Preface

A sense of frustration gnawed at the lining of his guts. His gaze was focused, unwavering, upon a single wooden block gripped in a hand that did not belong to him, but the older girl sitting before him. He wanted it. She had it. In height she surpassed him, and in age. He knew this girl. She was his sister, and the older boys who sat around them, watching, laughing, and not helping, were his brothers. They could not understand the dire importance of the block, how he needed it so desperately to complete his pile.

The smell of food permeated the air. The sense of frustration twisted over on itself and became one of hunger. His eyes unfocused as he conjured to his mind an image of a woman – his mother – cooking at their primitive stove. Alas, as his concentration wavered, his sister stole another block from his pile.

A scream rose from his chest and tore from his lips, and he launched his small body at her. He struggled in vain to reach the block, held high above his head, as he clawed at her, the incredible rage driving his attack.

Dmitri! His mother cried – so that was his name? – and two hands around his middle lifted him from the girl. Although he writhed in her arms, she was many times his size, and much stronger. That is not how you treat your sister!

At that moment, though, the sound of a door opening caused his head to turn. In walked a man – his father – who had too many sores on his hands and lines on his face for someone his age. For a moment, Dmitri was sad.

Our world is dead. We killed it. In our quest for resources, with the grand irony of our race, we managed to completely destroy our planet. What remains of it is a nuclear wasteland, devoid of life, except for us. We are the tenacious little cockroaches, clinging to some semblance of civilization in our artificial cities, buried, submerged, elevated, and away from this planet which once upon a time...used to be green. But that's all a fairytale, these days. No one wants to think about it, to acknowledge it, and I admit that I would rather turn a blind eye as well. We have no choice, there is no redeeming ourselves for these actions. Earth can no longer naturally sustain life.

Then there are those fools who think that the solution to our woes lies in the overthrow of government. They put all their faith in the proletariat – and they do have some right in doing so, as the lower class has maintained the only remaining semblance of humanity – and believe that he can rise up and overthrow. Things have changed, though. This is not 18th century France. This is a world foretold by men like Bradbury and Orwell. We don't even know who our government is and our middle class is kept firmly under their thumb, brainwashed by the Internet. So long as their Internet connection works, they have no complaints. They are artificially happy. The proletariat is more aware of himself, but he is also broken by labor and poverty. His thoughts are only on the next meal. It is never the lower class that rises up. It is always the middle class, and the middle class could not care less. The regime we have now – whatever it may be – is the safest regime in the history of the human race.

I, a cynic, cannot believe that anything will come of this toil. Our civilization has stagnated. These are the Dark Ages of the third millennia, and I see no hope for a possible Renaissance. Even if they succeed, what is to be gained of it? We have no planet. The human species is slowly going extinct. Good riddance.

- Anonymous Source

The Creed

Lights. Blue. Pink. Green. Yellow. White. Flashing. Whirling. Changing. Spiraling twisting morphing into each other, casting their artificial lights onto the flushed faces of the boys, and the ruddy faces of the men who watched, the clean faces of the women who also watched.

The breath was coming hard in his chest, and a smile was etched sharply into his face. He crouched, his eyes following the older boys as they ran, the ball darting between them as they fought over it. It was coming towards him, and he braced himself for their encounter. With each foot, each inch that it drew nearer, his heart beat faster, until it was within range.

His feet pounded he ground as he drew near, arms flailing, legs reaching, eager to join the fray. One boy on the other team broke lose, and he charged him, concentrating all the energy in his small body into one sprint, one lunge, one tackle, as he attached himself to the older boy's legs.

The other cried out in outrage, and attempted to pry Dmitri from him, but he held fast. Hey! Git offa me you stupid kid! His large hand was pushing against Dmitri's head, pulling at his arms, but he would not let go.

Then, a sharp voice. Aleksei! Lev! Sergei! Dmitri! Come home! His mother.

Immediately, Dmitri released his hold and ran back towards home, trailing behind the older, taller boys who were his brothers.

They arrived to find his mother, hanging limp against the doorframe, her entire posture portraying defeat. She looked up at them as they arrived.

Where's dad? he heard himself say.

The look on her face was something he had never seen before. There...there's been an accident.

I have received my full acceptance to the hacker's guild. Our sole objective: to overthrow the current government and establish a rule of the proletariat. Our hope is to bring equality, enlightenment, and freedom to the people of our star-crossed world. I am glad to at last be a part of such a noble cause.

We have eleven sisters, in each of the eleven other cities. We keep in contact through The Garden – although the exact net coordinates cannot be mentioned on video log – a place that I have already visited, and what a place it is! I would love to go into the details, but it is difficult and time-consuming to describe. I must say, though, it is really amazing how loose the rules are there compared to other sectors of the Internet! And to see so many different avatars at this forum...well...I think the rest of the Net should be like this.

I haven't received any missions, but I am scheduled to watch older members do a routine check of sector [a bzzt sound marked it as edited out] something I am pretty excited for. I have received this warning, though, that quite frankly seems a bit scary. It seems as though there is something on the Internet known as The Anomaly, and The Anomaly can kill you.

It isn't even a glitch or a virus or something like that, or at least, that's what they said. Apparently they've been studying it for years, at great risk to themselves and their equipment, and they have made some progress, even at a heavy cost. It guards something known as The Realm, which is our greatest goal as hackers to infiltrate. Of course I am no where near senior enough to be allowed anywhere near The Realm, but they believe that The Realm is a very important sector of the Internet, considering its security system. From what I heard, the coding for both The Realm and The Anomaly is unlike anything they have ever encountered before, and thus far it has been impossible to crack them.

Personally, I didn't know such things existed on the Internet, but I've never been more afraid of the virtual. Something online that can actually kill you! How could it be possible?

- Mark Sully, New York, Video Log

The Problem

His hand snaked out, into the green, until his fingers clasped the round, red, fruit. It felt smooth and firm in his hand. With a single deft movement, he twisted it off of the vine and pulled it away from its mother plant, and slowly, gently, he placed on top of the other tomatoes in his bucket.

