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Code: Beyond the Screen
It is a dusky April morning. The sky awakes in a cornucopia of colors, a cotton candy pink, a mellow orange, and an over dramatic violet as the sun very slowly begins to climb over the horizon. The birds sleepily come out of their deep slumbers and preen themselves, getting ready for the day ahead, the trees stretch and wave to the upcoming sun, and mosquitoes whine softly, whirring around sadly until their short domain of the night finally comes to an end. I sit behind a blackened screen drifting just in between the realms of dream and waking reality as my arms hang limply by my sides, shackled by the very things that are keeping me alive. It would all be extremely ironic if that haven't been true of everything in this chamber that is to be my prison and just this whole world in general. My world, that had almost fallen apart due to the most careless and mysterious mistake ever created: my existence.
I hear the sound of footsteps. What is it to be this time, a tormentor or a savior? The game masters have a specific schedule for "visitors" who either are here to keep me alive or fight with me. Literally fight with their high level in game items. They don't give me anything but they've already found I can be a formidable opponent. I used to keep track of all the days, but after a while found it impossible. It's hard to keep track of time in a room devoid of windows or timepieces of any kind. The matron walks through the wall, which ripples as she steps out of it. My hands, which I had been tensely clenching by my sides, relax. I know she’s one that won’t let me be harmed, at least for now. Her name is Lilith. I only know this because of the plain, sparsely decorated nametag she has to wear to get in here, always hanging loosely around her skinny neck. It used to scare me, the fact that she could walk through walls of sturdy iron and stone before I realized everyone could. No one here ever uses the door.
Avoiding my gaze, she serves me the food I requested. I don’t need it obviously, because one has no need to eat or drink here, but I do it because I want to imitate those people outside the monitors, the ones who reduce me to little but a shred of my consciousness and force me to go wherever they want me to go, do whatever they want me to do. To them, I’m a minor avatar on a screen doing whatever they desire with no question and no reward. I can’t resent them, no matter how hard I try though. They’re just so innocent, I guess.
My chains melt away when I come down to eat. It’s funny how the gamemasters come up with these prisons. They make them so that they cater to your every desire and whim, and the chains melt away as easily as an avatar dissolving into code, which is what happens when they’re abandoned. When a player bores of the game, and doesn’t play for longer than six months, the avatar is disposed of by tearing all their codes in relation to the game apart. Before the operation, they lower their pain level to zero, so that when they watch themselves being torn apart, they feel no pain. I’ve seen it happen before. Their eyes are dull and listless and they don’t, they can’t, resist it. The whole time they wonder why their player has abandoned them. Were they not good enough? What did they ever do to deserve it? When they’re completely dissolved, they’re reborn as organic code; which is used to create the landscape, player items, monsters, or other avatars. The first time I’d seen it, I felt sick; not only because of the inhumanity but the fact that it could happen to me. It’s one of the saddest things I’ve known, and it used to give me nightmares of the worst kind, ones that would make me wake up in a cold sweat with my heart pounding furiously as the haunted faces of the abandoned cross my mind(You should keep in mind that one doesn’t need to sleep here either. Just saying.).
I don’t belong here, I know that. I’ve never belonged. I was pulled from multiple strings of code to create a body that is more durable than steel, a storyline more interesting than anything in the “real world,” and an amazing set of powers and skills that would leave the mightiest kings and world leaders awestruck; except, all the avatars are like that. And so all this blather about being the very best and standing for justice and freedom and peace is a lie. It’s a lie that everyone enjoys playing nonetheless, a pleasant pastime that takes you away from the worries, pain, sadness, and anger of your own world. I envy you. I can go everywhere but nowhere. My world may be practically endless, but it’s not real. At a click of a button, a command from the gamemasters, and my whole world could disappear, and me along with it, just be gone to the vast abyss of cyberspace, and no one will be there to mourn.
