It was 3:14 am and Stanley Fick had just rolled out of bed and was struggling to his pants on. He had just received a call from the bureau, he needed to come into work immediately, there were some major problems cropping up. Things sounded bad, bad like they had never been before. Carl had been very hesitant to discuss details via transmission, but his voice had been full of fear and panic. Given that Carl was normally a very stoic and collected man, this was especially disturbing.
Having mastered his pants and thrown on a t shirt, Stanley made his way down stairs and pulled his car keys off the wall. Normally he would have just taken his personal data node, but Carl had warned him not to, Carl had said the transfer network was acting wonky. That left Stanley the option of manual transportation. That suited Stanley just fine, he took any excuse he could find to drive his car, and those were generally few and far between.
Stanley loved his car, he knew it was just computer code, ones and zeroes arranged in such a way that they made what appeared to be a 2000 Lotus Elise. Stanley knew all this but loved the car and loved driving it anyways. The whole world around him was nothing but a complex structure of ones and zeroes, that did not stop him from enjoying it either.
He stepped out his front door and quickly made his way over to his car. Sliding into the car seat the engine automatically started for him. He swung the car backwards out of its parking spot, and then smoothly accelerated down his long driveway. As he rolled down the driveway he told the car to call his boss and friend, Dr. Gideon Plock. The two of them worked closely in developing the A.L.I.C.E. unit and the virtual world they now lived in, and had become good friends over the duration of the project. Now the two of them continued to work together at the bureau of Statistics and Information.
He came to a complete stop at the gate exiting his house, waiting as the phone rang. The ringing stopped and the call clicked over to messages. Not entirely surprising, Gideon was probably already in the emergency room and had his hands full. Or maybe he was just not answering his phone again.
Directing his attention to the gate, he sent the necessary user information and commands to open it. By force of habit he began to accelerate towards the gate, but was jerked to an unexpected stop when an error message flashed across his user interface.
“Unable to Resolve User ID” the gate flatly stated. It remained shut.
Stanley sent his credentials again, this time the gate flashed green, it’s message now read “Have a nice trip Stan!” Stanley thought this odd, the credentials had not changed between the first and second entry, and the gate had never made an error like this before. The gates mood swing made his thoughts shift to Gideon, his friend had also been having mood swings for the last year or so.
Sometimes his friend was approachable and cheerful, like the man he had spent countless hours going over code and and module functions with. His brilliance and wit seemed a bit dulled when he was like this, but he was far more affable. Other times he was dark, brooding and distant. When he was like this man’s true genius really shone through, but he was prone to snap at the slightest provocation. It was like a kind of Jekyll and Hyde situation Stanley supposed. Stanley was not sure if he was hoping for Jekyll or Hyde this evening.
Street lamps and and road signs passed by completely unnoticed. Stanley was lost in a tangle of this own thoughts, his mind occupied with his friends mood swings. Stanley was almost positive that the decisions they had made ten years ago laid at the root of his friends mood swings. The consequences of that decision had been a heavy burden for them all to bare, but they all agreed, it was the right decision to make.
Stanley shook his head in attempt to clear it, his friends attitude issue was a problem for another time. Whatever he was driving in to handle sounded like it was going to be problem enough without him having to worry about Gideon’s feelings. The lack of details he had in regards to the problem worried him. As his mind was tormented by twin storms of doubt and worry, Stanley’s vision registered a change in his environment. The change was subtle enough that it did not provoke instant reaction, like an oncoming vehicle would, but it was significant enough to demand Stanley’s attention.
He was forced to release his grip his current thoughts and focus on his immediate situation. With his full attention on the problem it did not take long to find the change, and it was a very unsettling one. His entire car was gone. Well perhaps gone was not the best word, he could still feel the steering wheel in his hand, and something was stopping him from violently tumbling down onto the pavement. No his car was not gone, it was just no longer being rendered.
Stanley could logically explain everything that was going on in his head. For some reason, probably something related to whatever problem was going on, his car was not rendering. His car was there, he just could not see it. It appeared as if he was floating in a seat position just a few feet above the road as it whizzed by beneath him at a harrowing speeds. Knowing all of this did not help much when he tried to reconcile it all in his head though.
Stanley failed to see it, he would not have been able to see it had he been paying attention. Many vanity items inside the the simulation had suddenly stopped rendering. This included cars and trucks. So Stanley failed to see the two stopped cars in front of him, even as he plowed full speed into the rear of the stopped SUV. In his rush to get to work he had failed to put on his seat belt, so his body, still moving at high speed shot out of the car.
As he flew forward at high speed, Stanley reminded himself that it was impossible to die inside the simulation. They had made sure of that when they wrote the rules that governed the simulation, the lives that were contained within were simply too valuable to risk losing them when it could be easily prevented. He cringed, listening to the air whistle past his ears as he flew forward, remembering that it was very possible to feel pain the sim. Many of the builders had wanted to remove it in an effort to improve everyones stay, but their testing had shown that removing pain had some very significant and negative repercussions once people woke up.
It was over in a flash, his body crumpled as he caught the edge of the SUV’s frame, spinning him as he went through the rear plate of safety glass. His body screamed in pain, but the sensations quickly dulled, as his conscious grasp on the situation dulled. He heard a terrible scream in the background but he was not alarmed. Something about this whole situation seemed dreadfully wrong to him, but he just could not bring himself to care.
