icomeanon6

It's "I Come Anon"

Age 26
Male
Northern Virginia
Seen 1 Week Ago
Posted May 26th, 2018
1,184 posts
11.8 Years
XV

Digital World

It was morning, and Ross woke up alone. He hadn’t felt like seeing anyone the evening prior, so he’d decided to wander off for a while and skip dinner. In doing so, he confirmed his suspicion that he could in fact still feel hunger. He supposed the one time he went for roughly a year without food must have been a fluke.

He stood up and stretched. After thinking about their argument over the kids last night, he had decided that Joanie was partially right, but not for the reason she thought. He would indeed have to check on them soon, but only so he could verify whether they were making progress or not. It would take several days to walk back to the mountains, and he wanted to have at least a Perfect-level by the time they had to leave. If the kids were still stumped, he would have to intervene and push them on to new strategies even if they didn’t want to be anywhere near him.

It was a bad situation, and of course he had no one to blame but himself. He bit his lip and fumed. There was a relatively thin tree in front of him, and he thought about breaking it down. It wouldn’t be too hard, in fact he might be able to crack it with just a punch. Or if he didn’t want a throbbing hand, a kick would probably work even better. He felt his blood start to boil, and he could picture the tree shattering into splinters. Then the tree was someone’s leg, and the splinters were chips of bone, and he nearly threw up. He slapped himself in the face and tried to bring his breathing under control. Sometimes he still needed convincing that it was all behind him.

A few minutes later, by which point he had calmed down, he heard someone approaching. By the pace and weight of the footsteps, Ross was almost positive it was Jacob. This made sense to Ross, as he didn’t imagine Jacob would want a de facto prisoner to go missing overnight. And when Jacob came into view, Ross wasn’t at all surprised by his body language: he was gravitating toward his sword. It wasn’t anything as obvious as having it drawn or keeping his hand on the hilt, but Ross could still tell.

“Ross.”

“What?”

Unfriendly but not hostile, just efficient. Ross supposed that this was how he and Jacob would typically converse from now on.

“Michael wants you. He says he’s got something to show us.”

This was the last thing Ross had expected to hear. It took a good deal of effort to keep his hopes from getting up. Still, it could only be good news if Michael was making progress of his own volition. Ross nodded to Jacob without a word and followed him back to the others.

When they arrived at the campsite, Ross could see that Joanie, Tatiana, and Michael were all smiling, but Michael’s smile vanished as soon as he saw Ross. This made a small pang in Ross’s chest, but it was still good news that Michael’s mood had improved.

“It seems we’re all assembled,” said Garurumon.

Ross didn’t see immediately how this was the case, but only because he was still looking for Agumon. Greymon however was present and napping. When the large dinosaur snorted a gust of terribly hot air from his nostrils Ross decided it would be best to leave him alone unless they needed him.

“Okay,” said Ross. “What have you got, Michael?”

Everyone turned their attention to Michael, who had a stick and a number of small rocks with him. He took a deep breath, and began to deliver what Ross considered to be a remarkably unconfident ramble. “So, Garurumon and I discovered something yesterday. We were talking about words, and…well I guess I should start with how I got there. We were telling jokes, and Garurumon didn’t get mine, and it was a pun. The joke was…um…cats think—wait no that wasn’t it. Anyway the point is he didn’t get it because it was a pun, and that’s because it had words that mean two…I mean two words that sound the same.”

“Homophones?” asked Joanie, who clearly had no idea where Michael was going with this.

“Yeah, that. So, uh…”

Ross could tell that Michael was lost. He was sure that at one point it had all made perfect sense in the boy’s head, but the path of logic that originally brought him to whatever idea he was trying to convey was probably too convoluted for him to keep track of. “Why don’t you show us what you found first?” asked Ross. “If we still need an explanation, we can ask questions. It’s okay if it doesn’t make complete sense to us right away.” Ross recalled how much he used to struggle with oral presentations. He would always start from the beginning of his thought process and end up with a bored and confused audience before he got to the part that was interesting and important.

Michael seemed a little disappointed that Ross had to correct him, but also relieved that he had an excuse to switch gears. Without another word the boy arranged his pebbles in a pattern that seemed random, but the careful deliberation he took with each one showed that something more was going on. He then used his stick to write the word ‘FISH’ in the dirt in large, distinct letters. Many of the pebbles were knocked out of their original positions in the process.

“Ooh, are you going to make a fish?” asked Tatiana with unconstrained excitement. Ross didn’t show it, but he also hoped that Michael had somehow learned Wizardmon’s magic.

“No, but it’s almost as good,” said Michael, who was starting to smile again despite himself. “Look close.”

Michael pointed right at one of the pebbles that had been knocked aside. He paused, and then he pushed the tip of his finger clean through it. Ross had to blink, and then the pebble was resting on top of part of the letter ‘I,’ and Michael’s finger was pressed against the ground. For an instant at a time Ross would see the pebble back where it had been before, superimposed over Michael’s hand but always flickering back to the letter.

“What the hell?” said Jacob.

Joanie and Tatiana were talking loudly, but none of it reached Ross’s brain. He was busy trying to reconcile the inconsistency. This flew in the face of the rest of the impossible nonsense he had grown accustomed to in his time here. He had seen the world go to immense lengths to keep things like time paradoxes from happening, but now Michael could apparently make a rock be in two places at once.