There was a keen emptiness in his stomach. He felt it acutely. It wormed its way up his esophagus and into his mouth, so that he could taste the strong flavor of his fruit. It then seeped up into his mind, and his gaze focused upon the next tomato.

His job was to harvest them, not eat them. The absence of food in his stomach was becoming unbearable, though. Without moving his head, he let his gaze travel the greenhouse, searching for the black shape of a security camera. He found none. Slowly, subtly, he turned his head to one side, and then to the other. No cameras. Slowly, he reached out, and grasped another tomato.

Instead of placing it in the bucket, he carefully brought it to his mouth. Not bothering to clean it, he bit down into the juicy flesh, letting its fluids dribble down his chin. Without thinking, he wiped his arm across his lips.

With a lurch, he realized he had revealed the tomato to any camera which might have been behind him. With dread lacing his veins, he turned, one little bit at a time, until he was staring directly into the lens of a camera.

Dread turned to terror, which exploded within him.

The camera broke.

The irony of our situation appears to be that the very indicator of our objective is our biggest obstacle to reaching it. The Seoul branch first discovered The Anomaly in January of 2486, but we encountered it a few months later. I have done my best to record our interactions with it, although I will summarize them here. The actual records will be attached to this page.

Our first exposure to The Anomaly was in March, 2487. Two of our newer agents were scouting an area of the Internet that had been subject to some abnormal activity. We had one technician tracking their progress, and at one point he picked up a hint of coding completely unfamiliar to him in their immediate vicinity. Within moments, their heart rates elevated, then abruptly terminated, along with much of our equipment in that sector of our base. Neither of the apparatuses the agents were hooked up to recorded anything that they had seen that day.

We sent several more experienced agents to that area, and they recorded few coding anomalies along with strange noises and sensations, but nothing of that magnitude.

Our first visual record came in July of that year, from one of our more senior members. He had been tracking the same coding that had been found in the area of the first encounter –which we now refer to as The Realm – when he happened to stumble upon it. Before he could take any readings, what looked to be a "large, black beast" covered in "green lights" appeared and attacked him. He was fortunately able to escape with his life, although much of our equipment was fried for a week after it.

Come late August we started talking openly with our sister groups in other cities. It was confirmed that many of them, namely Seoul, New York, and Tokyo, had been tracking this anomaly for months. We agreed to make obtaining information on these instances a high priority, and assigned teams to tracking it and sharing information.

Information has come slowly, painfully. We have lost seven in the pursuit of The Realm, which does not remain in a fixed spot for any period of time, as you well know. We have also lost thousands of dollars in equipment, and have spent thousands of dollars on repairs. We have learned some things, though.

The Realm is a dense mass of coding more complicated than anything else we have encountered on The Internet. It is massive, to an extent of which we are not quite sure, and as of this moment, it is completely impossible to figure out what it is. We do believe that it is some sort of website, the nature of which, though, we know not. Whatever it is, though, it is clearly something important, and most likely something tied to our overall objective. It is very likely that The Realm is for, and was commissioned by, the elite.

The Anomaly is what makes us believe in the importance of this area. It appears to be some sort of firewall, with an oddly organic quality to it. Like The Realm, its coding is completely unfamiliar to us. Unlike The Realm, it can do a good deal of damage. We have also discovered that it can appear in places away from The Realm, as was that fateful day when it chose to attack The Garden. From descriptions of it, it is a large, dinosaur like creature, with overreaching abilities that allow it to affect even our equipment. And, quite frankly, it is in our way.

- Alexandra Wholf, London, E-mail

The Documents

His attention was dominated completely by the illusion before him. A man, on horseback, was being chased across some barren wasteland by a group of other men, in a projection so lifelike and three-dimensional he felt as if he could almost touch the miniature men. Although ancient, the holoscreen delivered an impressive sight.

Dmitri! Get me another can, won't ya? The man in the chair grunted.

He looked up from where he sat on the floor, to stare at his father. He had grown fat, and the stumps where his legs had been had a habit of drawing the eye. Dmitri stared at them now. They looked helpless.

Ey, boy, you stupid or something? What did I say?

He ignored him. A discomfort clenched at his abdomen, as visions of his father's tirades flashed before his mind's eye. Physically harmless as the amputee may have been, his words still struck the same blows that fists did. He didn't want to have to put up with them.

Hey! Don't ignore me, boy. Who puts food on your table?

In a low, meek voice, Dmitri replied. Aleksei, Lev, Sergei, Nadya, mother, and I.

Clearly, this was not the answer the man wanted to hear. He flew into a rage, his voice loud and insulting. Dmitri flinched, recoiled, and drew into himself, although tears still formed in the corners of his eyes. He could feel them there, making his eyelashes damp. He clapped his hands over his ears and closed his eyes, so that he would not have to see the broken man. But he could still hear him. He cried out. NO NO NO NO NO!

Silence.

He opened his eyes. The holoscreen flickered, contorted, then went out.

Dmitri ran.

Letter to the Moscow Police Force

It has come to our attention that an individual exists in Moscow who may be of some great scientific merit. This individual, the criminal known as "The Ghost", seems to have a most peculiar quality to him. From researching news releases from that city, as well as his criminal record, we have come to the conclusion that he represents the next evolutionary link: either in technological development, or the human race itself.

We investigated the coding and information for his various break ins, as well as the circumstances surrounding them, and have arrived at a most extraordinary idea. Due to the wholly unique traces he leaves, his lack of physical contact with any of the systems he alters, and the fact that nothing he does bears any semblance to even the most advanced modern hacking tools, we believe that he has some kind of biological connection with technology. Based on an early video, from when the suspect was about nine years old, we believe that he may have some kind of conscious or emotional effect on technology.

Fantasy? It may be so. Even if this is not the truth, and instead he has some kind of highly advanced bit of technology implanted within him, investigating that would reap great scientific merit as well. That is why we have opted to provide you with ample funds to aid in your capture of this individual, assuming, of course, that should he prove valuable, you would hand him over to us.

