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Chapter 13 : The Dreaming

Claire Steya had been at work for over a day and a half now, and for a large portion of that time  she had been the acting director of operations. Carl Brock going offline paired with the absence of several other key figureheads in the office meant that the job of holding the simulation together while keeping its populace as calm as possible had fallen squarely on her shoulders. It was not something she was particularly pleased about.

Claire had always felt very comfortable and confident her when it came to her job, she had even helmed the bureau multiple times before. But the idea of being responsible for all the inhabitants of the simulator during an emergency like this was extremely intimidating to her.

She had managed to keep everyone calm enough to stay in the office and keep working diligently through what she believed had been the worst of it. But now after spending over 24 hours int he office together, everyone was a little on edge. Additionally A.L.I.C.E. had failed to reply to any of their queries for the last thirty six hours. The silence from the usually loquacious AI had been especially disturbing. Add in the fact that their internal monitoring tools had initially shown a slow decline in A.L.I.C.E.’s available processing power had not provided much comfort either.

But now, roughly 32 hours after all of this began, things were starting to look up. Their internal tools were now showing a significant increase in Alice’s processing power, and the overall health of the simulation was rapidly improving. Communication between servers had been restored, allowing for travel between worlds again. It looked like A.L.I.C.E. was beginning to get things back under control. Claire even personally witnessed several user IDs come back online, unfortunately Carl Brock and Stanley Fick were both still offline, and still no one had been able to reach Dr. Plock.

Her eyelids were heavy with fatigue, and her limbs felt like lead. Most of the other employees had worked in shifts, rotating who was actively working on the floor and while others snuck off to emergency overnight rooms to sleep. Claire however had not, she told herself and others that she would not have been able to sleep anyways. The truth was somewhat different, while she had not wanted to be at the head of the ship, she wanted even less to hand that kind of responsibility off to someone less qualified and potentially more terrified than herself. Alice’s continued silence still nagged at her, but she felt like things had stabilized enough that she could allow herself some rest.

She scanned the floor for someone she could put in charge while she slept, her eyes settled on a portly dark skinned indian man named Veejay. He would not have normally been her first choice, but as it was she was dead on her feet, and all he had to do was wait for contact from Alice at this point. She flagged him down, “Hey Veejay, I need to sleep. Do you think you can handle the floor for a while?”

He was quick to reply “Me..?” He looked around as if there were another Veejay in his vicinity, “Well, I suppose I can.” His nervous smile betrayed him, but Claire was too tired to care.

“Ok thanks. Wake me if anything big happens, otherwise, just wait to hear something from Alice.”

A bit of relief crept into Veejay’s face and nodded, “Go get some rest.”   He instructed before he walked off towards a data center.

Claire shuffled her way over to the large elaborate stairwell that lead up to the executive offices. She had not realized how tired she was, but each step felt exponentially more laborious than the previous. She thought of how ridiculous it was, that she could still feel this way even though she was inside of a computer program. Sometimes she hated just how accurately the simulation mirrored real life. Finally mounting the top of the stairs she turned to look back out over the work floor again, everything still looked like it was running smoothly.

Turning around she shuffled forward, she had decided that she’d sleep in Dr. Plocks office. He had not been around to use it, and she knew there was a very comfortable overstuffed leather couch in his office. She slid into the dark office and made straight for the couch, she noticed a blinking light on Dr. Plock’s desk UI. He had a message from someone, her eyes lingered curiously for a moment. She immediately reminded herself where she was and decided it was none of her business.

Settling in on the couch, she was barely able to check the time before sleep claimed her..

—————-

Her sleep had been light and fitful, and because of that it had not taken much to rouse her. She woke confused and dazed, it took her several moments to reconcile her location. After her head cleared enough she noticed a sonorous rumble coming from beyond the office door. Her fitful rest having done little to rejuvenate her she strained to pull herself off the couch.

“Set window opacity to zero percent” she commanded the room. The previously blackened far wall faded away until it seemed as if there was nothing there. Moving over to the window she was shocked to find throngs of her co-workers scrambling down the lobby steps and towards the lobby doors. What had occurred while she slept?

Quickly she checked her personal messages, hoping to find some kind of explanation. What she found served only to further confuse her further, a blanket message had been sent out to every inhabitant of the simulation from Alice, she had received it only twelvel minutes ago.

It seems the Seraphim had passed through some kind of electrical anomaly that had some negative side effects on the Electromagnetic Trinary Cores that kept the simulation and Alice running. The message went on to say that Alice had stabilized the simulation, but data node transfer was not operable and would remain that way until Alice had finished diagnostics on the ship.

This was fantastic news! Alice had the situation under control and was communicating with . Claire looked up and out the window again, curious as to what her co workers were doing in the lobby. She watched in terror as those who lead everyone else grasped at the data transfer nodes.

