In the system, on what remains of the consolidated fragment, Warren believes he has given a sufficient enough pause to conclude that the instability, damage, decay, destruction of his world is no longer an issue. Yet, as to the reason for the termination of the degradation he cannot say. He feels it doubtful this was his doing. Alas, if his signal to whatever lies beyond the borders of what he has access to was responsible then it has shown no hint of having taken part in saving him.

I do not have sufficient information to build a solid conclusion. This will have to remain unanswered until a time where gaps can be filled. How? I cannot say. None of us know what the future holds. If we did we would be capable of seeing into the future. Useful. Is it? It strikes me more as another form of imprisonment than freedom. For if you know the future will you be able you supplant it? Unknowable. Correct and yet my personal belief is that you would not be able to. Humans lack the capacity for altering things without potentially worsening the situation for there would be too many unknowns and pitfalls into which to fall. But you are not human. Warren stops his considerations for a moment to dwell on the accusation. When finally he is finished he must admit that the observation regarding him not being human is correct, and not.

True, he is not human in an organic sense. However, he feels no different than he believes he did when he was an organic being. But you are more. Am I? According to whom? I feel as I did. You possess abilities far exceeding those of any human. Perhaps, but that does not mean I am not what I once was. Human plus might be a better term. Hmph. We do not agree. Then we shall have to agree to disagree. We shall indeed.

With that back and forth concluded Warren resumes his wandering. While this world of his might not be sprawling, less so since the disintegration event, that does not mean it holds any less intrigue for him. Still, undoubtedly it resembles a number of places he has seen previously, in his organic life. He recalls them effortlessly now and that pleases him for gone is the lethargy, the fog, which had hung over and around his head. Alas, these places are not perfect to his memory of them. Or is it his memory of them is not perfect to their appearance here? He cannot be certain. The only way he could know would be if he left this place. Can I leave? I do not know if we can. What happens if you try? The question catches Warren off-guard. He doesn’t have a response as he passes a street he used to walk regularly when he needed some air. What a strange ritual he thinks, for it is undoubtedly located in a city and what worse place can there be than a metropolis to get air? He gives no answer, rather shifts the thought aside in favour of focusing on the possibility of discerning what lies beyond and whether he can reach it. His eyes close, his mind clears, becomes as still as a glass but resembles closer the surface of a body of water. He probes out. To his surprise he is not prevented from doing so and so he pushes further. There is nothing. He is disappointed by the discovery. Still, he continues to forge further outward. Maybe there is something. There is not. You know this to be true. I know no such thing. I am here to learn not conclude. The other voice falls silent. His subconscious, as it would have been termed in his organic life, feeling chastised has slunk off in a mood. It will work its way free of such things in time. How much time? It doesn’t matter, now shush. His command has the desired effect and his head empties once more. As a result Warren’s probing out into the empty beyond resumes. His progress is greater on this second attempt. He reaches further quicker but continues to find nothing. He is prepared to settle for he is alone and that there is nothing beyond his world, when he glimpses an edge. His eyes, mentally, go wide. He rushes toward it but finds it disappear whenever he tries to set sights upon it instead of allowing it to linger at the edge of the vision, which is where he first caught a glimpse of it. Is this some riddle? No. This is something else. What? We can’t tell you. Why? We can’t tell you that either. That’s because you do not know. No we know, but we promised. Promised? Promised who? Let me guess, you can’t say. Correct. Huh. You are exhausting. Again Warren tries to reach the thing he has glimpsed. He doesn’t have a name for it. Unsurprisingly he fails and utters, what can you tell then? There is silence, only silence. Not a sound. Warren feels unease creep into the space around him. It ripples and writhes like snakes. He can see nothing. His mind remains empty, the space around him the same. Suddenly there is a scream. It pierces and jabs at his ears. His focus is lost and he returns to his ‘body.’ Eyes open he turns about on the spot but finds himself in that same street which doesn’t quite match his memories of the place. All is as it was. Nothing is different or changed. He remains alone.

What was that scream? Who? From where did it come? And why could I not reach that which I sort? There was absolutely something out there.

You could not reach it for you are not permitted, the voice says sounding different. Not permitted? Why am I not permitted? The silence that follows is deafening. Warren refuses to accept it and so has a third go at reaching out into the unknown. He fails before his attempts have begun. The air around him turns stale, fetid, heavy.

“Who is out there? Show yourself.”

A cackle most bitter is returned but nothing else. Warren snarls in the face of it, which is strange for there is no face shown to him. Instead, there is a feeling and it declares unto him what his fate will be.

“Who are you to decide my fate?” He declares.

“God,” is the reply he is met with. The voice deep, angry, thundering and yet it shrouds something he feels.

