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User Error is no longer User Error. Or at least he’s not at the moment. At the moment, he’s a kid in a cryo pod, waking up to unimaginable cold and stiffness, and the only thing that he can bring to mind when he asks himself who he is is an image of a transparent purple Game Boy Color being taken apart. He–or rather, the kid–is taking it apart. His vision is tunneled like he’s stuck in this kid’s POV, and he watches as the kid improvises with the tools at his disposal. Within seconds, the portable’s cyber innards are exposed, wires and speakers and metal contacts disconnected from the familiar plastic buttons that usually push them. Divorced from the rest of the system, the screen looks sleek beyond its years, thin and smooth and with a ribbon cable at the bottom that connects it to the rest of the hardware. The kid is careful not to sever any connections as he spreads the Game Boy’s disparate components as far as he can stretch them. The tiny portable assumes the dimensions of a chunky old PC, with its screen way up there, speakers stretched to there and there, controls yanked way far down. The kid pulls out two Game Boy cartridges–Pokémon Red and Blue. He takes them apart with a speed that lets you know he’s done this before. When they’re both open, he swaps the cases so that Red appears to be Blue and Blue appears to be Red. He closes them back up and pops in Red-Which-Is-Now-Blue. The screen lights up, blindingly bright, and the speakers let out that trademark Nintendo “DING!”
User’s back. Rather, he’s back in the present tense, back in the POV of this kid who must escape. Understood memories come back to him slowly as he pulls wires from his body and steals a doctor’s overcoat. Across the room is where his parents were back when he saw them awake, trying to free him before being blasted by that sciencey dude. But the details are fuzzy now. Were they really blasted, or did they just disappear? It’s hard to say. Waking up from cryo sleep is like swimming up from a great depth, from darkness so complete that the light at the surface seems like a mirage.
The Kid User gets the distinct impression that he’s going to be blasted by sciencey dudes if he doesn’t escape post haste. He rifles through the room and finds what looks to be one of those cool blaster dealies with a business end that’s all business. He goes back over to the two pods across the room from his own, where his parents once were but no longer are. Maybe they’re not dead. Maybe they escaped. But to where? Where was there to hide on a plane, even one as massive as this? They’d always find you in the end.
Kid User stops at a mirror before leaving the room. He’s a kid, but he looks cool for a kid. The back and sides of his head are shaved, with the cut on his right side going all the way up to the top of his hair line, where it makes a sharp, angled line all the way to the back of his hair. The rest of the hair on the top of his head is long, cut into what could be a mohawk, but he has it swooped over to the left side of his head. He has a scar on his left cheekbone he can’t place the origin of, and a scar that cuts through his right eyebrow. The overcoat he stole hangs loose on him, like a cloak. He looks down and finds that he’s wearing a Space Jam shirt and jeans. On his feet are fresh Adidas with the tongues sticking proudly up. Kid User nods at himself in the mirror, says “Let’s do this,” and exits the room, blaster at the ready.
When he opens the door, the sight he sees is enough to actually draw the breath from his body. He doesn’t know whether to shoot or run or stand perfectly still.
User Error is soaring through the sky, uplinked to something else, something apart from him, detached from his body, he doesn’t have the sensation of it, although he does know that he is who he is. He’s seeing things he’s never seen before in real life. He’s seeing the sky, an icy blue drifting into black the higher it goes, white-gray clouds floating pendulous like mounds of something unimaginably huge. He can look around, full 360 degrees, instantly, but when he looks down, he has no hands or feet or any of that jazz. He is flying.
He’s got the distinct impression that he’s being transfigured into something else. His consciousness is slipping away, but not into sleep. It’s changing into something–or someone–else. He can make out the land beneath the clouds, but he has no concept of what any of it means. He’s seen pictures and vids of rolling hills, but how are you supposed to jive that with a tee-tiny version of the thing all the way down there?
The farther he goes, the more he loses himself. He starts to forget the people and things down there in his subterranean home, his effed-up life in the tunnels. It’s groovy, but it’s also mondo scary. He’d pee if he could, but he can’t, because he doesn’t have a body right this second.
All of a sudden, he’s totally untethered from his identity of User Error. His best friend Sanford no longer exists in his mind. He has no concept of tunnels or fanny packs or Windows 95. He’s just a being of pure consciousness flying through the air.
He can’t think, necessarily. Instead, ideas and concepts and feelings seem to roll right by him, floating away when they want and sticking when they want to too.
