Chapter 18:

Alice in Wonderland


His entire understanding of the game world began to crumble apart.

Nidma, the kimono-clad Human standing before him, was none other than the one he’d been after all this while. The very subject of his documentary was right in front of him, but he hesitated. The Old Fashioned trapped in the glass he held was rippling nonstop. For that was how he felt deep down in his heart as well.

Nidma was silent, observing him, studying him down to the last detail. Json Null had an exploit unlike any other. But right now, the Newblood was like any other he had seen in the game—afraid.

Downing whatever liquid left, Jason threw away the empty glass onto the floor. But there was none. In this empty expanse, the glass never stopped falling. He knew he was standing on something, an invisible platform of sorts, but it appeared to only hold him and Nidma up.

Taking a deep breath, he steeled his nerves. The Intrusion Detection System that Peter install hasn’t triggered. In any case, his VS and his body in real life were safe.

“What is this place?”

“We’re at the dev room. Though, players long before me had already stripped its contents apart. Whether through exploits or hacks, I’m afraid I can’t say.”

“You teleported me? How?”

There was no incantation. No sign or trigger whatsoever. It was instantaneous.

“Console command.”

Jason’s jaw dropped. To be able to access console commands essentially meant that Black Hat had complete control over the server. He was on another plane of existence entirely. If he had willed it, Jason would stop existing there and then. Exploit be damned.

“Please, Jason, calm down. Allow me to ease your nerves a bit.

This account, Nidma, isn’t solely owned by me. In fact, I don’t even know programming. I work as a Brand Manager for a large clothing retailer, and just so happened to have the time to log in.”

“But if you don’t know programming, how could yo—”

“Humour me this,” Nidma flashed a smile, “What comes to mind when you rearrange the letters in my name?”


The stupid Nidma joke completely blindsided me. He’s the goddamn admin!

It made complete sense now. How Black Hat had so much control over the server. They owned it. This was their server.

“But as I said, this is a shared account. My real name is Hatano Hideki. Might be weird for you Americans, but please address me by my surname.

The real person doing the admin work is an IT guy I hired. I’m just the guy who bought over the server.”

“You s-sound awfully chill for a crime boss,” he tried his best to hide the fact that he was shivering.

“Ah yes—the crime. I have no part in it.”


“The stories of drug deals? CP? Illegal goods changing hands? I made that all up. Granted, there may be one or two cybercriminals running around the server doing just that, but they’re not associated with Black Hat.”

“Made that all up? You expect me to believe such convenient bullshit?!”

“It’s the truth. Black Hat is a marketing stunt. Designed to draw in curious new players like you. Why else would anyone come to a private server of a dead game? You can call me out for starting rumours of criminal activity, but the priority queue does make for good revenue.”

Jason was starting to get a headache. Everything Nidma, no…Hatano was telling him simply went against what he had already gathered.

“What about General Erection and Warthog? If your goal is to get new players, why do you hire people to keep them out so badly?!”

“It adds to the mystery. Too many new faces, and the charm disappears. Besides, as you might already know, the server can’t exactly accommodate too many players.”

“Heh,” Jason snickered, “That’s all to it then? Good ol’ human greed, plain and simple?”

A brave front he put up, yet his heart was withering away. At its core, Maniavolution was just a simple scam. There was no conspiracy or underlying darkness here. He felt like he had been played. His dreams just dashed right in front of him.

But Hatano wasn’t exactly a simple man.

“If it was just about the money, then why are you here then? ”


“You’re a smart man, Jason. Tell me, why do you think I want you to make this documentary? If word gets out, surely I’ll lose my revenue, no?”

He’s right.

Still, something didn’t add up. Everything that had happened so far, everything that Nidma revealed to him—there was a reason. But something was missing.

And he knew exactly what that missing piece was.


“That’s right, my dearest Sakura-chan. She has become truly fond of you in just over a day. Not surprising for her to be so attached, but I have to thank you, Jason.

Thank you for being friends with Sakura-chan.”

“What’s your deal with Alice?! And why the hell do you keep calling her that?!”

Jason could no longer contain his rage. He didn’t know why, but he couldn’t stand to hear her name being called that way.

Hatano’s smile began to fade, replaced with a solemn, dour look, “Check your inventory.”

That’s when Jason noticed—a new item. Hatano must have directly placed it there. It had the icon of a book with the title, “Medical Records”. Removing it from his inventory, the book had the appearance of a file folder.

Name: Hatano Haruka

Age: 44

Status: Deceased

Based on the name, it had to be Hatano Hideki’s sister. Flipping through, there were a lot of notes written on the following pages. It detailed how before she died, she was in a coma for over a year due to a car accident. But as part of the treatment to save her life, she opted to undergo a DreamSim treatment.

To preserve her brain function and increase the likelihood of waking up, she chose to live in the virtual world of her choice.


But why would someone choose such a violent game for a DreamSim? Most patients choose peaceful, relaxing worlds. That was when he noticed another patient’s records. His heart nearly stopped.

Name: Rizawa Sakura

Age: 23

Status: Alive

There was no doubt about it. The photo…her name.

Rizawa Sakura was SakurAlice.

Alice was a victim of the same car accident. Both she and her mother, Hatano Haruka, were in critical condition and fell into a coma. Her father wasn’t so lucky.

It made sense now why Hatano Haruka chose to live inside Maniavolution, going by the username, Queen. Her daughter was already the top player on the server even before the accident. But unlike her daughter, she was no gamer.

The report went on to detail how Queen’s repeated deaths inside the game caused her psyche to deteriorate. Her brain activity became weaker over time, turning into a hollow husk.

Alice saw firsthand how her mother wasted away inside the game.

“I did everything I could to keep them alive. I even bought this server so that I could watch over them, to ensure everything went well. But I couldn’t save my sister.”

“Hatano, yo—”

“I was the one who caused the accident! I was the one behind the wheel…Her father and her mother…their blood is all on my hands.”

He saw Hatano starting to break down. Underneath the cold and calculating facade was a deeply broken man, riddled with guilt.

“The Sakura-chan you see today is the result of my failures. Her destructive tendencies, her addiction to killing—all this was a response to the cruel world that took her mother away.”

Alice had been stuck inside Maniavolution for five years now.

The report went on to detail how she was actually ready for detachment surgery. Her body and her mind had stabilised. She was ready to wake up from the coma.

But she chose not to.

Any attempts at trying to persuade her in-game were met with a migraine, exhibiting allergic reaction-like symptoms. Her brain had essentially set up mental blocks to protect her sense of identity.

That explained the incident Jason encountered just before he logged off. Her past encounters with Black Hat—Hatano—must have been related to the surgery.

“Jason, I beg you. You have to save Sakura-chan. I cannot lose her.”


“Make your documentary, not about Black Hat, but about Rizawa Sakura. Let the world know that her life shouldn’t be sealed in this godforsaken place, but together, with the rest of her loved ones.”

The truth had finally been revealed to him. All the pieces had fallen into place. This was the story of a girl who started a second life, but had everything taken away from her once more. A girl trapped in a video game.

“Jason, you have feelings for her too, no? You can give her a reason to see you in real life. Give her a reason to undergo the sur—”

“Can you shut up for a second?”

This was all too much for him to take in. All he wanted was to make a film. Make art in a freaking video game—not get involved in someone’s life and death.

Who am I to decide Alice’s fate?

And as fate decided, a gaping maw of darkness distorted the space around.

Speak of the devil, and she doth appear.

“Sorry, Jason. I didn’t want you to see me this way,” she smiled, yet tears rolled down her cheeks.

“Alice, wai—”

[ Chrono Apocalypse ]

Time itself ground to a halt.