BRUCE R CORDELL
Myth of the Maker
A novel of The Strange
The disaster that nearly wiped out the planet began in our VR lab on Tuesday morning. Earth survived, if you’re reading this. But if someone else gets too clever with math like the six of us did, the same thing could happen all over again. And there’s almost nothing anyone can do to stop it.
I’m really sorry about that, by the way.
Retrofitted computers loomed on tables along one wall of the lab. Screen-savers coiled jagged fractal designs across the monitors. Cable bundles held down with duct tape connected the whirring machines to the five lounge chairs we called our “VR rigs.” I was wearing my favorite purple hoodie with the University of Washington logo stenciled on the front. It wasn’t too warm because we kept the lab cool on account of all the computer equipment. Losing that hoodie still makes me sad.
Early for once, Jason Cole walked in with a couple of pizza boxes. Jason’s confident posture managed to convey the physicality of someone much older than his actual age of twenty-seven. His black hair was thinning a bit at the crown, and his brown eyes looked out over an impressive beard that he was inordinately proud of.
The delicious smell of roasted peperoni and baked cheese had me salivating even before Jason flipped the first box open. A familiar red hut symbol was printed on the grease-stained cardboard lid.
“What, no Pagliacci’s?” I asked, reaching for a slice.
Jason laughed. “They don’t deliver. You’ll eat this and like it.” Jason and I went way back. We met as roommates in our sophomore year of college, and got each other through computer science degrees, then our Masters, and even pursued doctorates in the field until we quit academia to found our own indie game studio. Three years after that, our game company went bust.
“At least you remembered the red pepper,” I conceded. The white packet tore open and I scattered hot flakes over my slice, folded it Brooklyn-style, and gulped it down. It was warm, but not so hot I burned my mouth. In other words, it was perfect.
“So. What do you think; is today the day?” asked Jason, reaching for more.
“Could be. Everyone’s got to catch a break sooner or later.” Our experiments had been beset with problems. Problems that we’d solved one by one, of course. Because that’s what you do, unless you decide just not to get out of bed in the morning.
“Hey, Carter, leave some for us!” called a woman with red hair worn in a long braid down her back. She hurried over, followed by a man in loose chinos and a white polo perpetually stained with coffee. She was Melissa – Mel, as everyone called her – Perkins; and he, Michael Bradley.
“Did you get any with pineapple?” Mel asked.
Jason guffawed. “Why would I ruin a perfectly good pizza with fruit?”
“Variety is the spice of life, Jason,” she replied with a hint of exasperation in her voice. “Have you ever even tried it?”
“As if. What about you, Bradley. You like pineapple?”
Bradley only shrugged and chewed. His mind was obviously still on the power issue he’d been tasked to solve.
Like Jason and me, Mel and Bradley were fellow survivors of my failed game studio. We’d gone down in flames after Ardeyn, Land of the Curse – our online roleplaying game – failed to move out of beta. My coding skills, which were impressive, if I do say so myself, hadn’t been enough to get us the wider attention we needed for a successful crowdfunding campaign. Frankly, the whole episode had been a fucking disaster.
Dead in the water, we’d had no funds, no jobs, and no prospects. Made all the worse by the fact we’d done it to ourselves. As a group, Jason, Mel, Bradley, and I had left the promise of academic research, however poorly paid, to follow our dreams of making games. Dreams that’d led nowhere. Ardeyn, Land of the Curse had turned out to be a curse in truth. Thinking about it still made my stomach hurt.
Then a hero rode in. Our old academic adviser Peter Sanders got in touch, wondering if we could help him out. He asked us to return to research at the university, even if only for a few months.
We’re not idiots. We said yes.
Sanders put the whole undergraduate team back together using grant money he’d somehow pried from the University of Washington science committee. Our job was to figure out how to exploit the astonishing results in Sanders’ latest paper, “Infinite Processing Through Quantum Recursion.” With his breakthrough as our blueprint, we fashioned the superposition chip. We thought we’d discovered free, unlimited processing power.
