Six books. One universe. Zero sequels.
“Twenty years ago, you made friends with a thirteen-year-old girl who knew nothing about the Net. You helped her take control of it, carve out her own piece of it. Now that same little girl is sitting across from you asking for your help because she’s never killed anyone, and she’s never been shot at before. She’s never taken down an entire cipher den with a couple of guns and her bare hands.”
“I’ll give it to you as straight as I can. I don’t think our world was real. Everything you see here on the screen is just a simulation.” He pointed to the center panel. “See that? Simulation integrity is sixty-eight percent. It’s been dropping ever since I woke up. And I think it’s because all those generators back there are starting to fail, or have been failing, and now we’re at a tipping point. No generators mean no power. Whatever computers are running the simulation are going to fail soon too. And I think the lights will go shortly after that. So far, I haven’t found any windows in this place. You get me?”
I stayed with Vida for several days after I gave her the speech. It seemed like the right thing to do. Empathizing with her situation wasn’t difficult; though I could remember my life before the Día de las Máquinas, it was just as distant and out of reach as Vida’s. We are both passengers in the same boat careening down a river that will never run in reverse. I’ve given myself over to the current. Vida still mourns the loss of distant, unremembered shores.
In just a few short months, the cancer had thinned James Perion’s gray hair, hollowed out his cheeks, and relegated him to his bed for the remainder of his life. The morning strolls through the halls of the Spire were a thing of the past, as were the lengthy moments spent at the window in his study, staring out over the empire he had created, visualizing the people and cars as cogs in his massive machine. Dad was like that, able to macro and micro simultaneously, to stay involved where others would call in subject matter experts. All he needed were a few more years, more time to unseat Vinestead through sheer determination and market reach.
“This is you,” said Abernathy, pulling the sheet and revealing a human skeleton. “Well, a plastic you,” he clarified. Slowly, he turned the model around until Deron could see the back of it. “The chip lives here.” He pointed to a cluster of wires at the base of the skull. “The tendrils extend throughout the body as far south as the ankles, though at that point they are too small to see. We have intrusion into the heart between these two ribs, mirrored on the other side of the spinal column to accommodate the lungs. And your brain…”
“Did you know,” asked Anela, “that every time that we went into your head looking for the code, we would end up in this forest, on this bridge? That no matter what my ciphers threw at you, we could only get this far? Now, I understand how a woman in my position might procure herself a similar level of encryption but for a boy just out of high school, it just does not add up. So, imagine my position, if you will. A boy comes to me asking for a copy program. We deliver an advanced product that said boy modifies to copy an entire human consciousness. Unbelievable, of course, until he delivers the mind of his high school sweetheart on a code cube, asking me to splice it up. Do you remember what happened next?”