I should be finishing chapter six of Peripheral Vision in the next few days, so keep an eye out for that. Hopefully there will be a short story coming along sometime soon, though I’m not entirely sure what I’ll write about for it yet.
Stephen’s world has begun to fall apart a bit now, you see, just as Caroline’s world has begun to grow and expand. But there is still only one definite connection joining them in the story, as of yet. That connection is me. You may be wondering, at this point, how I know Caroline’s side of things so well. It’s easily explained how I can know what Stephen was thinking and seeing after all, you may argue, as it’s all virtual in a world of my own creation. But Caroline?
That’s simple. She told me her entire story not long ago, actually. As such it may not be entirely fact, as stories are destined to flex towards the bias of the storyteller – I’m sure my involvement in this story is evidence enough of that – but it is the closest that I can know of the truth.
I just wanted to clear that up before we proceed. Now, back to Stephen…
Actually, my last few sections have been a bit short, I think. I am an important player in this, of course, so I think I may want to expound on my side of things for a bit. I’ll start by discussing a very important man to me.
His name was Clyde. He was the CEO of a major company quite some time before the bombings started, and his… “style” has influenced me a lot. He truly knew how to control a situation and people and use them for whatever his plans may be. Even though I didn’t actually spend much time with him, I learned much from what I knew and saw. He had a hand in creating Introspect and brainstorming some ideas for the company, actually, though he never wanted to have any amount of real stake or control in it.
But he was old. Very old. We kept him alive as long as we could, through the same method as that which keeps me in a young body, but there’s only so much you can do when the body has already begun to fail.
So I took it upon myself to create a copy of the virtual world that our clients live in. I got one of the machines that connect the users to the world and put Clyde in there, connecting it to the world-copy. The machines are capable of essentially stopping all physical processes and leaving only the brain still functioning, while still keeping the body alive. It’s an ingenious design, and I can’t imagine how Christopher came up with it.
But I had to do that. I felt like I was personally responsible for keeping Clyde alive, for some reason. And it worked. He stayed alive in the machine, his mind in the virtual reality, for quite some time. Not until… Aha, no, I’m getting ahead of myself. I must make sure to tell each part of this story at just the right time, and no sooner.
Well, now that I’ve given a bit of exposition on some of my backstory – or inspiration, at least – I think it’s time to return to Stephen.
Stephen sat in a chair in his study, pretending to read a book. He wasn’t pretending on purpose, but he was far too busy thinking about his dream of the night before to pay attention to the words. A cat lay on the arm of his chair and he was stroking it without even fully realizing he did so. It was just a motion that his body continued to do while his mind was elsewhere.
He remembered his dream of the previous night. Or he felt like he remembered his dream. It was one step removed, for some reason.
It was a dream about falling asleep, but falling asleep in an uncomfortable position. Because of that, his sleep was disturbed and restless. He kept trying to shift to a more comfortable pose, but couldn’t. He kept moving and moving until he woke up. And in the dream, that moment he woke up held some grand importance. It was a moment of intense illumination, both of light and of knowledge. But it was only for a second – after that second, he woke up for real.
It was one of those kinds of dreams that you have an irrational thought that it must be important in your real life. That, should you follow the steps of what happened, it will come true. But he didn’t really know what those steps would be, and he didn’t really know what “it coming true” would entail.
After thinking a while longer about it without making any headway, he pushed the thoughts out of his mind and returned to reading the book for real.
Two more weeks, and he still hadn’t seen Peter, and still no one didn’t remember him at all. He would’ve thought it was either a conspiracy or that he was going insane, but he wasn’t crazy enough to believe either of those things. Bartholomew had been looking at him strangely recently, which Stephen thought was probably concern about his recent change of behavior. He still did the same things, but now he lacked much of the carefree happiness that he had before then. But Bartholomew hadn’t said anything to him yet, so he thought he must not think it was too bad. He was sure Bartholomew would’ve asked to help in some way if it was worse.
The door to the study opened and Bartholomew walked in with a tray holding a tall glass with condensation around the outside. “Double mint julep, sir?” he asked.
“Thank you,” Stephen said and closed the book around a finger to keep his place. He took the glass from Bartholomew and took a sip. “Fantastic,” he said, and Bartholomew thanked him.