Because he was unable to figure out what on earth was happening on his own, Ross listened to Michael’s unsteady explanation of the story, already in progress. Michael had actually written the word in the language of this world, but for some reason their human brains automatically interpreted it as English. Now that he knew what to look for, Ross could see the word as two alien characters. He could also see that none of the pebbles had moved an inch. It had only looked that way to accommodate the false English word. Then Ross had to wonder how many other written words he had seen in this world, and got the feeling it would keep him up at night.

“So Michael, can you hear this language too, or just see the words?” asked Joanie.

“I can’t hear it. I’ve tried, though.”

“Similarly,” said Garurumon, “I cannot hear ‘English’ as you call it.”

“What’s the name of your language?” asked Tatiana.

Garurumon shook his head. “We never knew it needed a name. I am as surprised as any of you.” Garurumon then took a glance at the slumbering behemoth outside the circle. “Perhaps we should wake him up. He may want to see this.”

“Nah,” said Tatiana, “He wouldn’t care.” She said it in a strange, upbeat way, as if to say that something was better about Greymon for not caring. Ross thought she was jumping to conclusions, but Garurumon was apparently convinced and that was good enough. Besides that, the thought of waking him up was a little intimidating.

“Anyway, there’s one more thing,” said Michael. He had everyone’s rapt attention now. “I don’t know to teach this one, but I think you should look right here.” Michael pointed with his stick at the intersection between a line and a curve. “Try to see the word and just the word, not the lines. I think it helps if you squint a little.”

Ross did exactly as he was told, but he wasn’t getting results. A solid minute passed and it was a real strain on his eyes. Finally he gave up and glanced back at Michael, who was waiting nervously for someone to see what he wanted them to see. Ross was about to say it was time for a new approach when Tatiana nearly jumped out of her skin.

“I see it! I see it! It’s a million words!”

“What are you talking about?” said Jacob. “There aren’t even fifty strokes there.”

“No, I see it! It’s what it really means!”

Joanie looked amazed, and she asked Garurumon, “Can you see it? I can’t.”

“No. I haven’t managed it yet.”

“What does it look like?” asked Ross.

Michael looked surprised. Perhaps he hadn’t expected that the teenagers would believe them. “It’s…it’s sort of like English, at least some of it. It’s almost all letters from the alphabet and numbers, but I can’t read it. It’s not gibberish, though. It’s kind of math-y, I guess?”

Ross nodded. “Does it look the same to you, Tat?”

“Yeah, pretty much.”

So far, so good. “Can you two write down some of what you see? So that we can see it?”

Michael nodded, then got to work. It was slow going, and he clearly had to concentrate terribly hard in order to do it. It didn’t help that he had to write in the dirt, either.

“Oh,” said Tatiana, “I see what part you’re copying. You want me to start on the next line?”

“Mm-hmm.”

Ross didn’t believe at first that she could pick out where Michael was looking if there really were a million words of the stuff, but Michael didn’t object to a single thing she wrote. There was clearly more to these kids’ eyes than he thought. As for what they were writing, it didn’t make any real sense to him, but it seemed too orderly and deliberate to be simple make-believe.

At length the two were finished, and this is what they had written:

for(int t = 0xAB09E224; t < 0xAB0F0000; t++) {

for(int z = 0x4C14BCA1; z < 0x4C14BF00; z++) {

for(int y = 0x8AC8193F; y < 0x8AC8F000; y++) {

for(int x = 0x7BE86E88; x < 0x7BF00000; x++) {

interpolate(macrovoxel(z,y,x));
interpolate(macrovoxel(z+0x01,y-0x04,x+0x1C));
loctimeset(t,z,y,x);
tick(t-0x05);
tick(t+0x05);

}

}

}

}

Ross had a hunch that if anyone would have an idea it would be Joanie. She had a look of quiet awe on her face, so it seemed his hunch was correct.

“Do either of you two know anything about computer programming?” asked Joanie.

The kids both shook their heads.

“Unbelievable…” said Joanie.

“Is that what it is?” asked Ross. “Computer code?”

“It sure looks like it. I’m not a programmer, but my mom is. I’ve picked up a few things.”

“Do you know what this says, then?” asked Michael, who was suddenly uncharacteristically hopeful.

“Well…no.”

And just like that Michael was crestfallen. Ross was disappointed as well, but he hadn’t expected much.

“When you say ‘code,’” said Garurumon. “Do you mean to say that this is a cypher? Can the cypher be broken?”

Joanie shook her head. “It’s not a cypher. You can’t just swap out letters or do simple decoding to find out what it means in English. See the word ‘interpolate’ in there? Depending on the rest of the program, that could mean anything. My mom said you can’t take a word in a program at face value. You have to know the full context to know what it actually does.”

“I still don’t understand,” said Garurumon. “If the simplest of ideas like ‘fish’ require all these millions of words in this language, and small portions of the idea like this one are meaningless on their own, how does anyone use it to communicate?”

“That’s the thing, people don’t use it to talk to each other. It’s language for computers. They’re…they’re tools we use for dealing with information. Think like the library in the Holy City, except you can store thousands of books in a small space.”

“You can play games on them, too,” said Tatiana.

“Then are they toys or books?” asked Garurumon.

“They’re complicated,” said Joanie, “and very flexible. For our purposes, let’s stick with the information aspect. Basically, a computer thinks of everything in the world as numbers, and this computer language is how we tell it what to do.”

“So when you send an email,” asked Tatiana, “Does it send it in this language instead of English?”