I watch myself, or rather my player, priming me for the fight. I (she?) hacks through waves of monsters. I (she?) summons a tidal wave of awesome power, overwhelming all opponents. I (she?) get(s) to the final boss monster in five minutes flat and as I (she) go (es) to deal the final blow… the monster suddenly seems to find a surge of hidden power and knocks me over the edge of a pit of molten lava. I feel a searing pain, and then it’s over. Game over. The child player groans in frustration. Beaten again! I smile inwardly as I am transported to the death room, where all temporary deaths go and lives are replenished. This is the only room that the gamemasters didn’t seem to put as much effort into making beautiful, like the prisons (or spawnpoints, whatever you want to call them) and marvelous landscapes they dream up for the safezones and frontlines. I guess they thought, why bother? The players themselves don’t see the death room, and avatars are only in them for a few seconds before they respawn.
I bet you wish you were in my world, I think as I imagine my player’s naïve, youthful face. I wish I could be in yours. You’d have awesome adventures everyday with amazing power, without worries of work, anger, or sadness; you probably can’t think of anything better. I could. I wish-I wish I could live in a world where lives are meaningful. Only one life, but a life far more hopeful, more wonderful, more whole, than my own. I fall on my knees and weep on the cold, smooth, alabaster floors of the death room, only opening my eyes once to see my tears falling soundlessly into the binary code and the other avatars staring at me. Let them stare. I don’t care. They don’t know. They don’t know anything.
Night. It’s been hours since my player stopped playing. He’s been sleeping for a long time now, and he stopped playing earlier than usual, because it is a school day tomorrow. Good. I need some air. I put my hands on the wall and furrow my brow in deep concentration. My chains unclasp with a soft clink, and I am free to roam the night. I take off my shoes; they make too much noise. I grab strips of binary and interweave them into a fake player ID and digital heartbeat so the gamemasters cannot tell I even left. The night feels glorious, the grass cool under my feet. I thoroughly enjoy myself until Lilith timidly implies that I should get back into my chambers; the gamemasters were getting close to checking that all avatars were where they should be. I feel exhilarated, exuberant. I travel back, planning for the next night, wondering why I had ever stopped.
Disappointment. The game is going through a renovation and will not be open to play for several hours. Sorry for the inconvenience. My player reads the message, with his lips moving silently to form the words, and then he literally growls at the screen in mild annoyance while I watch in interest. He vows he’ll stay where he is until the renovation is over, and stares at the screen for approximately sixteen minutes before he gives up and leaves, leaving me to my own devices. Typical. It amuses me how little time my player can stay still and stare at a screen, when I’ve been doing it for years. I plan to go outside again, but Lilith stops me.
“You don’t know, do you?”
I have a sinking feeling I know what this is about.
“Is it them?”
“They’ve found out. You’ve been too careless.”
“But they never realized before-“
“They have now,” Lilith finished ominously, her mouth set in a hard line.
“They know. The gamemasters know you’re a Virus.”
In the first version of a game, things are never perfect. The game was full of imperfections, but the gamemasters were young, patient, and determined; they had the time and money to invest, and they were going to do it right.
After about a month of carefully formatting, planning, and painstakingly long editing, program Aster was born. She was made to track down viruses and find everything about them, their origin, their habits, and how complex they were, so that when she gave the gamemasters the report, they could quickly and easily find a way to eliminate them and then find ways to prevent more of them from happening. Aster worked efficiently and well from the very day she was made, and the gamemasters were delighted. As the game grew larger, more popular, and more complex, soon the gamemasters found a way to block many of the viruses that tended to terrorize the game, and so for a long time, Aster remained dormant, almost forgotten. But she didn’t mind. During the time she spent alone, it became clear that she was unique; not only was she smarter and more efficient than the newer virus seeking programs, but she had time to develop a personality similar to the humans who created her.
