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Crosscode Fanfic - The Tale Of A Second Lost Mind.


Uncle Sikee Atric
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Uncle Sikee Atric

MASSIVE SPOILER :

If you're planning to play Crosscode or don't know the plot, please play it first and don't spoil it with this little story I am going to add to over time.  I have a rough storyboard in place to continue the tale and I love the setting the game has, it has also been adapted to fit the recent DLC release.

 

----------

 

Prologue :

 

He was confused, lonely and leaning on the railing, looking out across the sea from the very edge of Rhombus Square didn’t make him feel better.  At least it gave him some opportunity to gather his thoughts and make some sort of conclusion as to the events of the last few days. 

 

But things didn’t feel right to his senses.  He could feel the breeze on his skin, but he couldn’t tell if it was a cooling breeze, likewise something was off with the water itself.  He’d lived near a sea in the past and he could recall the smell, the noise of the waves, the motion of the water as it undulated constantly, the taste of the salt on his tongue….  That was it, the taste was wrong, like it was being artificially simulated and it was playing havoc with his other senses as they tried to adapt to compensate.  He gazed up at the sky and struggled again, he knew he should be warmed by the intensity of the sun, but there was nothing to record that sense back to him.  It felt fake, hollow, it didn’t appeal to him. 

 
As he returned to his thoughts, it suddenly dawned on him that everything since his arrival here felt fake.  He remembered visiting Crossworlds in the past, playing the game when youth and the excitement of exploration and combat overrode and suppressed how the false signals from his senses were translated.  He hadn’t even played in earnest for several years, instead he used the game as a way to remain in contact with friends and family instead.  Rather than stalking the trails of the Croissant he’d become a socialite of Rhombus Square, and the city had expanded to meet the needs of these casual players.  The traders and equipment were still there, but now it had far more plazas, squares, cafes, social meeting points and quiet corners, than it did when he first started playing.   

 

So now here he was, he’d been called back for a few days and in his recollection, it was nothing but a daze.  He had reported to the smart building as requested, being handed the ID pin for his lapel, filled out the forms, answered the questions and even observed the strange holo-speech, where the blue-haired girl had typed out her words so her, slightly mechanical voice could speak for her, while the Pentafist Avatar next to her filled in the blanks and elaborated on some of the detail, but all of it had not made any sense, instead he had more conflicting questions and no one was answering any of them.  He’d even tried to check his old contact lists, finding anyone on there that could provide him some solace from his isolation and confusion.  Instead it had remained empty, blank, no one was coming online, it was driving the feeling of loneliness deeper.  If things didn’t change shortly, he was just going to log out and never come back. 

 

He turned away from the sea and observed the passing people on the promenade, there were the various classes of those following Operation Track-Walker, the eager ones running around with new discoveries to reach, but mingled between them were others like him, that were moving slower and with less purpose, who had cast aside their class weapons and outlandish clothing, instead choosing to appear like anything you’d see in the real world.   Normal clothes, normal hair, just normal.  During the last few times he donned the Crossworlds gear, he had been finding it increasingly difficult to tell NPC from PC from among those he was having contact with. 

 

Wandering across the path of the promenade he chose to find a bench to sink into.  Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes and brought up the logout menu.  But it was then he heard laughter coming towards him along the path and with a huge sigh he opened his left eye just a little, curious as to the activity.  In front of him there was a party of people, all happy, all smiling and all the exact opposite of himself.  He was about to ignore them and return to his logout command, but something piqued his interest about this group of strangers, besides, when the party broke up for a second, there in the middle of them was the very same blue haired girl he recalled watching during the speech.  She was smiling along with them and they were asking her opinions to which she always replied by typing into the keyboard that floated just in front of her.  She looked older than the speech though, the strong blue of the hair seemed to be a little streaked with small patches where the colour had faded a little, there were other features he recalled now as well.  The eyes retained their strong colour, but the facial features had been faded a little by the passage of time, including the scar that bridged her nose.  He found her fascinating.  

 

But their matters didn’t concern him, he was invisible to them, so he returned to his original plan of logging out.  It was then he felt the knock on the back of his head as the person ran behind the bench, it wasn’t a sharp knock or intentional, it was more the shock that caused his furious reaction, “watch what you’re doing,” he yelled. 

 

“Sorry,” was the rushed reply as the passer-by ran up to the laughing group, he seemed to hurriedly relay his news to them, and the expressions of all of them changed instantly.  They went from a happy collective to staring nervously at each other and stifling back worried and unhappy tears.  The blue-haired woman looked like she’d been fixated, her gaze and demeanour had glazed over noticeably.  As he watched he noticed one of the group hug her and he recognised her as the Pentafist that accompanied her during the speech.  She had aged a little as well in much the same way as her compatriot, the hair wasn’t as red, the cheeky face of youth he watched only a few days earlier looked more experienced and understanding…. 

 

The group stood close together for a few moments and then broke up, each one of them going their own way, like some plan was initiated instantly.  The blue-haired girl was the last one left and she simply walked up to the barrier where he had been stood before, gazing out to sea just as he had been doing a few minutes earlier.  ‘She’s lost in her thoughts, just as I was,’ he mused to himself, but he couldn’t help his next reaction.  Cancelling his logout menu, he stood up and walked over to her, leaning on the bar and staring out to sea.   

 

He could see a tear on her cheek, clearly the news she had just received had been very upsettingShe looked at him, a little confused as to his sudden appearance.  “Hi,” she said?  Partly in greeting, partly as a question as to who he was. 

 

“Oh, hi, you can talk?  I saw you give a speech yesterday, with your friend.  You didn’t make much sense to me.”   

 

She shook her head to reply, ‘no,’ and shuffled away a little, unsure how to react to him.

 

“No, no what?  You can’t talk, or you didn’t give the speech?” 

 

In reply she phased in the keyboard and started rapidly typing, the mechanical voice it produced answered, [I can't speak, not properly.]

 

He looked a little bemused by the reply and answered, "I don't really understand, I'm too confused."

 

“Why,” she asked?  Clearly annoyed by the situation. 

 

He shook his head, “I’m really sorry, I-I shouldn’t have come over.  I’ll leave you alone.” 

 

He turned away as he heard from another voice come from behind her, “are you okay Cherie, who’s this?” 

 

He glanced back to see the Pentafist had returned, she was looking him up and down in a way that the blue-haired woman didn’t, she was more forthright in her attitude and secretly, he was relieved to see her.  “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to disturb either of you, it’s just I saw you give a speech together only yesterday; I didn’t understand any of it, but….” 

 

The newcomer laughed, “that must have been what, seven years ago since we filmed that, eh Cherie?”  The blue haired woman nodded meekly in agreement then typed into the floating keyboard.  [I'm not upset or scared by you approaching me, I just get frustrated that people don’t understand when I use this to speak.]
 
Now things had relaxed he became curious, “why is that?” 
 
The red head answered, “there's multiple assists for people who can't speak, she was gifted a keyboard that she can type into, as it was the best solution for her situation since she can still talk when she is alone.  There are other solutions like sign language, but that requires others being able to translate the signals, something not a lot of people can do these days.”  

 

But she spoke a few words as well, what do you mean?” 

 

“For Lea, it’s.... complicated.  She has an old bug that jams her speech module, although she had a workaround that managed to hard-wire a few words so she could speak a little.  They even tried to offer her a permanent fix at one point, but she turned that down.  She didn’t feel she would be the same as she is now.  We all agreed and stood by her opinion.”  She then changed the subject, “What did you think of our petite pep-talk, eh?” 

 

“I didn’t understand a word of it, I don’t even know why I was called back.  I’m just here and I want to go home, I was about to log out when your messenger disturbed me.” 

 

Lea‘s expression changed from upset to questioning almost as he said his last words.  She typed, [what details do we have,] at her friend?

 

The Pentafist produced a console from her personal interface, “good idea Cherie, let’s see.”  She asked, “what’s your name, Etranger?” 

 

“I’m....  I don’t honestly know, I’m all over the place, it’s so weird.” 

 

“She smiled and soothed him, “it’s okay, I can see the ID number that you wear on your lapel, you were assigned it when you got here.”  She started tapping the number in to the panel, “cinq, un, huit, quatre, entrer....  et voila,” she started studying the data, sharing the detail with himself and Lea.  “Your name is, James Douglas, bonjour James, you are 29 years old and, wow, from a long way away.  I thought I was distant to Shadoon when I first logged on,” she laughed a little, lightening the mood.  “You arrived here and completed your assessments, and your circumstance details are....  Oh, Lea, we have a problem, Class 4.” 

 

Lea drew out her own version of the screen and viewed his details, after a few seconds all she could muster was, “Lea, sorry.” 

 

“What is it,” James asked urgently?  “What’s wrong with me?” 
 
“Listen, please.  This is an oversight from your assessment process, you should have been picked up far, far earlier and then we can help you adapt and explain in more detail.  Damn paperwork, something’s gone very wrong.” 

 

James stared back, totally unsure and with a tone of frustration taking over.  “So, what is it?  Tell me!” 

 

“Please, don’t get angry with us, but we cannot really discuss this in public.  Come back to the centre with us and we’ll explain everything, as much as we can.” 

 

For the first time James glanced around him.  The promenade seemed to have stopped and all eyes were on their conversation, things were too open here and he backed down instantly, his feelings too jaded to control further.  “Okay, but please tell me everything, I want nothing hidden.” 

 

“Of course, no secrets, you have the word of myself and Lea.” 

 

Lea motioned her companion to lead the way with her following slightly behind, as she did so she typed a few words, [we might get a lucky break one day.]

 

Her companion nodded.  “Two bits of very bad news in a few moments, ça ne s'arrête jamais. 

 

James followed slightly further back.  For the first time since he arrived, he found he could recognise two new emotions, fear and curiosity. 

Edited by Uncle Sikee Atric
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Uncle Sikee Atric

Chapter One :

 

The office waiting area was the epitome of Rhombus Square, clean, modern, tidy, well maintained and here it felt very private and quiet for James after the hustle and bustle of the promenade.  The entire complex felt more like a school than the ‘Welcome Complex,’ it called itself and this administration level on the seventh floor was well ordered and serene.  A few terminals sat empty in a side room, separated from the waiting area by a glass screen, while another door marked, ‘Server Access,’ was marked with the Instatainment logo.  Whatever happened here, James mused, it was all very official.

 

The only other access was the double doors he’d entered from before and now these opened to reveal the redhead, carrying some form of, what looked like a storage device in her hands.  “Please, come with me for now.”

 

He stood up and followed her back into the corridor, “what’s going on here?”

 

“You’ve been here with us for a few days now, this is the Welcome Centre, we’re here to handle and store all data, process new arrivals and manage the day to day running of our operation."

 

“What operation, and what new arrivals?”

 

“Please, all will be explained in due course.  Right now, I can see you’ve been online for nearly thirty six hours straight and that’s not helping with your judgement, you need rest.  Besides, we’re still waiting on some final files being transferred and confirmed before we can corroborate your situation and plan what comes next for Monsieur Estranger.  The real world sometimes doesn’t move as fast as we’d like it to.”

 

“Rest?  I’m wide awake, I don’t want to sleep.”

 

The redhead opened a door and led James inside, he found himself in a small, plush suite room that wouldn’t look out of place in any fancy hotel.  “For now, rest, get comfortable, relax, unwind, logout, or don’t.  You’ll feel better whatever you choose to do.”  She took the device from her hands and it turned out to be a small television projector.  “We have some communications with the outside world, so the channels are tuned to the local news and entertainment networks for the Raritan Gem.  Also, this room is totally private and not A.V. monitored, you’re safe here.  I promised you answers and Emilie is not going to let you down, but you’re in no fit state for those answers just yet.”

 

“Emilie?  That’s a nice name.”

 

“I never told you my name?  Sorry, but thank you,” she smiled, “enjoy, we’ll talk soon.”  Emilie closed the door as she left and James never heard a lock engage.  For the first time he felt he could trust her with his safety and he decided to sit on the bed and turn on to the news channel.

 

Focusing on the reporters’ words he lay back and felt his eyes droop a little.  The story seemed important, updating on the sudden death of someone linked to Instatainment, but James couldn’t contain himself anymore, he closed his eyes as the darkness of sleep began to overtake him.  The words of the reporter seemed to drift in and out of his mind, changing in tone and meaning as he slumbered, all the while he could feel himself falling, but he didn’t know why.  Looking down he could see something coming towards him, far too fast, it was too late to avoid now, he was going to....

 

He sat bolt upright in bed, the cloudiness gone instantly, rubbing his face he started to wonder how long he had been asleep?  The shadows in the room seemed to be the same as when he arrived, but the screen was showing some younger news reporter on what looked like a swanky breakfast news sofa.  Had he been here all night?

 

There was a soft knock on the door, and it opened to reveal Emilie, she was dressed a little differently from the last time he saw her, still formal, but with a different style and colour of blouse.  “Ah, bonjour Monsieur Sleepyhead, feel better?”

 

He ran his hand across his forehead before scratching his brow.  “How long was I sleeping?”

 

“Sleeping?”  She soothed him, “no, you’ve been logged out for ten hours, it’s a brand-new day.”

 

“Logged out?  I was sleeping, not in the real world, if I were logged out, I would have been to remove the Crossworlds rig and walk away to a real bed.”

