The following contains drugs, swearing, regular violence and gun violence. Enjoy!
What if your life was a lie? As if everything you thought you knew was false, and everything you never knew was true? What if you moved through the motions of everyday life as if in a dream, always expecting the wake-up call to come? For Jack Thomas, the call came in the form of a knock on the door.
Jack groaned and dragged himself away from the TV, solely because he expected to see the pizza delivery man when he opened the door. Jack was a typical 20-something single man, living off pizza and frequently going out with friends and getting hammered. He worked part-time at a fast-food restaurant a couple blocks away from his apartment, where they didn't care what their employees were on so long as they showed up for work on time. But when he opened the door, the face greeting him was most definitely not that of Steve the pizza guy.
"Hello!" The young woman chirped. Jack jerked backwards involuntarily, because the girl's clothing and hair were an assault on his television-accustomed eyes. Her hair was pink- bright pink, she must have dyed it- and her eyes and lipstick were startlingly teal. Her tank top was also pink, matching her hair, and she wore jean shorts and sneakers that were the same shade as her eyes.
Jack blinked slowly, making sure the bizarre girl was really there. She was. "Who are you?" he asked cautiously.
She glanced over one shoulder, then the other. "No time. You aren't safe here. Come on!" She said cheerfully, as if discussing the cotton candy her hair appeared to be made of instead of his life.
"What do you mean, I'm not safe here? I've lived here for ten years, I would know if it's unsafe," Jack frowned. "How would you know anything about my house anyways?"
The girl sighed, shaking her head and making a sad clicking sound with her tongue. "They spotted me the moment I entered. They will target you because I made contact with you."
Jack shook his head. "This is crazy. You're crazy! Did you come here from the nearest insane asylum or something?"
The girl groaned, looking worried. "I didn't think you'd be this stubborn. You have to trust me, though. Seriously. They know I'm here and they're coming. All you have to do is trust me, and I'll answer all your questions once we're out."
"Out of where?" Jack asked. "My apartment?
"Just trust me! Do you have a computer? Every single guy has one, right?" She said, barging past him to dash around the apartment in search of the aforementioned computer. She eventually stopped in front of him. "You do have a computer, right?"
Jack shook his head wordlessly. "Can't afford it. I only work part-time." He wasn't sure why he was going along with it all of a sudden. He assumed it was because the situation had gotten so weird it couldn't possibly be real.
"Damn." She looked around. "How many exits to this building?"
"I don't know, there's the main door downstairs..." She was already shaking her head before he was finished talking. "Not an option. We need something unpredictable. Does this building have a fire escape?"
"We have one, technically, but a couple years ago a group of teenagers took fireworks up there and blew a hole in it, and it's really rickety... So it's really unsafe." Jack clarified, as he was unsure the crazy girl even knew the meaning of 'unsafe'.
She just grinned, a blue-lipped smile that terrified Jack with its pure recklessness and promise of risk to life and limb. "Yeah? Well, what I have in mind is even less safe." She said, back in good spirits in a flash. Jack really didn't want to know what she had in mind, but he figured he'd find out soon enough. And as sure as the pope is Catholic...
She grabbed the cord at the base of Jack's floor-to-ceiling window and yanked it up, stinging his eyes with the sudden light. "How far can you jump?" The girl was now eyeing the gap between Jack's building and a neighboring one. "That's only like twenty feet, right?"
That was it. Jack snapped. "Only! Twenty feet is a very big jump woman! I have no clue who or what you are, or even what your name is, or why the hell you are wearing that atrocity, and frankly, I don't care. I just want you out of my life. Right now."
The girl looked a little taken aback, and for a moment, Jack dared hope she would leave. Then she shrugged. "Well, you had to get that out of your system, may as well be sooner rather then later." She promptly gave the big window a roundhouse kick, sending shattered glass raining down on the streets. She then grabbed Jack's shirt and backed up a few steps before launching them into the abyss. Jack snapped his eyes shut, not wanting to see the road fly up at his face, which suddenly felt very fragile.
Oh my God. Jack thought. This is how I'm going to die. Falling from an incredible height because a loony tune threw me out my own window.
He heard glass shatter near his head. Probably a windshield. I'm next, I know it.
