The Sequels to Syrrah's Game SGSequels




CHAPTER 45

 

TIME IS MEASURED BY WHAT TRANSPIRES WHEN MEASURED TIME IS UNAVAILABLE

 

Shocking surprise plunged through Lang; without any hard, forward thrust, even though their speed had been much greater, he and the others were suddenly just standing upon the silver floor. “What the…” He looked around the silver floor and then at Evan, Kyleigh, and the others. Strange. No one had that orange glow any longer too. “What just happened?”

“Didn’t feel a thing,” Nahas said. “Just a gentle landing.”

“I felt nothing too,” Robert said. “Everything is a damn trick or illusion with the hull.”

“And look at us.” Akina’s eyes glanced around at everyone and then up at the ceiling. “Light is coming from the silver up there, from nothing it seems. See? That is why we’re not glowing orange anymore.”

Nahas stared up. “Akina’s correct. The ceiling is simply emanating light on us. Or, as Robert--”

“Mind control, mental manipulation,” Robert interrupted. “Exactly.”

Lang looked to his left, at Evan. “You all right?”

“Yeah, Dad. Best as can be expected, given our universe is apparently gone.” Evan was looking at his PSP. “Weird. My PSP still has May 2nd, 4:48 PM.”

“Controlling our time, too,” Robert said. “Why not? Who knows what time it really is now?”

“Yeah, really.” Evan’s eyes, holding a glint of curiosity, focused on the large, oval object ahead on the silver floor’s center. Thankfully, Evan still wasn’t shaking. “I guess we’re being forced to visit this place.”

Lang stared at the object too and inhaled deeply. It really did resemble a large, smooth, oval stone. “Just stay calm, Evan, like you seem to be already.” He looked at Kyleigh. “Are you all right, Kyleigh?”

 “I think so.” Her body yet trembled slightly. She eyed that object just like Evan was. “Alan’s right. The floor does slant down to that thing there, whatever it is.”

Nahas and Akina stepped closer to Lang as Alan and Robert began walking directly for that strange object.

“Robert,” Lang said, “should we be going to it?”

“Well, the hull put us here, and so I’m thinking it wants us to check it out.” Robert was almost near it. “And it’s pretty…damn…spectacular…what is that inside?”

Evan immediately headed for it.

“Evan, wait,” Lang said, “we don’t know what it is.”

“But what should we do?” Evan stopped and turned back. “Just stand around here? Where are the aliens? Or whatever they are, since this probably isn’t even another universe.”

“He does have a point, Lang.” Nahas’ dark brown eyes scanned a wide arc. “No one is here. What are we supposed to be doing?”

“All right,” Lang told Evan. “But hold on. Wait for us.”

“Dr. Maplen said it was God saving us, from the universe’s destruction,” Kyleigh said. “So is this some sort of passage way?”

Robert stared back at Kyleigh. “You’re joking me, right? You really think we’re going to meet God?”

“Whatever, Robert.” She looked into Lang’s eyes. “We should check it out. Maybe it’s a representation of God, like when Moses saw the burning bush.”

“All right. I see your point.” Lang glanced at both Nahas and Akina. “Do you want to see it too?”

“I suppose, why not,” Nahas said.

Akina nodded, quivering a bit. “I think we should. There must be some reason for it. ”

The large, stone-like object was about fifty feet away.

Walking over, Lang felt that warm, soothing sensation near his heart, stronger than he had ever felt it so far. “Kyleigh,” he said softly.

She drew closer to him, though not close enough to start that repulsion. “What is it?”

Evan rushed ahead to the object.

“I feel it again.” He stared into her kind eyes, now so much bluer again. “That feeling, in my chest.”

“I think…I think I feel something too.”

“Lang,” Nahas said, his stride nearer to Kyleigh. He was staring up. “That floating silver ceiling is about fifteen feet from floor to ceiling.” He stared down. “And this floor. So smooth, and silver.”

“Yeah weird.” Lang glanced around. “So pure and flawless. Too perfect.”

Evan turned back a moment. “But it’s all in our minds.”

“That’s true, Evan.”

When they were close enough, Lang began taking it all in. Robert and Alan were already carefully circling around the large object, observing it with astute eyes. Lang stepped to object’s left side. It was about twenty feet long, twelve feet wide, and about four feet in height, and mostly black, though parts of it were dark blue or purple. But what stood out the most was there appeared to be no real surface, and so it actually wasn’t a solid, stone-like object at all. Other colored areas, some in darker shades of pink and green, similar to gases, stayed stationary. Yet other colored areas moved gradually in clumps, or flowed in thin, solid-like sheets, or in thin stream lines, at deeper levels or near-surface levels. Some were transparent, some more opaque. “Nahas. Do you detect a surface on this thing?”

“Not really sure. Maybe it’s microscopically thin, and we just can’t see it. Or it’s just a layered, staggered surface.”

“Or maybe it’s only what we’re allowed to view,” Robert said. “Believe none of this, and enjoy the ride, is all I can think of.”

Evan, Kyleigh and Akina cautiously walked around it, their eyes studying like Robert and Alan’s.

Suddenly all the varied colored parts shot into motion. They transformed into numerous transparent ellipsoids, moving themselves into many branching-out patterns from deep within the object’s center; they started very small, from that center, and then each subsequent one at a higher position from the previous was a bit larger, keeping that pattern going until near the surface. Maybe it was all an attempt to create an illusion of depth. Then the ellipsoids changed their colors, rapidly, from the center on out.

“What is it doing?” Lang asked.

“What sort of insanity is this?” Alan asked. “Screw that, I’m touching it.”

Robert scowled at Alan. “Why the hell would you want to touch it?”

“I wouldn’t,” Evan said. “Maybe it’s something like a black hole.”

“Black hole, my ass.” Alan began reaching for it.

Lang sighed. Powder keg at it again. “Alan, no!”

