• Extract – the first six chapters


    extract – the first six chapters

    by Chuck Ian Gordon

    a science fiction novel

    Version 1.7.52h_final_en




    The German National Library (Deutsche Nationalbibliothek) holds data about this book accessible via internet at: http://dnb.dnb.de



    a science fiction novel

    by Chuck Ian Gordon

    www.GameW0rldz.com, www.GameW0rldz.de, www.Gameworldz.de

    Published and copyright © by:
    Gordon’s Arcade, Triftstr. 30, 61350 Bad Homburg, Germany

    Website: www.GordonsArca.de

    Text Copyright © 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 by Chuck Ian Gordon
    Edited by: Ulrike Jonack

    Proofreading and German typesetting by Heinz W. Pahlke

    English Translation by Jan Wassermann-Fry

    English Proofreading by Oliver Fry

    All rights reserved.

    First published 2012 in Germany. First English edition 2013

    ISBN 978-3-944218-04-5 (eBook version)

    ISBN 978-3-944218-05-2 (Print version)

    Title cover, GameW0rldz logo and stock changes: © Chuck Ian Gordon, © Tobias Roetsch – www.gtgraphics.de

    used stock photos from www.fotolia.com:
    © #11320134 and #11521138 Paul Moore, #27780276 diter,

    #31341575 Jesse-lee-Lang, #36111736 katalinks

    Font in print version: Diavlo from Jos Buivenga ­ www.exljbris.com/diavlo.html

    GameW0rldz™, 3futurez™ and Gordon’s Arcade™
    are trademarks of Gordon’s Arcade

    This novel is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of the characters depicted in the story to actual persons, living or dead, or of events described here to actual events, is unintended and entirely coincidental.

    For B+J+A

    Foreword to the English edition of GameW0rldz

    Dear science fiction fan!


    You hold in your hands the result of three years of several people’s work and a considerable personal financial investment. Starting with a professional editor who herself loves and writes science-fiction, I was helped by a proofreader, a typesetter (for the print version), and an artist for the cover. And now GameW0rldz has been translated from German to English by a native speaker and proofread by another. And what for? Bragging? Well of course – or at least partially.

    Yet there are some reasons that are much more important. The first reason is the idea, the story behind GameW0rldz. Besides the flying cars, which I included for fun, all the content of the story is highly realistic from my point of view. I just extrapolated my experience as an IT professional including my own experiments with artificial neural networks. Which means the questions the story poses are realistic as well and wait to be answered by all of us.

    The second and most important reason is you. You, as science fiction enthusiast, are interested in our future. And you have the power to change the world for the better. I encourage you to do so. And this is why I’ve put so much effort into my work. Because you are worth it, because you can make a difference.

    Finally I want you to have lots of fun reading this novel, which I intentionally designed to be like a Hollywood action movie in written form. I hope the motion picture comes alive in your head. If you like it, please spread the word. If you dislike it, please tell me what I could do to improve it. Either way I appreciate your feedback.

    Now, enjoy reading and then go, change the world and build a better future for all of us.


    Yours sincerely

    Chuck Ian Gordon, December 8th 2013

    P.S.: As my part of changing the future I am actively working on the sequel to GameW0rldz – called 3futurez. Besides the novel it will be produced as a real holodeck musical. Stay up-to-date by checking out www.3futurez.com


    Prologue: Quest

    The night sky’s moon and stars caused silver reflections on the desert river’s gently rippling surface. The last glow of sunset faded on the horizon and then the darkness was complete. The day’s heat slowly made way for a fresh wind blowing from the distant mountains. A palm-lined river snaked its way through the desert, past an Egyptian-style temple shaped like a pyramid with stone pillars on its porch. The temple’s front was lit up by a path leading from the river to the entrance with twin rows of torches on either side of it, as well as the fires that burned in two enormous copper bowls.

    None of the four men guarding the temple’s entrance paid any heed to the tree trunk slowly floating downriver, nor to the five heads that were hiding behind it. The tree trunk slowly drifted towards the palm tree-covered riverbank near the temple in a soft arc. Under cover of darkness, five silhouettes rose from the water. The parched desert sand instantly absorbed any water droplets without a sound.

    Taking the group’s lead was the Herculean warrior, Haran. Dancing flames reflected faintly off his formidable helmet and armor of leather and steel. A few steps behind was Natasha, the bewitching battlemage, dressed in a stunning, rune-decorated robe that left little to the imagination with its mixture of low-cut dress and armor elements. She held a long wand in her right hand. Sneaking behind those two was Yicca, the cunning thief, with a short sword in each hand and plainer leather armor, but lined with knives and a selection of secret compartments, as well as multicolored ropes that were painted pitch-black by the darkness. Bringing up the rear were Martan and Zerbos, two warriors who knew each other from way before. They had joined the party of heroes at a tavern in a nearby village. Both wore chain mail and carried shield, ax and helmet. The heroes’ mission was to find a magical artifact that was said to be stowed deep within the vaults beneath the temple.

    Hidden from view by the palm trees, five shadows slipped along the right-hand wall of the temple, ready to subdue any guards. Having covered half the distance, a sudden noise from the river caused them to halt. A boat had just landed at the stone pier in front of the temple, and now an ominous-looking figure was hurrying towards the guards. A silver trident protruded from where the left hand should have been. The long cloak exuded an evil, black aura, highlighted only by the trident that glittered and a pale, bald head.

    “Damnit!” whispered Haran. “Just what we needed. That’s Gorth, the Dark Armies’ second-in-command. According to legend, Gorth lost his hand in a fight against a mighty sea monster. His powers are not that strong, but his cunning is beyond belief. If he’s personally guarding the temple, we can be sure it’ll be well-defended.”

    Gorth walked up to one of the guards, who stood rigidly to attention, exchanged a few words, and then he vanished into the temple.

    “Alright then,” Haran whispered. “We’ll do it as follows: Yicca, you climb to the top of the pyramid and surprise the guards from above. Meanwhile, Martan and Zerbos sneak around the temple and come at them from the left, while Natasha and I attack from the right. But you must wait for the signal – the usual birdcall.”

    Yicca nodded with a smile. They continued silently creeping through the palm grove until they had to part ways, Yicca proceeding to climb up the steep stone wall, Natasha and Haran briefly waiting out of sight behind the corner of the temple, and Zerbos and Martan sneaking on further around the back of the temple.

    “Looks like it’ll be more interesting than we first thought,” whispered Natasha in Haran’s ear with a smile.

    This caused him to raise an eyebrow and ask himself: ‘How could anyone draw enjoyment from such a dangerous mission?’ This lack of concern often astounded him about Natasha. Sometimes he felt it was all just a game to her.