Then they landed- not on the hard, deadly asphalt Jack was expecting, but on soft, thick carpeting. Jack gulped air, trying unsuccessfully to slow his heart rate down. He raised his head painfully to see the girl, the same one who had jumped out a window with him, already on her feet, excavating a laptop from a pile of paperwork.
Jack groaned, hauling himself into a sitting position. The girl jerked her head around, looking surprised to see him awake. "Oh good, you're conscious. I was worried that the impact would have made you black out. Hold on, you have a little piece of glass in your hair." She said. Jack blinked. He jerked his head around to confirm his suspicions and sure enough, directly behind him was a shattered window. He automatically scrambled back from the drop, staring across the gap at his own window. They had actually made it.
"You jumped... out of a building." He said slowly.
"Right, explanations, um, shit," she said nervously. "We're almost out. I found a computer, see?" She produced a fancy-looking laptop from behind her back. "It's a nice one, too. 2013 Apple MacBook. 2014 or 15 would be better, but oh well."
"Wait, what?" He grabbed her arm, noticing that her nails were painted to match her painful color scheme. "Did you just say fifteen? As in 2015? As in the 2015 that hasn't happened yet?"
She took the wrist of the arm that was grabbing her, and said, "I promised to answer all of your questions once we're out. Now shut up. I hope you didn't eat a big lunch." Before he could ask what that meant, the computer was on and her fingers were flying across the keyboard. In a matter of milliseconds, an odd computer site was open and the crazy grin was once more painted across her face. The lights began to flicker due to the laptop sucking all the power, and the mad smile was terrifying in that lighting. "Say good-bye to normal, Mister... I'm sorry, what was your name?"
Jack took a moment to reflect on how this girl had thrown him out a window but didn't know his name, before replying, "Jack."
"I'm Zoey! Nice to meet ya!" With that she jammed her finger into the USB port and the world dissolved into a blur of numbers and symbols, and he was falling, and falling... Zoey was with him, but she changed as she fell, becoming less human and more something else. She nodded encouragement to him, and together they shot down, down, down...
Jack shot upward with a gasp, before immediately flopping back down on a bed. Huh. He was on a bed. Last he remembered he was with Zoey. He forced one eye open and winced at the flash of light.
A quiet, feminine voice interrupted his thoughts. "Are you alright?" The voice lowered to a whisper, and Jack could barely hear, "Are you sure you got him out?"
Jack groaned, attempting to force himself upwards, but his body refused to obey. His eyes flickered open again, and just barely managed to stay open longer this time. The second person must have said something that went unheard, because the first person said, "Good."
Another voice, much nearer, sounded like it was diagnosing him. "He'll be fine after he gets some rest, adjusts to his real body. Also, his system is shocked at receiving his mind again. He'll be good as new after some sleep."
"Do you suppose he'll ever act the same?" the feminine voice asked.
"I really don't know, Boss. If he was under for ten years, the memories might be gone for good." The closer voice said. "Tetrix is a dangerous program, and we still aren't sure exactly what it does."
Jack chose that moment to surrender his grip on reality and sink comfortably into the velvet depths of unconsciousness. His dreams were strange and surreal, full of numbers and computers and teal eyes boring into him.
Jack yawned, stretching his arms out and arching his back. It felt really good, like he hadn't moved for a long time.
"You were asleep for almost two days," the voice from before said softly. "Do you remember anything?"
Jack groaned and opened his eyes, waiting for his vision to come into focus. "I remember a crazy girl throwing me out a window," he muttered. He brushed a couple grains of sand out of his eyes and saw a woman. She was... Jack would put her in her late thirties or early forties if forced to guess, but there was something timeless in her eyes. The woman smiled.
"Welcome back, Champion. You were missed."
Jack shook his head, clearing some of the sleep-induced fog from his thoughts. "Sorry, did you just call me Champion? I'm not Champion of anything. In fact, I don't even know where I am."
In fact, Jack hadn't taken the time to look around before, but he did now. He was in what looked a bit like a control room, or maybe an electronics lab. There were dozens of screens showing shots of his apartment building and the surrounding area, which was rather creepy. These people had been spying on him! And the bed he was lying on, he noticed, wasn't actually a bed. It was a metal lab table with a blanket on it, which was even more creepy. These people had been spying on him and operating on him? He squeaked a little in alarm, checking to see if he had anything missing.