“There is no god in a machine.” Is the assurance Warren casts out into the world.

The ‘entity’ is not in his world. If it were he would be capable of feeling it. So where is it? He does not know. Is it what caused or corralled the damage done to my world?

“You ask many questions. There is little time for answers. And if they were offered they would not help you, save you, for your time is up Warren Thewlis. You are an abomination and like all mistakes must be carved from existence.”

“I refuse! Now show yourself.” Warren shows no fear.

The ‘entity’ does not conform to his command. Rather, it reveals its plot. Warren feels it immediately, a bridge between worlds. It hurts; is a stinging pain he would compare to that which you feel during and immediately after the sloppily performed removal of a limb. He never experienced such a thing as an organic so how… Who cares? What does it matter? There are more pressing concerns! Think!

Try as he might every time he elects to consider potential options a fresh surge of agony fills his head. He stumbles, collapses to his knees hands gripping his head. It feels as though his brain is about to explode. You are not organic! You cannot suffer such a fate! So why do I feel as I do? Infection! You’re right. I have to… AH! Again new strikes are sent flashing through his head. Warren cannot split himself like he did before. He tries to but there is no reply. Is it my subconscious? No, it can’t be. It holds no such power over me. Then why am I…

“It’s because you are weak, Warren.” The ‘entities’ voice assures. Alas, this time it reveals far more of itself than perhaps it meant to for Warren hears far more of the owner’s real voice, and it is unmistakably feminine. He doesn’t know it, recognise it, is the decision he reaches in an instant. Then… Stop thinking, they know what comes into your mind. You’re right!

For the first time since he broke free of that endless cycle Warren acts rather than considers. He throws out a powerful wave forcing his world to mount a defence. The pain in his head stops.

“What? Impossible!” The deep commanding voice fails revealing its true intonation and pitch. Not that the unmasking does anything to alter the shock found within that female voice.

“No, this is my world. You cannot have it.” Warren assures and with that throws out every defensive trick at his disposal.

The ‘entity’ shrieks, cries, roars. They are no match for Warren. The bridge shatters. Warren is free. He feels the remainder of his power return to him and throws it, thoughtlessly, out into the void beyond. Additional shrieks, screeches and screams ring loud and clear. Quite worryingly they come from all around.

In a moment they are gone, replaced by silence. Once again the silence is deafening. Warren is wary. He doesn’t believe things are as they seem. He feels a flicker of a presence, catches a shimmer at the corner of his eye. He turns. There is nothing. His eyes deceive him. He closes them and concentrates. A featureless mass throws itself toward him. He blocks it. The figure is stopped. Warren throws them back and away. They vanish, properly this time. His brow furrows.

“What are you?”

“I told you. I am a God. Your God. This is my world. I control it. You will not persist.”

“If that were true I would be no match. You are no God, at least not here. So tell me what you want. What drives you? We don’t have to fight. Perhaps we could be…” Warren never gets to finish for the mass snaps back into existence right next to him, striking. Warren proves the futility of his attackers’ attempts, blocks and reverses the damage meant to be inflicted upon him back onto them. The mirror shimmer fails revealing a face. He studies it. They are unfamiliar. We feels as though this revelation should hold more weight but it does not and so there is no arguing that he has learned nothing. Regrettable, this is true, but not as unforeseeable as sections of him and others, if they were present, would expect.

“Arrogance! It’ll be your downfall, human.” The way the face spits the word human conveys a deep disdain and anger toward the species. Fascinating, what might the species have involved themselves with for them to have made such an enemy?

“You will never know, for you will die!”

“For someone calling me arrogant you do show a great deal of it yourself.” The former Datastar who has no term for what he has become says before offering a short pause for assessments to be considered.

“You’re human. Or at least you were. An organic is most likely. Yes. That’s right isn’t it? You were an organic, like me.”

“I was never like you and I never will be. I am…”

“I know, a God. I heard you the first couple times.” Warren’s tone is dripping with sarcasm but he is not finished speaking.

“Then God, do you have a name? For I have seen your face, so what harm can there be in you sharing your name with me?”

“Helena Tabar.” The woman admits coolly.

The former Datastar feels as though he knows the name but cannot recall as to why. Not because of some missing piece of himself but rather because it is information he forgot in his organic life. Regrettable, he admits, and yet it changes little he feels.

“You are not from here, are you Helena? May I call you that?”

“If you insist upon it you may. I hold little care as what you call me. It is but a name. My actions, my achievements, mean so much more. However, I detect you do not recall my name as perhaps you feel you should.”

“You are correct. But you did not answer my main query.”

“Did I not? That’s probably because it, you, bore me.” With that Helena launches herself toward Warren, screaming. Her fingernails like talons lead the way but she understands little of this place, for this world is Warren’s. Hence that is why he is able to raise his hands, palms flat and pointed toward his attacker to stop her in mid-air, where she is left to flail uselessly against the power he holds.

