Friday, March 7, 2014

Dreamleaks 2: Stuck In Transit

Dreamleaks 2: Stuck In Transit

I used to be the hero.

There was that thought again. Captain Marcus Corona shook it out of his head like he always did. Why did he worry about being the hero? He already was A hero, protector of the lives of hundreds of good, decent, caring people. Never mind that none of them are real.

No, he can't think like that. They're as real as he is, after all. Transit worked like any other city; it just happened to exist entirely inside a computer simulation. And also the laws of physics work, at best, about half the time. And people can take off their own heads with only minor consequences. And just the other day, that Jerry kid fell in love with a animate hammer. But BESIDES all that, it was just like normal. And besides, none of them knew any better. The truth was allowed only to those who could be trusted with it, like Marcus. That's why she made him a captain. And now …

I lived in a ship, one of three alone in the ocean. We played and had adventures and imagined the world around us, what could exist beyond the horizon. We never knew any other life, never even guessed that not only was the world beyond the horizon a lie, so was the horizon itself. So was everything more than a hundred feet from the ships.

Marcus shook his head. Stupid dreams. Why did computer programs even need dreams? He asked EMMA about that once, but as always, she dodged the question. No where was he? Right, now he had a job to do. Most Transitians never even imagined a world beyond their city, but he didn't have that luxury. EMMA just warned of motion outside of the city, in the “real” world. It might not be a threat, but he couldn't afford to take that chance. Besides, nothing should be moving out there anymore, threat or otherwise.

On the way to the city's “borders,” Marcus met Alice Falchione. Great, another complication. “What are you doing here?” Marcus demanded.

Alice just shrugged. “What else? Nothing better to do. Like you couldn't use the backup out there.”

Marcus wanted to argue, but he just snarled and moved on. He couldn't do anything to Alice, and he knew it. He didn't even know what she was. She just popped in and out of Transit on a whim. She could be gone for months, only to return with an army, or a cure for some virus running rampant in Transit. Or a Mariachi band. That was an odd day. EMMA must trust her, since she never asked Marcus to stop her. But Marcus didn't, and he didn't see why anyone else would. Reckless people like her just get people hurt, or worse.

I didn't mean to do anything wrong, really! I just wanted to explore, have a little fun, maybe solve a mystery or two. People said that nobody every returned from the hull of the Third Ship, but I never knew anyone who went there in the first place, so what did that mean? And sure, the place was crawling with monsters, but they weren't THAT bad. I fought worse. Well, I didn't, but I fought things almost as bad. So it seemed natural that this would be the next place to go.

“Just don't get in my way,” Marcus warned, but his words had no weight to them, and he knew it. Alice just smirked and followed him to the borders. As he left the simulation, Marcus felt an electric sensation, as he knew his body changed from one of pure data to one of substance, albeit that of pure energy. EMMA described it as a hard-light hologram, but Marcus didn't really understand what that meant or cared. Alice, as far as Marcus knew, didn't change at all, save for a force barrier forming around her.

The reality outside of Transit was supposed to be the real world, but to Marcus' eyes, this one looked like a poor simulation. Everyone looked so … blocky out here, the vibrant colors of his home replaced with simple shapes. Maybe that was a limit to Marcus' digital eyes; he had no way of knowing. Either way, the shapes that caught their attention moved with a purpose, and they were shaped like humans. As Marcus and Alice floated towards them, they scattered with incredible speed, jumping from one place to another in an instant. And while they seemed to be just observing the machinery that made up Transit and the city around it, Marcus and Alice's unwelcome intrusion made them aggressive. Bursts of color bounced off his virtual skin and Alice's barrier. They retaliated with energy blasts of their own, but nothing came close to hitting the invaders. “I expected better than this,” one of their attackers enigmatically taunted as they vanished.

“EMMA, update!” Marcus begged his creator.

“No further activity detected,” EMMA replied. “At least within the city. But I am still sensing their presence nearby. If I may take an estimate, they are biding their time.”

Marcus frowned. As fast as they are, the attackers must not be that powerful if they fled so quickly. But his holographic body couldn't travel outside of the boundaries of the city, and no point in asking Alice to seek them out. “Then what can we do?” he asked.

“I have a potential solution,” EMMA offered. “They seem interested in exploiting our resources, but are unwilling to engage us in a direct conflict. I propose creating a simple crisis within Transit; nothing serious, but enough to make it appear that our defenses are compromised. When the scavengers investigate, we can ambush them, taking them unaware. If they are simply curious, we can get answers. If hostile, we can eliminate them.”

“I don't like it,” Marcus admitted. “What if things go wrong?”

“I assure you, the crisis I envision is nothing that the citizens of Transit can't handle,” EMMA said. “Provided, of course, that the usual residents are up to the task.”

“You mean, if HE's up to it.” Marcus scowled. For all his powers, all his loyalty, Marcus never seemed to be the one to save the day. No, that fell on Jerry's shoulders. A mere child, an irresponsible one at that. For some reason, he always seemed to be around when trouble started (often because he caused it,) and yet for all of Marcus' efforts, Jerry and his friends would be the ones to bumble into the solution, and he got all accolades. He got to be their champion, their hero...

Marcus stopped himself. He didn't like where this train of thought was going. Alice, however, just chuckled. “You know, EMMA, you're exactly the sort of computer we used to be warned about. Glad you're on our side.” Seeing Marcus' sour mood, she floated over to him and whispered. “He's not even one of you, you know. Seriously, Jerry's a gerbil that EMMA threw into the simulation before he could starve. Let him enjoy his moment as hero. You already had your chance.”

“Enough of your contemptible words,” Marcus demanded as he shooed her away, and for once, Alice listened, her body vanishing into nothing. But the damage had been done. She just babbled nonsense, Marcus thought to himself. A gerbil? What was she even talking about? And yet, when she mentioned that Marcus had his chance, he couldn't help but feel his thoughts drift once more …

I didn't expect to find anyone down there. But instead, I found everyone. A crowd cheered me on as I slipped into the darkness of the hull. I was on the top of the world, but it didn't last. I suddenly saw my friends before me, and a voice asked me who would continue on living in this world, and who would … not. I wanted to refuse this demand, but I couldn't. I didn't even know how not to answer.

But I knew a trick when I heard one. I made my choice, picking only casual acquaintances to live on in this world, folks I wouldn't miss. My friends and I would move on, then. If we couldn't live in this world anymore, I bet there would be another, a better one maybe. And if not, who cares? Hell, we ran out of things to explore in the last one anyway.

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