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A dull haze hung over the sidewalk. Neon signs stood vibrantly behind fogging windows, beckoning to unknown patrons and advertising well known vices. Time seemed to have slowed to a halt, unbroken strands of existence till yet another drifting car passed through the interminable fog. The old buildings seemed to reinforce this state all the more, standing as constant reminders to mankind’s tendency to abandon. Brick and mortar, standing side by side, each held a story that could never be reflected in such dank, dreary dwellings. They merely stood there, casting a gaze now and again to the occasional wandering pedestrian. The sidewalk by which they stood was cracked, with no form of repair ever administered. Graffiti laced it, various symbols of gangs long since disbanded and lonely thrill seekers long since dead. The street signs also held these markings, their once vital messages now concealed by various figures and logos of the city’s underworld. The stoplight flashed an unwavering yellow, dutifully proclaiming the disregarded rules of the road. As the yellow flashed and the fog rolled through, you could sometimes hear a distant gunshot, or the horn of a disgruntled driver. The ambience was deathly, and prolonged exposure made one begin to loathe the race to which they belonged.
To this Salvation found himself immune, however, as he had already hated mankind for many a year before his contact with this place. He had been to these areas of desolation many times previous, and he was no longer affected by the hate they seemed to incite in the common man. As he walked down the streets, the surroundings seemed to develop a personality, a hating, malevolent wretch of a personality. Now the wind had a target, the frost a victim. It seemed to sense his defiance in the face of its ever emanating despair, and it turned to its more physical punishments. But to him, neither the surroundings nor the wind annoyed him. The desolation was overcomeable, the wind could be deflected with the simplest of clothes. But it was the cold, the insufferable cold, that drove him mad. No matter the garments he could layer, no matter the alcohol he could consume, it seemed to pierce right through it all and tortured him. Pain is felt differently by all men and women, to some the feeling of cold or heat is rendered more acute than to others. He was one of the unfortunate, one who God chose to withhold an adequate resistance to the cold from. And in response to this inability mankind invented devices such as the heated automobile, the electric blanket, woodstoves, and other cold fighting devices. He wondered what the harm could be in the use of a car on such a night, but the man insisted he walk. For it easier to track a car, he said, than a human being.
Yet when you are the only animated object inhabiting a place such as this, this precaution loses it value. The sound of his shoes was enough to bring the marksman’s bullet through his skull, and he knew that it was only a matter of time before that event occurred. He knew the workings of the underground, he had been among its filth for nearly three years now. His reputation was the only thing that allowed his meeting with this mysterious informant. He had done many a shaded act, most in necessity or survival. That one question, that one question, it drove him anywhere an answer might reveal itself, be it truth or not. Whether it be among corporate luxury or disgusting backstreets, they were both attacked with the same resoluteness he had started his searching with. He would go without sleep for days, analyzing the information he had received from his other various contacts. They had all mislead him, and this one man, this strange hermit, was left as a gleaming beacon of possibility. He checked himself, for he couldn’t allow his hopes to run to high. Disappointment hurt, he knew that better than any man. And as such he ensured his anticipation was never without the proper dose of doubt. For failure was often what he was left with.
Cold and miserable.
A telephone booth was to be his marker, the man had told him, and once found Salvation was to dial a ten digit number into its keypad. Salvation saw no booth, but he could not see much anyway. The fog had thickened, the street yet again showing its vile personality. It was also beginning to snow, and this combination of snow and fog reduced his field of vision to mere feet. The wind played with snow, creating strange outlines of various objects that Salvation’s tired mind seemed to recognize. A beer can came skidding by, adding the din of rattling aluminum to the night symphony. But through it all, the dim light of a telephone booth cut through, and Salvation reawakened his senses. He played the number through in his mind, the man insisted upon memorization of the number to deter any possible theft. The snow beat him and the cold seared him, but that number still rang through his memory.