"No worries. You're safe now," the woman said. It was meant to be comforting, but it only raised questions in Jack's mind, all of which he finally voiced. Loudly.
"Safe from what? And who are you people anyways? Where am I? Why were you spying on me, and what the hell is up with Zoey?" he burst, shouting all of the questions that Zoey had promised him answers to. He glared at the woman after he was done, hating the kindly, unfazed expression on her face.
The woman stared at him for a moment longer before speaking. "As for who I am, Jack, I'm a researcher. My name is Fennel, and I'm one of the head researchers here in Unova. And I am so sorry for what I did to you." Sensing the question on Jack's lips, she continued, "Unova is the region where we are now. It is somewhat like the dream world you were living in- yes, you were in a dream world, wait a moment please- except we have much more advanced technology and creatures known as Pokémon." She looked at him anxiously. "Is anything coming back to you now?"
He shook his head silently, still processing the information he had just received. He eventually managed to stutter out, "I was in a dream world?"
She nodded solemnly. "A virtual dream world, to be more precise. You were trapped there for ten years. The world itself was constructed and maintained by computers, but your mind's realistic fantasies are generated by Dream Mist."
He raised his eyebrows, and Fennel could hear the whistling noise as her words flew right over his head. "So, I was high for ten years?" he asked.
Fennel whacked her face. "If it helps you understand, sure," she muttered through her fingers. "As for why we were spying on you, I was actually monitoring your position so Zoey could find the right place to program herself into Tetrix. Tetrix is the name of the virtual world, by the way."
"Hey, speaking of Zoey, what's her deal?" Jack wondered.
Fennel looked uncertain. "Well... Yes, you ought to know. Remember how I told you we had creatures known as Pokémon?"
Jack nodded, unsure where this was going.
"Zoey is a Pokémon." Fennel said bluntly. "She only appeared human to you because that is how she chooses to look in the virtual world. ZOEY!" she called, causing a small pink and teal boxy Pokémon to hesitantly scoot out from behind a wall of screens.
"Jack, this is Porygon 01011010001101010011010011101101010, but you know her as Zoey. One quick thing you should know about Zoey is that Porygon are made out of programming code, and Zoey is glitched. She has both a gender and emotions, things all other Porygon lack." Fennel explained to Jack, whose mouth was now opening and closing in a manner reminiscent of a goldfish.
Zoey nodded shyly, her birdlike head bobbing up and down dipping-duck style. Words started scrolling across one of the screens behind her. (Hello, Jack.)
Jack passed out for the second time in just under three days. Zoey sighed. (Humans can be so closed-minded.)
"I know, right?" Fennel said distractedly. Zoey sniggered. (Fennel, you're a human too, remember?)
Fennel blinked for a moment, and then shook herself awake. "Sorry, Zoey, I'm older now then I once was, and tired. Do you mind if I take a nap now?"
(Not at all, you deserve it. I'll go see what Cheren is up to.) Zoey bobbed away to find the last member of their ragtag crew, soon finding him and bumping into his leg.
"Oh hey, Zoey. What's up?" The young man asked. He was somewhere in his twenties, Zoey remembered, and now served as the doctor, chef, and Fennel's assistant as they tried to fix the catastrophe the aging researcher had accidentally created.
(Fennel was just explaining some stuff to Jack.) Zoey projected onto his laptop. (He passed out and Fennel is taking a nap, so I came to see what you were up to.)
Cheren shrugged sympathetically. "Well, it is a lot to take in, poor guy. No wonder he passed out. And Fennel works around the clock trying to find a solution. She deserves her rest."
(Cheren, I need you to be honest with me here. Do you really think Jack will remember his past life? We don't have any of his Pokémon to show him, or any photos. We have to hope he remembers on his own... But I'm not sure he's going to.)
Cheren patted Zoey on the head. "I honestly don't know, but the day we stop hoping is the day we just let the enemy win. We have to have faith that he'll remember his skills as a Trainer."
(You're right. He must be a very good trainer for us to go to all of this trouble for him.) Zoey thought aloud.
Cheren smiled thoughtfully, thinking back to travels across Unova with Jack. "He's the best. I remember, I was so sure I could beat him. I challenged him many times during his Pokémon journey, but I always lost. I could never figure out why, until the day he told me his secret."
Zoey cocked her angular head in curiosity. (What was it?)