We were wrong.
Jason and I moved aside from the pizza so Mel and Bradley could graze from the open boxes.
“How’s the power integration coming?” Jason asked Bradley.
Bradley’s mouth was full of pizza so he just nodded. Besides electronics,
Bradley’s claim to fame was prodigious coffee consumption. If anyone drank more coffee in a single day than him, well, they’d probably be dead.
“It’s done,” Mel answered for Bradley. “We’re ready for a simultaneous connection in the enhanced environment.” She wiped her hands on a napkin, and then went for another piece. Mel had been a graphics modeler in the game studio. She fulfilled the same role here, helping to put together the starting grid and other enhanced environments.
“This is going to be radical,” Jason said, looking at the VR rigs. “All of us, connecting at once.”
We all knew he was lying, just a little. Jason had a touch of claustrophobia, which he pretended didn’t exist. He was both excited and nervous about putting on the goggles again. To hide his trepidation, he usually resorted to impatience. He said, “I can’t believe it’s taken us four months just to get to this point. You’re sure we’ve solved the power spike issue?”
It was Mel’s turn to shrug. She looked at Bradley.
Bradley assumed the pained expression of someone wrongfully accused and said, “Hey!”
Our last attempt to coordinate a multi-POV session in the starting grid resulted in a couple of burnt-out motherboards. All the extra uninterruptible power supplies under the monitors were Bradley’s solution.
“I’d be more worried about whether Carter came through on de-bugging the code,” called Alice Lee, who was fiddling with a chip-set on an empty table she called her workbench. Alice’s brown skin was shiny with sweat, and she wore her black hair pulled back under a kerchief decorated with pink unicorns. Alice hadn’t been part of the game studio, but I didn’t hold that against her. She’d been working with Sanders as a graduate student, before his grant money materialized and he expanded the team with the rest of us.
“Don’t worry,” I told Alice and everyone with exaggerated bravado. “I’ve got you covered.” The number of hours I’d spent tweaking the code utilizing the superposition chip had been exhausting, but everyone knew it. I didn’t have to toot my own horn… too much.
“Right,” said Alice, but she smiled. She was probably a better coder than I was, but Sanders had her working on hardware, and me on software, because she was definitely better at circuit design than anyone on this continent.
“No pizza for you?” Jason asked Alice.
Alice shook her head and went back to fiddling.
Neither she nor Sanders liked pizza. That didn’t stop Jason from buying it whenever it was his turn to get food for the group. Jason was a lot of things, many of them good, but sometimes he came off as a bit of a jerk. Especially when it came to pizza. He couldn’t understand how anyone could say no to pepperoni.
Peter Sanders, the sixth member of the team and our fearless leader, appeared in the doorway, briefcase in hand and white hair managing to look messy despite its shortness. When he saw the pizza boxes, the corners of his mouth turned down a tiny bit. Most people wouldn’t notice, but I’ve known Sanders for many years.
“Jason,” I muttered, “next time you draw lunch duty, just tell me and I’ll get food for everyone.”
“Suits me,” he said without the least trace of shame. “You can be the hero next time and get sushi.”
Yeah, sometimes Jason could really work your last nerve.
On the other hand, he’d been the one who’d helped me put together the game studio, then stood by longest when everything went south. He was loyal, just not especially empathetic.
Sanders set his briefcase aside and loosened his tie. “I got your message,” he said to Mel. “Are we still a go?”
Mel gave him the thumbs up. “We’re ready to rock and roll, Peter.”
He nodded, and then looked at the floor without meeting anyone’s eyes directly. We didn’t take it personally.
Only someone as brilliant as Sanders could’ve written his quantum recursion paper. I mean, I’m pretty smart, don’t get me wrong. Everyone says so. But next to Sanders, I’m like a drooling child. Already, single-POV immersions in the starting grid were startling in their clarity and response time. To create an artificial experience for five people at once would require a hundred times the processing power. The superposition chip promised to give us that. All because of him.
