Composure first of all.
As I heard, it's a favorite saying of some of our cosmonauts, but just who remembers the heroes of the past days now?
The panic kills faster than the bullet.
The endless kaleidoscope surrounds me: the rainbow, the fireworks, the working deep-program. How simple – and unexpected. The diver can surface but what would he do if the water comes in faster than he swims up?
I don't know yet.
I make a step and succeed as strange as it might seem. The world have lost its reality, turned into the mad abstract artist's painting. The swirling orange band flies by, curls into the ring, tries to tie around my head. I tear it off: I can't see my hands, but the band flies aside as if in hurt feelings. The small fountains of white dust rise from under my invisible feet, an emerald rain starts falling, each drop is a tiny crystal, painfully stinging the body.
And the silence, a dead silence, almost the one Unfortunate was talking about…
Where am I now? Walk along Deeptown's streets with outstretched hands and looking forward blindly? Or fell down somewhere into the depth of Dibenko's computer? Or maybe I'm spread throughout the whole Net like some mythical character?
First of all, I'm at home. I'm at home, before my old computer, in the helmet and the suit. The keyboard is somewhere before me, the mouse to the right. If to grope the keys and to enter the exit command manually…
No, it's impossible, and not just because I won't feel the keys beneath my fingers. My consciousness got used to just imitate the movements long time ago: I don't stretch my hand, but just jerk it weakly, I don't jump but just raise from the chair a little, not walk but move my feet under the table. Illusions. The Deep.
– Vika! – I say, – Vika! Exit from virtuality! Vika, I cancel immersion! Exit!
I took the possibility to communicate with Windows-Home from the Deep for granted, to download and to transfer files, to exit the Deep, to inquire about the machine resources. If it were so simple… there wouldn't be any need for divers. Now, in the common virtual dweller's hide I'm in the common rights.
I can't feel the real world.
I can't cry for help.
I try to take off the helmet that I can't feel. Useless. I run, pull away hoping to tear the wires. Hardly have I moved even a bit.
I close my eyes. I need to switch off from the deep-program, not to see it, not to dive deeper.
Abyss-abyss, I'm not yours, let me go…
I repeat this hundreds of times – the poor pupil in the diver's school, dolefully writing the same sentence in the notebook over and over again.
Abyss-abyss, I'm not yours, let me go…
There, in the infinitely far real world, my motionless body sits by the computer and the deadly rainbows reflect in my opened eyes.
Dibenko have got me.
Did he invent this trap accidentally, trying to learn how to surface, to invent the life-buoy but actually invented the cement bowl attached to the feet instead? Or was it exactly what he wanted to do: not to pull all virtuality dwellers to the divers' level but to descend us to the common one?
Maybe I'll never know that.
What happened to Romka? Did Vika have time to jump into the car or is she wandering in the colorful snowstorm too while Unfortunate walks away with Dibenko, silent and submissive?
I need to return to find out.
The world around calms down a bit. Either the color storm gained some system or I got accustomed to my surroundings. Let's assume that the emerald rain falls from above, so I now have one reference point. Let's try to walk… slowly, easily… to that stubborn orange band for instance that is still fidgeting there before me.
The band lets me to come close, then flies away. I have time to notice that the emerald rain tattered its edges. The orange band is curled into the Moebius ring, as if it's… it's independent from the space that surrounds it!
Looks a bit too intricate for the deep-program…
I move towards the band again – and again it doesn't let me touch it and flies away.
What's going on anyway? Have this mad world formed around me or is it just a trick of my own subconsciousness?
I follow the band, any direction can be correct – if directions exist here at all. The rain thickens, the crystals become thinner turning into needles. I lower my head to protect the eyes and keep walking. I like what's going on for some reason: somebody fights with somebody.
It means I have a chance.
Neither distance nor time here, all measures are merged. Maybe one hour have passed, maybe three kilometers.
Maybe the madness have come.
The band soars ahead but its movements are slower and less sure. It's just an orange rag now, tattered by the rain. The last leap – and it falls down raising the geyser of white dust.
Is it over?
I stand over remains of my strange guide. What now? No more guiding line. I close my eyes – and hear a weak distant sound. Deep program doesn't work with sounds! They say, or maybe these are just rumors, that Dima Dibenko's computer didn't have a sound card.
I keep walking.
The sound becomes louder but not clearer. The forest stream can babble like this, or the distant surf, or the candle flame. Whatever, even if it's an echo of the Big Bang! I need this sound, this lack of silence!
One step, another.
Even through the closed eyelids I can feel that something have changed.
I open my eyes. The world's colors seem to be faded. The emerald rain have lost its brightness, became pale: not gems but dirty bottle glass is pouring down from the sky. The white dust under my feet is barely seen.
And the blue star is shining ahead. A splinter of the blue sky.
Either it became bigger or I grew smaller, but the sparkling blue sphere is right above me now. I stretch my hands touching warm rays, and fall into the star.
The cold wind blows into my face.
