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Everman and Uriel: Segment II

C Withey's picture

Chapter 1

“Son of a bitch! It worked!”

“Did you expect it not to? You're the one that's been telling us that this damned thing would work from the beginning!”

“I did? I did! Well then, goddamn right it works! I told you this damned thing would work, didn't I?”

Thornton Vance, the imposing and eternally disgruntled Mr. Vance, leaned back in his over-sized office chair, causing it to groan loudly under his immense weight. He wove his fingers together and settled his wide chins on top of them whilst glaring daggers at Mr. Farr. Mr. Farr, in turn, furrowed his bushy gray eyebrows together and flipped his employer the bird.

“Come now, Mr. Farr, that's hardly an appropriate recourse to the man who made you rich,” Mr. Vance replied calmly to his employee's slander.

Recalling the shear amount of money he had been paid to complete this task, Mr. Farr withdrew his finger and didn't say another word, even though his expression still screamed of repressed hatred.

“That's better,” Mr. Vance said. At this small show of power, the corners of Mr. Vance's mouth turned unnaturally upward. Mr. Vance grinned an evil looking grin, one that caused the wrinkles around his mouth to deepen and fold, as if his features were not accustomed to such an alien expression.

Mr. Vance, overall, was a very imposing man. He wore pride around him like a cloak, sitting as if he were superior to all the others of his race. And he was as intimidating as he was imposing, with a heavyset frame, a bulging gut barely restrained behind his crisp navy-blue sports jacket, and a face bearing a permanent scowl and an onset of premature wrinkles. His disgruntled expression and accusing stare were enough to terrify anybody, including his own salt and pepper hairline, which had retreated miles back across his scalp and was nearly rounding the crest and running back down the other side.

And in stark contrast to Mr. Vance's imposing size and aggressive nature, the wacky Wily Coyote could be spotted chasing the elusive Road Runner all across Mr. Vance's tie.

And while Mr. Vance seemed to hate people in general, Mr. Farr, on the other hand, hated only authority. Mr. Vance had forcibly extracted Mr. Farr from a state penitentiary for the sole purpose of recruiting him for this project. The details around this excursion remained clouded in mystery.

Mr. Farr was elderly, but a gentleman he was not. A full head of gray hair hung down long behind his back, stopping just above his belt line. A massive beard of pure gray hung down low and pooled in his lap. Wrinkled and small, Mr. Farr had more than enough edge in him to accommodate his seemingly meek stature. His eyes were full of fight, his mouth full of curses, and his body bursting with the energy of someone half his age. And he was also one of the best computer hackers in the country, which was how he had found himself in prison in the first place.

Sitting silent, stock still, and almost completely unnoticed were the other two members of this four man team. Stephen Henry and Harold Emerson sat on either side of the polished wooden table, too stunned and afraid to speak during this exchange. Both were young, less than half the age of their employer, Mr. Vance and perhaps only a third the age of the formidable Mr. Farr. Not only were they the youngest, but they were also the only two to enter this project as friends. Furthermore, they were the only ones to enter it voluntarily. Bespectacled and spotted with adolescent acne, the two had identical stocks of disorderly black hair, trashy looking t-shirts and baggy jeans.

Steve and Herald merely sat in their respective office chairs and waited, fazed perhaps by what was going on around them. Mr. Farr and Mr. Vance had hated each other from the first day, Mr. Farr's appreciation for being sprung from jail immediately overruled by his hatred for being employed. The two spat at each other like this several times a day, and had been doing this since the project began a month ago.

“And now that it does work,” Mr. Vance went on, slamming a heavy fist down upon the table, causing it to shake violently, “we will advance to something a little more substantial. I believe it's time to play god, gentlemen.”

“But, sir,” Steve hazarded in a meek voice. Mr. Vance swung his massive head down to stare at Steve, who shrank away and actually squeaked in fright under the imposing gaze of his employer.

He continued in an unsteady voice. “The last simulation isn't finished yet.”

“What, your little comic-book do-gooders?” Mr. Vance spat out. He gestured to the comic book that had been placed upon the center of the table between the four of them. Upon the cover was written 'The Adventures of Juggernaut and Uriel,' and below that, depicted in an array of sharp, eye-popping colors, was the hero and damsel in distress standing atop a large stone tower doing battle with the ominous, sinister Sorcerer. A test simulation had been created from that very comic book, the comic book Steve had chosen to bring from his considerable repertoire back home.

That very simulation, however, by order of the ever impatient Mr. Vance, had been terminated before its completion.

Mr. Vance leaned in closer, his bulk spilling out over the table. Wily Coyote and the Road Runner began to chase each other lower down the wide girth of Mr. Vance's belly. Mr. Vance shoved a fat finger in Steve's direction, dangerously close to his nose, and fixed him with an evil stare.

