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"He lifts up a banner for the distant nations, he whistles for those at the ends of the earth. Here they come, swiftly and speedily!" -- Isaiah 5.26

It turned out that the room Mike had awoken in wasn't just a room - it was the whole building. There were several hundred buildings exactly the same, all in a straight line, all made of the same white substance. The substance resembled marble, but the buildings didn't appear to have been built from pieces - they looked more as though they had each been carved out of a single block, or perhaps moulded and hardened like clay. The floor and sky outside were also white - the sky emanating light in a similar diffuse way to the ceiling inside, the floor appearing fibrous, like a shag-pile carpet, or Astroturf. Mike bent to touch it, and was surprised to find the strands more closely resembling white grass than anything else.

"This must take a long time to mow," Mike said, gesturing at the ground, and into the distance - the white grass appeared to cover ground all the way to the horizon. As far as the eye could see, aside from the one line of buildings, there was nothing else - no more buildings, not a person, not a puddle.

"It only grows this long," Ruth replied. "We've had a long time to get our environment doing just what we want."

"Why do you have to play at whole new lives?" asked Mike. "What's wrong with ordinary games? Why not play Chess?"

"How many times do you remember playing Chess?"

"Maybe a couple of hundred."

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"Would you still want to play after a couple of hundred thousand more games?"

Mike winced. "Point taken. Still, can't you invent new games?"

"We did. The most popular one is called Earth."


Mike looked around. The buildings resembled the architecture of ancient Greece - decorative columns and arches, and some sort of carvings (or mouldings, perhaps) around the flat parts of the building. "So which building is Nathan in?" he asked, gesturing along the line.

"Over there," Ruth pointed to the horizon, perpendicular to the line of buildings.

"Do we walk?"

"No... You'll enjoy this, returners always do." She smiled, "Face that way."

They both did so.

"Now sit down."

"On the ground?"

"On the ground," she nodded.

They sat. "Now whaerk!" said Mike, interrupted in his question as he started to move, unexpectedly.

Ruth laughed, "Whaerk indeed." She mimicked the surprised tone of his voice almost perfectly.

Travelling now at a gentle walking speed, despite sitting on the ground, Mike looked at the white grass around himself, trying to see how he was moving. It was only when he looked at Ruth that he saw the blades of grass were waving beneath her, like thousands of centipede legs, lifting and carrying her along. Now he had seen it, he realised he could also feel it, like a gentle massage or a

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vibrating seat. He also noticed that they were getting faster, now moving at a decent jogging speed.

"Whose idea was this?" asked Mike, gesturing at the snaking ground with both hands.

"Oh, this stuff is really old. Thousands of kilocycles. I doubt if even the person who did it remembers any more."

They were approaching a speed now that Mike would have thought of as about 45 miles per hour.

"How do you measure speed here?" Mike inquired, realising that miles probably wouldn't be the distance, and cycles of some sort would be the time.

"Kilopaces per cycle." Ruth told him, "A pace is the stride of an average person - mine is about right." She held her hands apart as an approximate measure. "A kilopace feels like about what half a mile does, in Earth."

Their speed seemed like about 70mph now, and they were still accelerating, in complete silence. "So we're going about 35 k.p.c.?" Mike estimated. "How is it that we're not hitting wind resistance?"

She frowned for a moment, as if not understanding the question, then laughed, "Oh yes, air. I love the weird things that have come about in Earth. There's no air here."

"No air? Then how can we hear?"

"Sound doesn't travel through air. Raphael planted that idea. He still loves to change Earth science in weird ways. He was the artist Raphael twenty-five hundred cycles ago, he pretty much directed DaVinci's contributions to science and art."

"So how did he do the sound thing?"

"About a kilocycle later, he did some stuff directly, as a guy named Boil, I think. Faked a demonstration that sound

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couldn't travel without the presence of a medium. It made sense to people, and that pretty much fixed it as a law."

"How does sound work here, then?"

"Pretty much the same as light. Straight lines, rays."

"Light is a sort of particle-wave though isn't it?"

