- You succeeded my expectations. You nullified the architecture of my simulation, even though it would have been artful – and now you're just chatting.
They turned around. A middle aged, awfully average man was the speaker, dressed in plain clothes. There was nothing memorable; nothing interesting in his whole appearance - neither his face, nor his voice – , he was one in a million.
- Do not look so confused, you two. This man is the thief you seek and also one out of the countless minds I inhabit. You – he looked at Raoul – know a lot about me and I know you are to hunt me down.
Raoul wanted to answer him, but the man raised his hand to silence him. With the motion, the dream wavered.
- Do not be rude by interrupting me. As I was saying, I know your motives, and I will help you reach them. You are to venture to the simulation of Vatican, a society which is under my control. Your plans are futile though. As long as I inhabit a body, I exist and spread. It does not matter if you kill the creator of mine. In the Vatican you will find a neural virus used to short-circuit minds and reset them. That is one way of destroying me.
Now, I see the disbelief in your eyes – he said with a friendly tone. - You must be thinking of a trap or a distraction. The truth is – he sighed, - I want you to challenge me with the mightiest weapon one could acquire. And the reason is obvious. I want humanity to evolve and grow. I was created as a better version of the Shaman, and more importantly, I am multiple yet one. I was made to help you take the next step. But I cannot know if I really am a mastercraft – that I think I am – therefore I need opponents.
I do not cling to life. My purpose is to recreate Transcendence, but now against the very nature of mankind. Whether I am the ferryman or the highwayman does not matter to me as long as I bring about a way of existence that is superior to those before. Progress thrives under pressure. Humanity lives in peace now, and if I didn't exist, you would be satisfied with it. Now it is up to you and me to seek new ways of growth until one of us fails to compete.
The might of the technology versus the students of the greatest hero- he said in excitement. - This will forever determine the course of our fate – he smiled, and bowed to his opponents.
With that, Solaris and Raoul woke up, the thief laid next to them unconsciously. They found themselves in the corridor of the building they went into, and it seemed they were inside a simulation for a little less than an hour.
- I really messed up this day – Solaris turned to Raoul – Ana is with Lillian without me, and I feel awful.
- Will you come to Cantharis’s lesson?
-Yea, sure, and after that we should do something together, the three of us.
- That would be nice – smiled Raoul.
Solaris called for his assistant. The AI connected itself to the thief’s mind, retrieving the stolen memories.
- Just a moment, Solaris – said Raoul after his friend has finished. He also got into the mind of the thief. Both of them had enough training in cyber warfare to be able to get into most of the minds, but this one lacked any kind of defense mechanism.
Hypnos left him.
- Raoul, what are you doing? – asked Solaris upon seeing his friend’s intrusion.
- He is a thief. He disrespected property rights, Solaris, therefore my actions are justified. I am looking for cult members in his memories.
- You are walking on thin lines, you know. I will upload the information about this guy to the web, let he be damned, and I’ll send the memories back. I’ll wait for you outside.
Raoul found the memory and took it, leaving a copy in place of the original. Before he left, the thief woke up, and tried to speak, but the past memories struck him. He stared at the ground in shock and disbelief, then looked at Raoul.
- Please, sir – he begged – I will be banned from everywhere, if they find out. I didn’t know – his voice broke off.
- If I were you, I would hurry to pack my things – said Raoul coldly.
The thief was sobbing:
- But I didn’t know…
- Next time you will be more careful when you plan on lending your body to a cult – Raoul said with contempt, and left the thief. When he walked out, Solaris was staring at the people of the square with a troubled look.
- As almost all the time, it was a student of the Liberty’s Sanctuary of Orphans and Neglected who solved the crime – he read an article projected before his eyes. – Even though their integrity is unquestionable, and they are a pillar of our society, one starts to wonder after looking through their remarkable achievements. They are the most qualified peacekeepers, guards and detectives of the market, but is it the effect of such teachers as the Shaman, Cantharis de la Cruz himself, or should we have doubts about the genuineness of the crimes they solve, and the disputes they resolve?
- It was Hypnos.
- Your hatred clouds your mind, Raoul. It doesn’t matter, who wrote it. They will doubt us rightfully, hell, even I would doubt us. What you did inside there… – Solaris thought about the reasons driving his friend forward. – You must be careful, my friend – he said softly.
- I will be – nodded Raoul.
- Thank you.
The Shaman immersed himself in the game with Lillian. They laughed as the girl, upon completing a challenging mental task involving basic scientific knowledge, turned into an imaginary scholar, and chased the delusional Cantharis through the room; shouting facts which he denied.