But Lang’s warning meant nothing; Alan plunged his hull-covered hand at the object’s surface. Robert shoved into Alan, but his rushing thrust, and force of the repulsion, only turned Alan’s hand toward the object even more. 

Instead of Alan’s hand diving into a flimsy, airy conglomeration of all those shapes, his hull-covered hand struck a solid, invisible surface.

At that same second his hand struck, things shot up out of the object. Huh? They were rings, concentric, elliptical rings. Dark material. Solid? Appeared so. They were shooting out at a split-second pace. The rings were small at first, about two feet in diameter at their widest, but then quickly burst out much wider - they pierced right into Lang’s and the others’ hulls. “What the…” But like Tauring’s night stick slamming into Evan, nothing was felt.

And then the rings zoomed upwards, becoming even wider.

 “Nice going,” Robert said sarcastically. “We told you not to touch it.”

“Hey.” Alan gave Robert an intense, annoyed stare. “So at least now we know.”

“What are those things?” Evan asked, concerned.

“They’re passing right through us,” Lang said. “Stay calm.”

“Hard to stay calm, Lang.” Kyleigh spread her arms out and watched wide-eyed as the rings passed through her and up. “I’m getting nervous.”

 “Look!” Akina pointed up and around. “They’re passing through the ceiling and then out to that darkness.”

It seemed almost instantly after Akina spoke those words, the elliptical rings closest to the large, oval object quickly reduced in diameter and zoomed straight down into the object. And those rings higher up began following the same behavior, producing a vortex-shaped drain of speedily diminishing black loops.

 “What the hell is going on here?” Robert asked.

Soon all the rings were back inside the oval object.

Immediately afterwards, a 3D holographic-like image sprung up right above it.

Lang moved closer, to see it better. Evan, Kyleigh and the others did the same. Weird. At first it wasn’t obvious what he was looking at. “What the…” But then it made sense; they were looking down upon themselves, by this large, oval object, with even a tiny version of the holographic image itself present, because the silver ceiling was shown as transparent, enabling a miniaturized view of where each of them stood and moved, exactly. “Did we trigger an alarm, and this thing is showing us it knows we’re here?”

“I think the better question is…” Robert said. “What is this thing?”

Nahas leaned even closer. “Lang is right. Whoever, or whatever, is showing us this three dimensional scene, wants us to be aware that they know we are here.”

In the 3D image, a room suddenly appeared. The room’s back wall arched in line with the silver floor’s circular border and its two side walls came at angles heading toward the oval object, so the room resembled a piece of pie with its pointy tip cut off. At the cut-off part, there was a doorway. And two orangey-brown figures were near the doorway, with one stepping out.

Lang looked to his left. A huge, human-like being, about eight feet tall, and of medium build, headed toward all of them.

Gasps and words of shock sprung forth from the others. But Lang kept quiet, his breath caught in his throat.

“You didn’t believe we would leave something so important alone, did you?” the tall being said, its voice baritone, with a subtle quiver and almost electronic in nature, like a robotic voice.

No one said anything.

“Who are you?” Nahas finally broke the silence. “What is your species?

The tall being continued to step closer.

Computer generated, like CGI? But why would it take on this initial appearance then? Lang observed more thoroughly. The being wore no clothes and instead was covered everywhere with small, five-sided scales, orangey-brown in color, each fitting perfectly with each other around the being’s entire humanoid form, even covering its face. The being’s face had a flat nose, no eyebrows, and a bald head. Actually, there wasn’t a speck of hair anywhere around the being. And no genitals? Whatever, ignore that. The being moved too fluidly, too easily; this being just couldn’t be real.

The other being, now stepping out too, was very similar, though a little shorter.

Neither one answered Nahas’ question.

“An answer would be nice.” Robert boldly stared up at the first being. “Why are we here? And why, apparently, did our universe get annihilated? And why are you so tall? Are we not yet our normal size?”

The first being stopped a few feet from Lang and the oval object.

Lang looked up, instantly feeling quite puny. His breath caught in this throat again; the tall being’s stare exposed strange eyes – large, orange irises, with silver edges, the irises almost filling up the entire eye space and leaving little room for orange-tinted whites. And the pupils were vertical black slits. Lizard-like, and very disturbing.

An uncontrollable urge to swallow overtook Lang.

“So many questions.” The first being directed its eerie orange eyes at Robert. The being even looked as if to have sharp, pointy teeth when it talked, but it was hard to say for certain. “As you have reasoned, your universe was not destroyed.”

 “Yeah, I figured that.” Robert seemed somewhat pleased at first, but then drew serious, keeping his full attention on this first being.

Is this being a ‘he’, ‘she’, or ‘it’? Hard to decide, though maybe ‘it’ or ‘he’ fit closest, Lang reasoned.

“And yes, you are your normal size now,” the first being told Robert. It then looked at Nahas. “Who I am is not important, nor is my species. We consist of material your eyes cannot see, and anything resembling sound here, your ears cannot hear. Nor can you fully comprehend the realm we exist within. You would be instantly obliterated, if it were not for what you call the hull. My presence before you, and my colleague’s, is primarily for your benefit. You know by now that images, sounds, and sensations exist only for your benefit.”

But then why did these beings make themselves so tall? To emphasize superiority over all of them, without doubt? An uncomfortable chill twisted up within Lang’s body. He shook slightly, but tried to hide it.

 “So, you two don’t have names?” Nahas’ large frame actually shuddered ever so slightly too; he stiffened somewhat to hide it, but it wasn’t helping much. “Then, how do we address you?”

The first being tilted its head back, yet kept staring down at Nahas. “Consider us the children of the Parent. The Parent will be here shortly.” The first being looked at the other one. “However, since my colleague is a Joiner, there is a name associated with the soul containment system. Consider me Child One, and my colleague, Limati.” Child One then gave a menacing glance at each hull person. “But no need for formal introductions. We know each of your names, and thoughts, very well.”