She laughed, "That's Raphael's doing again. He was particularly proud of having planted Quantum Physics believably. Nathan had bet him he couldn't do it. We haven't been able to figure out how Raphael manages to get his ideas into Earth without God managing to blank them, and he won't tell us. Here, light is just rays. No speed, no particles, no waves."

Mike looked up, trying to imagine the light that was permeating everything existing that way. Doing so, he noticed two things had changed while he was in conversation. Firstly, the colour of everything had changed. It was no longer white, but rather tending towards grey. It was still grass and sky as far as the eye could see in every direction, now, but both grass and sky were grey, though the light still seemed white. Secondly, and more alarmingly, they had been accelerating all the while, and were now going at a speed Mike couldn't even take a reasonable guess at. He had never travelled so fast in Earth, at least not without being high in the air where everything seems much slower than it is. This close to the ground, it seemed incredibly fast - certainly faster than any racing car. He was inclined to yell his question to Ruth, but realised that the noise one would expect travelling at such speed simply wasn't there, so he could talk normally. "How do we stop?"

"There are a lot of ways. Don't worry about it - you'll see one when we get there," Ruth grinned unnervingly.

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That the colour of things was getting darker was more obvious, now, as it was changing more rapidly with their faster speed. Mike saw buildings appearing in the distance, rushing towards them. "Is this world round, then?" he asked.

Ruth laughed, "The spherical world, that was beautiful. It seems God came up with that one itself, or whoever did it isn't admitting it."

"What's the horizon if not curvature?"

"Light rays only travel so far."

The buildings were nearly upon them, and they were showing no sign of slowing. "How far?"

"Ten kilopaces."

"How is it that we're supposed to stop, again?"

"Just wait."

A scant moment later, a couple of heartbeats at most, their feet hit something which resembled a line of concrete, about the height and thickness of a brick, and the length of, well, at least ten kilopaces each way. Since they were travelling at what Mike thought of as several hundred miles per hour, the concrete line was immovable, and their centres of gravity were higher than their feet, they proceeded to continue to move, in a motion of rotation - Ruth's motion became a beautiful double somersault, from which she landed standing sideways and skidded to a halt. Mike's motion, because he hadn't been expecting the stop at all, resembled a pickaxe being swung at the ground, pivoting around the raised line. His face struck solidly with a sound like a gunshot, then his feet flipped over him, then he tumbled twice more full circle before it became more of a sideways roll, and he scraped to a standstill. He stood up, grinning ruefully as Ruth fell to the ground with

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laughter. "Indestructibility does wonders for the world of practical jokes, eh?"

"You should have seen your face!" she gasped. "Forgot you couldn't be hurt again, didn't you?"

"It takes some getting used to," Michael admitted, grudgingly.

"This way."

Michael followed, looking around wonderingly. The architecture of the buildings here was quite different - they still appeared to be made with the same sort of single-piece carving structure, but here the material seemed porous and rough, which cast millions of tiny strange shadows from the diffuse light of the sky onto the already grey structures. The shapes of the buildings were similar, but subtly different from the ones they had left - they still favoured arches and columns, but there were many more lines and spikes, giving things a much more macabre feel. The adjacent buildings here were arranged seemingly randomly rather than in a line, scattered and at different angles, some touching, some not - it looked quite possible to get lost amongst them. Also different from the other place was that here, the buildings were certainly not all alike - heights, shapes, spires, windows and doorways all differed. They were all clearly in the same style, nothing clashed or looked out of place, but nothing was the same. Michael found it far more appealing than the uniform whiteness of before.

Ruth led the way to one of the taller buildings, with a huge oak-effect arched doorway, and pulled hard on a hanging rope there. A massive bell tolled somewhere in the heights of the building. "Nathan enjoys the dramatic style."

"It's nice," Michael replied. "Where do I live?"

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"You destroyed your last home about a kilocycle ago, when you decided to go visiting everyone."

"What was it like?"

"You'll remember it better than I."

Mike sighed. "How long does it take before my memory is fully returned?"

"Give it another twenty cycles or so."

The door slowly opened inwards, with an incredible creak straight out of a horror movie. Mike couldn't help laughing at the cliché of it, when there was nobody there. They walked in quietly. Michael was impressed by the interior - the ceiling was almost as high as the entire building, stopping just short enough, presumably, to house the bell they had rung. The room was lit by stained glass windows, which had looked the same as the stone from the outside, but provided sparkling patterns on the floor, distorted shadows, and weird coloured light, on the inside, casting everything into a darkly surreal aspect.

