Snow Crashed

Current Phase: C-002
Phase Type: Chapter

Version Alpha

The Story of TPL

The earth is frozen. Locked in a modern ice age. The world governments had come together with a plan to save humanity by moving everyone into the metaverse. It had been called "The Paradigm Shift". The first ten thousand volunteers, ready to light the way, were called CyberBrokers. Everything went wrong. Two centuries later, a complacent human race copes with a great awakening.

This is the story of The Paradigm Lost.

Version AlphaThe Story of TPL

Chapter 13

Snow Crashed

Liaison of Records


Logged at
025 cirxt2669 cycle


After her sudden recollection of Cold Storage, where she lost her memories, Soleia also remembers Mason from Silent, an Enforcer who worked there. The Moderator gives Spice, Zinc, and Soleia black market data on OnlyCam users, which includes Mason. They track down Stockpile Quotidian, a Cammer who interacted often with Mason, and Stockpile agrees to try and extract some information from the Enforcer. She succeeds and gives the crew a node address for Cold Storage. With the help of an Astronomer named Thamas, they learn that ShaDAO occupies a fortress there built by the Puzzlemaster Selena Nebulous. Posing as superfans of her work, they meet her with the goal of getting some information on the fortress. Selena agrees to give them the blueprints, if they can perform the seemingly-impossible task of beating Team FOMO at a Fukutsu-sponsored competition. At the very last moment, they defeat Team FOMO, and with the blueprints in hand, they concoct three strategies for infiltrating the fortress at Cold Storage. Spice’s plan of finding and exploiting one of the fortress’ employees is the winner.

As Thamas had warned, they couldn’t waltz right into the hidden ShaDAO node. In fact, when Zinc and Spice had entered the address into their bracers, all they could do was stare at the grayed-out location. No way to jump or input a code, and no info on how many nodes away it was. Nothing.

But when Soleia typed in the address, a prompt loaded asking if she’d like to make a jump. The Hubur Key in her wallet carried all the authorization she needed to access the node.

Curious, Spice had asked to see the ancient public key embedded in the Cold Storage data and a quick scan of The Hubur Key confirmed that they matched. The Hubur Key wasn’t just an all-access pass, it was a piece of Cold Storage itself.  Or maybe Cold Storage had been derived from the Key. Either way, Soleia had been right about needing the relic to rescue Ken. 

When Spice had scanned the Key’s programming, she’d also found an indecipherable, impenetrable ancient encryption algorithm. 

“Probably how ShaDAO has kept Cold Storage so well hidden,” Spice mused.

“And how they manage to make people disappear,” Soleia whispered, more to herself than to Spice or Zinc. 

Spice shot Zinc a look. She liked Soleia, but with the obvious pain of the memories of the Smuggler’s time in Cold Storage, she couldn’t help but worry what the reaction would be when she returned to the place that held so much unknown and unresolved trauma.

“Well, good news is we have the Key now,” Zinc said, changing the subject. “And with it in our possession, our jump should be hidden from the records, too, right?”

Soleia shook her head, as if to clear her thoughts, and scanned the code again. 

“Looks like it. I’ve dealt with encryptions before - really great algorithms. You need them to get more sensitive items in and out of places. But this one is insane. It’s the closest thing you can get to invisible. It’s basically built from whitespaces.”

 “I’m not saying I believe in fairy tales,” Zinc said. “But the more we learn about it, the more I’m thinking Asherah really created this thing.”


“Wow, that’s expensive,” Soleia muttered, her face lit by the hologram of the fortress blueprint beside them. Since Soleia held the Hubur Key in her wallet, she had to punch the fastcode into her bracer to transport their party to Cold Storage. 

“We should probably just call the whole thing off then,” Zinc quipped.

Soleia looked up and smiled at Zinc, her finger hovering over the bracer screen. “You ready?”