    Yicca was already above the entrance; the other two were still behind the temple. A sudden scream cut through the nocturnal silence, and a pile of stones came crashing down next to the entrance, shortly followed by a frantically flailing Yicca. He hit the ground at the four guards’ feet, causing a cloud of dust to rise from where he lay. Haran’s mouth was agape in surprise. The guards drew their sabers and surrounded the motionless thief. Instinctively, Haran reacted, and stormed at the guards with an angry roar. With a metallic rasping sound he drew his massive two-handed greatsword and raised it high above his head in preparation for his first blow. The other temple guards watched in horror as the guard closest to Haran was cleaved in two in the blink of an eye.

    “Natasha, I could do with some help here,” called Haran, while pummeling the second guard’s skull. A bolt of lightning caught the third guard from the side and threw him to ground. The fourth guard backed away and tripped over Yicca, who still lay where he had fallen. The guard ended up flat on his back. Haran sprang forward and thrust his swordstraight through the guard’s chest.

    Silence reigned once more. Yicca stood up in a daze, just as Martan and Zerbos came running over.

    “Weren’t we supposed to wait for a signal?” Martan asked, trying to catch his breath.

    Smirking, Natasha replied: “The master of misfortune over here decided to alter our plan a little. Now let’s get going!”

    “Sorry about that”, Yicca muttered. “Some of the stones were loose.”

    “Like screws are loose in your head”, Martan suggested.

    Natasha decided to intervene: “Now stop it! We don’t have time for this!”

    She gave Yicca her hand and helped him up. Then they followed the others into the temple. The group stormed down a long flight of stone steps. Yicca rummaged in his pouch and swore under his breath – blood was running down his arm. He pulled out a round bottle of red liquid. He took a deep swig as he ran and a magic, reddish glow brieflyenveloped him. Even as he stowed the bottle away, the wound on his arm started closing.

    The room at the bottom of the steps was about 50 foot by 50 foot with arches supported by pillars to the right and left. At the other end of the room was a further descending flight of steps blocked by only two guards. The heroes smirked at one another while approaching the defenders. One of the guards activated a stone lever on the wall behind him.

    With a loud grinding noise, the walls on either side of the pillars slid down to expose two additional chambers, each filled with around thirty different warriors of various types and classes. There were uniformed human soldiers with snake- and hawk-like helmets, troll-like monsters with yellow skin, dog-like beings that walked on two legs and a number of terrifying, turquoise-shimmering ghosts in rags.

    “This doesn’t look too good!” mumbled Yicca, as sixty or so stinking, growling figures staggered closer. Swords clashed and battle commenced. Natasha raised her wand and shot bluish bolts of lightning into the throng. The other heroes used their blades to deadly effect. Seconds later, ten, maybe twelve, attackers had been neutralized, but the five of them had also suffered their first injuries. Natasha took a sip of blue liquid from a round bottle and once her body had briefly glowed a magic blue, her wand directed more lightning bolts at the crowd in front of her.

    “This is taking too long, there are just too many!” she yelled.

    The attackers regrouped and formed a big circle around the handful of heroes, careful to stay just out of reach of Haran’s greatsword. Slowly and cautiously they came nearer, step by step.

    Natasha bent down and removed a short, jagged dagger from the grasp of a dead guard lying face down. Haran gave his pretty companion a baffled look. Her delicate fingers twisted the dagger’s handle and all of a sudden, a glowing, semi-transparent rectangle with letters and digits appeared out of thin air right in front of her. Natasha scrolled through program code, swiftly removed a few letters here, added a few words there and changed some of the numbers.

    Heroes and attackers alike followed this strange scene with sheer incredulity.

    “Finished,” Natasha said sweetly. She smiled for a second or two, then turned the handle back again, making the window with program code disappear. With a powerful swing, the arcane mage threw the dagger up in the air. A metallic clink was heard where it struck the ceiling and became lodged. Then she shouted, “Down guys!” and the five companions threw themselves to the ground. It was none too soon. A circular, bright-green poison nova shot out from the dagger above their heads and spread towards the terrified group of attackers, killing every single one within seconds.

    Then all was quiet, apart from a little sizzling emanating from the charred remains of their enemies. The two guards by the stairway also lay on the floor motionless and unnaturally contorted.

    Haran inspected the devastation around him. “What was that?” he asked.

    “Neat, don’t you think?” Natasha grinned back at him. “Well, that’s something I’m pretty good at.”

    Haran shrugged as if to shake off a daze, and stood up slowly. His gaze wandered to the unremarkable dagger lodged in the ceiling.

    Dumb-struck, Yicca also came over and asked, “What was that glowing rectangle with writing inside? I’ve never seen anything like it.”

    Zerbos, on the other hand, stood by and appeared quite unimpressed.

    “Come on, guys,” Natasha tried to appease them. “That was just a bit of… you know… magic. You’ve seen that before.”

    “This was about more than just magic. What exactly did you do there?” asked Haran, looking her squarely in the eye.

    She tried to evade his gaze and took a step backward.

    Martan threw in, “Hey, lady! That was one bad-ass hack! If the admin gets wind of that, you’re sure to get kicked out.”

    “And, who’s gonna tell them? You?” Natasha asked provocatively.

    “Depends… what’s it worth?” he replied.

    “Well, let’s have a look here… your username is Martan. Your real name is Martin Duvall. You’re still at school. Here’s the number of your online bank account… oh, I’ve got an idea! I’ll order fifteen boxes of diapers in your name. They should arrive tomorrow morning at your parents’ house… how does that sound?”

    “Sorry lady, I didn’t mean it like that. Of course, I’ll keep my mouth shut.”

    “Be thankful that we’re letting you play with us. Watch and learn!”

    Martan lowered his head in embarrassment and kept silent.

    “What are you talking about over there? What’s going on?” asked Haran.

    Natasha looked over at Haran and Yicca with a frown and replied: “Ask me again later on. Let’s keep on going for now. We were trying to steal an artifact, were we not?”

    Haran nodded thoughtfully and slowly walked past her towards the descending stairs. Natasha breathed a sigh of relief and then followed him. The other three also fell in step.

    The second flight of stone stairs was almost twice as long as the first. The room below was only half as large as the last and had smooth, plain stone walls lit up by torches. Four stone statues in traditional Egyptian costume were located in the corners. Each guarded the chamber with a khopesh, the traditional Egyptian sickle-sword, and an oblong shield. In the middle of the room stood a chest-high pillar, with four golden levers on top. Beside it, with a diabolic expression on his face, stood Gorth, whom they had previously seen in front of the temple.