"Nathan?" shouted Ruth, surprising Mike with a complete lack of echo or reverberation. She muttered quietly to him, "Watch for the silly dramatic entrance," then shouted again, "Nathan!"

A trapdoor in the ceiling banged open, and a figure in a fluttering black cloak dropped down through it, arms upraised, falling about 30 paces, to land in the centre of the room, gracefully, barely showing any strain in the landing at all.

"Told you," said Ruth.

"Told him what?" asked Nathan - another beautiful figure, though of a different type. Unlike Michael and Ruth, he would never be described as svelte, nor as slim. Buff might be the word of choice. If not that, then something more emphatic; perhaps 'Herculean'. He was an imposing

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figure, perhaps not as tall as Michael, but making up for that in build. The downside of his heftier figure was that it made him look completely out of place in his exaggerated gothic garb.

"Oh, nothing important," Ruth grinned, and winked at Michael.

"I'm afraid I have bad news for you, Michael," Nathan said, looking somber.

"I'm dead?" joked Michael.

Nathan smiled sympathetically, "God tells me you're not to work on it this kilocycle."

"That's bad news?"

"You were really looking forward to making certain changes, before your recent visitation."

At Nathan's words, Michael was struck by an insight into his memory; he had been hoping to make some changes in the beliefs of constructs, hoping to reduce their religious inclinations, to better stabilise their scientific thought, to make Earth consistent, to make it rational. He also recalled why - on his last visit he had sympathised with so many of the constructs. It seemed unfair to him to afflict them with a miserable existence just for the entertainment of a distorted God and his bored acquaintances. It would be, in Michael's opinion, no less entertaining to live a life with less predictable, less pointless conflict. Competing with the undiscovered, with science, with the elements, with space - that would be fun, and the side-effects of Christ's kilocycles-old trick in the final allowed unwiped visitation, and the resultant book, had become tedious as well as disruptive. Michael was just wanting to reduce the average dogma-acceptance of the constructs.

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"Since when does God decide who gets to do the programming?" Michael asked, sure that it hadn't been that way last time.

"The simulation isn't stable," Nathan explained soothingly. "Nobody's better placed than God to determine what would cause it to collapse."

"If God's near collapse, how do you know you can trust its opinion?"

"It's a computer. It doesn't have opinions, it just acts on facts."

"Not with the mind-compression it doesn't," Michael argued. In a flash he recalled his work on that, and the theories behind it, as well as the odd side-effects - dreams. Twelve kilocycles ago, Michael had figured out the way to retroactively gloss over glitches in the simulation, while simultaneously improving the players' memories' integrity. He'd connected to God and transferred the idea as code - Ruth had been right when she'd said it was nothing like programming in Earth. Something like the technology in use here would be any Earth-programmer's dream. "So who's to say it can't form opinions?"

"Even if it does, I'm in charge of it, and I say you're off it for the kilocycle."

"You know I'm the best programmer you have!" insisted Michael angrily - another truth revealed by his memory, whose recovery seemed to be coming along nicely. His excelling as a programmer in Earth probably resulted from the same sort of skills he used to produce the mental algorithms that programming God required. His mind must just have been good for it.

"You are," agreed Nathan, narrowing his eyes, "but that doesn't give you the right to dictate terms. You can do something else for a kilocycle."

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Whereas before he came into the building Michael would have had no problem doing something else for a kilocycle or much more, he wasn't inclined to accept it as an order. "How do you propose to make me?"

"I can't make you do something else," said Nathan calmly, "but I'm certain I can keep you from accessing God."

"How so?"

Nathan pulled a small disc from a pocket in his cloak, and placed it to his forehead for a moment, then lowered it. "Like that."

"He's just told God to not allow you to connect," Ruth explained.

"Come back in a kilocycle and we'll see whether you can get back to it again," said Nathan, all friendliness again.

"I'll do that," replied Michael, darkly, taking Ruth's arm and propelling them both outside.

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