Zinc contemplated the question as he tugged on his backpack full of equipment and checked the coat he’d brought for the cold. Then he nodded. “Yeah, I’m ready. Spice?”

“Hold on.” Spice clicked off the fortress hologram and set an encryption process on her session. “Ready. Let’s see how bad this place really is.”

With a final nod, Soleia hit the button.

Suddenly, Spice found herself in reality. Her reality.

The strong blizzard caught her off-guard, knocking her onto her back. The snow was so thick and fresh it felt like water, impossible to grip and steady herself on. She hollered for her friends, but over the thunderous howl of the wind, she couldn’t even hear her own voice. All around her, the snow lashed and thrashed like static. The cold shocked her body, as it penetrated her extra layers of clothing.

She scrambled around, fighting against the white powder and forceful gales until she was on her stomach. Slowly digging her heels in, she moved her body, until she stood upright again. Wincing, she hunched against the whipping white hail and caught a half-glimpse of the jump station’s columns.

This wasn’t reality. This was Cold Storage.

Her field operative instincts kicked in, and she began searching for the others. Trudging through the snow with the same patience she used on her collector-cleaning duties, Spice found Zinc first. He was kneeling in the snow, hunched over with his hands over his head. She shook his shoulder before  lifting him up. Spice shook her head and pointed at her ears, then gestured for him to follow.

They found Soleia nearby, angry and struggling to stand in the snow to no avail. Together, they helped her to her feet, and the three steadied themselves in the wintery gale. Spice moved upwind, and spoke in a raised pitch, making her mouth movements exaggerated—just like she did when talking outside the compound.

“Have to leave here. So nobody finds us!” She pointed downwind. “Faster that way.”

Zinc and Soleia struggled to keep their heads up against the cold slice of the sleet, as they did their best to pay attention. Once Spice was sure they understood the plan, she set off in the lead, so they could follow the path she made in the snow. They walked for a long time, their pace slow. Though Spice had learned from a young age that you couldn’t hurry through a storm like this, her companions hadn’t endured those harsh lessons. So, she did her best to keep them moving. She checked on them constantly, stopping often to help pick them up, or wait for one of them to catch up when they lagged behind. 

Eventually, she spotted the distinct shape of a rocky outcropping with a small overhang, one that might offer a small respite from the wind. She looked back at the others and pointed it out. Spice hung back, now that they all knew where they were headed. After a few more bloxs of stumbling, difficult, progress, they reached the relative calm of the rock’s shelter.

“Asherah!” Soleia gasped, slumping back against the icy rock face the moment they reached it.

Zinc tripped multiple times as he raced to get away from the hail, eventually collapsing in front of Soleia, and then rolling onto his back.

“I can’t do it, man,” he said, shaking his head in the snow. “Jump us the hell out of here.”

Spice watched both of them pant with exhaustion. And unable to help herself, she laughed. 

“What’s so funny?” Soleia demanded.

Spice covered her mouth with one gloved hand, shook her head, and raised her other hand to ask for a reprieve. It took a few tixs for the laughing fit to pass.

“Sorry. It’s just… Well, you wanted to know what Drifter life was like…” Spice gestured around her. “Here it is. This is basically my day job.”

Zinc slipped as he sat upright. His eyebrows were encrusted with snow, and he kept clenching his jaw, his breath hissing and shivering. “This?”

Spice nodded. “It’s not always this bad. But then again, my solar collectors are uphill, and this has been pretty flat so far. You guys have it easy.”

“You’re kidding, right?” Soleia looked at Spice as if she were a stranger again. 

This is what you do when you log out? I’ve never seen anything like it,” Zinc added.

Spice looked around at the snow. “Judging by the depth, the blizzard’s already been going a while. We can probably wait out the rest.”

“You sure about that?” Soleia asked.

“Trust me. I know blizzards.”

“This might not be like the ones in real life.”

Spice laughed again, as she shifted through the snow. She slung her backpack down to the ground and sat next to Soleia. “Everything else about it is pretty authentic.”