The telephone booth fit in perfectly with it environment. Graffiti covered over the word “Telephone” at the top, the florescent light merely projecting the marking for the world to see. The door was missing, and broken glass lay near its normal location. Salvation stepped in, and lifted the phone to his ear to see if it still worked. No dial tone. It did not surprise him, someone had most likely rewired the connection for their own use. He flipped the hang-up switch. Nothing. He placed the phone back on its holder and looked around. There wasn’t anything else that could be called a phone, and he looked again at the old black phone. He pulled out twenty-five cents and rolled them through the slot. He picked up the phone and listened for the dial tone. Once again silence permeated the air. He sat there, thinking of any of meanings to the man’s words. It seemed so basic, there wasn’t any other meaning he could draw from them. A telephone booth, there was no allusion that one could possibly put to such an item. Perhaps it was a cipher, and this trip had been a total waste of his time. It wasn‘t an uncommon practice among the more corrupted to encrypt their messages in their own personal code, very difficult to crack and even more difficult to find a key. Salvation leaned up against the phone box, the number still flashing in his mind. He lifted his hand and entered the number, merely to feel the number press through, received or not. But it was received. To his utter surprise, a base, wretched sound came out the speaker, then silence. Akin to the grinding of fingernails on a chalkboard, it spiked then ceased, a voice replacing it. “Code”. The harsh voice came through, clear and distinct.
“A dying tulip. And yet dew does grow.” responded Salvation. Another brief period of silence, then the sound of violently shuffling papers and items rang through the phone. “Red door. 30 seconds.” A click, then all went silent yet again. Red door? What did he mean? Salvation looked about him, looking for anything he might call a red door. Must this man always be so unnecessarily cryptic? There was a door, with the words “RED Industries” neatly printed across it in digiform. It was directly across the street from him, and he considered whether it could really be that simple. This was happening much too fast, and Salvation was still trying to comprehend the events that just transpired on the phone. Nevertheless, he jogged towards the unknown door. It was a heavy looking door, perfect for one who wishes to drown out the world. He looked once again at the words written on the door, considering whether he was really ready to find the answer he had been seeking for so long. He held his confidence, and grasped the knob of strange door. As he cracked it open a burst of warm air flooded over his face. A muted electronic light accompanied the warmth, and he instantly knew this to be the correct place. He pressed it open the rest of the way, and entered the room, reveling in the glorious warmth. “Locking door. Now. Now!” Salvation didn’t know where the voice was coming from, but he obeyed. He turned around and looked upon the backside of the door he just opened. He counted seven deadlocks, among the various chain locks and bars. He proceeded to lock the door, the process taking well over a minute. Each lock was cast iron, and the door itself he now saw to be of some form of metal as well. Obviously the man enjoyed solitude, or hated the masses. Salvation hoped it was neither, as he was already disrupting both. Once he completed his task, Salvation turned to survey the room his contact seemingly lived in. In the middle there was a bed, a mini-fridge, and a desk with a very old computer on it. Hundreds of multi-colored wires seemed to stream from it, connecting to various electronic devices. The room was like a spiders web, tangled and completely disoriented. Yet not to the user, to him it was perfectly organized chaos. He was sitting on his bed, tinkering with some back box, obviously deeply focused in his work. But just as Salvation made this observation he looked up at him. “Money. I need money.” Salvation reached for his pocket, pulling a bound stack of twenty hundred dollar bills. He lobbed it to the man, for he did not want to walk among any of his delicate wires. The man caught it, one hand tinkering while the other made a beautiful catch. He raised his head, placed some form of optical wear on his face, and observed each bill. Then he pocketed the money and refocused his gaze upon Salvation. “Much good. Now give I you help.”