    He started speaking in a slow, hoarse whisper; his voice as hard to define as the darkness emanating from his robes. “You have come a long way, but this shall be the end of your quest.” As if in slow-motion, he pulled one of the four levers towards himself with a loud squeaking noise. The eyes of the four statues lit up a dangerous red, and their stone bodies sluggishly started moving.

    With a touch of panic in his voice, Yicca asked, “Does anyone have any ideas on how to crack these rocks?”

    “This one’s too tough for my longsword,” Haran informed them out of the corner of his mouth.

    Sighing, Natasha dug around in her bag, and pulled out a scroll, unfolding it with a single motion, and remarked, “Desperate times call for desperate measures.”

    The runes on the scroll lit up and red lightning hit each of the four stone warriors square in the chest. With a loud crunch, all four abruptly stopped moving. Seconds of silence ensued, then cracking stone was audible from within all four statues: their shields, khopeshes, heads, arms and legs all broke off almost at once. Dust started trickling out from the cracks; within moments the proud pharaoh warriors were nothing but heaps of fine sand.

    Yicca gave Gorth a cheeky grin and asked, “You’ve gotta be kidding. Was that all you’ve got?”

    With a malevolent smile, Gorth pulled the second lever. Instantaneously, the left wall slid upwards with a scraping sound and gave way to three muscle-bound, bald warriors with pitch-black skin and furious, bulging white eyes. Yicca’s grin turned to terror as the first gargantuan came running at him, murderously swinging a mace. Then everything happened at once. Eight bodies performed a deadly dance with one another. The three muscle-bound warriors fell, but also managed to take out Zerbos before they expired. The remaining four heroes lined up in front of Gorth.

    An exhausted Yicca panted, “You’ve gotta be kidding. Was that all you’ve got?”

    “Yicca, be quiet!” Haran snapped at him. With a sinister expression, Gorth pulled the third lever. As it slid upward, the right-hand wall made a grinding noise. The ground shook as a massive paw stomped into the room. The paw was followed by a twelve-foot tall lion body with a human face and Egyptian headdress. Two gigantic paws with razor-sharp claws started tearing into the heroes. The dance of death went into its final round. A body was flung across the room: Martan’s ribs broke like toothpicks when he hit the back wall. The dance lasted a few more heartbeats, then the titan-sized body collapsed, crushing two solid stone plates where its dead flesh hit the ground. Then there were three.

    Breathlessly, Yicca blurted out, “ You’ve gotta be kidding. Was that all you’ve got?”

    Haran screamed, “Damnit, Yicca!”

    Natasha elucidated, “Put a sock in it!”

    Gorth’s smile had disappeared. With a sudden jerk, he pulled the last lever and a small door at the back opened up, giving them access to a new chamber. “You win,” croaked Gorth. “The artifact is yours.”

    Eyeing him suspiciously, the three stepped closer. Haran lifted his sword, ready to deliver the death blow.

    “Please,” Gorth begged, and fell to his knees. “Have mercy! Truly, if you show me mercy, I shall never forget it!”

    Natasha shouted, “Finish him, Haran. Without the coward, this world will be rid of one villain and we get a whole bunch of points.”

    “What points do we get?” asked Yicca.

    Haran took a deep breath, then let it all out again and lowered his sword. “No, we’re not like the Dark Armies. We won’t act like them either.”

    With that he stepped past Gorth into the chamber with the artifact. Natasha joined him, and so did Yicca, though remaining careful not to turn his back on Gorth for a second.

    Once all three of them had stepped into the chamber, Gorth suddenly pushed the lever forward and the stone door fell shut before anyone had time to react. They were locked in.

    “What a scumbag!” screamed Natasha.

    Then they heard a creaking mechanism and felt the ground beneath their feet falling away. All three of them froze. The three prisoners looked around frantically. The chamber had a square layout. The ground was a little elevated in the middle as the tiles made a kind of stairway. In the center stood a chest-high pillar with a golden helmet on top – it was the artifact they had come for.

    Click, click, click… every time it clicked, the entire floor sank a little lower. Holes opened up in the wall, and red-hot steaming lava started to pour into the chamber, submerging the lowest steps within instants.

    Yicca leapt aside with a scream. Terror was written in all three faces. Haran reached the top steps in two giant leaps, tore the artifact off its pillar, and called to Yicca, “Quick – a way out!”

    The next step was engulfed by lava.

    Natasha had reached Haran and was holding on to his powerful arm.

    Desperately Yicca rummaged around in his pouch, and dropped a red bottle on the tiling. Then he pulled out a scroll and unfolded it with jittering fingers. He was shaking so much, he managed to drop the scroll into the searing lava. The parchment was immediately consumed. “That was my last one,” the unfortunate thief complained as he staggered up the remaining stairs.

    The lava ate through the next step. Only five remained.

    Haran freed himself from Natasha’s hold and hastily searched his own pouch. His hand pulled out a scroll, but he shook his head as it was not the one he was looking for.

    Hissing lava washed over the next step: only four left.

    He carried on searching and held out another scroll. That was the one.

    The lava crept higher. Its heat was making the air shimmer.

    Haran opened his scroll too quickly and tore it in half. “Damn,” he cried. “What are the chances?”

    Natasha rolled her eyes and exclaimed, “Oh dear, come on boys!” She positioned herself with her feet apart on the top step, raised her arms in the air and loudly spoke some words from another world. There was a bright flash directly in front of them and a magic energy portal appeared. The spitting lava swallowed up the third-to-last step.

    “Natasha, you first!” Haran roared and the arcane mage jumped through the doorway. Yicca followed closely behind. Haran pushed himself off the pillar at the last moment, just as the lava seized the top step. He passed through a tunnel of rotating, pulsating light and a few moments later found himself next to his two companions, just by the big runestone of his village. “That was a little too close for comfort,” he growled at Yicca.

    Natasha closed the magic portal with a wave of her hand. The sun had already begun to rise. Exhausted, the three adventurers stumbled down the hill towards the fog-covered houses of the village. All things considered, three of the five had made it out alive, and they had succeeded in getting the loot in their possession. Now it was the time to relax, haggle and celebrate.