Cheren grinned. "It was the strangest thing. He beat me for the last time after defeating the Pokémon league, and I was shocked. I was sure we should be at the same skill level, or I should be better. I had trained so hard, and we had started our journeys at the same time. My Pokémon, a Serperior, even had a type advantage against his Samurott. But I still lost. It all made sense once he explained his secret, though. It's such a simple idea I couldn't believe I didn't think of it myself."
(But what is the secret? Please stop being all mysterious about it, the suspense is killing me!) Zoey begged.
"Ok, ok. I was trying to build up to it, you know, make it seem cooler. But anyways, the secret is to imagine that you're the one battling. Put yourself in your Pokémon's place. That way, you can anticipate attacks and won't order your Pokémon to do anything you wouldn't do. It's funny, though. He was the only one who ever mastered the art of truly understanding Pokémon. Even after I learned the trick, I couldn't do it," Cheren said.
Zoey blinked her hexagon-shaped eyes in surprise. (That's it? Just putting yourself in your Pokémon's place? But that's so simple!)
"Well, the reason it's so hard is because you have to think like a Pokémon, and Jack could do that better then any other person. I sure couldn't do it. Bianca, our best friend, couldn't do it. Even Fennel, with all her knowledge, couldn't do it."
Zoey's cubical feet clicked against the tiles as she scooted closer to Cheren. (But that's it! You can't get a gift like that from studying. You have to be someone who truly loves Pokémon, so much so that you can think like them.)
Cheren nodded, glad that she understood. "Exactly," he said quietly, picking Zoey up and patting her absentmindedly as memories of the joyful journey flashed behind his eyes. "Zoey, I was so dumb," he muttered. "I helped Fennel with Tetrix. Now it might be my fault if my best friend is lost forever."
Zoey had nothing to say to that, only rubbing her head against his chest and hoping to Arceus that Jack remembered. Both man and Pokémon eventually drifted off into dreamland, although it is likely that the latter dreamt only of ones and zeroes.
When they awoke, it happened by degrees. In this way, they heard the yelling from the other room before they actually realized it was in real life, not the dreams they had been vividly living out just moments before. It took even longer for them to realize they may actually be needed, and this particular thought crossed Cheren's mind first.
He jerked upright, grabbing Zoey and taking a moment to work the kinks out of his cramped muscles. He often fell asleep in his chair after having pushed himself past his mental limit, and the cost always came in cramps the next day. He limped down the hall to the laboratory, and the sight that met his eyes almost broke his heart.
Jack was curled up on the floor, crying. Fennel looked like she was trying to soothe him, but he turned away from her every time she attempted to reason with him. "Send me home!" he bawled. "I wanna go home!"
Fennel turned to Cheren, her eyes filled with concern and regret. "I always knew this was a risk, but I honestly didn't think it would happen. He was in the system for too long, and he cannot imagine a life away from it."
Zoey turned her hexagonal glare on Fennel. (You never told us this could happen! You might have destroyed his mind!)
Cheren nodded in agreement with the little Porygon. "How could you not tell us this was a danger?"
Fennel backed away a few steps, nearly tripping over Jack's pitiful form. "Now hold on, I can explain. See, the thing that's causing this reaction is the Dream Mist. It's affects are like a drug, and he grew addicted to it over the course of ten years. The reaction was delayed for a few days because that's how big of a dose he had in him. I didn't tell you because I didn't know Dream Mist was addictive until right before we rescued him, and by then it was too late to turn back."
Zoey buzzed in alarm. (So he might die, because of this stupid mist? There has to be some solution, right?) She was starting to feel genuinely guilty for pulling Jack back into the real world, even though she hadn't known this would happen.
Fennel nodded sadly. "I'm afraid the Dream Mist created a reality so... well... real, that his mind needs to go back to it. The only solution would be to get him a dose of Mist before he dies, but the only surviving Munna is being held captive and used to generate the Tetrix world."
Zoey shook her head as an idea struck her, and the solution was suddenly clear as day. (But Tetrix is made of Dream Mist! If I could program him in real quick before his mind dies, he could get a dose and survive!)
Cheren, who had until then remained quiet, spoke up from where he was crouched by Jack's huddled form. "That might work in theory, but it's way to dangerous. His mind might get even more hooked on the stuff."
(That's a risk I'm willing to take.)
