Jàl supported one side of the injured Roake and the strange woman climbed under Roake’s free arm. The three threaded their way through dilapidated buildings, most digitally incomplete. Others, computer renderings of blank facades towering above the nondescript streets. The structures lacking the depth or details of real world buildings. Jàl took note of the changes to the rising street scape while he and the games avatar struggled under the weight of Roake’s semi-conscious body.
“Do you have a name?” Jàl asked when the pair stopped so he could catch his breath.
“No.” The avatar replied. “We must continue. The beasts are close.”
The trio crept across deserted alleys and turned at dead ends of nothingness. Routes left impassable by the lack of information yet to be acquired for the program to complete the groundlier’s world. All the while, the screeches of the Verge echoed around them. Several blocks passed. The Avatar stopped at the entrance to a glass and concrete tower. The buildings upper floors fluctuating in and out of spacial time. Another building waiting in limbo due to the shortage of archived files. The words on the building blurred and unreadable.
Jàl plodded silently. The numerous questions he had for his lucky angel bitten off at the tip of his tongue. The temptation to grill the woman eating at his thoughts, but Roake’s safety came first, so he moved silently as the two carried his friend away from the threat of the games monsters.
Inside the building, the woman led them to a long set of stairs. When their feet touched the first step, the treads began moving upward. Jàl stared around fascinated by the new discoveries he had seen on the trip. His brain busy absorbing the workings of the games intricate program. A game he designed to replicate a long forgotten history.
Rare snippets of unearthed information he continuously fed into the program to aid in developing the base for the lowest level of New Market. But how all the pieces fit together was something new to him.
The lair of the Groundliers. Truly a world of mystery.
The long forgotten city that was deemed unimportant over the millenniums and lost from memory with by the ever rising population as it soared skyward. The bottom levels becoming less relevant over time. Now, most of the archives were destroyed. The old computer files long since garnered obsolete by the ever evolving technology of the city’s inhabitants. The files deemed useless and discarded.
Until now. Vital information that could possibly save the Upper Level, lost over advancing generations. With each new piece of history discovered, Jàl adjusted the games programs setting the algorithms to design a close approximation of the Groundliers home at the base of the towering city.
If time allowed. How quickly could he reconstruct a detailed layout of a city built more than two millennium ago with the limited information. And did he really need the full layout of the lower level? Maybe a small grouping of buildings along a solitary street might suffice. The section would have to be factually complete, but still. A starting block that he could work with to open a doorway and elude the field of energy that restricted movement to the lower level. This might allow the General’s squads to by-pass the barrier and prevent the destruction of his own world.
The back door into the game should work. If he had a detailed schematic to show exactly where to place the portal, then he might well be able to open a second back door and gain access to the bottom level thus avoiding the impenetrable shield of the barrier. The logic made sense. If he can enter the 9-dimensional game through a programmed opening in his lab, then he should be able to work within the games framework to open a portal to the lower level?
That brought his thoughts back to the ongoing and expanding game. As the computer simulation grew, the bits of floating data were gathered and collected in a sphere shaped hard drive. The drive hidden somewhere in the reemerging city. A plan he had come to realize was a bad idea. And the reason he and Roake kept traveling the levels of the game. The end prize. The sphere of information he christened the globe.
A powerful search engine he introduced into the game to gather and sort the infinite number of floating fragments of bytes needed to reconstruct a virtual copy of the groundliers world in Mixed Reality. And with the globes knowledge, hopefully a second doorway and a route past the Verge. The games mainframe ground endlessly, building then changing and rebuilding the city with each morsel of new information to compose the unknown city.
When he started the program, the globe was set at the centre of the program busily snatching passing bits and bytes, but with the constantly changing and updating parameters, the centre shifted. And then came the idea for the Verge. A design he initially added to test the Generals death squads and prepare them for the day the Sky Dwellers confronted the Groundliers.