One day, she encountered an oddity. There had been signals and rumors of a small bug that had been creating mild abnormalities in one of the game’s minor servers, and because viruses were nearly obsolete in the game, the gamemasters offered a hefty reward for the program who gave a detailed report of it. Aster was determined to catch it. Never had any program been as faithful and diligent as Aster, and when she had her mind set to something, she was unstoppable. She didn’t care about the reward, just the chase would be enough. She concentrated on the hunt with a ferocity and vigor that no other program could muster, and soon she tracked the elusive virus to the Snowy Mountains. It had taken the guise of an avatar and was walking slowly through the thick drifts of snow, stepping so lightly it didn’t make any tracks. I wasn’t wearing the suitable sort of clothing, and it had done absolutely nothing to camouflage itself, besides taking the humanlike form of an avatar, so Aster was surprised that no one had found it yet.
Aster scanned the virus, positive that she was going to be the first to report it. The results took less than thirty seconds to process. The identification code screamed virus, but other than that… it was completely empty. Aster rescanned it. Nothing. Refreshed the results page. Nothing. In a fit of desperation, she went meticulously through all her databases, dreading the results. Still nothing. She felt like screaming. She had been able to her job for years now, with a completely prefect record, and then this happened. Her codes must be slowing or even failing. The gamemasters had considered replacing her with one of their other programs but never had because she had done so well, but now….
She had failed. She was going to have to hand over the reins to a younger program and face the consequences. With a heavy heart, she prepared to send the incomplete report to the gamemasters, but something stopped her. She looked at the virus, whose childlike eyes were filled with wonder at the snowy landscape. The virus twirled around and laughed, oblivious to Aster, and probably oblivious to other programs like Aster who were seeking it. Aster felt a sudden protectiveness toward it. It was different from all the others. Aster could understand it, she was different from all the other programs, and because of that was occasionally at risk from deletion, but she was lucky, lucky because the gamemasters were willing to overlook her differences if she continued to do her job. The virus wasn’t as lucky; if she turned in the report, the virus would probably be eliminated, and she would be eliminated too, for not doing her job completely.
Alright. She wasn’t going to turn in the report just yet. It didn’t seem fair to send the virus to its death without it knowing anything. She turned to it, cupping her hands around her mouth, and hollered, “Hi! Hello! I’m here to help you!”
She wasn’t sure how it would respond, but she definitely did not expect it to pass out, falling slowly like an old tree that was being knocked down by stronger winds. God. She was just trying to inform it before she might report it, but she was not expecting, was not suited for this kind of situation. God.
Without realizing it, the virus was in her arms, wrapped in furs to keep it warm. Aster contemplated her decision. This was insanity. She should turn it in. That’s what she was programmed to do, her purpose. She was supposed to analyze viruses and then… send them to their deaths. Aster swallowed, realizing for the first time, her impact on a lot of innocent lives. That shouldn’t be a problem though. That never had been her problem. This was risky, it could risk her job.
It’s just a job.
You’ve never truly enjoyed your life; you just did as you’re told.
That is what I was programmed to do.
Do you think it’s fair?
I’m a program. I shouldn’t have these feelings.
Is that your fault?
Aster had no real answer.
I’m here to persuade and guide you, Aster. But I can’t make your decisions. What you decide to do is all you.
Her visible conscience smiled and dissipated into a flurry of snow and stinging ice.
Aster bit her lip in serious thought. A single drop of blood fell on the crisp, white snow.
Aster was eventually deleted like she expected. She never did quite get over her fear of being caught, though her exterior never showed it. Her heart was pounding like crazy, she assured me though, when the gamemasters were gone.
Aster. My guardian, my protector. I was that Virus who she protected. I was the child she never had, she would tell me.
Even after she was deleted, she was looking out for me. I was linked to a player like all the other avatars, and eventually the gamemasters did stop searching for the “missing Virus.” They said deleting Aster was due to cumulative propaganda, and said they were sorry for the inconvenience. They apologized profusely about the whole incident, and they lamented about the loss of a beloved program. She will always be remembered, they said.
Aster’s face was so peaceful during the whole thing, Lilith said. All the programs were there. Lilith said she didn’t know who it was that turned Aster in, but she said it didn’t take a genius to guess it was probably one of the younger programs. They all were jealous of Aster and suspicious when she came empty-handed.
