"Something is very wrong." Julia paced in front of the booth. Her single tress swung in time with her step, whipping in a dangerous arc with every change of direction. "It's been hours. Every notice I've sent to admin has been ignored. I'm not even certain the notices are making it through."
"I'm no programmer," James said, "but in such a complex game, it must be normal to have problems."
"Quality Control is my area," Julia said. "This has never happened before. In any case, I want to know why it's been allowed to go on this long." She fixed her beady gaze on Donald. He sat in a corner of the booth with a ruminative look and an enormous mug of beer. "Say something. It's rather unlike you to be so passive."
Donald drank, rolled his shoulders, and drank again, staring off into nothing. "Someone on the outside's callin the shots. It was me or you, we'd all been disconnected by now." He gulped another huge swig. "When the press gets word, we're fucked."
"At this point, the police are a bigger concern," Julia said, pacing once more. "There's no precedent in law, but at best we could be looking at a mass tort. At worst, they might call it unlawful confinement and file a criminal case."
"Whoa," Casey said, eyes wide. "Intense."
James drummed his fingers against the table. His gaze slid to Sara where she sat next to Donald with the same impassive expression as always. Was the lockdown her doing? If so, why was she just sitting there with a beer like everyone else?
"This is ridiculous," James said aloud, not quite intentionally.
"What is?" Kanade asked, looking up from a lengthy private contemplation.
James rubbed his face with one hand and picked up his beer with the other. "Everything. Okay. Let's think about this. What do we know?"
"That we're, uh ... stuck here?" Casey said.
"And that for whatever reason, someone has decided to keep it that way," Julia said, finally taking her seat next to James. She almost physically deflated upon touching the soft cushion of the booth. "And that our attempts at communicating with the outside have been useless."
"Are there any methods we haven't thought of?"
Julia looked annoyed and held up a hand, ticking off a list on her fingers. "I've tried petitioning system admin, calling with the phone, talking to the NPCs, using NetMeet, and stamping my feet like a child. Of the five, stamping my feet was the most cathartic, and roughly as effective."
"I'm not a computer person," James said, "so if this is stupid, please ignore. But NetMeet is independent of Shattered Land, correct?"
"Then for NetMeet not to be working, it can't just be a Shattered Land error."
There was a short silence.
"That ... might be true," Julia said, blinking. "I see. For NetMeet to fail, it would almost have to be an intentional blockage." One corner of her mouth turned upward in an expression that was half smile, half terrifying. "Though it's vexing to be told that by someone who doesn't even understand computers."
"You're gettin old and slow," Donald said. "Maybe QC needs a new head."
Julia rolled her eyes. "Oh, dear. The great genius has spoken. Leave us not forget that Mr. Marsh didn't think of it either."
"Today's my day off," Donald said, then drank deeply. "I don't debug on my day off."
YOU ARE READING
No Life to LoseMystery / Thriller
James Kirkpatrick's difficult life leads him to take solace in virtual reality—a momentary peace soon shattered by mystery, intrigue, and unseen forces bent on plunging the world into chaos. An epic tale of love, loss, and the boundless influence of...