An Engine City Christmas

 It was a cold December in Engine City and as Bobby walked the maze of dirty streets on his way home from school another light falling of snowflakes began to fall. The white flakes were tinted in browns and yellows as if it was more an ash or soot that created this wintery wonderland look. Bobby didn’t mind it at all and had never seen a true blanket of bright white snow while leaving in Engine City.
 School had just let out for a two week winter break and Bobby was excited to be roaming the city with the knowledge that he would not have to wake early the next morning to get ready to go back. He decided to cut through the vendor district on the way home so he could window shop and dream about all the gadgets he wanted on Christmas morning but knew his parents would never be able to afford. He gazed at the latest in stream slip gaming and could just imagine placing the dark shades on his eyes and being transported into some medieval game where he would carry a sword and shield and face a dragon on leathery wings with fire flaring from its mouth. Or maybe the suspensor kit that had boots that would levitate him a foot off the ground and the gloves that were used to stabilize and push him forward.  There were always the various magic kits that played to the trickery of the eye and contained very little technology at all but they were quite expensive too. All these wonderful toys he wanted while he knew he would probably get a hand me down book bag for his Data Book and maybe a pair of socks in the stocking that hung from under the heating vent.

 Coming to the end of the vendor district Bobby cut over into an ally to save him the time of having to venture through red light district for which he was not supposed to go into anyway. His parents had it made it very clear that that was no place for a boy to go exploring and that if he did go he might never return from there. That warning was enough to put a subtle fear in his heart and only once had he strayed close enough to be considered within those limits of the district itself before he realized his mistake and promptly ran as fast as he could from the area.

 There was an undisturbed blanket of snow with no foot prints or cart tracks or suspensor suppressions to see. The snow drifts pushed up from the center of the ally onto the trash and refuse that sat like ancient ruins against the degraded brick of the buildings. With every step Bobby’s foot sank several inches into the rust covered blanket.

 Half way through the ally he noticed a pair of boots hanging from over an old shell of a mini refrigerator that time was currently taking its toll on. As he looked closer he saw the boots were attached to a body and coming closer still he noticed the man that wore them was dead to the world. A frozen puddle of red mixed with the rusted color of snow around the man’s head. Bobby looked up instantly to the roof and wondered if the man had fallen from ice or maybe simple jumped because he could not take the stress of living anymore.

 Temple tabs connected to thin wires were hanging from the man’s inner jacket. They caught Bobby’s eye and he carefully moved closer to lift the jacket up. Within an inner pocket hanging half out was a cipher and not one of the old plug head ones either but a newer version that used the tabs to draw the conscience mind into the Lattice. Several thoughts went through Bobby’s head and none of them were thoughts of leaving the cipher behind with the body or turning it in to whichever companies authorities were nearby. Not wanting to disturb the frozen dead man who was long past the point of being able to be disturbed Bobby slowly lifted the cipher out of the pocket and then let the coat quickly fall back into place.  He placed the cipher into the front of his pants under his coat and then started moving away from the body and out of the ally as fast as he could, checking to make sure that no one was watching from the street he came from or the street he was going to and scanning the vacant windows in the buildings beside him. From a second story window he saw a man with darkened eyes staring at him intently as he emerged from the ally. He was scared the man had seen him lift the cipher but quickly forced the thought out of his mind as he began to run.

 Bobby hurried as fast as he could to get back to the container he and his parents lived in. After closing the big metal door and giving the space a cursory glance around to be certain his parents were still at work he made his way to the back of the room to the corner his bed was in. A skeletal metal screen covered in cheap fabric provided a third wall for his privacy and that was just what Bobby wanted. Pulling the cipher out from his pants he turned it over and switched on the power button. The touch screen came to vibrant life and the device made a cheesy default music tune to accompany the start up. Bobby placed the tabs that would pull his conscience into the Lattice to the temples of his head and leaned back against the wall. He touched the Lattice icon on the pad and instantly felt like his eyes had been sucked back into the blackness of his head. Then millions of streaks of white laser light shot straight at him and he had the feeling of moving forward very fast. I’m riding the wire, I’m actually riding the wire, he thought to himself. As the white light began to fade out into just white space there was a sudden flash and then darkness once again. He felt his eyes open and found himself in a gray room with red wood trim and a black space the size of a door on one wall. He stood there staring at his surroundings and then bringing his hands up in front him to see if he was real or just some figment of digitized bits. He felt real enough and the room seemed real enough. So where was he?

