"I’m just, alive"
|VII: The X.E.P.H.Y.R.|
|V: Tension Rising|
I look around at my new surroundings. They’re more realistic than I had anticipated. Though everything I see looks real, I know that every object in this world is composed of data and electrons. Every breath I take brings me closer to the realization that I’m not on Earth anymore, and I struggle to keep a grasp on reality. This world is truly a digital masterpiece. I want to know how long it’s been in existence. Hopefully, I can figure that out before we get too far in the mission.
My friends notice my near delusion, and they all look at me as if I have grown an extra arm.
“Des. Are you feeling ok buddy?” Ivy asks. “You’ve looked spaced out ever since we entered the Digital World.”
“I’m just, alive,” I answer in a daze. Xena slaps me hard to snap me out of it.
“Will you please focus?” she asks in a demanding tone. “We’re not here to go on a freaking picnic.”
“Sorry, sorry. This is just so overwhelming. It’s always been my lifelong dream to come here, and now that has finally come to fruition. It’s like, a second birth.”
Yun looks disgusted. “Bro, you’re grossing me out with that imagery. Anyway, we have a transmission from Electrode coming in. Look alive guys.”
A small screen materializes in front of all of us, and for the first time ever, we get an idea of what Electrode looks like. We can’t see his face, but his silhouette reveals that he has long hair. It’s probably chin length or longer.
“Hello friends,” he begins. “Welcome to the 13th Dimension. Your current position is in the Digital Forest. To reach the Database, travel towards the 45 degrees relative to your spot. In simple terms, head northeast. Good luck.”
When he stops speaking, the screen disappears.
So, we are in the Digital Forest. It feels much cleaner than all the forests on Earth. I love it. I want to be here forever. I almost don’t feel like doing the mission anymore. I just want to be happy. I just want to let go of everything. I want to be free.
Yun and Avy notice my euphoria, and they walk away together. I presume they do so to give me and Xena some alone time. If that’s what they’re going for, then it works to perfection.
“Hey Des, what’s gotten into you?” Xena asks sheepishly.
“What do you mean?” I ask in return.
“You’re like a completely different person now. I’ve never seen you so absorbed in your surroundings before. It’s like you’re a virtual tree hugger.”
She’s right. I’m a virtual tree hugger. “Xena, I’m in love with this place. It is so much better than Earth. I’ve always wanted to be surrounded by data, and I finally got my wish. It’s perfect.”
“So, you must know a lot about this place then.”
“Can you tell me about it then? In detail?”
Ms. Modom you are finally speaking my language. “Well, Xena, the 13th Dimension was discovered in the year 2100. The huge spike in technology created an alternate world composed entirely out of data. It turns out, this world has always existed. In the beginning, it started off as a mess of binary codes shooting in various directions back in the 20th century.”
I’m just going to confuse her with this information. No. She deserves to know what this place is.
“The more technology advances, the more complex this world gets. Right now, we are in the 31st century, and the Digital World has technology comparable to the 27th century. There will come a time when this world will become far more advanced than Earth, in basically every aspect of life. There may be a lower death rate too.”
I’m surprised she is still awake to hear this. I’m even more surprised that she looks interested. Xena normally never cares for my lectures about technology.
“The process of people living here started about 500 years ago, way before we were born. In the year 2547, a scientist figured out how to transfer themselves into the Digital World. He changed his cells into electrons, and converted himself into data. Once this method was perfected, people started living in this world, and the technology spike became more intense.”
The population here hasn’t increased that much really. It’s still in the millions, and there are billions of people on Earth.
“It’s created a good cycle. More people want to live here, and to make the conditions better, they also increase the technology. The 13th Dimension beats any planet or moon we have discovered, and the yottabytes of information stored here make it invaluable.” For a moment, I fear that I may have said too much, but her attentive expression reassures me otherwise.
She brings her hand to her face, and she examines it very closely.“So even though we look like ourselves right now, we are just data?”
“Yes. I don’t fully understand how that works exactly, but all of our cells and organic molecules are data right now.”
“This is amazing Des. Now I can see why you are so excited.” she says smiling.
We’re alone, and for once she’s interested in what I have to say. This is my chance.
“This world is not the only reason I’m so happy right now,” I say quietly. She looks at me, raises one of her eyebrows, and she shoots me a suspicious look. No doubt, I have her attention. I realize now may be the only chance I have to tell her . . . the truth.
“Xena, uh, can I ask you something?”
“Sure. What is it?”
Don’t chicken out. Not now.
“I was wondering if. . .”
Damn it. I am not screwing it up this time!
I spit it out. “Are we friends, or are we more than friends?”
Oh no. Why did I ask her that? Now she’ll think I’m an awkward mess, and an antisocial nerd.
She walks away from me, giggling, and sits on a cliff edge a few feet from me.
Idiotic move Des. Completely idiotic.
I think she is ignoring me, until she pats the ground next to her, signaling me to go sit with her. I approach her, and I sit where she motioned me to. We stare at the landscape of the Digital Forest together for a few minutes. I can’t tell if she pities me for my pathetic attempt for asking her out, or if she’s really enjoying the moment.