The concept of the Verge, a sketchy caricature composed of humans and monsters borne from fractured pictures he had found on decomposing antique hard drives. Hideous aberrations of humanity on the verge of an evolution gone awry. His beliefs of what the lower level inhabitants now resembled.
Another bad idea, he now realized. As the games programming expanded and rebooted, the monster’s scope of comprehension grew. A form of accidental artificial intelligence derived from the globes shifting algorithms. At first the Verge were easy to avoid. Dumb and slow. Now. Shortly after he and Roake enter the back door into the game, the monsters become alert and hunted for them. Not very amusing but an unavoidable product of his 9-dimensional experiment.
Jàl’s feet quit moving as the escalator crested the next floor. He stumbled out of his reverie. He blinked back to awareness and glanced down at his feet. The moving stair case had stopped. Lost in the vast universe of his thoughts, he had ascended three floors of the building in a trance. Should he be worried, he wondered. The events of his glitching consciousness were becoming more frequent.
“This way,” he caught the words of the strange woman. Jàl cast his eyes about. This level of the building was sparse. Barren. No furnishing, no colours, nothing. The games program hadn’t enough information to complete the buildings interior.
“In here.” The women instructed, swinging open a nondescript door. Lights flared, brightening the room. An accumulation of random objects lay scattered about.
“Where do find you this stuff?” Jàl asked. The lack of furnishing outside the room making him curious.
“I collect them on my travels throughout the city.” The women returned a puzzled look. “How do you come by your possessions?”
“I…” Jàl fell silent. He helped lower Roake onto a long bench then moved about the confined space sifting through the woman’s collection.
Jàl rummaged, watching from the corner of his eye while the woman scurried about the stacks of items. With expert hands, the stranger tended to Roake’s wound. Jàl sat out of the way catching his breath. When the woman finished, he decided his questions could wait no longer.
“How long have you been here?” He asked.
The avatar looked at him. Her face a mask of confusion. “Since the beginning, I guess.”
“The beginning of what?”
“The beginning. I have no memory of a time before that. Why?” The avatar eyed him suspiciously.
“Okay, okay.” Jàl raised his palms. “Curious. That’s all.” He marvelled at the digital avatar. Her appearance unlike the Verge or computer generated bodies of the population of the game. “You’re different then the other entities in the game. You look so…real,” he mouthed the words in way of an apology for staring so blatantly at the avatar.
“Do you have a name?” He asked.
The avatar furrowed her brow and shook her head in confusion. “Who is here to call me by name?” She countered.
“Good point,” Jàl conceded. “None the less. I will need to refer to you somehow.” His earlier description of the avatar clinging to his thoughts.
“Ree-al.” He pronounced the name out loud. Dragging out the word and leaning heavier on the first syllable to give the name an exotic flair to match the avatar’s looks. The games particles glowing ethereal, shimmer surrounding the avatar’s body reminding Jàl of ancient Greek goddesses.
“Ree-al,” He repeated. “Why are you here?”
“I observe and record the changes to the data on this section. After every dark period, I scour the city. The new additions to the program are added to the level’s cache.”
“A dark period?” Jàl inquired. His understanding of the intricate workings inside the mainframe familiar but yet suddenly foreign to the expanding layers of programming used to control the task of building the layout for the groundliers forgotten world.
“The level grows dark and still. Frozen. An eternity of blackness. When the lights return, I wonder the city recording the changes.”
“So you’re like a daemon.” Jàl explained the ancient terminology. “You hoover in the background and collect and sort bytes of information.”
“I do what I do.” The avatar answered.
“Are there other beings living in the city?”
“Not on this level. The beasts are the only other travelers in this section.”
“Do the beasts have another name?”
The avatar shrugged. “Beasts is the only name that comes to mind. Until I overheard you refer to them as beasts, they were nameless. I do not need titles to identify them.”
“Why are they here? What’s their purpose?” Jàl asked.