Then as quickly as this had all begun, the world around Stanley Fick winked out.
Carl Brocke paced back and forth nervously, he had a very unpleasant situation on his hands. One that he would much rather hand off to someone more qualified. His speciality lay in behavioral psychology, the human mind. Not computer chips and graphical interfaces. He cast a glance across the hall, balefully lingering on the two empty offices of Gideon Plock and Stanley Fick. Both of them were much better equipped to deal with a problem of this nature than he was, but here he was, covering for both of them.
At least Fick was on the way in, he had not been able to get in touch with Plock. And Plocks mood swings had been bothering him. The man had been behaving like a schizophrenic, one moment he was your best friend, the next he was concocting your doom. His ruminations were interrupted by the sound of his door opening.
One of the employees from the emergency teams leaned into his office. “Sir?”
Carl sighed, he felt powerless in this situation. “Yes, what is it?”
“Well sir, we were tracking Mr. Fick’s user ID as it traveled the network drives, but…well its gone sir.”
“Thats impossible, as long as a user is logged into the system, we can track their user ID no matter where they are. Even I know that.” He replied incredulously.
“Thats just it sir…”
Carl looked like a mad animal as he cut the young man off, “Be very careful with your next words. You’re very close to implying something with very serious repercussions. “
The emergency team member hesitated for a moment, clearly shaken, Carl was unsure if it was his demeanor or what the man had to tell him, “T-the reports are unconfirmed but people have been reporting loved ones and friends user ID’s disappearing. We’ve even received a few eyewitness reports of peoples avatars simply disappearing along with the associated user IDs before their eyes. We thought they were false or prank reports at first, but there are just too many instances to ignore now.”
Carls voice was much quieter now, “And has anyone been able to get in touch with Dr. Plock?”
“No sir, his user ID is still present within the network, he’s just not responding to any of the pings or messages we send him.”
Carl’s voice maintained its quiet and controlled characteristics, “Do any of our tech people have a clue as to what’s going on with the network?”
“There are a few theories floating around the office, but we don’t have any substantial evidence and we haven’t had time and manpower to perform any tests….”
Carl’s patience with this man was beginning to wear thin, he had none of the answers he wanted to hear, he cut him off before he could say anything else, “So why are you bothering me? I’m an expert in human behavioral psychology. Not some code monkey, get the A.L.I.C.E. system to help you.”
Carl saw the shock and confusion flash across the man’s eye and was intrigued, he had expected to see fear on the man’s face, not confusion. The emergency systems employee stood, locked in his gaze like prey before a predator. Carl sneered “What don’t I know?”, he almost spat at the terrorized man.
“Sir, the A.L.I.C.E. system stopped responding to our queries about two hours ago.” The young man paused, as if pondering the weight of his next phrase, “I thought you knew.”
The rage drained from Carl instantly, replaced with cold, nearly debilitating fear. “You mean to tell me that…that A.L.I.C.E. is down? And, and we can’t find Fick or Plock…..” His words trailed off as his fear ravenously ate at his being.
“No sir, A.L.I.C.E. is still running, she’s just ignoring us.” Carl’s ghastly pallor gave the man pause, “The techs all say that she’s just occupied, probably scrambling to fix whatever is wrong with user IDs”
The young man’s words fell on deaf ears, Carl’s mind was frantic. If everything this employee told him was true, than they were looking at a worst case scenario situation. With A.L.I.C.E. unresponsive and Plock and Fick missing, there was no way out of the sim. Plock and Fick were the only two that knew how to exit without Alice’s help, and neither of them could be found. Carl had asked them about it countless times, but neither man would share the information with him.
The tech was still talking, he was saying something about a dedicated server an independent system. Carl paid him no heed, he needed to get out, if A.L.I.C.E. went down they would all be as good as dead. Trapped inside this infernal simulation forever.
“Out…out….out…..OUT, I need to get out of here!” Carl almost incoherently yelled. He had to get out of this building and go find Plock before it was too late. The young man tried to stand in his way but Carl’s age had a diminished effect his strength and speed due to being inside, and he made it past the younger man.
“Have to go find Plock, he can get me out of here!” Carl raved, as he ran for the data transfer node in the main lobby of the building. He ran down the stairs, ignoring the shouted warnings and pleas for him to stop behind him. His mind was locked on the data node, he had to go find Plock and force him to tell him how to get out. He would not get stuck in the Sim. Reaching out he touched the node, quickly he selected a destination and then confirmed transfer.
Jason Steya had been explaining to Carl Brocke that they were in the safest place possible at the moment. He had just been explaining how their building existed within a dedicated and independent server and their reality would continue to persist even if A.L.I.C.E. went down when the old man started yelling and came barrelling at him. He had moved surprisingly fast for someone of his age and Jason had not been able to stop him.
He chased him down the stairs and into the lobby, yelling the whole way for him to stop. He pleaded with the man, tried explaining that he may simply disappear if he used the transfer network. Carl did not seem to care though, Jason was fairly sure he saw a victorious glint in Carl’s eye as he reached the node.
Moments later Carl Brocke’s user ID disappeared