Finally. Salvation had been waiting for this moment for years, and now he at last had at his disposal the resource he needed to fulfill his searching. Salvation withdrew another item from his jacket, a crisp American passport. He walked through the wires, for this was too important an item to be thrown. He presented it to the man, not handing it to him but merely opening it to display the contents. The man looked it over. It held the picture of a woman, brown haired, fair skinned, and beautiful. The passport bore the name Rose Carpenter, and was completely void of stamps. “Rose. You wish me find Rose?” The man gave a questioning look to Salvation, and Salvation nodded. “She disappeared three years ago, right after our wedding.“ The man showed no signs of emotion, and Salvation thought it wise to give the man additional information to better improve the odds of her location. The man really didn’t seem to care. “I had stopped at a small gas station right outside Reno, she wanted to use the restroom. I waited for ten minutes, and she didn’t come out. After twenty minutes I went in and asked the clerk if he had seen a woman pass through, and he told me that he never did. I looked everywhere, she simply wasn’t there. There wasn’t anyone around either, it was a completely desolate station. I called the police, the FBI, anybody. They turned up nothing. After months of searching they finally came to the conclusion that she was merely some fantasy of mine, that I was merely feeding a neurotic dream. A dream? I married her! Even my best man told me he never knew her. Something went wrong, and for her sake I intend to make it right. God as my witness I’ll make it right. It’s not just that, this whole society… “
Salvation must have been very engrossed in his emotional upheaval, for the man had left him and was already sitting at his terminal typing away. The lights began to flicker, and a whirring sound began to fill the room. Salvation drew in his breath and turned to observe the man’s work. Various databases flooded the screen and each seemed to send the man to different areas of this mysterious network. “Everything simple, we just need look at the God files.” The mans eyes danced across the screen, not questioning any data that appeared before him. The rhythmic typing of his fingers began to intensify, and his eyes moved ever quicker. Then the man sat back in his chair and looked to Salvation. “This her, definitely her.”
Salvation leaned closer to the screen. The information began to flood in. The name “Earth2 Virtual Cohesion Project Virus Logs” disconcerted him, but he continued to stare. First her picture, then facts began to fill the screen. Not just basic birth date and home town, it also contained all her personal relationships and dreams. Everything that was Rose Kirkpatrick was in this vast document. Salvation looked through it to find a current location, anything that could cue him to where she was. But there was nothing entered after the date of her disappearance. After minutes of uneventful searching he turned to the man and asked him his question. “Where is she? What happened to her?” He asked the question without bothering to give the man eye contact. After a moment of prolonged silence he turned to face the man. He was simply sitting there, giving Salvation a look of painful uncertainty. “She... deleted. Administrators want no virus in system. She virus. Delete, leave no trace.” Salvation gave the man a look of confusion, laced with horror.
“What do you mean ‘deleted her‘?”
Salvation Kirkpatrick\CONFIRM DELETE_?
BEGIN DELETION PROTOCOL…
DELETING MEMORY BASES…
ASSOCIATION RECOLLECTION MATRIX REWORK\CONFIRM_?
Car_1995 Honda Prelude.pro…100%
Main Emotion Data.emo…100%
The old man turned to the boy sitting at the mainframe terminal. “I’m sorry you had to do that son, but they just can’t know their lives are illusions. We can’t have some guy running around telling everyone his wife got deleted from the world by some greater power. If that happened, and everyone believed him, we’d have to purge the whole system. And it costs way too much money to do something like that.”
The child sat there, motionless. “I understand, I guess. I still don’t like killing virtual people.“ The child raised out of his terminal, and walked towards a wall filled with canisters. “This is his. I already prepared it for removal.” he said. An inscription on the canister read
“Brainstem: Salvation Kirkpatrick || (DO NOT DISCONNECT) ||”
The child reached behind the canister, and unplugged a large cord. A gurgling sound emanated from it, and then silence. Pulling it off the wall and tucking the large cylinder beneath his arm, he looked up at the man. “Do they go to heaven? The virtual people?” The man seemed to ignore his question, then grabbed the canister. “Yeah, sure kid. They go to heaven.” The man popped off the top of the canister and removed the brainstem, to the thorough displeasure of the boy. The man examined it, then threw it back in. “Shame to end the life of such a beautiful specimen. But its better than having them living with us, in reality…” And with that, the pair walked off into the hallway to dispose of the dead cerebral flesh.
And from that point on, Salvation Kirkpatrick never existed.