THE SPIRALING WEB
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Partial view of the Mandelbrot set. Created by Wolfgang Beyer with the program Ultra Fractal 3.
“The image was mesmerizing, more organic than mechanical, as if I were glimpsing the early stages of some accelerating evolutionary process, in which all the boundaries between men--nationality, race, religion, wealth--were rendered invisible and irrelevant, so that the physicist in Cambridge, the bond trader in Tokyo, the student in a remote Indian village, and the manager of a Mexico City department store were drawn into a single constant, thrumming conversation, time and space giving way to a world spun entirely of light.”
Senator Barak Obama, Describing a monitor showing World Wide Web traffic patterns.
This book is dedicated to Doug Taylor, for his glowing praise, Vicky Sawyer, for her intuitive insights, and, most of all, Christopher Mitchell, for his challenging criticisms, which forced this lazy writer to make thing much more real.
Flatline swept across the world in a ferocious whirlwind of death. Wizards, thieves, clerics, paladins, druids, shamans, warriors, and warlocks all over the planet vanished in a morbid frost of mass extinction. Villages emptied of life. Then the towns deserted, until there were only masses of non-player characters huddling in the cities, following their survival protocols. Their programming lacked the sophistication to know they were merely awaiting deletion as well.
City after city was extinguished, until only a lone king in a barren castle remained. His programming did not allow him to exhibit fear when the monster entered his court. Nor did it allow him to raise one finger in defense when it devoured him and assumed his place on the throne. Flatline was now the proud emperor of a dead world.
The entire absolute conquest took less than an hour.
Devin had come along for the ride, and now he frowned disapprovingly at the hairless, wrinkled demon dog grinning down at him from its throne. Four arms sprouted akimbo from the contorted torso, each moving with a mind of its own. Twin fangs protruded from the crooked snout, oozing sizzling corrosive juices. Two pair of obsidian orbs lined his mangy head, while a pair of large white eyes resided outside of them, holding two pupils each, orbiting one another in a spiraling hypnotic dance.
Flatine’s avatar was awesome. Devin had never seen such attention to detail, and the software maintaining must have required incredible processing power. Such a mass of data would normally bog down a host and ground the system to a halt.
Devin’s form was absurdly simple in comparison, a large eyeball floating on a pedestal of violet energy. It betrayed nothing about the person behind it, and Devin appreciated the anonymity, like a warm blanket while he was online.
Devin watched without interest as Flatline sprang from his haunches to annihilate a dragon covered with emerald scales, a new player just coming online. A moment later, Flatline was padding back to Devin on all sixes, an amused grin on his face. A glittering mound of green crystals and blue blood faded out of existence behind him.
“What fun is it to kill the other players before they become a threat?” Devin asked and Flatline’s smile dropped.
Flatline’s eyes flashed, their pupils spinning. “Fun is ruining the game for everyone.”
“Hm,” Devin went back to watching the deserted playing field. This was really, really boring. A thought occurred to him and he snapped his fingers, causing his avatar to blink out of existence briefly, “I get it. You’re after the SysAdmin.”
He jumped involuntarily as Flatline pounced on another user, a standard Pegasus template just logging into the game. Flatline shredded it into a cloud of white feathers and horsehair. Devin imagined it from the player’s perspective, phasing in, an explosion of fangs, claws, and:
Another user fled to elsewhere on the Internet.
Devin understood Flatline was that skilled. He could sit on someone else’s computer, and there was nothing the owner could do but watch helplessly as Flatline destroyed months, maybe years of earning a loyal user base through programming and promotions. All the Administrator could do was pray for Flatline to run his course like tornado trashing a trailer park or Godzilla stomping a city.
Devin maintained this acquaintance out of sheer curiosity. Flatline fascinated him the way a child prodigy was interesting, a curiosity, but still a child. Flatline was tedious, two-dimensional, and emotionally immature. He simply lacked any social sensitivity, as if he had a mild case of autism.
Flatline belched and hacked up a longsword onto the palace floor from a Knight he’d devoured earlier. “Bleach!” he shook his head like a shaggy dog, hairless ears slapping grotesquely, “What’s the next challenge? Take out the System Administrator?”
Devin gave a polite laugh, “You’re not a god.”
“A god,” Flatline’s face slackened briefly, his eyes going dull and lifeless for a moment. He returned to the present, stating, “I have no response to that.”
Devin hated when Flatline said that.
Neither spoke for several minutes. Flatline yawned, his massive jaws popping before snapping them shut with a ‘clop,’ “I bet the gaming boards are bad-mouthing me this very second.” He stood and paced full circle on his six limbs, and slumped into an exasperated heap again, “This isn’t enough...”
“No one’s joining in,” Devin remarked, his disembodied eye panned across the empty room. Only the whistling wind was missing from this lonely scene. “Whatever the SysAdmin did to provoke you, I think you’ve made your point.”
Flatline nodded silently in agreement, “You’d better disappear, I’m going to see what other trouble I can get into.” This meant Flatline was leaving the game, but would leave a shell of his avatar behind, set on ‘Auto Kill’ to destroy any players who might join later.
Devin quietly logged out.