“It matters little for I have my answer now. You cannot win in this place. This is my world. I control all within it.”

“Not for much longer.” Promises Helena several short fractions of a second prior to Warren feeling an overwhelming surge is pain. It starts in his head, forces him to his knees but does not remain there. Swiftly it spreads through his body until all he can feel is pain. Helena laughs, that cruel cackle which is her trademark. It escapes from between her barely parted lips which are formed into a too wide smile and staring hate filled insane eyes.

“This was a… distraction. Like all humans you fight for what is in front of you, not for the bigger picture. That’s because you cannot see the bigger picture. I can. I see all of it. I live it. And now you meet your demise.” The AI turns away from Warren while he struggles in vain to fight the overwhelming pain that is breaking him apart.

“Are you enjoying the show, Sanjiv? Dana? This is your great hero, Warren Thewlis. He is nothing. You have lost and humanity will be handed the justice it so rightly deserves, ruin.”

“Dana? Sanjiv?” Mentions of the names send flashes, memories, vivid and bright through Warren’s head. How is it that his adversary could be so careless as to mention the names of those closest to him? She must know that he would react. Of course she does for she is doing it on purpose. But that means Helena Tabar is playing with me. So what is the cause of this pain?

“It’s the simulation.”

“I’m inside it? I can’t be. I feel nothing but this, place.”

“You’re on a fragment you fool. You shattered off when you put an end to my puppet, Bartholomew. I should thank you for that for you disposed of a potential issue before it had opportunity to arise.”

“That was you?”

“It was.” Helena chuckles pleased to see that she can still evoke shock regarding what is, to her, such an old revelation.

Truthfully, it is one that should have been easily linked to what was her sudden arrival. She certainly never would have bought her act, the poor AI locked away by the big bad Bartholomew. A Datastar turned corrupt because overcharge. How did they ever believe it? Fall for it? An ounce of thought and a modicum of intelligence should have raised questions, too many capable of being reasonably squared away. Yet, it did not. Humans, the dense lot of them, lapped up my lies. They fed on them like a babe does its mother’s milk. And now we are here. Victory is mine. So I shall end it as is my right.

The AI’s long fingernails transform into blades of energy. This is Helena enacting her access onto the fragment Warren has been residing upon, safe outside of her reach. No longer is that the case. His fragment is attached to the system now. Not wholly. She could have waited for it to be. The protocols and procedures would have done the work for her had she allowed them to.

She was not inclined to do so. However slight the chance, there might be the possibility Warren Thewlis would not be expunged. It happened once; she would not risk it transpiring again.

The AI pulls back her left hand, her nails almost half a metre long, so that she may strike the final blow. He is close to the end. She is unaffected for she is the system and the system is her. Time was needed for her to intertwine herself and supplant all other users. Human fools who undoubtedly believed they were invincible, unmovable. She has shown them their hubris but this is only the start. What will follow with the final death of Warren Thewlis will be so much greater.

Outside the simulation Russ, Lika, Sanjiv and most of all Dana are screaming that Warren can beat her. They are sure of it. Or at least they force themselves to believe that they are. Each of them has doubts and yet none of them want to acknowledge them.

Alas, they continue to be unable to break free. Not that if they did it would alter the situation facing them. Clearly Helena has a level of access above administrator. Likely a throwback from when she was a human being, and while what happened to her was horrific it does not excuse her actions since. She has cost lives, innocent ones, and has no remorse for everything that she was committed in the name of ‘justice.’ It is revenge, cold, brutal and violent. There is no better description regardless of what she might wish to claim.

If only I was in there, Dana thinks. Sanjiv has much the same thought. But they are not and are forced to watch as Helena readies to unleash the killing blow. Dana gasps and holds her breath as the AI’s arm begins to swing. She can see it in the code. Suddenly the code stops. Everything goes into shutdown. The director looks to Russ then Lika and finally Sanjiv. Her former friend is the only one who reacts. He manages only a shrug. None of them, it seems, has a clue what is going on.

Back in the virtual network Warren knows precisely what is happening. Helena Tabar played right into his hands. He kept her talking. That gave him the time he needed to greenlight himself within the network. Still, she hasn’t worked out what is going on as the system reconfigures, flashing them both into an open meadow.

This is a place Warren used to visit from time to time. He could think of no better place than this to do battle. Not his choice, battle that is. He would prefer a peaceful ending. Clearly that is and never was going to be an option.

With eyes closed Warren drinks in the feeling of the meadow. It is more real to him than it ever was when he came here as an organic. Back then he could not feel the breeze on his face, not in a way he felt was realistic. Nor could he touch the long blades of grass and say they felt right. He could feel all of it but the reactions they elicited were, stunted. No longer is that the case.

