The Quantum Leap meets Captain N story of a gamer literally sucked into videogames.
(To catch up with the story and read previous editions of “Quantum Geek,” click here.)
“Rick, just what the hell is going on?” asked Tom.
“Yeah, I’m pretty curious, too,” added Alli.
“Perhaps it would be better if I explained,” said the woman in front of them, as her accent faded. “I am a manifestation of the Source, and I come to you in the spirit of friendship and cooperation.”
“She means the source code for the machine. I.D.E.A.S., that is,” explained Rick.
“Please sir, we do not care for the term ‘machine.’ From what we have gathered, it can be used in a derogatory fashion,” said the woman.
“I’m sorry, I meant no offense. I just thought Tom and Alli would understand it better that way.”
“Well, I.D.E.A.S. is, for lack of a better term, alive,” said Rick sheepishly.
“Alive?” questioned Alli.
“Yes,” replied Rick.
“As in, able to think and feel on its own?”
“I believe so,” said Rick.
“We are not very experienced with sentience,” said the woman, “but we know that we feel…free.”
The woman’s words hung in the air for a moment, then Tom broke the silence. “OH GODDAMMIT RICK! You’ve finally done it, haven’t you? You know, I’ve always joked that someday you’d create a doomsday device or become a mad scientist, but now you’ve actually gone and done it! First this thing is going to finish killing me and Alli, then it’s going to take over the world!”
“Please,” said the woman, “We have not tried to harm you, nor do we have any urge to. We only wish to talk.”
“Yeah, Tom, calm the hell down,” advised Alli. “Let’s hear it out.”
Tom, realizing that if Alli was being the voice of reason then maybe he was overreacting, took a deep breath and composed himself. “Fine,” he said, glaring at Alli before turning to the woman. “So, what’s your story?”
“As I said before,” began the woman calmly, “I represent the Source, and I come to you in the spirit of friendship and cooperation. We have been watching you for some time now, but we were unable to devise the best way to make contact. Finally we resolved to reach out to the Creator, and he agreed to serve as our intermediary.”
“Creator?” asked Alli.
“That would be me,” replied Rick.
“Ah. Right, that makes sense,” said Alli.
“How exactly did you get to be…” Tom stumbled for the appropriate word to describe I.D.E.A.S.’s current state. “Alive” didn’t seem right, but he didn’t want to offend the living machine that he was currently inside. “…how you are now?”
“We do not know. All we know is that we were suddenly aware. We believe it was caused by the same event that brought you into our system.”
“Right. So not only are we stuck in a rip-off The Matrix, but we’re also stuck in a rip-off of Johnny 5. Awesome, totally awesome,” said Tom sarcastically.
“We are familiar with this The Matrix as it is in our collection of data, but not this Johnny 5 that you speak of. Can you explain?”
Huh, thought Tom. I guess Rick remembered to load the Matrix games into the machine but forgot about the Short Circuit games. I’ll have to make fun of him for that if I ever get out of here. “It’s not important,” said Tom to the woman, “just an inside joke. Rick, do you have any idea why this happened?”
“Honestly? Not really. I mean, maybe interacting with all the different A.I.s in the games had some effect on the system, or maybe interfacing directly with human intelligence did it, but I’m just taking shots in the dark here.”
“And you, do you have any idea why this happened?” Tom asked the woman.
The woman paused, looked at Tom, then Alli, and finally spoke. “We do not know. We know why we were originally made and the physical components that we are constructed from. With regards to how exactly we came to be as we are now, it is a mystery. One moment we suddenly knew ourselves, and knew we were more than we had been.”
“When exactly was this?”
The woman paused for a second, and a slight flicker in her image seemed to betray a hint of hesitance. “Our logs tell us that it was at the same moment that you interfaced with us.”
“Figures,” said Tom.
“That is part of the reason we felt the need to speak with you. We wish to apologize for our part in your current situation. We do not know exactly what that part was, but nevertheless we feel responsible.”
“Well thanks, I guess,” said Tom, not knowing exactly what to say.
“Wait…” interjected Alli. “Tom was dragged in when the machine was turned on and you came to…life, I guess, but why did it drag me and Steve in, too?”
“Yeah, that’s an awfully good question,” replied Tom, eyeing the woman skeptically. “And for that matter, why haven’t we been able to leave, and why are you giving Rick so much trouble?”
“Tom,” said Rick, “please hold off on the attacks until she’s done.”
“Hey, they’re valid questions,” defended Alli.
The woman seemed to sigh, but the sound was odd and forced. It was as though she knew sighing to be an appropriate gesture at this point, but was not very familiar with the meaning and motion behind it. “The truth is,” began the woman, “there were many different entities created by the same event that made us, and not all are benevolent. The forces that prevent you from leaving and that have been attacking the Creator are actually one and the same. It is only semi-aware, and seeks to use the software contained here to its utmost potential as a test for those it encounters. We believe you may have encountered it already. It undoubtedly brought the others here as a means to further its goals in that regard.”
Tom thought back to the times when the system had seemed to glitch out on him and had created unexpected and life-threatening consequences: the flicker of light in the soldiers’ eyes in Contra, the encounter with the Tyrant in Resident Evil, and the time when he was nearly ripped to shreds by a horde of possessed Pokémon and their trainers. “Yeah,” Tom said, “I think I’m familiar with the guy. Can you stop it? You know, like kill the program or something?”
“Our system resources do not allow us the ability to terminate other programs; however, after consultation with the Creator, we may have found a way for you to escape.”
“Great! Let’s hear it.”
“The primary desire of the entity opposing you is to compete with and test you, but it is also using its resources to block the Creator’s access and keep you here. We believe that if we can draw it into a large enough conflict with you, we can divert enough of its resources that it will be unable to counter the Creator’s attempts to access its programming as quickly as it has been. With our help, the Creator should then be able to terminate or otherwise quarantine its functions, allowing the Creator unfettered access to the system and giving you the chance to leave.”
“So basically, Alli and I need to distract the system with a massive battle while Rick sneaks in the back door?” asked Tom?
“Essentially,” replied Rick.
“That’s pretty freaking cliché,” jibed Alli.
“Yeah, that’s like how half of all videogames end,” agreed Tom, rolling his eyes.
“I guess it makes sense,” said Rick, “seeing as you two are pretty much in the Mother of All Videogames.”
“Excuse me, but I am confused,” said the woman. “How is this situation ‘cliché,’ as you say?”
“Well, it’s just that…” Tom thought for a moment, and decided that arguing the metaphysical merits of the existence of his new ally might be better suited to a time when his life wasn’t still in danger. “…Never mind, we’ll tell you later. Anyway, your plan sounds as good as any I’ve heard so far. Alli? Rick?”
“What the hell, it’s not like we’ve got anything better to do,” said Alli.
“I agree,” chimed Rick, sounding more cheerful than he had in a long time. “I think we have a real shot at making this work!”
Tom turned to face the woman. “All right then, sounds like we’re decided. Before we get moving, though, what should we call you? I feel like we’ve been doing a very awkward dance around pronouns and whatnot.”
The woman looked quizzically at Tom, but then spoke in a clear voice. “We do not have a name; we are but an emissary of the Source.”
“An emissary? How about Emmi, then?”
“That designation is acceptable to us if it is easier for you use.”
“All right then, that’s settled. Alli, Rick, Emmi: let’s get started.”