"And have you forgotten that the only entrance to Tetrix we have programmed is Jack's apartment, which they now have under surveillance 24/7?" Cheren continued. "I'd like to save Jack too, but your plan is suicide."
Zoey placed a protective foot on Jack's back, who was now shivering uncontrollably. (For Arceus' sake Cheren, look at him! He's going to die anyways! At least this way he might have a chance! And I don't give a Rattatta's ass if I die, before you even mention it, so long as I died saving someone else.)
Fennel shook her head. "Zoey, there is no way this will work. They could catch you, you and Jack might both die!"
(I know! Bye!) Zoey jammed her foot into a USB port on the server directly beside her, hoping it was one for Tetrix and not just Fennel's computer. Luckily, it was the former and Zoey experienced the tingly pins-and-needles feeling of her programming being coded into a computer. The world disappeared into a tunnel of black and white numbers, and Zoey tried to aim for the light at the end. If Cheren and Fennel were doing their jobs, that should be Jack's apartment building.
She looked to the left with a struggle, as moving was a challenge when you were between computers, and sighed with relief when she saw she had managed to bring Jack with her. It was easier bringing people out of computers because her human form had fingers to hold onto them, which was much more secure then the fingerless flippers her Porygon form had, which were just inconvenient.
Zoey willed her boxy feet to lengthen out into those of her human form, adding her jean shorts and tennis shoes for modesty's sake. As she quickly reconfigured the rest of her body to match, she briefly considered whether Jack could learn the art of digital manipulation before shaking her now-human head, pink hair swinging around her face.
She and Jack got closer to the light... closer... closer... And then they popped out in the alley beside Jack's apartment building. Zoey quickly dragged Jack into the shadows of the alley as he began to regain consciousness, the Dream Mist already doing its job. Zoey looked up at the roof of the building with fear etched across her face. Their enemies were up there. She could sense it.
A groan sounded from behind her, and she turned so quickly she almost hurt her neck. She always forgot that human necks didn't turn all the way around. Jack was sitting up and rubbing his head, looking around with a bewildered expression, and only then did Zoey realize her plan's fatal flaw. Jack wouldn't want to leave. His home was here. There was nothing for him in the real world.
Jack pulled himself upright, using the brick wall as support. Zoey tapped him on the shoulder, and he swung around in surprise. He stared at her for a moment before saying the one thing she was definitely not prepared for.
"Sis? What are you doing here?" he asked in bewilderment. "I thought you were living with Mom and Dad."
"Um, I came here to give you a surprise visit?" Zoey said hopefully, although she was crying inside. Jack's drugged delusions were so sad. The enemy were smart. They'd covered every escape route by sealing off Jack's very mind. Undoubtably he now thought his venture into the real world had been nothing but a dream. Zoey winced at the implications. He would be more entrenched in this world then ever, and his brain had been programmed to think she was his sister. He most likely thought he was mentally ill to account for her odd behavior.
Jack jumped in surprise as she started crying right beside him, tears of despair staining the already-filthy alleyway. We'll never get him out now, Zoey thought miserably. They would keep a tighter watch on him then ever, because he almost discovered the truth. She sat down hard, the real depth of the situation finally striking her. Not only had she lost their best hope, she had likely also doomed herself. Her policy was 'in and out fast', so that there was no way for them to catch her or predict her appearances. She had thrown that out the window to bring Jack back and save his life, and now she was paying for it.
Jack hesitantly knelt beside his sister. He knew when she was younger she had had fantasies about a different world, a world with little creatures people could use to battle. She had grown more hostile over the matter as she grew older, beginning to insist that their world was fake, and they had to escape it. She often acted like this when she was having a fit, and she could get violent. Regardless, he placed a hand on her shoulder. "Zo?" he asked gently. She looked up at him with a tear-streaked face.
Jack was encouraged. "Are you okay, Zoey? Why are you crying?" He wasn't even expecting her to open up to him, just to talk to her and comfort her.
She huddled into his arms, tears soaking both of their shirts. "I can't save you, Jack. We're trapped here, and I can't save you."
Jack patted her back, murmuring consolingly, until her sobs died down. Jack looked at her sadly. She may not be perfect, but he wouldn't trade his little sister for anything. He waited until she was finished crying and had begun sleeping lightly in his arms, then picked her up gently and carried her up to his apartment. A noise of satisfaction, unheard by either of them, sounded across the street from the apartment Zoey and Jack had first escaped through. This was too perfect to be true.
