"Let machinery fake my place, who has time to chase. Digital is where it is. Love can always be replaced. Welcome to my consciousness. Welcome to our race. Everything is never quite enough."
Everything (is never quite enough) - Diop, Wasis
For a long moment, I couldn't seem to think of anything. An absolute stillness had taken over my mind, blank nothingness. And then it fired up, thoughts zipping around like mad inside my head. Was she right? Was I home, had I never left? When had I gone into it? And of course, number one on my mind was Heero …was he real?
I inhaled deeply, afraid of what might happen and then, so softly that I barely heard my own voice I whispered, "terminate program," and everything went black.
The hiss of the module opening, cool air rushing in, the clack of the feedtubes disconnecting. I was home. If I had ever really left. What had happened? I didn't remember getting into the VR Module, and everything had been so real, so alive. I had felt it all; it hadn't been merely a Journey through VR, had it? I glanced around then, my muscles feeling slack, and useless. How long had I been in there? I didn't know, and it seemed suddenly as if I knew nothing at all. Only questions to ask of no one.
Well, perhaps there was one person I could ask, "Fina?"
Silence, merely the soft sounds of the module continuing to disconnect and shut itself down. I tuned carefully into the band we shared - the connection allowed by my surgery - but there was nothing, just emptiness, and a strange silence.
The room was dark, a few small lights in the corridor the only source of illumination. Easing up a bit more I grasped the edge of the module, hauling myself out and standing unsteadily beside it, keeping a firm grip on its edge. My eyes refused to focus for long, sight constantly whirring in and out, back and forward, but beside me, I could just make out the long black shape of another module.
Was this my home? It looked familiar, though it was difficult to tell with the way my eyes refused to stay in focus. And I did indeed own more than one VR Module, but then where was Fina? Why wasn't she answering me?
I slumped carefully to the floor, fingers still clutching at the side of the module. I had to concentrate, think when I could've entered the module. There was only one moment in time that I thought it might have been possible, but that would mean everything following that time had been nothing more than a fantasy, a delusion.
In my mind I could still hear the words, softly replayed in my own voice, "It's not for me Fina, send yourself to sleep, I don't need you anymore." Yes, I had put her to sleep and fallen myself, forgetting what our connection would do to me. But how had I gotten into the module? Did this mean I'd never actually met 138? The pirates? Khali? Any of them?
The other VR Module kept calling my attention, something about it different from the norm. My sight shifted and I realized what it was, the module was active. Someone was inside of it, dreaming away as I myself had been. Slowly I crept towards it, unable to stand. Dragging myself upwards by the edge of it I peered into the blackness of its casing, wishing it were clear so I could see who occupied it. But there was no way I could open it from the outside. VR modules were built with so many safety mechanisms; to open it from the outside might permanently damage the occupant. The sudden jarring from one existence to the other might fracture the cortex, creating an unstable environment within the mind itself. In short, it would drive whoever was inside the module mad, or kill them.
"Fina!" I shouted, wishing she would wake up, hear my call, "Please, Fina, come back to me."
But again, there was no response, just the soft sounds of the module I stood beside. Slowly I tried to put the mental puzzle pieces together, desperate for the whole picture to form. Heero had been the only one in my Journey whom I'd known before I'd gone in. I still had my wings, proof that we'd met, slept together, and we very probably had really gone to see Wufei as well. In which case we'd been in danger, or had we? Fina was down, so the system wouldn't have detected her any longer. The system wouldn't have cared about the two VR modules running, making my own home the safest place to hide from them.
But, all of this also meant, that everything after the point when I'd put Fina to sleep was nothing more than a dream. Bell did not exist. And yet, I had a nagging feeling about all of it. I was familiar enough with VR to know that it could feel so real you couldn't tell the difference sometimes. Yet, it was so hard to imagine that none of it had happened. And the wings were still on me, which meant the crystal existed. The Klishana was real.
Who could be in the other module? I mentally went over the checklist again. Coming up with the only possible answer, it had to be Heero. I'd met no one else I'd known beforehand, even 138 I'd never met before, and Chang had been merely a doppelganger. But how, and when had he managed to break into my home and slide into the neighboring VR module? And why?
Was the Heero I'd known in the Journey the same as the real Heero?
My name sounded softly, and I glanced up, realizing it was coming from one of the many screens imbedded in the walls. My eyes widened as I realized who it was, though what this could mean I might never learn. "Heero? But how, you're in the module, how are you here?"
He stared down at me from the screen blindly. "I am in the Journey still, but I must warn you, must tell you something before it's too late. This is not a dream Duo, it is reality. The lines can no longer be drawn. Remember when the time comes, that everything exists."
And then he was gone, leaving me to wonder if *that* had been a hallucination. Everything was real? Was it really, or had I gone mad.