    Act I. – Game Worlds

    Part 1 Dubious Reality


    The scent of freshly made coffee and cookies filled the room. The hemispherical window wall offered a view of the surrounding skyscrapers; today they were covered in thread-like mist. Edward Wilson, the company’s CEO, briefly interrupted his welcome speech to clear his throat. He walked from the display wall to the massive, dark conference table, grabbed his cup of coffee and took a sip of Jamaica Blue Mountain. Then Wilson stroked his perfectly smooth chin, removed some fluff from his fine, black suit and, happy that the tickle in his throat had subsided, proceeded with his address: “Not everyone is mutually acquainted, so I will just introduce each of you. First of all, I’d like to introduce my secretary Gina; she will be doing the minutes here today and will make sure we leave nothing out. Next I’d like you to meet General Thomas Hubert Humphrey. He is here on behalf of our primary sponsor, the US Army. And this is Major Miles Damion Hark, also from the US Army. As per General Humphrey’s request, he is in charge of the Black Team. Major Hark is being supported by the gentleman with the gray beard – Morgan Taylor – one of the world’s top specialists on artificial intelligence. And finally, sitting here right beside me, is Dr. Paul Kelly, who leads the White Team. Morgan Taylor, Dr. Kelly and I started this company together many years ago.”

    Ed Wilson paused for a moment and put his hand on the shoulder of his old friend Paul Kelly, who appeared not even to notice.

    Wilson continued, “General Humphrey, I’m pleased you recently took over our project from General White, now happily enjoying his well-deserved retirement, or so I hear. As you know, our company is active in various sectors. We have our roots in the online gaming sector, where many years ago we developed the best simple AIs, that is to say artificial intelligences, that the market had to offer. This was in order to have non-player characters act as intelligently as possible. This is how our business sector Artificial General Intelligence, aka Strong AI, came into being. We programmed cutting-edge neural networks, which can nowadays be found in software systems around the world: in business intelligence systems that search for trends between gigantic, chaotic sets of data, in image and voice recognition software, and in household robots that interact with a mental capacity comparable to that of a human child.”

    Ed’s words were accompanied by a polished 3D slide show on the wall. It showed animations of artificial neural networks in cortical columns, household robots and graphic reports from business intelligence systems. His verbal delivery was perfectly timed with the visuals.

    Dr. Kelly’s eyes had a vacant look in them throughout the presentation… or at least so they appeared, as he was actually in the process of trying out his mental telephone, a brand-new innovation on the market. A small plate about a quarter the size of a credit card was attached to his temple. Two pinhead-sized hemispheres protruded from it, each of which contained a tiny camera that could record broadcastable 3D videos of the environment. The gadget tapped into his thoughts, or more specifically, his brainwaves, to control it. He could use it to navigate through menus, dial numbers and, through text-to-speech conversion, it was even able to decipher the words he was thinking and turn them into sound waves, for a conversation partner to hear. In order for him to receive video, the built-in ocular transmitter sent targeted radio signals as direct impulses onto Paul’s retina. You just had to keep your eye relatively steady, otherwise the image became a little fuzzy for a second. Similarly, radio signals were aimed at his inner ear, so that he was able to receive the audio from his conversation partner. Paul was ringing his wife Sabrina Kelly on the home number. She had some time off work and accepted the video call on the big display wall in the kitchen. She was sitting at the kitchen table preparing food; her long red hair almost reached the table. He loved seeing her wear her wonderful hair loose.

    “Hi Paul, are you using your new mental phone?”

    “Yes, honey, I’m just sitting in a dull conference with our project sponsor. Please find a way to distract me.”

    Sabrina rewarded him with a bewitching smile. How incredibly pretty she was. Paul smiled at the air in front of him, luckily nobody seemed to take any notice.

    Ed Wilson was still busy elaborating: “A few years ago, we started a very successful cooperation with the government and the military. The advanced neural networks, that were formed then, automatically monitor telephone conversations, pilot unmanned aerial drones and analyze Internet articles for possible dangers to our national security. Over the past five years, we’ve even gone a step further with the US Army, in form of our joint project: Homunculus. Our aim is to produce complex strategic and tactical intelligences suited for the military. In a military environment you need to be able to handle unforeseen circumstances; we wouldn’t wanna find out our products do not work when the chips are down.”

    The general and the major laughed quietly and nodded. Yes, Ed was certainly a good entertainer.

    “That is why we have chosen a number of environments for our intelligences,” he continued, “where unexpected influences are a primary and desired component. And this is also where the circle closes and we arrive back at our roots. During the past five years we have let one hundred highly-developed artificial intelligences grow up in twenty different online gaming worlds, where they face unforeseen events due to more primitive light-weight AIs and, more importantly, real human players. Of the hundred AIs, sixty-seven have survived these five years: a very respectable figure I might add. We have split up these advanced AIs into two project teams, the White Team and the Black Team. Dr. Paul Kelly heads up the White Team and will now give us some more details and an idea on where we currently stand.”

    All eyes turned to Dr. Kelly, but he just sat there, smiling at nothing in particular.

    Seconds passed without a reaction, until Ed hissed, “Paul, your report!”

    Paul Kelly winced and, realizing his error, his face turned dark red. Hastily he terminated the call by tapping the small plate on his forehead and pulled a semi-transparent glass pad out of the inner pocket of his suit.

    He aimed the pad at the wall, replacing Ed’s presentation with his own.

    The wall showed two groups. The one to the left was light-colored; the one on the right was dark.

    Paul cleared his throat. “Please accept my apologies,” he began. “Our team division is based on the observation that any organization is based on two main principles. Either they are cooperative and symbiotic in nature or they are confrontational and based on survival of the strongest. Of course, there are also hybrid forms. But these two extremes can be found throughout history in one form or another, in every culture and every era. They appear under many different names: collegiality and competition, fraternization and strife, white magic and its dark side.

    In the one extreme, agents cooperate, help one another and build trusting and reciprocal relationships. We allocated fifty AIs to this side, which we decided to label the White Team. The other fifty AIs are under the Black Team’s supervision, led by Major Hark. Here White does not signify good or Black bad. They are just two fundamentally different philosophies for directing groups, organizations, companies and states: cooperation or confrontation. We wanted to find out which environment and which of the two approaches, cooperation or confrontation, would be most conducive to the development and subsequent military deployment of an artificial intelligence. Thus our fifty White AIs and our fifty Black AIs were distributed across twenty different game worlds, which means there are a number of White and Black AIs living on each world at the same time. They can interact with one another, cooperate with one another, and, of course, fight with one another. On the White Team, there are still 29 AIs active in the various game worlds. For example, in science fiction environments in space, in contemporary city simulations, in gangster-themed game worlds and in medieval fantasy environments. This is where I would like to introduce you to our greatest success: a warrior from a little village.”

    An image of Haran was shown on the screen, beside him a mage resembling Dr. Kelly and a third figure.