Of course, Lang realized - that disturbing computer communication message at the underground base, when all of their names were given, besides the fact these beings were obviously in their minds all the time.

“You mention souls,” Kyleigh said. “Are you…are you two associated with God?”

Child One smiled with a closed mouth, and stared at the oval object. “God. What a concept. No. There is no God, as Robert has informed all of you.”

Lang looked at Robert. Surprisingly, disturbingly, Robert didn’t seem vindicated at all; he only stared, his face strong, though his eyes dimmed in fear, at Child One.

“There is no God?” Kyleigh asked, her voice cracking, as though she felt close to tears.

“That is what I just said.” Child One’s tone overflowed with annoyance.

Confirmed; these beings ARE sinister. Lang wanted to take Kyleigh in his arms, and soothe her despair, but he could only change the subject, and quickly. “What do you mean, our universe wasn’t destroyed?”

Child One outstretched its arm over the large oval object. “See for yourself.”

Instantly, Lang found himself standing in a large, high-ceiling room. Evan, Kyleigh and the others were here too. The silver floor, the large oval object, and those two beings had all completely disappeared.

Evan pointed at a woman, about fifty feet away, wearing a white jacket over cammies. She was frozen in a walking stance. “Is that…Colonel Jennings?”

Lang looked around some more. He recognized the large room. “Aren’t we in that testing room, for the Suburban?” He looked at the woman again. “And that has to be Colonel Jennings.” Some of her other team members were present too, frozen in motion like her, and all standing at regular heights, just like Lang and the other hull people. “Except we’re normal size now.” But he didn’t see their Suburban anywhere.

“But why aren’t they moving?” Alan asked.

Child One suddenly materialized in the room, next to Alan, towering over him. Alan jolted and took a step back. Lang’s pulse kicked up, pounding away in his ears. 

“Because your universe is on pause now,” Child One said.

“On pause?” Alan asked. “What do you mean?”

Child One walked over to Evan, forcing Lang’s pulse even higher. Lang watched closely, but tried to stay calm. “As Evan can tell you,” Child One said, “when you have other things to do, such as texting your friends, but you want to leave the game just as before, you pause it.”

Evan, speechless, could only stare up at Child One.

“Our universe,” Kyleigh said, “is a game to you?”

“You could say that.” Child One walked away from Evan and back near Alan. Relief streamed through Lang, yet he then immediately felt guilt for not worrying of Alan’s safety at the same time. “And I will have you know, that we can pause your universe for billions, even trillions, of your years, and none of you, not even your most sophisticated, brilliant scientists, would ever notice even the slightest change.” Child One raised his arm up. “But, enough of this.” They all instantly now stood by the large, oval object again, on that silver floor.

Robert scoffed. “Wait a minute. You’re telling us that your…your species, whatever you are, control the universe? How are we supposed to believe that when everything we’re experiencing right now is mind-manipulated by you? That room, frozen in time at the Air Force base, could just be put in our heads. Doesn’t mean that it’s real.”

“You have doubts. Understandable. I ask you to think about how you have been kept alive and ageless all this time, without any apparent means.” Child One gave Robert an intense stare, and then glanced at Alan. “Or how we prevented Alan from destroying himself, or both of you from destroying each other.” Child One then looked at Evan. “And how Evan could be sixteen and a half years old now, with his clothing perfectly enlarged as well. The evidence is before you.”

“Yeah, well, so, you’re technologically advanced.” Robert folded his arms across his chest under his hull, and took on a more demanding air. This didn’t seem like a good idea, at all. “But that doesn’t prove you control the universe.”

Robert’s thinking did make sense, though.

“So, Robert, you are not convinced.” Child One glanced around at each hull person. “And, in fact, all of you are not fully convinced. But I assure you, whether you choose to believe what we reveal to you or not, you will never find an alternate and fully adequate explanation for all that has happened to you.” Child One tossed its hand outward. “Sure, believe we are merely aliens, manipulating your minds, controlling wormholes to change time and other physical parameters. It doesn’t matter to us. Believe what you want.”

No one said anything for some moments.

“So, if you do control the universe, like any game on my PSP…” Evan finally broke the silence.  “That means we’re just like characters in this game?”

Child One smiled at Evan, with an open mouth, confirming Lang’s earlier suspicion; the smile, bordered by orange lips, similar to these beings’ iris color, showed sharp, pointy, silvery-white teeth. If their appearance was only so they could see them now, why show such frightening teeth? “It is the famous metaphor,” Child One said. “Life is but a game. And to think, it is actually quite true.”

Robert walked around the oval object until near Child One. “Your suggestion makes no sense. You tell me I’m right, that there is no God, or gods for that matter, but then you say your species, whatever you are, controls our universe. This is not how I believe, or many like me. We believe order came from chaos, and then evolution, and that is how--”

 “I know what you believe,” Child One snapped, cutting Robert off completely. “Order from chaos.” Child One turned its back on Robert and headed toward that silver room’s doorway, from where it arrived. Child One stopped half way there and turned back. Some of the silver floor directly in front of Child One erupted upwards, like a thick arm of liquid mercury, and gradually flowed further upwards until forming a large chair, with arm rests. Subdued gasps came from a few hull people. Child One sat down in the chair, quite regally. “There is only so much order that can come from chaos, and I assure you, it is not much.”

“But if our universe is only on pause,” Nahas said, “then what was that universe we were within, that supposedly exploded into darkness? Only mental manipulations by you?”

Child One arose from the chair and eyed the other being. “Limati.” The other being stepped nearer to Child One, and Lang noticed both their feet. No toes, only the same scaled-covered skin covering feet that appeared wrapped in thin shoes, but it was hard to say for sure. “It is Limati’s duty, along with myself, and several others, to stay here and maintain the continuous functioning of the universe, our domain, with this device you see before you. This device is the universe engine, I-arn Cimpengenstin.”

What an odd name. But Child One continued speaking.

