Chapter 3: Damage Control (Part 2)

By now, the news was spreading rapidly throughout social media. However, there was at least one person in the Webwar community who did not particularly care about the ensuing turmoil. If anything, he just wanted to play. He is, after all, seventeen year old Hanh Dang, or as his online friends are more apt to call him, Red Viper. Red Viper is an up and coming personality in the Webwar scene, or so he likes to consider himself. There is an element of truth to it, as his legion of regular fans tuning in to an internet stream to watch him hone his skills at the game on a daily basis. His mother, Tien, had long since resigned herself to her son’s hobby and the all-consuming nature it had on his life. All she could do at this point was encourage moderation - and threaten to disconnect the modem as generations of parents frustrated at their children’s gaming habit had done. She had to admit, though, that it was not all bad; the income her son somehow managed to bring home helped. She did not understand how her son was earning money for playing a video game, but as long as he contributed to the family life she did not particularly mind. Clyde Hill was expensive, after all, and every little bit was useful. So it was that on yet another sunny afternoon, despite homework that needed to be done and instead of playing outside as she would have liked, her son had locked himself away in his room to play that game again. Hanh, for his part, was just thankful for what understanding he could get out of his family. Ever since becoming featured on for being good at Webwar, he had been able to counter the perception that gaming was just a useless waste of time for him. Sure, he had homework that could get done, but this was the prime time for streaming. With his mother leaving for work as he sat back in his chair and his father not due home for another four hours, he could be as loud and brash as he wanted. Personality and putting on a show was almost more important than the actual skill at the game, after all. Turning on his webcam and microphone, Hanh notes that there are already almost a couple hundred people watching, waiting patiently for him to show his stuff again. A messages comes across the screen from one of his channel moderators, a good friend of his named Naja Rahman. She was a classmate of Hanh’s, and he happened to have a crush on her as teenagers are wont to do, even if he would never admit it if asked.

‘Desert_flower: “hey u ready? They’re changing shanghai btw.” 3:47 PM’ ‘RedViper: “yeah, one sec. Mom wanted to talk. Are they now? Doesn’t matter, I’ll still own it”’ ‘Desert_flower: “oh, they’re changing up swordplay again too. Thought u should know”’ ‘RedViper: “details pls. Starting now btw.” 3:48 PM’ ‘Desert_flower: “kk”’

Hanh loads up the Webwar software, causing his camera and microphone to start broadcasting out to the internet. A few minutes of chatter and discussion about the Warriors’ Championship - he had managed to actually get the autograph of ElectricEel, a famous player who had been in the competition until a crucial misplay late in the tournament - and the gaming was underway. Webwar, unlike games before it, made heavy use of live data from a number of cameras and other sensors around the geographic area that roughly matched the design of certain arenas; if it was raining in Shanghai, or windy on Victory Plains set somewhere in the middle of the United States, such conditions were reflected in game during the actual combat. Rumors had it that Megasys was working on bridging the gap between virtual and real world even further, but such developments were still being closely held. The game also made liberal use of virtual reality technologies, an issue that had once even been a limiting factor for Hanh - the fluidity and fidelity of movement for a VR-enabled competitor surpassed what was possible using the traditional mouse and keyboard or controller setup. As Hanh was still a teenager, he had had to learn the game using its more primitive two dimensional gameplay mode. When he had happened to win a Matrix 4 virtual reality system, he was excited beyond what any of his friends and family could have seen coming from the normally reserved and mild-mannered teen. The Webwar developers would always say that there was no practical difference between modes of controlling the warrior in the game, that any such differences were down to skill alone, but to Hanh and his friends that was at best a disingenuous statement if not an outright blatant lie. The fact that his apparent skill at the game and his rating among the players on the Western United States servers just so happened to skyrocket was purely a coincidence. Or so the game’s developers would have had him believe. Did he just finally achieve a breakthrough after training for months on end, or was that “breakthrough” the acquisition of a set of gear that ran close to a thousand dollars and had the capability of directly translating Hanh’s movements into in-game actions in almost real-time? It was a phenomena at the center of a particularly virulent debate among Webwar enthusiasts and on forums around the net. What was indisputable, though, was the fact that when fully immersed in the virtual reality control mode one was almost completely unaware of one’s surroundings. It was bad enough before the advent of virtual reality, but as the systems advanced in complexity and their attendant worlds in detail of all possible senses, it was growing to be a problem. The manufacturers of the competing virtual reality systems had agreed together to include warnings about health and safety - take breaks, ensure the play area is completely unobstructed, set the built-in timeout function to limit play time, and so on and so forth. Such advice, naturally, was almost universally ignored by gamers. Hanh was no different. There was nothing really in his way while moving around, jumping, doing what he needed to to play the game, but he was unaware of just what was going on in his room or his house at the time. Hanh rolling into the wall or similarly injuring himself was such a recurring joke on his channel that he had convinced several regular viewers to fund the installation of several cameras around the room to capture such moments in their ignominious glory.