“No, at least I don’t think so. The words in documents are still English, mostly. Something like this code you’ve written here is what the actual program or app you use to read the email would be made of.”

“That’s all fascinating,” said Jacob, “but why is it here?”

Ross certainly didn’t have a good answer for this. One might as well have asked why there was time travel here, or why there were talking wolves and angels. On the theme of computers, one could ask why they were called Data, Virus, and Vaccine. Given what they knew now about language, it could have simply been the case that nothing here had anything to do with computers, but their brains interpreted it that way for some reason.

Tatiana, however, was very decisive in her answer. “Cause we’re inside a computer. Duh.”

Michael’s eyes lit up, but Joanie and Jacob didn’t seem to give the idea much credence. “I really don’t think we are,” said Joanie. “Even if we could somehow get inside a computer, you couldn’t fit all this in all the computers in the world.” She gestured all around them as she said ‘all this.’

“How do you know?” asked Michael.

“It’s math. Take a really close look at your fingertips, and all the detail that’s there, like your fingerprints. If you wanted to convert everything about even just your finger into computer data, you would need data for every last detail, down to the depth of every microscopic ridge on your skin. Your finger would be gigabytes of data, the rest of your body would be terabytes, I don’t even want to guess how much space your brain would take up, and that’s just you.

“There would have to be data on every blade of grass, and every raindrop in a sky that’s miles high and maybe thousands of miles wide north-south and east-west. We can’t even picture how big that is, and in every cubic inch of it there’s tons of data. That’s trillions of terabytes at least, and there just isn’t that much computer storage. It’d be like fitting the ocean into a pond. Trust me, it wouldn’t fit.”

Ross had known that math was Joanie’s favorite subject, but this was the first time he had heard her go into full-on math-mode. The immense enthusiasm she had for just the idea of converting an entire world into computer data was palpable, even if she was describing why it couldn’t be done. But for all the confidence and authority in her words, Michael wasn’t backing down.

“But think about it. If we’re in a computer, and the word ‘fish’ is computer code, then what Wizardmon did actually makes sense.” Michael paused, as if the gravity of what had occurred to him was just sinking in. “He could make a real fish because the word ‘fish’ is the code for making a fish. He wasn’t just reading, he was running a program.”

Ross thought Michael’s idea was too good to ignore, even if Joanie’s math was probably right. He decided the best thing to do would be to steer the conversation away from a debate over whether they were literally in a computer and toward exploring this code further. “That’s a good point, Michael. How do you think we can test it?”

Michael turned a little red. Apparently he had no idea. Fortunately for him, Ross had a suggestion. “Why don’t you write a few other words first? You can compare and contrast them.”

“Is that going to help?” asked Jacob. “It’s not like any of us know what the terms mean.”

Ross wanted to tell Jacob that he would make a lousy teacher, but he didn’t. He had to stay focused. “It doesn’t hurt to try.”

“What should I write?” asked Michael.

“Whatever you want. Write something you’d want to see the code for.”

Michael swallowed, and fiddled with the stick for a bit.

“You already wrote ‘fish,’ so why not try ‘cat’?” asked Tatiana.

“You can go ahead and write it yourself,” said Ross. “Actually, why don’t we all try some words?”

So with everyone’s help they soon had a sizeable corpus. Tatiana wrote ‘cat’ and ‘hat,’ Jacob wrote ‘sword,’ Ross wrote ‘rain’ and ‘sun,’ and Garurumon clumsily scratched ‘Howling Fire.’ Joanie’s and Michael’s grabbed Ross’s attention as the most potentially useful, though. Joanie wrote a fundamental set of mathematical concepts: ‘zero,’ ‘one,’ ‘plus,’ and ‘minus;’ and Michael cut straight to the chase with ‘evolve.’

Since only the kids could see the code behind the words, the rest of them had to sit and wait for their analyses. “Most of ‘cat’ looks exactly like ‘fish’,” said Michael. “There are only little bits here and there that are different.”

“‘Sword’ and ‘hat’ are a lot shorter than the animal words,” said Tatiana. “So is ‘rain,’ but it has a really different pattern, same with ‘sun.’ And same with ‘Howling Fire,’ whatever that means.”

“They’re my words,” said Garurumon. “That’s all we need to say about it.”

Then they came to the part that Ross and Joanie were most interested to hear. “Wow, look at ‘zero’!” said Michael.

Tatiana looked. “Ha, that one’s easy!”

Joanie smiled. “Is it just the number zero? One digit?”

“Yeah!” said Michael and Tatiana together.

“How did you guess that?” asked Jacob.

“Well, there wouldn’t be any code to ‘make’ a zero. Zero’s just zero. I think any other number would be the same.”

“I thought you didn’t think this stuff was actual computer code,” said Jacob.

“I never said that. I just said we can’t all be in a physical computer because it wouldn’t have enough memory or storage.” She rubbed her chin. “Can one of you write down what it says for ‘plus’ and ‘minus’?”

Michael and Tatiana split the work:

int op_plus(int arg1, int arg2) {

while(arg2 > 0) {

INC(arg1);
DEC(arg2);

}
return arg1;

} map(‘+’);

int op_minus(int arg1, int arg2) {

while(arg2 > 0) {

DEC(arg1);
DEC(arg2);

}
return arg1;

} map(‘-’);

“That’s the whole thing? For both of them?” asked Ross.