 

Emilie shook her head.  “You were logged out.  We might not have any audio/visual monitors in the room, but it contains a special Avatar Monitor, it tells us if the room is occupied by anyone and maintains that status, even if they do log out.  It makes sure there’s no, awkward moments if two avatars log in at the same time.”  Emilie giggled, “relax Monsieur, we all know that bed is comfy, even I’ve dozed off in here more than once when the days get a little too long pour moi.”

 

“So, what now am I in for, another day of not having a clue what’s going on?”

 

“Non, we have had the missing documentation through overnight, when you’re ready and refreshed your answers are waiting.  I’ll be in the room opposite to this one while you prepare yourself, then I’ll escort you to Lea, she’s waiting in her office to help you start the process of getting up to speed.  We can explain everything, even why your memory seems to be missing, or at least why it’s not working correctly.”

 

James nodded, “thank you, I was ready to give up.”

 

“Round here, your story is nothing new, but your circumstances are.” As he watched Emilie turn back away, he sensed something about her demeanour, it seemed lower, more nervous than it should be, “Lea is waiting, until then.”  Emilie closed the door once more and left James to prepare for whatever news he was about to receive.

 

----------

 

James had never been into an Administrator's Office before this point, but he could see this was the office of the one in charge around here.  It was spacious, airy and formal, complete with the huge fancy chair and desk that probably cost more than a year’s salary to him.  On one side there was a smaller set of sofas around a coffee table, while the other side of the room housed a large setup of electronics, based around a computer and recording equipment. 

 

Returning his attention to the desk, James noticed the small frame of Lea sat in the chair, looking dwarven by the scale of everything around her.  When Emilie caught her eye, she phased in her keyboard and typed something to her.  Emilie gently smiled as the voice spoke, [for situations like this one I hate the desk and chair, mind you I’ve always hated it, but others insisted.  Sit with us on the sofas, let’s relax and talk somewhere a little less formal.  You have a lot to take in James.]  She stood up and moved over to the sofas while Emilie chose one side of the coffee table and James took the other.  For a few seconds it was uneasily quiet and then Lea started typing while Emilie watched on nervously.  [Before we begin, I must inform you that everything we are about to discuss is confidential, also that everything is the truth, you have a long and difficult road ahead and any lies will complicate it.  Now, tell me, what do you know of the Instatainment Artificial Intelligence Programme James?]

 

James raised his brow, a little surprised, “I know ‘of’ it, but it never bothered me before, nor did I want to be a part of it, why?”

 

Emilie drew her breath and bit her lip for a second as Lea typed, [well, I’m sorry to say you’re now part of them.  You’re not the James Douglas from the real world, sat in this room is an Evotar copy of James.]

 

James instantly stood up, disbelief and anger in his voice, “you’re lying, why are you lying to me, you promised answers, not this crap!”

 

Lea spoke one of her few words, raising her voice to make the point, “wait!”

 

She paused as Emilie took over, her vocal speed helping at this stage, “I know it’s difficult to understand but we can show you this is true, we can also explain the term, Class 4 which we used yesterday, as this is why your memories are so clouded and fragmented.”

 

James turned away, anger making him want to lash out at the pair of them.  This had to be a lie, there was no other explanation.  “If I’m an Evotar, I want to speak to the real me, right now!”

 

Emilie glanced, visibly unsettled, at Lea who continued typing, [in due time we can explain that.  But right now, please, return to your seat.  I know your fear and anger is real as I’ve seen it before when I’ve had to give other Evotars the same news as what I’ve just told you.  It’s never easy to take onboard, especially when the creation of an Evotar was not planned for, like in your circumstances.]

 

“Planned for, what the hell does that mean?”

 

Lea sighed and typed, [I couldn’t lie to you, at first I was lied to, as well as having my original memories tampered with.  For you see, while Emilie is a real person and connected to a Crossworlds rig, I too am an Evotar, the same as you.]

 

This admission made James stop and think for a moment, “you’re an Evotar too?  I would never have guessed.”

 

Now Emilie stepped in again, “I didn’t either, but my Cherie and I met on Newcomer’s Bridge many years ago.  Back then Evotars were an illegal part of the Playground being used for some shady intelligence gathering on innocent players.  I was dumbstruck when I learned the truth, but it didn’t change our relationship.  With our help we ended the illegal work on the Evotars and changed their world for the better.  Even today I may be employed to be Lea’s Assistant, but she’s still my friend, not some random A.I. routine and especially not my boss.”  Lea’s expression melted for a second as Emilie spoke, the bond of friendship between the two was very obvious.

 

James calmed and sat back down.  “That story is all sweet and everything, but my situation isn’t explained by it.”

 

Lea shook her head and continued typing, [it doesn't.  Even though Evotar creation has been sped up as the research into them has continued, they all share one important factor to function, they require a memory recording of a brain to create their personality matrix and parameters out of.  In doing so you create a clone of the original mind of the person and without that piece the A.I. matrix will not function in any form.  But one massive side effect of creating new Evotars is the fact that memories don’t ‘meld’ correctly to the new A.I., until some time has passed.  It’s like a form of amnesia, but it does pass as the new A.I. adapts and accesses the data.  Strangely enough, through dreams usually.]

 

“I dreamed last night,” James recalled.  “Is that potential memories coming back?”

 

Lea nodded and replied, [yes, they can be quite vivid and they can also mix your real-life experiences with your Evotar ones.]  She then continued, [Once the A.I. is functioning and stable, we create a copy of the Avatar and graft it to that Avatar.  They sometimes appear identical, but most are slightly different to allow them to be told apart.  That also helps with the fact they can come across each other within Crossworlds, let alone the fact the Evotar’s experiences will differ from the donor’s own from the point of creation.  To begin with the Evotar is assigned a number, in your case 5184, but when the Evotar is ready, they are allowed to change that themselves and adopt their new identity.]

 

Emilie continued, "Lea was the first, working Evotar, apart from her speech module being jammed, everything else was successful.  But when Instatainment refused to fund the research at that stage, the Class 1 Evotars were born, these Evotars were created illegally and used as the subjects for the intelligence gathering, once their memories returned.  They were tortured for personal information and then discarded; many didn’t survive the process and the company was very hesitant to allow those that survived, to return.  It was seven months after the end of the illegal phase before Lea and those directly involved around her were allowed to return, but the rest of the Class 1's were offline for a further ten months.  In the end it became clear that those that had been copied illegally needed to be suitably compensated for the actions, so they were reactivated to allow that to proceed."

 

Lea had been typing in the interim, while Emilie had filled in her section of the story.  Now her keyboard voice continued, [once the illegal study of Evotars was ended, Instatainment finally saw the potential in the A.I. research around them.  While the Class 1 Evotars that survived their treatment were allowed to return and share their experiences, a consent system was introduced by the company to allow anyone the chance to have their memory given to new Evotars, if they wanted to.  Volunteers had gently trickled in from the earliest stages and we included safeguards to ensure each donor only submitted once to the programme, but again, this created a new series of issues.  As new studies into the process began to show that the real world had a very noticeable influence on Evotar creation, potentially much worse than we thought.  It suggested stress, distraction and pain during the process affects how the new Evotar’s memories form, as well as their potential behaviour.]

 

Emilie again spoke to allow Lea to type her next statement.  "We recommend any volunteer donating their memory does so in a state of calm meditation, this creates a Class 2 Evotar, the most common class.  Here the memory transition is fairly rapid and the behaviour pattern is closest to the original donor, although some anomalies can occur, usually as a result of a software bug, rather than a fault of the donor memory."

 

[If a donor is in pain, highly stressed, or even distracted in some way during the process, this has the potential to create a Class 3 Evotar.  Not only can the memory take time to form fully, it can also form some wild behaviour swings in them, potentially quite different from the original donor.  They may settle down, but it’s not guaranteed.]

 

James was starting to see the bad news coming, “I’m Class 4, where does that fit in?”

 

Lea shook her head, “sorry.”  She started typing while Emilie was eerily quiet and started diverting her gaze, looking away from James.  Lea stared sternly at her friend, she spoke, “Lea,” and then resumed typing again.  After a few seconds her machine spoke.  [I know this is hard and if I could tell him myself easily I would, but this is the most difficult task we share, we do this together.]

 

Emilie nodded, “I know, it just never gets easier.”

 

Lea returned to her original statement, [a Class 4 Evotar is usually created at a time when the mind of the donor is at the extremes of stress, pain and distraction.  The mind of the Evotar can potentially be lost for months, possibly years and they are capable of extremely unpredictable mood swings.  With a Class 3 Evotar we usually have the original person to provide a template with which to help that Evotar reach a suitable state and frame of mind, with Class 4 Evotars that is rarely possible as the condition of the mind that was donated is usually close to death.]

 

Lea had been getting lower and more nervous as the machine completed the sentence, but Emilie broke the news, before Lea had a chance to type it out. “I’m-I’m.... no.... we’re both sorry, J-James Douglas died three days ago.”

 

This time James stood up and almost kicked over the table in front of him, only the fact that Emilie would be in the way was what prevented that from happening as some shred of common sense overtook his reaction.  He screamed in rage, partly at them, partly at himself, Emilie and Lea had stood up as well and were trying to calm him as best they could, he tried weakly batting them away and backing off, but after a moment he felt the resistance of the wall on his back.  Unable to go any further he slid down it, collapsing into a heap in the corner, tears of frustration rolling down his cheeks. 

 

Lea and Emilie managed to reach James and they kneeled down on the floor to join him, Lea was holding back her own tears and Emilie managed to wrap her arm around his shoulders.  They stayed with him for a considerable time, while he sobbed the tears he needed to release.  Eventually they managed to get him to stand and guided him back to the sofas.   He appeared to be completely in a delirium, unable to decipher what he had been told, but he eventually lifted his head although his expression was still dazed.

 

Emilie broke the silence in the room, “we’re so sorry, but we were waiting on the reports from your homeworld confirming all the details before we were in a position to tell you.  If there was the slightest chance that James was still alive, we would have been wrong to misinform, possibly creating a sense of false hope.”

 

James opened his mouth as if to speak, but the words wouldn’t emerge, instead he just shrunk smaller, his spirit withdrawing within himself.  After a short period, all he could ask was, “how?”

 

“We obtained the final reports overnight, it appears to have been a suicide attempt.  Although James did make it to the hospital in a sufficient state of consciousness and insisted on a memory donation as he could show he had completed all necessary consents from his personal data devices, a Crossworlds rig was sourced, it was taken and he died from multiple injuries a few hours later.

 

James was unable to comprehend what was being said to him.  He was here, sat here, being told he was dead, if this was to be his afterlife it was damned to be hell.  Then something overtook him, a sense of vertigo, a fear, a heaving wave of nausea.  All he could repeat to Lea and Emilie was a single word, “falling....  falling, falling, falling....”

 

Emilie glanced at Lea, and she nodded.  Emilie carefully reached out and took a hold of James' wrists in her own hands, with gentle movements she manoeuvred his hands into his lap, breaking James' concentration and making him look up at her.  “Falling,” she gently questioned him, “do you have a sense of falling, did you dream it maybe?”

 

James nodded, limply.

 

“From what we can tell of the reports, the injuries were extensive and caused by a high-speed impact, maybe a collision with a vehicle, or falling from a great height.”  I hate to tell you this, but James’ sudden death seems to be the point from which your mind will assert itself.  Mon dieu, this complicates matters greatly as we try to steer memory recovery away from strong events at first, however every mind starts in a different way, it's how we proceed from here that will determine who you become in the longer term.

 

For the first time James noticed Lea had moved away to her desk and was typing a message into the intercom, [is she here?]  James couldn't see the face, but the returning voice was clear, “she arrived a little while ago, I'll send her straight in.” 

 

Emilie calmed James with a few more words, “it's time to meet your Guide, James.”

 

“G-G-Guide?”

 

Oui, for complex cases like this, we have a small team of Evotars that provide assistance and help you find yourself as your memory returns.   They have all been through troubled starts themselves, at least Class 3, so they understand exactly where you are now.  We thought Rozwena would be perfect for you, she’s one of our most experienced Guides.”

 

The door to the office opened and James saw Rozwena for the first time.  She appeared to be a similar age to him, while her dark-tanned skin and mass of glossy, dark hair gave a brash, Mediterranean flair.  She wore colourful, flowing garments but they also had a few pieces of the armour of her character class included in them, including the distinctive neck covering and chin plates that denoted her as a Quadroguard.  As she entered, Roz gazed at Lea and before doing anything else, Lea spoke, "hi."

 

“It’s been too long, miei amichi,” Rozwena began.

 

Emilie looked up for a few seconds to quietly reply, “Oui, too long Roz,” then returned her attention to monitoring and calming James. 

 

Lea phased in her keyboard and asked, [have you been through the detail Roz?]

 

Roz replied, "si, I've read the reports and I’m very concerned James wasn’t picked up sooner in the process?  I could go down there and bang some heads together, sanguinoso pencil-pushers!

 

Lea nodded in reply and motioned to Roz to guide her over to the sofas.  She sat next to James and Emilie released her hold on James’ wrists as she did so.  Roz took his hands and using the same, gentle grip, she took over caring for him.   “I assume you’re James, si,” she slowly asked him?

 

He nodded, still unable to provide any more vocal message.

 

“Non ti preoccupare, in time I know you’ll be able to tell me more.  Now, you need some fresh air and a change from this stuffy office.  We can get a cold drink in the courtyard and you can have a change of scenery.  You’ll feel better when these two aren’t around you anymore, telling you things you don’t want to hear.”

 

Emilie agreed, “oui, myself and Lea have a few things to prepare.  When we are done, we’ll come and find you.”