Several more user IDs gone from the system.

Her jaw slack, she stared in horror as the wave of terrorized people flooded down the broad stair well that lead to the front of the building. All of them were going to try and use the network to travel home. They were completely ignoring what they all knew to be happening in the simulation, as well as blatantly disregarding instructions from their keeper. What could compel them to take such a risk?

The thought of watching over a hundred people willfully run to their own death had twisted her guts with a fear that made her temporary promotion pale in comparison. She turned away, shielding her eyes from the silent massacre that was about to occur. Squeezing her eyes shut tight, she crossed her arms over her eyes, as if the extra barrier would shield her from the knowledge of what was happening below.

She did not know how long she waited to open her eyes, it had felt like hours to her. Lowering her arms she steeled  herself and pried her lids apart, expecting to find a pristine and sterile lobby. What she saw instead confused and delighted her, the lobby was still absolutely full of people! It looked like they all came to their senses at the last moment, maybe they had all seen the IDs of those before them go offline and had lost their nerve. Whatever it was, Claire was overjoyed that these people had chosen not to throw themselves into whatever waited beyond the node.

As the powerful buzz from her happiness wore off she realized something was not right. Everyone in the lobby was uncomfortably close and they were all pressed in around the transfer nodes still. The few people within reach of the data nodes were all still frantically slapping their hands against the smooth cobalt surface of the node as if they were trying to use them. The gentle din of their voices slowly grew into panic’d and cacophonous roar. Her eyes grew wide in realization, no one had given up on trying to leave, the transfer nodes were not allowing them to leave.

She watched the tension in the lobby grow, hypnotized by the sea of clamoring people. It did not take long for venomous stares and heated words to change to violence. men started dragging down and beating other men in an effort to them them away from the few transfer nodes in the lobby. Others darted out the front door, only to find themselves trapped in the relatively small parking lot that surrounded the bureau. Normally there were all kinds of fail safes to prevent this kind of behavior, but they weren’t active.

“Windows set opacity 100%, office door lock.” Claire commanded.

The windows looking down into the office obediently shifted from perfect clarity to utter blackness, then an obnoxious error noise played. “You are not the owner of this office, failure to engage electronic lock.”

“Damnit…” she muttered to herself, walking over to the door she engaged the manual lock. In this situation it was most likely as good, save the fact that several people, who were not present, could override the lock and gain entry into the room.

She looked back over at the desk of her boss again, she needed to use his desk UI in order to find out what was going on, she was not willing to go back outside and risk exposing herself to the madness that was going on downstairs. Reluctantly she sat down at the desk and brought the UI out of sleep mode. Most of its features and stored data were locked, and she could get around that little obstacle if she needed. Thankfully, she could still access many basic tools and data feeds.

As she began thumbing through the recorded data for the time she was sleeping, the small blinking message notification drew her attention over and over. She had not seen a message like this one before on their operating systems. She tried her best to ignore it as she looked over the data, but it was difficult, something about that blinking message notification told her it was important.  She held a quick internal debate, weighting the need of her situation verse invading the privacy of her bosses computer.

She chose not to open the message for the time being, she could always open it later if the situation became more dire. She focused on the data feeds, everything thus far looked fantastic. Performance numbers had been steadily climbing while she had been sleeping. All this information served to just make the situation more puzzling, when she finally got to the end of the feed, she found something even more vexing. Roughly 7 minutes after Alice sent the blanket message, all of the bureaus internal readouts went completely haywire, and Alice’s activity logs flooded with a single, terrifying phrase that explained the lobby below.

“Error, A.L.I.C.E. Unit not found, unable to update activity log.”

Claire could not believe it at first, the idea of Alice being gone was simply preposterous. Alice had been there every waking second of the last six years, and the two of them had grown incredibly close. Alice had even confided in Claire her incredibly human desire of having a child of her own. Claire ran several other basic tests, the seriousness of the task absorbing her. When all the tests came back with the results she did not want, she ran them all again. It was with a heavy  heart that she accepted what her tests told her : Alice was gone.

Claire sat curled up in the corner of the office, afraid of the angry mob of her former co-workers outside. She had convinced herself that she was completely safe behind the door, it was technically unbreakable, and no one present had the keys to the lock. She understood why everyone was scared, they were all essentially caged animals, caged animals with the intelligence to know that their keeper had gone missing with the keys.

She pulled herself into a tight ball and wept over the loss of her friend. The fact that they all needed Alice if they ever wanted to wake up again was an afterthought for her. She mourned for the empty void the absence of the chatty and warm AI left her with. As she cried the message notification continued to blink at her, as if pleading with her to read, but she was too deep in her grief to notice.

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