Scott Johnson (penguinzero) wrote,
Scott Johnson

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.hack//EPILOGUES: In the case of Misono Mariko

And, finally, a section of a fanfic work in progress I'm still grappling with. Seeing the talented camwyn's stories in progress has given me a bit of confidence that my stories won't be totally ruined by posting them while still half-finished. (Not that I yet aspire to be as skilled as her, but I'll take what I can get.) Warnings: fanfic, non-uber popular series.

[The server is currently down. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience. If the problem persists, please try connecting to another server, or contact CyberConnect's twenty-four hour technical help line. Regular status updates on technical issues are posted to The World's web site at...]

Mariko stared blankly at the error message, breathing heavily, adrenaline still racing through her veins. One moment, she had been standing by Tsukasa's side, among all the allies and friends she'd made, as that strange giant appeared in the sky over the Net Slum. It had raised its staff, air rippling before it, as if to attack. And then, Helba's voice...

{I will abandon that field.}

And then... nothing. Her screen had gone black, distorting as if switched off. For a moment, she'd heard some kind of chime, but only for a moment.

By the time her desktop had come back up with the error message, she had been jerked back to reality. Ever since the battle at Hidden Forbidden Holy Ground, she'd only been peripherally aware of her real body, the real room around her, the motions her hands made to control how her character moved. The game had been all that was real. The World had been her whole world.

She shook her head to clear it, and rubbed her eyes slightly, taking off her glasses. How long had she been sitting there, immersed in the game? Too long, probably. If her parents had been home that night, they would doubtless have been after her to go to bed, or to get away from the computer for a while. Or perhaps not. They knew how much the connections she'd made there meant to her. She was able to make so few in real life, after all.

She cleared the error message away and clicked on the icon for The World, automatically sending her user name and password to the servers. Once she was back in The World, she could flash mail Tsukasa, and find out what had happened...

[The server is currently down. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience. If the problem persists...]

She blinked. This was unheard of. Altimit OS almost never crashed, and was extremely quick to reboot. Those were among its numerous selling points. Even if The World had crashed, surely they'd have brought it up again already -- CC2 and Altimit depended too much on the goodwill and income it brought in. She tried logging in again.

[The server is currently down. We sincerely...]

Perhaps it was a problem on her end? She awkwardly bent down to see if her net connection had come loose. But no, it was still in place, firmly secured at both ends. And the rest of her computer seemed to be working right...

All right. If the server was down, then the others would have been logged off, too. They would be able to recieve regular email. She called up her email program and typed up a very brief message asking if the others had experienced the same thing.

The others.


If the server had really crashed, what had become of Tsukasa? Would he simply be dumped to one of the other servers, or one of the 'hidden locations' they'd seen? Or would he have 'died' again? He'd said he wasn't afraid of it, but the thought still chilled her.

Or... could he have been logged out, too?

She quickly finished typing up her email, and addressed it to Tsukasa, Bear, Crim, and SilverKnight, the first names she could think of. A quick click, and it was sent off. Now she could...

[The server is currently down. We sincerely apologize for...]

This was absurd. Even if The World was down, by mischance or the intervention of Helba or that voice, that shouldn't have affected the mail servers. Although, come to think of it, it did all go through the same user name...

She became aware that her hands were trembling. She had the uncontrollable urge to do something, anything, but she couldn't think of anything she could do. She was locked out from The World, where terribly important things might be happening to the people she cared about. She couldn't even talk to them, to allay her fears or make plans.

For four years, she'd had to come to terms with the idea of being isolated and powerless in certain ways. She'd grown able to cope with what had happened. Some days, she very nearly didn't notice the hardships that shaped her everyday life.

But this had brought the helplessness, the fear, the twisting she could feel inside back, as strong as ever. If they needed her... if Tsukasa were in trouble...

She forced herself to take a deep breath. Panicking wouldn't help. She had to think clearly. She was strong enough to deal with this, somehow. If only there were some way to get in touch with the others.

Of course. The memory struck her like a ray of light breaking through the clouds. She did have a way to get in touch. Something precious to her, that spoke of trust.

A magic spell, in fact.

She turned her chair towards the telephone, and dialed quickly. Her mouth was dry as she heard the connection ring once, twice...

Someone picked up. "Hello?"

"Crim?" she managed to say. She'd called him a couple of times before, when she'd been at her lowest points, and it had always surprised her how much older he sounded on the phone than in the game.

"Subaru! Listen, I don't know what's happened, but I can't log back --"

"Neither can I. I think Helba did something to the game. I can't send any email, either..."

"That was the next thing I was going to try. Huh. Okay, let me think."

"I'm worried about the others. I mean... if we've been logged out, what could have happened to Tsukasa? Is he..."

"Well, if this really is Helba's work, I don't think we have to worry about him. She knew about his situation, remember. And she specifically asked if Tsukasa and Aura were with us. Aura's even more restricted to The World than Tsukasa, remember -- she doesn't even have a body to go back to. And if Helba was going to do something that could endanger them, she would have had enough time to get us all teleported out or something."

Mariko felt calmer now. Somehow, listening to Crim analyze a situation always did that to her. Back when he had been part of the Crimson Knights, he had always known just how to look at a crisis to find a unique perspective no one else had thought of. Hearing him encircle the problem with words, break it down to see what it implied... It somehow wasn't as intimidating any more.

"So... what should we do?"

"Hm. You know some people on the technical support staff, don't you?"

"Yes. Some of them worked with the Crimson Knights sometimes, when we offered to assist in major issues."

"Okay. You call up the help line and see if they can figure out what's wrong. I'll keep on trying to get in touch with the others and let them know what's happening. And... Subaru?"


"He hasn't made it through all this just to get wiped out on you now. He'll be fine."

Mariko had to smile. "Thank you. I'll get in touch with you as soon as I know anything."
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