Criminal Record for Laukhov, Dmitri
Vandalism. Managed to damage and destroy several Internet apparatuses at a small Internet kiosk at the age of twelve.
Theft. First recorded theft at the age of fifteen. Has robbed eighteen different convenience stores on forty-seven different occasions over the course of four years. At the scene of each crime, he left no prints, no sign of force, and no traces of having hacked into the security systems. Small scale thefts, taking items of no great value.
Hacking. First recorded evidence of hacking at the age of sixteen. Has cracked the Moscow Bank and distributed personal information of thousands of customers to local illegal organizations. Has also breached several secure sectors of the Internet, revealing information that could be used to damage the city of Moscow and those in charge of it. Note: his incursions were difficult to trace. He seems to be using some sort of hacking advice unfamiliar to our officers.
Excerpt From A Request for the Bureau of Virtual Technology
...the technology you possess today is of much higher standards than what is accessible to the general public. We believe that with our ample funding you will be able to provide for us the level of technology we desire. This will be a long project; that is understood. But my colleagues. and I as well, are willing to wait – within reason, that is.

What we would like, you see, is our own world, indistinguishable from reality as far as senses are to be concerned, but customized to fit our own designs...

- Assorted Documents

The World

His feet slammed against the ground. His lungs were aching but his legs were afire. A rage mixed with sorrow stirred with confusion baked with fear simmered in his stomach. It blinded him, and his eyes, glazed over, did not fully register the contortions the advertisement screens were undergoing. It was like running a magnet over a screen. Except he was the magnet and the advertisements he passed were the screen.

It took him a moment to remember why he was running, until the images of the previous dream filled his mind. Then he ran harder.

There were no thoughts that justified why he stopped outside of the Internet kiosk. He stood there, breathing heavily, in, out, in, out again, his feet planted firmly on the foyer. His arm – such an alien seeming contraption – pushed against the door, making it open. He slipped inside.

A few people were hooked up to Internet apparatuses, the headgear and complicated equipment deceiving all of their senses. He ignored them, but instead, found his way to an unoccupied apparatus. He sat down and picked up the controller, held the black, smooth object in his hand, and stared at it. Then he picked up the headset and pulled it over his eyes.

Blackness consumed him. Then, a blue light. A cool, female voice asked him for his bank number, to pay for the session. He had no money. She asked again. But by then, he was gone.

He left his body in that chair, left the physical restraints of a material form, and morphed into data. Without thinking he was surrounded by sensation that was not sensation, engulfed by light that was not light, suffocated by reality that was by no means real. He had no direction, but yet he was following a path through this nothingness, this everything, and then he found it.

In an instant, he was sitting in his chair again, and the blue screen was gone. He had gained access to the Internet.

He pulled the headset and hastily recoiled, almost falling as he backed out of his chair. All around him, apparatuses fizzed and buzzed, and kiosk patrons cried out, their voices surprised and enraged.

Dmitri left immediately.

After nine long years, our greatest project, and quite possibly the greatest creation of mankind, is now complete. We have done something that no artist, no engineer, no scientist has ever done before: we have created a world – The World – and it is entirely virtual.

In accordance with the specifications of our commissioners, we tested, sculpted, and designed a sector of the Internet so realistic in every sense that it is completely lifelike in every possible way. All of our images are perfectly rendered, all our sounds the same, touching an object feels like touching an object, tasting food feels like tasting food, and the sensation of eating it is completely parallel to eating something in real life. We perfected the sensory, but that is not where it stopped.

Each of the individual lands obeys a physical set of laws that are in accordance to nature, and whatever is seen as a appropriate for that area. Of course the commissioners and other users will have the powers to bend the system to their command, but everything behaves as it should. The World is populated with characters that are all unique, and all convincingly human – or whatever else they may be. We have perfected the virtual AI as well, to the point where they cannot be discernable from real people, although they know not that they are digital, nor that their lands end.

Each land, as it is, covers a certain amount of area as is appropriate for it. Should one wish to manually travel between these lands, one would find that by simply entering the code for the desired land, near the edge of the present one, one would transition smoothly into that land as if actually traveling. Each land flows together in as natural a manner as possible. However, if that method of travel is too slow, certain users will be able to transport from anywhere in one area to anywhere in the next with a simple code command.

Now each of these lands was constructed to fit the request of the commissioners. Each one is flawless and wholly unique to the other. Each land is perfect. The World is perfect.

lands
Arabian Nights
The city of Persepolis, ceremonial capital of the Persian Achaemenid Empire, serves as the setting and body of this land. On either side of it is desert, but within the city it is lush and green. It is entered through the grand hall of The Gate of All Nations. The city itself contains many large buildings, built of gray marble. The great palace of Apadana, the largest building in the city, is well fitted for a king. It is filled with art, splendor, and even its walls are tiled to show images. It contains a giant hall, supported by massive columns. Next to the Apadana is the throne hall, the second largest building in the city. Persepolis also contains other palaces, each of great splendor. But the land is not simply a revival of an ancient city. The Sultan, whose role is filled by this land's commissioner rules Persepolis, and his wife, the custom AI Scheherazade, is also a sorceress. Every night, she tells tales of magic, romance, comedy, horror, while others of her tales include science fiction and crime mystery elements. These stories come to life in the city around her, and Persepolis is often filled with djinn and magicians, as well as characters of dubious nature.

Wonderland
The land covers the entire area of the story, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The world is entered through the rabbit hole. Within the world itself is the house of the White Rabbit, which has apparently been restored since Alice's last visit. There is also a garden, with the Caterpillar and his mushroom, and around it are various trees. The Duchess' house is nearby, filled with pepper, of course, and around it her peculiar Cheshire cat can be found. To enter the Queen's garden, one must shrink oneself to enter the door in the hall of the rabbit hole. Inside is a beautiful rose garden, filled with red rose trees – although if the color is real or not, it is hard to tell. There is a perpetual game of croquet going on, even if the mallets are flamingos and the balls are hedgehogs. This is all in the courtyard of the palace of the Queen of Hearts, whose role is played by the land's commissioner, which is filled with impossible spires and stairways that bear an uncanny resemblance of an Escher piece. All the AIs in this land are custom built to be characters from the stories. Aside from Alice, there are no humans in this land.

