By the Light of a CyberWorld Moon
By David M. Castlewitz
Copyright 1996 by David M. Castlewitz
The improv was set in New York City, circa 1918. Edith and Helmut visited Mrs. Langtry's House of Horrors on 42nd Street, then danced with a troupe of entertainers at Times Square, and dined with the Roche family in a restaurant on 3rd Avenue -- all within the space of two hours.
"Bravo," the director announced, his voice booming from the virtual ceiling in the rehearsal room. "Tomorrow your characters make their first appearance. Congratulations."
"Isn't that early?" Kathy asked the Helmut mentor.
"The movie's doing great," he said. "There’s a lot of demand for the characters." He sighed. "All this work and now it's over. The characters go off, become somebody's playmate, and we never see them again." The Helmut graphic dissolved. Kathy opened a process window and checked her mail. Two messages. One from Sitar:
Even if you doubt me, ask Edith. Then come to the cafe.
"Okay, Edith. I'm asking. Do we meet Sitar today?"
"Will he help?" Edith said in reply.
Kathy blinked. She had to be imagining this! Or Sitar had found a way to transmit in Edith's little girl voice.
"I don't believe you're talking to me," Kathy said.
"Neither do I. Isn't it wonderful?"
"Sitar! Don't play games!"
Kathy clicked out of the virtual room and took a tram to the Boulevard. Across the aisle from her sat Sitar, his white suited graphic looking pleasant, his face creamy bland, his eyes empty. Kathy ignored him.
"We can enter from the cafe," he said.
"I'm not going anywhere with you," Kathy countered.
"You don't believe me. Okay. I accept that. I can accept that. But that's exactly why you have to give me this chance."
"I know a mind game when I see one."
Sitar laughed. "I don't play them." The tram stopped at the café. It teemed with a mix of computer controlled revelers and online characters. It was after 4PM, the end of the work day, a popular time for meet-and-mix.
"What do you want to show me?" Kathy followed Sitar off the tram. They walked to an alley behind the cafe. Yellow striped orange cats roamed in a vacant lot. Garbage spilled out of dented trash bins, bars covered the building’s windows and a red light bathed a brown paper shade.
"Dawson has a touch for detail," Sitar said. "That's what makes V-City successful. With many of these online sites, the back streets and alleys are empty. Maybe they're line-defs with some shading, but that's about it." He walked ahead of her. To their right, a doorway opened. Kathy peeked in. A ladder led downwards.
She balked. "Why a ladder?"
"Why not?" He sounded pained. "They live as graphics, as animated representations. They have to follow the rules, like you would in a game or the way you follow rules in any virtual reality setting. The ladder’s a transport metaphor. Okay? Does that answer your questions? Jesus! I can't possibly hurt you. No one can hurt you."
Kathy frowned RL; her graphical online representation followed Sitar into the dark and down the ladder, past water streaked walls. Something dripped annoyingly in the distance, echoing loud and regular.
"Is it her? Is it Edith?" someone asked.
Kathy stopped climbing.
"No," Sitar answered. "It's her carrier." He glided ahead, arms extended. Kathy clicked to open her hands and let her character float away from the ladder. She landed on the floor. Sitar lit a torch. The tunnel brightened and Kathy saw that it extended away from them, terminating in darkness far from where they stood. On the curved walls, seemingly defying gravity, stood several small shapes. They looked like rats.
"They take on a convenient form," Sitar explained. "Part of their program is a complete graphics generator using fractals for compression. This is a sewer, so they're rats. Actually, this is part of a database that was originally expunged from the system, but a glitch -- one of my own making -- kept some of the data intact."
"This is what you called the netherworld?" Kathy asked.
"Just a name for a place," he replied. "The tunnel leads to an area once used for the boulevard, before the recent updates. That's where they live. We could probably clean up these entrances, but then we'd get too many visitors. And too many questions."
Kathy stared at the rats. They had yellowish eyes and long, wispy tails. Their bodies were arched and they had tiny hairs sticking out of their noses.
"We'd like you to bring Edith here," one of the rats said.
"When the time comes," Sitar urged, "I’ll arrange to have the rehearsal center connected to the alley behind the cafe. You’ll leave the room and you're in the alley. After that, you come down the ladder. It’s simple. Edith will be with you as a graphic, actually a living program functioning on her own. Click on her body to keep her close."
removed the interface glasses and looked around her apartment. The peeling
wallpaper and faded shades assaulted her. She shivered. Cold room.
She donned the glasses and re-entered V-City and Sitar’s underground secret.
"Why are you doing this?" she asked. "What do you want?"
"To help me." It was Edith's little girl's voice.