 

In one gentle motion, Roz pulled on James’ wrists and he stood and started following her back to the door of the office, “this way James, take your time and focus on where we’re going rather than what you’ve heard.”

 

Lea and Emilie watched them leave and all Emilie could mumble was, “poor guy.”  Lea sat next to her, an obvious look of sadness on her features, “why....”

 

----------

 

The courtyard was bathed in sun and shielded from the breeze by the walls around it.  James sat on the bench, still lost in his thoughts while Roz was away for a moment.  His emotions were spinning and he unable to let go of the sense of dread that hid the reality, for all intents and purposes, he was dead.  His family would probably be grieving their loss unaware that he was sat here waiting for Roz to bring him something.  Well, some part of James was….

 

She returned, holding two cups filled with some form of clear liquid, “ecco, provo questo.”  She carefully guided one cup into his palm and wrapped his fingers around the handle, “shortly after Evotars became part of life in Crossworlds, they managed to recreate something very similar to food and water out of instant matter.  We might not be able to handle real consumables very well, but we can eat and drink this, although we don’t actually need to eat or drink, it’s more of a comfort thing you know, force of habit.”  She took a slight sip and wrapped the liquid around her tongue before swallowing, as she looked dubiously into the cup she continued, “the only problem is they keep messing with it, altering it so our senses keep getting different tastes.  Today the water tastes faintly of lime, perhaps, tomorrow it could be berry, the next orange.  Once in the early days of this stuff it tasted of beef stock to me, I wouldn’t have minded but I think I was vegetarian before.”  She smiled at James and watched as he tried to raise his cup, but his hand starting shaking, she deftly placed her hand around the cup’s body, steadying him enough to let it reach his mouth.  “Just take piccoli sorsi, especially while you’re new to this.  It might look like water in the cup, but the texture isn’t water, that’s for sure.”

 

James found she was right; the liquid was slightly oily with an artificial, citrus, fruit taste to boot.  He almost spit it out but managed to swallow before that happened.  He uttered, “thanks,” then lowered his head again.

 

“Is there anything you recall?” Roz gently nudged James, searching for some way into his isolation.

 

He hesitated then shook his head, before managing to guide the cup to his mouth by himself and taking another sip of the liquid, regardless of the foul taste and texture.

orribile, vero?"

 

He stopped, thought for a second, swallowed and then nodded.

 

“But we still drink it, because like I say, force of habit, in time you'll adapt to this life and be able to start eating a little too.  It’s amazing how the mind finds comfort in the way it handles the menial tasks and requirements of its demands.  It knows it feels happier when it does something it did every day in the past, although now it doesn’t need to do it anymore.  Even when those tasks were not so good for the mind and body but an addiction instead, like alcohol, smoking….”

 

James closed his eyes for a moment and saw something, a vape with an orange frame.  It was a flash and gone, but it broke his thought, so he looked at Roz when he opened his eyes, “I smoked, a vape, I saw a vape for a split second.”

 

Roz’s expression lifted, “that’s good, hold onto that thought. You might not be able to smoke as an Evotar, but that detail is what you need to start rebuilding your mind.  Small, simple thoughts you would never have considered before.  Only when the mind has reconstructed the small detail will the other, larger pieces fall into place.”

 

For the first time since meeting Roz, James managed a weak smile for her.    She smiled in return, “It’s finally nice to meet you James.  We’ll help you get through this, no matter how long it takes.”

 

It was at this time that the two of them spotted Lea and Emilie approaching.  Roz slightly waved her hand as a gesture and quietly said, “arrivano.  I guess we’ll be off on an adventure shortly, somewhere a little special….” 

 

“How are you feeling, monsieur,” Emilie asked as they approached? 

 

He managed to reply, “still shocked, but a little better.” 

 

“Comme la boisson?” 

 

“What?  No, it’s horrible, but at least it’s something.” 

 

Emilie laughed a little, “we all hate it too, but it’s all we have here.  Maybe they should spend some money into improving it?  If it tasted of actual water it would be a start, don’t forget I can provide a comparison. 

 

Roz interrupted, “are things decided?” 

 

Lea had been typing for a moment while Emilie was talking, [the Sapphire Retreat is at your disposal for as long as you need, the rooms are already prepared and awaiting your arrival.  You can travel to Rookie Harbor this evening and they’ll house you for a few days while the memorials are completed, then you’re free to travel on to Sapphire Ridge and the retreat.]

 

Lea then opened her console and starting tapping onto the screen while Emilie explained, “there’s just one piece of admin to do before you leave with Roz, James.  Since you’re now an Evotar you are authorised to enter all the areas that are reserved for the research programme. Lea is granting you a special shade key that allows you access to them, the only real players you’ll meet within them are also involved directly in the Evotar projects.  Each town and most of the zones in Crossworlds have these special areas, some are just safe houses to allow a chance for you to rest and log out in peace, but others are more like hostels or housing where you can set up for extended stays or even live full time.  There’s also a few that have test quests and development content because a lot of the Evotars spend their time building and testing future game content, even redesigning some of the older game areas to help keep them fresh."

 

Lea had typed out a further piece of information, [the Sapphire Retreat is a special location to us, it’s not only the Evotar rest point for the area but we use it as a hideaway for those that want to have some time off and relax, or need time to adjust as is your case James.  There’s also a small research unit on site so we can monitor the health of all Evotars, either those just passing through or staying for longer.  Evotars may be fairly durable, but it seems their code can be damaged or corrupted over time if they don’t look after themselves, in effect making them sick.]

 

James nodded and acknowledged the arrival of the key in his inventory.

 

“No glitz and glamour with the arrival of that key James,” Roz noted, “but it will be the most important one in your collection going forwards.  Look after it.”

 

James lifted his head up at Lea and Emilie, “thank you.”

 

“Why,” Lea replied?

 

“You kept your word.  You haven’t lied.... or tried to hide anything from me.”

 

Roz answered, “it doesn’t help to cover up anything when your mind is as scattered as yours is.  Lies hinder the healing process.”

 

Emilie added, “oui, and we expected you to struggle learning the truth, your emotional response was part of that.  It’s the hardest part of being denoted Class 4, without real care you’ll never adapt into this life.  Lea’s earliest experiences of Evotars that were not managed correctly showed just how dangerous and wrong it could be.  She vowed to never let that happen again.”

 

Lea nodded and held out her hand to James, “bye.”  He reached out in response and shook it.

 

Roz grinned, “don’t think you’ve got rid of these two that easily James, they’ll take great pleasure in overseeing your progress personally, no doubt they’ll appear at the retreat soon, asking questions about you.”

 

Emilie laughed, “besides, I think Monsieur Grasshead misses me sometimes.”

 

“You know he doesn’t, ragazza,” Roz quipped back.

 

“Maybe, although getting on his nerves is always part of the fun.”  Emilie turned back to James, “au revoir monsieur and Roz is right, we’ll be keeping a close eye on your progress.  Enjoy your trip and the retreat.” 

 

Lea and Emilie turned away leaving Roz alone with James.  “Are you ready to leave Rhombus Square at last," she asked?  "We know we can fast travel but for this first trip we find it’s best to actually head to the retreat on foot, take the long road.  You’ll be surprised how many of us had our first memory recoveries this way, mine occurred in Autumn’s Fall, to this day I still don’t know what triggered it?”

 

“We’re going to Rookie Harbor?”

 

“Just for tonight and tomorrow.  We’ll stay there while things for us settle down, since you’re new here you won’t understand the news.  Our patron, the man who got Instatainment to support Evotars, old Mr Vestorovich, died yesterday.  It was expected as he had a terminal condition, but we all thought he was going to go on for some time yet, this was quite sudden following a second, short illness.  There’s to be a full memorial in Rhombus Square tomorrow, but we’ll wait in Rookie Harbor and watch proceedings from there before heading on the day after.  Besides, it’s thought he left some final message for us, I want to hear it.”

 

They stood up together and started to depart the courtyard, James dragging his feet slightly.  “Come on,” Roz encouraged him, “I know the Rookie Harbor rest point isn’t that amazing, but there’s no need to make getting there any slower.”

 

James followed, a little unsure what Roz’s last comment was letting him in for. 

Edited by Uncle Sikee Atric
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Uncle Sikee Atric

Chapter Two :

 

James looked out over Rookie Harbor and decided Roz was right, the Evotar rest house here wasn’t anything special.  It was on a hidden level below the Info Centre and without the Evo Shade Key, Crossworlds never generated the access to it.  The house itself reminded him more of a cheap roadside motel, compared to the plush suite he’d spent the night before in at the Welcome Centre.  He shook his head and dismissed that thought, at least it was quiet, clean and comfortable. 

 

Roz was right at his side, as she had been since they departed Rhombus Square.  Apart from when they retired to their rooms, she’d never let him out of her sight and had given advice at every stage, although that advice wasn’t always fully welcome.  Currently he was finding his armour plates a little itchy to wear after so long.  Roz had warned him that inquisitive newbies would never leave him alone if he looked like any other N.P.C.’s in town, so he’d chosen something from his cosmetic outfit lists like she wore, a compromise in that it had the distinctive, pointed arm guards, headgear and plates of his Triblader class, but it still had an air of normality about it, compared to some of the more hardcore and active players.  He’d first tried his old, full Triblader outfit and hated it instantly, this was bearable. 

 

They were now leaning out over the dock in Beginner’s Arc and more than anything, James was enjoying the fact the illusion of the sea was more convincing here, the artificial salt taste that was driving him mad in Rhombus Square didn’t seem to be present on this coast and the cooler temperatures of the Harbor would probably be the reason for that.  Maybe it was his senses adapting to this new life as well, he couldn’t be sure. 

 

“You do seem happier here,” Roz noted.  “You’ve hardly said a word all morning, yet your mind seems more focused and open, you even managed a smile.” 

 

“For the first time since I ended up stuck here, I feel, better….  it’s odd.  I still don’t remember anything about my past, yet the knowledge seems to have settled on my mind somewhat.  I know things are pretty grim, but I feel like, maybe, I’ve started to accept who I am now.  I’m not happy with the way things seem to have occurred, but what other options are there?  It’s not like I can ask my real self for their thoughts. 

 

Roz nodded, “si, it’s so odd to find out your mind and memories are being driven by a server and are little more than A.I. routines, but what’s the difference between that and the functioning of a real mind at the end of the day?” She then nudged him and asked, “did you sognare again last night, anything new?” 
 
“No, nothing.  I think I dreamed once, but it was just things that happened during the day.  I don’t recall if there was anything from my old memories in there.”  He squinted and tried to remember, “I think…. No, whatever it was, I can’t see it anymore.” 

 

“That’s not unexpected, you had a lot to take in, you’ll learn more about yourself later.  Just remember I’m here to guide you, no matter how embarrassing or confusing your dreams seem to be.” 
 
“Embarrassing?” 
 
“Si,” Roz laughed, “I’ve been the object of desire more than once, for both men and women, getting that truth out of them is the hard part.” 

 

James blushed a little. 

 

“It’s just how the mind works.  In nearly all those cases I found the person was previously in a long-term relationship, maybe even married.  They’re just decoding that, especially because their spouse may not have donated their memory to an Evotar as well.  Their emotions for passion and love leak out in other ways.” 

 

“How long have you been an Evotar, Roz?” 

 

Roz gazed out to sea for a moment and then replied, “dieci anni....  I had a troubled start, but I managed to adapt and spent a few years living in and around Ba‘kii Kum, helping at the rest house there, I love the heat and the atmosphere in the town suited me fine.  As time passed, I started to understand that I had to do something to thank those that helped me find myself, so I signed up to become a Guide myself.  Sure, it’s been hard and sometimes heart-breaking, but I’d do it all again any day.” 

 

“Emilie mentioned something about all Guides being at least Class 3, were you like that?”    
 
“I struggled to adapt at first and my circumstances resulted in me becoming a Class 3, for six months I was in your position and back then there were few Guides to help us.  We were grouped into small clusters of 3 to 5 and worked together, with the support of one Guide between us.  Some today still have that support network and instead they’re helped at other locations outside of the Welcome Centre.  But for extreme cases like yours we prefer a one-to-one system and the privacy of the Retreat.” 

 

James thought about this for a moment and vague images of Sapphire Ridge flashed before his eyes, the peace, tranquillity and relative calm did seem appealing right now.  “I’m, looking forward to this, I do recall some of the detail around Sapphire Ridge, the cool night, the bamboo, the bugs....” 

 

“Oh, the Beetles?”  Roz smiled, “I’ve fought them many a time, well, these days I watch others fight them, I’m too high level, takes away the fun now.”  

 

“Fight them, even now?” 

 

“You’ll be surprised how soothing on the mind it can be for some.  Sometimes the smaller memories we seek can be hidden by previous events within the game itself, so if you want to wield that blade again at any point, feel free.  Fighting opponents is one of the best physical exercise regimes we have, even though we don’t need to do it, again the mind and habit.” 

 

“But you said you were too high level,” James mused.  “I thought Sapphire Ridge was high level?” 
 
“The game carried on and the Track has been expanded over the years, partly with the help of the Evotars themselves developing new content.  Even though the sequel to Crossworlds exists, we managed to continue developing content and storylines for Crossworlds, and since having two games generating revenue is good for business, Instatainment allowed us to do so.  You’re still Level 76 and your Avatar is a clone of the original, sporting the First Tier, Ascended Gear of the Ku'lero Temple, so you never continued to explore.  Meanwhile the entire continent became the playground, you really haven’t been outside of the Square in years, have you?”
 