“Des, you’re an idiot. You know that?”
“I am . . . ?”
I can’t complete my thought. She brings her head closer to mine until our noses touch. This time, I don't get the urge to do one of my nervous sneezes. I feel calm. She holds my shoulders, and I exhale lightly as she kisses me softly. And I still don’t feel nervous. Actually, I feel right where I want to be. I kiss her back, and for that moment, nothing else matters. While we’re kissing, I don’t care about the mission, I don’t care about the Digital World, and I ignore our problems. I just want more.
It’s funny really. As a kid, I always thought that kissing a girl would be gross or messy. Maybe Xena is just really good at it. After what feels like an eternity (in reality just half a minute) we stop, and we smile at each other.
“Xena, d-does this count as our first kiss? Right now we are just data so maybe some special rule applies,” I stutter.
“I don’t think that matters,” she whispers softly.
We kiss again, and it feels even better than the first time. Unfortunately, our moment is interrupted by snickering and whistling.
“Haha looks like we got some PG-13 action going on,” Yun teases.
Ivy laughs with Yun. “So, when’s the baby coming you two?”
Xena glares at them, but that only makes them laugh harder. “Can you stop being so immature? And Ivy there is no baby coming. Well, not yet anyway.”
Xena winks at me, and I really hope she’s joking about the last part.
“But all jokes aside, we do have an important job to do,” I say, having regained my composure. “Let’s follow Electrode’s coordinates. We have to make it to the Database. That’s where we’ll find the program that controls the robots. Hopefully.”
“All right. Let’s go then,” Ivy says with a wide smile. She’s still holding back laughter.
Traveling through the 13th Dimension feels a little different than traveling on Earth. Every step we take causes the ground to give off small flashes of light. I don’t know why though. Maybe our weight is messing with the data.
Electrode hasn’t given us an exact distance from The Database, so we’re traveling based on assumptions. The accepted estimate for the walk there is twelve hours; far too long. We need to get there much faster than that.
“Guys, it’s been two hours, and we are still stuck in this forest. We need a better form of transportation.” I say.
“Maybe if we’re lucky, a car will materialize for us,” Yun says under his breath.
His wish is partially granted. A hover car stops over our heads, and it gently descends down to the ground. Four robots get out of the car. Well, they look much more anthropomorphic in this world. They don’t have their metal bodies. They look . . . human. Perhaps in the digital world, the robots are the humans, and we are the foreigners. It’s more accurate to call them androids now. Whatever they are, though, they present another unwanted obstacle.
“State your business in this territory,” the tallest robot says. “Organic life forms are not allowed in this sector.”
“We were, uh, looking for a bathroom,” Ivy says with a small grin.
Robots must have no sense of humor, because the looks they give us afterwards are so sharp, they can crack diamonds.
The bulkiest robot sends a clear message. “You will all be terminated immediately.”
I knew we would encounter robots, but I never anticipated this much increased aggression from them in the Digital World. We cannot rely on Ivy to bail us out, even though she’s easily our best fighter. There are four of them, and there are also four of us. Each of us has to face one robot.
“Hey Rogue,” Yun says. “How good are you at fighting?”
Xena shrugs. “Good enough.”
“I’ve been itching for some action. This trip was starting to get boring,” Ivy says eagerly.
“Let’s just get this over with,” I nervously say.
We all line up with the respective robots we’re going to fight. My fighting skills are subpar at best, but I have to win this fight for the team. If even one of us goes down, the robots will surely double team the next available target. For a few minutes, everything is calm. I assume this is because whoever makes the first move will put their side at a disadvantage. Unfortunately, the robots decide to make the first move; a quick uppercut to my jaw. Immediately, everyone springs into action. I know Ivy and Yun can fight, but I’m surprised to see Xena handle her opponent with relative ease. I’m the only one who’s struggling with their match-up. I get punched in the stomach, kicked in the face, kicked in the shins, and finally, I get stuck in a choke hold. The others are too busy too bail me out, but I’m running out of breath, and I really need help. What did my dad tell me? If you die in the Digital World, your physical body will be in a comatose state for an indefinite amount of time. I can’t die. My friends, and humanity, need me. Xena needs me. I bring my elbows into the robots face, and surprisingly, it recoils backward, holding its nose. In this world, they must be able to feel pain. Excellent. I can do this. I can win. I will win.
I go on my tip toes, and I attack the robot with a quick set of jabs. They do little good, but at least I have solid footing now. The robot lands a solid blow to my chest, but I follow it with a roundhouse punch to its jaw. We continue to trade blows, and I know that I have to end this quickly if I want to come out on top. The robot trips me, and I fall on my back. It readies itself for the final blow by raising its fists above its head. Luckily, I’m able to read its movement, and I dodge the blow just in the nick of time. Then, I muster all my remaining strength, and I kick it in its face. The impact sends its head flying, and its body collapses to the ground. I am victorious.
