Saturday, May 15, 2021

Big Papa: White Hole Radical (Part XII)

I keep watching after we think it’s all over. Pryce has finally been neutralized, and it looks like everything’s gonna be okay. But of course there’s still one loose end. With everyone still distracted for a moment, staring at the spot where Tamerlane Pryce once was, Pinocchio takes his shot. He pulls out his own zero blade, and pierces Genifer right in the heart. “I want that button.”
Lowell lunges forward to help, but Genifer holds out her staff, and stops him. “No.” She smiles at Pinocchio, confusing him. Then she turns her staff, and pounds it on the floor three times, very deliberately. The paint melts off of it like ice on a summer snowman. It’s turned white.
Pinocchio looks over at it, unimpressed. “The White Staff can’t save you now. It’s too late.”
“It’s too late for you too, whoever you are,” Genifer replies as the blackness quickly overwhelms her clothes. She lifts the staff, and gently—almost affectionately—taps him on the nose with it. “Boop!”
They both disappear at the same time, him in a flash of white, her in a puff of smoke. Behind me in the real world, a floor model gasps, and begins to breathe heavily. Pinocchio rolls out of the pod, and squirms on the floor. He’s never been alive before, so he’s quite harmless for the time being. Back in the simulation, the white staff has remained standing, even though its bearer is now dead and gone. As if finally remembering simulated gravity, it begins to tip over, but Dalton catches it gracefully.
“We need to figure out what to do with that,” Gilbert notes. “It’s up to Ellie to decide who gets resurrected, and when.”
“Yeah,” Dalton says, nodding his head. But he doesn’t hand the staff over, and there’s something weird about his answer. He’s just looking at it like there’s writing on it, and he’s in the middle of a good story. Then he bolts. He runs as fast as he can, down the hallways, and back up the steps. Lowell and Gilbert aren’t sure whether they should chase after him, or what. As far as leveling weapons go, it’s dangerous to be in the wrong hands, but at least no one will get hurt by it. I understand why someone would want to maintain control over it, and though I don’t know why Dalton is one of these people, it’s not the worst of our problems. As he’s climbing out of the fountain entrance, still moving as fast as he can, I can see another version of Pryce gliding down in the opposite direction. It’s probably Avatar!Pryce, having recovered from his indentured servitude. The zeroblade should destroy any copies of the same code, unless the copy is sufficiently divergent.
“Is that the guy who took over my body at the wedding?” Lowell wonders out loud.
I point at the resurrected Pinocchio, but before I say anything, I realize my mistake. He’s not been resurrected at all, but this is his first day as a real boy. It’s more like he was just born, and I guess in this case, there is such a thing as original sin. “Call security, and have him taken to MedHock,” I order the lab tech. “But first, put me back in. Same coordinates as Lowell.”
“You should know,” the tech says, “Madam Preston was keeping Mr. Benton apprised of her situation with the Glisnian authority. She has not been doing well. She fears a complete shutdown.”
“If she calls again...” I say, “tell her to stall.” One crisis at a time, please.
I return to the simulation just as Avatar!Pryce is arriving. He approaches cautiously, and with no sense of aggression. “I felt her death. I felt the loss.”
“Is there any way back?” I ask. “Is the zeroblade a lie? Are they just dormant, and recoverable?”
“It’s not a lie,” Pryce answers, possibly truthfully. “Her death is final. The blade destroys the code, like overwriting a file.”
“I’m not gonna let you push the button,” I warn him.
“I do not aim to,” he claims. “You’ll push it, though, I guarantee it.”
“Why would I do that?” I question.
Pryce looks at his wristwatch. “It’s 2400. This year marks beginning, and ending. It’s a transitional period. The patrioshka body will return to its place in the stellar neighborhood, the truth about temporal manipulation will come out to the public, and the simulation...will shut down.”
“Not if I can help it,” I maintain. “I won’t let these people die.”
