The pain is agonising and refuses to leave, Warren can feel it. He can feel so many things but truth be told he can remember nothing prior to this moment. Every time it starts the same. Every time? The question hits him like a truck speeding down a highway. What does he mean by every time? He doesn’t know. He elects to pursue the thread. Quickly he finds he hasn’t an answer other than to say that it has definitely happened previously. He wonders how that is possible. It can’t be; it shouldn’t be and yet he is convinced that it is.
Feeling confused and lost he searches his mind for answers to his previous question, what happened before this moment? The answer he receives is nothing. Not as in there was nothing before this moment but that there is a gap. The gap means the first thing he can recall is the pain.
He looks around himself to find that the city is twisted. He recalls its name as Karadise. It isn’t the proper name. He doesn’t think the place has a proper name for it is not truly a proper place. That revelation brings a fresh wave of confusion. It’s partially relieved when Warren concludes the name is one he created. He can’t answer as to why he dubbed it such only that he did. Odd, he thinks but settles to move on. After all, a question, singular, has been answered and so on to other thoughts in hope of more. Perhaps he’ll learn as to what is going on here.
Suddenly, it strikes him that his name is Warren. He is aware that should’ve been obvious and yet it was not. He wonders why. No answer is forthcoming, so he pursues the thread. It ends abruptly as if having been severed by scissors. That shouldn’t be possible, he thinks but for no reason than that is the feeling he gets. It is not based on anything more than that. There is no fact or evidence behind the thought and so he moves past it seeing little other choice.
Warren turns his head. Something informs him that this is new. It shouldn’t be and yet that is the declaration. His brow furrows. The pain is still present, agonising and excruciating but currently ignored. How long he’ll succeed in casting the pain aside he cannot say. It could be…
Time seems wrong he realises then. He was going to say hours but a catch stopped him. He can think the word but not attach it to the statement he had been formulating. Consider this, he demands of himself, and so he does. It’s a dead end, is what he finds he is forced to admit. Very strange but there have to be answers somewhere. Perhaps the answers are in the lack of answers. The notion baffles him.
He blinks several times only to recall that his eyes are orange. Why are they that colour, they shouldn’t be, I’m human, or at least I think I am, so why do I have orange eyes? A whispered voice mutters words he cannot make out. They are undoubtedly an answer, he believes, and yet he cannot discern what the words are.
A demand screams in his head that he turn. The demand pulls him from his thoughts and without question he adheres to it. His body turns and in doing so he turns the thing his hands have a hold of. He knew of the things presence, Bartholomew a memory demands he call it, but he’d ignored it until now.
It screams and Warren looks to the thing’s face. It is much like his, or what he believes he looks like, but the body is very different. His head angles, he sees his back leg has disintegrated but feels no panic or fear. Rather, there is a sense of right as if this needs to happen. He wonders why that is and then is hit by something, not physically, but mentally. A great wave of information comes flooding back to Warren. Just as it does Bartholomew screams. Its blood curdling, agonising, ear-splitting, bone chilling, skin crawling noise that leaps from the back of the things throat. Warren releases his grip on Bartholomew, the half consumed thing, and floats back what would normally be three steps if he still possessed two legs. It is then that his legs reappear. Warren can see his feet once more. He blinks in surprise only to feel his head crammed full to bursting with questions right after. There are so many he cannot hear himself think. Each has a voice. They overlap so that he can’t decipher who the voice belongs too. He worries it might be Bartholomew.
He did this. He is the cause. Those are the only words Warren manages to make out. Bartholomew is the cause of what? Warren doesn’t hear a sound. The questions vanish. He blinks. His eyes orange, cat shaped… Why are they cat shaped? No answer is again forthcoming. The question seems to not even be entertained or acknowledged.
His head is empty but he is staring at the thing his mind tells him to call Bartholomew, the one who is the cause it is claimed. There is little left of the thing now other than a partially diffused head atop a sliver of neck that flows into the remains of a shoulder.
Warren attempts to work out how gravity has not dropped the remains to the floor only for his brain to exclaim that there is a greater issue here, how is Bartholomew still living? Warren hears a new round of whispers muttering words he can’t grasp. He sighs aggravated by the lack of… The word is lost to him. In that moment he feels like his brain is dying. He wonders if this state is a result of him not being where he should be. Where I should be? Where is that? Recall tells him he should be holding onto Bartholomew.
Does that not mean I would be consumed too? Yes, is the reply that is given. So why would I do it? This time there is silence, it is eerie and so when Bartholomew screams again Warren feels some semblance of relief. He marks that as odd.
The last thing Bartholomew does before he is reduced to nothing but shattered pixels is let out a choked sound. It couldn’t be called a scream, a cry or anything else. Clearly whatever he intended it to be never passed his lips before the end took him. The end of what? Warren cannot say and is left stood there staring at the spot where Bartholomew had once been. He isn’t aware that the city, Karadise, is gone as well and that he is stood on nothing and in nothing. Only light, white and bright, is surrounding him.
In addition to the light there is a framework. A barebones structure upon which it is evident something substantive should sit or hang. At this time however it does not.
Warren analyses all he has seen and tries to piece something intelligent together. There are too many gaps is the conclusion he reaches. It is then that everything resets, except for him.