Michael and Tatiana both nodded. Joanie meanwhile studied the code intently. After everyone let her think for a minute she said, “No doubt about it: it’s computer code for adding two numbers and subtracting two numbers. See the terms ‘INC’ and ‘DEC’? That’s for ‘increment’ and ‘decrement,’ meaning adding or subtracting by one. The programs are instructions for how to add or subtract any two numbers assuming you know how to add one to a number and subtract one from a number.”

Ross thought he saw a logical problem. “Doesn’t that mean it’s using addition and subtraction to define addition and subtraction?”

“Not exactly. There’s a big difference between adding arbitrary numbers and incrementing. For example, if you want to add two and three, you don’t need to do anything special, you just know the answer. But if want to add two numbers that are a hundred digits long, you couldn’t fit them both in your head at once.

“But, if you have external storage, say a really long abacus or marks on a chalkboard, you can add two numbers of any size as long as you go one step at a time: add an abacus bead to the first number and take away a bead from the second number over and over until the second number runs out of beads. The first number will be the sum when you’re finished. By the way, that’s exactly how this program does addition. My mom said this is the whole idea behind computers: breaking down huge problems into a long series of itty-bitty ones. It’s all so that a computer chip with only thousands of components can work with numbers that are in the quintillions or even larger.”

Joanie’s eyes were full of life, but Ross couldn’t share her enthusiasm. He wasn’t a fan of either math or computers, or really any discipline that made one feel the need to give a dissertation on the definition of the word ‘plus.’ In any case, he could mostly see what she was talking about, but a blank look at Tatiana’s and Garurumon’s faces suggested they didn’t.

To Ross’s surprise, though, Michael not only followed but understood enough to ask an appropriate follow-up question. “So if it’s all about breaking down big things into little things…wouldn’t that mean we still might be in a computer? If it’s too much data, don’t you just need to break it down better?”

Joanie smiled. “That’s the right idea, but I still don’t think so. This is getting into information theory, but you still need somewhere to store all that data to begin with, no matter how good you are at breaking it down into manageable chunks. I suppose there’s always compression, but if that were the case I don’t think we’d still see all the little details like dust and all the pores on your skin…anyway, the question is where do you put all this data, not how do you process it. If you have more zeroes and ones to store than there are grains of sand on all the beaches, I don’t see how you’d fit it all in our world’s computers.”

“Isn’t there also a matter of speed?” asked Jacob, “Like, my dad’s computer can’t even run Madden without all the players moving choppy. Everything here’s way too smooth for this to be a computer simulation.”

“Actually,” said Joanie, “I don’t think speed would be a problem at all, at least not from our point of view. If our brains are in the simulation, then we’d perceive time on the terms of the simulation. It could be that every millisecond here is an hour of real time, and we wouldn’t know it.”

When she said this, something clicked in Ross’s head. The way Joanie was talking now, with that intellectual vigor and joy, was the same way she had talked while explaining the glowing time rocks all those months ago. On top of that, Ross realized that something was strange about how she approached all this, something inconsistent. Before he could think, he found himself expressing his idea out loud. “I’m surprised you’re this excited about the idea of us being in a computer simulation. I would have figured you’d be agonizing over whether you keep your soul when your brain gets turned into binary.”

For just a moment, Ross looked in Joanie’s eyes and saw a sickening dread. It was a moment that seemed to drag on forever in the worst way possible. Her mouth opened and nothing came out. He thought at first that she looked terrified at the idea of being a body stripped of its soul. Then he realized she was mortified because she had knowingly left the soul out of the equation and he had noticed her thinking like an atheist.

He felt sick. He felt nothing like he normally did when he said something that stumped a Christian. He had exposed her momentary lapse in piety in front of everyone, and he knew he didn’t have the right. After all she had done for him, after all the times she had tolerated his muk, he repaid her with humiliation. He wanted desperately to apologize, to grovel, to beg on his knees for forgiveness.

But she recovered. She shrugged and the moment passed. “Like I said, I don’t think we are inside a computer. There’s no point getting riled up over stuff like that; it’s all hypothetical.”

Ross was feeling something like whiplash. He honestly was sure he had said something seriously hurtful, but nothing was coming of it. Did she really just not care? That was impossible. It had hurt; he saw it.

“Anyway,” she continued, “The important thing is that now we’re sure that what they’re seeing is something like the code for each word. Why don’t we move on to ‘evolve’?”

With that, Michael and Tatiana spent a long time staring at the last word on the ground. Eventually Joanie apparently had her fill of the suspense and asked, “Well?”

“…It’s huge,” said Michael.

“Way, way, way bigger than ‘fish’,” said Tatiana.

“Can you copy any of it?” asked Joanie. “It doesn’t matter which part.”

“No,” said Michael. “All the letters and numbers are so small. They’re almost just dots.”

Ross couldn’t help but be disappointed, even though his mind was still mostly on what he had said to Joanie. “I guess that’s not surprising. We already knew that evolution in this world isn’t a simple matter.”

Michael now looked just as down as he had been the day before. Ross could tell that he really thought he was onto something, that maybe he had solved the whole puzzle. But Tatiana at least was unfazed. “Hey,” she said to Michael, “Why don’t you just try to do what Wizardmon did?”

Michael looked like he had just been held back a grade. “You know I can’t do anything like that.”

“Why not? You already figured out how to actually see the words, and I bet Wizardmon can’t even do that. And you understand all of Joanie’s math stuff, too.”

Michael hugged his knees. “Wizardmon does magic, remember? You’re better off asking Garurumon. Heck, you’d probably do better at it than I would.”