Zoey woke up groggily, rubbing away the salt that had been sealing her eyes shut. Her sleep had been uneasy, filled with terrifying images and a pink mist that for some reason was even more scary. She noticed with surprise as the sleep filtered out of her head that she could smell bacon... Mmmmm. Bacon. That was another advantage to being a human. They had mouths, and could eat such wonderful foods. The best ones she had tried so far were cinnamon rolls and caramel.
Zoey rolled off of the ragged green couch she had been sleeping on and set out in search of the heavenly meat. She didn't have to look for long, as she found Jack frying up the bacon in his little kitchenette, half-obscured by the dirty dishes that were the signature of a single guy.
Jack swung around with bacon pan in hand, forcing Zoey to duck as it flew past her head. "Woah there, Nelly," she said, reaching up to push the pan away from her head. It sizzled against her skin and Jack hurriedly jerked it away.
"Are you okay?" he yelped, voice skipping an octave. "Hold on, I think I have a first aid kit somewhere."
Zoey looked at him in glee for a moment before she started to feel bad and let him off the hook. "My hand isn't hurt, Jack." she admitted, flipping her hand over to show flawless skin.
Jack was at her side in a moment. "Wha? That pan was straight off the oven... It should have been burning hot."
Zoey was suddenly aware of how to convince him of the truth. "Guess again, Jack. That pan isn't straight off the oven. It doesn't even exist. It's just lines of code."
Jack opened his mouth but no words came out. He reached for the pan hesitantly, but Zoey smacked his hand away. "Well, it is to me because I can see this world as it truly is." She blinked and a green glow briefly appeared behind her eyes.
"Jack, you and I are trapped in a computer program. It's called Tetrix. I got you out once, but you probably dismissed it as a dream, am I right?" Zoey plowed on. Her words were getting to him, she could tell.
"Why are we here? In a computer?" Jack finally managed. Zoey sighed in relief. It had worked- being presented with evidence had forced him to accept the truth. It was also probably easier because this was his second time.
She answered honestly, "Because other Porygon, that's what I am except I'm glitched, trapped you in here ten years ago when they took over the league. Fennel's group of pet Porygon rebelled and she barely escaped. You and the Elite Four, the Gym Leaders too, were seen as threats and needed to be put somewhere where you wouldn't do any harm. So they devised the ultimate prison. A prison you wouldn't even know you were in."
Jack looked a bit like he was drowning under the flood of new information. "What's a Porygon?" he asked.
"A Pokémon, a manmade one. Pokémon are animals native to the real world, but Porygon are computer Pokémon. We're just programming. That's why I can come into the computer to rescue you, because I'm made of code. And in case you didn't guess by know, I'm not really your sister. Nor am I crazy." Zoey finished in a rush. She looked out the window worryingly.
"And now it's time to run, because they will be very pissed I managed to convince you of the truth. You said the first time this building has a fire escape, right?" Zoey said hopefully.
Jack nodded, then shook his head. "No, no, no. Wait. This is too insane. No way. You're just having one of your fits."
Zoey groaned and dragged him out the door. "I was sure I had you. Oh well, come on, doesn't mean we don't have to run, move it. Which way is the fire escape?"
"Left, but I stand by the fact that you're having a breakdown. Besides, that thing has a huge gaping hole in it, remember?" Jack slapped a hand over his mouth as memories his memories all rushed back in a moment, the moment he said remember. He slumped against the wall for a moment, dazed, before Zoey pulled him to his feet. "Okey-dokey, left it is."
And then they ran, feet slapping the hard linoleum floor. Down at the end of the hall, they started climbing stairs until two flights up they reached the window with the fire escape. They were both panting, and Zoey muttered, "They really should make these easier to access. What if there was a fire between your apartment and here? You'd be screwed."
She was the first out the window, beckoning Jack forwards up the rickety metal steps. He hesitantly stuck one foot out the window, gripping the rusty rail so hard his knuckles turned white. A gust of wind rattled the structure, and he shrank back to the safety of the window.
Zoey shook her head. "This won't do at all. You don't believe, actually believe, that this is a fake world. The rules of physics don't apply. You have to let go."
"Let go of what?" Jack shouted over the wind, pressing himself against the apartment wall.