Camelot
Although the hub of this land is indeed the castle of Camelot, the area it covers is quite extensive, to incorporate a large area of a fantasy medieval England. Rather than being a land of a single tale, that of King Arthur, Camelot incorporates elements from many western European tales. So yes, there is the grand castle of Camelot; complete with the legendary round table, at which sits its commissioner, who plays the role of Lancelot. All the other roles are there, plaid by AIs, save for his wife, who takes on the role of Guinevere, and a favorite engineer who takes on the role of Merlin. Surrounding the castle, though, are fields and forests, within which gnarled witches live in run down shacks while guarding fair maidens, and fantastical creatures like elves and fairies are known to dwell. To the west is a range of towering mountains, which are the homes for numerous ghastly dragons, which frequently terrorize villagers. The land is one of constant activity: there are always quests at the ready for the Knights of the Round Table.

Mars
The entire land is one of science fiction. Mars is a desert of red sand, surrounding the hub of the land, the grand steel city of Anbiloc. It rises in metallic spires high into the sky, and these buildings, interconnected by pathways, one thousand, two thousand feet in the sky, make up a bustling metropolis. Anbiloc is an oasis in the desert, nurtured by the river of Ty'ylic, around which exotic plants grow. The people of Mars are not human, but instead stand about seven feet tall, have rubbery blue skin, high foreheads, large green eyes, and slender limbs. Their technology makes room for flying cars, which also provide for the favorite spectator sport of the Martians: desert racing. Custom, flying vehicles race around the desert, through canyons, under the river, and around the city, sometimes reaching speeds of over 250 miles per hour. Successful racers are given the highest esteem; thus, the commissioner chose the role of a world renowned desert racer for himself.

Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome is exactly as it sounds. The grand imperial city of the ancient empire occupies much of this land. The city created is one in its prime; all its architectural splendors still in perfect shape and full use. Gladiator battles are a popular attraction in the Colosseum, the Forum still being renovated by the commissioner, who had decided that the role of Caesar suites his tastes. There have been a few historical modifications though, including the presence of the Baths of Caracalla, over two centuries before their time. This Rome is one of architectural and artistic marvels as well as supernatural ones: the Gods interfere with life frequently, and are not content to simply keep to the Pantheon. There is an AI for every one of the Gods, as well as Rome's many inhabitants.

The Jungle
The jungle land is a recreation of the pristine Amazon Rainforest. It contains no large-scale settlement, although several native tribes do make their home there. The focus of the land, instead, is upon the exact recreation of an environment. The Amazon River flows through the middle of the land, and is teeming with fish and reptiles, as well as dolphins and manatees. The forest itself is filled with numerous species of mammals, birds, insects, and reptiles, of every conceivable shape, size, and color. The commissioner has chosen to have a bubble home constructed for him above the river, through which he can observe his environment without disturbing it. There are few human AIs in this land, as the main focus is the forest and the animals within it, not the influences humans tend to have.

Atlantis
Atlantis is a peaceful and advanced undersea city. It sits upon an undersea plateau, and exists inside a large bubble through which its inhabitants can view the ocean and its inhabitants. The city itself is architecturally beautiful. Its buildings are elegant and made of a creamy yellow stone. Open paths pass between them, and their edges are filled with street vendors selling various goods. Grass and trees are supported here with artificial lighting and irrigation, and the city plays host to many, including several well-landscaped parks. There are no cars, but instead the citizens go everywhere on foot or on bike. It has several museums for the arts and sciences, and the entire city has an overall artistic and bohemian quality to it. The commissioner has decided to take on the position as owner of the main art museum, which showcases replicas of the greatest works of man.

Gothic
The gothic land is set in a fantasy European style city called Levione. It's architecturally gothic, but that is not what earned it its name. Although a relatively normal city during the daytime, filled with arched cathedrals, cobblestone roads, horse-drawn carriages, massive tombs, a giant library, and one prominent bell tower, things really start up at night. Among the average, AI civilians are vampires, werewolves, and other denizens of the nights. The commissioner is a leading vampiress who lives in a decorative castle on the hill overlooking the town, and she has a theatrical taste. During the night, vampires put on macabre plays, terrorize citizens, and do, essentially, whatever they please.

The Caribbean
The largest land of all of them is the Caribbean. Although it does not encompass the entirety of the sea, it does include several islands and a large expanse of water. One of these islands is a bustling colonial town, which makes its profits on trade between the Americas, Europe, and Africa. Another island hosts a less reputable town for criminals, escaped slaves, and others of that sort. The other islands are pristine tropical rainforests, with various uses. All of them have some sort of buried or cursed treasure, some of them have natives and booby traps, and one of them has a large monster. This Caribbean belongs to the pirates, and the commissioner is the captain of his own ship. There are plenty of trade ships to loot, treasures to discover, and other piratical hobbies to partake in.

Ancient Egypt
The New Kingdom city of Thebes takes up approximately half of this land, with the other portion being the Valley of Kings, which lies across the Nile. Thebes is a rich city, bustling with trade and temples. It owes its wealth and its water to the Nile, which supports a large agricultural community surrounding it. Thebes contains a large palace for its pharaoh, but it is the Gods who run the city. The commissioner has taken on the role of Osiris, who, despite being the god of the dead, plays an important role in the ancient city. Many other gods are present, including the beautiful Isis, but most are AIs.

City in the Sky
The sky city of Kastria is one of fantasy. It sits upon the largest of three major floating "islands" in the valley of a heavily forested mountain range. It is an elegant city, with beautiful stone buildings, many of which are covered in vines and surrounded by deciduous trees. There are air ships that can carry goods from the land to the city, and the people live in peace, with no competing nations. Most live in this floating city, although there are a few small settlements on the ground, mostly for agricultural purposes, and on the other two islands. The smaller islands have little human disturbance though, as they are home to rare and beautiful winged animals, which when domesticated, as they frequently are by those wealthy enough to do so, make fabulous pets. What is notable about this land, though, is flight. The humans there all have large, feathered wings, and are, by virtual physics rather than actual ones, completely capable of flight. The commissioner has chosen to be one of the town's aristocracy, but the land is not about wealth, but the accomplishment of man's greatest dream.