“How long do you think it’ll go on for?” Zinc asked.

“A couple hundred bloxs. Probably less.” Spice turned down to check her bracer map while the others rested. Soleia stared off incredulously into the shifting fog. Zinc sat rocking back and forth as he rubbed his legs.

After a while, still sounding stunned, Zinc turned to Spice. “You know, it makes sense now.” 

She gave him a curious look. “What does?”

“You,” he replied. “Being ‘amazing’. I mean, I’ve known tough Drifters before, but you… The way you’re always so calm. Responsible. Unafraid.”

“Keep going,” Spice said. “Blushing might warm me up.”

I’m serious. It makes sense now. Knowing that you have to go out into this all the time. On your own. I don’t know how you don’t get lost. People must die in places like this.”

“It happens,” Spice said, thinking of Ricardo.

“No wonder you don’t get fazed in TPL.”

“Trust me—I hate my job. But somebody has to do it. It’s not that weird, just part of surviving. I did apply for a cushy position in storage and supply once, but then, so did everyone else.”

“No, he’s right,” Soleia said. “The fact you’re Alpha Command, too. Most Drifters I know come into TPL to just hang out and indulge themselves. But you deal with this, and then your idea of fun and relaxation is tracking down criminals and fighting mech battles with d-mezz stakes. It’s kinda weird.”

“What can I say,” Spice shrugged, not sure whether to be flattered or embarrassed, “I like a challenge.”

They fell into silence again, the wind whistling against the rock.

“You know,” Soleia began after a while, “I read this thing in the Ledger about Brokers trying to replicate Drifter life. Staying in these compounds together, running the kitchen and the servers. Everyone getting their little chores to do, all hanging out. A little community. It actually sounded kinda fun.”

“I’m sure it is,” Spice smiled at the thought. “When you know you can just hit a button and leave whenever you want. And you’re not one mistake in the generator room or food production away from dying along with every real-world person you know. When your existence isn’t dependent on generations-old equipment that they don’t make anymore and which could just break at any moment. Let’s not forget the roving bandits looking for a compound just like yours to strip entirely. Yeah, I’m sure it’s pretty fun without all of that. It would probably just feel like a fun little video game.”

Soleia laughed gently. “Ironic.”

Spice nodded. “Speaking of which, the blizzard’s dying down. We should get going. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”


The snowstorms calmed throughout the day while Spice, Zinc and Soleia made their way to the dark fortress and looked for observation spots around it. No blueprint could convey the size, strength, or strangeness of it. Its black concrete seemed to defy the elements around it and its faceless, oppressive walls gave no indication of the secrets it held inside.

The sun started to set, as Spice traipsed through the sapphire winter twilight toward the outcropped rock face to rendezvous with Zinc and Soleia. 

“I have to log out and check on the solar collectors, but I’ll be back before the daybreak,” she said when she reached them. Her friends nodded, as if they’d taken her story about compound life to heart. 

But when Spice went to log out, she found she couldn’t.

“What the hell is going on?” She tapped the logout screen repeatedly. Yet it did nothing but cause strange symbols to flash across her bracer screen “I can’t log out!”

Zinc and Soleia peered over Spice’s shoulder. 

“Can’t you just remove your rig?” Zinc asked. 

Spice stilled for a few tixs before her face filled with a look of utter confusion. “I can’t.”

They all quietly stared at one another before Zinc broke the silence with the question they were all thinking, “How is that possible?”

“Wait a blox,” Soleia turned to her own bracer and quickly swiped something on it. “Try now.”

Spice once again initiated the log out process. The strange symbols were gone. She glanced at the other woman. “How did you do that?” 

“The Key,” Soleia answered.

Zinc exhaled in one long, heavy breath and shook his head. “Damn, we’d better not lose that thing in here.” 


