She came to me, her arms outstretched with their sharp coldness, reminiscent of industry.
I touched the shine of her steel, mesmerized by the reflection of the light. I was falling again, tantalized by all that she represented and all that she promised. She had picked me up at the end of the previous level, telling me to follow her.
I didn’t really have a choice. There was a strange beauty in her lifeless metal ambiguity, a hint of sensuality in her insensate sterility. “I will absolve you from death”, she whispered in my ear, her lack of breath sending the sensation of cold shivers down my spine. I repeated those words over and over until it eventually dawned on me that those words had never been said, that the promise had never been uttered.
Moments like these destroyed me. My imagination was playing tricks on me again, torturing me with all that I desired. I just wanted eternity like everybody else. I walked through the cityscape a few steps behind her, partly out of respect, partly out of fear. The slums were just as I remembered them from previous levels, piles and piles of neon shop signs, their lights still bright with their cold cathodes.
One light still hung off a broken chain next to a portal: EXIT THIS WAY. I noted the sign’s location for future reference. I had promised myself I wouldn’t give up as easily this time. She had called me a coward at the end of the previous level and she was right. I wanted to push my mind to the limits this time, to test the boundary of my endurance.
I had naively said this at the start of every level. I’d been entering Games right since the CKGN, the meta-universe which hosted these worlds, had dropped their price point to where young programmers like myself could afford to transfer to a world of their choice. My mother had begged me to stay, her repetitive drawl warning me of the empty promises of the Cokaygne.
She always insisted on referring to it by it’s full name as if it were a naughty child. ‘You want to join those blasphemous hackers with their promises of sweet milks?’ Yeah. I did.
The finality of the molecular world was destroying me. At the moment of waking, I would notice the new marks on my skin, the birth of a new line on my face, some sort of cut still slowly healing. I would watch my own stark decay each morning in the mirror. The whole thing disgusted me. This fleshy prison that had sentenced me to death. I had to get out.
Since the CKGN had made other worlds more easily accessible, the people who chose to stay behind had become more determined and dogmatic in their protests. Taking to the cities in their droves, holding placards calling for the redemption of Earth and ‘LOVE’.
I had no empathy for their poorly defined memes, even less for their decision to stick with this terminal disease they called life. My mother was one of them, ensuring that for the first 21st years of my life I was deprived of any awareness that the CKGN even existed.
But there were people on the other side who had carefully left easter eggs for those like me who were trapped behind. It took 3 prompts for me to discover the CKGN. My mother didn’t understand enough about programming computronium to stop me from finding them. It was CKGN code of conduct that once a user was curious enough to accept and follow an easter egg, he swore confidentiality on the pain of death.
All I knew when I saw the code was that even though I had no idea where I was going, I knew I was definitely never coming back. I was home. I was here.
There was an intense heat. These were unusual sensations for a CKGN game. What level was this? I looked ahead, hoping she would have acknowledged that I might need reassurance, but she was marching onwards unfazed in her determined steel. She wasn’t looking back at me. I looked around and behind me, suddenly aware of how in my own head I had been. Wasting my game time on meaningless memories.
To the right of me were generators, working to their maximum. To the left of me was an endless landscape of racks, racks upon racks upon racks, unrecognizable hardware that the generators were cooling, racks that were processing something. Processing something within a game? Or just a feature? I hadn’t seen this in previous levels. I wanted to touch them. Were they cooling qubits?
There was no hardware behind CKGN anymore, the rapid development of programmable matter had meant that entire new worlds could be created out of anything. The entire stack of computation had dissolved with the development of computronium in 2150.
We had coded ourselves the Midas touch, except our hands could turn single atoms into entire universes. Anything could be everything and everything was ours. I chased up alongside her and pointed to the racks in a questioning fashion.
What are these? I said with my eyes. She said nothing but somehow I had heard her say many things. My mind put those words there to test my own beliefs. I was my own worst enemy, no longer able to decipher truth from what I wanted to believe. They were racks of encrypted data. “Encrypted data for what?” For earth. For the people still behind. “Their data?” Their existence. “Their lives?” Their DNA. “They exist here too?” There are no boundaries. Just false beliefs. Just fanciful dreams.
Had she said it or had I? I wasn’t sure. The heat intensified. It didn’t matter. All I knew was that I had to keep pushing forward.