep.

“Good. You may want to go ring the bell.” Soleil pointed at the building.

“Yeah.” Willow got out of the car and went over to the building. She rang the same bell as she had before, somewhere in her heart still scared that Violet wouldn’t be there, that last night never happened.

A crackling sound came from a speaker near the bell. “Hello.” That was Violet’s voice!

“Hey, we’re here.” Willow smiled, breathing a little easier.

“I’ll be right down.” The light crackling stopped and Willow stepped away from the door, waiting on Violet. Then the door opened and Violet burst out, a huge smile on her face, and the next moment Willow was wrapped in Violet’s arms. “You’re back.”

“I’m here.” Willow didn’t know what else to answer, just glad to see her friend again and enjoying the closeness. Then she remembered about Sage and that Violet didn’t know anything about Sage’s blitzing yet. “We need to talk. Stuff has happened.”

Violet let go of her, and when Willow looked at her, Violet seemed worried. “Bad?”

Willow shrugged a little. “Sage found something, and then got blitzed.”

Violet’s eyes grew. “What?! Are you serious? Are they okay?”

“They’re okay. Soleil was able to set up a call with them, but she wants you to be there too.” Willow started going back to the car, tugging on Violet’s arm a little, but then let go. Too awkward.

They got back into the car, Willow sitting in the front and Violet in the back.

“Hey.” Soleil nodded at Violet.

“Hey.” Violet nodded back. “Thanks for setting this up.”

“Yeah. Of course.” Then Soleil hit a couple of buttons and the inside of the car changed, turning Soleil and Willow’s chairs so that they were all sitting in a sort-of circle. “Ready?” Soleil looked at Willow.

Willow nodded. Was she ready to talk to Sage? Of course she was.

Soleil hit a couple of buttons in the air and a module in the middle of the car lit up. In her AR view, Willow could see two portraits, one of a guy about the same age as Soleil, and one with just a generic grey person outline thing. Under the man was the name ‘Aster’ and under the empty portrait it said ‘Sage’.

When Willow glanced at Violet next to her, she remembered that Violet probably couldn’t see anything extra.

Soleil handed Violet a headset plus microphone contraption, which Violet easily slid on. “That way we can all hear each other easier.” Soleil tapped in the air again. “You two ready on the other end?”

“I’m ready,” said a lower male voice that Willow didn’t recognise, probably Aster.

“I’m ready.” This time Willow did recognise the voice. Sage!

“Hi Sage.” Willow couldn’t help her grinning.

“Willow, hi! I heard that Violet would be there too?” Sage sounded the same as they always did, calm and collected, like everything was normal.

“Yeah, I’m here too.” Violet smiled, her eyes closed as she leaned back. “I heard you were making problems?”

“Depends on what you call ‘problems’, I was trying to figure out what was going wrong and get you back to playing with us again.” Willow could hear the grin in Sage’s voice.

“And that’s why we’re all here now,” Aster spoke up. “Sage here triggered something that not only kicked them out of the system but also a couple of others.”

“Others?” Willow didn’t like the sound of that.

“Yeah…” Sage didn’t sound so happy anymore. “Ehh… Remember that I talked about blitzing? Well, I found out about that from some place online and a couple of us from that place got together and we started hunting around in the code of HF… We found a few things that those in control of HF don’t like us to see… We got caught and then kicked out of the system. And then blitzed, for good measure.”

“But you were talking to Opal when you got blitzed.” Willow frowned, that was what Opal had said anyway. And he blob in the garden of the guild house was supposed to be Sage…

“Oh, I was. I thought that I may have escaped them, and I remembered what you said about needing a blitzed account to track something. So, I thought that if they were going to blitz me anyway, that I could as well be that link that you needed.” Sage made it sound like the most normal thing in the world.

“What did you do?” Violet didn’t sound very happy either.

“Well…” Sage sighed. “Like I said, we went hunting in the code, just to see if something seemed off. And we found a couple of lines of code that weren’t supposed to be there. Code that requested the Personal ID of a player from the server, pretending that it was just some innocent piece of code… The code kept trying to throw up errors or something to catch account information that HF never should be able to have access to.”

Willow looked a Soleil, she’d shown Willow pieces of code that did exactly that before, when they met for the first time. So it wasn’t just a one off, and now some game was exploiting a bug that very few people had found before.

Soleil looked at the thing in the middle of the car. “How much did you find about what it does?”

“We found that HF runs player profiles through some sort of closed off system while you’re doing your character creation and if it does get an error, it will, ehh… flag your account. Which we suspect means that you’re going to get a blitz. The thing is, this code can also be used stand-alone, so they can run BASE IDs through it without the need for the person affected to actually be inside the game. We found a weakness in their system, some part of the code can be affected from inside the game, this part of the coding is affected by the weakness.”

Well, that explained how they could blitz the people who’d never even been inside the game, they only needed the BASE ID and could run it.

“Can we see it?” Willow would love to see the actual code, just to see how it worked. Coding was an interesting art, but also because this was just… evil.

“I’ve got the code. I was able to swipe it before we were found out,” Sage replied. “It’s stored offline, they can’t get to it.”

“And now what?” Violet looked interested. “Can we go after them? Kick their ass? Stop this all from taking out even more people?”

“How would you like to get a new BASE account?” The smirk in Sage’s voice was unmistakable.

Violet’s eyes went wide as she stared at Willow.

A new BASE account? Was that even possible? Could they really get Violet and maybe even Sage a new BASE account?

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EEngberts

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