James shook his head in reply, unsure as to why that was. 

 

“Don’t be upset about it, you’ll get your chance to carry on exploring your new home in due time, should you choose to.  One of the advantages of being an Evotar is the fact you’re automatically granted access to anything related to Crossworlds, that includes opening every area of the game world, even a few still in development.  You just need to level to reach them, although once you complete the main quests within the final ‘released’ region, all Evotars have their level and progression controls unlocked so they can adjust it themselves, from between one to their current maximum, you can simulate any level you wish.  It's to test content mainly, but some enjoy replaying through the game as well.” 

 

“So, you could set your level to fight the beetles near the Retreat, am I right?” 

 

“Si, but don’t tell everyone that….”  

 

James turned around and looked back up towards Rookie Harbor.  “Roz, you’re a sneaky one, getting bored of fighting the same things day after day.” 

 

“I thought I was supposed to be guiding you, not the other way around?  Besides, I’m here to Guide, not party.” 

 

For the first time James watched quietly as the new arrivals eagerly came off the transport pads.  They were hurrying into the town and about to find out they were heading west into the mountains, as James must have done many years ago, but he knew he wasn’t joining them himself, he was heading east, gazing that way he could view the region in the distance which had the shadow cast across it, the realm of endless night that was Sapphire Ridge. 

 

“We have some time before the memorial starts James, is there anything else you fancy doing, or just simply waiting here for a while?” 

 

“I want, something….  Is it wrong to feel hungry?” 

 

“Even though your body isn’t there anymore, your mind can create ‘phantom feelings’ from time to time, especially when you’re as new to this as you are.  They should fade in time, although they’ll never really leave you.  Diverting your attention helps more than anything now, although later on you'll be able to eat something which does help sate the feeling.  Right now, you really shouldn't as the upset around your situation can leave you feeling very, very queasy.  Come on, let’s go explore the town.  We’ve been here since last night and not seen further into it than the Info Centre.” 

 

----------

 

The town hadn’t changed much at all from what James could recall.  The main market was still crowded around the central fountain and the quest hub, while the quaint feeling of the buildings surrounding it hadn’t lost any of its traditional charm.  “It’s hardly changed, has it?” 

 

“No, since this place is the first time that newbies get to explore for themselves, it was decided early on to leave it exactly as it is.  Changes create confusion otherwise.” 

 

“Is there still the outrageous sandwich shop?”  

 

Roz nodded and giggled.  “You remember that?” 

 

“Sort of, I couldn’t tell you where it is though, at least, not yet.” 

 

“What about the rest of the town, remember any of that?” 

 

James stopped and tried to focus, as he looked around, he tried to picture anything he could recall, but his mind was unable to reconstruct anything useful, vague flashes and snapshots of different areas of the town did frame for him, but they were a jumbled mess.   

 

As he returned to his senses, he realised another Triblader Avatar was stood beside him.  “Excuse me, do you know where the Quest Hub is please?” 
 
“Erm, yes, it’s at the top of those stairs in the market area,” he pointed in the correct direction. 

 

As the Avatar turned to depart, he said, “thanks.”   

 

Roz stared, “who was that?” 

 

“I don’t know, some new starter wanting directions, I guess?” 

 

“No, there was no one there.” 

 

James checked again and saw Roz was right, the Avatar didn’t even exist, why he reacted in that way he didn’t know.  But then a wave of confusion overtook him and he visibly staggered.  Roz caught him in a carefully rehearsed move and guided him over to a nearby bench.  “Just relax James, I’m here….  Focus on the sound of my voice and find it, come back.”   

 

After a moment or two the uneasiness settled and he looked up.  “What was that?” 

 

“Non lo so, tell me what you saw? 

 

“It was a Triblader, a new one, asking for the location of the Quest Hub….” 

 

“Any particular Triblader?” 

 

“No, I don’t think so, he looked like any other Triblader to me,” but as he thought he started to piece the detail together.  “No….  It was me.  I must have asked someone for directions when I first made it to Rookie Harbor, did I?” 

 

“Sometimes you’ll recover direct memories, sometimes it will be more like what you just played out, visions and fragments.  What you just experienced is not an unusual event.  You may have asked for directions, or it could just be your memory playing tricks on you, you’ll probably never be sure. 

 

James held his head in his hands for a moment, “It was a horrible sensation, I lost all ability to stand and co-ordinate, you must think I’m stupid.” 

 

“Don’t think about that, per favore.  I’ve seen others experience it and actually become fearful of the recovery process, they become afraid every memory event will make them react in the same way.  They really don’t.” 

 

“Why did I end up like this, Roz?  I’m barely functioning, a hopeless, clueless mess of emotions and thought!”  James was starting to get angry at himself. 

 

“Just relax James,” Roz tried to charm him, “you’re still very fragile and capable of those mood swings.  I can’t help if you won’t listen to me.” 

 

James hesitated, “yes….  You’re right of course, forgive me.” 

 

“You have nothing you need to be forgiven for, mio amico.  I know there will be occasions when your frustrations start to get the better of you, but you need to learn how to release those emotions in a healthy way.”  She placed her hands on his armguards, “that’s what those blades are for.   In time we’ll find the release you need to control them better.” 

 

“Maybe….  If I have more events like I’ve just experienced, how will I be able to tell what is real and what isn’t?” 

 

“You’ll know within yourself, that’s why I cannot directly help you and flick some magic switch to fix everything, I can only Guide and advise you on your experiences through what is going to be a very personal journey.” 

 

They sat there for a few more minutes while James recovered, as they did so another avatar approached, one James recalled from the rest house.  He stopped in front of them, “excuse me, Ms Roz, it’s time.  They’re gathering ready for the memorial and we’ll receive the live feed soon.” 

 

“Thank you, Alden, we’ll return shortly, James just needs a few more moments.” 

 

James raised his hand, “no, I’m fine.  You want to see this and I’m not going to stop you from doing so.  Besides, if this is the community I belong to now, I guess I better start learning all about it.” 

 

“in that case, andiamo, after you James.” 

 

---------- 

 

After the bustle of the town, the rest centre was calm, cool and relaxing.  A tele-projector had been set up in the foyer and a dozen or so chairs arranged in front of it.  These were already being filled with various individuals from around Rookie Harbor, some James had noticed around the town earlier.  As they picked seats on the back row he asked, “how many Evotars live around here Roz?” 

 

“There’s only around ten or fifteen that live here full time, Rookie Harbor is more of a transit hub for us.  Some of those here are real players that work with the project, and there’s one of the Instatainment Moderators I recognise as well....  A lot of them knew Mr Vestorovich personally.” 

 

“He was liked by everyone, wasn’t he?” 

 

“Without him and Lea, we wouldn’t even exist as Evotars.  She met him by chance while the illegal studies were still happening and managed to pass a Turing Test, even with her limited vocabulary and before she had the keyboard like she does now, it’s something no A.I. had ever managed before.  Mr Vestorovich was like a father to us because he made sure the research projects were picked up by Instatainment and continued for the right reasons.  Most of us have met him at least once as he was always in the game, checking up on our progress and making sure we were not being ignored.”  Roz’s voice dropped a little, “I’m worried about what happens now, some within the company were never keen on us being here, even though we’ve helped make Crossworlds what it is now.” 

 

The feed began on the screen and at first glance, the Promenade in front of the Welcome Centre was heaving.  A stage and some formal seating had been arranged around it, but there were several other crowds at the sides of them, making the total present seem to be several hundred strong.  James was quietly impressed, “I’m sorry you couldn’t be there Roz....” 
 
“Non ti preoccupare, I hate large crowds.  If you weren’t here now, I’d probably be back in Ba‘kii kum, watching from there.  I still enjoy the town and its community so it’s where I go when I get some time off.” 

 

The group in the room settled down as the feed showed a group approaching the stage to take their seats at the head of proceedings, these were clearly the organisers of this event.  They were all dressed in dark colours and muted tones as befitting an event such as this, but the hair colours were more vivid, as befitting to Avatars.  James spotted Lea and Emilie instantly, but Lea was being escorted and holding the arm of another who had the spiked hair of a Tri-Blader, his sharp locks were light blonde, in contrast to Lea’s, strong blue tones.  Emilie followed slightly behind them, sharing a few, quiet words with another woman who looked the twin of Lea, even down to the faded scar across the bridge of her nose, but the hair was straightened, long and jet black, although it was also streaked with a few slightly lighter patches in the same way Lea’s was.  The other members of the party James couldn’t identify in any way. 

 

As they reached the stage, some of the group split from the main column, including the blonde Tri-Blader with Lea, and took seats on the front row instead.  The rest took their places on the stage, ready to begin the event. 

 

There was a moment’s silence, then one of the individuals on the stage approached the podium.  He wore spectacles and sported a mass of messily styled, jet black hair.  Roz nudged James, “that’s Satoshi, he’s the original creator of the A.I. net that makes us, but he’s an Evotar now.  It’s rare to see him outside his work environment, he still continues his research, pushing our boundaries to the limit.” 
 
Satoshi began, “my friends....  We’ve come together today to say goodbye to one all Evotars consider as family, a father, a patron, a mentor....  a friend.  We knew this day has been coming for some time, but we all expected there was some time left for us to all say goodbye a few more times. We’re all saddened that events mean we’ve lost that chance.... 

 

“Ivan Vestorovich was the reason why we can stand here today, be proud of who we are and what achievements we’ve made.  I know we’re going to go on and made new strides in our progress as Evotars, but we’ll all be sad knowing he won’t be at our side to see them.  Satoshi stopped a moment, recalling some thought, “only a few months ago he was at my residence, joking about his personal situation, planning these very events, knowing his time with us was coming to an end, yet he was still smiling.  That’s what I’m always going to remember of him, not his ideas, his sparks of inspiration, his desire to always prove he was right,” there was a small ripple of knowing laughter at the last comment, “it’s going to his personality I’ll miss the most, the Ivan you saw in private, kind, quiet, curious, funny....   

 

“So long Ivan, rest well....”  Satoshi paused for a few seconds, then glanced around the muted crowd in front of him.  “I’m so pleased to see so many of you join us for this event.  Nearly all of us have personal memories of meeting Ivan during our lives, but there’s only so much time we can close the promenade and share them all for.”  another ripple of muted laughter ran across the crowd.  “Instead, Ivan knew we’d never complete this event if he didn’t plan it himself, so I present to you, my sister, she’s been given a short biography of the life of Ivan Vestorovich, something even I’ve not been allowed to read before she does.” 

 

Satoshi stepped down and Lea’s twin stood and approached the podium.  As they passed each other they shared a short hug, then the woman took her place, produced a speech from the pad at the rostrum and prepared to read it.  “I’m sorry,” she began, rubbing her eye for a moment, “when Ivan first asked me to read this, I rehearsed it several times in private, preparing for this day, but the fact I have to do this for real so soon has shocked us all.  We’ll all miss you Mr Vestorovich, I know that for sure....” 

 

She began to read the speech and Roz nudged James again, she quietly asked, “I assume you can guess who that is, no?” 

 

“She looks the spitting image of Lea, apart from the hair, it’s uncanny.” 

 

“It’s Shizuka,” Roz replied, “Lea is her Evotar copy.  Lea was the first successful creation of what we know now as Evotars, Shizuka was used as the base for her.  Both her and Satoshi were working within Instatainment at the time, but when they were refused the permission to continue developing the A.I. net, they went with a third party who would support them.  They were duped and forced into progressing the studies for intelligence gathering reasons. 
 
“At first Shizuka resented Lea, but today they’ve settled their differences, although they enjoy having a few feuds here and there, in private at least.  Just like real sisters in many ways....” 
 

They stayed quiet as Shizuka completed her prepared speech, they were surprised to learn the list of achievements Mr Vestorovich was attributed to, including multiple accolades in groups outside of science.   For the first time they learned he was a budding gardener in his off-time and had won several events for prize specimens, much to the amusement of everyone present. 

 

As the speech continued it was obvious Shizuka was holding back a few tears and as she wrapped up, she couldn’t contain them anymore, she stepped down to a round of applause and received hugs from Satoshi and Lea before returning to her seat. 

 

As the proceedings continued, various other dignitaries came forward with their own memories and stories of Ivan, some happy, some sad, but all upbeat about the future and full of thanks for the work he’d put forward to make the society for Evotars what it was, but there was one last person missing from these speeches and finally it was time for Lea to take her place and deliver her thoughts.  She came forward and took the podium.  At first she hesitated, but then she managed to utter, “Lea, sorry....” before starting to type.

 

[I was really hoping Mr Vestorovich wasn’t going to make me stand here and do this,] she began, [but he insisted I do, and we all knew that he would never take ‘no’ for an answer.  So here I am....  It’s all so different from when I first met him at his private residence in Rhombus Square, 13 years ago.  If you had told me then that forgetful old man was to be our greatest hope and ally, I would have laughed at you.  But he was testing me, proving who and what I really was, making sure he was right to support us and go out to obtain the backing he needed to ensure our future.]

 

[Once the formalities and tests were over, I discovered the real Mr Vestorovich, a man inspired to find the limits of Artificial Intelligence, no matter the constraints pushed on him by a world that was slow to understand the potential of Satoshi and Shizuka’s discoveries.   Many would have stopped the work when the illegal research became public, they would have swept us under the carpet and denied we ever existed.  But Ivan....] Lea stopped for a moment and thought before continuing, [Ivan never gave up on Evotars, he saw what everyone else didn’t, he righted the wrongs, personally ensured those who were hurt at the beginning were given their apologies, never stopped fighting for our rights, even though we’re little more than programmes on servers.  Not physical beings, but able to think for ourselves....]

