43756265: ERROR

The Programmer’s stomach was in knots. His fingers danced feverishly about his keyboard. He came to a stop, finished with coding the most recent history. Finally he came to a point where he need only sit and watch as his world carried on. He watched it speed along to what was current.

He watched himself do as he did. The Programmer was livid. He watched himself carry on day by day. Then everything seemed to slow. It had caught up, and apprehension gripped him.

/?
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He watched himself fail. The failure was visceral. It hurt. It maddened. He wanted to die. Everything seemed to close in around him. Was it the end? Was it all just going to speed up and rip apart? Was it all going to be dark? Would he not be?

That’s what he had just watched. But it didn’t happen. Maybe there was hope. He returned to the moment of failure and re-ran it. No matter what, it all just falls apart. His work just ends. He ends. He ended himself.

His desperation caused him to go into a state of utter madness. He destroyed himself.

\&
/?

He watched himself fail and go into a fit. He screamed and yelled. He punched the window, earning a massive gash in his arm. He watched himself perform this. The knots in his stomach twisted further, bile rising in his throat. Was this also a failure?

He bolted up from his seat, and felt desperate. No. Was he doomed, too? He felt as if tearing his eyes from the screen would only ensure his demise. His heart has racing. He collapsed to the floor and started crying. His mind hurt. He was doing it all to himself and he couldn’t stop it. Tears streamed down his face. His sobbing stuttered and devolved into coughing and retching. He vomited on the floor.

Hearing the cries of a broken animal, his other half tore into the room and came to his aid. He pulled the Programmer from the puddle of his sick, cradled him in his arms, and carried him into the bathroom. The other half drew the bath, and he settled into it with the Programmer still in his arms. The poor boy shook violently.

After the bath, the Programmer’s other half took him into the living room and settled him on the couch, then he cleaned up the vomit.

The Programmer returned to his room and showed his partner what he had seen.

/?
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The other half bolted into the room to find the Programmer sitting on the floor bleeding. He fetched the first aid kit and cleaned the wound before stapling it shut. He dressed it and carried the Programmer to bed.

\&
/?

The two watched the show in silence. They needn’t speak. They went to bed, hoping there was something brighter to come

The next day, the Programmer returned to himself and watched as he sat before his desk typing. He examined what he was writing and discovered them to be the sort of disjointed notes strung together by a sort of narrative pseudocode that was his way of outlining a story.

He watched himself cobble the pieces of his work together. Day after day, he watched himself work on what would turn out to be a video game. Within the game, he was coding a secret riddle woven within the narrative and mechanics. It was the sort of riddle only somebody of his other half’s and his level of intelligence could even spot, let alone figure out. It was the riddle of everything.

/?
\&

The game was eventually released and the programmer and his partner spent the days relaxing and working intermittently on their main project.

Eventually, the Programmer was contacted by two individuals at relatively the same time with the answer to the riddle. The game had only been available to the public for two weeks. Two individuals were named Adam Linn and Adam Null. The programmer arranged for the two men to meet.

The two Adams met with the Programmer and his partner, who were both surprised to find that the riddle-solvers closely resembled themselves: young, lithe blond men in their twenties.

When they met, Linn introduced himself to Null. Breathless and apprehensive, Null didn’t speak, only lifting his shirt to reveal a QR code on his left hip. Linn pulled out his phone, scanned it, and was greeted with Null’s e-portfolio. The featured image was artwork of a man resembling Null wearing dragon scale pants and leather gloves. His eyes were red and his hair was white. The other three recognized the character to be from a 2017 game they had enjoyed.

Null’s eyes welled with tears and Linn took him into his arms.

\&
/?

The Programmer watched as everything around Linn and Null seemed to speed up. The two were inseparable. Null clung to Linn most hours of the day, never leaving his side. Linn did all the talking and Null mostly ever spoke to Linn.

The Programmer watched himself and his other half speed along with the work on their main project.

After a few days, the Programmer returned to find the project was speeding along at a break-neck pace around Linn and Null as they guided the Six, the project fast-forwarding on its own.

Eventually, the programmer watched as it all came to fruition and they were victorious. Their vision had been achieved, and Linn and Null were at the heart of it.

Everything sped up. The Programmer watched as the society Linn and Null built allowed them to achieve singularity. Their minds merged and from them was born a god.

The Programmer was speechless. He couldn’t breathe. The being turned his gaze up at the Programmer and spoke.

“Hello, friend!”

Chapter 2

White wash windows will give you the view you’ve been wanting to see. Turn your life into blank white canvas paper. Then you can draw the perfect world, a pristine paradise to turn your exalted gaze upon in wonderment. Magnificent beauty, leaving you so blissfully ignorant that the waking world is drowned out completely by a chorus of chirping birds, accompanied by an angelic harp arrangement with deep, soft cellos. Time has become irrelevant. Space is just an abstraction to be occupied in, and nothing more, so take a load off, and leave it off for a while.

Water streams from above, fading colors downward. I begin to get dizzy.