Shangri-La
Set high in the Himalayas, it is geographically surprising that Shangri-La is a lush paradise, which maintains an average temperature just about seventy degrees Fahrenheit. It is a sheltered valley, one filled with scenes of a pastoral paradise. Fruit and flowering trees provide food and beauty, as well as many other plants. A few streams run lazily through it, although at one end there is a majestic waterfall. There is a temple at one end, in which the commissioner lives. There are few AIs in this agricultural Utopia, although there is an imperial dragon which watches over its prosperity. It is a sheltered land, a land of peace, purity and quite wealth.

- Damon Greene, Bureau of Virtual Technology

The Monster

Hunger dogged his steps. It drove him forward, it inspired his movements. It was his muse and his quest, and it guided him through the darkened streets. Even the advertisement screens were dimmed. At this time of the night, no one was out. Except for him.

He moved silently, his dark clothes and slim form helping him slip in-between the shadows. He became one, melded with them, out of sight, invisible. A ghost.

His destination was clear. A store for provisions, its lights dimmed in the odd hours. It was unprotected, it stood alone, without any armaments, any traps. It was a fortress, but it had a different kind of security cameras, and a different kind of treasure.

He slunk up to the door. He held nothing in his hands, but their emptiness did not bother him. He faced the door, his eyes concentrating on the digital lock. He did not move his hands, did not move his body, but he went inside the lock.

The inside of the database did not provide him with any puzzle. He navigated the information with practiced ease, and quickly found what he was looking for. His task completed, he withdrew from the machine.

The door opened. He entered.

Fluorescent lights flickered on, security cameras focused on him. He landed his gaze upon each one, extended himself, until he smothered it, suffocated it, blinded it. The lights went out, and he was freed to complete his task.

With haste, he went after the essentials. He stuffed meat, bread, milk, and even a few apples for his sister into his open bag. Then he slung it over his back, and departed the store, taking a bite into a tomato as he did so. Its juices never reached the floor, and as he exited the store, he left no evidence of his visit.

The door closed and locked behind him, and he slipped back away into the night.

Name: Database Infringement Lock
Acronym: D.I.L., often referred to as Dil
Function: Firewall, regulation
Form: Resembles a draconic predatory dinosaur
Gender: Male
Intelligence: IQ of 152
Speech: Capable, but not inclined to it
Color: Black, with colored lights representing mood
Height: Varies, but typically about 15 ft at shoulder, 18 ft at forehead
Length: Typically 30 ft
Adornments: Mask, wing gear that can be activated to form fully functional wings
Obedience: Only to the commissioners and technicians
Disposition: Inquisitive, generally harmless to those within The World
Faults: Occasional lapses into humanity
Appearance
There is a reason why the engineers who created Dil did not make him into a fluffy pink bunny. His virtual form was designed to intimidate, to frighten. It was known from the start that he would have to be some large predatory creature. Mammals were quickly ruled out because of their association with feral grace. Dil needed to be something alien; something unquestionably frightening. Something reptilian, but not like the lizards man had known. No, instead, it was decided that he would be something like a dinosaur, something like a dragon, something like a machine, and he would be huge.

It was thus that Dil ended up somewhat resembling a leaner version of a tyrannosaurus rex, with decent sized arms. Unlike a tyrannosaurus, though, he was fitted with thick belly plates, and covered in armor. He was also very dark in coloration, except for bright lights that were, for the most part, a brilliant green, except for when his mood shifted. These lights, they concluded, would have a similar effect to bioluminescent fish living in the abyss. Dil would appear from darkness, the only indication of his form being the series of bright lights, and thus be intimidating with anonymity. His dark form would make him hard to pinpoint, but should they catch an idea of his shape...well...it wouldn't disappoint. Not to mention, it could be as huge as Dil wanted it to be. There were a few engineers who especially loved the idea of a Godzilla sized Dil.

For the most part, when Dil is outside of The World and patrolling the Internet, all of his lights turn green and his skin displays patterns of green lines. These lighted lines give a better idea of the nature of his true shape, but are mainly just a side effect of his coding interacting with coding not directly associated with The World.

Dil's "species", should anyone ever decide to make a race of Dils, was also designed for athletic performance. Although he can transport himself to any Internet coordinate at any time, he is a fast "creature" with sharp teeth and claws. Attached to his back is a sort of pack that, for the most part, glows faintly blue, but when activated, can morph into full-fledged wings which are fully capable of carrying him any distance.

History
When his memories were subdued, it was noted that Dil's personality underwent a dramatic shift. When he was released into the beta version of The World, he went through a period of confusion, exploration, and child-like wonderment. Once he adjusted to the partially completed World, and, to an extent, the body designed for him, engineers were sent to educate him. They taught him the "controls" for his body, and his job. It was noted that he took kindly to them, and frequently spoke to him. Over the course of these two years he learned the importance of protecting his "home", The World, and how he must obey those in command. The curious thing was, he had no difficulty listening to those engineers he was in frequent friendly contact with, but the idea of an overseeing authority he had to answer to seemed to bother him. The idea was only fully enforced when the commissioners were given codes so that they could send a current through his coding, similar to an electric shock, when he crossed them.

This didn't prove to be much of a problem, as Dil adopted a tendency towards avoiding the commissioners.

The most important part of his education was his training. It was drilled into his mind repeatedly that hackers and other people outside of his world were evil and that they would do him harm and his home harm if he so much as let them figure out what the nature of his world was. He was taught that people outside The World were not people, but animals. And when they attacked, they needed to be put down. They taught him to hate.

They didn't entirely succeed.

Certainly, when The World was completed, and fresh, and new, and wonderful, Dil took to his job quite diligently. He would always keep one "eye" on the perimeter of The World, and should someone get too close, he would go out and investigate. He never showed himself unless they registered as a threat, and when they did, he would attack them. A few escaped, but he remembered them, and sometimes he would monitor them. Sometimes if they seemed threatening, he would attack them again. He hated them.

Until the illusion started slipping away.