Spice flattened herself a little lower against the snow dune and drew down the binoculars from her cap onto her eyes. There had only been mild snowstorms in the past few days. Good for scouting the fortress and the people who came and went, but bad for remaining hidden while they moved around. They’d kept far away from the large structure, though even at a distance the place gave off a bad vibe. Out here in the vast, hostile emptiness of Cold Storage, it felt like a testament to some darker purpose.

Through her binoculars, she had watched the weaponized drones buzz around the walls, heavily armed guards cluster around several small entrances, and a few employees coming and going via snow vehicles. As she figured out identities, she pulled up profiles and Alpha Command records, when accessible. The closer she got to making her choice, the more she had doubts about her plan. 

She heard something moving in the snow behind her but didn’t look. That slow, shuffling, clumsy rhythm could only be Zinc. Eventually, he collapsed next to her.

“I hate this,” he gasped.

“You should try to move more quietly,” Spice said without looking at him. 

“Man, getting caught doesn’t sound that bad anymore. At least they have heat in there.”

“Did you set up the motion detectors?”


“Is Soleia ready?”

“She’s set up.”

Spice shifted her view over to where Soleia would lay in wait, though the Smuggler would be buried in the snow, away from view.

“What’s the time?” 

“Twenty-forty,” answered Zinc.

“We’re running it close. Get to the stop point. I’ll ping you if this is it.”

But Zinc didn’t move, letting a moment of silence fall between them. When he didn’t say anything, Spice looked up from her binoculars.

“We’re going to get him out of there,” he said softly when she met his gaze, reaching out to grab her hand. 

“I know,” Spice said, wishing for a little more confidence than she felt. “With you. And Soleia. We got this.”

Zinc held her eyes for a moment more and then let out a heavy sigh. He scrambled to his feet, slipping a few times, though Spice was so used to it by now she no longer laughed at him. She focused once again on the movement around the fortress, zoning out the way she did when she worked on the solar collectors. Bloxs passed, and then she saw what she had been waiting for.

Outside one of the larger entrances, an exiting snow vehicle came to a stop to be checked over by the guards. A Butterfly Snowspeeder, between its two tank-like caterpillar treads was a glass and metal chassis, decorated with danger and radioactive chemical signs. Spice zoomed in to double-check.

“Bingo,” she muttered when she saw Koda Trundle Zander, the Chemist they’d been watching, through the driver’s canopy. Now she just had to hope one of the Enforcers wouldn’t travel with him. It would make their job a lot tougher. 

The Enforcers around the vehicle waved it through and Spice tightened, ready for action. Without removing her binoculars, she tapped her bracer. “Ready up. Soleia. You receiving info from the motion trackers?”

“Yeah, I’m reading them.”

“Looks like his path is already skewed a bit. Heading through C-5 and C-6. Be careful, he’s driving one of those fast vehicles.”

“I’m moving.”

Spice looked over to see a glimmer of Soleia’s black cloak as she hurried across the snow before disappearing again as she lowered herself into another spot. She scanned over to the vehicle and tracked it as it sped across the landscape. Her bracer pinged with each motion sensor it passed, and she hoped Soleia observed them with the same vigilance. 

When the vehicle drew close to Soleia, Spice zoomed into it and held her breath. She saw the hookshot fire and clamp onto the rear of the metal chassis. It was followed by Soleia, who was dragged behind the short line in a cloud of white snow. 

It had seemed an insane idea, but Soleia had told her it was an age-old practice among Smugglers looking to stowaway or ‘liberate’ goods from moving vehicles. Spice watched as Soleia tumbled and spun behind the Snowspeeder, but still managed to pull herself along the line, drawing herself closer to it. She kept moving, one hand over the other, until she pulled herself up onto the chassis, and crawled towards its front. She opened the canopy before Koda could even realize what was happening, and dropped in beside him.

Spice finally let out her breath, lifted her binoculars, and started running. The stop point was a small rugged area with several dips and valleys that would make it easier to hide. Spice reached it just as Soleia pulled the vehicle to a stop and got out, leaving the door open as she shoved Koda out of the Snowspeeder, the Chemist’s hands cuffed behind his back. 