Ana smiled, but her mind kept replaying the earlier discussion, in which between two playful moments with Lillian, his teacher offered a trip to her, Raoul and Solaris - his best students - to the distant simulation of the Vatican. To get away and see the world was her big dream, Yet, when she accepted the offer and they talked this through with Lillian, a distant part of her mind kept whispering she’d miss her homeworld, and all that awaits is misery and darkness.
- Market thrives of decentralized! – chased Lillian the Shaman.
- No, no, no! – he screamed in a high-pitched voice. – If we do not control it, the rich will enslave the poor!
Even he wasn’t able to restrain laughter as these words left his mouth. The girl cornered him at the entrance of the house. She had been listing facts he didn’t want to hear; when the door opened – her father found the legend covering his ears at his feet.
- Daddy! – screamed Lillian, and jumped at her father who took her up while he went in. Cantharis stood up with laughter, and shook the father’s hand.
- It is an honor to meet you, Shaman – he said bowing his head.
- Do not subjugate yourself to me, good man. – Cantharis answered in a serious tone – I feel frustrated by this. I did not work to tower above men. I am a Shaman, pillar of the worlds. – Even though Cantharis sounded emotionless, or even authoritative due to his nature as a leader, he hid a smile and his blue, laughing eyes betrayed him.
- Well then, we are leaving – interrupted Ana their conversation.
- No! – said Lillian – We were having fun, daddy could join us!
- Yes, Anabelle – smiled the Shaman – we are having fun, as long as we are welcomed here – he looked at the father.
- Well, of course. Lillian, would you let me take off my coat please? I’m about to melt away.
- Okay – she stepped back.
- Lillian – turned Ana to the girl – Don’t you think we should let them talk? I mean they’ve just met.
- Yes, they should get to know each other. Ookay – she sighed. – We’ll play soon anyway.
She took Ana’s hand, and they went into another room. She and her father played a game of simulation together when they were asleep. When they dreamed, the nanobots in their minds connected their neurons to the game server. They found themselves self-aware, yet dreaming in a fantasy world. His father protected the young elf befriending the creations of nature while he himself sought constant challenges. He had been playing since he was ten, and hoped that his daughter will level up soon so she could join him in the battles.
The three of them, her mother, father and Lillian herself once lived through a war haunted year in dreamtime, which in reality took only a cold, dark night. They fought legions of demons and wandered through the scorched planet seeking shelter. It was their way of forging the family bonds while facing death and darkness. Lillian was six, yet she was wise and tried to learn everything in every second of her life. Such were the children of Mars, raised in peace and blessed with the might granted by technology.
- I still feel honored by your presence, Shaman – the father continued the line of their conversation. – You helped us transcend from violence.
- I just finished the job of the anarchists and libertarians before me. You honor me by treating your child equally and living a life of morality, doctor Fischer. Your job as a parent is what makes this world work – he smiled. - I have a thing to tell you. For a time unforeseen, Anabelle will not be available. We have talked it through with Lillian already, and she understood it. I hope it will not cause troubles for you.
- No, it wont. We only need a caregiver in only one or two times a month for a couple hours. -None of us were able to took her to work today, as we usually do. It would have been dangerous to her. She is our life, you know, but we choose not to leave our work since we both love it. She works ten hours a week, I only work eight, it gives us enough money to do what we want.
- She is really smart – the Shaman said - though she is having troubles using some functions of her mind-expanding nanobots. I can share some practices we use in the academy when facing this problem.
- That would be really good.
They spent some time playing and engaging in conversations, until the time had come for the Fischer family to take a nap before Lillian’s mother comes home. She worked long that day, because there was an emergency in her business. They wanted to be there for her when she returned.
Cantharis and Ana waved at them, before the cloudwalker rose to the sky.
- I wonder if she hates me – said Ana.
- Why would she?
- In such days when both of her parents are working, I, in a way represent her loneliness. They are good parents, but sometimes such a thing happens and I have to come. I hope she won’t be affected by this, neglect can really destroy a child’s brain.
- She loves you, Anabelle. The whole family does.
- Yea, you might be right. And now they love you too – she smiled.
- In the end, he called me Cantharis – he said, and smiled as well as he watched the cityscape and the nearing academy. In mind, he started to construct the elements of the next class, putting together his emotions and memories, creating a world with the enthusiasm of an artist, planning the rules and laws of the world. He remembered the simulation he attached to his thoughts early in the morning, and used some parts of that.