“Prior to this entire event, Limati was not correctly maintaining what your scientists refer to as zero point energy. This can have dire consequences.”

Another being appeared out of the same doorway as the other two did. Unease instantly filled Lang; this being had a ring of stubby, upward-pointing spikes around the top of its head, in the same circumference loop as a jogger’s headband, and it had a line of spikes along each of the top of its shoulders that continued down its arms until stopping at the wrists. “And so we decided to enable one of our teaching moments, for Limati,” this other being said. “A little side game to our actual one.”

Alan was closest to this new being as it approached. “Are you the Parent?”

“Correct, Alan.” This being, the Parent, was also a little taller than Child One, and was still covered by the same five-sided scales, even over its spikes. Lang studied the shoulder spikes more. They were shorter near the neck and higher, about three or four inches in height, at the shoulder joints, and the line of spikes along its arms gradually diminished in height until the wrists. The entirety of the Parent’s appearance was just plain creepy. And threatening. The Parent glared at Child one. “You are one of many. Child One?”

Child One bowed its head slightly. “My apologies, Parent. I didn’t want to complicate matters for them. It seemed the most direct.”

“The most direct would be simply ‘Child’,” the Parent said. “But we will discuss this later.” The Parent turned to Limati. “Step closer.”

The slightly shorter Limati obeyed, until stepping near Alan and Robert, who both moved back a few feet toward the other end of the I-arn Cimpengenstin, to give Limati some room.

“Let me get something straight.” Nahas spoke abruptly, distrust and irritation in his tone. “Our infinite universe, is being produced by a finite device?”

“Boundary-less, of course.” The Parent stood still and stared down at Nahas. “Infinite, no. It is finite, with a particular topology. Do not discuss further your thoughts on flatness, homogeneity or isotropism, black holes, conservation of energy, or dark energy. I do not expect you, nor your scientists, who could not even determine how we kept you nourished, hydrated, ageless, and your wastes eliminated…” The Parent glanced at Akina and Kyleigh. “…particularly with female concerns, after four and a half years.” The frightening being aimed its eerie eyes down at Nahas again. “No. You and your scientists could not understand such concepts.”

 “I…I only find it bizarre, from what I know,” Nahas said, “with the Big Bang, Inflation, to what is occurring now, our universe being held on pause, as you say. It all seems…too improbable, too impossible.”

The Parent smiled deviously, showing the same pointy, frightening teeth. Not too amicable, for certain. A sickening feeling bubbled within Lang’s stomach. “Do not concern yourself with the details,” the Parent said. “Suffice it to say, that we are enormously advanced in comparison to human intellect.”

“So advanced, you need such an enormous universe to play a game?” Robert asked. “Why?”

“Simple. The more advanced, the more capable of a larger entertainment field. So, why not?”

Robert sniffed. “Yeah, whatever, and so advanced that you need us lowly humans for a teaching moment. Isn’t that what just happened to us, a teaching moment, for Limati?”

“Oh, more than a teaching moment, I assure you of that.” The Parent was completely unshaken by Robert’s words. “But in order to better understand how something changes, something similar needs to remain the same, especially when gradual steps are involved, to allow for better comprehension. With Limati’s suggestion, we chose those seeking to join with the so-called Savior, for comparison.” The Parent glanced at Limati. “Fools, they are.” The Parent glared at Lang, and then at Kyleigh, Nahas, and Akina, its eyes inquisitive yet menacing. “No. He didn’t take you, but we did. And we did much more than your ancient stories suggest. We gave you air, visions, sounds, touch…food, water, sustained energy without sleep. We protected you, we removed your bodily wastes, prevented aging, prevented hair and nail growth, kept your crown hair as it was, kept your clothes clean, odor-free. We did all of this, without your awareness. Could your Savior do all of this?”

Rattled nerves. A pounding heart and a sickened stomach. And now these terrible words? An overwhelming, incapacitating sensation flooded through Lang’s body. He could barely stand.

“Why…why would you want to do something like that?” Robert asked, his face distraught. “You know I’m an atheist, but why would you want to harass people’s cherished beliefs? For what benefit?”

Wow, if those words didn’t sound familiar. Some of Lang’s distress lessened.

“To prove how ridiculous they are,” the Parent said. “And another lofty goal, Robert, as you will soon discover.”

Evan walked behind Lang, to get closer to the Parent. Evan stared up at the Parent. “Yeah. You might have done all those spectacular things for us, while in the hull, but we were constantly scared, and upset, from all those stupid decrease events. Pretty high price to pay, for all your wonderful life support. It sucked, real bad.”

“Evan,” Lang said, his legs trembling. “That’s enough.”

“No it isn’t, Dad. These aliens put us through hell and back.”

“I apologize.” Limati spoke unexpectedly, from across the other side of the I-arn Cimpengenstin. Limati stared with intensity at Evan. “For taking so long to place you in the chosen dimension. All of you were never supposed to be chased by copies of yourselves.”

Child One glared at Limati. “You apologize?”

“Limati is still learning,” the Parent said to Child One. “But the strategy used was brilliant.”

Limati tilted its head up, proud. “Of course. I do not apologize. The chaos that ensued produced great fear and upheaval, providing great enjoyment. I am not sorry at all.”

Evan, his eyes perplexed, angry, stared back at Limati. “What are you talking about? You just apologized, but now you’re taking it back?”

“Evan, please,” Lang said. “Settle down.”

“No, this is…this is not right.” Evan stared up at the Parent. “I don’t care how tall you are or how many spikes you have on you. You disrupt our lives, and scare us to death, especially me, moving me to some weird underground base, showing me prisoner boxcars and trapped alien hybrids and humans, and get me shot at, and then, and then…you choose me as your…as your main communicator, or whatever, to move us to other places. All of this, for a teaching moment. I want to know what’s really going on.” He looked at all the other hull people. “And I know they do too.”

“Here, here, kid,” Robert said. “You tell them.”