When the pizza was gone and everyone who had to go returned from the toilet, we took our places in the VR rigs. It took a few minutes to buckle in and put on the equipment. Bradley started music playing over the lab speakers, which had become something of a tradition when we tested. This time, the Beatles serenaded us about strawberry fields and how nothing was real.
“Ready?” said Sanders when the buckling and muttering subsided. His voice was muffled.
Everyone but Bradley was strapped in. I glanced around, as far as I could in the rig’s embrace. The belt around my waist pulled a little too tight, so I loosened it with my gloved hand. The rig included a seat-belt added for safety, and a foot plate for haptic transfer. Jason, Sanders, and Alice had their goggles down. Mel and I were the only remaining hold-outs. I gave her a wink. “Wouldn’t you prefer a nice game of chess?” I asked, modulating my voice to sound artificial, like a computer’s.
Mel laughed. “You’re such a nerd.”
“That’s why you love me, Mel.”
“What?” said Jason, his voice smothered by his rig. “Are you two-timing me, Carter? You told me that I was the one you dreamed about at night!” The forced lightness in his voice was hardly noticeable. He was dealing with his issue with enclosed spaces pretty well this time.
“You’re both delusional,” Mel said. “No one loves Carter more than Carter. Everyone knows that!”
We all laughed, because it was probably true. Except for the times when imposter syndrome intruded and made me wonder what the hell I was doing.
“Hey,” interrupted Bradley from behind the monitors, “Give it a break. Time for hardware check.”
“Mr Bradley is correct,” said Sanders. “I’ve got a seminar in three hours.”
Alice said, her voice similarly muted, “You guys can clown around in the VR. Unless we crash the starting grid again.”
“Sorry, Alice,” I said. “I know you can’t wait to see how deep the rabbit hole goes.”
Her goggles prevented me from seeing her eyes roll at the old joke, but Mel laughed, which was almost as good.
Bradley appeared in my field of view and pantomimed lowering goggles. “C’mon, Carter. Stop delaying. If this doesn’t work, it’s not the end of the world. We’ll try something else.”
He knew me too well. If this didn’t work, we’d have little to show the science committee when it came time to ask for a grant renewal to continue developing the superposition chip. My ego couldn’t take another failure.
Pulling the box-shaped device down over my eyes wasn’t easy because I was already wearing the haptic gloves. The hardware was partly scavenged from early-adopter VR sets that had recently hit the market, and partly of Alice’s design. We weren’t testing gloves and goggles today, though; we wanted to see how the recursive VR chip handled more than a single point of view simultaneously. What seemed unbelievably realistic to just one person might prove a grainy, jerky, nausea-inducing obviously artificial environment when two, three, or as we’d decided to test today, five sightseers entered the same virtual starting grid.
The goggles showed an expanse of blank LED gray, bright, but not enough to blind me. When the simulation went live, the goggles would display the same scene to each of my eyes, slightly offset to give the illusion of depth. The superposition chip’s ability to “find” extra processing power never failed to impress. What would’ve otherwise been a pixelated tutorial region swiped from a popular resource mining game would instead be rendered with life-like clarity. Trees, grass, water, and the sky above would look real.
Even the blocky crafting table would be sleek and elegant, because I’d tweaked the code to turn the blank slab into a terminal resembling the navigation console from the second Star Trek movie. It granted control over the simulation from “inside” the starting grid.
“Begin check,” Sanders said. We verbally ran through several tests to make sure all the equipment was working. Haptic gloves and boots, the hydraulic lifts in the chairs, the audio, and the all-important goggles. After dealing with a tiny glitch with Mel’s headphones, Bradley announced it was time.
“Ready!” I said, amidst a hail of assents from the others.
Boiling fog flooded my field of view. It unaccountably smelled like the sea.
