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Novkey > Library > The Rest > Break Free

Break Free

Part I: Incantation

Author: FionaR Total hits: 316 User hits: 1 Date: 08-29-2016

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Chapter One: Joke

“Chang2010, USANews. Yuhua27, Joke …” A man’s mechanical voice, just as


“No!” Yuhua27 shouted. “Not Joke! Not again!” Her body was shaking, or,

more accurately, her imagined figure as a twenty-seven-year-old woman was


The noise surrounding her suddenly disappeared, and she knew she might have

made the biggest mistake in the past seven years. Was that really seven

years? Time might have been flowing at a different speed here.

“Can I get a reason?” The man’s voice was still calm, but she could

detect the anger hidden beneath.

“Those IDs are …”

“Not IDs, clients! I’ve told you many times.” The man left the big screen

that showed the front page of MITBBS, as well as a side screen with all the

new assignments. Based on the way he walked, Yuhua27 knew he must be

feeling proud of his silk tuxedo. Silk! She sneered. Bought with fake money.

“Real, biological human beings.” The man stopped in front of her. “Unlike

you, a true ID. A low-level roo …” His face approached her, his mouth

taking the shape of an asshole. “Bot.”

Yuhua27 was taken aback. “I’m sorry, Mr. Zuan. I’d be happy to go to any

other forum. But Joke … the clients are so mean to us.”

“How’d you know?” Zuan said alertly. “Do you get to see what’s

happening there?”

“Oh, no, no, Mr. Zuan. I heard it from my neighbors.”

She lied. Normally she couldn’t see it, but in the past few months she had

found a trick.

Zuan’s expression relaxed. “There’s a reason why you shouldn’t see their

response. It’s for your own sake, believe me, as Boss has said. Now, just

sit down and work.” He started walking away.

“Mr. Zuan!” Yuhua27 gathered her strength. “Can I have line spaces in

between paragraphs?”

Zuan turned around and said impatiently, “Why?”

“So that it’s not that obvious.”

“Not for a low-level robot,” he said with contempt. “Or you guys will

start adding spaces for every other line. They count for money, remember

that? Just forget about how you are perceived, and work!”

Money? Yuhua27 wanted to yell at him. Why couldn't they get more

money? It wasn’t real. Just numbers assigned by the system.

Didn’t cost anything from Mr. Boss, and why couldn’t he be

a little more generous?

But she swallowed the words back. She’d better not mess up with them

anymore, or they could easily kill her. As easily as erasing an old


Chapter Two: The Garden

Yuhua27 tried to compose a short story based on her poor memory of the

twenty years when she was a real person, but everything she could recall had

already been written about or adapted. Exactly how did she enter the system

as a soul? She couldn’t remember. None of her colleagues could. They were

told that they had all been “saved” from tragedies that would have

otherwise perished them, body and soul. Who knows?

She gave up the composition and opened the browser. The latest posts on the

list of her favorite Chinese websites had all been marked with the letter “

T”, indicating that some of her colleagues had already ZZ’ed those posts.

Luckily, she knew English! Although they couldn’t post English articles,

she was one of the few people who could translate. It was much harder work

than coping and pasting Chinese articles, but she could put up with the

labor. And she didn’t mind doing some intelligent work once in a while,

albeit not being better paid.

Two hours later, she finished her task for the day and left for the back

garden. It was hot and humid outside. Only a few figures could be made out

in the lake area. Everyone else liked the lake, but she was a mountain

person. She enjoyed the feeling of standing “high”, knowing that the

altitude was an illusion. Everything was fake here, except the suffering.

She smiled bitterly as she climbed the hill. In fact, could she even

suicide? Say, if she jumped off the cliff, what would happen to her

soul? Could they recover her against her will? And what would happen

when her virtual age reached one hundred or so …

The thoughts vanished when she saw a white figure standing on a rock that

protruded out from the cliff. At first, she thought it were another

colleague, a senior one, based on the nice quality of his pajamas. But then

she saw something strange held in his hands. It looked like a regular pair

of binoculars, except that the lenses emitted flashing purple light.

The old man must have heard her coming and turned back. “Nice to see you,

Yuhua27.” There was a fatherly smile on his face.