Before I had a chance to wonder if I were sane, the lights suddenly came on full force, the brilliance blinding me for a moment. A moment too long, as before I had a chance to blink half the stunning light away, I was surrounded. Enforcers, a Finder, and no familiar faces.
"Duo Maxwell, D-2204872341, you are hereby to be taken into custody of the System. You are under suspicion of high treason, of holding an illegal energy source, and of consorting with enemies of the System." One of them said quietly, the giant metallic Finder with them delicately grasping my arm as I listened. "Take the VR Module as well."
"Mr. Maxwell, I would suggest no further speech from you. Take the module, and put him under."
A pinprick in my arm, and once more my world went into blackness.
I awoke to blinding lights, my eyes popping open. One minute I'd been dead to the world, and the next I was wide-awake. Ah, they must have put me under with Nethskitlien, a drug known for that very affect. Glancing around, I recognized that I was in a holding chamber. Blank walls, no windows, not even a door. Nothing but floor and a vague ceiling above, reminding me very much of the various chambers Bell had created at times in our journeys together. Bell…
I shook myself, standing up and pacing the rounded walls, a circular chamber. Concentric circles…the Universe…
Without thinking, I glanced at my palm, not entirely surprised to see the faint white markings. "Everything is real,"
Time lost meaning, no one entering my solitary chamber, nothing to hear other than my own breathing. All I was able to do was think, slumping against the wall and staring blankly into the whiteness of my chamber. Whatever had happened, whatever was real, the truth was that I'd been captured and that the System now had the very thing they most desired. An unlimited energy source, a power to use however they wished. How would they choose to use me? Would they bother? Or just cut out the crystal, leaving me for a corpse.
I was still pondering when a slice of the wall disappeared, four figures and a Finder entering. "Duo Maxwell, please come with us."
Such a calm request, and I knew why. They didn't have to threaten me; they knew my life was theirs.
They led me to another room, this one was circular and white as well, though unlike my previous quarters, this one contained many other people. One of them I recognized, carefully averting my eyes as soon as they met his. Knowing any outward sign of acknowledgment might endanger him.
"Duo Maxwell, you are hereby officially charged with the following high crimes," a low voice said, carrying easily to my ears.
I looked up, calmly staring at the man proclaiming my fate in that soft, flat voice. It was no man, and for a long moment, I heard nothing. In all the years the system had been running, no one had ever met the court of humans said to control it, there were no pictures of them, no recordings or writings. They were unknowns. Now I suddenly knew why there was no information on them. They'd never been human. They were machines.
" -the crime of forming an illegal link with a machine, thereby forming artificial intellegence. Destroying precisely 1,098 Universal Finders. Illegal possession of an unknown element. Illegal programming within the System-"
It went on and on, but I had stopped listening. My mind kept clinging to one thing; I had destroyed Universal Finders, but when? The only time it might have happened would have been on my Journey in the VR module, not real, not reality. So how could I possibly be accused of a crime that had never *really* happened? Unless, it had. But how?
I jerked back into awareness, focusing again on the machine speaking across from me.
"You are sentenced to be moved to the planet Halia," it intoned, and a cold metallic hand gripped my arm below the elbow, a slight pricking the only sensation I felt afterwards, before I slipped once again into darkness.
This time when I awoke, it was not a sudden awareness, it was much slower. Whatever drug they'd put in me was something different than before. As I opened my eyes, I carefully glanced around, and found myself in a small gray metal room. The low hum below my feet signified only one thing, I was on a ship. As I moved to stretch, I also noticed something else, this time I was chained to the wall, a slim set of -what looked like Steelshift- links connecting my arms and legs to it.
This implied they had something to fear from me. Somehow, they thought I might be able to escape. Which meant one thing, low security. I examined the chains holding me, testing them for any weak link, but they didn't budge, reconfirming that they were indeed Steelshift.
Halia, the machine had said, I knew what went on there about as much as anyone did. Very little was known of the planet or its purpose. At least they weren't going to kill me, yet. I wondered what might have happened to the VR module holding Heero, had they opened it? Was he still alive? I suddenly recalled the familiar face I'd seen at my trial, though what he'd been doing there…
But it had definitely been Wufei, dressed in standard Clonelab whites, a small insignia high on the left side of his chest. He hadn't appeared to be in custody, which meant somehow he was on their side, or still on my side and in hiding. From the way he'd studiously avoided my gaze, then most likely he was still on my side and working against the System from the inside.
It left me only one choice; I'd have to see if I were still capable of drawing in energy and using it. Except that also left me with a problem. If they were keeping track of my movements, recording what I did when alone, then they would also find out that I could control the energy of the crystal. It might not be the best time to show them what I could do. Considering I didn't know where in the Universe I was, and had no way off the ship. To expose myself would merely give them more power. Better to wait, there would be another opportunity; at least I hoped there would be.
