683 words (2 minute read)


They stared at the screen. Nobody spoke. Seconds ticked by. The grey patch blinked bigger.


Mike turned, hurling his plasma rifle against the wall. It clattered down, then he fell into his desk, head in hands. Marlene breathed in short, ragged gasps, hyperventilating. Olaus wrapped an arm around her shoulder, hugging her, face white. Colin placed a hand on Stevie’s shoulder and she held it.

Jay paced Tutorial, breathing slowly. It was a game. A game. They still had moves. They had to. How long would the deletion take? Depended on how big Hal’s hard drive was. But there was no way to know what it took to run such a simulation. Or was there?

Jay spun around to Stevie.

“Get Liz out of ghost mode, right now.”

Stevie turned around, clicking. They heard a thump, and then Liz lay on the ground of Tutorial. Jay ran over and knelt down.

“Are you okay?”

She nodded.

“Stevie, can you get Liz out of here?”


“I don’t know. Is there a… disconnect tab, or something in her menu?”

“I don’t see anything.”

“Okay.” He turned to Liz. “How big are hard drives, in your world?”

Her eyes crinkled in confusion. “What? Who knows that kinda stuff?”

Stevie raised her hand, followed by Mike, Shayna, Olaus and Bill.

Jay wandered to the window, thinking.

“So tell us about your computers.”

“Nobody uses computers anymore. Well, most people. I don’t know about… your crew.”

“Hal must though. Right? Or what does he use?”

“I don’t know. Everyone uses, uh, they’re called smart devices. Like… mini computers. You carry them with you everywhere and they have cameras, and connect to the internet.”

“What else do they connect to? Computers?”

“Yeah, I suppose.”

Jay ran back to Stevie.

“Okay. Smart devices. Can you find any smart devices connected through the master directory?”

Stevie nodded, understanding. She turned and typed. “Where do you want to go?”

“Anywhere. Time to abandon ship.”

Stevie typed furiously. Jay went back to the window, anxious, trying not to disturb her. He stared down at the empty swath of grey. The rain clumped into dew drops out on the grass. He heard an angry squawk, and saw a Scrub Jay sitting on a pine bough, staring resentfully back at him. Aside from the bird, everything was quiet. No engines, no moos, no rooster crows. Just the clack of Stevie’s fingers.

He heard a noise. A deep, shifting bass, barely audible, yet seeming to come from everywhere at once. He tried focusing on it, and then saw it. Through the pines, the hill across the baseball field flashed. Trees and houses flaked away, scattering into white ash. Disappearing. Where the hill had been, there was now a grey swath of nothing. A patch of deletion. He stifled a cry.

When Stevie finally spoke, it was a whisper.

“I— I’m not sure what I’m looking at. Everything’s so different there—”

“Did you find something?

She nodded, uncertain. “I think so.”

“Is it outside Hal’s computer?”

She nodded again. “I think there are a few other IP addresses connected to Hal’s computer.” She held up two fingers. “Ttwo.”

Jay turned to the rest of Tutorial. Two devices.

“We could draw straws—”

Stevie shook her head. “Even if you transfer, you’ll probably be corrupted. Without The Build, we’re all just rogue pieces of code. Odds are, you’ll simply disappear, and whatever device you’re on will crash.”

“But if they don’t, there may be a way to stop Hal.”


“So who wants to try?”

Olaus, Mike, and Marlene stared at him.

“You want me to go? Are you sure?”

Shayna nodded at Jay and Colin. “You guys are the best at games.”

Jay shook his head. “We’re about to leave the game. But alright. Colin and I will go. We’ll do whatever we can to stop the deletion.”

He turned to Colin. “You ready, bud?”

Colin sighed. “No.”

“Me neither. Take us there, Stevie.”

Stevie’s fingers worked the keys. There was a white flash of light, and then Jay and Colin disappeared.

Next Chapter: Maximum Underdrive