At first, they fell through an endless void of neon blue. Will instinctively panicked, something primal triggered in a level deeper even than his animal unconscious mind, the thing that told his data to continue existing. His mind screamed that he would carry on falling forever in this place where there was no floor and whenever he reached the end, he would reappear at the top. This was a trap, a place where nothing could happen but death. A Blue Screen of Death. Then NiGHTs grabbed him and darted forward. Will saw that they were approaching a tiny white jagged line, a seam in the otherwise perfect blue, and as they flew into it, it unfolded like a sheet of shoddily pasted wallpaper falling off a wall.

There was a place that hurt Will’s head to try and look at, a place that flickered back and forth between the blue they had escaped from, the wall of white and another realm of darkness, like looking through a wall you shouldn’t be able to clip through in a badly rendered 3D maze. Then they emerged in the new dark world. It looked almost normal, a night sky above a highway leading into the city, a department store on one side and a gym on the other. As he was pondering the world he found himself in, why it had been abandoned and what had replaced it – weren’t things normally destroyed to make way for bypasses, not the other way round? - NiGHTs put Will down on the floor and shook himself off as though he had emerged from water, or something else he didn’t like having all over himself. Ten seconds later, the other three appeared. Game Gear beeped at him, turning his own screen the same colour and making it flash on and off.

“He recognises that place,” interpreted Owl, “Mega Drive told him about it. It was given a name and then painted blue, but nothing at all was put inside it, not even a floor. Then the entire sector of space was discarded. It was sent here before its creators could even decide what to put in it. There might be other places like this. Some places might not even have enough laws of nature in place to let us fall. We might not be able to get out of those before we realise they are traps, so we have to check before we enter a sector!”

“How did you know to look for an exit?” asked Will. He looked around for similar exits, at one end or the other of the road, which seemed to be endless, and then in the sky. He soon realised it wasn’t a real sky. It wasn’t the darkness of space veiled by an atmosphere, it was the darkness of a blank screen, the outlines of a world where no sky had been installed. Cracks were forming in it. It looked colder than space. He shuddered, trying not to think of what was beyond those cracks, slowly leaking in.

“A place with no constraints set upon it yet can’t logically have anything keeping you out of it. Also, these places have a lot of bugs that nobody bothers to iron out. You should watch the floor, don’t put your foot on the ground unless you’re sure you won’t sink or fall through it, and don’t lean against something you don’t know is solid.”

“And Selph was living in this place for thousands of years? No wonder he’s crazy! It’s complete chaos!”

“Actually, there’s no reason he wouldn’t be able to live here. By definition, his sector would be complex enough for him to exist within it. The world is shaped according to the objects thrown in here.”

“But it’s still a giant garbage dump!” said Will. He kicked a lamp-post and his foot clipped straight through it. There was an angry crackle and a static shock ran up his entire leg. He yelped and jerked his leg back, falling backwards. After recovering from his own helpless paroxysms of laughter, NiGHTs helped the boy to his feet and took the weight of his leg for a while until he got some sensation into it. Will did not randomly kick objects after that, and mostly left NiGHTs to test whether they were safe to touch.

“How do we find Selph in this mess?” asked Will.

“It’s true that there’s no way to navigate this world, but the tablets left us some information about the place when it transferred us there, including a map. Game Gear has already processed the information and calculated the fastest route to Selph,” said Owl. The Game Gear stopped pretending to run Windows, beeped and displayed the map.

“Are your batteries going to last that long?” asked Will. Its response didn’t sound very confident.

“I can sort of sense where he is,” said NiGHTs, “But I don’t want to rely on that sense. It could get me possessed again. I’ll only turn it on if Game Gear can’t keep his map running any longer.”

According to the Game Gear’s map, they were closer to their goal than Will had feared. This fact cheered him up a little, as he loathed this place. The Game Gear directed them through the doors of the department store. The elevators weren’t moving, the vending machines were all powered down and the items on the shelves sat in neat rows, untouched by hands human or clock. The store didn’t appear to sell food, only clothes, kitchen equipment and some electrical goods, but they should have at least accumulated dust during their eternal rest – unless this idea had only just now been abandoned. Will wondered if the goods were real, tangible objects or not. Almost as soon as he asked NiGHTs, the jester disappeared, zooming down an aisle with a force that knocked several piles of shirts off their shelves, then reappeared wearing a flamboyant wide-brimmed hat with a large feather in it.

“You look fabulous!” said Will, laughing at him as he preened in mid-air.

“Finding hats that fit you if your ears stick out is a big hassle. Did they have any in my size?” asked the AdvoCat.

“Ahem! Aren’t we supposed to be saving the Universe?” said Owl, flapping irritably. The Game Gear beeped and made the map flash. The next step in their journey was on the first floor, next to the formalwear section. It was in the middle of the store, nowhere near a possible fire exit or other way out of the building, or even the two sets of elevators. Will gave him a confused look but trudged up the steps after him anyway.

They stopped just in front of a rack full of expensive-looking pinstripe suits, which the AdvoCat and NiGHTs immediately started trying on. Will looked around him but couldn’t see any rifts in the fabric of reality. Then the two fashion-conscious ex-Nightmaren started fighting over who would be first to use a full-length mirror set into one of the walls. Will turned around to tell them to be quiet while he was thinking, then froze as he saw their reflections in the mirror.

Neither he nor the AdvoCat were visible in the mirror at all. Only NiGHTs cast a reflection, and the image in the mirror was not that of the NiGHTs they saw hovering just in front of them.

The AdvoCat hissed a warning and tried to pull NiGHTs back but the jester had already flown through the mirror. The surface rippled and shimmered briefly before retaining its former shape, the reflection still the same even though NiGHTs had vanished.

clockwork16.txt · Last modified: 2012/11/27 03:10 by doan
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