Pryce chuckles with his lips sealed. “Of course you won’t. Why do you think I stepped down? It has to be you. You’re the only one capable.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” He’s not making any sense to me.
“When you took over for me, did you happen to notice our official position? What was my title, and what’s yours, now that you wear the rainbow clothes?”
“Yeah, it said Kernel. I thought it was a misspelling of Colonel. I don’t use it, because it’s stupid. I’m just Ellie.”
“No, my dear,” Pryce begins, “it’s not stupid. It’s everything. You are Kernel Underhill, and you deserve it. Now go in that room, and push the we can all get out of here. Time’s running out, I’m sure.” Without another word, he turns confidently, and tries to walk away.
“No,” I say with my own confidence. “You want me to push the button, you’re gonna go in there with me, and explain in excruciating detail, exactly what it does.”
“As you wish.”
“Lowell, keep that ice pick at the ready. If he tries anything...”
“Got it, boss,” Lowell agrees.
I place my hand against the stone door, just to try to figure out where the handle is, or how it works. It gives to my pressure immediately, swiveling on an axis in the center, and allowing us to pass through. Up until this point, the stone walls and ceilings were smooth and even. Pryce designed this chamber to look more like it existed naturally, and everything else was built around it. We’re inside of a mountain cave, with jagged edges, and random stalagmites. A highly detailed pavilion is in the center, and in the center of that is a well-carved stone structure. Sitting on it is a wok, filled with fire pit marbles. Water bubbles from underneath, and spills out on all sides. The fire burns high, partially obscuring a small obelisk that does not rise high enough to be touched without feeling the flames. A button rests on top, ready to be pressed.
“For the very last time...what. Does. It. Do?” I demand to know.
“You are the kernel, and it is a syscall. Part of your code will be copied a hundred and twenty-billion times, and placed inside the IDCodes of everyone inside the simulation, including the Level Ones. Yes, it can put everyone on ice, but only if the one who pushes it has just been downgraded to that level themselves. As long as you stand within the borders of that pavilion, you can decide what level you are, and what code will be copied. That is, as long as you don’t choose a level beyond your own real one. Mr. Hawk, for instance, was only a Limited, so if he pushed the button, that would be as far as he could take it. For you, it’s different. Once that code is disseminated, you and everyone else will change into whatever it is the code you’ve allocated does. You could put them all in Hock, or make them all Elites; whatever you wish. But be careful, because you will suffer the same fate.”
“Why are you asking me to do it?” I question. “Why have you not done it yourself?”
“I do not have an IDCode,” Pryce admits. “My other self does not either. Neither of us ever died, and came here. He was always a visitor, and I...I’m just an NPC. You have been resurrected, so you can resurrect them all.”
“So can Lowell,” I point out. “So can Leona, and Mateo, and a couple dozen others in Hogarth’s new universe.”
“Yes, but Mateo and Leona aren’t here, Lowell has always been bad code, and Hogarth’s World-Builders are ambitious, entitled, narcissists who believe they have become the gods they always thought they were.” He’s one to talk.
“Aldona does not fit that description,” I counter.
“True. Like Harry and Neville, I suppose there is indeed one other option. But you’re the only one who’s truly earned it. You’re the one who demanded control over the simulation, and you are the one standing here today.” Pryce has a response to everything. “We could call Madam Calligaris, if you want, but she may not arrive in time, seeing as that the Glisnians are this close to shutting the whole simulation down with all of us still inside.”
“Wait, Gilbert’s here too.” I just resurrected him recently.
“Oh, no,” Gilbert protests. “Don’t nominate me for this role. If anyone’s bad code, it’s me. You know the things I did while I was alive?”
“Ellie,” Lowell says. “Stop coming up with alternatives. It’s all you.”
“Where, do you reckon’ you want I should put all these people?” Now I’m sure I have them stumped. “There are some floor models waiting for hosts up there, sure, but not a hundred and twenty billion, I’ll tell ya that much right now.