 As Bobby stood there confused a green static flickered before him and slowly came into the form of a man. The man took on a pale skin tone and was wearing a white suit to match his short white hair. He wasn’t old though; he looked to be about thirty and was devoid of any wrinkles. “I am the Osiris 3 construct. I will be your guide when ever you need one. What would you like to do today? I have a vast array of games and my other applications for your use. Also, it my pleasure to let you know that at this time you may choose a name for me if you so choose to do so.”

 Bobby stared up at the human looking construct and decided to go with the flow. “Your name is Jimmy.”

 “Jimmy, very well. I have filed that as my name and if you choose to do so you may change it at any time. What would you like to do today Bobby?”

 “Hey, how do you know my name?”

 “I have analyzed your brain waves and catalogued the necessary information.”

 “Oh, OK. Well, I’d like to go into the Lattice.”

 Behind the construct the pitch black door began to shimmer and then looked more like it was a window into backgrounds of blue with bridges and corridors of chrome and silver in the distance and streams of flashing lights traveling like vehicles among these pathways.

 “The Lattice? Your wave patterns tell me that this is the first time you have been down the wire. Maybe something more tutorial would be more appropriate such as a simu-game or a location guide to visit some place fascinating or maybe even…”

 Bobby ducked and dodged around the construct and headed for the doorway into the Lattice, “Come on Jimmy, let’s just go to the Lattice, I want to see it.”  He jumped straight at the door and seemed to melt into it and disintegrate with each passing inch of his body. As he came through the other side he saw that he was no longer flesh and human as he had been but a polygon form that was smooth to the eyes and bluish in tint. He floated in space near the doorway and while he was looking at himself the construct materialized in a form that was much the same but green in color.

 “Hey, where did my body go?”

 “I assume you mean the look of the body that you just had in the waiting room. The cipher you are using in realworld generates the image it pulls of you from your brain waves and that is the appearance you resemble in the waiting room and programs you access that are downloaded specifically to your cipher. You are now in the Lattice as you wished to be and your image is in its most basic state because the Lattice is projecting it. The most you can wish for is your favorite tint of color and a passing resemblance in facial features. If you enter a program or server complex that uses a more advanced resolution imager it will generally pull those images of you from your cipher and you will look as you did in the waiting room. As I said before you cut me off, a tutorial is generally needed before one goes off into the great unknown of the Lattice.”

 Bobby just stared up at the construct and said, “Cool, so what can I do here?”

 “What do you want to do here?”

 “I don’t know, what is something fun to do?” 

 “The Lattice is a hub that connects the inner worlds and technologies of realworld. You have to know where you are going to use it properly.”

 Bobby stared off into the distance and tried to think of something or someplace that would satisfy his curiosity. Instead he just felt like he was back in his school and had just pulled up a program on his Data Book that he had no idea how to operate.

 “Jimmy, did you know the man who used to use my cipher?”

 “I have records of that user but unless access has been granted to you I can not divulge who that user is or what actions took place between that user and this construct.”

 “Come on Jimmy, all you tell me is NO. This place is supposed to be fun. Being a wire jockey is supposed to be the most action ever.”

 “I’m sorry the reality of this world has let you down Bobby. Would you like to go back to the waiting room and queue up a game now?”

 Before Bobby could answer there was a sudden rush of heated energy that slammed into the doorway and shattered the digital portal from existence. What measured 100 virtual yards away and just above them floated a polygon avatar tinted in reds and orange that was on the move toward them.

 “What’s that Jimmy?”

 “It’s another user. Scanning. A trace to this cipher is active. Take my hand. We’ll need to hit the backdoor to the cipher to get you out of here.”

 “Who is it? Why is it trying to shoot us?”

 “I don’t know. The scan is directed to a hidden file in the cipher that belonged to the prior user.”

 Before either could chat further Jimmy was pulling him along and they were flying though the Lattice at speeds that seemed unbelievable to Bobby.  Looking back and down at his feet he saw the red user on their trail and gaining ever so quickly.

 “Jimmy, the prior user was dead. He fell off a building. I took the cipher from the body.”

 Jimmy looked back at Bobby’s face and gave him a stern look and then accelerated once again.  They passed through several company districts and took a pipe into a cataloging system and then they crossed through a money transfer line into a subsystem that seemed to belong to a sports retail unit. Taking a backdoor they dropped back into the Lattice and followed a packet steam into a red light district of triple X home movies. There they found a nice quiet corner while Jimmy went to work scanning the files in the cipher.

 “Jimmy, what are you doing? Are we safe here?”

 “Safe is not a word I would use. I am currently sending utilities to the file being traced and attempting to ascertain what the file is and if I can delete it from the system.”

