Silken Illusion

My name is Aletha: Greek for 'Truthful One.' I'm part of the Virtue Network, the most popular system on Earth. But that's not important right now. What is important is getting the hell out of here. Without opening my eyes, I reach down to my lower belt, my fingers skimming the surface of my drive. Which one is it? Mecca Port? Rubedo Router? It doesn't matter. I grab one and insert the round ball, Marbles Mother used to call them when they first came out, into my Skull. I feel like throwing up but I don't move. Eyes stay close, Aletha. Remember last time? Open your eyes and it's pretty at first. The gust of wind blows at your face, the stream of digits zooming by. It's another world, all on its own. You don't need a new Marble to see this world, the world of the in between. But you can't stay. You can't stay in this dark world of glowing numbers. The interface won't let you. For there's the ICE. Virtual Network is nothing but ICE. And skulls. Real skulls. And the dizzies. No point opening my eyes if I land in a world where the dizzies is a no go.

The motion around me stops and I open my eyes. New world, new place, new face. I sit up. The clothes changes to match the area; I am no longer wearing the black skinnyups that wrap around my body like leaches. No longer am I paralyzed in the imperial household, lying on the title floors when I fell from the ceiling. What world was that again? The Messiah Processor. That's right. Stupid move there. I shouldn't have tied myself up with that gang. Criminal play isn't something I should catch myself up in. But oh so fun that was. I literally flew in that gang. But never again. I don't want to go brain dead. Die in this world, in the Network, body in the real world goes dead. Bye bye. Mother will be sad if that happens. Not that I remember her or anything else very much. It's all about my different avatars in the Network and how to expand and deform them. To make a new me everywhere I go, even if I go nowhere.

I grab the Messiah Processor and look around. The silk dress I'm wearing moves with me. It feels like water over my body. Blue, gentle water. How advance the Network is becoming. When it first came out, when I first plugged in, the touch sensors were still a bit dull. You can't really feel anything. But now you can feel everything from the wind to the splinters of trees. Speaking of trees. I smile and stand up. I don't need to brush the sand from my body; the silk is so smooth, the sand just slides off on its own. I reach up to ruffle my hair only to stop and realize my hair is long in this world. I tuck my hair behind my ears instead.

"Hey, you! From the tree," I say. The stretch of my smile widens. There you go. Easy as pie. I'm glad I saved enough for the Eye. The Eye detects even the slightest of movements and it proves to be right. Even if the person in the tree is trying to hide, he can't do so for very long. Not unless he had the Feet – new, expensive enhancements that makes movement hardly noticeable. But he apparently doesn't for my Eye tracked him in an instant and here he is, jumping down from the tree. "Catch!"

I throw the Messiah Processor at the boy. He catches it. I expect him to fumble – I didn't throw it very well – but his reflex is good. No glitches. He looks up at me, his green eyes boring deep into me. It's unsettling. I haven't seen green eyes in the Network before.

"You gonna say something?" I say. I smile again. Maybe it's the custom of this world. I click on my interface and a screen pops up in one of my eyes. I scan it, looking for the world's name. Found it. God system. I laugh. I must have picked this one up when I was scavenging in the gang. One of the few things I grabbed in the Messiah Processor. "God system huh? Green eyes are the deal?"

The boy shakes his head. "God system. Green eyes are not the deal."

His voice sounds alive even though his face looks dead.

I blinked on my interface again and blew up the mirror screen. He's right. If the green eyes are the standards, my eyes should have changed colors. Instead I kept the dull brown eyes I've had throughout the worlds. I shut the screens off and scan the boy. He looks young and soft. I can fight him if he turns out to be a guard. God system. There must be some sort of fight program installed. "NPC? Then you wouldn't need the Marble I just gave you huh?"

NPC: Non-player character. They're not real, but made up of programs to enhance the game. The boy says, "You're a PC? Player character. How did you get here?"

How? Isn't it obvious? "If you had to ask, then that must mean I was right. What are you though, exactly? Boss? Bystander? Are you going to give me a quest?" Before he can respond, I shake my head and hold my hands up in front of me. "It's okay. I don't want to know. Let me just wander. I need to rest."

"Then plug out."

"Why would I? This is my world."

"You're not even supposed to be in this world. It's still under construction."

I pause. I'm not sure what the boy did but suddenly the dizzies come over me. I bend over. The dizzies shouldn't affect me once I'm out of the in between worlds. But it does. I look up from the ground and the child isn't moving but I can hear his voices overlapping in mine.

God system. Lies. Who are you? Are you lying? Did you jump here? Why are you here? This place is still under construction. You're not a PC or a NPC. Plug out. Now. Plug out now. Now!

"What are you?" The boy's voice echoes as I lose consciousness. "Out of all the worlds you've jumped, you're everything but you."

I plug out. Or I think I did. I don't know. I look down and the body I'm wearing feels familiar. I don't seem injured. Not physically anyways. I look to the side. A mirror. A real mirror is peeking out of a curtain near a vender's stall. The face in the mirror stares back at me and my eyes are green. Like the boy in God system. Not me. But how do I know it's not me? Maybe it is me. Now that I think of it, I can't even remember what the real me looks like. Ever since I plugged into the Network, I kept changing. Lying to myself about who I am, what I am, what I look like. New enhancements, new worlds, new memories, new stories. Was my hair long? Was it short? In here, my hair is short again. I look like a boy. But I must be a girl. My name is a girl's name. Who am I?

I am wearing fine, beautiful clothing but I have this nagging feeling that this isn't a new avatar. The sensors on my skin are too alive. My eyes begin to hurt from the sand and sunlight. I try clicking night vision. Nothing happens. Then I understand. I'm in the real. I try to taste the truth in my mouth as I watch my reflection, tears flowing from my eyes as the truth is reflected back at me. "He's naked."

The words echo around me – confirming, true, and strong. I zoom into the present and look around. A man is standing not far away from me, and my memory recalls that he is a king. A naked king. The crowd chants my words, directed not at me, but at him. "He's naked. The king is naked!"

The king catches my gaze. We stare. Neither one of us says a word. Then he walks away, his head held high.