It started with very little warning.
At first, people thought it was a glitch in the servers, as SOL Tech reassured them all that they would fix the problem as soon as possible.
Within a few days it had gotten worse, and people abandoned their duel disks and quit entering the network. They didn’t know if they’d ever come back out.
When SOL announced a solution to the situation a week after the incident started, many celebrated by logging in for a duel.
None of them came out.
But all of their bodies suddenly started moving.
Yusaku ducked down into an alley, steering clear of the figures walking down the middle of the street. He took off his jacket and turned it inside out, then pulled his newly green hood up and covered his face with a black surgical mask, watching as the two approached. He pulled an orb out of his pocket, rolling it in his hand.
The two approached, and when they were close enough for him to see the reds and golds of their eyes, he clicked a button on the orb, tossing it out into the street.
It took a second for the two to react, and when they did it was only to stare at the orb that rolled to a stop at their feet. It exploded in light, blue washing over the figures as they collapsed onto the ground.
Yusaku ran forward, grabbing the wrist of one of the thrashing figures and placing a device on the side of their duel disk. It stuck, and the screen flashed purple before the figure stilled.
He moved on to the second, who was struggling to stand up, and reached for their duel disk as well. In a flash a hand had grabbed his wrist, and red-gold eyes were grinning up at him. He kicked the figure in the chest, sending them sprawling. Then Yusaku was up and between the figure and the person lying prone, settled into a defensive stance. He brought his arm forward, baring his duel disk to the figure.
It took the bait, lunging forward to claw at his wrist, only to find that it wasn’t there anymore. Yusaku was already behind it, grabbing its left arm and twisting it up behind its back as he shoved forward, slamming it into the ground. That knocked the wind out of it, long enough for him to stick a similar device from before onto the side of the duel disk of the wrist he had trapped.
Purple light flashed over the figure’s back, and then they went limp.
Yusaku stood up, dusting himself off. He’d have to work on his speed, he couldn’t afford to be caught. There was a groan from behind him that sent him whirling to face the threat, only to find the first one he had knocked out was waking up.
The lady was looking around in a daze, slowly heaving herself up. “How are you feeling, maam?” Yusaku asked, coming to crouch beside her.
She turned to face him, blinking brown eyes into focus. “Everything is really bright, and I’m so dizzy…” She put a hand to her head, looking around the deserted street. “What happened? One minute I was logging in, but it’s all dark after that.” She focused on him again as she spoke.
“There was a computer virus, maam, that knocked you unconscious. It’s been affecting those who log in to Link Vrains.” Yusaku explained, watching for her reaction.
“What? But I was only in there for a minute, I hadn’t even talked to anyone…” Genuine confusion. Did she not know about the risks?
“This virus didn’t need much time. It’s triggered by logging in, and attacks data without any of the visual signs you’re used to seeing in Link Vrains when something would happen.” Yusaku kept going as she opened her mouth to speak. “What date is it today, maam?”
That got her to stop and think for a second. “The thirteenth, why?” Damn.
“It’s the twenty-ninth, maam. You’ve been in the network for over two weeks.” Yusaku set a hand on her shoulder. “I’ll ask again, how are you feeling? Lightheaded at all?”
“Um.” She paused for a second. “Yes, a little.”
“I’m going to call someone who can come take you to the hospital, get you checked out to make sure that nothing’s wrong. Is that okay?” Yusaku was already pulling his phone out of his pocket.
“Oh, yes, of course.” Within minutes, Kusanagi-san was there and helping the lady into the passenger seat, while Yusaku hauled the man who was still unconscious into the back and strapped him into one of the seats that he had helped install a week ago for that express purpose. He shut the doors when he was done, leaving the man to wake up to the explanatory poster Kusanagi-san made.
Only once the truck had turned away and he was sure he was alone did Yusaku pull the mask off and switch his jacket around. He kept walking the direction he had been before seeing the two, making his way down the road.
The streets were largely deserted as he walked, the occasional armored car or group of people walking by, but several stopped to give him suspicious looks before he looked them in the eyes.
He was no fool, he knew walking around outside was dangerous, but he was actually prepared, and more likely to survive an attack than the groups carrying cudgels. Those were a waste of time, slowed movement down too much. The Hacked attacked too quickly for blunt weapons to be effective, with bodies starved from neglect by their drivers.
Yusaku’s phone buzzed in his pocket, letting him know that he had a message. He flicked the screen on and scanned the coordinates given to him. There were ten in the store a few streets over, apparently.