 Jimmy then noticed Bobby staring at various playback screens that were streaming the X vids to users in real time and said, “Bobby, please close your eyes while I am doing this. Your age has not been verified and if you see some of this it could send off various alarms to the upper security servers and then we will have to worry about security drones removing us before I can complete my tasks.”

 Bobby shut his virtual eyes but still let them squint every now and again must to the frustration of the construct.

 “You picked up serious trouble young Bobby when you lifted this cipher. Under the circumstances the best thing to do would be to get to the backdoor and get you out of the system and then turn this information over to the authorities where the cipher was found.”

 “What did you find?”

 “Just tell the authorities that there is information on the cipher pertaining to the delivery of the narcotic Solvent Snow and that the man you found…”

 “Who is he? Why did you stop?”

 “I will be breaking an AI security script in telling you the name. I will be forced to self delete. I need to get you to the door before I tell you the name. We need to move fast because there is no way to stop the trace or delete the files. Come, we must go now.”

 Through terminals and pipes and jumping hops it was a race to the backdoor. The red user found their trail again by mathematically predicting the location of their last hop in reference to the data signatures they had left behind and the direction through the Lattice that they were taking. The construct could navigate the Lattice but he was only a default cipher construct and not a construct programmed with the knowledge to outrun and defeat a trace program. When Jimmy and Bobby emerged from the last hop and the otherworld appeared around them once again they could see the backdoor and the red user hovering in front of it.

 Jimmy looked down to Bobby at his side, “Young Bobby, this is where we must part ways. When you enter the waiting room call for the exit and remove yourself with haste. I will attempt to keep the user busy while you leave. The man you found was called the King Twist and the authorities will know what to do. It was a pleasure to guide you through your adventure in the Lattice young Bobby. Next time, please run the tutorial before you venture off.”

 With that said Jimmy pushed Bobby to the side and assumed a defensive position. The red user had fired a de-resolution blast from his hand and  jimmy moved his arm in front of him and a luminescent rounded shield grew out from the smooth green of his arm. The Red blast hit the arm shield and bits of informational sparks exploded into a sparkler of brilliant color. As Jimmy pulled his arm away he saw that the red user was on him and grasping for his digitized throat. “Do not stand in my way construct the boy is mine. The boy must die. He saw my face.”

 Jimmy could feel the user spreading a de-resolution program into his self while at the same time he could feel the self deletion program kick off in his internal processes. Bobby had maneuvered to the outside of the fight and quickly willed himself to fly at the doorway to the waiting room. He looked back at Jimmy who was locked in a deadly hold with the red user and saw parts of his guide being torn away. Turning, he stepped through the portal and the blackness became the room he had started his adventure from within.  He looked back once again at his guide and then called out for the exit.

 Jimmy could feel he was being torn away piece by piece from his internal programming and the red user. His deduction about the reason for the trace had been wrong and now he needed to find some last bit of strength to protect his young traveler from the user in the realworld. He pulled the red user closer into his digitized form and then sent a copy of his self through a trace file attached to the user’s signature back through the users wire into the reds cipher. As his digitized form was self destroyed the deletion program attached itself to the red user’s wire and was on the hunt for the copy. Jimmy had turned himself into a virus of his making. Entering the red users cipher and spreading to every file and subsystem he could wrap himself around the deletion program went to work. The user that was connected would feel his brain waves mix and fry from the feedback taking place. The threat to Bobby in realworld would be eliminated.

 When Bobby came too he tore the tabs from his temples and threw the cipher to the foot of the bed. He sat in silence for what seemed like forever but was in actuality was only several minutes. Gathering up the stolen equipment he rushed back out of the container and headed back to the ally where everything had started.

 Bobby found a security officer belonging to the Stimulant Enhancement Gym Partnership and told him everything that had happened and then took him to the body and gave him the cipher. The security personnel took his statement and then escorted him home in a suspensor craft.

 When he entered back into the container his parents still had not returned for work but were on their way home and worried from being told of the ordeal from the security force. He climbed into his bed and felt a loss for a new friend who he knew for so little time but had given his existence to protect him. He would never know how far the construct named Jimmy had gone to protect him by taking the life of a user in the realworld but then what the construct had done was keep safe and that was all he needed to know.

 When his family arrived home they spent hours into the Christmas Eve night talking about the ordeal and it was early Christmas morning when Bobby finally crawled into bed thankful for being alive and at home with his parents and thankful too for the AI construct he named Jimmy.

The END.
© Copyright 2010 Jason Falter


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