Poor Steve, too terrified of Mr. Vance to even back away from that wagging finger, could only sit there, horrified, as his employer ranted at him.

“Now let me tell you something, boy, and you listen good,” Mr. Vance began. “Don't misunderstand me, I appreciate you bringing in your silly little picture book to be used as a guinea pig for my little experiment here. But you'd best understand that I intend to take this technology I won and use it to create not just comic book simulations, but entire worlds in which I am god, you understand?”

“Don't you mean in which we are gods?” Mr. Farr corrected him sharply.

“Yea, 'course that's what I meant,” Mr. Vance muttered, then continued. “I hired you, you little pea wart, because I think you got a lot of computer know-how up in that stupid little head of yours, but don't think I won't kick your ass to the curb for getting smart with me, 'cause you better believe I will! Just because your daddy is my brother don't mean shit, you hear me?”

Steve could only nod fervently, too afraid to speak.

“You just love kids, don't you, you big ape?” Mr. Farr challenged. Mr. Vance looked up at him and stood upright once more, his belly lifting from the surface of the table and taking flight before him. Wily Coyote and the Road Runner resumed their usual position perched atop his spare tire.

“I hate kids,” Mr. Vance replied honestly. “They never take my damned onions off my damned Big Mac!”

“Maybe they do it to you on purpose, just to fuck with you,” Mr. Farr replied. “They see you coming and they get all their onions out, just because they love you so damned much.”

“Probably right, little bastards. I should buy the company just to fire their asses.”

No one decided it necessary to fathom how much money it would take to accomplish that feat, or whether his threat was empty or not. Best not to wonder such things.

“I canceled the last project before completion because I intend to get our next project started immediately,” Mr. Vance explained.

“And that's just fine and well, so long as my paychecks keep coming in,” Mr. Farr pronounced. “But I believe it's time you told us how this damned device works. It doesn't make any sense to me. You stick this box into the computers, which isn't even plugged into shit, and then all of a sudden our simulations and characters come to life and start fighting each other. There was shit going on in that simulation that we had never even programmed, yet it somehow knew that it was supposed to happen that way. Why? How does it work?”

“Fuck if I know,” Mr. Vance admitted with a shrug. “The guy just told me to put the box in the computer to create worlds, and I did what he said and it works. Just like with televisions or microwaves or shit like that, I just plug it in and it works without me having any damned idea of what's inside it. It just does.”

“What about the guy that sold it to ya? Did the damned government make this thing, or some foreign government, or something? It's not Japanese, is it?”

“I didn't buy it,” Mr. Vance replied in reflection. He cast his mind's eye back in time to the day he had acquired one small, alien box of solid black that would change the course of his life. “I won it. In Vegas.”

“Vegas?” Mr. Farr asked, surprised.

“Business trip. I was in a casino at the end of the day trying my hand at the slot machines when this crazy looking asshole came up to me and said,”

.

“Interest you in a business proposition, sir?”

From amongst the chaos of noise around him, over top the racket of the slot machines as they happily beeped and chirped away, over top the clinking of quarters and the shouts of his neighbors (usually in frustration at having lost time and time again), the single voice of this stranger rang true in Mr. Vance's ear. Mr. Vance, this time wearing a light, short-sleeved shirt depicting graceful palm trees in a summer's wind, accented by Daffy Duck making an appearance on his tie, swiveled his mass around in the stool to come face to face with the most eccentric man he'd ever seen in his life. The stranger, who was presumably in his thirties, wore a tight-fitting t-shirt of a repulsive pink that showed off far to many of the curves in his torso (or, rather, the lack thereof). His pants were stark black, accented by reflective glitter all the way down to where they flared out around his wooden sandals. Covering half the man's face was a ridiculous pair of over-sized sunglasses above which, improbably, a shock of blue hair pointed, literally, in every direction. It did not appear dyed, or streaked with blue—his every strand of hair was one identical shade of cerulean just as if he had been born that way.

With an appearance as loud as his was, Mr. Vance was amazed he hadn't seen the stranger approaching before now. But after taking a quick look around, seeing how none of the other patrons gave him even a moment's notice, he realized he wasn't too surprised to see someone dressed like that at all. Not here. This was Vegas, baby.

“What the fuck are you supposed to be?” Mr. Vance asked in what may have been his most polite voice. “Some damned hippie?”

“A business man, like yourself,” replied the stranger, his voice smooth, completely free of accent but a tad too high, as if his fitted black pants were a little too tight. “Also a gambling man. And I have a business proposition for you.”

“My door only swings one way, freak.”