A thought sticks: He could, if he wanted to, attach himself to another body. Not just any body, it’d have to be like The Chosen One or whatever, but if he found it, and focused in real strong like when you stare at something for a crazy long time and your vision starts to tunnel, then he could attach to this Chosen body and just basically Be Connected To The Real World Again.
He thinks about it for like 2.5 seconds and says Sure. I’ll do it. So User-Error-Who-Is-Not-Technically-User-Error-Any-Longer-But-Was-Once-User-Error flies straight ahead, right into storm clouds, without a destination in sight. He can just feel it, you dig? The farther in he goes, the more he can feel it. He can smell the salt of the rain as he passes through the clouds, feel the condensation on his being, even though he still doesn’t have a body. He gets the impression that there’s a lot of people out here just like him, invisible people that aren’t quite people but who could be again if they wanted to be. He thinks about–
Cold. Ice cold. Colder than anything he’s ever experienced before, cold he didn’t even know existed. He’s no longer in the sky, but inside a plane that’s currently flying through it, slowly floating down corridors that are larger than many tunnels he’s seen, this plane is absolutely massive, more like a small city than a plane, and he can see hundreds of people in this place, some of them awake but many of them sleeping in weird little chambers. He can float through doors and walls and all that ish. It’s pretty nifty.
He can, if he wants to, fly out of the plane again, but it’d be super cold and uncomfortable, so he doesn’t. He does want to see what the view is like from inside the plane, so he finds this big old window, like we’re talking tunnel crocodile big. He looks through, and he can see one of the plane’s wings out the window. The whole thing’s covered with this black material that has individual cells on it, and he remembers reading about how above ground they used to use the power of the sun to make things work. Looks like the same mollynoggin here.
He can tell the Other Body is super duper close, and so he starts doing this like Spidey Sense Thing to find it. He does that tunnel vision thing, and stops thinking, and lets himself go, and he suddenly zooms over to the body at an incredible speed, clipping through walls and doors, flying past entire congregations of people, to the back of the plane, where he gets the impression there’s some shady stuff going down. He zooms so fast that he can barely see any details, but he’s honed in on this Other Body Jazz.
And then he’s there, in the room, looking down at this person, this kid that’s him even though it isn’t him. The boy is sleeping in some Mister Freeze icebox-looking thing, and he has no consciousness or awareness at the moment. There are sciencey-looking dudes prowling the area, making observations and checking off things on clipboards.
More than anything, he wants to wake this kid up, to bring him back to life. He would give anything, do anything, to save this kid’s life.
So it happens. As soon as he thinks it, a critical component of the icebox dealie shorts out, shooting sparks into the air and everything. The icebox warms up and becomes not-so-icy, and the airlock opens. The kid’s heart monitor gets faster and faster, and as it does, User starts fading away from this existence he’s in. He leaves by degrees, like eyes that are slowly closing to the darkness.
When he opens them, he’s the kid. He doesn’t know his name yet, but that doesn’t matter now. What matters is that the door is open, and it’s time for him to escape.
“I guess this is like log 42 or something I don’t know I’ve lost track anyway I don’t even know if this tape recorder still works but if it does I’m just going to play this back for Microsoft Sam and see if he can turn the talk to text so I can put it on a floppy disk for later Sanford’s asleep right now and I’m trying not to wake him so I’m walking my bike down the tunnel it’s kind of creepy the way the chain click echoes down the tunnel click click click like some sort of weird alien getting ready to jump me or something I mean I’ve seen crazier stuff I wouldn’t be that surprised Sanford still doesn’t believe me about the world out there about how I saw myself above ground as a little kid coming out of cryosleep he thinks it’s too far-fetched but I say living down in tunnels Underground with all sorts of weird ghoulies and all that jazz is pretty far-fetched too I’m trying to figure out a way to get back there back to that cold white room with the Weird Science e dude but I don’t know how I don’t know maybe it’s like a video game you know let’s say you get murked in like Pac-Man or something what happens game over right who’s to say that’s not the same thing here the simulations a lot more advanced but it’s still a Sim I don’t know maybe if I just find one of the outflow tunnels the tunnels that shoot down into the ground and extend for miles the ones I’ve heard stories about where people fall into them and you can never hear them hit the bottom sometimes I think that if I jump into one of those I might just wake back up in the real world and I want to try it I really do but I know that if I tell Sanford this ish he’s just going to make me about face and March on back home you know I’ve known Sanny B since we were both super little and I love the guy he’s my brother but he doesn’t always know what’s up and the wack thing is that I can’t tell him that it would crush him I don’t know if I’ll end up jumping into one of those tunnels or push on to climb out to the top into the above ground but I guess we’ll find out at the very least when I feed this thing into Microsoft Sam it’s going to sound freaking hilarious I can hear his voice now sounding like a cross between a robot and an alien trying to sound human but yeah that’s what’s up right now I guess I’ll go wake up Sanford so we can continue our Quest and sheez.”