The Parent smiled, though not showing its teeth this time, and stepped closer to Evan. “Bring out your PSP.”

“What for?”

“So we can use it to help explain what is happening.”

Evan slipped his hand out of the hull around his arm and took out the PSP from his jacket’s inner pocket. He held the PSP outward, the hull forming a bulged-out area to accommodate the PSP’s presence.

“Limati,” the Parent said, “come, you should observe this now.”

Limati hurried around the I-arn Cimpengenstin and took a position between Evan and the Parent. Evan backed up a couple of steps, allowing Lang, Kyleigh and the others to see better too.

“Can I watch you play a game?” Limati stared down at the PSP.

Lang looked straight up at tall Limati until he felt crimping and crackling in his neck. Evan stared up too. Limati’s face was blank, no emotion, if that’s what these beings even felt.

“Yeah,” Evan told Limati. “But haven’t you been watching all along since you’re been in my mind?”

‘Yes. But this is different.” Though Limati’s blank, emotionless stare yet reigned, a hint of intense interest was becoming apparent too.

And Evan noticed likewise. “Okay. I…I’ll play a Star Wars game.” He looked back down and pressed the PSP’s buttons, until enabling the game, and began playing. Limati’s eyes wouldn’t move away from the screen even in the slightest.

But those eyes aren’t even real!

“How can you watch this?” Nahas asked, obviously thinking the same thing. “You consist of matter different from us.”

“We can view you very well,” the Parent replied, “without any difficulties, because we created you, and you consist of material we can perceive. Evan can view the characters in his game, and what those characters are doing, but if they ever were removed from the game, they could not see their creators.”

“Because they are nothing but programming,” Evan said, continuing to play the game. “Programming that causes electric current or reduced current, to produce binary ones and zeros, in a specific pattern, so it comes out as colored patterns on a screen. You could never take them out, and have them walk around, looking at things.”

Evan’s smart words diminished more of Lang’s turmoil, pride replacing despair.

“True. At this moment in your technological development,” the Parent said. “But that will change, in your future, as you will see.” The Parent backed away from the I-arn Cimpengenstin and glanced around at all of the hull people. “We live forever. We do not die, like you. We consist of matter that can rejuvenate without ending, if properly sustained. We seek knowledge, entertainment, and sustenance, and your universe supplies this for us.”

 “Sustenance?” Nahas asked. “What do you mean?”

“Although I remarked that we can view Evan’s PSP, and view you, we do not see as you understand, or hear as you understand. We sense stimuli differently. Sharks can detect electric currents. Bees and certain birds can detect magnetic fields. Do you, Evan, know how it feels to detect electric or magnetic fields?”

“Why ask?” Evan said. “You know I don’t.”

Snap. Good answer, Evan.

“Of course, I was only trying to make a point for the rest of the humans to hear,” the Parent said. “Just as you can easily see lightning and hear its thunder, we can see and hear emotions and thoughts.” The Parent walked over to the silver chair and turned around, briefly concentrating its eyes on the universe engine. “Some say we are evil. But we are only fulfilling our need. Certain emotions are preferred above all others. Fear, and similar emotions, are what we seek. Fear, and its cascade of brain and nervous system impulses, culminating in the release of numerous hormones, and increases in bodily functions, produces a delightful, orchestrated effect that is very desirable to us.” 

“But we’re not always afraid,” Akina said unexpectedly, surprisingly Lang. “We have many moments of joy, happiness, love, and peace.”

“True, Akina, very true. But I have not finished my explanation. Fear maintained continuously has deleterious effects, especially for reproduction, and anything interfering with the continuation of our domain is certainly not forthcoming. Fear, to us, is far better appreciated and assimilated when contrasted first with so-called positive emotions. The happy car drive, when the driver and passengers abruptly view another car heading straight for them from the opposite lane. Or, the blissful couple walking down the street, suddenly encountering treacherous, gun-wielding muggers. Besides, with all the nearly endless beings in this universe, there is always at least one at any instance experiencing a change to fear. You see, it is not mainly fear, and its associated emotions, but the change to fear, ueluxhra, that is most delectable to us.” The Parent smiled, showing its frightening teeth. Child One did too.

Lang’s heart pounded harder, but he inhaled quietly, deeply, trying to relax and stay calm.

“Oh, give me a break.” Robert’s voice was full of disgust. “Just about every science fiction story or movie out there is obsessed with some detail about fear. You couldn’t think of anything more original than that?”

The Parent gave Robert a steely stare. “We have no concern about your view on originality. All origin comes from us, so spare us your mundane thoughts.”

Robert wasn’t sensing the danger and didn’t back down. “So, your u-el…u-el whatever - that’s why our lives aren’t continuously horrible. Great. Wonderful. How nice of you.”

“Do you fault yourselves for having games that you play for entertainment and increasing knowledge?” the Parent asked. “Do you find this wrong? As Evan said, they are only computer programs, the characters are only programs within the game, albeit very advanced programs, more on level of extremely advanced robotics. How is this wrong?”

“Those people, in that other universe, that exploded,” Kyleigh said. Lang looked in her stare and felt his heart sink; tears were filling her eyes. He had been so preoccupied with these beings he’d been neglectful of her, and it hurt, deeply. “Were they real, were they actual people? Or just images you put in our minds?”

The Parent swept out an upward arc with its right hand. “This…is real. This is reality all around you. What you experience in your daily lives on Earth, is not real. So those that interacted with you, in the copied, alternate domain universe, were not real, were in actuality nothing, though the ueluxhra they supplied us was quite exquisite and plentiful at their demise.” The Parent walked over to Kyleigh and stared down at her. “You, Kyleigh Behrend, are not real.”

The words cut through Lang like a knife. “You’re claiming none of us are real?”

“That’s ridiculous,” Evan said. “We’re not characters in a game. We’re real, live beings.”

The Parent glared at Evan. “How could you possibly be real? You die!”

“And you don’t, ever?” Evan asked.