 

[Yet through it all, he was the kindest, most likable man I’ve ever met.  No matter how hard the real world got for us and how hard we found it to be represented there, he always had time to spend with us, meeting us, talking to us, learning from us....  Then he’d go and speak for us out there, no matter how small our voices felt in here.  It’s only now I understand what he was referring to when he described me as, ‘a very impressive achievement,’ after my initial meeting with him.  He was our ‘impressive achievement,’ someone we didn’t deserve, yet who stood by us]

 

[Maybe in time we’ll find another person as dedicated as Mr Vestorovich was, but for now we have to go on without him, that will be hard, for all of us.  There’s no one here who wouldn’t want to see him one more time, at least to give him their thanks for everything he’s done, myself included....  I often asked him why he wouldn’t consider becoming an Evotar himself, but he always gave the same answer, ‘you’ll see.’]  Lea dipped her head again, like Shizuka before her, she was holding back tears too, [I used to hate that part of him sometimes, but that was just Ivan, what was on his mind didn’t matter, he only wanted to help with your problems.  That’s why he hid his illness from us until he couldn’t any longer….]

 

[So now, here we are, mourning his loss, feeling the anger, regret, heartache and desperation that comes with it, while fearing what may come next, whatever that is....  Ivan has become our history, but wherever we go from here, we have to ensure he’d be proud of whichever path we take.  Whatever goals we achieve without him....  To Ivan, you’ll be never forgotten, dear friend.]
 
Lea had stopped typing and dipped her head forwards with visible tears on her cheeks.  There were a few seconds of silence and then the crowd started clapping in unison, clearly moved by her words.  Emilie left her seat to hold Lea tight while she wept and the events were held for a few moments while Lea composed herself enough to begin her final contribution.  At last she was ready to complete her duty and Emilie moved to the podium while Lea typed one final time.  [I have one last task Mr Vestorovich requested of me, he left me this recording to play to you all during this service, I was under the strictest instructions that even I were not allowed to access it until this time, so what he is about to say is unknown to me as well….]  Emilie approached the podium and took the pad from it, accessed the file, then herself and Lea returned to their seats. 

 

After a few seconds the stage lit and a hidden projector flared into life, for a few seconds it crackled with static and then it settled, forming the shape of Ivan himself, he was sat in an armchair, visibly relaxed and not wearing any of his class equipment, this was Ivan in the real world.  “Hello everyone,” he began, “I know this isn’t how many of you thought you’d see me for the last time, but I’m making this recording knowing my time is almost up.  However, I’m not scared at all and I’ve known it’s coming for some time, so the last thing I wanted was tears at this celebration of my life, but I know some of you…. 

 

“For many years I spent my time chasing the dream of finding a perfect A.I., but every time I got close to finding it reality got in the way, it wasn’t right, it wasn’t convincing, many times the claims were just false and I was giving up hope.  Then one day I got a call from an old friend with a new A.I. demonstration that was right there in plain view, something I wouldn’t believe.  The very next day, Lea walked into my life, acted confused and unsure, got around her limited ability to speak and completely stunned me with how believable she was.  A true human response to the questions I’d posed many times before meeting her, something I’d never seen before during any of my work.  At once I was hooked and stunned this project was totally under the radar.  I couldn’t believe the study was, for all intents and purposes, being conducted illegally.  It was a terrible injustice and it was right it was stopped, so we could carry on the research in the right way. 

 

“Getting the company to fund Evotar research was the hard part, many wanted to hide it away in confidential files, too ashamed to admit what had happened, but I felt Evotars needed to have a voice, a chance to shine and prove yourselves, all of you, and thankfully, those voices were enough to get the backing of the board at the time, even when we had to make the tough choices over the Class 1's.  But something was always nagging at me, worrying me that what I managed to achieve was only a temporary measure.  I always felt like some at Instatainment wish I had been silenced, that you never existed, and that someday the balance of power may shift in their favour.  Although your progress and achievements within your world have silenced the critics for now, Crossworlds as a whole has never been more popular and well developed as it is today.  In fact, it’s because of your success that I was invited to join the board, not be an investor but have a say in how Instatainment grows in the future, and I took that chance.  Not because I wanted to, but because of my fear that you would be forgotten.  I left that board knowing they were all happy and proud with your progress, both as developing AI’s and the state of the entire franchise with your help.  However, now it’s time I took steps to ensure you continue to have your voice as I leave you behind, it’s time my children flew the nest and took control of their own affairs. 

 

“You see Lea, this is why I couldn’t become an Evotar, if I were to stay with you, your society would never grow up, evolve and make the changes it has to.  I would always be your de-facto leader, and this old man needs his rest….” 

 

Ivan shuffled in his chair on the recording, in the background Lea wiped her eyes and nodded, she finally had the question answered.   

 

“So instead, I’m leaving you with two gifts, my legacy to the birth of this new society.  I’ve instructed my legal representation to play my family this same message so they can hear my decision as well, although they will be requested to maintain strict privacy and hear the rest of my will, but these two gifts apply directly to all Evotars. 

 

“The first gift is the ownership of my shares in Instatainment and my seat on the board.  These are to be left in legal trust to the Chief Researcher of the Evotar Project and they will always be entrusted to that title, not a person.  Currently that person is Sergey Asimov, and they will pass to the next when he steps down, but the Chief Researcher will have no voice personally on the board, they will only choose to speak the words of the trust they represent.  Sergey is already aware of my plans and has engaged his own legal team to ensure my wish will be continued indefinitely, beyond his own tenure as research leader.... 

 

“That is where you come in my friends, the trust will be made of seven Evotars, or players directly involved with the project, all elected democratically every five years and recallable if necessary!”  There were gasps from the crowd and even some from the stage as Ivan spoke his last statement.  “In six weeks from the date of transmission of this message, the Evotars and members of the project will vote on their new leaders and take their first steps to this new world.  In the interim there will be a council of five to lead you, represented by Satoshi as Chair, Shizuka, Lea, Rizuno and Terrani.  If any of them wish to stand officially for election they are not restricted from doing so, although I can think of at least one who won’t…. 

 

“This arrangement was agreed by the Instatainment Board at my last attendance with them, they are looking forward to meeting you directly soon and working with you all going forward.  They are also adapting their meetings to allow the trust members view proceedings via secure D-Link, so they can ensure their wishes are being carried out as instructed.” 

 

Ivan again stopped, coughed heavily, took a sip of water and shuffled in his armchair, trying to remain comfortable.  James was watching him and wondering if it was more an intentional pause, given the fact there were still a few digesting the news of his first gift, while Roz was looking at the others in the room aghast, she clearly had not expected this.  Eventually Ivan found the right position, settled down and continued.  “Now….  It’s time for you to learn of my second gift and this one is something all of you will be able to attain, via, via-v-v….” 

 

The projector cut out suddenly and then one far corner of the top level of the Welcome Centre erupted in a large and violent fireball, raining wreckage on the levels and street below!  There was chaos on the Promenade as everyone started to evacuate the area via the safest routes, meanwhile those on the stage took cover in the wings using it as a makeshift shelter.  The feed suddenly cut out and those in the foyer at Rookie Harbor started D-Linking anyone they could think of at the event, or fast travelling to a nearby set of pads trying to get news on what was happening.  Roz quickly stood up, grabbed James and retreated to a back corner, she was copying some of the others with the D-Link idea but she clearly had a plan, she patched James into the session and a few seconds later, Emilie answered and joined the call, “Roz, what’s going on, do you know?” 

 

“No, we’ve no idea, we were hoping you did, or you could tell us how things are.  The feed has been cut, are you all safe?” 

 

Oui, we’re fine, but it looks like one of the main messaging servers is destroyed, we’re trying to get remote access to the building systems now to check the fire suppression is active, but everything has gone haywire!  Wait, Lea is typing,” Emilie’s attention was diverted for a few seconds, are you sure, Cherie?"  She then returned her attention to Roz, "Lea's saying that Ivan’s message was stored on that server and there’s no backups!” 

 

Another voice came over the feed, James recognised Satoshi from his speech before, “I’m in, the suppression system is active!” 

 

Emilie came back to the call, “we’ve gained control of the building systems again, dieu merci.  It was empty for the memorial service and the street below it was closed off, so this is just damage to the building and those structures nearby, not to anyone else.  Wait, what’s that?”  Emilie was pointing at something on the call. 

 

“What is it, what do you see,” Roz asked urgently? 

 

“Someone.... is projecting something onto the side of the building, a logo.  Something I’ve never seen before….  Now it’s changing, it’s sending a visible message.”  Emilie read it to Roz and James, “this act is claimed by ‘The Order of Gher’Laine,’ we will strike again soon….  Qui sont ils, I’ve never heard of them?” 

 

Roz had heard enough, “I’ll end the link, so long as you’re safe, be careful mio amico.”  Emilie nodded and the line went dead. 

 

James could tell how shaken Roz was by these events, some of the colour had flushed from her cheeks and her hands were shaking.  All he could ask was, “how are you?” 

 

“Mad, scared, maybe?  But mostly mad, angry that someone thinks they can commit an act like this on such a day.  How dare they!”  Roz stormed off, still clearly confused by what was occurring around them, James decided to follow her as she left the rest house, back into the town. 

 

---------- 

 

Roz headed for the quieter, Eastern Wing of Rookie Harbor, here there were more experienced players and the newbies were fewer and further between.  On a few occasions James thought he had lost her among the other Avatars, but he kept going and found her squatting down on the first patches of grass beyond the town gate.  She was sat looking due north, her gaze fixed past the fields of Autumns’ Fall, and looking to the distant trees and forests of Gaia’s Garden.    As James lowered himself down to join her on the grass, she broke her gaze and looked at him rather sheepishly.  “Sono cosi dispiaciuto James, I shouldn’t have done that.” 

 

“You’ve told me not to be sorry once, so I won’t hear it from you either Roz.” 

 

“It wasn’t professional at all, I’m supposed to set the example and be your guide, not get angry and almost abandon you.” 

 

What we just watched was horrible and clearly shouldn’t be allowed to happen.  I may be new here, but that was a message aimed at all Evotars, that includes me.” 

 

“That doesn’t excuse my reaction.  I’m so ashamed of myself, if the other Guides knew how I’d managed this, I’d probably be back in your position again.” 

 

“Well they won’t, you have my word.  As far as I am concerned it never happened, besides you were terrified for the others you knew there.”  James fell silent and let Roz return her gaze to the clouds over Gaia’s Garden.  After a few minutes he felt a little uncomfortable and felt he had to ask something, “what are you looking at?”   

 

“It’s something my Guide discovered about me when I first started on my path.  I got confused and frustrated easily, but for some reason the sound of rain soothed and focused me, made me think clearly and helped me recover several memories I couldn’t find before.  They were nothing even linked to rain or anything around it, but they were there.  I may like the heat and dry of Maroon Valley every day, but sometimes I need to be in the rain to think clearly.  We can stand in the rain in the isolated corner of Autumn's Fall, but the only rain we can rest in, is in Gaia’s Garden.” 

 

“Well then, why don’t we spend a night in the rain Roz?” 

 

Scusi, we’re due in Sapphire Ridge tomorrow?” 

 

“Do we have to stay in town tonight?  I’m not keen on the idea of that, so let’s make our excuses, get out of this place and spend tonight in Gaia’s Garden, is there a rest area in it?” 

 

Roz nodded, “you forget how big that place is.  There’s a few, including an isolated one where the rain never stops.  It’s little more than a campsite, but the thought of sleeping in the rain again....  It sounds so appealing.” 

 

“Then it’s decided, shall we?”  They stood and started back towards the rest house together, to check out and leave Rookie Harbor behind.   

 

“James, this is totally off-record, how do I explain this if someone asks?” 

 

James was going to answer, but then he phased out for a split second.  He saw a dark, plain, drab building being beaten by a heavy rainstorm.  He flashed back instantly and without hesitation said, “we’ll think of something, maybe the rain means something to me as well?”

Edited by Uncle Sikee Atric
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Uncle Sikee Atric

Chapter Three :

 

It really was relaxing to listen to the rain, both for Roz and James, although looking for the rest area was becoming tedious in among the countless trees.  Roz could recall which part of the western path they were looking for, but as was common for Gaia’s Garden, it was a badly overgrown section, off the main path and where it was quieter.  They had to search thoroughly or they’d miss what they were looking for, “dov’è James?  I’ve found it before, although it’s been some time since I used it….” 

 

James was lost in his own world, the constant patter of the rain was helping him focus his mind on the picture that flashed before him as they prepared to leave Rookie Harbor, the building was there in his mind, he could sense it, he was starting to see detail on it. 

 

Roz kept thrashing round and suddenly found her hand went through the bushes, “ah, found it, the region border is missing as I previously unlocked it with my Evo Shade Key, seguimi!”  She vanished fully into the undergrowth and stopped halfway through, leaving her outstretched hand as a marker for James to follow.  He followed with a bemused look on his face. 

 

Emerging together from the bushes they entered the rest area.  It was a small collection of tents around the edge, then several benches with tables gathered together under an open, wooden and thatch marquee in the middle.  Everything was clustered in a small clearing and all of it was drenched by the continuously falling rain, “Just like I remember,” Roz beamed. 