In all of the twelve lands, there was nothing quite like Dil. He had interacted with the engineers before, but they did not frequent The World. He had never liked the commissioners. To him, they always acted too superior, too commanding, too coarse. Dil did not appreciate being treated like dirt, especially when he worked to keep the home they shared protected and running. So he turned to the various virtual people who inhabited the different lands, but they did not seem to notice he existed. He would approach one, he would attempt to speak to it, but they would look right through them. If he stood in their way, they would walk around him, without looking, as if by their own will they had simply chosen a different path. Dil was alone in his world.

Because, in his mind, it was his world. He was the first one there. He was born there, or at least, he had awoken one day in a quite forest clearing. From there, he had learned to stand, to walk, to speak, to fly. He knew nothing else but The World, and for years, he was the only real inhabitant. When others joined him, he protected them. He was their champion, their hero, but they did not sing praises to him. They ignored him, thus, he ignored him to. They were merely visitors – no, intruders – upon his home.

And then the dreams started.

These scenes, these images, they puzzled him. He spoke to none of them, but stored them away. He digitally recorded their data and observed them, in an attempt to find out what they were from, what they meant. They didn't make sense. And because they didn't make sense, other things stopped making sense as well.

Personality
As it is, Dil is a solitary creature. He keeps mainly to himself, speaks little, and does his duty quietly. Although perhaps not completely misanthropic, at least not initially, he has become fairly antisocial. When interacting with the commissioners he appears subdued and obedient, but truthfully, he is only partially broken. He keeps up the ruse of obedience because, from what he has gathered over the years, they are the ones who have assumed control over his world, and they hold immense power that he is not completely aware of. Truthfully, he resents them for their attitudes and their challenge to his control, but he has still not come up with a plan to successfully deal with them. He is too much of a natural cynic to believe in straight out rebellion – especially when there is one of him and twelve of them.

Instead, he rather chooses to ignore them. Rarely is it that he is called to meet with them, and he would much prefer to keep to his solitude and his world. He is greatly enamored with the lands, if not slightly possessive of them, and he uses The World to his own enjoyment. Often, he bends it to his will. Once he discovered his assigned powers, it did not take him long to figure out what other unintended applications they may have. Dil is always looking for loopholes.

What haunted him, though, was a sense of detachment. It is his world, but he does not belong to it. And there was always that question of origin. It would not have bothered him at first, if he were not so observant. But as the other characters of The World grew, changed, and incidentally, created offspring, Dil came to wonder how it was that he simply woke up one day, fully mature, and why, quite frankly, there was nothing like him in all the lands.

And then, the throw of a monkey wrench into his already complicated situation; there came the dreams. What part of him was analytical attempted to discover their origin, and what relevance they had to him. The other part of him, however, became quite disturbed.

Abilities
Dil's primary function is to serve as a firewall for The World. To do so, he was assigned a complicated set of coding that allows him the complete powers of an administrator...of the entirety of the Internet. He can transport himself to any place on the Internet instantaneously, and can thus bypass any other type of security system. He can easily manually slip in and out of The World as well, although usually he prefers the quicker mode of traveling. Other anomalous powers include his ability to control his visibility, his size, and the mere existence of his third "eye". This eye allows him to remain perpetually aware of what is going on in and around the perimeter of The World. It isn't so much of a sight, as an awareness. It also works to identify disturbances in the coding and infrastructure of The World. It is as if The World were a body, and Dil the brain, with all the nerves throughout the world subconsciously relaying information to him. In this way, he is intrinsically joined to it. If The World suffers, so does he.

These, of course, were the abilities that were given to him. Dil, however, came to realize an entirely different set that was not engineered. He could warp coding. It started out small at first, a few minor disturbances of the codework, and it evolved from there. He became increasingly aware of the coding in the environments around him, and he became increasingly aware of how to use it, and how he could extend it. When he went to attack intruders he not only went after the individuals, but was able to travel up through their link, and affect the machinery linked to whatever they were using and thus prevent them from disturbing him for a longer period of time. He also discovered that he could alter things within The World.

Which led to a frightening conundrum. Was The World, as he had always believed, actually real?

Land
Two years after The World was completed and made fully functional, Dil decided he wanted a home for himself. Each of the commissioners had their own land, and in his mind, he was equal to them, if not superior, and he wanted his own territory as well. Thus, he began his own project. For years he studied the coding of the world around him, and copied it, edited it, to fit into a sector of The World that had gone unused. It started small at first – only large enough for him to turn around in – but he built upon it. He added areas, little by little, all the while remaining completely undetected, until his land covered the same amount of area as one of the twelve official lands. And it ran by his own rules.

Dil's land is not anything quite like the other lands. They obey a strict set of rules. Dil's changes arbitrarily. They follow a common theme. Dil's is a random assortment of sentimental objects and scenes coupled with personal ideas to fit his moods.

In the center of his land, is a small forest clearing, identical to the one he first woke in. A small wood surrounds it, within which is a cave. This cave descends hundreds of feet beneath the surface, until it empties out into a large cavern with a lake in the middle. Tropical vegetation grows around the edges of the lake, which has large stones in the middle. It is perpetually lit by the appearance of a night sky on the cavern roof. In this cavern, Dil stores all records of his dreams, and observes them. He also "sleeps" here, and it is very private.

On the eastern side of this small wood is a desert, filled with rolling sand dunes. He wanders there aimlessly, in thought, or if angry, he continues until the desert melts away into black rock and magma. The sky is always dark in this land, and it is where he confronts his frustrations.

On the western side of the wood is a deserted city. The buildings are in ruins, and they have been taken over by vines. It is Dil's garden. For a reason he cannot entirely express, it brings him great peace to walk amongst these ruins. They are quiet, aside from a few creatures he borrowed from other lands, and he grows flowers he invents amongst the rubble. He controls their shape, their colors, and ultimately, their destinies.

Above the lands are the sky rocks, as he thinks of them. They float in the air, some barren; some covered in vegetation of his choosing. When he wishes to, he flies up to them and rests, observing the world he has created pass peacefully beneath him.

It is a land of relaxation, a land of thought. He belongs to it, he created it, he owns it. Where he feels detached from the other lands, this one is his own, and in his mind, he has earned it. He has kept the project entirely secret from the engineers and the commissioners via a series of coding tricks that he has learned, making its presence undetectable. It is his secret.