I corkscrew my eyes open, then wrench the sleepiness from them with tight fists, wiping out the fine dusting. Slowly, I lower my hands to a steady gleam of piercing purple-ish-white light beaming in from the front window. I sit for a moment, taking it all in. Reflecting on my dream; on the possible implications provided, but moreso the intensity of it. The surreal realism with its vibrant colors and mesmerizing narrative. In my current state, the bright light makes me feel nostalgic. It’s reminiscent of the early morning sun which had shone through lazy afternoons.

Courier shakes me violently, springing me to my feet, and I rustle away any leftover sleepiness. “Don’t get drawn in,” he says to me, calmly. I nod reassuringly as I don my jacket and fumble out a tube to inhale through deeply before returning it. Now that my senses are returning, I can faintly make out the shape of the Gork, who seems to be gesturing its appendages toward the light in incredible enthusiasm and with a strong hint of panic. I look only for a second before it starts to unnerve me. I need to relax now, to get through the long waiting period that accompanies these missions, as it is important to remain absolutely undeterred by any amount of anomalies that might raise too many questions.

You see, it’s the unnatural–the extraordinary–that demands rationality in the form of logically sound reasoning to explain an expansively deprecating reality in a way that one can bring their mind to terms with, as your brain won’t have room on its stove to cook up enough probability for such a tall order of unaccountable events. Given the event that one has taken on too many allowances to their definitions of the real world, one of two things will happen: 1. They’ll go insane, like a homeless person who spends every available penny on the most mind-boggling, brain-hazing drug they can get their hands on, wandering about until an open ear presents itself to have inane nonsense rambled into it with such a fiery passion that they might drag one down into the hellish pits of incoherence right along with them, or 2. Worse yet, their brain simply fries completely, leaving them not brain dead, but still sane enough to go on as if nothings wrong. But nothing will make sense anymore. They’ll find themselves watching the most low-brow family sit-com with the least inspired writing on television, and they don’t like it but they don’t care, either. They keep watching it anyways, their mouth drooping, legs shaking, and their metabolism will pull the plug on the whole operation, making it a race to see which organ fails first and their last saving moment of mortality when the throes of death finally arrive is choked down by liver failure; or a massive stroke. So you see now why it is so imperative to remain calm.

I lightly lift myself down into the kitchen, surveying the area quickly with purposefully not intense amounts of concentration. Though the entire area seems off, I can’t seem to put my finger on it. Dry5 is condensing her knees into hamburger buns over a pot on the floor, so I quickly turn away. Sliding into a chair, I lay out my cards on the table. Pulling and laying them out one by one, I notice that Jacks are Jills, and Queens are sheep dogs making an unruly face, not at me but past me, as if there is something threatening there. I look back, but I can’t tell what it’s so worked up about. No good. Why am I playing cards in the first place? I’ve got a job to do. There’s no time for this.

Speaking of hands: when I stood, both of mine plummeted thousands of feet below me, like a 3D model gone wrong. I use them to open the big red door into the engine room (which isn’t normally big or red, more like small and green) Dry5 somehow made her way past me to the center of the room, unless she never left, which is possible at this point. Courier takes long, brisk steps in behind me, making stride with his feet and his instructions, spoken in monotone loops to help consistently direct our focus. As we’re descending stairs on a clinking metal grated scaffolding to the engine below, Harrier breaks into the door behind us. She swoops onto the railing and slides past both of us, gaining great speeds at what looks to be terminal velocity, her backside becomes a streaming tail, much like a comet, but streaming spaghetti instead of fire. Meatballs and spaghetti sauce spring up from the force, sticking it all to the ceiling. Parmesan skids off the rail as she slides. I resist the urge to watch in awe, and instead shamble ahead.

Dry5 is hitting the engine with a wrench as if to awaken it with a violent Fonzian touch. Courier attempts to karate chops the inside of her elbow in order to disarm her and save the engine, but she counters and ripostes with her wrench, spinning it like a basketball into his stomach. I can tell that this isn’t normal behavior, although I’m beginning to slip myself, almost attempting to evaluate them like an apathetic psychiatrist who hasn’t thought about what to have for supper in 17 years. I slap myself. In doing so, I hit not my chin, but something else where my chin used to be. What is there now is not worth thinking about, so I slam my arm into an open crevice of the engine and pull any wire within reach, yanking out static all over the inside and my forearm. In a moment, electricity flows into my veins, pumping throughout my body until reaching my brain. And I’m in.

The space is entirely white, and for what I can tell, just infinite empty, white space. I see that Harrier is already deep within. She seems to be discussing something with Al, but from this distance I can not tell what. I can only assume it is nonsensical, because I don’t want to get my hopes up for the chance of normalcy. Turning around, I launch into a full sprint, escaping rapidly in the other direction. I can only hope that they will remember to do the same, or that Courier and Dyr5 could climb out of their eyelids and help the situation.

