“I need to make certain that my program is building a digital world at the expense of your structures?” Jàl questioned as his mood darkened. The words sounded hollow even to his ears. How could he refute the last scenes of the digital streets before he jumped realities. The mirror effect of the Verge in his world and the first responders in this reality all gathered around the exact same location. In both, the building had fluctuated in and out of being.
How though, he wracked his brain. The algorithms were fashioned to gather information and create a replica layout to provide a map, a means of passage from the Cloud City to the lowest level of earth. In a matter of speaking, a relatively far fetched but mundane approach in his desperate search for an antidote to end the deadly virus inflicting the Cloud City, but now, the damn thing only added to the city’s problems.
The melding of the different dimensions amounted to an enormous task to be demystified and all this distracted from the fear pressing at the back of his spine.
Jàl sank in his chair. His mind a tightly wound ball of worry about Roake as she lay in the digital world, helpless. A dimensional game, now thought to be devouring the real world and all the while she lay incapacitated by the virus. Grief coupled with guilt cramped his conscious. How was she, he wondered? Could she hang on?
Shaking loose of the dreadful thoughts, Jàl turned back to the plastic keyboards resting under his hands. How long would would it take to re-program these ancient artifacts to accept the implant at the base of his skull. If that was even possible.
The second of his problems, a type of biological container that could cross the gateway to the digital world and carry the antibiotics to save Roake and thus the Cloud City, he left with Conners Lee along with a list of components he’d need to infiltrate the main frame of the digital reality.
Sunlight streamed into a window high in the hidden lab of the Groundlier. Jàl sat bent over the rude plastic components that allowed his access to the ancient computing system. Hours earlier, Conners Lee returned with a list of possible substitutes of the needed equipment Jàl requested. The two spent a good part of the night retrofitting and increasing the abilities of the ancient and technologically challenged system.
A stream of green dashes and dots flowed from screen to screen as Jàl typed. His fingers, now adjusted to the raised plastic letters and numbers of the keyboard, typed with a single purpose. The lines of code crossing the grouping of L.E.D. screens merged to form a picture in his mind.
“At last,” Jàl shouted. The rapid flashes of coding slowed, then began to swirl.
Conners Lee stood off Jàl’s shoulder. A computer savant himself, he felt lost as he tried to follow the visitor from the digital world, or…Lee revised his thinking, a different version of earth. No. Both statements formed wrong answers. If Jàl Condor was to be believed, Lee was hosting a fellow human from a city miles above the one he presently stood. The possibility, though, would have to wait to be confirmed. A search for the foreigners home would have to wait until his own home was no longer in danger.
“Damn,” the shouted curse focused Lee back to their present problem.
“What’s wrong,” Lee asked.
“It’s as I feared,” Jàl pointed to the slashes of coding disappearing from the monitors as if a simple glance at the disappearing green lines of code explained everything.
“What? What am I looking at. Maybe I can help?” Lee offered.
“When I started this program,” Jàl lounged back in his chair and rubbed the tiredness from his eyes. “I created a program to accumulate and sort and piece together the information retrieved by the algorithms. I needed somewhere to contain the useful bits while the replicated city was being laid out. A Daemon, a computer…”
“I know what a Daemon is,” Lee cut into Jàl’s narrative. “A multitasking system that runs as a background process free of direct manipulation.”
“Thank you,” Jàl sarcastically replied. “My I continue.”
“The floor is yours,” Conners Lee ruffled at the rebuke.
“A few days ago, my friend and…,” Jàl paused thinking of Roake, “and colleague reentered the Mixed-Reality world because my lab computers were locked out of the system. The Daemon, I believe is responsible. I never got around to solving the problem. Roake became ill and I changed my priorities.
Unfortunately, I’ve come upon the same problem, again. My actions are locked out. I finally convinced your system to accept my transplant,” he said pointing to the scar on the side of his neck, “but after a short test run, the door was slammed shut. It seems that the only way to move forward is for me to reenter the digital world. There I can manually reboot the grid. Without control our efforts will be useless.”
“What about your memories? What if your mind is wiped?”
An eyebrow raised and Jàl’s cheek twitched as the question increased the complexity of his plan. “I guess we’d better find a way around that then, plus, I’ll need you to take back to the exact spot I entered your level. I imagine my gateway should still exist.”