    “The unhappy-looking fellow with a broken saber in the background is the unfortunate Yicca, also an AI. I’m the character on the right, Kellian the Mage, and am standing next to Haran. I am his mentor and confidant. He has developed some truly impressive abilities.,not only regarding tactical raids, but also in his social environment. He is highly intelligent, very interested in his environment and thinks and plans in the long run.”

    “Dr. Kelly,” General Humphrey interrupted him suddenly. “We’ve moved on from beating one another over the head with clubs. We lead the world’s most advanced army and our soldiers are high-tech specialists. I’m here to ensure that the many millions the military has invested in this project over the last five years will bear a usable result soon. I don’t care what kind of a social environment your software has developed. I’m much more interested in seeing how quickly these intelligences are able to pilot robot soldiers, so that we can take our boys out of the line of fire. I’m interested in when these AIs can assist our officers with strategic and tactical issues. I’m interested in seeing some results!”

    “Well,” Paul Kelly was struggling for words. “Our progress is encouraging, but it’s still too early to provide you with an exact date.”

    “Too early to give me an exact date after five friggin’ years?” General Humphrey’s voice got louder.

    Morgan Taylor spoke up, “The Grass doesn’t grow any faster if you pull at it, General.”

    Humphrey was appalled by the sudden interruption; he stared at Taylor as if he were shell-shocked.

    Major Hark stepped in, “Fortunately, Sir, the Black Team, for which I personally assigned the brilliant – albeit somewhat outspoken – Mr. Taylor, is able to provide a much more definitive time frame.” Pulling his own pad out from his uniform, he pressed a button, replacing the presentation on screen with red-gridded maps showing large black areas and smaller white patches. “The Black Team’s AIs have developed incredible tactical and strategic abilities. Equipped with a strong desire to conquer and high aggression, they have so far managed to gain control of 73 per cent of all countries or areas in the twenty game worlds. In the next few months, they will be ready for military deployment in robots. In contrast to our flower power friends over here, we have an exact schedule that we will stick to. Further details can be found in my report, Sir.”

    A short silence ensued. Then General Humphrey stood up and began to speak: “Mr. Wilson, I am pleased to see that this project has at least made headway in certain respects. That was also the reason the military insisted on Major Hark leading one of your project teams. We expect AIs that are ready for use in reality in exactly six months, not a day later. If, by then, you have no results to show, I’ll pull the plug on your little project and will hand the matter over to our legal team as a rescinded agreement. I’m sure such an outcome would also have negative consequences on any other projects in which your company is cooperating with the military.”

    Then, smiling, he turned to Major Hark and said, “Major, I am certain you will go about your responsibilities with the utmost commitment to the US Army’s interests.”

    With purpose in his step, Humphrey walked to the door Gina hastily opened for him. On the way out, he murmured: “Good day to you, gentlemen.”

    Major Hark stood up and followed the general to the door. Before he left, he turned around and motioned to Morgan Taylor, “Taylor, you will accompany me. We have a lot to do, if we want to save this project.”

    Morgan Taylor replied: “I’ll be right there, I just need to discuss something with Mr. Wilson first.”

    Gina followed Hark out of the room and closed the door. Ed Wilson, Morgan Taylor and Paul Kelly were alone.

    Dr. Kelly turned to Ed Wilson and was finally able to speak his mind, “Major Hark and General Humphrey don’t have the faintest idea what intelligence actually is, be it artificial or of any other kind. Why do you let Hark wander around here with such arrogance and why let him put you under such pressure?”

    Ed Wilson sank into one of the comfortable leather armchairs and replied, “Paul, I understand your point of view, but the military is sponsoring this project and our company has a lot at stake here. You just heard the man. There’s nothing we can do, they’ve saddled us with Major Hark. Anyways, it would actually be quite good if you managed to get somewhere with your AIs – and now we have a deadline.”

    Paul Kelly tried a different route, “I need Morgan back in my team to make faster progress.”

    “Paul’s got a point, Ed,” Morgan Taylor added. “I can’t get any proper work done since you put me in with Major Hark. Let me go back to Paul’s group. Then the White Team would be better off again.”

    Ed answered gravely, “I’m sorry, Morgan. It’s not about teams anymore. Major Hark explicitly asked for your assistance. And at this point in time, he would undoubtedly run straight to General Humphrey. My hands are tied.”

    Dr. Kelly looked exasperated, “But Ed, this isn’t what we’d imagined anymore. Back then, the three of us had a completely different idea about the evolution of digital life. Just remember why we founded this company! What the military wants to do with it is, as usual, dumb and just plain wrong. They’re only interested in making more advanced weapons for new wars that nobody needs. I’m here to create life, not destroy it.”

    “The fact of the matter is that they’re paying for this project. And whoever pays, decides. If we put up with this and can deliver a satisfactory result, then we can resume working on our dream again. Morgan, please help us make this compromise a success.”

    Major Hark’s voice was audible through the loudspeaker: “Taylor, in my office… immediately!”

    Morgan looked up angrily. “Some compromises are unacceptable, Ed. And you’ve gotta know when it’s time to clear the field and stop, before you do the opposite of what you wanna do.” With a bold gesture, he swung open the double-doors and stormed through.

    Ed Wilson followed Morgan and said to Dr. Kelly as he was leaving, “We need results, Paul. Results – and quickly.”

    The Rift

    The short, high-pitched digital sounds were answered by a brisk “Enter”. The automatic door slid open and Morgan Taylor stepped into the small, windowless office of Major Miles Hark. Some military awards were visible on the wall behind the desk. The desk was empty apart from the semi-transparent computer, shaped like the sector of a sphere. Its operating controls were located in the equally semi-transparent glass surface of his desk. Displays showing project schedules and graphics concerning various artificial intelligences hung on the walls.

    “What’s up?” asked Taylor with an irritated tone as he made himself comfortable in the visitor’s chair. Major Hark took the virtual reality glasses of his nose and laid them on the desk. They were a light-weight, see-through set of glasses that allowed him to enhance his field of vision by superimposing additional information and three-dimensional graphics. It also enabled him to escape into 3D worlds entirely, in other words: both augmented reality and virtual reality in one. “Damnit Taylor, I thought I’d told you to increase the rate of aggression of those five AIs in the Science Fiction World. Why hasn’t it been done? Instead you’ve been wasting most of your time with the other team and their AIs. What the hell’s wrong with you? You heard the general, we’ve only got six months left and the Black Team is definitely going to win this race.”

    “Why don’t you replace your damnit with a Mr.? Maybe then I’ll respond to your question.”

    Major Hark gave Taylor an angry stare, but nevertheless replied: “Mr. Taylor… please answer my question. What the hell’s wrong with you?”