“Consider this a moment.” From the pocket of his absurd pants, which were evidently not purchased in the men's section of the department store, the stranger produced a coin of gold. He held it up to the light for Mr. Vance to scrutinize. Stamped onto the face was lettering he didn't recognize, as well as the face of a man that he didn't know from Adam. He wore a crown of leaves which reminded Mr. Vance of pictures of Caesar.

“What the hell is that?”

“This piece, in your system of measure, would amount to one ounce of gold.”

“Bullshit!”

“It can be yours, if you play a little game with me.”

“I don't know what kind of con you're trying to pull,” Mr. Vance began, but his voice trailed away as his eyes once again went to the piece of gold in the stranger's hand. It might be gold, it might not be, probably wasn't in fact, but the fact that it could be had hooked Mr. Vance, and he wanted, needed, to find out if it actually was. Mr. Vance was guilty of many faults. High atop that list was greed.

From a small handbag of zebra stripes at the stranger's feet (how long had that handbag been there? Mr. Vance wondered), the stranger procured three small identical Styrofoam cups. He set them face down in a line on the carpeted floor and slipped the coin beneath one of them.

“Cups,” Mr. Vance observed. The oldest and most rudimentary game of gambling in existence.

“Correct,” replied the stranger, his voice never rising or falling in tone, never revealing a trace of emotion.

“What are the stakes?”

“If you win, you keep the coin, and we may continue playing. If I win, I take your winnings from this slot machine, and we do not continue playing.”

Mr. Vance bellowed a short, sharp bark of laughter that made his great belly bounce, Daffy Duck along with it.

“I don't know who the hell you are, but you must be a dumb son of a bitch, because I haven't won a damned thing on this machine all night long! You won't get shit from me!”

“Then it seems that you can not lose,” replied the stranger. Still his tone did not change, and still his voice was solidly neutral. He simply stared back at Mr. Vance through those ridiculous sunglasses as mechanically as a cuckoo clock.

“Sure, let's play your damned game,” cried Mr. Vance. He hunched over in his stool, wide hands propped on his wide knees, and stared at the floor where three cups sat upside down on the carpet, one of them holding a coin that may or may not have been worth hundreds.

Without another word, the stranger placed his hands upon the cups and began to shuffle them. His long, delicate fingers worked quickly, his hands nearly blurring together in a quick scurrying of cheap Styrofoam. He was fast, clearly an expert at this type of game, but Mr. Vance was dedicated, his perception enhanced by the dollar signs emerging in his head at the sight of that gold piece.

Round and round the cups went, circling each other gracefully, and Mr. Vance's careful eye followed their movements without blinking, in solid concentration. The stranger was as expressionless as ever, not so much as twitching his lips as he worked.

As quickly as he had started, the stranger stopped, which each of the three cups once more in a perfect line. And Mr. Vance, with hardly a moment's hesitation, pointed to the cup on the right.

“Congratulations, you have won my game,” proclaimed the stranger, his voice still unchanging. He lifted the cup, revealing the gold piece beneath, and handed it to Mr. Vance, who lifted it to his eye to study it more carefully. The way it flashed in the light, the absence of tell-tale silver streaks around the edges where it had been handled, the way it was slightly bent in the middle from being held too often... son of a bitch, it might actually be the real thing. Mr. Vance once more looked back at the stranger, the top half of his face obscured by those 70's-esque monstrous frames, and considered him anew. Who was this crazy bastard? An eccentric collector? A side-show freak with an eBay account?

“Would you like to play again?” asked the stranger.

Mr. Vance pocketed the gold piece and hunched over once more. “What do you have for me to win this time?”

“I have this.” The stranger, from within the impossible handbag, procured a cube of the purest black, three inches across. He held it aloft in his hand for Mr. Vance to consider.

“What the hell is that thing?”

“It is the thing dreams are made of. Or, more accurately, it is made of dreams themselves. You are the president of Nexus Computing Solutions, are you not?”

“Yea, I am. Hey, how the hell do you know who I am?” Mr. Vance exclaimed, suddenly angered anew. Just who was this guy, and how did he know so much about him?

“The news,” answered the stranger calmly, as if it were nothing but a trivial matter. Mr. Vance supposed he may be correct, but his intrigue and anger did not subside.

“By simply placing this device inside one of your computers, you will gain access to the Nexus of dreams, where the thoughts of the subconscious mind are realized and fabricated into existence.”

“Are you on drugs?”

“This device will allow you to create entire worlds from a rudimentary programming language. It will translate the ones and zeros into living, breathing persons with hearts and minds of their own for you to lord over. Would you accept it?”

“And if I lose,” Mr. Vance asked, obviously skeptical. But his brain had heard the madman's ranting speech and hung on to one fleeting thought: I would be god. The gold piece in his pocket forgotten, his curiosity and lust for power were once more renewed to their fullest.