On this go round Warren views the events from an outside perspective. They are not happening to him and yet he is watching them happen to another of him. In addition the events are unfolding at an increased velocity. This affords him the opportunity to glimpse details he had not noticed when it had been he who was suffering the pain and panic. It’s why he watches with a professor’s eye and takes a mental note of all that is new to him as it plays out almost the same. Still, there are tiny variations he thinks. Or perhaps there are not and he simply didn’t notice their presence.
Then it is over. Everything feels as though it happened too quickly but this time he is aware of the emptiness around him. It does not scare but warms him. He can’t say why and does not get the chance to analyse further because the events begin all over again.
For the second time he watches these events unfold and during this second time there are definitely notable differences. His brow furrows but he cannot understand why. Then something hits him, not the him he’s watching, and with it the world expands. Not the just the city, Karadise, around the him he is watching die but the real him as well. That is how he has termed the version of himself that is watching, the real him.
With this expansion memories and answers leak into his mind. He feels consolidated and just as he does the event ends.
When it restarts for the third time Warren feels as though he is both the watcher and the partaker. It is the oddest event he believes has ever transpired in his life. Still, he recalls nothing of his time before being here. He can’t even say as to where here is. He wants to know. He needs to know.
He feels and experiences the cycle as it unfolds with its variations but pushes beyond this point in hopes of seeing more of the city. He does. It shocks him. Sadly, his ability to maintain this is fleeting and soon his attention folds back in on the cycle of which he is a part. It comes to an end soon after that only to begin once more.
On this fourth time through Warren acknowledges that there is more to be seen. It is as if new areas are opening themselves to him on each repeat and with it he feels more of himself return. Names float in his head. They mean nothing other than to give him a sense of familiarity. One is Dana, another is Sanjiv and a third is construct. He tries to study each of them to see where he might be lead but finds the strands suddenly end. These too like previous threads appear to have been cut as if by scissors.
What strand was that? He cannot recall. Vague notions fill his head. Data is being added, subtracted, compounded. Most of it appears to be peripheral and adds little to the sum of the whole. The cycle begins for a fifth time. Warren pays no mind to the events as they play out now. There is nothing he can learn from them, he believes. Still, a small sliver of him is aware more out of curiosity as to how close he is before another reset than anything else. How many times has this played out? A whisper says thousands. That he finds worrisome but forges ahead with his greater investigations of the city. Each time he reaches a little further and manages to hold for a little longer.
A hundred cycles of his and the monster Bartholomew’s death later and Warren is beyond the city. What lies past its borders is almost outside of comprehension. He stares at the endlessness and feels, joy. It isn’t what he expected would be his feeling. He anticipated fear and dread and so considers as to why the emotions are positive instead of…
New realisation and revelation hits. These are brand new glimpses of him. He feels like a new man and recalls he was not always here and that he did not always look like he does now. A picture lingers in his head of what he looked like before. He wishes to know how it is possible he changed so comprehensively. Answers, this time, are forthcoming and he is met with a flood. Fragments from every corner of wherever he is pour into his mind giving him answers. At the end of the flood he is whole once more but with a little extra.
Now Warren is aware of the events that spelled his end, of why he died, for what, for whom, where he is and that he should not be capable of standing where he is. A smile slides across his face, his real face. He’s changed its appearance to reflect how he looked in the real world instead of the face he chose in the construct, the simulation.
So many of his questions have been answered, yet others have taken their place. Answers are needed for he cannot be left to waltz in limbo.
This should not be possible in the construct unless… There is no unless! He is aware and yet what other explanation is there other than the one that has crept its way into his mind. Should be call it his mind? In theory it is not for his mind was consumed when he and Bartholomew were destroyed. Yet, here I am. Does that mean Bartholomew too can escape his fate? The question brings terror to Warren while his mind runs and sifts. Ultimately, the conclusion he reaches is that Bartholomew does not still live like he does.
It seems whatever allowed Warren to survive has not afforded the former Datastar-turned-traitor the same success.
So why am I different? There is no reply. Not from any of him. There is only silence. Warren becomes aware in the silence that the cycle has ended. No more is he dying to stop Bartholomew. Instead, the world around him is growing. It was vast previously but now it is infinitely so. Still, he can make no outside contact and finds he is completely alone. Has the construct been abandoned? Did I die for nothing? You died in the real world, his voice reminds. He is aware. He remembers details about what would’ve been his fate following his death. His first death that is, not the thousands that followed afterwards on fragments of code.
The question of all questions comes to mind. How long has it been? Warren has no frame of reference. Here there is no clock, no time. He can think of seconds, minutes, hours, etc but cannot apply them. Time has no meaning here, for him. Older questions spring back into his mind. His vast all-knowing-of-its-surroundings mind. Just the idea of that he finds more than a tad astounding. After all, he is more and yet so much less than he was before.
Is the construct still a thing? The question cuts like a knife. He has no answer and that doesn’t sit well with him at all. He elects that he must find an answer but is unsure as to how. A burst of data perhaps might help and so he works to form something short. It won’t be words. There is no telling if they would be deciphered. A static burst at a specific note will have to do. He hopes it’ll work because the prospect of spending the rest of existence alone doesn’t sound as though it would be anything other than harrowing. He can’t bring himself to say soul destroying because technically he has no… Don’t go down that route it’s not worth it; his voice says to him. He concurs and so does not. Rather, he busies himself with the burst he’ll let out into the world.