“So here’s a dream: I’m in a wide open green field, and the sun is shining.”
“Like the actual sun?”
“The actual one. And I know I don’t know what the sun’s like, but in the dream I do. It’s warm, and bright, and it makes my skin feel good, and I just feel like smiling when I’m under it.”
“How bright is it?”
“Super bright. So bright it hurts to look directly at it. So I look at what it’s shining on instead: the grass, the trees, all that.”
“Grass and trees?”
“Yep. The grass is itchy when you lie on it, but it’s still super nice. There’s bugs in the grass, but mostly just ants and stuff, not the weird creepy crawlies you find here in the tunnels.”
“Yeah. And the trees are plants, but they’re crazy strong. Like you could karate chop one and not even leave a mark.”
“I’m telling you, Sanford. But in the dream, the green field doesn’t go on forever. There’s like clear borders and stuff. I’m boxed in, you know?”
“And right outside the border, everything is crazy messed up. Like exactly how you’ve said above ground probably looks like. Fire, destruction, all that jazz.”
“Brimstone confirmed. And if you get close to the border, it smells sour, like the air is burnt. There are people crying, only you can’t see them. You can hear them, but they’re out of sight.”
“Can you cross the border?”
“Yeah, but I’m scared to. In the dream, I’m not 20. I’m like 11 or 12. I’m freaked out, you know?”
“And the weird thing is that I can sense that nothing will ever change in this green field. I’ll stay the same age forever. I’ll never get sick, never die, but I can’t leave the field. If I leave it, I’ll suffer. But I want to leave it. I don’t want to get hurt, but I need to know what’s out there. I need to know who’s out there. Because I get the distinct impression in the dream that my parents are alive somewhere out there. I have no idea where they are, but I’ve got to find them. You dig?”
“I dig. So this is like your cryo dream? Where you saw your mom and pop getting blasted by some evil science dude?”
“Kind of. Like I’m the same person, same age, but this is for sure a dream. The cryo thing was real.”
“It was real.”
“Okay, User. So what else about the dream?”
“It keeps going on like that. On and on and on.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean everything keeps moving and changing outside of the green field. The sun above me stays right there, but a second sun outside the border rises and falls, rises and falls. Gnarly trees grow up, birds nest in them, plants sprout out of the broken concrete, and all of this happens in seconds.”
“Like that dude we saw back there in the tunnel who kept going through life cycles and junk?”
“Yeah, only it wasn’t one guy getting born and dying again and again, it was everything. And the more time that passed, the less cries I could hear. Instead of cries, I just heard birds chirping and nice little rainstorms and sheez.”
“Sounds kinda nice.”
“Yeah, except in the dream, I know that with each cry that goes quiet, there’s one less person out there. I’m okay in this green field, but it’s only me in here. I’m alone.”
“So how does it end?”
“It doesn’t. Not really, anyway. I want to leave the field, but I’m afraid of suffering out there. I want to stay safe in the field, but I don’t want to be alone. So I don’t do anything. Then I wake up.”
“So, uh… What do you want to do now?”
“I want to find the green field.”
“Like stay safe and all that?”
“No, the actual green field.”
“User, it’s not gonna be there. It’s not real.”
“Right. Fire and brimstone. But the thing is, fire and brimstone doesn’t last forever. It can’t. There’s cycles. The world’s gonna be bad for a while, then it’ll get kind of good. Then it’ll get mondo sucky, but then it’ll get way better. The fire will die out, and the plants will sprout. How long have we been living in these tunnels? How long has it been since our ancestors came down here? We really have no idea what it’s like up there. And we’ll never know unless we try and find a way out.”
“Yeah. I’m in, bro. If it keeps you away from the cryo stuff and focused on the real world that’s right in front of you, I’m all gung ho about it, my dude.”
“The cryo stuff’s real, too. I have a family out there, and I’m going to train my brain to wake up and find them. But in the meantime, I want to see what above ground looks like.”
“Well then you know what I’ve gotta say?”