I slept aimlessly, drifting from dream world to dream world, wondering what was real and what wasn't. Occasionally a small robot would enter, followed by a much larger Finder carefully standing guard while I was fed. Neither of course would answer any question I might ask of them, they after all, had nothing to answer with. And so, time passed; days and hours melting together into an endless routine.
Eventually I became used to it, forming a pattern within the pattern. The small robot would enter, carrying a tray, my nutritious little lump of protein dead center on it. Then the Finder would enter, standing to one side of the door, its blank demeanor more threatening than a human could ever be. Silently the robots would wait while I ate, then removing anything that was left behind they would set a small bowl on the floor, my excrement bowl. Apparently, they were afraid to leave a mechanical toilet in the room with me. Sometimes it made me laugh to think they were *that* afraid of me.
But, after what seemed like months I forgot to laugh, I forgot to do anything at all, my mind becoming the only thing in constant motion. I'd been trying to remember what I knew of Halia, of its purpose within the system. From what little I could recall, I was more than afraid for my life.
It had been once, a colonist planet, settled early on in the first wave of exploration from old Earth Prime. But after that, not much history was recorded about it, other than one snippet I remembered a bit too clearly. It had been used at times for prisoners, executions, and worst of all, scientific experimentation on human subjects. Which boiled down to my being knee deep in Kajacrap.
I was sitting against the wall, my chains allowing for no other movement. When the door slid open, and to my surprise, there wasn't a robot this time, instead I was staring at a familiar face at last.
I nodded, refusing to let the probable surveillance know that I recognized him.
"We have arrived on Halia, please do not try to escape," and here his eyes met mine, an almost imperceptible tilt of his head letting me know this would be the best option for all involved.
"I wouldn't dream of it," I muttered, rattling my chains at him significantly.
"Good," he knelt down beside me, unlocking the chains and carefully holding them draped across his palm. "They are going to try and force you to show your power," he whispered, his lips brushing my ear as he spoke. "They will succeed, but just remember, everything is real."
Everything was real. There it was again, that sentence that seemed to say almost too much. It wasn't possible for everything to be a reality. It didn't leave room for lies.
I nodded never the less, slowly standing up and meeting his eyes once more. "Just tell me one thing, what have they done with the other module?"
"I don't know yet,"
"How do you know it was Heero?"
"I don't, do I? It's just a guess,"
"In time, you may not want everything to be real after all, Duo."
The high court of Halia was a large smooth plane formed in the shape of a circle. It spanned over a mile in radius, large enough to hold all high functionaries of the System. I stood in the center of the circle, surrounded by hundreds of robots and a scattering of humans and aliens. Briefly, a man with large silvery wings caught my attention, but when he turned, I realized he was not Heero, but a different Fliogan.
For a long time I merely stood in place, listening to the muted conversations from around me. So far, it didn't appear as if I was on any sort of trial. No one had asked any questions or accused me of any crimes. But I should have known they were merely waiting for just the right moment.
The crowds in front of me parted, two Finders carrying a long black shape between them, gingerly they set it down a few feet away. It was the VR module; the one Heero may have been in. It looked as if no one had opened it yet; all the lights still flickering in a steady rhythm, feed tubes connected. And then one of the Finders bent close to the module, easily tapping in codes, long metallic fingertips whispering in a flurry of movement.
They were opening the module, and I didn't know whether to hold my breath or scream at them to stop. If they opened it they'd kill whoever was inside, if they opened it, I'd see Heero. I knew deep down inside that, that was exactly who was inside the module.
The module hissed, feedtubes disconnecting. As the panel on top slid back, I found myself leaning forward, staring hungrily at the occupant. A sigh of relief fluttered out of my mouth as I saw the familiar dark head of hair, his eyes were closed as if in sleep.
And then one of the Finders reached inside, laying a cold finger on his forehead, and in a thin, high-pitched voice announced calmly, "All life signs are null, the subject is none-living,"
My breath caught, heart hammering suddenly within my chest. It was a lie; it had to be a lie.
But, everything was real.
Transpod: A dimensional traveling device. The transpod will transport human mass within any area that contains another transpod. The time taken for each journey will always be exactly 10 nanoseconds, as time is folded as well as matter to create no ripple within the dimensions.
Slosta: A drink created from organic matter grown on Jilad, the Slosta is filled with nutrients that heighten awareness and energize.
CR chips: Two microchips implanted behind the ears, the connectors that allow a direct linkage to the VR modules.