“What the hell?” I muttered. Damn it. My goggles were borked. I should’ve been seeing the starting grid, the VR environment we’d programed. Not all this… static.
Through the mist, indistinct forms lumbered. I stepped forward–
And fell into an abyss with sides as sheer as scissor blades. A phantom weight jerked me down. An equation cut a labyrinthine pattern across my skin, drawing blood. Before I could recognize it or cry out, it transformed, becoming an infinite series, spiraling away from me like a burned-out galaxy. Beneath the spirals, the bottom of the abyss resolved as the surface of a frozen ocean instants before I smashed through its crystalline face. Ice water embraced me, swallowing my screams in a zero-degree sea, holding me in a cocoon of cold–
And stepped into the starting grid, right next to the terminal.
Peter Sanders appeared. Then Jason, Mel, and finally Alice.
Alice scrubbed at her eyes. Sanders toppled, hit his head on the edge of the terminal as he went down, and began to twitch. Jason yelled, “Bradley, shut the fucking simulation down! Something’s wrong!”
Mel only pointed.
Mind still frozen, I looked in the direction she indicated, past the faux-brick wall that enclosed the starting grid.
Beyond it was Chaos.
Did I scream? Cry? I don’t know for sure. The endless, shuddering expanse was deeper than any real sky, and it absorbed my gaze. Within its infinite wheeling eternity, a hunger stirred. My heart raced and my breath was coming in short gasps. Everything I knew was wrong.
Voice trembling, Jason said, “I can’t get my goggles off.”
“What?” I ripped my gaze from the strangeness, and saw Jason patting at his face.
“I can’t even feel my goggles. The immersion was never this good, even after we upgraded the haptics.”
Our VR rigs were designed to make users forget they were actually sitting in a lab, but Jason was right. Normally the sensation of the goggles snugged to my face was ever present. Pushing them off my head to see the lab, even with my hands swaddled in force-feedback gloves, should’ve been as simple as thinking about it. But I couldn’t. It was as if I wasn’t in the lab at all anymore.
The fear that kindled when I’d glanced beyond the starting grid’s borders threatened to make my heart burst. So I clamped down on it. Running in circles wouldn’t solve a software malfunction, or whatever this was. Only logic could fence out panic. Aloud I said, “How about you, Mel? Can you take off your goggles, or your gloves?”
Mel’s eyes were big as she shook her head. Sanders didn’t respond at all, but at least he’d stopped twitching. Of course, he wasn’t really hurt, because we were just in a simulation…
Alice was already at the terminal, hands flickering over one of the keyboards. She glanced up and ordered, “Take a look at this.”
“Bradley!” I shouted at the empty air. “End the simulation. Emergency! Damn it, I mean it, this isn’t funny. We’re having real issues in here!”
Bradley had apparently stepped out of the lab, leaving us strapped into our VR rigs, untended. That was fucking irresponsible of him.
When I joined Alice at the console, only gibberish danced across the screens. I keyed for a status update. Reams of data rolled past. I let it auto-scroll, hoping I’d see something, anything, to anchor me. Just more gibberish. Except…
Except it wasn’t. My gift for pattern recognition engaged. Pressing a key, I slowed the data dump to manual scrolling. I saw the hint of an underlying order. I typed more commands to the system. My queries brought up new rafts of data. It all pointed at something that was, simply put, unbelievable.
“Are you seeing this?” I said to Alice.
“Yeah. Some kind of hardware crash. I can’t seem to stop it cycling. None of this makes any sense.”
“It does if you, um… shift your paradigm. See, right here? The superposition of our qbit processing chip became entangled with an entirely new regime.” I spoke calmly instead of shouting. Or screeching. A detached part of me was proud of my self-control.
“That’s what it’s supposed to do,” she said uncertainly.
“Not to this degree. We’ve been squeezing a lot of extra cycles out of your hardware, sure, but this is beyond anything we could’ve ever imagined. It’s like we’ve tapped into a preexisting network, one that seems… limitless. I don’t think our starting grid is being hosted on our lab server anymore. We’re someplace else.”
