This one was rejected by the same two magazines as the last. I guess I should branch out a bit with future stories. Anyway, I don’t feel like sending it out again. Please leave me comments with your thoughts, good or bad.
As data swirled around him in its endless dance, coding the visual existence of walls and ceiling, he stood before the luminescent terminal with his left hand resting motionlessly on the integration port. He waited for a ghost, a piece of himself sent out on a mission, to come back and be whole again. Thousands of seconds passed while he stood a majestic statue, eyes fixed upon the bluish light beneath his hand, his boots like an extension of the floor as they enshrouded his feet, which felt the boots because the Core programmed them to.
He closed his eyes, as he often did during these waits, and tried to see the world fall away, tried to feel himself unwinding from the endless connectivity that was the Core’s world. Five great colonies, each with millions of people like him and millions upon millions of programs running together in perfect synchronization. His own consciousness stretched deeper into the Network than most, but he imagined he could pull away for brief glimpses of something not within the Core’s control, something the Core itself relied on. In that other place, he saw walls, cold and grey and free of information, staring down at least a gigasecond from his reach and stretching up far beyond the limits of his second sight. The visions were not dreams—he knew that because he could not control them. They were something more disturbing than even those dreams that escaped from his deepest subconscious programming.
“Do you have any idea how long you’ve been here?”
Opening his eyes and coming back to reality, Iddo saw that Rinwir had materialized beside him. His genderless partner had chosen the appearance of a female for this particular interaction. Iddo reverted from the female display he wore back to his primary male form.
“Three-point-two kiloseconds,” Iddo said, turning back to the terminal.
“What are you doing?”
“You’ll see soon.”
And soon it was. In a few more seconds, the panel beneath Iddo’s hand turned green, and he felt the mass of information reincorporated within him. He scanned the new data the ghost had brought, and found what he was expecting.
“What is it?” Rinwir asked.
Ignoring the question, Iddo split another ghost from himself and sent it on the same path: to the P-Colony, outermost level of the Network. He then split a second, third, fourth, and sent each to one of the other three colonies, resting his hand once again in its inexorable slumber upon the integration port, which turned blue. Waiting now.
“Well?” Rinwir’s face was the shining grey of its original form, making the programmed female body seem unnatural.
“Have you ever been to another colony?” Iddo asked.
“No. I hear the programming’s all the same. What’s the point?” Rinwir, like many, did not share Iddo’s curiosity.
“You know I’ve been a lot,” he said, strangely aware that the deep breath he took was an act of the Core and not his body’s need. “It feels like an instant, but you lose time. Where do those seconds go? Why should it take time unless there is distance?”
“I don’t understand,” Rinwir said, face now taking on a look more human and twisting into confusion.
Iddo elaborated, “If the colonies were simply different levels of the Network, why do we need to use the broadcast terminals to transfer?”
“Yes, but why does it take kiloseconds?” Rinwir stood in silence, so Iddo answered himself, “There’s something between, some space. Think, why are we programmed to believe the Network is infinite? If we were free from limits, could we go on and on forever? What if all the Network, the whole core itself, is just a speck in something greater, some place with definite form and substance?”
Rinwir would not or could not answer. Iddo could almost hear Rinwir running through countless strings of information, picking apart his words with tense excitement.
“I believe the colonies are separate,” Iddo said. “The Core is not the universe. It’s in some place, suspended. Just wait.”
They passed kiloseconds in silence. In the time it took for a ghost to make the round trip to the P-Colony, the other three went to and from their respective colonies twice. They converged in the terminal, their work complete, and once again merged with Iddo, who drank up information and felt his body glow white in anticipation.
“I knew it,” he said, grasping Rinwir’s hand and sending his delight through the connection. “The trip to each colony takes a different amount of time. Like they’re spread all over some big space. But…this is…I didn’t expect this.” He let Rinwir’s hand go and focused. “The time between each trip changes slightly for each colony. We’re moving. They’re moving.” Then, a new thought: “What if there are other places? Besides the colonies?”
Knowing his plan the instant he thought it, Rinwir said, “You can’t. It’s dangerous. What if you lose them?”
“But what if I don’t?” Rinwir did not understand Iddo’s need. Rinwir was content with base reality, but Iddo simply could not be.
Three ghosts this time. Iddo split them off and bypassed the terminal’s navigation, sending them into the space he knew was around the colonies. Even if they found a new place, they would likely never return. But perhaps he could see what they saw. Perhaps he could observe. If it meant losing a bit of himself, it was still a favorable tradeoff.
“Meet me at the habitation. Twenty kiloseconds?” Rinwir disappeared.
Iddo waited. Stifling curiosity kept him from slipping into the other reality, the one he now knew was real. Kiloseconds crawled by him in lines of code sent from the Core, perpetuating his false perception of this virtual world. The ghosts did not return. They saw nothing. Rinwir would be waiting for him by now. Iddo left the terminal a lessened being, resolving to be content with this existence.
In time he would learn to overcome the limit of reality.