A New Adventure Begins
“Chip!” Melinda shouted excitedly.

Chip McCallahan dashed into the Bit Busters Clubhouse’s control room, where his high school sweetheart was waiting to greet him. As he and Melinda embraced, his briefcase snapped open, and the papers inside flew about. It felt like Chip was experiencing slow motion as they floated to the ground.

“Oh,” he said bashfully with a knowing chuckle. “Guess I should’ve set that down first.”

“No worries!” Melinda replied. “It’s so good to see you. What’ve you got in here anyway?”

As they picked up the papers, a wave of memories swept over Chip. It had been years since he first set foot in the clubhouse and completed Melinda’s original challenge. He had periodically returned for more as the ranks of the Bit Busters grew, and new levels were made. But life often pulled him and Melinda in different directions. She was still supervising the level design guild of the club, while after a period of solitude at Mental Marvel Monastery, he landed himself a modest job as a teacher at Chip Grove City High School. His new position had brought the two of them together again.

“Are all these tests from your students?” Melinda asked.

“Yeah. As much as it can feel tedious to grade these, it’s nothing like pushing blocks around in your first clubhouse, you know!” Chip said teasingly.

“Hey, now,” she said. “We’ve both come a long way since then! And as a teacher, you get to be the new faculty sponsor for the Bit Busters’ chapter at Chip Grove City High, right?”

“That is true,” Chip said. The melancholy in his voice was evident. “I love welcoming new recruits into the club and seeing them grow. But sometimes I wish I could come back here more to test out all these new amazing levels you all have worked so hard on.”

“Well… you might just have your chance. We’ve been working on a new challenge for some of our most dedicated members! But… there’s been an incident.”

“Really?” The spark returned to Chip’s voice. “How can I help?”

“We’ve started doing something new,” explained Melinda. “You know how you used to have to deal with those blobs smothering you when my lab experiments went awry? Now the Bit Busters don’t have to worry about that! All the levels have been converted into virtual reality spaces. They’re stored in these.” Melinda held up something that looked like a miniature crystal ball.

“What’s that thing?” Chip asked.

“It’s a storage device and a portal of sorts, all in one,” said Melinda. “Whenever you push this little button here, you get transported into a level! It’s kind of like a virtual pocket dimension. You can go through a challenge as many times as you need to, and now without any bodily harm!” Melinda was especially proud of that development.

“So today’s Bit Busters don’t have to get clobbered by those pesky walkers anymore?” Chip wasn’t sure how to feel. “I kinda wish this technology was around back in the day!”

“Me too,” Melinda mused as her thoughts also started drifting into the past. Much had happened since she and Chip first went to the e-prom after he completed her first clubhouse all those years ago. “But all we can do is improve what we can and move forward. Right now, the problem is… all the virtual reality bubbles for our new clubhouse got scattered throughout Chip Grove City and the surrounding areas.

“Really?!” Chip was shocked. “How did that happen?”

“Well…” Melinda replied sheepishly, “It was my fault. I learned pretty quickly not to store these things out in the open and all in one place. Especially not on the rooftop! They’re still in development and can be a little unstable around each other. The combined force was so much that they pushed each other away! But the good news is they can be safely put into these little boxes.”

“Oooh, shiny!” Chip felt like a little kid holding a new toy as he examined the box.

“Think of them like little Faraday cages for the bubbles,” said Melinda. “They’re safe when they’re in here. And what’s even better is that the bubbles are designed to teleport back into these boxes once the level inside has been completed.”

“I think I got it!” The wheels were starting to turn in Chip’s head. “Are you saying that if I go out and find the bubbles and complete the levels inside each one, they’ll be zapped back here into these things?”

“Precisely!” Melinda replied with a smile. “The good news is, most of our Bit Busters have been honing their creativity with these new levels. They’re trying out new aesthetics and even experimenting with the layouts of our old designs!”

“That’s cool! But how does that help us?” Chip asked.

“Because the designs can be a clue to where the bubbles ended up! I’ve been able to find them using this.” Melinda held up another device that looked like a handmade Geiger counter. “I made this little tracker to make sure we didn’t lose our new virtual level library to thieves. You remember that incident with Jude, right?”

“How could I forget?” Chip started having flashbacks of Melinda’s ex, who had infiltrated the Bit Busters many years ago while he was going through one of their new clubhouses.

“I started discovering the places where the bubbles ended up were very similar to what the levels themselves looked and felt like,” she continued. “Maybe they were drawn there like magnets. But because of this, I’ve been able to map out a route you can take to collect all of them and teleport them back here. Think of it like going through a new clubhouse, just world tour-style!”

“That sounds like fun!” said Chip. “Where do we get started? Where are we going?”

“Everything starts and ends here,” Melinda responded. “You’ll find the first few bubbles in our training area for new recruits, then you’ll need to explore Chip Grove City. Beyond that, there’s mountains, caves, factories, and even our server room. Then, at the end, you’ll venture into… the Mental Marvel Maelstrom. It’s my new secret project: a big tower with a gauntlet where we can house our hardest challenges. That’s where the last few levels are located.”

“That secret tower project sounds amazing! How many floors are you planning to build? Maybe 264?”

“That’s a great number, but no, not even close to that many. I just have nine for now. But we’ll get there one day. Let’s start off with the basics and get you back into action first. I’ll keep in touch here and continue supervising the Bit Busters while making sure the bubbles arrive in good condition.” Melinda handed Chip an earpiece, which he put on.

The two looked at each other longingly and basked in the moment. Knowing that the two of them always had each other was such a comforting thought.

Then Melinda broke the silence. “Good luck, Chip. If anyone can collect these levels and bring them back home, I know you can!”

Chip began running down the stairs to the training area with a newfound confidence in his step. Seeing Melinda again was always the best motivator, no matter how hard the challenge in front of him was. As he approached the door to the training area he had first experienced so long ago, he saw the first bubble on the ground.

“This is it,” Chip said. He took a deep breath and pushed the button. His latest and greatest adventure was about to begin.

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