“Anything else I can get you, sir?” Bartholomew asked.
“I don’t think so right now.”
Bartholomew gave a short bow then left the room, closing the door behind him.
Since he had stopped thinking about the dream, the memory of it had begun to fade. Once he had finished the glass, it was almost entirely gone, just as all of his memories went, only leaving behind a faint trace of a nostalgically warm thought or feeling.
You could say the workers in the virtual reality are the deluxe “anti-virus” programs of the system. They’re to keep things running smoothly and to sniff out any potential problems. Bartholomew the anti-virus program was getting suspicious.
Caroline didn’t remember her mother very well, just like the rest of the first decade or so of her life. She knew that she seemed… hurt. It could’ve been because of her father’s death a short time before she was born, or it could’ve been caused by her father. She had no idea. Her mother always had trouble talking about him, and as a result she didn’t know what to think about him. She mostly tried not to think about him.
Caroline had a dream about her mother that night as they slept a few miles away from Newhaven 7. That’s why she was on her mind that morning as they prepared to walk the remaining distance. When she woke up, the smell was just as surprisingly bad as it had been the previous night when she first encountered it. She hoped Gerome had been joking the previous night about never getting used to it.
She walked most of the way in silence apart from most of the group, again. She hoped she wasn’t offending Tanayoki or others in the group that she hadn’t settled in yet.
As they neared the city, Gerome joined her. “Lots of thinking?”
“That’s fine. No one over there is really expecting you to fully join our community yet. You have a lot of stuff to think through.”
Caroline didn’t respond and kept walking. Gerome stayed beside her but didn’t push a conversation. A little while later Caroline spoke.
“Why… do you exist?”
“Me?” he asked with a laugh.
“No, I mean, why does the Anti-Introspect group exist?”
“Well, it doesn’t take much to realize that it’s a company that’s brought a large amount of evil to the world. And they’re obsessed so much with getting money just for the sake of getting it… Charging so much for their services, allowing in only the cream of the crop…”
“I guess. But why do you kill everyone in the information farms? And so brutally, as well. They’re just workers.”
“Yes, but they’re workers who have sworn allegiance with Introspect. And each and every one of us in this group has been harmed in one way or another by them. Perhaps not Introspect directly, but because of the massive entry fee required, many people who didn’t have enough money right away to join would take that money any way they could. They’d kill people and steal their money, sell the children into any form of slavery, and so on. And trust me, there’s a market for plenty forms of slavery right now. Any relatives of them would have no way to find them. Personally, while I was a distance away working to support them, my mother and father were murdered and my sister went missing, no doubt forced into slavery. By the time I returned home it was too late and I had no way to find her or even know if she was alive. That’s why we hunt for Introspect. Information farms are only the tip of the iceberg for us. Every farm we attack brings us one step closer to finding wherever Introspect is run. The data you and others create goes through any number of steps and re-routes before it finds its way to the main server. Each time we go to a farm we analyze the computers to gain more information about its path. We’ll find Introspect, sometime. Once we do, it will be destroyed. With no corporation controlling the small amount of government and law enforcement that exists, we’ll be able to finally begin rebuilding our world. That’s why we do what we do.”
Caroline nodded. “I see. I still don’t quite understand the need to kill people who are no doubt pawns in Introspect’s game, though.”
“To win a chess game, you must attack all pieces. You can’t really checkmate the king if you haven’t taken any other pieces. We will take out any players – whether pawns or not – that we need to.”
The two walked together silently for the rest of the journey. Before long, they had arrived in the city. They walked en masse through the streets. Caroline saw alleyways that housed people that laid on the ground with nothing separating them from the filthy ground, and others who wore hoods that obscured their looks. Only once did she see one of the faces behind the hood; twisted and deformed beyond human recognition. Their eyes locked for a moment, and she looked away quickly, unsure what to do in that situation. Gerome saw what happened and turned to her.
“You’ll see plenty of people like that in here. More if you explore the more abandoned sections.”
“What… happened to them?”
“They’re people who somehow escaped euthanasia when infants.”
Caroline gulped and faced forward. She wished she could have forgotten about that. The nausea was back, gnawing at her stomach.