The others all won their respective fights with varying levels of success. I can tell because of the mass of scrap metal on the ground. While Ivy and Xena appear satisfied with themselves, Yun looks more beat-up and exhausted.
“Yun baby. You don’t look so good. Do you need your princess band-aids?” Xena giggles.
“Oh shut up,” he hisses.
Ivy puts on a serious face. “As fun as this little skirmish was, I suspect that this is the absolute tip of the iceberg for what’s in store for us. Those robots were little more than child’s play. Once we get closer to the destination, they’ll get stronger.”
“We’ll think of a strategy when we get there,” I say. “We can only handle one step at a time.”
We all pile into the hover car the robots used, but Yun has difficulty starting it.
“C’mon Yun we don’t have all day,” Xena says impatiently.
“Then you start the fucking digital car!” Yun snaps.
“Perhaps I can be of assistance,” I chime in. I recognize the design of the car. It resembles some hover cars back on Earth. I press the similar buttons, hit the ignition, and we rise about thirty feet in the air. I enter the coordinates Electrode gave us, push another button, and away we go. Database, here we come.
I know so many new ways to handle my power now. It’s funny really. There’s so much I can do, but sometimes I lose focus on my real goal. Although, occasionally, I long for things to be different between us. Xena and I. But, the past is the past, and nothing will ever change that. Nothing.
I woke recently, and the dim red sun fuels my desire to continue my search. Its eerie glow foreshadows the bloodshed that will commence later on. From here on out, she isn’t escaping me.
“Aaron, good morning. Did you sleep well my young friend?” X.E.P.H.Y.R. asks.
“Yeah. I have a ton of energy right now. Where is she?”
“She has entered the digital world with her three friends. Aaron, you must increase your pace. If she reaches the database, there is a chance I could be deactivated. We must avoid this fate at all costs!”
This is the first time I hear it speak with any emotion or urgency. Xena is definitely getting to him. Or, maybe she is only annoying him. Regardless, the ultimate program doesn’t want those four anywhere near him. They’re the dirt on his squeaky clean floor, and I’m the guy to do the cleaning.
Suddenly, a man-sized portal materializes from thin air, right in front of me. The view inside is very distorted, but it resembles some sort of giant city. A city far more advanced than any on Earth.
For once, I’m stunned. “Wow.”
“This portal will take you to the 13th Dimension. More specifically, The Database. This is where the four of them are heading. Once you are there, I want you to capture them, and bring them to me.”
I’m puzzled. Why does it want to see them? Wouldn’t it be easier to finish them off before they can cause any more trouble? More secrets. Great.
“Why can’t I just kill them?”
“Just do as you’re told.”
I enter the portal. It feels like falling quickly through an intense fog, and the binary code surrounding me adds to the weirdness. It goes by fast though, and once it’s over, I’m standing in the largest metropolis that I have ever witnessed. So, this is The Database? Nice place. Soon I will see you for what you truly are, X.E.P.H.Y.R.
My ultimate program friend fails to give me any details as to where their exact location was, so I start thinking to myself. I figure that I have two options. I can stay here and wait for them to show up, or I can go search for where this thing is, and meet it face to face. Patience is a virtue, though, so I choose the former.
Traveling by hover car is far more convenient than traveling by car or plane. I’m surprised no one gets car sick. I guess technically it is air sick. After an hour of flying, The Database appears in the horizon. This time, I’m not the only one in total awe. “That is the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen, and we’re not even in it yet,” Xena says bewildered.
“For once I agree with you Rogue,” Yun answers.
Xena rolls her eyes. “Thanks Transit.”
“I really should have chosen a better code name,” Yun sighs.
Ivy puts on a smug face. “I have the best code name.”
“Girl please. People have been calling you that since the third grade,” Yun retorts.
“It’s still better than transit.” she says while laughing up a storm.
Yun doesn’t have anything to comeback with. It is a dumb code name. No amount of arguing can change that fact. Xena starts laughing at him too, and their energy is contagious. We all laugh at his expense, and he just sits with his arms crossed, shaking his head.
Soon after, we arrive at The Database, and I finally let out a genuine smile for two reasons. One, this is the center of all information in the 13th Dimension. Not a lot of people see this place in their lifetime, and I’m grateful for that. Two, we were just miles from the program that controls all the robots. Our goal is completely within reach. Nothing can stop us now.
Fate decides to spoil my good fortune. An electric blast, with a very high voltage, hits the hover car, and it immediately stops working.
“Oh no! We’re falling!” Xena yells.
“Everybody jump!” Ivy yells.
We all jump at the same time, and we land on a random building rooftop. The hover car plummets into another building and explodes. I look around. Everyone lands well this time. No injuries. Knowing everyone is ok, I look around to find the one who was responsible for downing our hover car. After seeing his brown eyes, and long brown hair, I immediately recognize him.
“Hello you four. Welcome to The Database,” he says with a sinister smile.
My heart skips a beat at the sound of his voice.
No. This can’t be. Why him? Why now?