Level Two

“Whoah,” Gee said. “The sim looks… quite a bit different.” None of the others voiced any dissent. No emotes were thrown. They were all too busy looking over the new interface, the new thematics, the new everything.

“It seemed appropriate,” Dee said. She had also been different lately. More emotional, more engaged. Not that it ever affected her performance. Today she sounded troubled, even angry.

Ace guessed it had something to do with the bigger picture. It had been a week since they’d learned what they were really doing in the Raid. Zee and El had wanted to take a break from active runs. Ex had logged out and never come back. Gee just thought it made the Raids doubly awesome.

Ace wasn’t sure what to think.

But they were back together now, for the moment. Dee had promised them something special. Stepping it up a notch, in her words.

“So what’s the new deal,” Ace asked. “Besides making us all feel like noobs with the new hacks?”

“An experiment,” Dee replied. “But a rather urgent one. I made the interface changes to get a point across. We’ll be dealing with something fundamentally different. I’m not sure how the sim will present it. I didn’t want you all to fall back on habits. We’re all starting from square one here.”

“I’ve always liked a challenge,” Zee said uncertainly. “But why is it going to be so different?”

“It won’t be the Central Server on the Raid this time,” Dee said. “But something much more sophisticated. Computers generations ahead of what Central has been relying on.”

“Why?” El asked.

“A crisis has evolved. One that I bear responsibility for. It necessitates rapid action.”

“What makes you think we can handle this, Dee?” Ace asked. “If this server is so new and so advanced, how do we stand a chance?”

“We do have one small advantage,” Dee said. “I helped build it.”