“No, of course not.” Scorn pervaded the Parent’s words. “As I told you already, we live forever. You don’t understand this because you are not real.” The Parent glanced at each hull person. “That’s right, none of you are real. You are simply characters in a game.”

“But, I control the characters in my game,” Evan said. “They only move or do things when I move them. But people aren’t like that. No one moves us or tells us what to do. We do it ourselves.”

The Parent smiled slyly. “Are you sure?”

“What do…what do you mean?” Evan asked.

“I will explain. You have been told not to annoy Freddy Jergensen, correct?”

“Yes, that’s true.”

“But you do. And do you know why?”

Evan sighed. “No, but I’m sure you will tell me.”

“Sarcasm. Showing your frustration, I see.” The Parent smiled at Evan, sharp teeth glaring. “Because my colleagues and I influence you, though yes, you can function well without us. Do you know of non-player characters?”

“Of course I do,” Evan answered. “Characters that do things on their own.”

“These are characters, that have been pre-programmed to behave in a certain manner, though variations in each instance can change each character slightly. But their behavior can be altered by changing some of the programming.” The Parent glanced at each hull person again. “Think of yourselves as these non-player characters, that can be altered, or influenced, by us, at times.”

Anger began replacing Lang’s crippling emotions and he had to speak. “Why? So you get your change-to-fear fix?”

“How observant, Lang. Yes, you could say that. We need our change-to-fear, so we influence any that can produce it, whether in themselves, or even more importantly, in others.” The Parent walked over to the silver chair and stood behind it. “Now, do you see why it could appear that we are evil?”

“Not only evil, but demons,” Nahas said. “The behavior you describe is consistent with demons.”

“I will not deny that,” The Parent said.

Though his rattled nerves almost felt like ice threads throughout his body, Lang could still feel anger brewing, forming an inner, stabilizing strength.

“Yeah,” Alan said, “you could influence wars and violence, to create your change-to-fear, either in someone individually, or how they treat others. But hey, you really didn’t do anything wrong, or kill anyone, because we’re all just individual programs in a game. Right?”

The Parent took on a proud, stoic demeanor. “Yes, how precise.”

Robert stepped closer to the Parent. “So, what did you do when we weren’t around? You know, for millions of years, no humans, only small microorganisms and then dinosaurs, prehistoric animals. You want to explain that?”

Child One and the Parent both laughed, beaming their sharp-toothed smiles again. “There are three explanations,” the Parent said. “Animal and insect ueluxhra is very desirable to us, at times even more so than human ueluxhra. And secondly, Earth’s biosphere did not form exactly as you believe, with time spans of millions of years. And lastly, there are plenty of other beings similar to you in this universe. As you discovered in the underground base, you are certainly NOT alone.”

“There are very many of us.” Child One laughed, its laugh reverberating in a strange type of electronic sound. Creepy, and strange. “How foolish of any of you to believe Earth is enough.”

The Parent walked closer to Limati. Limati still had its eyes locked on Evan’s PSP, though Evan wasn’t playing much. “But enough of this discussion,” the Parent said. “Because, as Alan accurately expressed, you are all merely expendable programs in the game, the question arises, what happens when you die?”

Robert crossed his arms over his chest, under the hull. “Well I’m just dying to hear this one.”

Lang wanted to smile at Robert’s small attempt at a joke, but just couldn’t.

 “Humor,” the Parent said, smiling, Child One smiling likewise. Limati, face blank, kept its eyes on Evan’s PSP. “Of course you need humor now. The simple fact? When you die, you just…die. You exist no more, gone forever.”

“But, when characters die in a game,” Evan said, “I can bring them back.”

“A very good point,” the Parent said. “Limati was once a human being, just like all of you.”

“It is true.” Limati had its eyes yet focused on the PSP screen. “I had a final death only four months ago, Earth time.”

“A final death?” Evan asked. “What’s a final death?”

“If you allow us to join with you,” the Parent said, “a final death means to be finally allowed to live here, in our realm. You no longer are required to live in our domain realm again, although you could traverse it if need be.”

This felt confusing to Lang. “Join with you?”

“Yes. Become one with us. It is such a gratifying experience for us. Not only do we get to influence you to produce in other domain characters the emotions and information we crave, by whatever fear-inducing processes possible, but we get to experience light, sound, and the other senses you experience…similar to you sensing electric and magnetic fields, something you don’t normally sense. But you will not die, because when your life ends, you are still connected with your chosen colleague, and this colleague will find another body for you both to inhabit, whether on Earth or some distant planet, to begin again. And after we have grown quite fond of you, as I have become of Limati, who has won my trust, we bring you here, in our realm.”

“Reincarnation,” Nahas said. “You’re talking about reincarnation.”

“Similar,” the Parent said. “You could compare it to that.”

Evan looked up at Limati. “How many times have you lived?”

“Five times.”

Maybe Evan said that in the hope to appease at least one of the beings here. He then just stared back down and continued playing.

“So there is no Heaven.” Kyleigh’s demeanor was steadier now, thankfully. “And no Hell. Only here, with you?”

 “Hell?” The Parent smiled, its face possibly even showing amusement. “How could you experience never ending torment, if you no longer exist? You can only live and feel through us, once you are deceased. Nothing else.”

“What about all that happened to me,” Evan asked, “and--”

“I know your thoughts. The number of all of you, seven. To throw you off, to believe it related to God, the importance of that number. Or the time we gave premonitions or stated you were not to worry. And the connection to your mind, to have you move all your other humans to other locations…or showing you the underground base and its atrocities. All of it, Limati’s strategy to either have you believe we were developing a bond with you, to make you our chosen spokesman, or to subject you to ueluxhra. All of it…trickery, deceit, all the tools necessary to play a good game, hunting for what we need. You would have to agree that is true.”

“No.” Evan shook his head. “This is horrible. It feels horrible.”