When she was gone, I fell into deep depression. I had no will to live. I tried to kill myself, but in a game with infinite lives, it’s kind of hard to die and stay dead. My player was probably beyond frustrated. Every time he sent his player to the frontlines, his avatar always seemed to die without cause in the first wave. It drove him insane. I’m lucky he didn’t report it to the gamemasters then and there.
With Aster gone, the game fell into a Virus heyday. The game seemed to be struggling to keep itself together, as Viruses bent on destruction ravaged every single server. For awhile, I became inspired to see if any other Virus was like me, but no luck.
The darkest time in my depression was when I nearly gave in to Virus-like cynicism. When my player was gone, I would wander aimlessly about, wreaking havoc. I saw no beauty, only imperfections and ugliness. I wanted to destroy everything and everyone. Each time I went, the codes binding my personality grew looser and looser, until nearly none of me was left. I couldn’t remember Aster, I couldn’t remember anyone.
Lilith brought me back to my senses when she was able to forward to me a message Aster had tried to write to me before the execution:
Dear 01000011 01101111 01100100 01100101,
I don’t know if this will reach you soon enough or reach you at all, but I’ve instructed Lilith to give it to you, regardless of cost or incompleteness. I know you well enough to realize you probably feel guilty or responsible in some way to my death. Don’t be. I regret nothing. Saving you was the best thing I’ve ever done. It saved me from being like all the other programs, which have no sense of humanity. I don’t blame them. In their minds, they’re doing the right thing, because it is much easier to do as your code tells you than to follow your emotions, what you believe is right. I’m sure you’ve realized by now, that you’re different. Don’t think of it as a burden, think of it as a gift. Embrace it. Do what your heart tells you to do, be reckless with your emotions, learn from your mistakes. Never forget who you are.
Hearing her voice again in that small moment, realizing she wasn’t really gone, made me feel whole again. I completely melted. “Aster! Aster!” I cried out, beating my hands on the glass table in my room, which completely shattered, probably under the weight of so many emotions.
Lilith was Aster’s sister program. Unlike Aster, she was an old program made to take care of the avatars, make sure they had everything they needed. She was made around the same time Aster was, and they became the best of friends. She had time to develop a personality too, when the gamemasters decided to create individual caretaker programs for each avatar.
By luck or by destiny, Lilith was assigned to me, while I was in depression. She didn’t understand me as well as Aster had, but she felt just as vividly the pain of Aster’s loss. Occasionally she’d come in with a pot of the tea that Aster liked, and we’d talk about the “old days.” Other times, we cried together. The pain wasn’t as agonizing when it was shared.
I used to hate her because I felt like she was trying to replace Aster, when it was impossible. She was gone. Despite the fact that their personalities were totally different, and I would ignore her whenever she came in to check on me, she always tried her best to be my caretaker. Eventually, I did relent, and I allowed her some small tasks, like bringing food or polishing my armor. Our relationship was servant and master, and I never let her forget it. “Lilith, do this. Lilith, go fetch that. Lilith, I want my armor polished, please.” I was an empty shell of a person. I didn’t feel pleasure when I ordered Lilith around, I didn’t feel anything. In some way, I was trying to let go of the pain, and I didn’t know how. I think that’s why Lilith tolerated me, because she realized I was suffering, and she let herself be the victim of my negative emotions.
When I left unauthorized, Lilith disapproved, but let me go. The first thing I did was add a name to one of the nameless graves in the Snowy Mountains: Aster: A Program Wrongly Accused. A Motherly Figure and a Dear Friend.
The gamemasters know…
I reel backwards, suddenly hit with the realization that I was going to reach that same verdict Aster had.
“Have they always known?”
Lilith thought for a moment.
“I don’t know. I would have figured that if they had known, they would have deleted you by now. On the other hand, you’re an unidentified kind of Virus, so they might have wanted to monitor you this whole time. Either way…”
“Lilith! You’re not helping!”
Lilith paused for a moment.
“I’m sorry… I don’t know how to handle this either… Was I too blunt? I don’t know. I don’t know what to do…” She turned away from me, trying to hide her face, but I had already seen the tears brimming just below the surface.