- Unknown Source

The Man

The screens flickered before him. They covered every inch of the wall before him, and each displayed something different. A face flickered before one, a string of code on another. He paid little attention to them, his eyes unfocused against their brilliant, artificial light. They were veiled behind simulation goggles, which were only half on. A few lights blinked in the corner of his vision. An email.
We once again offer our dearest appreciation for your services. Thanks to you, we have been able to obtain important information that may help us in achieving our goal. We may have located one of the top officials of the Moscow bank, all thanks to your assistance! Of course, we will award you for your services, and you will find a generous sum wired to your account, and in our gratitude, we have added a tip that we think you will be pleased with. It was, as always, a pleasure working with you.
Hackers. He cared little for their plights, their sense of justice, but their patronage paid the bills. It was better than robbing markets, after all, although it didn't give the same kind of thrill.

He turned his attention to one of his many other screens -- an unusual set up, but one he had made himself -- and focused upon a video clip. He frowned slightly, trying to make out what was happening.

A hand firmly gripped his shoulder, and spun his chair around.

Dmitri Ilyavich Laukhov, alias "The Ghost", you are under arrest.

A sickness overtook him as he gazed up at the two large police officers. Oh no.

For theft, vandalism, treason, and the distribution of private information, he added, a malicious smirk on his face.

Even though he struggled, he was powerless. He was small, wiry. They were big, burly. They dragged him from his cave with ease.

Name: Dmitri I. Laukhov
Alias: The Ghost
Gender: Male
Age: 29
Born: December 3rd, 2462
Class: Proletariat
City: Moscow
Parents: Ilya and Lilya Laukhov
Siblings: Four brothers, one sister (older)
Height: 5'11
Build: Slim, wiry
Hair: Black, medium length, curly
Eyes: Dark
Occupation: Currently unknown; formerly criminal
Status: Presumed dead

Appearance

Those who knew Dmitri before he disappeared will not deny that Dmitri was a decent looking young man. He had dark eyes and a slightly hooked nose, thin lips, and prominent cheekbones. His hair was wavy and black and kept to about shoulder length. He stood at a decent height, just short of six feet, and although he was never one to develop any decent amount of muscle, he was also not painfully thin. He wore loose fitting clothing – essentially whatever his brothers had grown out of – and always had a disheveled look about him.

The one peculiarity to his appearance was how serious he always appeared to be, especially as he grew older. He concentrated less on his appearance and more on other matters, which he kept painfully secret. But he always appeared to be alert, to be thinking. His dark eyes were never vapid.

Personality
There was always some portion of Dmitri that had an awful problem with authority. He would never do what he was told, and he would never believe what he was told. He would do things his own way, and he became quite stubborn about it, too. He was a soloist. Selfish and non-compromising, he didn't have to deal with the headache of sharing his plans and ideas with a partner of any sort. No, Dmitri was a one-man army. Hardheaded and aloof, he would take the world and he certainly wasn't going to share it.

Curiously enough, though, the young man had a tendency towards being quite emotional. A perpetual cynic and self-proclaimed intellectual, he found very little in the world to be happy with. Raised in poverty, he never had any hope of climbing the ranks – or any desire to. Certainly Dmitri had accessed the Internet before, but he never had any desire to commit his life to it, as dreary as the actual world may have been.

Dmitri was never a rebel, though. He was generally quiet and far too pessimistic to believe in any merit in social upheaval. He was determined, yes, but never thoroughly rational. Despite being a thinker, a creator, he also had a tendency towards being a doer. More often than not he'd let his emotions take control of him, and he'd throw himself into something before considering the consequences.

Even though he was never much of a talker, Dmitri was a pleasant person to talk to. Although for the most part he would listen, he had a casual, charming way of speaking. He had an eloquence uncommon amongst other proletariats. Later in life he used this skill to win over customers and business partners, as well as a natural ability for solving puzzles, and another peculiar talent.

History
Dmitri was born the sixth child and fifth son of his proletariat parents, in New Moscow, buried deep beneath what once was Russia. He was raised in poverty, with few toys, hand-me-down clothes, and the occasional day without food. His siblings ranged in age from two to ten years his elders, and he never felt particularly close to any of them. He spent much of his youth teaching himself various skills, including the all but extinct art of reading.

From the age of ten, every one in his family worked. His mother was a maid for middle class homes, his siblings took various odd jobs as they came to age, and his father worked in construction. His family was hit hard when his father, the highest wage earner, got his legs caught under a machine in an accident. Both of them were crushed beyond repair, and thus had to be amputated. The medical fees set the family back for years.

Dmitri entered the work force at nine years old. He was not a spectacular worker. His employers complained that he would not listen to instructions, and that he often stole goods while on the job. Another peculiarity was a failure of mechanical equipment that had a tendency for occurring around him. With these factors weighing in, it took until Dmitri was eleven years old to hold a job more than a few months.

It took him until the age of twelve to definitively realize that there was something entirely different about him. He had been only semi-aware of it before, but he did not know what to make of it until he actually bonded with the technology.

At first, it had been machines reacting to his stronger emotions. When he felt afraid, angry, or sad, machines around him would malfunction or break. He didn't know how, but they did. He assumed it may have been his fault, but he had no idea what to do about it. It was a question that dogged his mind, the worst kind of conundrum: the one he could not conceivably solve.

Until one day, after a fight with his father, he entered the Internet. Some how or another his conscience was able to bond with the information of one Internet apparatus, and he was able to manipulate it to grant him free access. Although he was too surprised to take advantage of this opportunity, it made him realize something. He had a gift.

The biological origin of his gift, he had no idea. He researched as best he could, and found no other examples of anything like this occurring with any other human. There was no guidebook on how to twist technology. He had to learn it himself. And so he practiced for several years, starting with a holoscreen he got from a pawn shop with his meager savings (his father also forced him to replace the one he broke), working endlessly until he could do it on command.

It never occurred to him to use this gift for anything other than crime. The way he saw things, anything worth anything to anyone was illegal. He stopped holding jobs and started stealing food for his families. He could enter a store at night, mentally force the lock, kill the security system, and make out with anything he needed. He covered his tracks with such skill that half of his thefts went completely unnoticed.