He could always rely on Ghost Girl to give him more work. He took off at a jog down a street to the right, switching his jacket back around and finishing his disguise with a snap of the mask. He could already see the commotion, the jerky motions of the Hacked as they moved after others running away.
One runner spotted him and started coming his way, bringing three of the Hacked with him.. Yusaku kept running towards them, taking out the orb again and wondering how much more charge it had. As he pressed the button, he threw it forward, knowing that it had to be enough.
Blue engulfed the three, and Yusaku launched himself in, tagging two before they could even react and bringing down the next with a few swift hits. Others had seen the flash and were now headed for him, but Yusaku was ready, already scooping up the orb and clicking a new device off of his belt, the cube buzzing as he launched it into the air, where it expanded into a net of green light that fell over the next few coming at him.
They were tagged, and he moved on to the next, drawing a rod from his sleeve and pointing it out before pressing a button. Bright white filled the street beyond where his hand shielded his eyes, and he moved in while they were still blind.
One more to go, and the figure was coming to him. A brunette girl, who moved more fluidly than the others. Yusaku stowed away the rod and ran to meet her, dodging at the last second and grabbing an arm to throw the other over him. She landed on her feet, and only staggered a step before rushing at him again. Her hits were stronger than her frame suggested too. She must have been a great duelist.
Yusaku spun low, knocking her legs out from under her. She sprawled for a second, and it was enough for yusaku to pin her wrist down. A brief wrestle as she made a grab for his duel disk and the button was on, and she went limp like the rest.
He looked around, taking in the people emerging from the woodwork now that the danger was past. “Was anyone caught?” Yusaku called out.
Nos resounded all around, and people came out to check up on the ones who were starting to stir, going to reassure them. Beside him on the pavement, the girl stirred as well, sitting up more quickly than a few of the others.
Yusaku crouched down, looking her in the eye. “How are you feeling?”
She looked around, taking in her surroundings. “Hungry. Where am I?” Her voice was softer than he expected.
“Northeast corner of town, you just came out of Sato’s Grocery Store. What’s the date today?” He stood up, offering her a hand, but she stood up easily enough on her own, if a bit wobbly.
The girl set her jaw, looking him square in the eye. “The twenty-fourth.”
“The twenty-ninth. Why did you go in? You must have known it was dangerous, at that point.” He crossed his arms.
“Yes, but my brother thought he had a way to stop it from the inside. I went in, but they were more prepared than expected.” She shrugged, looking away from him.
Yusaku raised an eyebrow. “You were conscious while in the network?”
“My brother is pretty good with computers. He built a couple programs that were supposed to counter theirs, but apparently not all of them worked.” She looked around a bit more quickly now. “Which way to downtown? I need to let him know what happened.”
“Going downtown on your own right now will just get you right back where you started, the place is swarming with Hacked.” Yusaku raised a hand to stop any protests. “If you want though, I know a couple people who might be able to help get you there, or at least get into contact with your brother.”
They both looked up as a loud engine rang through the air, accompanied by a yellow van coming around the corner. “There’s one of my contacts now. If you go with him while he takes some of the others who were in there longer to the hospital, you’ll have time to explain the situation to him.” Yusaku headed for the truck as it pulled to a stop, Kusanagi-san hopping out to help the injured into the back.
He didn’t check if the girl was still nearby as he pulled open the passenger door, reaching into the glove compartment for the metal case within. He clicked it open, swapping out his orb for the spare inside, leaving the rest of the gadgets alone in their charging stations.
It was harder getting away from the truck, with people continuously coming up to him to thank him and express admiration for the great Playmaker they’d heard so much about. He brushed their comments aside as much as he could, making his way to where his net now rested as a cube again, attaching it to his belt before he turned back to watch Kusanagi-san drive off again.
Most of the people dispersed after that, but one came marching right up to him. It was the same girl from before. “He told me to stick with you, said I might be useful.” She already had a few gadgets and an anti-virus button dispenser attached to a belt at her waist, and looked ready to argue.
Yusaku only shrugged. “Alright then, let’s head out.” He turned and started walking west, the girl falling into step beside him.
They said nothing until they were out of sight of the battlefield. “I never got your name.” The girl mentioned.
Yusaku shrugged. “It’s not important, just call me Playmaker.”
The girl paused for a second, then fell back into step. “Alright then, Playmaker. Call me Blue Maiden.”
Yusaku nodded. “Will do.”
A buzz resounded in his pocket, and he opened up the message on his phone to show another location, courtesy of Ghost Girl. He turned, gesturing for Blue Maiden to follow after him. It was time to see how well she could do against the Hacked.