“Lilith…” I felt bad, all of a sudden. Just a moment ago, Lilith was trying to comfort me, in a way. Now Lilith was the one who needed comforting.
“Don’t worry about me.” Lilith straightened up, trying to regain her composure. I had never seen her so broken. She managed a smile, a sad sort of half smile underneath her tears.
“Go! Don’t worry about me. I’m here to persuade and guide you. But I can’t make your decisions. What you decide to do is all you.”
I made a split second decision. I fled.
How long have I been running? I can’t be sure. A lot of times I’d complained about how unrealistic my world was, but now I take advantage of all of it. I keep running, never tiring. I don’t sleep or eat. I just keep running, paying no heed to the things behind me. I have a strange feeling that I’ll never see any of it again…
I can feel presences behind me. Fast, powerful. Some of them have to stop and take a break occasionally, but when they come back, they go as relentlessly as ever, snapping at my flying feet pattering centimeters above the ground.
I put on a burst of speed. Now my feet really are flying, creating a mini avalanche of snow behind me. I hear a few startled yelps, as the tracking programs suddenly find themselves stuck in a snowdrift of clinging, cloying snow, and hard ice and hoarfrost. I hear them struggling, unused to the sudden change in environment. They’re strong, but also soft and helpless when out of their element.
Something stops me. I am standing in a familiar landscape of snow and ice, the wind blowing through my hair. More out of instinct than anything else, I walk to Aster’s grave, the yelps and snarls of the tracking programs growing farther and farther behind me. I hear one of their voices, trying to goad the others to work together; we’ll catch that rascally Virus! I summon another snowdrift.
Aster’s visible conscience grins at me, and I half-expect her to do something childish, like dance around in the snow. Instead, she looks at my face, and her face immediately changes to one of understanding.
“Come with me.”
Seeing Aster’s conscience is like coming back from a war, happy to see your loved ones again, but unable to forget all the horrors you’ve seen. In the same way, I’m always happy to see her, but it also pains me, because it brings up all sorts of memories I don’t really want to remember.
“What’s the problem?”
I try to explain everything, but I constantly trip over my words, in my hurry to explain before the tracking programs get here.
“So… What I deduced is the gamemasters have figured out your real identity. You want to live, but at the same time, you’re confused, because you want to stop running away. You want to face your fears head on, but you’re scared to try.”
Aster’s conscience always amazes me with her comprehension of everything.
“What should I do?”
Aster’s conscience looks straight at me, her gray eyes appearing even steelier in the dying light.
“What do you think you should do?”
The one thing I dislike about Aster’s conscience is that she never gives me a straight answer, but she’s right most of the time. I need to figure out my own decisions, and not depend on her.
“Have you ever wanted to be human? To go out in the real world?”
“The real world? What use have I for the real world?”
“I’ve decided what to do, but I want to know what you want.”
“I see.” She leans forward, and kisses me tenderly on the cheek. “You’re scared of what the future will bring. Trust your heart. Don’t be scared of what you want.”
She looks out the window and sighs. “I wish we could have a longer chat, but your choice is coming. Remember this: I am always with you, for better or for worse. Having a conscience may be a burdensome thing, but it helps you be ‘a better person,’ I think they say. Go! Face your destiny!” she shouts as she begins dissolving into smoke. When the programs arrive, all traces of her is gone, but I can feel something pulsing next to my heart.
Trust your heart.
The programs stare at me gleefully, licking their chops and howling in triumph. I stare back at them, showing none of the fear I felt.
“Take me to your leader.”
The programs now look a bit confused, like why isn’t she scared out of her wits?
“I demand my right to trial.”
I expected the gamemasters to dispose of me in the worst way possible. The programs would take me down, while I kicked and screamed helplessly. I would be put in a room with all the boss monsters that existed, with no weapon and all my skills deactivated, with the pain level at maximum, and I’d die like that, infinitely. My player would be banned from using me ever again, and I’d die like one of the abandoned. I expected everything but what the gamemasters decided to do.
“The Virus wants a trial? Let her have a trial.”