Shinalp: A form of cursing, Shinalp is somewhat akin to saying “shit” or “ah shit”
Kajacrap: The Kaja is a life form located on the planet Neskin, a large beast known to produce huge amounts of feces. The phrase kajacrap is akin to saying "Bullshit"
Fliogan Warriors: The Fliogan is a race that attaches metallic wings to their young while they are still being formed within the incubators. The wings are partially organic, fusing with the young so as to become part of their bodies. This warrior race is known to be extremely high tech, and very vicious, most normal humans will not go near them, as they are known to kill without reason. Very little is known of the Fliogan or their ways.
Feed Tubes: Connectors that feed information and nutrients to any life form connected to any long-term device.
Lavablue 6: The planet on which the society of Fliogan reside at this time.
Levels: Technological knowledge is rated by level; most societies only have an average of 30 levels. The common level of most humans is 5, techmaster levels tend to be higher and in the upper ranges.
Steelshift: 1 of over a million different charted elements, Steelshift is partially organic, allowing it to be integrated with human DNA, testing is still in experimental stages, most distinguished users of this element are the Fliogan.
Slipshot Diskwings: A style of wing known to be common among the Fliogan, Slipshot defines the integration of movable parts, Diskwing is the style of the small circular patterns of metal that form the wings of Fliogan.
Contract: A contract is a more binding way to say, “Promise or swear?”
Optilenses: Cyber optic lenses, which can be used during a VR program only.
Creos: The original form of the name Christ has changed with the passage of time, modern form of the word when used as a curse is Creos.
Orstras: A plant matter grown in dark caves on the planet of Trinition, considered a delicacy on most planets, the plant is dark purple with small white bells that can be plucked and cooked. The taste is said to be sweet and delicate.
Realtime Call: The difference between a realtime call and a regular call is in the distance, all realtime calls infer off planet residence of the caller, communications run at high speeds, face to face talking is still difficult between planets.
What is your task: This is the way most people will ask what your job is, what career you’re in.
Crèche Technician: Most people are born to the incubators and raised in crèches, the technicians help care for the many children being raised in such places.
Grower: The still forming body of a child within the incubator, a delicate time that must be carefully overseen to prevent accidents. A grower is usually designated as a child in a womb-like state. Between –1 to –9 months, or the time a child would be inside of a mother’s body.
Youlin: A manmade mammalian life form, these animals are specifically created to improve the technology behind cloning. Most tests are performed with a small VR module; with which the creatures are filled with the only knowledge they know, as the Youlin is created with a blank slate for a mind.
A Set: A group of Growers that have reached maturity.
Trance state: Every few months of a citizen’s life is recorded during REM cycles, the consciousness is stored within a neural processor called a memory chip. Occasionally when one wishes to know another, an exchange of such chips may occur.
Wetwiring: circuitry and modifications that can be installed within the human body without harming it.
The System: There are 3 levels of the system. The first is that which take cares of the minor systems such as basic maintenance, the second level controls techmaster training, medical facilities, and knowledge. The final level of the system controls all other functions between worlds; each detail is observed, and stored within it.
Klishana: A crystal found during an expedition of exploration, it is not only organic, but sentient as well.
Pinalr: A vegetable that can be eaten raw or cooked, it is said to be an acquired taste due to its strange fleshy texture and nutty flavor.
Guplit: A type of fruit grown on many planets, it is small and covered in tiny spikes which make it needful to be carefully eaten. It is said to taste rather sour, with a hint of sweetness.
Fermented Hisle Juice: A type of fruit also grown on many planets, it can be juiced and distilled to form a mild form of alcoholic beverage.
Brean-scalpel: a surgical instrument designed for a bloodless opening and closing of tissues, often used for personal bodily modifications.
Inverse Star: Very rarely when a star starts its death throes, it will turn in upon itself and feed off of its own energy, creating a new form for itself.
Ararium: A room usually only found on starships, it is meant for viewing of new materials and study of unknown elements.
Robotic simulator-hologramic: A mix of robotic and manmade tissues, which can be infused with memories and original DNA to form an exact copy. The holographic portions are usually reserved for those who were not satisfied with their own features in life, or who prefer to hide what they truly are.
Lucious Corporation: The first ever large corporation to specialize in the production of humanoid and manmade robotic engineering. It also owns nearly all blueprints of robotic simulators and DNA prints. It is said that this corporation rules half the universes.
Biotissue: A manmade tissue used in surgery and building of copies, it has no specified DNA pattern and can be mixed with many other species.
Biorecords: A type of map made for each creature that is birthed in a crèche, it is a permanent record that can be used to repair or recreate.
Kindal: A form of dried meat, usually made from Hiff, a tasty mammal that can be found on several planets.
Kindal Slices: Hiff meat that is served fresh.
If you would like a definition for something not listed here just ask! ^_^