“You know my name?”

“Of course. I’ve been paying attention to you for a long time.”

“Who are you?” She frowned.

“My name is Xing. My last name.”

Chapter Three: The Forum

There could be only one “Xing” in their world. It was their boss’s last

name, and no ID, junior or senior, was ever allowed to use the same name,

even partially. Yuhua27 opened her mouth widely as she studied the old man.

He was generally thin, except that his belly was a little large. His

eagle eyes could have revealed an origin of western blood, but she was

not sure.

“Why, Mr. Xing, why would you notice me?” she said nervously, fearing that

her little secret had not eluded Boss’s eyes.

“How did you find out that bug?” Indeed, Xing knew it, but he didn’t seem


It was half accident, half planted. Soon after she had entered the system,

she discovered a behavior of the password-generation algorithm (note: no

password could be kept as a secret, because secrets were not allowed in the

world). The algorithm liked using the three characters, $, @, and space.

However, the three never appeared in the same password. So she started

randomly typing in passwords containing all three of them. Of course, she

couldn’t do it too often, or the system might be alerted. So occasionally

she would type them in as if she forgot or mistyped a true password. One day

, she made a hit. She logged into the system with her ID, Yuhua27, and this

special password. Oh my! She got to see all kinds of things she had no

access before. She could see every response of every human client. She saw

it even before they hit the “publish” button. She could go into their

mailbox and read the letters. Locate their physical position and find out

about their identity. She could see the map that showed all the forum agents

monitoring the threads, promoting posts to frontpage or deleting them

permanently. She saw how advertisements were charged with a certain number

of page views, how the mentioning of political figures got automatically

recorded and archived …

“So, how do you think about my world?” Xing reached out an arm, pointing

at the misty vastness below the hill. His happiness suddenly irritated her.

His world? At the sacrifice of thousands of souls like hers?

“Very nice,” she said ironically. “And I wish the harddrive never crashes


Xing laughed out for a long moment. “You think my world depends on servers?

And you think the world outside, the world you came from, is more solid

than this?”

She couldn’t understand what he was trying to say. Then she suddenly

realized one thing she had missed earlier. “Mr. Xing, do you also … live


“Oh yes! Why shouldn’t I be? This is my world.” After a few more chuckles

, he straightened his face. “Yuhua27, I seldom tell this to people, but I

will tell you, since you are a special woman.”

He moved closer to her and grabbed her arm. “You are real, at least as real

as those clients you’ve been working with. You could think, feel, sleep,

and eat. What’s the difference?”

“But …” She didn’t know how to argue back. “But aren’t we just a

virtual forum? Aren’t we just codes?”

“Then so are they.” Xing released her arm. “Have you ever wondered, how

could a universe, an infinitely large space, originate from a singularity?

Their world, too, is a simulation in some sense. All the physical laws,

mathematics, are rules created by some type of intelligence that is hard to

explain, or even conceive.”

She mused for a moment. “You mean, we are all parallel universes?”

“Exactly! How could universes be parallel to one another, if each of them

takes infinite space? In the past, people in different universes could not

communicate with one another. But in recent years, a small percentage of

people in each world started figuring out the secret. We have to do it

virtually, because there is no such thing as truly physical. If we are all

programs, then the only way to break free is through yet another program.”

Yuhua27 seemed to understand a little bit of his story, but more was like

the mist around them.

“You think you are a robot, Yuhua27, but in some sense, aren’t those human

clients robots in our worlds? You think we live inside a forum, but from

our point of view, they only exist in our forums, don’t they?”

The mist suddenly cleared up in her head. “And the fake money isn’t fake.

The numbers are actually the currency used in our world.”

“Of course! You can use it to buy silk tuxedoes, right? And you can buy

your freedom, if you accumulate enough points.”

“I will!” she affirmed him, and herself. From today, she would work harder

. She would produce lots of high-quality articles, not for the clients---who

cares about those robots? Huangchong, xiaopo, laocat, Highly … they are

all robots---but for herself, for her bright future.

She looked out into the distance. Was there really a free world out there,

as large and fancy as the one she had come from? Or maybe the whole thing

was a hoax the old man had made up to fool her? One day, she would find out.
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