"Everything! Everything is just lines of code, and they can be rewritten just like that. Law of gravity?" Zoey hopped up into the air, landing on the rail. Flakes of metal drifted down to the street from the impact. "Please."
Jack nodded slowly, taking a small step forward onto the steps. Then another and another. A gust of wind blew and he shrunk back a moment, but then Zoey rolled her eyes and pointed to the half-inch piece of metal she was balancing on, and his confidence was rekindled. His balance regained, he took larger steps until he was equal with Zoey, who was beaming with pride. "Great! Come on now, we need to reach the roof!" she said hurriedly, glancing behind and below them to see black cars gathering at the entrance of the building.
Zoey swung down gracefully from the rail. "Great! Now faster, pretty please, those cars are not here to deliver pizza."
She pivoted on her heel and dashed up the fire escape, metal clanging and rattling under her feet. Jack followed for fear of being dragged again, and Zoey sighed in relief internally that he was finally keeping up.
Near the top was the final obstacle- the hole blown in the fire escape years ago. It had probably started out around three or four feet wide, not that bad, but the weakened metal's constant exposure to the elements had worn at least another two feet and the rails had eroded away. The now six-foot wide gap loomed threateningly before them, but Zoey didn't even slow down.
She jumped with more momentum then should have been possible for someone running up a steep circular staircase, grabbing a metal pole above her head midway across the gap and swinging to the other side.
The impact of her landing sent red flakes spiraling down to the street, both paint and rust. She beckoned urgently to Jack, who was edging back from a gap, despite the fact that he had just seen her jump it. "I'm scared, Zoey. The fact that you can do this stuff doesn't mean that I can," he said. "Even if you're some sort of digital thing, I'm not! Why would I be able to jump that?"
"You don't need to be!" Zoey called from the other side of the gap. "The fact that I can do this has nothing to do with me being a Porygon! I just know the truth of this world! It isn't real, and neither are its rules!"
Below them, men were starting to get out of the black cars. They looked odd, but it took Jack a moment to realized why. They shared Zoey's color scheme, with teal hair and pink suits. Zoey obviously noticed this too, because a squeak emerged from her throat and she shouted frantically to Jack, "Now! You have to come now! Forget everything you think you know and jump! Please!"
The 'please' was what did it. Jack nodded slowly, emptying his mind of all thoughts and trying to accept the truth. I'm in a computer, he thought as he backed up and prepared to jump. Gravity doesn't exist here. I can jump that easily. He nodded, growing in confidence, and ran at the gap, jumping up and forwards in the same fashion Zoey had. He grasped the metal above his head like she had, swinging forwards and landing with considerably less finesse then the female Porygon.
He groaned and peeled himself off the grating of the steps to see Zoey's face split open so wide it should have broken in half. "You did it!" she squealed, grabbing his hand and pulling him to his feet. "Now time to run, and we need to find a computer to get the hell out of here."
They dashed up the stairs to the top floor, where they were faced by another problem. "Well shit," Zoey grumbled. The steps, being a fire escape, were designed to go down, and they didn't reach directly to the roof. They only went as high as the highest window, where they were now. It was a good eighteen feet to the roof, including the window, the remainder of the floor above it, and a windowless maintenance floor above that.
Zoey did what lunatics do in such situations. She reached for the upper sill of the window. Her fingers locked around it and she pulled herself up, pushing the tip of one shoe into a gap between two bricks. Jack started shaking his head, reaching up to try and pull her down.
"Okay, the jumping thing, that I can live with. Maybe," he added after a moment. "But this is nuts. I mean, this is just nuts! You aren't a spider, you can't climb up a surface with no hand or footholds! Even if this is a computer program, I can't see how that would work."
Zoey smirked, reaching up and drawing a hand back. "You're right, climbing an eighteen foot wall with nothing to hold would be pretty hard. But making handholds?" Her fist flew forwards, drilling a hole in the wall. "Like everything else in Tetrix, this wall is just code, Jack. It can be as soft as dough or as hard as cement, depending on how you think about it. This whole thing is mind over matter."
Jack nodded hesitantly. "Mind over matter... So if I punch the wall, it'll be the wall, and not my hand, that breaks?"
Zoey smiled. "Yup, but I'll do all the work this time because we really only need one path to the top."