Jàl sat back in the chair. His fingers intertwined, his thumbs spinning over each other.
“Are you certain this is the only way?” Conners Lee’s voice broke into the dream like state settled into Jàl’s consciousness.
“I’ve run countless computations. This is the only option left open.” His voice whispered and lazy, his eyelids too heavy to lift when he addressed the other man. The IV attacked to his arm continued its slow drip of sleep inducing drugs.
Roake stepped up to meet him. The digital jungle surrounding their reunion wavered. The sharp edges of the structures rounded and soft. The crowds on the sidewalks faceless and noiseless.
Jàl smiled to see Roake on her feet. As he stared into her eyes, she suddenly turned away, but not quick enough. The features on her face already fading. Roake ignored his outstretched hand and fled into the sea of bodies flooding onto the streets.
“Wait,” Jàl knew the voice pleading the words was his but his mouth remained sealed.
A flash of the side of Roake’s face straightened Jàl where he stood. Her eyes and mouth begged for his help as she continued running away. Elbowing into the faceless crowd, Jàl pushed aside the human forms in his effort to draw closer to Roake.
Through a tangle of bodies he watched in horror as she fell to the ground. Pushing and shoving to clear a path, when he reached the spot she’d fallen, the sidewalk lay bare. Confused, Jàl stared into the writhing crowd. A flash of sleeve from Roake’s uniform set him off in a new direction.
Again he forced his way into the jungle of arms and legs of the faceless human forms. The sleeve connected to a jacket. Soon Roake’s back waited only yards from where he stood. The crowd shifted. A second look and she was gone.
This game continued. Jàl so close and then nothing. He felt the sweat break on his forehead. From the humidity, he wondered, before disregarding the thought. The environment inside the game was stable, never changing. No. The beads of perspiration meant something worse. Fear. Fear that he’d be too late to help Roake and then a deeper fear that he couldn’t beat the Daemon and the real world would collapse.
All this because of him. A genius smart enough to program an alternate reality but not wise enough to follow the calculations through to the end. The end where reality could only exist on one level. Whichever level, the universe didn’t care. And now his mixed-reality world was somehow destroying the real world.
Still, the answer as to why, he failed to grasp but maybe if he could just talk to Roake. Maybe with her help, the two could figure this out. Now where had she disappeared, he wondered casting his head around to catch sight of her.
On cue, a flash of a hand waved to him from across the street. She stood outside the door to a small store. Jàl’s heart jumped as he waded past the limbs of the suffocating crowd. The thought of her lifted his spirits. The two could accomplish what he failed to do.
Stepping on the sidewalk outside the store, the entrance waited empty. Jàl tried the door handle. The door vanished. The store was different than any he’d witnessed thus far. Dusty shelves greeted him. On the shelves, different street scapes. Some in light and other in dark shadows. As Jàl stood in the doorway, a discernible popping sound echoed in the small space. The noise followed by small puffs of dusts.
Again, the noise. Jàl spun on his feet. His eyes traced the wisp of dust. A streetscape highlighted by sunlight stood quivering. On the corner of the street, an empty lot. No. The small remains of a foundation. Jàl crept closer. What the …?
This miniature layout resembled the streets of the Groundliers world. The building that disappeared, the same that he’d witnessed with Conners Lee. A second pop. Jàl spun again. Another building on another layout had vanished.
“This is on you,” the voice startled him. Glancing top, Roake stood off to the side. The features off her face scrubbed with a rash. The virus. Was he too late.
“Are you all right?” He asked.
“We’ll be fine,” Roake’s mouth moved to reply but the voice speaking the words were not of her. He watched her facial features quiver in the light. The details dulling. Mesmerized, Jàl locked his eyes on his friend’s face thinking he could stop what he feared may happen. Soon the face matched the voice.
The dream world brought on by state of unconsciousness switched to a dark room with an array of computer banks lit by a spotlighted. Jàl watched an image of himself bound before a large wall of monitors. Helpless, he watched swirling lines of code as they fused to form a picture.
Re-eal, the Daemon lurking in the background of his Mixed-Reality world, stared back from the other side of the glass screens. “Now what have you been up to?” the digital creature’s facial expression contorted to a twisted smile, “The game is far from over.”