Tatiana appeared a little put off by Michael’s obstinance, but she persisted. “But you’re so close! Don’t you get it?”

“Tatiana, don’t push him,” said Joanie.

“But all he needs is a push! He’s got all the ideas in his stupid brain, he just needs to move them out like Greymon does!”

This raised eyebrows, especially from Ross and Garurumon. “See, this is your problem, Michael,” she continued. “You think you don’t know something just because you don’t know exactly how to say it. You don’t need every last word in the dumb code, you just need to let it breathe!”

“What are you even talking about?” said Michael, who was starting to look more irked than depressed.

“Breathe! Like Greymon! He showed me!”

“What does that even mean? That doesn’t have anything to do with this!”

“Does too!”

“Does not!”

This was clearly trying Joanie’s patience, “Listen, you two—”

Tatiana ignored her. “Just let me show you!”

“What, are you going to breathe on me? Or make a dumb dinosaur noise in my face like a little kid?”

“No!” Tatiana grew a little red when Michael mentioned making dinosaur noises, and for the life of him Ross couldn’t guess why.

Then Tatiana moved in closer to Michael. She was on her knees while Michael was sitting down, and the height disadvantage clearly made him a little uncomfortable. “Just shut up and hold still!”

Tatiana placed her hand square on Michael’s forehead. The very next moment, the air was filled with the sounds of an earthquake and Ross felt it in the ground beneath him. It passed through his chest and made tiny shots fire all through his nervous system. He couldn’t help but be frightened, and then when he saw Michael’s eyes he became terrified.

Michael was seizing up. His pupils had dilated, his mouth was twitching, and it wasn’t obvious whether he was still breathing or not. Then his eyes rolled into the back of his head.

“Michael!” Ross had to do something. He lunged at them and grabbed Michael’s shoulder and Tatiana’s arm, thinking that maybe it would stop if he separated them. As soon as he made contact, he became aware that Tatiana was seizing up as well. The very next instant, he was aware of very little. An overwhelmingly violent force shook through his limbs and vibrated into his skull. It felt like he was standing right next to a space shuttle during liftoff.

As his vision went black, Ross thought he heard Joanie scream “Oh my God!” but it was nearly lost in everything else; it was all so very, very loud.

*********

Michael could see. He couldn’t move his eyes, but he could see better than ever before. Whatever his eyes decided to focus on was so sharp, so clear that he wondered if he had actually been blind his entire life until now. Tatiana’s hand was still on his forehead, but the pounding had stopped. Ross was holding on to his shoulder, but he didn’t feel afraid. He could tell that they could see, too. Joanie, Garurumon, and Jacob appeared to be in a panic, but they were moving so slowly. Michael knew that they couldn’t see a thing.

Soon Tatiana and Ross let go of him. Their hands were still on his forehead and shoulder, but all the same they had let go. The three of them were sitting in the same spot, but they were also standing up and moving on their own. They couldn’t speak because their mouths were still where they were sitting down, but that didn’t matter. They were here to see, and to hear, and to breathe.

Michael took a deep breath and filled his lungs, but not with air. The air was for the Michael that sat on the ground. Michael could see that air: it was a perfect Cartesian grid of discrete particles that surrounded them all. Between the particles it was black, except for the bits of sunlight that moved from particle to particle along the grid. All of these things were too large, too solid for Michael to breathe now. He didn’t know what it was that he was taking in as a substitute, but when he inhaled he could see more clearly, and when he exhaled everything grew dimmer. He just had to breathe at a steady pace and he would still be able to see. That part was easy because Tatiana was breathing along with him and setting the example.

Now that he and Ross had gotten used to their new situation, Tatiana wanted Michael to get to work. She hadn’t shown him how to breathe like Greymon just so he could look at air particles. At Tatiana’s invisible suggestion, Michael looked at the word ‘evolve’ again. It took some effort to see how all the displaced contours of dirt read out the English word, but he didn’t care about that. He cared about the code, which he could see much better now, even if he didn’t know what it meant. Each term in the program now took up a space between one and four grid locations. They were all numbers, even the words, and depending on how he wanted to interpret them he could see them numerically or in programming language.

He didn’t exactly know where to begin, but in the back of his mind he wanted to go somewhere where he could learn what to do. That had been Ross’s idea from the beginning: go to a place that has the answers or at least some clues. And just like that, some of the numbers in the code stuck out to him more than others. They were always in groups of four, and the first number in each group increased by one every cycle. Michael knew what the cycles were because each bit of sunlight moved one spot on the grid every cycle. His mind was moving so much faster than he was used to, and he found everything easier to understand.

Michael reached out, and a copy of one of the groups of four numbers stuck to his hand. He moved the copy around, and the second, third, and fourth numbers changed while he did so. Soon he was able to piece together the pattern: the groups of four were coordinates in the grid. The latter three numbers were locations on the Z, Y, and X axes, and the first number was the location on the time axis. It was a four-dimensional grid. Everything around them moved along the time axis by one with each cycle.

Michael noticed that while each time coordinate incremented with every cycle, not every time coordinate was the same. He knew that everything in the grid he saw at the moment was in the same spot on the time axis, so he figured that the coordinates did not represent their absolute current position, but rather their position relative to some exact point in space at an exact moment in time. Or no, that was backwards. The numbers referred to the position of something else relative to them. They told him exactly how far in each direction including time he would need to go to find something. And in this case each location probably had something to do with evolution.