He needed something to keep himself occupied, though. Sneaking out at night every once in a few weeks did little to occupy him, and his father often harassed him for his lack of official job. So Dmitri started a small business repairing items, which occupied his time, honed his skills, and provided him with the funding to start out on his own.

He was seventeen years old when he purchased a small cell and started setting up his equipment. He bought an old Internet apparatus, several screens, and stole several more. He found a keyboard, something that took quite a lot of effort, as such technology was hardly used post-apocalypse. He then set up his own console, from which he could run his own operations.

Dmitri took on a new sort of odd jobs. He lent out his services to a few shady individuals and organizations, mainly hackers. He could hack the Internet in a way they could not. They needed codes, information. Dmitri could simply study something, then bond with it, and get the coding to do whatever he wanted it to do. Like with his robberies, this didn't leave a trace.

At least, not unless someone was really looking. And incidentally, someone was.

Dmitri was arrested at nineteen years old, and sentenced to a life in prison. He only stayed there for two days. The second day a group of Moscow's elite came to pick him up, and they never returned him.

They took him to a facility for technological research. They kept him in a cell, and asked him to demonstrate his skills. Then they started to experiment on him. He was not entirely aware of what they did to him. Half the time he was attached to the Internet, bonded to it, and unattached to his body. They assigned him an avatar, forced him to bond to it. There were consequences if he didn't.

After three harrowing years as a lab rat, Dmitri was put a coma, placed in a tank, and forced into a permanent bond with his avatar.

Dmitri Ilyavich Laukhov became the Database Infringement Lock. DIL was now D.I.L.

- Unknown Source

The Thoughts

The fluorescent lights hurt his eyes. He kept them lowered, allowed his focus to be the colorless ground before him, as he attempted to avoid the other pain. Sitting on that metal bench for the last twentyfour hours had been a less than enjoyable experience. He could feel its after effects. He couldn't bring himself to care, though.

In fact, he couldn't bring himself to care about much anything anymore. He had been caught. There was no getting out of there. With his build...his talents did not lie in fighting. His talents...even he didn't know what they were.

He ignored the footsteps at first, but as they drew nearer, he noticed a peculiar quality to them. He had come to identify the footsteps of the warden as scuffed but commanding. These, however, had an official click to them. Unable to help his curiosity, he raised his gaze.

Four men were approaching. The warden, followed by three men in expensive suites. They were crisp, well trimmed, and definitely not proletariat. Dmitri stared.

He didn't know how he knew they were coming for him, but when they opened his door, he felt no surprise. When they filed in, he made no move to approach them. He simply stared at them.

The taller one stepped forward, then spoke. Laukhov, Dmitri...or should I call you by your alias, Ghost? Regardless, you are under arrest for serious crimes and will remain in jail the rest of your life.

Dmitri bristled, but the man continued.

I am curious, though. It says that you were able to break into stores without leaving any trace of force or typical hack codes. You were also able to access top secret information on the Internet, without the use of any recognizable code. We hired experts to study your crimes, and we are all quite curious: how did you do it?

Dmitri's mouth remained shut.

The man stared, his face blank, and his eyes dark. I have been led to believe...that you can do it with your mind. So Dmitri. Can you?

Every nerve in his body screamed with shock, with rage. But every particle of sense told him to control it, to calm himself, to resist the urge. He could not. His emotions burst from him, into the air, into the room around him, and at the men with their suites and their expensive gadgets.

There must have been an Internet jack in the back of the man's head, because it buzzed slightly, and he flinched. Another man took out his cell phone, looked at it, shook it a bit, then slipped it back into the pocket.

The first man smiled a thin-lipped smile. Excellent. Thank you for your hard work, he turned to the warden, we'll take him from here.

Dmitri tried to protest, but once more, it was futile.

His gaze followed the artificial luminescence as it danced across the dark cavern. They spilled out over the lake, twirling, soaring, diving, twisting over the dark water, their lights mingling with the lights of the artificial constellations, embedded in the stones above. Around the lake the lights of bioluminescent plants reached out towards the center, but fell short. Only the stars could meet the middle.

And that is where he stood. On a large out cropping, following the lights most intently.

He was ill at ease.

Only moments before had he awoken from his state of semi-conscious "sleep" to dwell upon the latest dream. It sent tremors through his large body, and his lights slowly lighted themselves to a pale orange. He felt fear for the man, through whose eyes he had so vividly seen. There was something so real about those incidents, eight of them he had now seen, that he could hardly dismiss them as passing fancies, conjured by some deluded subconscious. They meant something, and it disturbed him.

Carefully, Dil extracted the contents of the dream from his mind, and converted it into lights. Then he let it rise, inch by inch, as if upon a gentle current, up to the cavern top, where it split apart and formed another constellation. Eight constellations, eight dreams. Dil stared at them, and his lights changed to purple.

- D.I.L., The World

Other Characters

The other characters involved with Dil and/or his world.
Alexandra Wholf
She is in charge of the division of hackers based in London. She is known for her intelligence and quick reaction time, although she has tendencies towards appearing cold and unsympathetic. She's a driven individual, and although she is hard on her subordinates, she is not blind to their personal troubles. Difficult to get to know, she can be quite personable when befriended. Despite the feelings of her hackers, she is a good leader, and is organized. Things get done in London because of her. Also despite her relatively young age of 33, she has earned the respect of her colleagues and subordinates around the globe. She has never actually encountered Dil.

Quarite -- ( link )
Despite only being 24 years old, and getting a late start on the whole education and hacking business to begin with, Quarite has risen up the ranks in London quite quickly. He is a bit of an anomaly, because he is a Pet, and generally they are engineered to have low intelligence. Quarite is an obvious exception. Commander Wholf has put him in charge of his own sector, as of March, 2491. Quarite, like Wholf, has proved to be capable of leading, although his personality is notably more icy. His subordinates often feel that he is detached and uninterested in them, which may or may not be the case, but is all due to being severely traumatized early in life. He has encountered Dil once.

Reference

Art by Ven

Art by Others

By Kami, Blobfish, Krystal, Grif, Banks

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