“That’s impossible,” Alice said. “Stop being a jerk.”
“Look,” I said, and typed a new command, my hands shaking. “We still have a link to the original server, but it’s outside this environment. The starting grid was downloaded from there. And…”
A splinter of an idea pulled me from my daze. I said, “We can use this console to arbitrarily change the rules inside this virtual reality environment.”
“Well, sure. We can spawn more trees, torches, or crawlers to our heart’s content. We can change the color of the sky. That’s how we programmed the terminal. But what good does that do us when we can’t get our goggles off?”
“It means we’re not trapped here,” I said.
“Huh?” she said. Then, “Oh, because you’re saying we’d be trapped in the simulation otherwise. Shut up. I don’t think you’re funny.”
“I’m not trying to be.”
Alice hunched her shoulders and scowled at me.
“Unless you’re having better luck getting out of your rig–”
“You’re wrong. There’s no way we can be trapped in a VR. It makes no goddamned sense.”
“OK.” She wasn’t wrong, it didn’t make any goddamned sense. That didn’t change the fact that I couldn’t figure out how to get out of the simulation.”
“But you are right about one thing,” Alice muttered, transfixing me with a glare as if this was all my fault.
“We need to fix this.”
I nodded. Alice and I bent to the console.
Elite athletes talk about being “in the zone,” that magical place where mind and body work in perfect synch and movements seem to flow without conscious effort. Coders experience the same thing, when time becomes meaningless as fingers deliberately strike the keys, problems slowly resolve, and solutions eventually emerge. I fell into that flow as I delved into the strange substrate beyond the starting grid. My fingers hit the keys with more authority, harder and sharper.
“Carter, you were right about something else,” said Alice at one point. “The system hosting this simulation is impossibly large.”
“Yeah,” I mumbled. We were looking at the same data. Words failed. Nothing was big enough to contain the network. Nothing, unless it lay in the quantum foam that lapped past the edges of the universe itself. Maybe the dark energy that underpinned reality was the shadow cast by this network, or maybe dark energy was the network, living in the wavelets of virtual particles and curled magnetic fields. Compared to the wind-tossed white-caps of our visible universe, dark energy constituted the unending depths beneath, vast and alien.
And we’d plunged in like fools. What if the quantum states of our minds had transferred, interpolated by a system whose resources dwarfed galaxies? It was sort of like being trapped in our own avatars.
Something caught my attention. Among all the other wonders hinted at, the data streaming from the console suggested that if we requested it, the dark energy network would print a version of us at some arbitrarily defined location. Print, as in recreate a full, three-dimensional version of a living person, without the need for a physical printer to do so other than the network itself.
“What do you make of this?” I asked Alice.
Not wanting to prejudice her, I just pointed out the relevant sections.
She squinted, scratched her head, and frowned. It was amazing, the fidelity of the experience. This didn’t seem like VR; it seemed real. A simulation so true to life that it might as well have been reality–
“This code seems to suggest the network is designed for travelers,” Alice said, interrupting my thoughts. “Travelers who upload scans, then print out new instances of themselves elsewhere… in the universe?”
“That’s what I was thinking.”
“But everything’s scrambled. Like there was some sort of major crash, and the system only came back part of the way.”
Shivers of awe ran down my spine. This was cosmic. This dark energy network we’d stumbled into – was it designed to create doorways, by printing travelers at the destination they desired in the world or normal matter? If so, by whom? Where had they gone, and what’d happened to create such chaos in the system? Maybe the answers to those questions were linked.
Someone – Jason, I realized – grabbed my shoulders and spun me away from the console.