Unfortunately for Hanh, Webwar was so engaging and the sound at such a level that he could not hear his home’s burglar alarm sounding throughout the house even though it was at such a volume his dog had taken to hiding under a bed. Nor did he hear the door to his room crash open after a well-placed kick. He screams as the cold steel of a blade plunges into his back. That got his attention. He tries to rip off the virtual reality headset while jumping out of the way, but it is to no use. The blade plunges cruelly into his back again and again, twisting his body in a violent ballet, and Hanh collapses to the floor, very much dead. Specks of blood land on his webcam as a masked figure wearing all black clothing comes into view. His viewers are stunned into a shocked silence. ‘Desert_flower: “RedViper?! RedViper, come in?!” 4:17 PM’ A panicked message comes across the chat just then. The figure plugs a USB drive into Hanh’s computer as he speaks into the microphone with a gravelly voice. “I know what Hanh did to Webwar. Let the world be on notice.” With sirens blaring in the background, the figure yanks out the power cable, cutting the audio and video feeds. He will be gone long before the authorities arrive. Meanwhile, Hanh’s viewers and friends are starting to fully realize what they saw. Naja reminds the group that she knows - well, knew - the streamer known as Red Viper in real life. He was not just Red Viper to her, but a friend. A friend named Hanh who happened to live at this address and could you please call 911 or whatever your local emergency line is that would be awesome, thanks. It was all she could think to do in the moment. It was of questionable use in the larger picture of things of course, but anything to not feel helpless in that moment. Naja disconnects from the chat and sprints over toward Hanh’s home. By the time she manages to arrive, she is out of breath - the physical education teachers would have been proud of her pace under any other circumstances, but it was just as she had feared. The police had already surrounded the residence, drawing the attention of almost the entire neighborhood. A second floor window was smashed open, and an imprint in the bushes of what had been a quiet, well-manicured lawn showed where the figure must have landed after a hasty escape. An ambulance was also parked out front with its lights flashing, but Naja knew it was ultimately not necessary barring a miracle. She had never been very devout, but mutters a prayer to Allah just on the off chance someone was listening to her. Inside the house, investigators work to piece together what happened. The responding officer had seen a lot of blood in the line of duty, but nothing had quite prepared him for the scene that met him on climbing the stairs to the second floor. Other officers would take care of the body, but his duty was to photograph everything he could in addition to the time-honored traditions of dusting for prints and collecting any physical evidence that could be found. This included an older USB thumb drive plugged into the victim’s computer. With a gloved hand, he carefully puts it into a plastic bag for transport back to the police station where it could be further analyzed. Etched in the thumb drive’s casing was the Webwar logo and the words “Property of Megasys, Inc. ID: SEA-073”

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About Charles Herrera
John Doe's true identity is unknown. Maybe he is a successful blogger or writer. Nobody knows it.