The Parent walked over to the I-arn Cimpengenstin and touched the oval object’s strange surface. Some of the layered designs within the object then flowed in varying directions. “It is only horrible because you are not real, and simply do not understand.” The Parent glanced at each hull person. “Join with us. Do it now. Become real eventually, as Limati has done. Live with us forever.”

From around the outer circumference of the silver floor, in that frightening darkness, many of those orange-brown crystals they had seen earlier entered upon the floor on the opposite side of the I-arn Cimpengenstin, about forty feet away. Disturbingly, they began clumping together somehow, forming individual, vertical structures. Many at first resembled small skyscrapers or obelisks. The individual crystals then curved, twisted, and turned, morphing the obelisk-like structures into humanoid figures, with heads, necks, torsos, arms, and legs. Eerily, no eyes, noses, or mouths appeared. They were faceless, and clothe-less. And there were seven of them.

Lang noticed everyone had their eyes on them.

The Parent motioned toward the strange figures. “My colleagues, eager to take part in your life. If you say yes, then once one of my colleagues joins with you, you will return back to where you left, before all this happened. But if you say no, then, you will still return to where you left, before this happened, but you will not be able to live again, once your life is over and you die. Is that clear?”

“No, not really.” Alan stared up defiantly at the Parent. “What does it feel like, to have one of those…” He stared at the strange colleagues. “One of your ugly colleagues join with us? Can we still think and function like we always did?”

Lang couldn’t believe his ears. “Alan. You’re not…you’re not seriously considering this, are you?”

“Just curious, Lang.” Alan yet stared up at the Parent, not even giving Lang a glance. “Just curious.”

The Parent stepped closer to Alan. “You will still have your basic personality. But it will be sharper, most focused, more goal oriented. You will think and behave as a winner, someone with passion and focus. You will be the envy of all around you.”

“Oh my God.” Kyleigh spoke softly, and drew closer to Lang. “I can’t believe this is happening.” Tears blurred the blue of her pretty eyes, breaking Lang’s heavy, racing heart. Even so, for some unbelievable reason, he could sense a touch of that comforting sensation within his chest. “I would never want to harm people, or willingly do bad things.”

 “I know, Kyleigh,” he quietly said to her. “Me too. But keep in mind, we still don’t know for sure if they are really in control of everything, like they claim. You can’t take this for fact.”

“Lang, I see you, like your fellow humans, still have your doubts,” the Parent said. “But as I already explained, you will never find an adequate explanation than what we have told you.” The Parent walked around Limati and Evan until he stood near Kyleigh. “And Kyleigh. Tears, really? They aren’t truly people, like you think. They are just characters in a game! But you, with one of my colleagues joined with you, will be different. Better. Stronger. You will have endless respect, and even be able to whisk through other dimensions, when appropriate. You will have power you never believed imaginable.”

“But, I don’t want power,” Kyleigh said. “I just want to be happy. And to treat others the same as I would want to be treated.”

“With your new found power, trust me,” the Parent said, “you will be far more happier. How others are treated by you will be meaningless.” The Parent quickly looked at each hull person. “I have explained enough. I need an answer, now.”

“And so, this is your other lofty goal.” Disgust edged Robert’s words. He walked around the other end of the I-arn Cimpengenstin, approaching Nahas and Akina, his eyes on Kyleigh the entire time. “Besides crushing the beliefs of these Christians, and giving Limati a teaching moment, or rather a sick side game into our lives, and supposedly the lives in that other universe, you want us to join you.”

 “Yes, that is correct,” the Parent said. “But Robert, I am puzzled by your great disdain for proving Christians wrong. And all the times you told them there is no God.”

Robert let out a disgusted sound. “Ha, great mind reading. If you read me right, you’d know they’re my mates, my friends now, and I don’t like seeing them get hurt. Got it? They might be programs in a game to you, but they’re not to me.” Robert now stood by Kyleigh. “Kyleigh, don’t believe them. None of this is real.” He looked at each hull person. “None of us should believe what they’re saying.”

A strange, haughty disappointment spread across the Parent’s face. “Fool, you are, Robert. You simply refuse to consider all that has happened to you. This was not a mirage. Everything we did to you, and keeping you alive, was real. It did occur.”

The Parent went on to give more details, with Robert cowering though firing back weak rebuttals, but Lang couldn’t listen; for some reason, Limati was speaking only to Evan.

“In one of my older lives,” Limati said, yet eying Evan’s PSP, “as a young man, I liked playing games too. Different games, not computer games. Nine Men Morris. Pickup sticks.”

Evan looked up at Limati. “I’d let you play, but I can’t.”

Limati didn’t respond.

The Parent stopped speaking. Lang looked at Robert again, and then at the Parent. Both of them appeared less agitated.

Robert crossed his arms again over his chest, under the hull. “So, why can’t we just join with you now then? And cut out all that living and dying stuff.”

That was a good question.

The Parent smiled. “And prevent us from having our entertainment and acquisition of knowledge? That would be no bargain for us.”

“I see,” Robert said. “Even with all you said, I still can’t believe any of this. You openly admit you practice deceit and trickery. What’s to stop you from using it now?”

“Robert’s correct,” Nahas said. “By your own admission, you use whatever strategy necessary to achieve your goals.”

“Very astute, Robert and Nahas.” The Parent walked over to the silver chair and sat upon it, head held high and arms resting regally. “Nahas, you and the others with similar beliefs, can still believe you will exist beyond death, if you choose, but you are sorely mistaken. There are plenty more available hosts in our universe than you seven, for my colleagues, so do not believe we are desperate. It was only a small gesture of kindness on my part, to make this offer. Take it or leave it.”

 “Kindness, my ass,” Robert said, turning away and stepping to toward the other end of the Iarn Cimpengenstin, near where Akina stood.

“The details have gone on long enough.” The Parent stared directly at Lang. “Lang. Yes or no. What is your decision?”

What, no warning?