He wanted to go where the numbers in his hand pointed. Tatiana seemed to understand his meaning, so she grabbed hold of him and Ross, then breathed deep and went there. Michael didn’t know how she did it, but they were going to the place the numbers described.

The new place was very dark and very hot. If Michael’s math was right, they hadn’t moved very far in Z, Y, or X, but they had gone several thousand years in the direction of zero. Michael knew right away what that meant, and he started to breathe faster and shallower, and that made the vision in front of him flicker. But Tatiana did something to his lungs, and he calmed himself. It didn’t make the sight before them any less terrifying, though.

The stone giant was here. He hadn’t been turned to stone yet, but he towered over all of them. Just as WaruPiximon had shown them, he was naked and his skin was covered in sinister, painted patterns. It was as if he wanted to look as inhuman as he possibly could. Michael wanted to focus just on the individual particles on the grid, but something forced him to see the entire picture.

The giant stretched out his arms, and something invisible but cruel passed out of his hands and into the air. After what felt like an eternity, Michael saw the water in the air gather into dark clouds that were charged with massive amounts of energy. They were standing in the middle of a monsoon, but he didn’t feel the water hit his skin because his skin was far in the future. The energy in the clouds entered the giant’s body as bolts of lightning, and Michael saw them as super-bright particles moving one space on the grid every cycle. Nothing could move faster than that.

Then the giant redirected that immense quantity of energy into a nearby Virus-type that Michael didn’t recognize. The Virus-type underwent changes all throughout its body. It was easy to see that it grew in size by a tremendous amount, but what grabbed Michael’s attention was a tiny mass in its center that he could interpret as code. The code quadrupled in size during the evolution process. The original code was not overwritten, but the large addition seemed to override most of what was there before.

When the process was complete, a robotic dragon of the same size as the giant stood in their midst. It had no proper eyes behind the holes in its steel head, just a multitude of tiny, black sensors. On its shoulders were mounted twin cannons, making it seem more like a creatively-shaped weapon than an actual creature. Only the code at its core made it clear to Michael that this thing was actually alive. At the end of the new code there was a living descriptor, ‘Ultimate Level,’ along with a living name, ‘Machinedramon.’

Now Michael had seen evolution, and he had seen it more closely and understood its finest mechanisms more precisely than Ross had when he used it as the Commander. But it didn’t make a difference. This was evolution for Virus-types, and there was no hope of Michael making the same process happen. It was too physical, and the invisible something that the giant had used to start it was not something Michael had in him. Neither was it in Tatiana. This was revealing, but it wasn’t what he needed to see. He was wondering where to go next, but something interrupted his thoughts.

“Finally.” The word came from the giant’s mouth, but Michael didn’t hear the sound with his ears. The sound could be seen as subtle disturbances in the grid, but something else in Michael’s mind interpreted it as English for him.

The giant did something with his hands and mind that Michael couldn’t comprehend, and as a result Machinedramon was leaving. He wasn’t moving along the grid in any of the four directions, but outside of the grid entirely. Michael knew he had to see where the Virus was going, even though he wasn’t sure he wanted to know. He tried to let Tatiana know that they had to follow, and somehow she understood him and made it happen.

Their awareness stuck with Machinedramon as he left the grid. Its destination hit Michael like a car’s headlights after he had spent hours in complete darkness. All of the sudden everything was hazy again, but it was also a million times brighter than he expected. There was overwhelmingly more light here than anywhere in the world of the ’mons. Gradually he adjusted, and he couldn’t believe what he saw. It was home.

It wasn’t Michael’s house or even his town, but it was close enough. It was Manhattan, not far away from where he lived with his parents in Newark. At the moment they had a vantage of Times Square from hundreds of feet in the air. Michael felt like he could cry, and he almost forgot what they had come here to see.

Machinedramon was here. At least, that was how it looked for a moment. He towered over all the cars and people, but you could see through him like smoke. Even though he was just as solid as he had ever been in his old world, in the human world he was little more than a mirage and absolutely no more than a thin vapor. The energy from the lightning that powered his evolution was dwarfed by the energy of the daylight, and the steel that comprised his new body was less solid than the exhaust from the taxis.

Soon he was gone, and there was nothing anyone could have done about it. All the new matter that had been formed in this world as a result of the transfer was no more than a little air pollution. Everything was moving slower for Michael, and he knew that Machinedramon hadn’t been visible long enough for a cell phone camera to catch him on even one frame of video.

They were done here, and they couldn’t stay. Or rather, they weren’t really there to begin with. They had only to turn their attention back to the world of the grid and the numbers, and they could see everything in perfect sharpness again, and the light no longer overpowered them. The giant was still here, but Machinedramon was gone. The giant was shaking, and then he struck the earth with his foot and yelled loud enough to rattle the trees.

“No! No! Why didn’t it work?!

For the first time Michael became aware of a crowd of smaller Virus-types in the vicinity. Most of them were Adult-levels, but many were at the Child and Baby levels. All of them were cowering as the giant ranted and raved.

“He was supposed to kill them all, not vanish into thin air! What was the point in coming here if everything’s so weak? Damn it! Damn this rotten, pathetic world!”

The giant’s voice was like thick poison. He clenched his fists, and his nails which he had filed into claws dug into his skin and drew streams of blood.

“More. I just need more. I’ll absorb every last Data-type, and then I can evolve a Virus that’s strong enough. Then they’ll pay.”