“I had that problem solved a long time ago,” Pryce claims. “There are about ten million up there, and it takes about an hour to replace them, as long as the protein goop keeps coming. There’s also enough temporary storage to keep them dormant while they wait their turn. It’ll be done in two years. I own those servers, the Glisnians wouldn’t be able to shut them down without sparking a war.”
“Which they would win,” Lowell argues.
I’m shaking my head. It’s a trick. There is no altruistic or benevolent version of Pryce. There are only some that aren’t as bad as others. I don’t know why he wants me to be the one to do this instead of him, but I can’t let him play any part in it. Something he said reminded me of something else. He used the term protein goop. The cloning machines aren’t only limited by the amount of time it takes to create a new floor model body. They need the raw materials to actually make the damn thing. Star Trek replicators aren’t a real thing, and they never will be. Well, unless you use time powers. Fortunately, I know someone who might be able to help, and now I’m starting to think that she saw this coming; that she knew what was going to happen all along. I can transfer the minds, but I need her to build the bodies. Can I contact her from here? Can I access a separate brane? I take some time to try, and find that I can. The conversation isn’t long. She agrees to help.
“What are you thinking?” Pryce asks, noticing that I’ve been silent and stuck in my own head for quite awhile now.
“That you are unworthy...and unnecessary.” I step right over to him, and place my hands on his head. He’s too confused to struggle. In a matter of seconds, the avatar has been de-rezed. I’m not sure where he went, or if I just murdered him, but there’s always a backup somewhere, so I’m not too butthurt about my choice.
“What are you doing?” Gilbert asks, purely out of curiosity, and not at all bothered by my actions.
“We don’t need him anymore. I’m ending this, once and for all. I can’t promise things will be good once we’re on the other side, but I don’t think we have much time. I asked Nerakali to stall—”
Oh, thank God,” Nerakali’s voice comes into my ear. I’m starting to realize that people can contact me across distance as long as I’m thinking about them at the same time. “You have ten minutes. The Glisnians work fast, and they’re done with this whole thing. They think Pryce has become too big of a nuisance.
“Thanks for the update,” I reply to her. “I don’t think I’ll need that long.”
What are you doing?” she asks, unknowingly echoing Gilbert.
“Now I am become life, the sower of men.” I step up onto the pavilion, and approach the pedestal. I don’t want to give these people any snippet of my core code. I don’t want them to be able to spy on each other through time, or spontaneously and nonconsenually transfer each other’s minds to other substrates. I don’t need a button to resurrect any of them. I just need access to all of them. This thing grants me that power, but I already have the power to save them. Almost angrily, I swing back, and swipe the wok off of the platform. I’m left with a fountain, bubbling up from the ground, connected to every consciousness inside the simulation. Hogarth is ready on her end, so I reach into the fountain water. It’s freezing cold, but still somehow pleasant and life-affirming.
I can feel them immediately. I can feel their hopes and their pain. I see images of what they’re doing right now, all combined to form a mosaic of the entirety of the afterlife simulation multiworlds. I know what they’re thinking, and what they’ve done, and what they’ve seen. I know who they are, and who they want to be. “Hear me now, people of the afterlife,” I say to them all. “The experiment is over, and it is time to see The Beyond. It is time to live once more.” They’re all here because they crave life, experience, triumph, risk. The few who wanted to die and find a true afterlife—if such a thing exists—have moved on by now. Everyone wants to be alive, and I can give them that. It won’t be through floor model substrates, though. They won’t wake up in a cold clone pod with straight edges, and a tube coming out of their navel. The first thing they see won’t be the harsh lighting on a white ceiling. The first thing they see will be a beautiful and relaxing violet sky. I’m sending them to Violkomin, where a protein-infused lake of primordial soup will construct new bodies for them in accelerated time. Here they will float, until they are ready to walk the lands, and begin a new journey. They will breathe again. They will live again. And they will do it in a new universe.

No comments :

Post a Comment