Act more casual she told herself. Stacy fiddled with the slip of paper in her pocket, folding and unfolding it with her fingers until she forced herself to stop. She took a deep breath, trying to relax.
The numbers on the paper were a clear message to her. In code. She recognized it at once. It was a code she and Hillary had used for fun for months now. But Hillary had gone missing last week after confiding in Stacy that she thought she was being watched. Now the code shows up.
It would be easy to decode, but Stacy had to get in the game. She arrived at the gaming cafe and walked in, not allowing herself to look around too much to see if anyone was following her. The cafe was less than half full. That was good. Enough people to blend into, enough open spaces to grab a terminal and get in and out again.
She ordered peppermint tea and took it to an open terminal where she could see the front door without turning. She logged in as a guest and created a new user registration for the game. Every dat that had passed since she last saw Hillary made her more paranoid. She didn't want to leave a digital trail of her own account info.
Once in the game though, the code didn't work. The numbers were in pairs, coordinates on the game map. Each should be a named location in the game and she should use the first letter of the location for the message, but the first five locations were in the middle of nowhere. No name to use.
Stacy sat back in her seat, staring at the screen and thought. What was wrong? Then it clicked. The cafe used the game's local server. Hillary was probably using the one for their home location, which was different. A different map.
Stacy glanced around. Was this the sort of place she could get away with hacking into to change servers? Would they even notice? It was a nice place. Upscale compared to the places she usually hung. There were only two employees, one was behind the counter and seemed to be keeping busy with orders, and the other moving around the cafe busing dishes, wiping tables, and such. She looked at the ceiling. Two black domes which were likely video cameras. Yet there were partitions around each terminal, so she didn't think the cameras were there to see what people were playing. The cameras would have a tough time seeing any screens. The benefits of an upscale place – they wanted customers to feel a sense of privacy.
If anyone wanted to see what she was doing they could always check this station later. She was sure it kept a log of activity, but no one would look until after she had gone, and there was a little she could do real quick to cover her tracks before she went.
Halfway through this train of thought, she had already started hacking into her home region server, and five minutes later had deciphered the code. Hillary was safe. She'd learned it was her ex, Todd, who had been following her. Although he never seemed to accept the 'ex' part. So Hillary had disappeared. Not the first time she had had to do so, Stacy knew.
She also knew that when Hillary disappeared, she had left everyone she knew behind unaware. She had to. Todd could get to anyone and if anyone knew where Hillary had gone, Todd could find out. Stacy knew what it must have meant for Hillary to send her that code. To let Stacy know, to stay in touch at all. It was a risk.
Stacy did what she could to erase her tracks from the rental computer, finished her tea, and left. She thought she should find a way to respond, but she would have to find a safe way. After such a show of trust from Hillary, she would be damned if she would risk bringing her danger. She couldn't let Todd get anywhere near Hillary. But how? Perhaps she just had to wait, and trust Hillary would contact her again when she felt it was safe to do so. It was so frustrating to was to much to help and feel so powerless to do so. Maybe a better plan to keep her friend safe was to find a way to make sure Todd couldn't threaten Hillary ever again.