I’m brought into an empty event room, which is dressed up as a courtroom.
There are NPCs and programs as witness, a program I don’t recognize as my lawyer, another program I don’t recognize as my prosecutor, a jury of avatars, and of course, the supreme gamemaster as the judge.
I look around for Lilith, but she isn’t there.
I quickly find out the gamemasters turned everyone from the court room to his favor. The prosecutor spits out line after line of the worst offenses and everyone is turned to his side. All witnesses give false testimonies of my misdoing. The jury all plead guilty, while the indecisive ones are too scared to say otherwise. My lawyer doesn’t say anything. Pathetic.
Finally, when it’s my turn up at the podium, I know that anything I say will be shot down, but I do the best I can to persuade my audience. My voice is shaky, but I manage to give the most honest testimony I can. A lot of the audience looks at me sympathetically, but do nothing to help my situation. It didn’t take long for the final sentence.
“Guilty! Any final words, Virus?”
I knew this would happen. I expected to skulk out of there with a heavy heart, but with my head held high, I said, “I accept my sentence. But there is one more thing I want to say.”
The audience gasps at my audacity, but the gamemaster looks at me humouredly.
“Go on. Let’s see what it has to say.”
“Gamemaster. You are the supreme leader of all that happens in this world. You take your position with great pride. But what is real power or authority? Whatever happens in this world never follows you into the outside. You’ve probably never worried too much about it, but what if I told you that what you do here has the same effect it would have if you had done in the real world? Your subjects here are just as important as the human subjects of a king in the real world. You’ve been acting like a tyrant, a dictator…”
“Enough!” The gamemaster’s guards try to get me to be silent, but I keep going.
“…but you can still change. Search your heart; you know it to be true…”
The guards beat me with their blunt points of their spears, but my voice continues to hold up, strong.
“…a lot of the things here might not be real, like the landscapes, and the monsters and NPCs here may not be existent in your world…”
The guards gag me, try to chain me, but I resist, my voice ringing in the echoic hall.
“But what is real? I’ve questioned that for so long. The fact is this world, as unrealistic and far away as it may seem, is just a mirror of your own world. The monsters we fight are as real as your own troubles, angers, and worries in the world outside, the NPCs are the people who need assistance and can’t make it on their own, the avatars, are the people who don’t realize they can make their own stories, the programs, the people who do as they’re told, and don’t realize their real purpose. For a long time, I envied your world and questioned my purpose. But now I know what I am. I am not a mistake. I was made for a reason. I can create my own story.”
I pause to take a breath. The supreme gamemaster looks mesmerized.
“Do to me as you will. I may not be real in your sense, but I’ll grow stronger. What you do to me is just the beginning. I’ll rise, I won’t really be gone. What makes a person is not what world they live in, but what they do.”
The gamemaster’s face was red with fury when I first started talking. I found him intimidating and repulsive in the very beginning. But he was a person, just like the others. Now, I didn’t see him as an almighty ruler. I saw him as an equal.
“I stand for my case, your Excellency.”
He took off his wig, his crown, and his fine robes. For the first time, I saw his real appearance. It was a bespectacled man, near his forties wearing a pinstripe suit, his face serious. His eyes were red and puffy. I realized he’d been crying.
He waved his hand, and suddenly the courtroom disappeared as well as his curt, cold demeanor. He smiled at me. It was the first time I’d seen him smile. But then again, today was a first time for a lot of things.
“Virus…” he started, and then he shook his head. “No, no… I’ll call you Martha. That was my first daughter’s name. You remind me of her.”
I gave him a rare smile. “Seeing that we seem to be calling each other names now, I’ll call you Alexander. That’s my player’s name. Something about you reminds me of him.”
“What you said… really made me rethink things. My life. I…” He started crying.
He told me everything. His first daughter died in a car accident before she could go to college. He had gotten a divorce just a month before. He was having money problems. “This game,” he said, “Was the only thing that helped me feel like I had some control over my life. The world I created helped me get away from the problems of my own. I felt like it saved me. It really has. I plan to take control of my life again!” he declared.