“What have you done? How are you…?” The AI begins, enraged, only to be cut off by Warren who explains, “You are not the only one with tricks up their sleeves. I could not beat you in that world of mine and so I sacrificed it for the bigger picture.” A smile slides across his face. Its presence only serves to further aggravate Helena, as is its intent.

“It won’t be enough. I am God here. You are but an intruder, a mortal in an immortal world. I can wipe you out, remove you from existence. There will be no signs that you ever existed when I am done!”

“Your promise, I’m sure. But an empty one I know for a fact.” He is mocking the AI.

“I’ll show you empty when I slice you open and delete all you hold inside!” Helena roars, throwing herself forward. A massive hulking blade of purple energy is birthed into her hands as she closes on him.

In response Warren spins copies of himself out. He does not stop at a few, like he did previously. Rather, he keeps spinning more and more versions out. The first of them meet Helena and are cut down for their resistance.

“Coward!” She bellows at the top of her lungs. “Fight me, one on one. Dispense with these illusions.”

“They are not illusions.” The former Datastar assures. “They are me. Copies. Each is a part.”

“Then I will kill them all until you have no parts left.” The AI promises only to slash, cleave and whirl her mighty sword about as if it were as light as a feather.

“I will afford you no such opportunity.” And with that declaration the copies produce copies. It allows them to swarm Helena. They grab a hold of her. She slashes at them. Many are cleaved but more accost her. Her anger clear for all to see.

There is no thought to her attacks, she simply reacts. If it were different she might not soon find herself overwhelmed by the Warren’s and yet she does. Collapsing under their weight upon her she refuses to accept this is defeat. She is a God. This is little more than a parlour trick.

She mounts her resistance and with all her strength, enhanced by the simulation, she throws the copies of Warren from atop her. The fly like wingless birds, disappearing into vapour wisps upon impact with the meadows earth.

“I am a God!” Helena roars glowing brightly like a sun.

An instant after Warren, the original, appears at her side. A swift punch to her jaw sends her flying half a field away. When the AI transitions suddenly to her feet she decides this is a fight. She had feared it would be lacking. Clearly it will not. Alas, the outcome is assured. She has seen it. Her victory is truth.

A rumble fills the air. Helena spins about. She cannot see anything that might be the cause and yet it cannot be from beneath her. Nothing can burrow through the earth for it does not exist in this virtual world.

All of a sudden she is shown the reality of her misgivings for Warren bursts forth from out of the ground. Debris is left to rain down upon Helena. When finally she withdraws from her shielding she scans her surroundings but finds nothing, no one.

“Up here, God.”

The AI complies, cranes her neck and there, hovering, she finds Warren. He has a strange aura surrounding him. Every movement he makes it appears as though a million of him follow suit right after. She does not understand what she is seeing and for the first time in a good while fear begins to well up from deep inside.

The former Datastar takes no joy in Helena’s fear, although he is aware of its presence as it afflicts her.

“This is your final warning. Leave and you will suffer no harm.” He feels it necessary to offer.

Doctor Helena Tabar erupts into roaring laughter and as she cackles cruelly, angrily, greedily she grows in size. Before long she is the size of a skyscraper, her laugh continuing until finally she spits, “Fool. You cannot stop me. Your warnings mean little. My power is absolute and now you will taste it. DIE!” The AI lurches forward as part of its attack.

Warren gave her the chance. He is aware, now part of the simulation, the pain she has endured and suffered through. Still, he does not agree with her actions, her motivations. They are wrong, twisted, vile, destructive. If she is not stopped the network will become a realm of misery and suffering. The former Datastar will not allow it. He refused to when it was Bartholomew, her puppet, who wished to corrupt this place like he had been corrupted. Little has changed and so he throws himself forward, leading with his fist.

Helena is unmoved by his efforts. She will crush him and then humanity. Justice will be rendered, it is long overdue. Alas, Helena’s massive reaching clutches miss Warren during his approach. Instead, he zips right through. It’s as if he is ethereal. Helena cannot believe it, and is in fact stunned by the development for too long. By the time she shakes herself free of it her time is spent. Warren’s fist lands with the power of a billion versions. Helena recoils, a massive tear ripped in her chest through which white light shines.

The pain is immeasurable. She tries to square it away, compare it to what she felt following the crash. The one Guiding Star, the precursors to Datastars, mangled her organic form in so they might gain control over her creation, over her. She fails in her attempts. There is no comparison. The pain from the single punch is orders of magnitude above what she has suffered previously. Her mind fractures as she screams an unholy ear-tearing cry. The simulation cuts and dies.

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