“If you lose, I gain control of everything you create on the Nexus,” said the stranger, deathly calm.

“Well that's not so bad... wait, how could I even create anything on the Nexus if I don't win your damn little box there?”

The stranger merely looked at Mr. Vance, his face a blank mask. After a pause, he at last spoke.

“Shall we play?”

Mr. Vance considered him, in his ridicules outfit, then looked down upon the tiny black box in his hands, then down further to the cups upon the carpet.

After a moment, Mr. Vance shrugged, crying out, “Sure, what the hell? It's your loss! Shuffle those cups!”

.

“So?” asked Mr. Farr. “And then what happened?”

“I won, obviously, or else we wouldn't be here,” Mr. Vance replied to Mr. Farr's rhetorical question.

“And he just let you leave with the thing, without taking a damned thing from you in return?”

“That's right,” Mr. Vance answered confidently, convinced that he had screwed the stranger out of his trinket. “His loss.”

“What the hell kind of sideshow freak was that, anyway?” Mr. Farr asked sharply, a critical eye upon Mr. Vance, searching for tell-tale traces of feigned truths.

“A hippie. On drugs. A hippie on drugs who favors men a shade too much,” Mr. Vance elaborated. Then he waved the matter aside. “It is no concern to me now. My only concern is our new project.”

“Which is?” Mr. Farr asked, leaning back in his chair, a wrinkled hand stroking his lengthy beard.

A grin once more surfaced upon Mr. Vance's features, a grin that looked cruel and full of malice. His eyes went alight with the look of a sinister madman. He leaned forward, his manner full of gravity, as he spoke to Mr. Farr.

“War. Chaos. Death and destruction. I intend to fully test the capabilities of this Nexus by reducing people down to their most basic element: kill or be killed.”

“You're going to recreate a prison?” Mr. Farr asked, curiously.

“Not quite. Something a little more... medieval.”

.

Over the next few weeks, the four man team would create a world that would arise from the simple premise that was laid out upon the table that day. Two factions, armed with the gritty, barbaric weaponry of the medieval era, would battle each other in all out warfare. One castle would house the army known as the Unicorn, the other would house the Dragon. The resulting chaos and months of warfare, Mr. Vance predicted, would fully test the limits of the synthesized human mind within the Nexus. Would they indeed act as if they truly were human, or be mere mindless pawns, killing without thought or remorse. Would they feel anger, or loss, or pain? Or maybe even happiness? Or perhaps love? Surely such a thing would be beyond the scope of even this new alien hardware.

And so the team worked, to answer these questions under the scrutinizing eye of their employer. And it was during the construction phase, when foliage and buildings were being fleshed out to populate the world, mere days from the finalization and upload of their simulation, that Harold, poor, quiet little Harold, too shy and afraid to ever speak up against Mr. Vance, decided to execute his plan for revenge.

Harold Emerson, lifelong friend of Stephen Henry, had been offered this job through Steve, who in turn had been offered the opportunity through his father, William Vance, Thornton Vance's brother. And it had been his comic book, 'The Adventures of Juggernaut and Uriel' that had lain on the center of the table the day they had been briefed in the office. It had been the first of a long and celebrated series, the first print of the first episode, and Harold adored it. It was the single symbol of his nearly obsessive religion in life, the religion of comic books. It was his pride and joy, his crown jewel, sitting atop the throne with all the other magazines of his collection bowing before it.

And Mr. Vance, that big bastard, had dismissed it even before its completion, casting it aside just the same as he had always treated Harold and his friend. He never gave any of them enough credit.

For the way Mr. Vance always treats him, and always treats Steve, and for the way everyone had bullied him and picked on him through his schooling, Harold would claim his revenge. This day, Harold would retaliate in his own subtle way.

The persona of Juggernaut, backed up to hard disk before being uploaded to the Nexus, was still on file. Harold, working in secret behind Mr. Vance's enormous back, pulled from the hard disk all the data behind the character of Juggernaut and injected it into a new character inside Mr. Vance's new world, called Vayen. Mere moments before the final upload, Harold worked quickly to flesh out this new character, in Juggernaut's own likeness, embedded with his code and characteristics, but also hidden behind a new personality to avoid detection. This new character was both a part of Juggernaut and a part of someone else entirely.

And, as the entire simulation had finished uploading via the mysterious link to the Dreamscape Nexus, Harold watched with great anticipation as this new character, his personal creation, came to life before his very eyes.

The wind gently caressed the boughs of the trees and the grass underfoot as one man stood upon a gently sloping hillside, opening his eyes for the first time upon this new world.

And the name of that man was Caleb Everman.