I rose from the snow-covered ground. Wherever I look – the plain, flat as a table, no horizon can be seen. The sky is covered with orange tangling threads, a blue light streams through them. And also – foggy jets flowing above the ground, changing brightness and density, flying against the wind and soaring up to the orange mesh of the sky.
I shook the snow from my knees and looked at my hand. A strange snow – crystals are too big, friable and not sticking together. They hiss on my hand and fly away in a light smoke.
– I'm glad you came Lenia, – says Unfortunate from behind.
I didn't have time to turn around, he almost shouted:
– No… don't!
The plain enveloped in fog, the cold wind, the crumbly snow… I swallowed the lump that stuck in my throat:
– Unfortunate… thank you.
– I had to help, – he replied very seriously, – At least to try. You rescued me after all.
– Not very successfully…
– But you've led me out. I felt bad there…
– I can guess that. But you could pass "Labyrinth" in an hour… in 10 minutes.
– You could just exit, or could beat all the records.
– No, I couldn't.
– But why?
– Haven't you understood yet? – surprise showed in his voice.
– You didn't want to kill?
– But all that wasn't for real!
– For you.
– I won't ever be able to be like you.
– But this isn't necessary at all, Gunslinger.
– You know, – I said fighting the temptation to turn around, – Once, for just a second it seemed to me… only for a second… that you're Messiah. Do you understand?
Unfortunate is very serious.
– No Leonid. I wouldn't like to be your God. Neither of those that you created. They are too cruel.
– Just as we are.
– Just as you are, – echoed Unfortunate with sadness in his voice.
– Is it a dream? – I asked after a while, – Everything I see around?
He was silent for very long, the one behind my back who asked me not to turn around.
– No Lenia. Even if it is, it's not yours.
– Thank you.
I wasn't cold, maybe because he wanted so. The gray grained snow didn't burn me, and neither did foggy jets. Maybe it was easy for him, maybe required an enormous effort? I don't know.
– Did you have time to escape? – I asked.
– Yes. We're driving through the city now. Vika gives one address after another to the driver… Looks like she doesn't know what to do.
Unfortunate paused for a moment, then added:
– And she's crying also.
Orange bands whirl in the sky, an eternal dance below the hot blue sun. Maybe it's beautiful after all…
– Tell her I'm alright.
– Is it true?
– I don't know. Will you help me to get out of here?
Unfortunate didn't answer.
– Will I be able to get out?
– Yes. Probably.
– Tell Vika that everything is alright.
– She won't believe me.
– She will. She have almost understood too. Tell her that there's a "Polyana" company in the Russian district of Deeptown. It owns just a single house, a kind of dull concrete 12– story building. Wait for me there, by the second doorway, in exactly one hour.
– Anything else, Leonid?
– No. That's all.
– It'll be very hard, Gunslinger. – Unfortunate stammers, – You're accustomed to fight the Deep. The force and the push. You're a good swimmer, you always managed to surface from the whirlpool. But now it won't work.
– Aren't you accustomed to rely on the force?
– Depending on what force, Gunslinger…
Something touched my shoulder lightly, either in parting or to reassure.
And then the orange threaded sky fell on the snow covered ground…
I rise – in droplets of colors, in kaleidoscope of sparks. The deep program works. I still can't see my body.
Only a faint memory of the touch lives in me.
I still remember that world, I'm still living there, in an alien distant dream…
– What the hell are you doing, Dibenko? – I whisper into the crazy silence. – We can't… we can't treat him our way.
He can't hear me, the accidental creator of the virtual world, he continues his pursuit after Unfortunate, a hunt for the miracle but I must find him to explain how wrong he is…
I close my eyes and stretch my hands to the sides. Colorful flashes behind closed eyelids – the deep program continues to envelope my brains.
First of all – be calm. There's nothing demonic in it, it's a sparkling trinket, the one that hypnotizers rotated before their patients' eyes – that's what the deep program is. A trinket of the electronic age. There's no border between the dream and the dream within the dream. It's me who builds these barriers, who convinces himself that he's drowning.
But now – it's time to surface.
– Abyss… – I whisper almost tenderly, – Abyss-abyss…
We were building it, placing bricks of computers on the cement of phone lines. We raised a huge city. The city that has neither good nor bad in it – not until we come.
It was hard for us in the present. There, where the passion of many days of somebody's program cracking and of many months of writing our own is not understood. There, where they talk not about falling prices for a Meg of RAM, but about rising prices for bread. In the world where the killings are real. In the world where it's so hard for the sinners and the saints and the common people alike.
We built our own city that doesn't know borders, we believed in it's being real.
Time to surface.
We wanted miracles and we inhabited Deeptown with them. The Elvish glades and Martian deserts, labyrinths and cathedrals, far-away stars and sea depths, a place was found for everything.
But now – it's time to surface.
We got tired to believe in kindness and love, we wrote the word 'freedom' on our banner believing in our naivety that the freedom is superior to love.
Time to grow up.
– Let me go, abyss, – I ask, – Abyss-abyss… I'm yours.