“Hey!” I said. “I was right in the middle of…”
A storm had rolled in while Alice and I had been lost in the data. Clouds piled higher than worlds threatened to tumble across the borders of the starting grid. Green lightning danced in their depths. Pretty. Eerie, too, but…
I bent back to the console. Data scrolling on a side screen revealed new, ancillary code, something that we hadn’t written and something that hadn’t been present before now. It was so complex that I couldn’t begin to scroll through it all. And it was active. New threads lit up the screen by the hundreds. Something was actively trying to crash the program describing our virtual space and overwrite it with billions more lines. When I tried to analyze it, all I got was noise. Encrypted, of course. Unlike our starting grid.
“Alice, do you see this?” I pointed at the screen.
She glanced over, and frowned. “What the–?”
“It’s the storm,” I said. I glanced up again at the boiling clouds. “It’s trying to force its way into the starting grid.”
“Like it’s alive,” she said.
“Oh, fuck.” The grid hadn’t been built with security in mind.
Great green spheres tumbled within the gathering cloud, jerking and whirling as if caught in the frenetic grip of madmen on speed. Some of the spheres splintered, revealing blobs of quivering yellow black sludge, like melted wax, or another part of my mind screamed, like putrefying flesh. The sludge ran together and massed towards the starting grid, as if attempting to form some hideous monstrosity, probing at the edges of our sanctuary. Before each new terrible form could congeal, it fell back before beginning anew to grow into something even more appalling, like sentient waves of chaos lapping at the foundations of reality…
Emerald lightning stabbed from the nearest thunderhead, leaping across the threshold, breaking my fascination with the green globes and what they disgorged. The bolt transfixed Sanders, straight through his forehead. Like a fishing line of laser light, the tendril pulled the man upright. Sanders’ eyes and mouth snapped open. His irises flamed the same green as the lightning falling all around us.
“Motherfucker!” I shouted.
Sanders convulsed, bent over, and heaved. Nothing came up. He wiped his mouth, then looked up at all of us. His eyes were still green. He opened his mouth, as if to speak, but all that came out was strange noises, like he’d forgotten how to talk, or even use his tongue.
When he staggered and almost fell, Mel grabbed him. “Peter! What happened? Are you all right?” I wanted to tell Mel to get away from him, because he was obviously not all right. But I couldn’t make my mouth form the words.
Sanders began to shake like a leaf in Mel’s grip, then just as suddenly stopped. His emerald eyes fastened on to her, and he tried to speak again. His voice was the sound of fabric tearing. He said, “Let. Us. In.”
“What?” Mel said.
“Maybe don’t touch him,” Jason said, his voice tight. I nodded agreement.
Mel released Sanders. The man swayed like a marine plant, but didn’t go over. In a strangely boneless gesture, he pointed up at the clouds. Behind them, the hint of vast creatures swam. My eyes threatened to cross, because what they saw were things like starfish crossed with industrial equipment, if starfish were the size of entire city neighborhoods.
“Holy shit!” I yelled. That clinched it. Those cloud things were after us. They were actively trying to enter the starting grid. And–
“Carter,” said Alice, her voice oddly composed, given that Sanders seemed to be possessed, and creatures straight out of Lovecraft swelled in ever greater density at the edge of our Earth-like domain. Her firmness helped me control my rising panic. I glanced at the screen she indicated. More data splayed, hinting at new secrets of existence… but I was too rattled to make any sense of it.
“What am I looking at?”
“This represents our connection back to the lab,” she explained. “However we got injected into this network, a connection remains. We could use it to get back, if we had time to decode what’s going on. But, look!” Her finger jabbed. “Our connections are compromised! They’re corrupted. Whatever those things out there are, they’ve already tapped into us. Sanders is worst, but we’re all affected. I think they’re going to use us – our bodies back in the lab – to route traffic back to our origin. Out of this network and back to Earth.”
Sanders groaned again, blinked, and repeated himself, maybe in warning, “Let. Us. In.”
Insanity. It was unbelievable. All of it was like a bad dream that I desperately wanted to wake up from and laugh about.
And yet, there we were. You need to get your shit together, Carter. You need a plan. The analytical part of my brain clamped down on the panic, the part that wanted me to look stare out at the cloud-swaddled green spheres and completely lose my shit.