    “Well, Major, you want these AIs to find creative solutions to problems. Unfortunately aggression and true creativity just happen to be mutually exclusive, as is clearly demonstrated by your military.”

    “You don’t have a very high opinion of the military, do you Mr. Taylor?”

    “With all respect, you don’t know a goddamn thing about the subject. You assume you can bark a few orders and abracadabra, the laws of physics change just for you.”

    “I’m warning you, Mr. Taylor. You’re on this team because you have some incredible abilities in terms of neural network architecture and training. But my patience with your misplaced arrogance is beginning to wear thin.”

    Taylor was close to exploding. With his right hand he desperately grabbed hold of his left underarm to avoid totally losing his mind and held his breath for a couple of seconds. All of a sudden, his facial features relaxed, and he laughed out loud. Hark backed away in bafflement. Taylor’s laugh gradually died down and he breathed out deeply.

    “Major Hark,” said Morgan Taylor, with a faint smile on his lips. “I am tired of working for a knucklehead, who sees a threat behind every corner and is only concerned with the best way to create a monster from something sweet. This goes against everything I believed in when I co-founded this company and also against what I believe in today. However, just now I realized I don’t have to put up with it anymore. From now on, you can play your Dr. Frankenstein on your own because I’m stepping down with immediate effect. Farewell Major, and I wish you every possible success!”

    Head held high and grinning, Morgan Taylor left the room through the automatic door. He’d not felt that liberated in a long time. As the door slid shut, Major Hark sat at his desk, lost for words. He took a while to comprehend what exactly had just happened and what the consequences might be of losing his team’s best AI specialist. His expression turned sour, mirroring his mood. He slammed his fist on the table. The tabletop creaked loudly and a large crack appeared across its entire surface. Hark had to vent his frustration, “Damn this shit!”

    When he looked around his room for something to destroy, he noticed a red light blinking on his display wall next to the rotating three-dimensional head of an avatar. The name below it said “Zarco”.

    Hark clenched both his fists to regain an element of control. Then he grabbed his VR glasses and sat back in his seat as he immersed himself into virtual reality. He gave the computer a verbal command: “Teleport me to Zarco!”

    Gorth’s Punishment

    Even during the day, dark clouds surrounded the black castle of Zarco, Lord of the Dark Armies. Every so often lightning raked down at the castle that stood atop a desolate mountain, as if attempting to illuminate it. Individual towers jutted out from the gray-black walls like sharp spikes. Extended from these were torn and shredded flags that bore Zarco’s crest, a red bolt of lightning over a black background. The oppressed population saw the reddish glow emanating from the dark walls as evil magic, an enchantment to protect the castle from would-be attackers. The high, Gothic-style windows were armed above and below with stone teeth, giving each the impression of a dangerous predator, just waiting to sink its fangs into any unsolicited visitors.

    In a blazing flash, Major Hark materialized in one of the few rooms with a balcony, directly below one of the highest dragon scale-decorated roofs of the castle. Hark’s avatar used his crooked stick for support and wore a long, dark hooded robe, decorated with red and silver runes. Zarco, who knew him as his court sorcerer and mentor Harkon, was already waiting for him. He stood with his back to Harkon and beckoned him to approach.

    “Gorth has failed me once again, Harkon. His life is now forfeit. I will make him suffer, and then end his miserable existence.”

    Hark could not afford to let Zarco kill Gorth, as this would mean losing yet another artificial intelligence in the experiment. Yes, Zarco was his greatest achievement among all the artificial intelligences. Wild, aggressive and difficult to control, but incredibly successful when taking his armies into battle. He thought feverishly of how he might sway Zarco from his plan. Eventually he spoke up:

    “Gorth needs to be punished, I admit. But the stars have foretold me that he is to play an important role in what is yet to come.”

    “Is that so?”

    Zarco’s voice reflected the anger written in his face as he turned towards the door and called to his guards, “Bring him in!”

    The double-doors swung open and Gorth was thrown into the room under heavy protest. Zarco towered over him menacingly in his dark ironclad armor, adorned with metal spikes and intricate decorations that glowed in a hypnotic red. His armor and the shredded-looking cape gave off a horrible darkness, even more so than Gorth’s cloak. Zarco’s ghostly long, white hair and smoothly shaven, pale face formed a stark contrast to his prominent cheekbones, disfigured by an old scar. The most striking thing, however, were his eyes. They were like two large glass marbles filled with fluorescent blue liquid and sometimes it even seemed as if something were swimming around in his skull behind those disturbing eyes.

    His pupil-less eyes glared at Gorth. “So you let someone steal the magic helmet I had personally entrusted to you. We had been planning to use it to carry out a very important operation. You know that I cannot tolerate failure among those who serve me.” With the back of his right hand, he slapped Gorth in the face, knocking him flying halfway across the room.

    “This sacrilege would normally have cost you your life. But my Court Sorcerer Harkon has prophesied that you are yet to play an important role and will still be of some use to us. That is why I will not end your life today… but this error may not go unpunished. “

    Zarco stepped onto the balcony and called out, “Come here, both of you!”

    Harkon and Gorth stepped onto the balcony, from where they could see far into the country, with its fields and villages, forests and lakes. The closer to the castle you looked, the drearier everything appeared.

    Zarco spoke to his sorcerer, “Make a red light appear in the clouds.” Major Hark did not know Zarco’s intentions; he let his avatar summon a red ball of fire and hurl it at the clouds nonetheless. The fireball left a long trail of smoke, and where it disappeared into the clouds, they glowed red.

    “That,” Zarco whispered in Gorth’s ear, “was the sign for my men to burn down your village and every single person residing there.”

    Gorth’s face filled with dread and he begged Zarco to stop: “Please don’t! Those people have served me… us, with all their heart, fought for us bravely and followed, respected and honored us in every way possible. Please spare my people! Please spare my family!”

    Harkon stood beside them and bit his lips. The Dark Lord’s actions were becoming more and more extreme and ever more difficult to control.

    Zarco glared at Gorth: “Your people must now pay for your mistake. Learn from this. Your next mistake will be your last. Do not make another one!” Then he walked back into the room and towards the door. As he left he turned around and called, “Harkon, follow me. We need to discuss a battle plan.”

    Reluctantly Harkon followed.

    Only Gorth remained on the balcony, watching in horror as the flames grew taller and spread to other houses, until the whole village was alight. Shivering, he held onto the railing, to keep himself from collapsing, and gasped for air. He could not turn away from the tormenting image. For the first time in his life, tears ran down Gorth’s cheeks.

    Picture Postcards

    The fog in Haran’s village gradually gave way to the rising sun. Some shady-looking characters were hanging about near the fountain, close to the gnarled, old tree, in the middle of the village square. The metallic sound of regular hammering could be heard coming from the blacksmith’s.