 

James looked around, apart from him and Roz there was just one other group of four here, sat around a table and laughing together, one of the males waved as a greeting to their arrival.  It’s so secluded here, I guess it’s because it’s away from one of the settlements?” 
 
“Si, not many come here unless they want to.  All of us miss the rain and only come for that sole reason, it seems I’m not the only one who needs to experience it now and again.  What about you James, how are you feeling” 

 

For a second the building flashed through his vision, this time with a piece of the rendering cracked, revealing the brick layer beneath.  “Fine, good.” 

 

“Sei sicuro?  You zoned out then for a second, did you have another flashback?” 

 

“Ever since you mentioned the rain, I’ve been recalling something.  A building stood in a rainstorm….” 

 

“Allora vieni, sit and tell me.” 

 

They chose a bench and table well away from the other group and both helped themselves to a cup of the instant water from a strategically placed dispenser.  “What do you think it tastes of today James,” Roz asked, raising her cup as they sat? 

 

“Based on what you’ve told me, strawberry?” 

 

“Banana,” came the reply.  They both took a sip and Roz looked across the table, clearly not impressed, “non di mio gusto.  It’s quite bitter today.” 

 

“It’s apple,” James recalled, “a sharp, green apple.  Compared to the ‘lime,’ it’s not bad, the bitterness hides some of the oily texture.”   

 

“So, tell me James, what building have you been seeing?” 

 

James took another sip of the liquid and returned to thinking about it.  “To be honest, I don’t have a clue.  It’s just an office type building, large, square, plain.  It has billboards on one side and one of the corners seems to have the rendering cracked away, exposing the brickwork beneath.  The only other detail I can recall is that there’s a fire escape on one side of it, and it’s being beaten heavily by a rainstorm….  Other than that, the location, some of the buildings around it, it’s a blank.” 

 

“The fact you can recall the building itself in such detail is a start, have you thinking about it for a while?” 

 

“All day, since you first mentioned rain.  Now we’ve been out in the stuff, I’ve actually found it easier to recall the detail….” 

 

“It’s the sound, it’s so soothing, not only does it calm me, it helps clear my thoughts.  This has been a day I’ve been made to accept a lot has changed and you’ve been forced to take a lot onboard as well.  I keep forgetting about you James, you’ve just learned about your circumstance, yet our world keeps adding on the pressure, this is about the worst time you could become one of us. 

 

He took another sip and replied, “if anything, it’s helped take my mind off the bigger picture that I’m lumbered with, thinking about the events today became more important.  We were only in that building yesterday, let’s not forget that.  Apart from the building that keeps appearing in my thoughts, the only other thing I can focus on is the name Emilie said.” 

 

“Chi hanno detto di essere, ‘The Order of Ghek’Khen?’” 

 

“Gher-Laine, I think it was?” 

 

“Whoever they are, I’ve never heard of them.  From Emilie’s attitude on the D-Link, I don’t think any of us have.  What are they doing tearing up Crossworlds like that?” 

 

“Who knows?” 

 

They fell into silence for a few minutes, both enjoying the patter of the rain on the wood above their heads.  James stretched and relaxed in his chair while Roz closed her eyes for a moment, both were contemplating in their own way and neither saw the male who gestured at them before, approach their table.  “Excuse me, can I join you a moment,” he asked as he reached the table? 

 

“Oh, si, of course,” Roz motioned him an empty chair. 

 

“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to bother you, but I’m the current warden for this site, I’m just checking everything is okay and allocating bookings.” 

 

“Current warden,” James asked curiously? 

 

He nodded in reply, “Basin Keep sends us out on a weekly rota, I drew the short straw this week.” 

 

“I don’t know, this is great,” James countered.  “I could think of many worse places to warden.” 

 

The stranger laughed, “true, there’s plenty of dark and gloomy places out there.  I couldn’t fathom why some decide to stop at the cave rest sites, at least I get the sky above my head.”  He returned to his duties, “I only wanted to ask how long you are staying for and what tents you require, for the record, one tent, two?” 

 

Bonta,” Roz blustered, “two tents please, just for tonight.  James has only just arrived, I’m his Guide.” 

 

“Ah, welcome to our little world James.  It’s not perfect, but it’s home and I apologise for the question, but I see a lot of people coming through here sometimes.”  He continued, “well, take your pick of tents, I don’t think we’ll be busy.  I heard what happened at the memorial and everyone seems too shocked to want to be out here.” 

 

“Roz nodded, “we didn’t plan to be here either, but James is struggling to recover his memory and had an event tied to rain.  I thought bringing him here may help.”   

 

“I’ll put that on the record then, enjoy your stay and I’ll see you as you depart, goodnight.”  The warden stood to leave them to their privacy. 

 

“Thank you,” James said, “goodnight.” 

 

“I take it you like it here,” Roz asked James quizzically? 

 

“It’s great, that building in my mind is clearly in some kind of built-up area.  This feels like the exact opposite, it’s that I love about this place, it feels almost magical to me.” 

 

“Do you think you lived on a heavily-developed world?” 

 

That question made James stop and think, it felt like the name of the world was on the tip of his tongue, but it was lost in the fragmentation of his memories, “What was the name of my homeworld, any idea?” 

 

Roz nodded, “I do know what it is, but I’d rather not say and let you remember it yourself, hopefully a specific memory recovery like that will trigger several other memories in a form of cascade, especially if you recall it yourself.  However, I can tell you that the planet you’re from handles most of the administration for a number of surrounding industrial colonies.” 

 

“So, the fact I’m recalling an office building is good, it fits with what you say my homeworld does?” 

 

“Si, I have a feeling you know it well, but until you can remember more detail and piece it together yourself, I cannot say.  My homeworld was in a totally different direction to the Raritan Gem, I’ve never been to your world so I cannot fit any description to it.”   

 

“What can you remember about your home, Roz?” 

 

“I grew up on an agri-colony, I do know that.  It was a peaceful world, but the conditions, while good for food production, were harsh at times.  The local wildlife and even the weather could have been lethal if you were not prepared.  For me, Crossworlds was an escape during my teenage years, farming can be so boring, but I think I became an Evotar because it was my only way to remain in the game.” 

 

“I assume your real life took priority then?” 

 

 “From what I understand, the complications that caused my mind issues were related to my donor being heavily pregnant at the time, real life....”  Roz tailed off and her eyes dropped to look down at the table.  

 

James thought about her words for a moment and started putting two and two together.  “You had phantom movements, didn’t you?  Like I felt hungry, but the body isn’t there.”   

 

Roz nodded sadly, “si....  It was horrible at first, I honestly thought I was going to be a mother, but then learning those movements are not real, all virtual.  I really struggled to adapt, but I overcame the situation and took control.  However, even today I still very occasionally have that flutter in my belly, then I get a pang of guilt and struggle to cope with it all over again.”  Roz lifted her gaze to watch the rain falling outside, “I often wonder what became of the child, I hope they’re doing well.” 

 

“I shouldn’t have brought it up Roz.  I’m sorry, for reminding you of what happened.” 

 

“No, you mustn’t apologise.  We’re going to spend quite a long time in each other's company, and these sorts of stories will be shared many times, not just by us, but with those like you we will meet along the way.  I managed to seize control of my past and become a success story; you could say.  If there’s hope for someone like me, you can be sure there’s hope for you too James.” 

 

As the rain continued to patter on the wooden roof above them, he replied softly with, “maybe there is....” 

 

---------- 

 

The door at the top of the staircase opened onto roof, James stepped over the threshold and into the heavy rainstorm that was whipping around him.  All around the building were massive trees, making the building seem low and small by comparison.  A small shelter was around the side of the stairwell access and a few people were clustered around it, shielding themselves as best as they could while they tried to conduct their business.  A few coughed, some sniffed while the thick smoke of the tobacco and vapes they all smoked hung heavy in the air.  As he prepared to join them, he saw someone approach, their face hidden in shadow.  They stopped at the entrance of the shelter and ask, “James, can I speak with you?” 

 

James sighed and approached the figure, but failed to take much attention of the others quickly backing away and hastily exiting via the stairwell.  Instead, he remained fixated on the face in blackness, all it said was, “it’s time you explained yourself....” 

 

He opened his eyes and heard the rain again.  But instead of the heavy downpour, it was the much softer patter of the rain of Gaia’s Garden gently falling on his tent.  He thought carefully about what he’d just experienced as he knew Roz would be asking for as much detail as she could wrangle out of him. 

 

He stood up, cleaned up the tent cabin behind him and emerged into the daylight again.  The day was fresh and new and even the rain felt like it had let up somewhat from last night, it never stopped of course, but it almost did sometimes. 

 

James gazed across to Roz’s tent and saw it was still firmly closed, she wasn’t awake yet, so instead he went under the marquee and helped himself to another cup of the instant water.  Taking a sip, he discovered it was excessively sweet today, a complete change from the apple yesterday, this was more like an over-ripe strawberry, quite distasteful to him. 

 

The warden was passing as he sat, “ah, good morning.  How are you feeling?” 

 

 “Great, thanks.  The tent was really comfortable, thank you.” 

 

“What are your plans today?”   

 

“I’m not totally sure, I think someone mentioned the Retreat?” 

 

“You mean the Sapphire Retreat?  Lucky you, I could do with a nice vacation at the moment.  Well enjoy your stay there.”  He carried on with his duties. 

 

James tries to return his thoughts to his dream, the roof, the rain, the other people, The black figure....  No wait, was it a figure in black, or just his face that was in shadow?  James cursed himself under his breath, he was already forgetting the detail!  Then he remembered Roz’s words about keeping calm, so he closed his eyes, relaxed and just focused on the dream.  He saw the figure again, clearer this time, he saw some detail of the clothing, a long, heavy jacket, suit pants, smart shoes, a nice hat, but that face, it was like looking into interference, it just wasn’t there, no matter how much he tried.  Then he felt a tap on his shoulder but he didn’t respond, instead he just kept picturing that figure, trying to see deeper, trying to find the face…. 

 

Now he felt two hands on his shoulders and he snapped back to find Roz staring him straight in the eyes.  “Are you okay James?  You’re completely zoned out, totally gone!” 

 

He raised his hand as a gesture, “yeah, I’m fine,” he felt like only managed to croak the words, even though he’d only sipped the Instant Water a few minutes earlier, his mouth was bone dry. 

 

“Grazie a dio, I thought you’d gone Class 5 on me then!” 

 

Even though the drink was probably the worst yet, he felt really thirsty so took a large mouthful of the Instant Water and explained, “I was just thinking about a dream, I saw something from my past, I was losing the detail and getting angry at myself, then I remembered your words about my emotions, so I just calmed down and it helped me recall more.” 

 

“You scared me.  We’ve seen some in our care just give up trying.  The Evotar stops and almost goes comatose, it’s like they just shutdown and never come back.” 

 

“Was I like that?” 

 

Roz nodded, “it’s good relaxation and meditative techniques help you recall details.  But next time, please let me help you and we’ll explore how they affect you together.” 

 

James smiled, “deal.  I think I got what I wanted to know anyway, I recalled the memory enough to tell you about it, that was my goal all along. 

 

“Well then, why don’t you tell me as we walk?  We have a long trip to the retreat and we’re further out than we were at Rookie Harbor, we better get started.” 

 

---------- 

 

Questo è tutto, a figure wants you to explain something?” 

 

“That’s it, the dream ended there.” 

 

By now they were back in Autumn’s Fall, wandering between the ruins that liberally littered the area.  They were following the path back South to the statue at the centre of the area, before turning East to find the tunnel through to Sapphire Ridge.  Roz had been dissecting James’ dream all the way to this point and she asked, “do you know the figure by any chance?” 

 

“I feel like I should.  He exists in the dream, but he’s just fuzzy, hazy.  I don’t know how to explain it, I know he’s some sort of hot shot professional as I can see his suit, shoes, coat, things like that.   He oozes money clearly, but the face itself is a complete mystery.” 

 

“Can you fit anything to what he means about explanations?” 

 

“No, nothing.  His words were in my dreams and I think I was to explain myself to him, I have no clue as to what it all means….” 

 

“What about the building all this happened on, was it the one you pictured yesterday?” 

 

“I…. I think so, I can’t be absolutely sure and say yes, but it’s very similar at least.”  Then he thought for a second and continued, “wait, no it’s not the same building, that building has a rendering all over it, this building had bare brickwork….” 

 

Roz was visibly confused, “that dream is a jumbled mess, hard to decode and all over the place.  I'll have to record it for review purposes, but that and a clearly separate building you recall as well?  Not to mention the trees around you as a representation of Gaia's Garden....  I'm starting to think our little excursion was a bad idea. 

 

“It must all mean something Roz, I'm dreaming itI cannot help what my dreams are telling me.” 

 

“No, and you are clearly in an acceptable mental condition as well.  Even though you were close to death at the time of memory donation, if those caring for you thought you were not suitable you would never have been able to donate in the first place....  The safeguards around the process ensure medical consent is required from professionals when necessary. 

 

They were approaching the statue that stood at the mid-point of Autumn’s Fall.  In front of them was the story played countless times before, a young female Hexacast was acquiring the quest for the Green Seed Shade and once more the Holographic Frobbit was beginning its journey right across the area.  James watched as the Hexacast tried to figure out the access route to the first ledge where the Frobbit lurked.  “No Hillie, it's up into ruins and across, not that way,” James murmured to himself. 