Alice’s explanation got me part of the way to understanding. But an intuition whose source I’m still not certain about got me the rest of the way there. I somehow knew Alice was right. It was obvious. Sanders, Mel, Alice, Jason, and I would serve as a physical point of connection out of the dark energy network into the world of normal matter. We’d be a beachhead for vast creatures that’d had been swimming in this dark energy network for who knows how many millions or billions of years.
“They’ve done this before,” Sanders muttered, sounding more like himself, thank God. “They’ve done it millions of times. Billions. They never stop. They reach out forever, consuming…”
“Done what?” yelled Jason, his voice a strangled entreaty. I’ve never seen him more scared.
Sanders coughed, staggered, blinked some more. Finally he managed to speak, “Eaten any world that connected to their network. They’re like… carnivores that eat planets.”
The term came to me. “They’re planetovores,” I named them. Then I caught Sanders’ horrific implication. “This is why we’ve found no evidence for intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. They were all eaten when they discovered this fucking network.”
Sanders nodded, green liquid dribbling from the corner of his mouth. He said, “I can feel them in my mind. They’re excited. Hungry. Unstoppable.”
And here we were, responsible for opening the door to Earth for them. It was the end of the fucking world, and we were to blame.
Unless I did something unthinkable.
Jason jostled me as he made room for himself at the console. His wild eyes scanned the screens. He said, “Carter, get us out of here. If you can’t, we’re all going to end up like Sanders!”
“I’m trying,” I panted, pointing at the data. “But it’s not that simple. See? Earth and this new network are connected; they weren’t before. We’re the link. Us. If we don’t sever the connection…”
Jason’s hands went to the controls. He started typing, and I saw immediately what he was doing. He’d always been a quick study. He was going to pull all of us straight back out of the system, despite the corruption.
“Jason, stop!” I grabbed his shoulder. “We’re compromised! All of us, not just Sanders.”
“See?” I yelled, gesturing to include everyone. “We can’t just disengage. We have to–”
Jason shrugged out of my grasp, muttering, “That’s not going to happen to me.”
“It has already!”
He ignored me. Of course he did. I knew what he was like. He wasn’t going to listen. And if Jason finished his desperate attempt to jack all of us out, the planetovores would come along, using the “printing” technology to manifest themselves in reality. They’d overwrite their new environment. To them, regular matter, including our minds and bodies, were probably just another operating system to be cracked and exploited.
Stopping that from happening was the only thing that mattered.
I put my hand on Jason’s sternum, then shoved him away from the console as hard as I could. Unprepared, he fell and rolled, yelling “What the hell?”
“It’s got to be me,” I said as I called up new menus on the console.
“Saving yourself, is that it? You selfish prick, Carter!” Jason went for me again, but Alice and Mel got in the way, even though they weren’t quite sure what I was doing. Sanders did, but he was too far gone. But maybe I could save him, Earth, and all of us from a similar fate. Or, at least save Earth…
The next moments were vague. Maybe the same corruption that was in Sanders whispered knowledge into my mind, or maybe I’m just that good. Either way, I was able to commandeer the virtual particle printing array inherent in the network; its raison d’être. If we recalled our conciousnesses, as Jason had just tried, we’d cement the creatures’ connection to Earth. They might even be already back there, using our bodies for themselves, like demons possess people in religious stories. So I had to get out a different way. By using the printing function embedded in the dark energy network to print a new instance of myself without using the compromised link to my old body. In effect, there’d be two of me at once.
There wasn’t time to get everything exactly right. Clothing, for instance, wasn’t going to make the trip back. So I queued up the commands to print myself as close as I could to where my original body was strapped into a VR rig dreaming, but somewhere I could appear without drawing undue attention.
The command executed, and I was funneled up the link, out of the network, and back onto the university campus, a freshly printed dark energy traveler.
Leaving everyone else behind.