My strides start to tear holes in the air, ripping back folds of white like cheap saran wrap, crumpling it tightly behind me so that if I turn around or stop, I’ll be suffocated in an instant. Step after step, I begin to feel my mind break free, my pupils drifting up and back, then dilating the entire eyeball completely black. I can’t feel my extremities, and barely the rest of my body except for this tingling sensation, much like when the cold makes one’s body go numb. Fire ants cover me inside and out with relentless biting. My chest begins to feel heavier with every breath, pulling me back as I struggle to breath in the draining air supply. I open my mouth suddenly and widely, more than I believed humanly possible, my face stretching more than twice its original size.

I tear through, ripping out of the white space and with a thud I land smack back into reality. Standing up, dusting myself off, I see Courier, Al, Harrier, and Dry5 strewn about the room in disarray, except for Courier who approaches me to shake my hand. I take it receptively, and bow my head modestly in acceptance of his gratitude. The other three remain seated or splayed, groaning and mumbling and trying to relax.

I say, “let’s get something to eat.” and with that, me and Courier make our way back to the main control room.

 

Jack-o-Lantern Spaceship Enterprise

On board, most of the lighting melts into the natural orange of the interior hull. If you want to see out, then you’d peer through its jagged teeth, its triangle nose, or through one of its two eyes, preferably the left one which is cut less perfectly round and in such a way that might remind one that there’s comfort in the idea of an imperfect world.

I’m playing cards in the kitchen. As my hands fly dexterously across the table in a rousing game of solitaire, unfurling stress and clearing my mind, thoughts about my childhood flitter across my mind. I remember being taken to the skies back on the home world in my earliest memories. I had learned to fly at the young age of 7, which would turn out to be an important skill and become the pivotal starting point in a life of perceived importance from those who directly influenced my political escapades. As it turns out, the ability to fly was an important skill to be exploited in countless military ventures. I’m not complaining; I got the chance to meet a lot of interesting characters.

Across from me sits the Gork, who had just become the newest addition to the crew. It has the typical features of any other Gorker, but its eyebrows are a bit more bushy, its appendages more stale, and a stagnant mouth. It seems to be watching me with extreme intensity, accounting my every movement.

I can’t be bothered by it right now. My mind is preoccupied with the status of our current mission. The assignment is simple enough. A routine exploration and categorization of an extraneous anomaly, discovered weeks ago by an observation probe. It was ordered by the HENECI organization, which isn’t common but trustworthy enough, although the class is superficial and the location timers have been skewing for several weeks. Previously, our Enterprise was scheduled by HENECI to dock on an empty plate planet and await further instructions. We were supposed to find a communicator, two coins and a rubber soul. After spending a week there searching the place and waiting around, finding no trace of these items, they beamed down a small transport ship, paid us in full and left without saying a word. It was unpaid work, and with other business on the horizon, we hadn’t bothered to inquire in full.

There is a hiss of steam from behind me as Dry5 strolls in from the engine room. After stepping past the Gork, she steals a glance-or more of a glower-at it that left a dry taste in both of our mouths, she then turns and casually nods at me. I return the gesture as I promptly finish my game, swoop the cards into my hand and enclose them into my jacket. I walk to the stove and put the kettle on. Should we be more personable with the Gork? I wonder. After all, it’s not easy to read the trustworthiness of an unstudied and unobserved species without proper communication. Not until they prove themselves with their actions. After the fact of their betrayal, it will be too late to live without regretments. From another pocket of another side of my jacket, I pull out a short tube and inhale through its mouthpiece for a moment before returning it.

I turn to the Gork to realize that he’s motioning at me and attempting to speak to me, but my ears don’t pick up the frequency of its speech. I also realize that its presence might have to do with the current task we’ve been assigned. I take notice of its expressions and movements before passively disregarding it, as the Gork’s body language is indiscernible to me.

I leave the two in the kitchen and loft myself through an opening in the ceiling, leading into the main control room. Courier’s standing at the far end of the room with his hips slanted, adjacent to one of the sharp teeth pointing out of the mouth-shaped opening. His demeanor seemed thoughtful, so I inquired, “What are you thinking about, Courier?” He shifted his hips in response, slanting them to the opposite side and looking over at me through his peripherals. On a desk, I notice the mission documents and I begin to rifle through them as I tap my feet in rhythm. Papers strewn in hand, I walk over to Courier to press with him about the details.

“How likely is the deadline?” I ask.

“Untimely. I am betting on a quarter extra, ” he replies.

“Do you suppose they’ll be ready to punish our lack of punctuality? They’re not very timely themselves.”

“I will not wager on that.”

Looking through the papers, searching for the source of distress which unfailingly affects Courier in every mission briefing, I eventually inquire, “…What are you worried about, here?”

Courier addresses me more directly, the light from the desk lamp illuminates his face, “This might be a setup.”

My brow furrows, “Are you sure?” I redress the papers again, scattering them in vain.

“It is a possibility. I am sure of it.”

Turning away, I retire my jacket and myself onto a chair. Releasing my breath, I prepare for work with a lengthy nap.