 

Scusi, who is Hillie?” 

 

“Hillie, we're guild mates, have been since the beginning.  I completed this quest before and now I'm taking great pleasure in watching Hillie muddle the course herself, she never was the best at figuring out the routes to where the good loot lurked....” 

 

“That's not Hillie though.” 

 

“Yes, it is, it looks just like her.” 

 

“James, look at her.  Youre having a flashback, seeing what was, not what is.” 

 

“How can you not see Hillie,” he replied?  He started to head off after the Hexacast, “come on, this is going to be hilarious....” 

 

Now the Hexacast herself was beginning to notice the commotion that James was creating, she had stopped her surveying of the area and was instead watching James and Roz. 

 

Roz managed to catch James’ hand as he began to run off, pulling him back she told him sternly, “James, focus!  You have to see what's real now, that's not Hillie, no matter how real it looks to you.” 

 

“Let me go....” then James did a double take and his enthusiasm dipped instantly.  “You're right, that's not Hillie at all, I've never seen that Avatar before in my life.  Why did I even think of Hillie then, we must have completed this quest years ago?”  He needed to urgently sit down and managed to reach a grassy bank, before his legs gave out under him. 

 

Roz helped him reach a sitting position while the Hexacast approached.  “Is your friend okay,” she asked Roz?  “I saw what happened just then, it looked really silly, kinda funny too.” 

 

“Si, he's fine.  He's just tired, been logged in too long, I keep telling him to handle his hours online much better....” 

 

“So long as he's okay, he’s just acted like a bit of a weirdo.”  She returned to her task and after a moment, set off up the correct slope to chase the Frobbit. 

 

James was still trying to split his memories from reality.  “I just embarrassed myself, didn't I? 

 

“Probably....  But that was a really strong recollection.  Are you sure you're okay? 

 

“Yeah....  I'm so ashamed, that young girl must think I'm a real creep!’ 

 

“But you were recalling something from your long-term memory, from many years ago as well.” 

 

“That’s as maybe, but I’d rather they don’t occur like that, right in front of everyone else.  Why do things like this happen to me?” 

 

“It happened because the circumstances matched what occurred all those years ago,” Roz countered.  “In that case you clearly saw this, Hillie, in the same situation and struggling to learn the route taken.  Your mind patched your old memories in and papered over the cracks.” 

 

“I don’t want that memory, not in that way.”   

 

Hillie must have played a large part in your formative years?” 

 

James closed his eyes and slowly drew Hillie in his mind.  “I do remember her, she was a little older than me, played a Hexacast and recruited me directly into my first guild, not because I wanted to join a Guild though.  The truth is, I had a bit of a crush on her and wanted to see more of her.  That long, flowing, dark hair and her deep, hazel eyes always stole my thoughts….” 

 

“Did you see more of her?” 

 

He nodded, “we ended up becoming party mates and running a lot of the later content together.”  He stopped as another memory of Hillie came to the fore, “I’ll never forget how she used to always talk about cats and adored them, she fell in love with the Shokats, until she tried to pet one….”  His mood darkened as he recalled, “my only regret about her is I never got the chance to tell her how I felt.  Real life time constraints caught up with us both all too quickly, before I knew it, she was off to college to study Languages, I think?  Once that happened, I never saw her again.”  His head dropped as the sad reality of his lost friend settled in his mind. 

 

“Bravo James, that was sorprendente.” 

 

He looked at Roz, a little confused, “what, why?” 

 

“You’ve just recalled someone and in very good detail.  You’ve recovered specific memories too.” 

 

“I never thought about it that way….  It just felt like the memory was always there and I could see her really clearly, amongst the fog that seems to cloud the rest of my mind.” 

 

“She was clearly important to your memories of Crossworlds.  It was probably only a matter of time before a Hexacast, any one of them, triggered an event like you just had.” 

 

They sat together and watched the passing of other Avatars for a few moments while James recovered his strength.  Eventually James broke the silence, “I wonder if Hillie ever came back to the game?” 

 

“Just in general, or looking for you?” 

 

“In general, I left that Guild shortly after she departed for college.  She liked them and a few of her real-life friends were there, but a lot of them were plain asses.  My next Guild appealed to me far more than they did.  I didn’t leave them until I stopped playing myself.” 

 

Roz replied, “You’ve been away for so long and barely visited in that time.  You’ll be surprised how many people end up the same as you, just playing socially to meet friends and not exploring further.  From the numbers crunched over the years, only about half of the characters ever made in Crossworlds continued beyond the original game contents.” 

 

“I’m really not unique when it comes to not exploring the later additions then?” 

 

“No, not at all.” 

 

James tried to lift himself a little but found his legs were still weak.  Roz half caught him as he lowered himself back down.  “Are you sure you’re okay?  We can get the clinic to give you a quick once over when we get to the Retreat?” 

 

“I’m fine, thanks.  Just shook up the today’s events.  Bad dreams hallucinations, memory recovery, it’s taken it out of me.  But I’ll be fine to make it to the Retreat, once my legs start talking to the rest of me....” 

 

Roz snickered, “even so, I insist on that check-up.  I don’t need you making yourself sick....” 

 

“I’m an A.I., how can I get sick?” 

 

“Over time, it’s possible for sections of your base code to become corrupted as the A.I. matrix learns from past experiences.  Those new coding bridges can overwrite or alter the original code and the results can be detrimental if the corruption creeps into vital sections of it.  All Evotars are requested to maintain a regular cycle of check-ups, to minimise the risk of corruption and detect it if it does begin to occur.   

 

“There’s two classes you haven’t learned about from before and they’re linked to your ongoing health.  Class 5 is what we call Evotars that are in the process of receiving help to correct faults in their coding.  They can be minor to severe faults, but it’s hoped a solution will eventually be found to fix the problem and let them return to us fully.  In many ways they can be seen as hospital inpatients as they can be isolated due to unpredictable or outlandish behaviour.  It’s not that we see them as bad, it’s just they need help from the rest of us to watch them and care for them. 

 

“Class 6 is the last Class we have....  In all effect, any Evotar denoted as Class 6 is beyond even our help.  Their code becomes so unstable and corrupted they can’t even function anymore.  It’s basically death for Evotars, we have to retire the A.I. net and remove the Avatar it controls from the game.” 

 

James was shocked, “we can die?” 

 

“Si, and it happens once or twice a month.  It’s generally down to the Evotar involved not getting checked as a corruption spreads across vital code segments, but it’s also happened suddenly to seemingly healthy Evotars.”  Roz lowered her voice, “we’ve all heard rumours of third parties trying to create tech that harms Evotars, causing corruption or worse, but nothing has ever been found or confirmed, either here or offworld.” 

 

James understood.  “I’m just surprised, I thought an Evotar was essentially immortal.” 

 

“So long as you take care of yourself, you are.  But be careful.” 

 

James managed to stand again, although his legs still felt a little weak.  “I will be, and I’ll get that check-up once we reach the Retreat, which we won’t make if we don’t keep going, will we?” 

 

“No, we won’t.” Roz stood alongside him and they slowly started to wander on together.  The road to the East beckoned them ever onwards....

Edited by Uncle Sikee Atric
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Uncle Sikee Atric

Chapter Four :

 

James had to admit, this was almost a nirvana.  They’d reached the access of the Retreat and the long night that shrouded Sapphire Ridge, made the area appear even more magical.  Even now, approaching the first steps, he was impressed with how pretty and serene it all was, although reaching the top of this flight, the impression was somewhat shattered by how busy it was here.  There was a small, manned reception desk with a few Evotars obviously standing guard around it.  “Bene, questa è nuova,” remarked Roz. 

 

“What’s new?” 

 

As she reached the receptionist, she replied, “the guards.  This is the arrivals desk, but the guards were never here before.” 

 

The receptionist immediately identified Roz, “Welcome, had a good journey from Rhombus Square, Ms Roz?” 

 

“It’s been, interesting Lola, how are you doing?” 

 

“Great,” Lola replied, “I had a massive cascade a few days ago, they reckon I’ve recovered about 75% of my memories now.” 

 

“È una notizia fantastica.  Keep it up.” 

 

“I will…."  Lola finished typing some detail into the terminal she was working at.  "Your arrival is noted and they’re waiting for you at the main entrance.  It seems you might have a few questions about, ‘going off your travel plan?’” 

 

Roz smiled at Lola, but as she turned back to James, she grimaced slightly at him.  It looked like they were going to have to bluff their way out of spending a night in the rain of Gaia’s Garden after all. 

 

Passing the desk, they carried on the path towards the main Retreat.  “In all the time I’ve spent here, I never thought I’d see protection being employed for it,” Roz mused.  “It’s one of our most important sites and one of our most secluded as well….” 

 

“Do you know the staff well Roz?” 

 

She glanced back, “oh, you mean Lola?  She’s only been an Evotar for a year or so and she’s a Class 3, but she was released from her Guide not too long ago and decided to help out here to say thank you for her care while continuing her memory recovery.  And no, she wasn’t under my care, before you even think to ask.” 

 

As they crossed another bridge over the stream that the path criss-crossed, they saw the Retreat for the first time.  It was low and imposing in its size, while it sat by a lake that had a large, lone tree on a small island at the centre of it.  “It’s stunning, truly stunning,” James exclaimed.

 

Roz smiled in agreement, “it’s been here a long time too, longer than Evotars have existed, which is why it looks like it does.  Rumours are that this was part of the secret facility that existed before Evotars became legal.  Since then, it’s been expanded and built into our Retreat, while the research facility is in an expanded basement that stretches out below the main building.  The front part is the rest house, while the rear is the main retreat, where we’re stopping for some time to come.” 

 

Following the path up to the main building, it was clear to see the work that had been done to make this a peaceful and thoughtful place.  It was also clear this was a large place, the limit borders expanded enough to allow a full walking path around the lake, with several secluded gardens of varying styles included around the perimeter.  There was also a smaller, more modern building in the back corner, seemingly modelled on a small administration facility.  As they approached the main entrance, several Avatars that were in the vicinity noted and warmly greeted Roz, while she returned the greeting and carried on slowly escorting James to the door.  It was obvious to him she was highly regarded here. 

 

They passed through the entrance into the foyer, a staircase down and the access to the rest house were signposted into the left wing of this small area, while the right areas were not signed or obviously leading anywhere.  What was also obvious was the volume of Avatars that filled this small section from corner to corner.  Roz remarked, “I’ve never seen this place so busy before, what in the world is going on?”   

 

Another Avatar was signalling the others to clear the way and allow some access to those needing to pass through. “Come on, move along please,” he ordered, “we have more arrivals, please let them get to where they need to be.”  The crowd shuffled a little, leaving some room for Roz and James, but there was clearly insufficient space to manage what was happening.   

 

Roz and James managed to reach the crossroads at the centre of the foyer before they were stopped.  “You two, over here please,” was the order.  They turned to see they were being ordered by another, but he sported the biggest crop of bright green hair that James had ever seen on an Avatar, while the red and black colours of the clothing were strong and outlandish.   

 

Roz smiled at the figure and cheekily mimicked Emilie’s French accent, “bonjour, Monsieur Grasshead.”

 

He sighed and murmured, “one of these days I am going to kill her!”  Roz gently laughed while he continued, “where have you two been, you didn’t stay at Rookie Harbor last night?” 

 

"Erm, si....  James had ‘an incident,’ he had a strong memory recollection about rain.  I took him to Gaia’s Garden in the hope it might help to actually be in rain.  Given his situation and designation, anything that might help hasten his memory recovery must be taken seriously.” 
 
The new figure glared at Roz for a few seconds, glanced James up and down and replied, “follow me please, we need somewhere to talk that’s not so busy....”

 

Roz hesitated, “first, can I request James is allowed to visit the clinic?  He’s had a rough day and I want him to be checked out.”

 

The figure sighed again, “fine, we can chat there and I can keep an eye on both of you.”

 

Grazie Apollo.”   

 

Roz began to lead James and Apollo down the stairs to the clinic, as she did so she quietly filled James in on the details.  “This is Monsieur Grasshead,” she began, “or Apollo by his real name.  Emilie might poke a few jokes at him, but he’s actually a real player like she is, although quite how she gets away with the nickname, I don’t know.  He’s one of our senior security team, working directly for Instatainment.”  

 

Apollo was clearly listening in, “...and right now you two aren’t exactly helping when everything is going crazy.  You might have only been off-plan for one night, but that’s all it’s taken for things to end up like this.” 

 

Roz replied, “I was wondering that, why is it so busy here all of a sudden?” 

 

Apollo answered, “it seems the mystery around this, ‘Order of Gher-Laine,’ has scared a lot of Evotars....” 

 

---------- 
 

The clinic was not what James was expecting.  He was currently sat in some sort of diagnostic machine, with a few sensors strapped to various regions of his body, while a trio of techs were watching the code appearing on the screen as they asked him to extend his arm, stretch his leg, touch his nose and a myriad of other tasks that would be mundane in any other situation.  Every now and again they’d glance a little oddly at him and murmur between themselves in a way that made him a little nervous.  Roz and Apollo were watching through a window from an adjoining room where they were in James’ vision, able to give him encouragement and reassurance. 

 

After about ten minutes of this, one of the techs came away from a screen to speak to James, “okay, this is the bit of the test everyone gets the most unsure about.  We’ve checked everything in the interface output, but now comes the checks within the A.I. matrix itself.  For this we have to,” he coughed slightly, “force a disconnect between your A.I. and your Avatar.” 