“They just are. They arrive when ever new streams of data enter this section. I stop the beasts from corrupting or destroying the updates.”
Jàl thought of her description. The avatar described the Verge as if they were a virus or maybe even a malware program. The thought gave him pause. The Verge were designed to replicate groundliers. Their sole purpose in the game to use for training purposes. What aberrations in the algorithms could cause them seek out and destroy certain additions to the expanding data base.
Then reality gripped Jàl thoughts. He was physically inside a 9-dimensional game talking to a digital avatar. Perhaps her understanding and his differed.
Then a second, more interesting possibility occurred. In the games involving artificial intelligence, could the algorithms adjust as the program grew and adapt from the original programming and if they did, why? To what end. Questions for a later time.
“How do you avoid the hordes of beasts when you travel the city?” J al’s curiosity grew. How did the woman survive locked in this game with the Verge?
“I am online with their thoughts. I know what they think so I can avoid them. I was alerted to their presence once you entered this cluster.” Ree-al arched an eyebrow. “You don’t sense them?” She asked.
Jàl considered her words. Maybe he did. His senses tensed seconds before the monsters became visible. Could this be what she meant.
“I never thought about that.” He admitted. Roake moaned diverting his interest.
“Do they not appear to you like the rest of the people in this city?”
“No. They look instinctively different. You are not from around here, are you?” The computer avatar asked suspiciously.
Jàl thought on his answer. His hand rocked side to side. “Yes and no. Not from here but not very far away.”
“Can you help us escape? I need to get my friend medical attention.” Jàl motioned to the dazed Roake. A mask of confusion settled over Ree-al’s features.
“Where would you escape? The city fluctuates. The streets change but there are limits. There is no where to run that the Verge will not find you. They are dangerous. They want to destroy what is built. And even if you can bypass them, the streets are incomplete and trail off into the abyss. So where would you go?”
Jàl chewed his lip. How could he explain. This entity was obviously a creation of the system’s evolving database. An avatar watching the program expand and fighting to protect the new creation from the destruction of the Verge. A type of anti-virus if one thought of the Verge as a virus. An important string in the ever changing parameters of dots and dashes on the computer's mainframe.
Jàl regarded the computer simulation intently. An interesting by product of the evolving intelligence he programmed into the frame work.
“There’s a doorway. An opening that lets me cross from this world back to mine.” He watched Ree-al’s face while she assimilated the information.
“An outside world. Interesting. What happens in this other world?”
“I don’t have time to explain, I need to get my friend to a doctor. We can talk about it when I return.”
“You have a funny way with words. What is a doctor? There are no doctor’s here.”
“Not yet. Although it may be a necessity that needs to be added to the program.” Jàl conceded.
“Where is this door?” Ree-al asked. Jàl closed his eyes. The map of the city shimmered into view. He searched the data, screens of overviews passed behind his closed eyelids. He focused on the brick wall. Nano seconds passed. A red beacon flashed on the overview of the map then the screens of bytes reconfigured. The map zoomed to the location of the door forming a picture in Jàl’s mind.
“I know where this lays.” Ree-al interrupted. “Not far from here.”
Jàl opened one eye and peered at the computer simulation. “You can read my mind.”
“Of course not,” Ree-al stated in her monotone voice. Her tone even, neither judging nor condescending. “But you momentarily connected with the mainframe for your search.” She left the rest unsaid.
As if on cue, shrill cries of Verge echoed from lower in the building and rose among the empty floors. Jàl shot a confused glance at Ree-al.
“How did they find us. I thought…” The question trailed off.
“This space is hidden. I block my movements from the Beasts searching pulses, but you and your friend are new to this section. When you searched for the door, your thoughts emit a stream of data the beasts track, so the percentage of them locating us was greatly increased.
Jàl scrambled to lift Roake to her feet. “You said you know where the doorway exists. That it is close. Take us.” He grunted under the weight of Roake’s body.
The Wolves Of Satan.
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