Zinc jumped into the driver’s seat. The Snowspeeder might be seen from afar, let alone lead ShaDAO agents to them via its tracks. The plan was to have Zinc drive it to the jump station where its tracks would blend with the many others, and then find a place to hide it. ShaDAO would have questions if they found a vehicle full of chemicals with no driver, but better they had those questions away from them for now.

The Snowspeeder raced off as Soleia marched the Chemist away from its path and down into one of the small ditches. Koda slipped and tumbled, as bad on the snow as Zinc was. He landed at the bottom with a grunt, and by the time he could look up, Soleia and Spice stood over him. His eyes widened with fear. 

“What are you doing?! Where are you taking the speeder? Those chemicals are priceless! And dangerous! Who are you?!”

“Priceless, huh?” Soleia smirked.

Yes!” Koda exclaimed. “You have no idea!”

“I guess you’d be in big trouble, if we decide not to give them back.” Soleia turned back around, reached down to him and unlatched one side of his gasmask, the fullness of his shocked expression in view now.

“Koda Trundle Zander,” Spice used her Alpha Command voice. “ShaDAO’s newest employee.”

“What? How did you know that?”

“You turned up two days ago wearing just your lab coat. That’s a mistake you only make your first time in Cold Storage. You were also greeted by a Gene Editor, an Astronomer, and the head Chemist— and the guards seem careful not to get on your bad side. They also let you come and go as you please. My guess is that you’re a big deal, that you have high-level access and information.”

“No! You’re wrong!” Koda squirmed  and slipped in the snow. “They don’t tell me anything. I just handle some dangerous chemicals. That’s all! I don’t know anything!”

Soleia smiled. “Don’t know anything, huh?” With theatrical slowness, she reached into her cloak and pulled out the Hubur Key. 

Koda’s eyes widened in terrified recognition. 

“The Hubur Key,” Koda mouthed quietly, like a reverent prayer.

“What do you know about it?” Soleia asked.

With that question, Koda’s face changed from horror to disbelief. He stared at Soleia for a few tixs and then swallowed hard. 

Soleia gripped her fist around the Key and leaned forward to draw his attention. 

“Are you really telling me you don’t know what you have possession of? That’s the Hubur Key.” He waited and then shook his head at her confused look. “‘All fear the holder of the Hubur Key. For there is no fate worse than an eternal prison of the mind,’” the Chemist said, as if repeating some age-old proverb.

Soleia winked at Spice and tucked the Key back into her vest.

Koda turned to Spice as if he might find more mercy with her. “It works on Drifters, too.”

Spice shook her head. “How is that even possible?”

“The Hubur is one of the Seven Keys of Asherah,” Koda explained. “They’re the most powerful items in the Paradigm. The Keys are connected with the source of all things: Asherah. Each one has the potential to alter fundamental rules of the Paradigm in their own way. The Hubur Key in particularly frightening ways,”

Koda started to plead, “Look, I’m going to be straight with you. You have no idea what kind of power you’re holding and are at a serious risk every moment you have it in your possession. Here, you can give it to me and I will make sure we are all safe from any accidents.”

“Well now, I see no reason to do that,” Soleia smiled as she crouched down to look at Koda face to face, “when I can just learn by using it on you.”

Koda hung his head. 

“What do you want?”

Spice cocked her head to one side. “Someone we know was taken to that fortress by ShaDAO. We intend to break inside and get him out.”

Koda looked up at them, incredulous. “You can’t. Even if I helped you. You just can’t.

“Yeah, well, that’s what they said about getting the Hubur Key.”

Spice crouched down in the snow, so she too was eye-level with Koda. “We can. And we will. And you’re going to help us.” 

Koda didn’t say anything, but the Chemist’s expression paled at his lack of a choice.