    Yicca was inspecting the loot they had acquired: knives, gloves, two cheap amulets and a few coins some vanquished enemies had dropped. Then he grinned and said, “To the tavern! This ought to be celebrated.”

    “You go on ahead,” Haran answered. “I still need to discuss something with Natasha.”

    Yicca took a bow and strolled towards the inn.

    Natasha looked warily over to the figures in the square, and then took Haran aside.

    “Let’s go over there between those two houses, Haran. I don’t want half the village watching us.”

    They walked between two houses with thatched roofs that touched the ground. From the one side they could see part of the village square, on the other loomed the hill with the runestone that enabled them to teleport to and from. Haran stood with his back to the village square and Natasha in front of him, so nobody could see what was going on between them. Natasha furtively looked over her shoulder, then asked Haran to show her the ornament. Haran handed her the helmet. She examined the headpiece then spoke: “Fascinating. I’m intrigued what magical qualities it may possess.”

    Haran frowned and slowly shook his head.

    “Judging by what I saw last night, I don’t think you need anything like that. You can turn simple knives into powerful magical weapons. How did you do it and what was that box with strange symbols inside it? I have seen the letters before, but their meaning is unknown to me.”

    Natasha lowered the helmet and avoided his gaze. Then she seemed to make a decision, nodded and looked up.

    “You’re right. To be honest I have all sorts of cheats up my sleeve. But then it wouldn’t be half as fun. But what surprises me is that you picked up on it.”

    She scrutinized him and looked above his head, where a heads-up display provided her with some additional information, invisible to Haran.

    “You’re an NPC, and yet I feel as though I am talking to a real person.”

    “What’s an NPC?”

    “A Non-Player-Character, in other words a computer program”, she paused in astonishment. “You shouldn’t even be able to ask that!”

    Haran noticed how awkward the situation had become for her, so he changed the subject: “If I remember correctly, I think you wanted to give me something for the loot we acquired.”

    Natasha perked up again.

    “Oh, yes! Sure.”

    Attached to the belt of her robe was a pouch Haran had not noticed before. She searched through it and passed him some photos. He saw a large statue on a pedestal on an island, a building by a river with a great clock tower , and set in a city an enormous tapering structure that looked as if made of scaffolding. Underneath the pictures he could read the words: “Statue of Liberty, New York”, “Big Ben, London” and “Eiffel Tower, Paris.”

    Fascinated, Haran inspected the pictures and beamed with joy.

    “This is incredible. And all you want for these is this lousy helmet?”

    She curled up her lips with unease, and sighed.

    “I already have a bad conscience ‘cos I’m always taking your valuables in exchange for this junk.”

    As if struck by lightning, Haran’s arms went limp, and he put down the pictures. He looked at her earnestly for a while before he replied in a calm, yet driven, voice: “These are not junk! These are pictures and artifacts from other worlds. For me they ARE valuable!”

    “Boy, you’re one unique program!”

    He smiled.

    “Listen Haran, I’ve got something for you. I think after all this time I owe you something,” she stated, handing him a mirror. “It’s a magic mirror. If you ever need anything from me, press the little crystal in the handle. Then you can see me in the mirror and we can talk with one another.”

    Haran’s smile turned into a wide grin.

    “Oh dear,” Natasha turned red. “Now I’m giving my mobile number to a computer program. There’s something wrong with me, isn’t there?”

    “I don’t understand all the words you’ve been using. Words like mobile number or computer program. But I don’t think there’s anything more wrong with you than with anybody else here.”

    An awkward silence suddenly lay between the two.

    “Eh, that is to say, of course I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you, Natasha. What I, err, meant is that so many people are strange here and that… you know…”

    Now it was Haran who felt embarrassed, but Natasha just answered with a broad grin. A high-pitched bell sounded completely out of the blue.

    “Whoops,” said Natasha, “that must be the pizza delivery. I’ve gotta go now. See you.”

    The interruption proved a convenient way for her to get herself out of an uncomfortable situation. Her body vanished with a flash.

    Haran was left, alone and confused. While gazing at the hill where the runestone stood, he tried to collect his thoughts. Just seconds later he heard the unmistakable sound of the stone being activated for teleportation, and then two new figures stepped out of the light.

    The Artifact Collection

    Dr. Kelly had donned his VR glasses and was logged onto the medieval gaming world. This time his wife Sabrina was accompanying him. She had been pressuring him for so long to meet this Haran fellow that he had eventually given in and was taking her along, even if that actually involved him sitting in the office and her at home. He was a little annoyed with himself, because Sabrina had known exactly how to wrap him around her little finger; he didn’t like it when others were in charge.

    Dr. Kelly entered the digital world in his usual outfit as Kellian the Mage, known to Haran as his friend and mentor. Kelly’s avatar was dressed in a red and gold-colored cape with a loose-fitting hood, all decorated with magnificent runes. Sabrina had informed him that she would join him in the form of an elven queen.

    Revolving, bright lights surrounded Paul Kelly. Then the twinkling faded and his avatar stood beside his wife’s enchantingly beautiful avatar near the runestone overlooking the medieval village.

    Sabrina Kelly’s avatar smiled, which made her pointed elf ears lift a little. The long red hair framing her pretty face fell easily over her silky white dress. It was covered with golden embroidery, golden broaches and rings that had been sewn into the fabric in various places. More jewelry could be found on her arms, legs and neck. Even her white leather boots were decorated with golden ornaments.

    They slowly descended the hill. As they approached the village, Paul Kelly spotted Haran, who stood between two huts and was looking in their direction.

    Kelly waved to Haran with his crooked wand. Haran returned the greeting and waited for his friend to approach.

    Once Kellian was a little closer, Haran spoke up, “Greetings, my friend Kellian. Who might your enchanting companion be?”

    “That’s uhm, Rina. She rules over a far-away elven tribe and, like myself, is schooled in the ways of magic. She is a very, very close friend.”

    Haran eyed Rina with interest, and then bowed:

    “A warm welcome to you! Any friend of Kellian’s is an honored guest. He has taught me many things, including clear and attentive observation. Today I must thank him twice over for that, as it makes your beauty twice as striking.”

    “Thanks for the charming compliment,” Rina answered with a winning smile. Kellian stood by next to them, not quite sure what to do with himself.

    Rina’s glance fell on the cards in Haran’s hand. “What’s that?” she asked.

    “Oh, nothing really. Just a few cards with pictures.”

    Haran was quick to stow them away in his armor, as if not wanting anyone to see them.

