It was an early spring day just before the onset of the rainy season. Maiv was cleaning out the hut and rolled up a large area rug in the bedroom, intending to take it outside and beat the dust out of it. Now she sat on the rolled up rug contemplating the trap door she’d uncovered. There was a fleeting moment of panic at the thought that someone else was living here, coming and going through her bedroom. Then she remembered the heaviness of the rug. If someone was living down there, then they must have another entrance.
Maiv took a deep breath, collected her flashlight and a heavy wrench, then pulled open the trap door. Hinges protested and seized. Maiv grunted as she jerked hard on the door and the hinges gave with a groan. Flickering lights illuminated a narrow staircase as Maiv descended.
The room was dank and cool, sparsely lit by track lights on the ceiling. It was directly below the VR monitor room. It was occupied by a matte black cube that stood as tall as Maiv. She circled it, finding only blank sides, then touched the cool metallic surface. Green and blue LEDs flashed in complex patterns. A holographic image of an imperious old woman surveyed Maiv disdainfully. It was grainy and monochromatic.
You are my heir? she whispered. No, of course not. I recognize you now. You’re that foolish girl trying to bring hope to those trespassers. Maiv, is it?
Maiv recognized the voice. She’d found her ghost.”Who are you?”
Amethyst Hamberton. She arched an eyebrow. I’m sure you’ve heard of Hamberton Industries. We probably own you, or the majority of your shares anyway.
Maiv ignored the jibe. “What are you?”
Hamberton snorted. That, my dear, is something people have been asking for a very long time. What year is it?
“2417.” Maiv realized she’d been in the forest for nearly eight years now.
That long? Hamberton fretted. It seems Peter decided to abandon me after all. I’m surprised he had the gumption.
Yes. My body was failing so I had my mind uploaded into this computer for safe keeping until a suitable clone could be grown.
Hamberton waived a hand dismissively. Irrelevant. I should have known something was up when Peter stopped visiting. When I complained about how my web connection to the company was slowing down during our last video conference, he muttered something about squirrels and promised to send someone to fix it. I suppose that won’t happen now. Hah. It’s been at least thirty since I last talked to Peter. I suppose he’s dead now.
“Why do you encourage people to kill themselves?” Maiv casually looked around for the power node.
This forest was built as my playground. It allowed me to remain engaged with the world. It’s hardly my fault the only people I’ve had to talk to were self-absorbed twits determined to destroy themselves. It’s all rather tedious, actually.
“And you wonder why no one ever came back for you,” said Maiv dryly. She had located the power node.
Yes, I’m a horrible person, Hamberton said sarcastically. I don’t pander to the weak. Are you certain you want to unplug it? You’d lose your power too. I seriously doubt you have the skills to bring the systems back online without reactivating my program.
Maiv studied the node, searching for a disconnect point. “I can go home. You won’t be able to kill anyone else.”
Hamberton laughed coldly. You think that will stop people from dying here? I don’t force people to kill themselves; I only encourage them. Believe me, I wish I could kill them. You’d be dead if I had the power to force them. I have no more power than you do; I’m limited to the cameras and mics.
Maiv hesitated. “But if you’re not here to encourage them…”
You won’t be here to discourage them. Hamberton said matter-of-factly. I do enjoy our game. I’ll tell you what. Let’s play another game of Marco. I’ll stay silent. See if you can save him.
Maiv’s face turned red and ice filled her stomach. “Why should I?”
I’m sure you’ve noticed how this system seems to use time as a guideline rather than a hard and fast rule. See if you can find that quantum instance where you succeed in saving him.
”I could save him?”
Possibly. If you find the right instance. But not if you unplug the machine.
copyright 2014, Kimberley Long-Ewing, all rights reserved