“Power down to 12%. No estimation until restoration.”
“Watcher drone efficiency down to 34%. Deputy Director, at this rate we wouldn’t be able to maintain stealth. Our indoor equipment are likely to be affected soon.”
Reports from staff members arrived one after another. Jace, the Deputy Director of the 4th research center, glowered and spat out his orders.
“Cease everything in the Experiments building except for currently running experiments. Reduce operation of the indoor environmental control system to 40%, then move the free power over to the security system. Leave the normal drones alone but order the stealth type to stay still. We’ll use them as fixed cameras… you shouldn’t be needing me to tell you all this.”
Damn incompetents, Jace grumbled with an imaginary tongue click as his orders sent the staff members running around in a hurry.
But his evaluation was an uncharitable one. The staff here all had the skill and experience to be hired as employees in a top-class corporation. They’d thought of one or two solutions to the problem of their own.
Jace was just the typical genius. He believed his thinking was superior, perfect. He rejected any ideas that ran contrary to his own. His constant displeasure and dictatorship tendencies had discouraged the staff members from voicing their thoughts.
“What about her?”
“Y-yes, sir, she hasn’t moved after parking at the drive-in… should we deploy a team?”
“Not necessary yet. Track her if she attempts to connect somewhere.”
Several days earlier, an incident had happened in the 12th research center. All of its guards were slaughtered.
Reports had mentioned the culprit hadn’t used a single gun, only bladed weapons. Considering the fact that they’d managed to slip through the powerful monitoring system that was even capable of detecting active camouflage, the culprit was suspected to be special forces from another company of a certain country with industrial espionage being their goal, but at the same time, the lack of tracks left behind had also given rise to the probability that it was done by an internal employee. The corporation had declared what was practically martial law.
The culprit had been nicknamed the Ghost for the lack of tracks they’d left behind. In a normal investigation, all people involved would have been questioned, but the first to discover the crime scene had been the janitor, and the employees weren’t even aware anything had happened until after the corpses were cleaned up. So the staff were ordered to continue working as normal, except everyone was now under surveillance, including those who had been absent from work.
The investigation department, who were doing ‘marketing research’ to those employees not in the know, had reported that a female staff member of the 12th research center who had been on a vacation was heading for this place, the 4th research center.
Her name was Jennifer Caride, 26 years old. She had been scouted as an expert in electronics. With her background of being a game hacker, she was put into the game development team for the MMORPG World of Yggdrasia at the 12th research center.
The development team was subject to continuous network surveillance. Reports showed there was nothing suspicious in her family background or her private life.
But normally, her vacation was always for gaming. Why would she come here? This region had nothing of note. And right after the incident too, at that.
Most of the development team hadn’t been informed that the stage set behind the game was a real world, except for a small number of staff members who were closely watched, with even a part of their private life under careful management.
But while Jennifer was young, she’d been a famous hacker since her student years. Then perhaps something had piqued her curiosity, prompting her to look through the information about the staff members and helped her realize the truth?
In his wariness, Jace had looked into Jennifer. He found out she had been frequenting a fan website of the game, but the members of the site had included royalty of a certain country, famous doctors, and celebrities. Even Jace found the place too dangerous to infiltrate.
He didn’t have any concrete evidence, but his suspicions toward Jennifer only deepened.
She was more than likely to be related to the murders in some way. Jace decided to observe her on his own instead of telling the investigation department his thoughts.
And at the same time she appeared, the 4th research center’s power level suddenly dropped.
He was certain. Jennifer was somehow related to the Ghost. Yet she hadn’t access any website ever since she’d taken her vacation, the highway cameras only showed her driving alone, and there was nothing else suspicious about her aside the more-than-usual amount of food she was getting.
“… wait… what’s this…”
“…me too… weird…”
“…where’d they go…”
“No mutterings! What happened?” Jace shouted, irritated by the whisperings of the staff members. He had moved to the monitoring room to better give his orders to the whole facility.
“Yes, sir, umm…” “We can’t see anyone in the fifth section!” “Same with the third!”
“What the hell?!” Jace leaned forward at the unexpected report. “What happened?! Confirm the situation with the sixth section!”
“Deputy Director, we can’t contact the sixth!”
“Out of the way!”
Jace pushed aside the staff member to peer at the terminal screen. It displayed the image of a room now dark due to the power having been rerouted to the security system. There was no one there, as though it was a holiday or late night when they’d all gone home.
“…get the guards there. Some watcher drones too!”
The staff worked the terminal, ordering several drones to move to the area now devoid of people.
The images captured from the drones’ cameras were being transmitted to the terminal screens and digitally cleaned up to be brighter for easier viewing, yet for some reason, the on-screen footage was still far too dark.
“What the hell is going on?!”
“I-I don’t know, sir.”
While Jace questioned his staff, the drones continued to show empty rooms one after another. One of the drones detected a slight thermal signature inside a garbage container in the section that had been experimenting with the newest model of the magic gun. It peered inside.
One of the young staff members gulped, his face green, palm holding in his nausea. A woman screamed.
The screen showed a container packed tight with bodies, their throats all torn off. The image only lasted an instant before it was snuffed out.
The whole room was quiet, their minds blank upon witnessing a sight that looked as if it was taken wholesale from a horror movie. Then someone whispered, breaking the silence.
All in the room blanched at the possibility.
The serial murderer that had slaughtered all the security guards in a single night without leaving a trace was here.
“…call back the secret beta testers…”
“Call the secret beta testers back from Yggdrasia, now!”
The staff were shocked by his order. An older staff member spoke, sounding almost panicked.
“Deputy Director! Do you plan on having the soldiers they lent us to deal with the problem?! That’s a breach of contract! You’re jeopardizing our relationship with the military-”
“Contract?! We’re having bigger problems here!”
“B-but, sir, we don’t have many weapons here for them to use. We don’t have enough of the experimental magic weapons either, and using mana required the Director’s approval…”
“The hell can that damn politician do now?! We’re not using the magic weapons!”
“Then-” The staff member cut himself off upon his realization. His face lost all colors.
“We’re using the militarized monster avatars!” Jace growled.