    Kellian turned to Haran: “In your last message you informed me that you had something to show me and that you wanted to discuss something important with me. That’s why I came here today. What is it you wanted?”

    “Oh yes,” he replied. “That’s right. It’s just…”

    Kellian looked a little confounded. Haran was not known for acting secretively.

    “It’s a little delicate,” Haran finally managed to utter.

    All at once Kellian understood, and gave Rina a meaningful look. She also caught on and started backing away, “I don’t want to keep you men from having your talk. I’ve uhm… got a few monsters to dispatch anyway. We’ll see each other again soon.”

    She glanced over at Kellian and winked at him without Haran being able to see. Then, with a bright flash, she vanished. She was not going to be fobbed off that easily, however. Dr. Kelly saw on his display that she was still there as an invisible spectator. He didn’t like it, but there was nothing he could do without Haran catching on. He took a deep breath, then said, “It’s just us now.”

    “I’m sorry, I didn’t want to drive your companion away.”

    “No, that’s okay. She understands that we want to discuss something personal. So what’s on your mind, Haran?”

    Haran moved a little closer, as if he thought someone might be listening in. “We should probably discuss this in my hut, where we can speak a little more openly.”

    Kellian had never seen such furtive behavior from Haran. He agreed and followed Haran through the village, outwardly calm, but inwardly exploding with curiosity. Haran’s hut lay a little isolated, on a small hill on the other side of the village. They entered a small, simple room with a table, four stools, a large wardrobe and a bed. Armor and helmets hung on the wall above his bed – trophies Kelly surmised. Above the door, on the opposite side of the room, hung a splendid round shield with various swords and spears protruding from behind it.

    “Welcome to my humble home. Please lock the door.”

    Haran offered Kellian a stool. He himself remained standing.

    “Well, now I’m curious.”

    “Thanks for coming here,” Haran began. “You have always been a good friend and teacher to me; you have taught me many things. Specifically in terms of looking for patterns and noticing little imperfections, because often they hide great secrets, traps or dangers.”

    “Yes, I uh, said that to you once. What are you getting at though?”

    “Jeez… it’s not so easy to explain. It’s about this world. This world here.”

    Kellian looked at Haran with anticipation.

    “Don’t you ever feel like something’s not quite right with this world?”

    “What ever do you mean?”

    “Well,” Haran tried to elucidate. “Some people act strange. Some of them seem dumb as nails. They say a few words, but everything repeats itself and if you ask about something specific, then they try to avoid the subject. You can’t speak about anything else with them. Then there are those who are a little bit different. They speak about strange things, use words nobody knows and you hear weird sounds when you’re around them. I mean words like pizza delivery, car, mobile number, spaceship and submarine captain.”

    Kellian stared at him in disbelief.

    “Maybe it’s better if I just go ahead and show you. That’s why you came, isn’t it?”

    Haran breathed deeply, then went over to the bed and pushed it aside. Concealed beneath it was a trap door with an iron ring. He took a torch from the wall and lit it. Then the warrior pulled open the trap door and descended with the burning torch in hand. Kellian followed him through the secret passage full of amazement. He had not had the faintest idea of its existence. When on earth had he dug it? And why did hadn’t they known about it before?

    After the narrow wooden stairway, there was a short passage leading into a dark room. In the room, Haran lit torches suspended on the walls. On one side there were supplies and additional weapons – standard equipment for any warrior, of course.

    The other three walls were filled with photos and framed pictures, as well as various other items. The photos had been organized according to various genres or themes. Kellian was also able to make out a hat as worn by a gangster boss, a machine gun, a laser gun, a glass helmet that used to belong to an astronaut, a desk lamp, diving fins, a floating globe and some books.

    He was so astounded he had to remember to breathe. These were all objects – so-called items – that belonged in other game worlds. It should have been impossible for them to appear here. Only hackers were able to change an object, or download it from one game world and upload it to another. He was aware that it did happen every so often, once in a while flaws were found within the security systems that could potentially be exploited by those who knew what they were doing. Nonetheless, the fact that Haran had managed to collect hundreds of these images and objects was just incomprehensible to him.

    Haran took one of the picture frames from the wall and passed it to him. Kellian took it and pressed a small button at the bottom of the frame. A small video appeared, showing a submarine that had just emerged from the water, with propeller-driven planes circling above it and letting off bursts of machine gun fire. The submarine descended and vanished under the water surface. Then, from the frame, a voice boomed, “You too can become a World War II submarine captain. Create your free account today!” It displayed the game’s name, then the video was gone. Kellian returned the frame to Haran.

    “Where did you get all of this, Haran?”

    Two years ago a warrior swapped a picture from another world with me for a valuable sword I had looted. It showed large metal ships floating between the stars. That image haunted my dreams and I began deliberately searching out such items. Since then I’ve spoken with many travelers and swapped hundreds of pictures, sometimes of objects that don’t even exist here. With time, it developed into this collection of artifacts.”

    Kellian sat down on the floor and rubbed his face with his hands. He thought carefully before he asked his next question:

    “What else have you learned?”

    “I’ve heard stories about other worlds, ones that are completely different to this one. I now believe our world is just one of many magical worlds.”

    On the one hand, Kellian was deeply impressed that Haran had managed to learn so much. On the other, he contemplated what problems such new-found insights might create.

    Haran resumed listing his findings: “Some people speak of a legendary world of deities. These divine creatures are supposed to have created the other worlds, ours included. And they are said to travel from one world to another as a form of entertainment, to play in other words. Just as in our world we move from one place to another using portals, it is said that their portals allow them to travel between worlds. How else could all these objects from other worlds have made it here?”

    Haran had successfully managed to solve the puzzle of his virtual existence and in so doing had worked things out in surprising detail..

    “Why are you telling me all this, Haran?” Kellian finally asked.

    Haran took his time to respond, “My dream is one day to be able to travel to these other worlds and see all their wonders for myself. You are wise and have seen many things. I want to know whether you know of any such magical portals or at least can tell me something that might help me find such a portal.”

    And there it was. Kellian’s mind was racing. He could not think clearly. He needed some time.

    “Haran, this is incredible! You have impressed me greatly here; I am very proud of you! I need to think on this for a while. We’ll discuss this again in peace and quiet in a few days’ time. Agreed?”

    Haran nodded slowly. Kellian said his goodbyes and then disappeared in a flash of light. Haran sat in the cellar for a while longer, then inspected his artifacts again. Now that he had revealed himself, something was bound to happen. What and how it would happen, he did not know. Nonetheless, he was certain that his life would soon change drastically. His prediction could not have been more accurate.


    – this is THE END of this English extract –

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