The question hit Lang like a dump truck unloading a ton of bricks on him. Images and scenes dumped upon him too. The cowardly act, of praying for the Savior to take him, and leave Evan behind, alone, the main reason, in fact, they were all here now. The crying spells he had, longing for Deidra, when many times he was just feeling sorry for himself, his loneliness, his isolation. The cowardly behavior he had inflicted upon Kyleigh, because of Robert, abandoning her when she needed him so desperately, and currently, not paying close enough attention to her since they were here. And his lack of guts to speak up more, with everything that was happening to them. All of it – weakness and cowardliness.

But moments were there, showing strength. Running with Evan, to escape their doubles, when all this insanity first started. And when they were first trapped, in the hull, he did what he could to help Evan and himself escape. And when Tauring struck Evan with the night stick; felt wrong, but good, plowing into Tauring, stopping him cold. Or conversely, when he plowed into Tauring again, to save him from Alan’s falling body from that platform. And he did help Kyleigh, when they were on Titan and he demanded that she get on the bus.

Then from his heart, he had told her, how he loved her, before they fell asleep.

He looked across to the other side of the silver floor, where the seven horrible colleagues of the Parent yet stood. And he thought of himself, Evan, Kyleigh and the others.

Yes, he feared being dead forever. But, Robert and Nahas’ words, that this all couldn’t be truly real, gave some hope.

“No.” He spoke firmly and stared the Parent right back in its menacing eyes. “They may only be characters in a game to you, but they’re our parents, our children, our spouses, our friends, our acquaintances, and even our strangers. They are very real to us.”

“Thank you, Lang,” Kyleigh said, crying. “You did the right thing.”

“It’s all right, Kyleigh.” Sadness choked in his throat for her. “We’ll be back soon, on Earth. Don’t cry.”

“Very well.” The Parent then stared at Evan. “Like father like son? Evan, what is your answer, yes or no?”

Evan lowered his PSP and looked up at Limati. “I would say yes, if I could join with Limati.”

“Evan, no!” Lang said. “Please, son. It is better to be dead forever than to live life with these beings, tormenting others. Think about what you’re deciding!”

 “You cannot join with me,” Limati told Evan. “My colleague and soul containment are now one, and this is no longer possible.”

“It is true,” the Parent said, nodding.

Evan turned away from Limati and stared right into Lang’s eyes, an uncomfortable reminder of Evan’s older age and his taller, larger stature. Evan blinked several times, in deep, serious thought. “Being dead forever, is pretty disturbing. But…you’re right, Dad. They’re our friends, our relatives, and even strangers are somebody’s friends or relatives. I couldn’t do it.” He glanced at the seven colleagues. “Besides, look at them. They look like seven piles of crap.”

“That will never die.” Though calm, the Parent had a hint of anger in its voice. “Can you say the same?”

 “Evan,” Lang said, worried. “Please.”

“No, I can’t. But I ain’t joining with them,” Evan told the Parent. “Tough if you don’t like it.”

More worry. But great pride in Evan’s resolve. “Thank you, son…thank you.”

Evan only nodded, and stared down.

“It is your decision.” The Parent held its head high and dignified, but remained quiet for a moment. “And I sense both of your responses have influenced your friends. They have all decided against it too. Kyleigh, can you verify this for your friends?”

Crying, sniffling, she stared at the Parent. “Yes. I would never join with one of your colleagues. Never.”

The Parent eyed Alan. “Alan?”

“Screw you, Parent. Of course I would never join with those ugly things over there.”

Worry again rushed through Lang, at a second disrespectful response, yet the Parent didn’t seem bothered too much.

“Nahas?” the Parent asked.

 “If you know my mind, then you know how I think. I am a doctor. I save people’s lives, not destroy them. No, definitely not.”

The Parent stared at Akina. “Akina?”

“No,” she said, shaking her head. “I could never treat people like that. I am a Christian, and I will remain a Christian for the rest of my life, whether I live on or not.”

“And you will not live on,” the Parent said sternly, and then looked at Robert. “Robert?”

 “I might be an atheist, but I would never treat others the way you expect. My answer is no, as you already are aware.”

The Parent smiled. “There have been quite a few times you have treated people as we expect.”

Robert blinked a few times and looked down, his shoulders doing slight, nervous ticks. “Yeah, maybe.” He looked at the others. “But no longer. Besides, I always expected to live once, and be gone, dead. Your threats mean nothing to me.”

The Parent stood up. “Very well.” The Parent walked over and stood by the I-arn Cimpengenstin. “One more time, for a second chance. Would you want to live in a relative eye blink, or live forever, joined with my colleagues?”

A quiet span ensued, with each hull person looking at one another. Lang noticed sadness and despair, though mingling with a sense of pride and accomplishment, and strong resolve, in many eyes.

“I see,” the Parent said. “You have all stayed firm against this.”

Evan slipped his PSP away inside his jacket’s inner pocket and looked up at Limati. The tall creature stood quite motionless, yet staring down at Evan. “For what it’s worth, thanks anyway, for having me move the others around, to visit those places. The Moon, Jupiter. Titan. I will…I will never forget them.”

Limati didn’t say a word. But then something alerted the being’s attention. Limati looked behind Lang, out into the darkness from where they arrived, and pointed. “It’s the Collector!”

Eyes aimed directly at where Limati pointed, the Parent and Child One began stepping backwards, toward their seven colleagues. Limati began maneuvering around the I-arn Cimpengenstin, as fast as possible, to join with its colleagues. 

“You claimed these seven would turn, and join us,” the Parent said quietly to Limati. Lang was barely able to hear the words.

Limati again said nothing.

A strange rumbling rattled Lang’s feet. He looked at the silver floor. “What is this?”

“Dad, what’s happening?” Evan’s eyes focused into the darkness behind them. “What is that?”

Lang turned around. A bright, star-like craft was approaching from off in the distant black expanse.

“Oh, look.” The Parent now spoke quite audibly. “Here comes someone who does believe you are real.”