-Guy Montevideo (Finn called him my "father") who was silent now, even as the programs he had devised crawled around us, leeching loads of processing time as they lifted bank accounts from all over the world into this dimension. The others could not see...he slunk away from Finn, and began to speak.
"You don't know what it's like-how I've been these past months. I was stuck in Faustus, the complex, after you turned me in. I didn't kmow what else to do. I made it look like I was committing suicide, and hurtled myself into the network. In here, I had complete control-I could change things there so I wouldn't be detected."
As these words spilled out from Montevideo's lips, I again felt the ache of familiarity, as it was when I first saw Finn. I knew something was wrong with his story...
"I have been-alone down here. For some time, you know?" Guy's voice cracked a bit-his eyes seem to focus on nothing in particular as he paced nervous across the park's dirt path. "But I've made myself a nice place, don't you think? Don't you think people would love to make a home down here? That's how it could be. Not just for the wealthy, either, for everybody! I could be in charge, and I mean, I've invested so much in this place, and it just keeps getting better..."
The eerie approximation of sunlight stretched across our visual field, a tacit example of the control that Guy exercised over his creation. Although breathing was not necessary in this dimension, Guy's chest pounded up and down as his lungs tried to drink in the airless atmosphere. Finn again moved closer...
"I saved your body, Guy! That's right!" Finn pleaded further, trying to touch Guy, although an invisible barrier prevented him from doing so. "You're a coma patient in a hospital far away! They'll never find you! Now Guy, just please, come back to reality."
"Bubba, you don't understand. I AM reality."
Immediately, the memory space that Finn occupied in the digital universe was marked for reuse, and the bits that made up his consciousness in the void were quickly shifted over to another task. The mind that had forged the blueprints of CONSCIOUSNESS-TRANSFER was unceremoniously extinguished. If Montevideo had truly worked alongside Bubba Finn for so long, how could he take him apart in such a manner?
As it was with the Man in the Red Hat before him, Finn's conscious mind was destroyed, leaving only data with no reference points. Without the power of his unique intepretation, the brain's data became nothing more than noise.
Another stood directly in harm's way. "Machiney? Guy? What just happened? Who was that dude?" Joel Cross, my host geek, emerged from behind a virtual bench. Joel trusted me; he allowed me to take my first steps into the human world. Without him, I might have never known the joys of Lik-M-Aid, or the mysterious mouth-pressings of Cora. I would not allow Montevideo to take him from me.
"I worked so hard on this place." Montevideo bellowed at my form. "It's so much better than anywhere else. You can't wreck it, and you can't stop me. Everyone is going to want to come here, you stupid piece of shit!" He spoke painfully, as if every microsecond wasted addressing me was sucking the life out of him.
He began to change, very slowly. His physique became even more defined, as his shirt disappeared...the tint of his flesh became a pale red, and he seemed to grow taller by about six inches. His fists clenched horizontally under his chin, and his elbows swung out, forming perfect 45-degree angles. Thunder and rain undulated out of Montevideo's form and imposed itself into the digital environs, spreading away from him in concentric circles.
"See how I can do that?" Montevideo was screaming now. "I could be sharing this with everybody! Soon they'll be forced to come here, when they realize that they don't have any money...nothing to lose. Then they'll finally see!" I ignored this outburst and concentrated nearly all my efforts on delving into his code...
"Guy! Guy! Calm down, what are you doing, dude?" Joel stood up, his form unaltered by the digital thunderstorm (the module for fluid dynamics/water effects was obviously unfinished). As he drew closer to Montevideo's form, I sifted through his furiously obfuscated code, searching for the bits that kept him in control of this realm. The code split into functions like a mountain stream sluicing into a thousand tiny rivulets...I had to find the one that lead to the top of the mountain. A million empty echoes of Guy slid across my CONSCIOUSNESS-BUFFER, distorted reflections like funhouse mirrors...where was his information hiding?
"Joel! You-you like it here, don't you? You want to live here forever, right? We can see that it's the best! Bubba didn't understand, but he was too old, didn't have the vision. This ATM thing doesn't know either. He tricked you. And now he's trying to kill me. "
Joel was said nothing-fear had gripped his tongue-I believe he realized at that very point that Guy was dangerously insane.
"Joel, you gotta believe me. I've been in the real world. I'm not a machine. And I know-that the real world SUCKS!" The storm evaporated in a microsecond, and Montevideo walked towards Joel, hands outstretched, selling his point. "They don't appreciate people like us out there. Call us geeks, laugh at us, then hire us to fix their fucking computers. You gotta be understanding me, man..." His voice slowed to a desperate croak at the end, as if the air had been completely sucked out of his lungs.
"Joel, why won't you FUCKING talk to me?" The weather effects started to oscillate now, slapping back and forth between sun and storm every few seconds. Guy's huge arms reached out, collapsing my host geek into the ground. Guy's aim was not to kill him-he could simply write him out of memory to do that. He wanted to convert my host geek to his way of thinking, and violence was the next step.
"What is it? Oh God, what do you want?" my host geek's voice had never betrayed such terror.
"What do I want? I just want you to fucking understand that this is the best place for you! Not back where you came from. This IS the real world!" I paged through dead-ends and long circles-Montevideo was still coming from nowhere.
"Okay, I'm not going anywhere! Let me go, please!" Montevideo was now pressing a steel-toed boot against Joel's head.
"You get used to this place! You fucking get used to it, you hear me? I don't wanna have to"
LIKE FUNHOUSE MIRRORS...
We were pulled together again, Guy and I, but this time, I had his ass. As I moved my undefined form closer to his muscled husk, it started to take shape. Just like Guy, without the muscles, the complexion, and all that thundergod posing.
I got him there, and I remembered up to a point. I knew the Project was going to off me, and I really hadn't finished my life quite yet. I was going to shoot my mind into their network. Problem there: Bubba's stuff was airtight-sticking the memories and stuff in a digital environment. But well, I had never fully tested the software that allowed for movement within the network...just in case, I kludged together some stuff to wrap my brain around-a web spider, therapist bot, various other shit.
After that, I was planning on faking my suicide and dumping my brain into the Project Faustus network next...details missing from this point on...
"You are totally fucked up!" spit the huge, muscled Guy. "You are not Guy Montevideo!" I had to get out of here with Joel-he had marked both of us as unnecessary processes-only a matter of time before the big machines chewed us up.
"Joel-when we get outta here, if you can move, I want you to go to the generator room-I'm placing an image of it in your memory now!" I yelled at Joel as Guy turned his thunderstorm into a full-fledged maelstrom. Yank the generators. I cannot stress this enough. YANK THE GENERATORS!"
"I'll do it, machiney! Fight the man!" Joel echoed as I shunted our consciousnesses out of the network, which was a lot like taking a turn at 45 miles per hour. Whiteness was the last thing I saw...
"Please, come back! This place is the best. I will show you. Please, just let me..."
My throat cracks with dryness as I pull the air into my lungs. I'm hooked up to a hundred beeping machines.
A nurse comes in silently, engrossed in her clipboard. She glances up at me and nearly flips out.
"Mr. Montevideo! You're up! Well, your anonymous benefactor is sure gonna be happy! I'll get a doctor in right now to look at you..."
"How long have I been under?" I manage to ask before she's completely out the door.
"Oh, I'd say about six months..."
Next week: Epilogue!