Someone was hyperventilating; Michael could feel it. It was Ross. Tatiana was trying to calm him down, but it wasn’t working well. Michael wondered why Ross hadn’t been hyperventilating before when they saw the evolution process, but then he realized that Ross was staring somewhere else. In the crowd of Virus-types, there was one Baby-level that held Ross’s mind captive for some reason.

Michael didn’t have much time to wonder what was so special about that one Virus, because far away to the south there was an explosion that grabbed everyone’s attention, including the giant’s. It was an immense white light accompanied by a deep, sustained noise. He wouldn’t have recognized it with his physical ears, but in the waves in the grid Michael could see that it was a musical note.

There was a presence in the note, one that was uncannily similar to the invisible gaze of Angemon. It was pushing them away. Michael wanted to see what was going to happen next, but evidently someone miles away wanted them to go somewhere else. Michael hadn’t thought that anyone could tell they were watching. Wouldn’t the giant have noticed if that were the case? Regardless, a new destination in four numbers was shown to them. It was hidden in the waves of music, and the angelic presence compelled them to leave.

As the giant bared his fangs and gathered new storm clouds, Tatiana obliged. Before Michael could beg her not to, the dazzling light vanished along with everything else. It all vanished so thoroughly that it took Michael a while to realize that they had already arrived at their destination.

Their destination was empty. This was a space in the grad that had no air, no light, and no particles of any sort at its coordinates. After a number of cycles passed that Michael couldn’t count because there were no numbers to observe the change, some matter finally entered the new space. It was the core programming of a Virus. At first it was that of a Baby-level, and Michael recognized it as the one that had nearly put Ross into a fit. But the program had not reached its full size. It grew to Child, then to Adult, and then to Perfect. Ross began to breathe in spasms again as they read the name inscribed at the end of the code: ‘WaruPiximon.’

WaruPiximon’s body followed its core, and now he hung in the middle of the vast emptiness before them. He opened his pitch black eyes, smiled, and breathed in even though there was no atmosphere. He could see as they did, and Michael begged and prayed that the monster wouldn’t be able to see them. Either Michael’s prayers were answered, or he simply never needed to worry in the first place, as WaruPiximon ignored them and got to work.

The dark fairy reached out and sent something beyond the grid. He touched something outside of this world, and what he touched came back with him. One number at a time, the space before WaruPiximon was filled with another being. He was reading from another world, and writing what he found in this one. At the center of this new creature was a core program, but not like the ones in the ’mons. This one was far larger, and far brighter. When it was complete, they saw the living name: ‘Human.’

The human was perfectly still. His heart did not beat, and no electrical pulses stirred in his brain. Nothing in his body grew, and nothing in his body broke down. He could not live in this place, so WaruPiximon kept him still. Ross’s breathing only grew worse at the sight, and Tatiana had to force her will into his lungs which weren’t really there to keep him under control. Michael nearly lost his grip as well. He had forgotten that there was once a time when Ross’s shirt had no blood on it. There were no holes in the fabric and no wounds underneath it. The right side of the young man’s face was still unmarred. Ross’s old body was here.

WaruPiximon was suddenly alert for a moment after the body was finished, as if he knew he was being watched. When Tatiana finally forced Ross to slow his breathing, the dark fairy’s suspicions subsided. He admired his handiwork for a long time, until they were joined by an unexpected visitor. The visitor was not confined to the grid, for he had neither particles nor code to keep in it. Michael could see him, but he was blurry. His form was that of a two-winged angel wearing a plain tunic and a cloth blindfold. Michael recognized him as the stone colossus that stood over the Holy City, but here he was no taller than Ross. He was surrounded by a warm glow that would have gone unnoticed by anyone who could not see beyond the grid. This glow was an immense comfort to Michael, but apparently an intolerable irritation to WaruPiximon.

“You,” spat the Virus-type at the visitor.

“It is impressive that you found your way here, WaruPiximon.” The visitor’s voice was very soft, but it held such an authority that WaruPiximon couldn’t have interrupted him if he tried. “But did you not anticipate that such a feat would draw attention?”

“Are you here to kill me as you did the Human, demon?”

The visitor frowned. “The thought has indeed crossed my mind to erase every bit in your body so as to save the world from great injury.”

WaruPiximon tensed up, as if preparing to fight.

“But the decision is not in my hands. Even if it were, my master has taught me not to harm any child of your world.”

“Bite your tongue, hypocrite. Your master did not stop you from turning our Creator to stone.”

“Indeed not, for he was no child of your world. He was from a higher world, he was guilty, and he posed a mortal threat to everyone in a lower world; therefore his life was forfeit. We sought every method of stopping him, and unfortunately this one was the best. I am on my way to carry out his sentence now. But first I must handle my task here, for I too will perish in the encounter.”

WaruPiximon moved between the angel and the silent form of the old Ross. “So you’ll kill the one I found to replace him? I won’t have it!”

“Your mind is small, WaruPiximon. You think you can heal all of your wounds by inflicting greater ones on others, and that is because you are not creative. You would avenge your alleged Creator through destruction, by subtracting from Creation. But my master will stop you by adding to it.” The angel pointed behind the body of Ross. “Look.”

There were ten new core programs where the angel indicated, and familiar bodies were growing around them. WaruPiximon flew over and tried to tear them apart, but when his claws came close they were burned and forced back by the light that emanated from the code. “What is this? Why are these other ones here?”

“You already know. Wherever and whenever you decide to place the one you brought here, they will be there as well, and he will not listen to you as long as they are with him.”