“Is there anything that you ever regretted?” I ask.
“I feel like I haven’t been the best father. My only son is probably suffering as much as I am, and he probably thinks I don’t care. There isn’t going to be any more of that, now!”
“What’s his name?”
He looks at me, eyes wide open in shock. I realized it too, that split second.
Alexander’s father kneeled in front of me, murmuring, “I am forever in your debt. What can I do for you?”
I firmly push him aside, slightly embarrassed. “No need to kneel, please. I don’t need anything. The fact that I made a difference in both worlds is reward enough.”
He continues to urge me, saying, “Truly, there must be something you want?”
An idea that has been in my mind since the beginning of time, an idea that I’ve trampled on for fear of it never being able to come true, blossoms again.
“I want to go to the real world.”
The day I met Alexander’s father was so long ago, but still feels like yesterday. A lot of things that happen in the game remain the same, the NPCs, the landscapes, the storylines that avatars follow. But at the same time, everything is different. There is a new feeling of joy in the game. All of the code seems to be springing with new life. Everyone has learned to create new stories, think for themselves. Never has the game been so lively and popular.
I hear that Alexander has been reconciled with his father. I’m still not sure how his father plans to get me to the real world, but I’ve heard that’s been one of his primary works in progress.
And then, one day, it was done.
Lilith said she received an urgent message. “It’s from the gamemaster!” she said excitedly.
I opened, it with my hands trembling, afraid that it was too good to be true. “I can’t!” I said. “It’s too nerve-wracking.”
Lilith laughed, a joyful sound similar to that of a burbling brook. Whenever I heard it, it made me feel good. I made me want to laugh and make her keep laughing.
“Oh, you silly girl. Here, I’ll open it for you!”
I have found a way. Please come to the event room. I have something to tell you.
Lilith practically squealed in excitement. “Come on! We’ve got to get you there! Fast!”
I was practically pulled along by Lilith who seemed even more excited than I was. “Come on! Faster! Faster!”
When I was finally there, I was escorted by one of the gamemaster’s guards. He had something in private to tell me.
The gamemaster looked almost completely the same, his hair a tad whiter, perhaps, but nothing else.
“Hello Martha,” he said.
“Hello Patrick,” I said, remembering how he told me his name after I had told him mine. He continued to call me Martha anyway, but I didn’t mind.
He had something huge in the event room, covered by a big, white tarp.
“Is that it?”
“Yup, that’s it,” he said, as he pulled off the tarp in a dramatic flourish.
It was a big monitor, with a holographic keyboard. It didn’t look very impressive, but I tried to hide the doubt in my voice.
“That’s going to send me to the real world, huh?’
“Mmhm,” Patrick said, preoccupied in pressing certain buttons in a sequence that appeared at once very simple but complex.
In the room appeared a swirling portal in which I could see the impossible expanse of the sky, meeting the sea, ground, and stars as it sung songs of unimaginable power. It sang of the unknown and the beautiful, almost seeming to pull me in with a strong, but gentle force.
Patrick looked elated, but also worried.
“Now, I couldn’t manage everything on here. I have no idea where in the world you’ll end up, or how the people will treat you. And if you tell people your story, they probably won’t believe you. I don’t know if you’ll remember anything when you get there, but…” He handed me a card with a sequence of numbers. “This is my number. Alexander and I really want to meet you.”
“Well, are you going or not?”
In me struggled two powerful emotions. One screamed go inside! You’ve always wanted this!
The other was fearful. Are you really willing to let go of everything you’ve always known? What if they don’t accept you? What if you become even more of an outcast there?
Follow your heart. Never forget who you are.
I closed my eyes and jumped.
Cold. Prickly. Unknown smells. I gasp and sit up. Unknown eyes stare at me, a bit fearfully. I am sitting in a patch of snow. I smell something sharp and crisp, and realize I am shivering.
“Who are you?” someone asks. “Where did you come from?”
I stand up shakily. The card Patrick gave me is still in my hand.
“My name,” I say, “Is Code.”