 

James’ face visibly drained. 

 

“No, don’t worry at all, you’re perfectly safe and in no danger, it’s just the effect can be very disconcerting when it happens.  Every Evotar has a different reaction and they all report differing experiences after the tests.  I’m just warning you that you how it could feel before it happens.” 

 

James signalled to Roz, unsure as to how to take this, so she came into the room.  “They want to disconnect my A.I. from my Avatar, his description doesn’t fill me with confidence….” 

 

Roz looked at the techs with a frown, shook her head slightly then replied, “I know it’s not pleasant, but it has to be done to ensure the A.I. matrix is still secure and allows for specific diagnostics to run that cannot be done while the Avatar is still active.  I really don’t enjoy it either, even today, but it’s essential to ensure no dangerous corruption is occurring and at the most it takes five minutes, for you those minutes will feel like seconds.” 

 

James looked back at her nervously, but her admission at least reassured him enough, “okay, do it, but make it quick!” 

 

“We’ll be as quick as we can, we promise.”  They flicked a few switches, prepared their machinery and then one of them announced to James, “We’ll begin the tests in three, two, one….” 

 

James tensed in his seat, and then everything went white, like a spotlight was been shone in his face, all he could hear was a high-pitched whine and he had no sensation in his body.  He tried to move, to escape this, but he couldn’t move at all, even his eyes were rigid in their sockets and he couldn’t blink to shut out the light…  He instantly felt scared, alone and totally helpless.   

 

Roz returned to Apollo in the next room, refusing to see James in this state, his Avatar face was frozen into a visible grimace of pain, the result of the disconnect being forced on him.  Until the Avatar disconnect itself happened, she knew the tests were still going on.  “Every time I see that test begin….” 

 

“I know,” Apollo replied, “I wish there was a better way to conduct these checks, but we’re not techs, are we?” 

 

They respectfully turned their backs on James for a moment, giving him privacy while he was not able to resist his predicament.  They both rested against the window that separated the rooms and Apollo asked, “so, how did the trip to Gaia’s Garden go?” 

 

“Honestly?  It wasn’t just for him, it was for me, he even suggested we go!” 

 

Apollo was curious, “why?” 

 

“I….  I had a bad reaction to watching the events at Ivan’s memorial,” Roz confessed.  “I still feel ashamed about it too.  James learned that standing in the rain helped me, so he suggested the excursion and partly out of shame, I accepted the idea.”  She hesitated before continuing, “if I had known how he’d react, I wouldn’t have gone at all.” 

 

“He took it bad?” 

 

“That’s exactly the point, he didn’t.  He started to have several memory recalls, but his mind is totally shattered and there’s no rhyme or reason to what he’s remembering.  He’s like a broken mirror, smashed into a thousand pieces, it’s going to take time to make those pieces fit back together and that’s before we even try to make those fragments stick in place.” 

 

Apollo looked down and quietly asked, “do you think he’s going to be a lost case in the long run?” 

 

She looked directly at Apollo and admitted, “è possibile, but I hope it doesn’t end that way.  I really don’t want to see him like that and he doesn’t deserve ending up as a Class 5, or worse.  There’s something to him that I haven’t seen in ages, he wants to care, not just about himself either, I’ve noticed that already.”     

 

As they were talking in the adjacent room, James was still trapped in his white hell.  He was beginning to panic and will for this to end, to let him get back to his body, but as he was trapped there the light began to fade and the whine started to recede in his ears.  Out of the corner of his eyes he started to see something, and he also felt wet droplets falling on his face.  He was laying in the rain! 

 

He tried to move, but he was still locked in position.  He was looking up at the sky, into heavy clouds with buildings on either side of him.  Unable to move his eyes, let alone his head, he could only assume he was in a narrow alley between them.  Both buildings looked like plain office structures, what he pictured before in previous memories, then everything went totally black! 

 

James’ Avatar cracked and split in the seat, evaporating into small pieces and melting into nothing as the instant matter broke down.  Roz and Apollo entered the room as the one of the trio of techs looked at them and simply said, “we finished everything, he’s resetting now and we’re relogging him in as soon as possible.” 

 

Another minute or so passed and James’ Avatar reformed in the seat, exactly where it was before.  It took a second for him to reacquire his senses, “well, that was horrible,” was the first thing he said. 

 

Si, it’s not great, is it?” 

 

“At least it’s over….  I even saw something.” 

 

“Right now, you’ll still be disorientated following the check-up routine.  Save that for tomorrow.” 

 

“Okay, that sounds like a good idea,” James replied weakly. 

 

One of the techs now spoke, “we have the results of your tests.  Do you want to hear them in private or are we fine to share them openly?”  He indicated at Roz and Apollo. 

 

“No, I’m okay with them knowing, I’ve nothing to hide.” 

 

“Well, I’m happy to say everything checks out, there’s no corruption we can detect anywhere that’s going to affect your core code, but there’s suggestions you’ve been struggling excessively with memory issues.  You need to rest and relax for a few days at least.” 

 

Roz looked at James and moved forward to help him out of the seat.  “Don’t worry, that’s not an issue.  Come on James, let’s get settled in our rooms and call it a day.” 

 

James leaned heavily on Roz as he stood up, his head was ringing and he found his balance to have been affected by the procedure.  Apollo offered James his other arm as support and together, they started off to the Retreat area at the rear of the facility.  

 

---------- 

 

James was woken up by the alarm blaring from his bedside table.  It was clearly morning, but the constant night of Sapphire Ridge would probably make that difficult to accept for a while.  He still felt a little off but he lifted his head and looked around the room, pretty much for the first time.  Last night he’d been placed in bed by Roz and Apollo and fallen asleep instantly, he’d never observed his surroundings. 

 

The room was small and plain, with some simple furniture that matched the style of the retreat as a whole.  He also noticed he had the luxuries of a TV-Projector and an instant matter water dispenser as well.  They expected the occupants of these rooms to be using them for some time. 

 

He looked around and saw he had a window covered by a curtain, as well as the internal door that Roz and Apollo had brought James into the room from.  After a moment he rose from the bed to draw back the curtains, and discovered he had a French door leading to a small, private balcony that then led out into a private garden at the rear of the retreat.  He opened the door and stood in awe at his surroundings, this was far better than he’d hoped for. 

 

The balcony had a chair and side table, so he went back into the room, collected an instant water and returned to sit in the chair and enjoy the atmosphere.  The cool air and calm were only broken by a light breeze rustling the plants that made up the garden.  Sitting down he carefully tried the water but got little taste back from it, other than the oily texture.  It was then there was a light knock at the door, he looked back into the room and said, “come in.” 

 

The door opened and Roz entered his room, “buongiornio, hai dormito bene?” 

 

Remaining in the balcony chair he nodded, “I was totally drained, slept soundly, no dreams, nothing.  I still feel a little woozy, but I’m a lot better this morning.” 

 

Roz joined James on the balcony and commented, it’s that damn check-up.  I wish there was a better way to conduct it, but everyone takes a day or two to fully recover, even when you’ve had it performed many, many times.” 

 

“You don’t like it, do you?” 

 

“I don’t know anyone who does, some of the experiences I’ve been told from those that have gone through it….” 

 

James shivered a little, “I had something like that, especially at first.” 

 

“Well, those techs want you to relax for a few days and recover, so I intend to take their advice today.  Following your successes with memory reformation I want to have a few sessions in peace and quiet.  Some relaxation and meditation techniques I can teach you that you should be able to employ to help form those memories better.  You said you had a recollection while you were in the testing, let’s see if we can recover it for you, then this afternoon we can take some time out and I’ll show you around the retreat fully.” 

 

“How can you tell the difference between day and night here?” 

 

Roz looked “When you’ve been in Sapphire Ridge enough, you’ll start to notice the difference.  The days are slightly lighter and some of the flowers in the garden only bloom in the ‘lighter’ day.  Until you’ve experienced it fully for a while, you won’t really detect the difference.” 

 

“When shall we start?” 

 

“When you’re ready, bring your water and we’ll move to a private side room where we can begin.” 

 

Twenty minutes later they were both in a side room, James was sat in a large reclining chair with his feet raised, while Roz sat a little further away, guiding James through the techniques and memory controls he needed. 

  

So far it seemed to be going well, although James hadn’t had any further memories surfacing, instead, he was using this session to simply unwind and let his thoughts wander.  His eyes were closed and he was traveling through his mind, sometimes he thought he saw the fog recede slightly, submit to his wishes and let him find some more lost memories.  But every time he got close to something, it stubbornly refused to give way, it fought back, stronger every time.  While Roz’s calming, soothing voice was piercing his mind, teaching him how to explore it, he felt he was making little progress at all, but he continued to listen to Roz’s words and tried to manipulate them into beneficial actions within his memories.   

 

Then it happened, totally unexpected, “I can’t feel my legs,” he told Roz. 

 

Roz instantly stopped and almost stood to raise the alarm, but James raised his hand, motioning her to return to her seat.  “This is what happened during my time I was disconnected,” he explained, “I was trapped in a white light, high-pitched sound, totally unable to move, even move my eyes or blink.” 

 

“Are you recalling everything?” 

 

“There’s nothing else to recall at first, nothing but the sound and light,” he took a series of deep breaths. 

 

“In through the nose, out through the mouth,” Roz instructed, “let the memories come to you, don’t try to seek them, they’ll hide.  In recollections like this the memories can be like shy children, you have to make them come to you.” 

 

James took a few more breaths, “it’s clearing now, the noise and light, just as it did before, I can see detail, just out of the corners of my eyes where the light is fading….  They’re walls, building walls.” 

 

“What else James?” 

 

“It’s hard to see, the light is fading slowly, but it’s just building walls, one to either side of me.  I can’t move my head to see more, there’s also rain, heavy rain, it’s hammering directly into my face, even into my eyes, and I still cannot blink to clear the water.” 

 

“Let it come, keep dimming the light.” 

 

“It is dimming, slowly.  I can see more of the two buildings, they’re like the buildings I saw before, this is a city, a city of those buildings.  I’m alone, laying on the floor, looking up, looking up into a sky filled with heavy clouds.”

 

“Do you know why you’re there James?” 

 

“No, I want to know….  But I can’t move no matter how hard I try.”   

 

“Were you unable to move at all during the disconnect?” 

 

“No, I was locked in position….” 

 

“Well now you’re not in that disconnected state James, blink!” 

 

He concentrated on the dream, then slowly he felt his eyelids close, just a flick of a blink.  “I-I did it, I blinked.” 

 

Although she was happy this was working, Roz didn’t let her emotions out, instead she stayed professional and focused on the therapy.  “Now, keep your breathing pattern James, keep that smooth breathing and move your eyes, let your mind adjust your vision, see more of the dream.” 

 

James settled into his mind and concentrated again, willing his fixed vision to move in his mind.  But no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t get it to adjust, it was still locked, although he maintained the ability to blink.  “I can’t do it Roz, I can’t move my eyes, but I’m here longer….  The vision ended by now.”  As he lay there, trapped in the vision, he saw a movement.  “I saw something, there was a movement on the top of one of the buildings.  It was a dark shape of some sort, then it was gone.” 

 

“What was it do you think?”

 

“I thought it was, wait….  Something new, there’s a flock of birds, they’re leaving the building roof, like they were disturbed.” 

 

“Can you describe anything else?” 

 

James tried to think more, but his concentration was failing.  “I’m losing the vision; it’s fading too fast….”  He tried to strain, extend the thoughts for as long as possible, but it was too late, I’m sorry Roz, it’s gone.  He opened his eyes and looked across at her, “gone too fast, but I’m left wondering what was on that roof?” 

 

“What your mind wanted you to see….  The fact you can recall so much detail from it makes that obvious.”  Roz thought for a moment then asked, “how are you feeling, that was quite demanding?” 

 

“I’m fine, but I’m through with thinking for now.” 

 

Va bene.  I have an idea for this afternoon, a little relaxation as well as the tour.” 

 

---------- 

 

They were meandering around the gardens, slowly heading towards the small block at the rear of the Retreat, by the most obtuse route possible.  James was impressed with how smart and tidy everything appeared to be.  The Retreat had calmed considerably since last night and it appeared the Evotars were dispersing during the day, while returning during the evenings and to rest.  Even so, there were a considerable number of Evotars still milling around and tending to various duties.  Roz explained that any wishing to remain for any period around the Retreat were expected to help in any way possible, from office duties, to gardening and general maintenance.  The place was so large there was always something to do. 

 

“What about me,” James asked, “will I get duties too?” 

 

“Si, in time you will be expected to do your part between sessions.  But right now, your situation is too fragile.”  

 

They rounded another corner in the garden, passed another sectioned area and started down a short, straight path that led towards the smaller building that was their overall destination.  They nodded a greeting as they passed another Evotar that was pondering over a piece of topiary, then arrived by the front door.  James asked, “so, what does this place do?” 

 

“It houses the office facilities for everything else here, as well as serving as the base for individuals like Apollo.  But it’s not the reason I brought you here, come, follow me.”  She led James to the side of the building where a gravelled path led to a small fountain, behind them was an empty conference room, while in front of them was a small courtyard that was walled and totally private, there were plants here, but they were all smaller and potted for mobility.  By the fountain there stood two easels with small canvases prepared, while a case sat at the side of them.   

 

“What’s this,” James asked? 

 

“A little exercise I want you to consider.  You’re able to describe your mental images quite well, how about painting them?” 

 

“Painting, seriously?”  James almost laughed.