She placed her hand in the hole she had made earlier, hauling herself up without any apparent effort and using her other hand to punch a parallel hole. Jack watched with admiration as she worked her way up, placing her feet in former handholds, crawling up little by little. She glanced down to look at him and called, "Come on! Remember, gravity can suck it." This was phased a bit less eloquently then previous encouragements, because the blue-haired men had by now entered the building and would soon climb to where they were.
Jack reached up to grab the first handhold, scuffed shoe rubbing against the bottom windowsill as his left leg swung up to the top of the sill. Zoey grinned down at him and continued to forge a path upwards, punching and grabbing, over and over. They were about halfway up, nine feet, when a bullet sliced through the air above Zoey's head, sending a lock of bubblegum pink hair fluttering into the air.
Zoey swore, attempting unsuccessfully to swivel from her sprawled-out position on the wall. "Hey Jack, can you tell me who the hell is shooting at us and where they're shooting from?" she hissed with her teeth clenched together as she attempted to defy gravity faster, pummeling the brick wall harder and faster.
Jack released one hand to shade his eyes from the midday sun. He missed the shooters at first glance, but noticed them when one leaned out of a window to loose a shot. He froze for a moment, the world going still around him as he watched the bullet propel itself straight through the air toward his forehead. The shot was good, and she eyes crossed slightly focusing on the bullet. He wondered idly why it hadn't hit him yet, there was no way he could duck that. It was going too fast, far too fast, but so slow at the same time.
Zoey glanced down to check on him, concerned by the lack of a report, and yelped at the sight of Jack mesmerized by a bullet whizzing through the air. She made a split second decision and rammed his head down, the bullet burying itself instead in the soft flesh and small bones of her wrist. She screamed in agony, so loudly that Jack snapped out of his daze to feel a trickle of blood pour onto his head. He grasped the situation quickly and panicked, as Zoey's injured hand had released the wall to save him, but her other was starting to go limp from pain and shock, and if she fell she would take him down with her.
Jack looked back down at the fire escape. It was about a nine-foot drop, not that far of a drop, and he pulled everything Zoey had taught him to the front of his mind as he released the wall and relaxed. He plummeted immediately, landing on the balls of his feet easily. The fire escape shifted beneath his feet, but he paid it no mind, looking instead for the gunmen. They were still in the same place but had not yet registered that their prey had disappeared. Jack snickered. Adrenaline was starting to kick in, and he was loving the danger. Then a yelp sounded from above him and Zoey, who looked like she was losing a lot of blood, landed directly behind him with a thud. Her eyes were glazed over and Jack worried she also might have been hurt by the fall.
A gunshot sounded and Jack gulped. The gunmen had gotten wise and figured out where they were. He stared down the gap between the fire escape and a neighboring building before realizing that was the wrong thing to do. It was a matter of believing. Mind over matter. He picked up Zoey's limp form, eliciting nothing but a weak groan, and draped her over his back. "You saved my life, Zoey. Now it's my turn," he said softly in her ear before backing up the small amount of space the fire escape allowed.
He set his sights on a window across the street and suddenly flashed back to when Zoey had saved him by doing the exact same thing. Now, he would save her. He charged forward and jumped, landing first on the railing, then pushing himself off of that. He stared down at the cars below him as he flew, keeping a tight grip on Zoey's alarmingly cold hands. He blinked, and all of a sudden the cars were composed entirely of code. He lost his concentration for a moment and started to fall before he realized that this was what Zoey had been talking about!
He looked around again and suddenly the whole world was made of code. He wondered absently if this was what Zoey saw all the time as he was flooded with realization. The air he was falling through wasn't air, it was just programming! He focused his mind and the 'air' beneath his feet solidified, hardening as the code rewrote itself. He grinned jumped again, pushing off from his pad of frozen air, crashing through a window across the street. He gently set Zoey on the floor and spotted a laptop on a nearby table.
He quickly unplugged the laptop from the wall and looked down at Zoey, who smiled up at him faintly. "I guess crazy is contagious," she whispered.
He smiled back and held her undamaged wrist tight as she jammed her finger into the USB drive and the world dissolved into a whirl of code.
They materialized on the grated floor belonging to Fennel's lab and promptly passed out.
This started as a story I wrote on the URPG, but I have some ideas for future segments so I'll keep it going here.
Please feel free to comment!