“You’re wrong! The one I found is perfect! He has the Gift of the Virus! He will bleed whatever opposes him dry! I have seen it!”

“Look closer.”

WaruPiximon was still for a moment, but soon a look of dread passed over his face. As if to cope with it, he grew furious.

The angel continued. “Learn this: whatever evil you throw at the world, my master will throw tenfold good at it in return. There is nothing you can do that cannot be made right. I have stood at the Final Victory and looked back at everything that has been done to prevent it. From there you can see every evil for what it is: futility.”

The angel floated away from WaruPiximon, and at the same time his form grew blurrier. “You do see very far and in all directions at once, WaruPiximon, but you do not see everything. Worse yet, you see very little that you do not wish to see. Face the truth, and give up.”

Before the angel was completely gone, Michael felt his invisible gaze on the three of them. It was gentle and warm, and felt vaguely like a goodbye.

There was nothing to soothe WaruPiximon, though. He scrambled, jittered, and growled at empty space. He seemed to be looking for something, and by the time he found it Michael’s lungs were tired. They had been breathing whatever it was that let them see for a long time, and they couldn’t keep it up much longer.

The image of WaruPiximon was growing unstable when the monster broke into nervous laughter. “I’ve found it. You don’t see everything either, heathen. You think you’ve closed off all the paths, but there’s one left that he can follow. It’s long and winding, but he’ll take it. I can see it. I can see him and the Ultimate-level!”

WaruPiximon stuck out his hands, and he began to write a new code that was his own. Michael understood very little of it, but he knew it had the vibrant quality that was present in the core programs of the humans and ’mons. When the program was finished, WaruPiximon began to surround it with metal, and it took the shape of a sword. By then Michael was gasping for air, and slowly the Perfect-level vanished from sight. The last things Michael saw were the eleven bodies: eleven numerical copies of their eleven original bodies.

*********

Michael’s arms and legs felt like lead, and his heart throttled his aching chest with every beat. He was lying on his back, and his mouth was so dry that it must have been hanging open for hours. His eyes were open, but everything was a solid shade of gray. It took minutes for him to see other colors, and even more minutes for those colors to take shape. The first thing he thought he recognized were the tree branches, and the next thing was Joanie’s face. He tried to focus his eyes on her, but they didn’t go where he wanted.

“Michael? Are you awake?”

He meant to say ‘yes,’ but it came out as a moan. He felt Joanie’s hand on his cheek, and heard her say, “Take it easy. Everything’s okay.” It sounded like she was addressing herself as much as him.

He wanted to get up, but all he could do was stir his arms a little. Then he heard and felt the deep thuds of Garurumon’s steps coming near, followed by his equally deep voice. “Be still, Michael. There is strength too in patience.”

Next he heard Tatiana groaning. “Ugggh…that was too long…I’m not going that long again…”

Somewhere nearby Greymon growled as if in approval. As for Michael, he couldn’t approve of Tatiana recovering that much faster than he did, even if she was better at everything. But as much as he tried, he couldn’t do anything more than squirm.

“Michael,” said Joanie, “It’s all right. Just rest.”

He didn’t want to rest. He wanted to get up. There was too much in his head to sort out, and he could never think clearly while lying down. But he needed help, so he pulled his jaw shut and focused on getting the inside of his mouth and his throat wet again. When it finally felt nearly normal, he spoke. “Help…help me up…”

“You don’t have to—” began Joanie, but Michael wouldn’t hear it.

“I…want up.”

“If he wants it that badly, we can oblige,” said Garurumon.

“You’re sure?” asked Joanie.

“Yes. He’ll be fine. I can tell.”

“Okay.”

Michael felt Joanie slip her hands underneath him, and as she slowly sat him up she kept one of those hands supporting his head at all times. He glanced over at Garurumon, who was lying next to him now.

“How much do you remember, Michael?”

Michael didn’t know how to answer him. There was too much. Where could he possibly begin? Instead he looked away, and saw Tatiana leaning back against Greymon and holding her temples. Jacob was sitting with her the same way Joanie was sitting with him. There was still one person Michael hadn’t seen or heard yet, and he saw him lying on the ground away from the others.

Ross didn’t appear sick or even tired, but at the same time he was doing worse than any of them. His hands were covering his eyes, but Michael could see underneath that his face was red. His mouth was open, and he was clearly choking to try and hold back any sound. Michael had never seen Ross cry before. It was pathetic, and Michael hated that he felt so sad to see it.

Michael wanted to be mad at him. He wanted to curse him for being the reason they had to leave home, but he couldn’t. He didn’t have much practice at hating someone who showed so much shame and remorse. For the first time, Michael felt deeply sorry for Ross. He didn’t see a murderer anymore. He saw someone the devil had singled out: someone who might have made different decisions if he’d been left alone, while Michael himself had always gotten off easy.

Michael looked away. Ross made him feel terrible, but not as terrible as one other thing which clawed at the back of his mind: Machinedramon. Since their new bodies were made of code and numbers just like Machinedramon’s, then they would evaporate if anything somehow sent them back to their own world. You had to be solid to survive on Earth, and they weren’t even as solid as gas anymore. They were feeble copies of their old selves, nothing more. He didn’t know how he would tell Joanie and Jacob, much less Carlos, Nathan, and the others.

Michael’s eyes were filling with tears. He was crying because of Ross, because of his own dying arms and legs, and because now he knew for certain that they could never go home.
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