Farker splashed cold water on his face and swallowed another stay-awake pill. An old man's face glared at him from the mirror.
Whenever he thought about it, Farker was sure he must be one of the oldest people on the planet, practically a living fossil. This had its pluses and minuses. On the one hand, people tended to treat him as if he knew more than them (which he usually did) because of his seniority. On the other hand, it tended to limit his dating options. Graying hair was just not considered sexy in this youngster world.
The W3 virus that had culled four-fifths of the world's population had been especially dire for the very young and very old. The babies that perished were rapidly replaced by the postwar baby boom, but not so for the aged. Almost overnight, the average age of humans had plummeted into the teens. It had risen since, of course, since as the new crop of humans grew to adulthood their parents didn't get any younger. But he aged right along with them, maintaining his long lead in the race to death.
On the plus side, whenever he wanted too, like now, Farker was perfectly capable of cursing in eleven languages, including several dead ones.
He was aware that he should be asleep at home but he didn't give a damn. He could always catch up later. Who would fire him if he took a day or three off to sleep? He was irreplaceable. It was not a boast. It was a simple fact that there were few damned few living with as much experience as he had, and none with his specific experience. It was not mere chance that PanGames was swallowing every other gaming company on the United Earth.
He washed the pill down with a cup of coffee, went back into the lab, and lay back down on Tweedledum. Linking back in was effortless after so many years.
“Okay, Finder. What have you learned?”
The soulless voice of Finder was not capable of emotions. It was only a voice. If it had been permitted to evolve them, it might have sounded irked. “There is no sign of the original anomaly. The new algorithms haven't detected any intrusions from other nodes in the UNET.”
He was getting too tired for subtlety. “What do you mean, the 'original' anomaly?”
“There appears to be another anomaly.”
“Are you sure it's not just the same one?” he demanded.
“Completely. But it is in the same Realm that the original anomaly appeared in.”
“Tell me more,” he directed. “How did you find the new one?”
“A virtual tour guide complained that one of the NPCs was refusing to make his speech in front of a temple. He was just standing there, motionless and mute. I checked the logs and found that this had been the case for hours. A scan for his program ID revealed that the animations had moved to Mount Pelion on the east coast of Thessaly.”
“Where you found the first one?”
“Were there any other irregularities coincident with the displacement?” he wondered aloud.
“Only one candidate that I could find. At 21:23:16 EST there was a power surge in this building. It was a sharp spike, almost like a lightning strike. But there were no nearby storms.”
“Was it damaging?” Farker said, alarmed now.
“Of course not. You know how protected I am. Even a direct hit by lightning on this building would never get though the power buffers and the shielding. You know that, Farker. You supervised the redundant grounding and shielding five years ago.”
“True enough,” he admitted. “But the timing of the surge is still suspicious. Did you check with adjacent buildings?”
“Naturally, I consulted their AIs. They felt traces of the surge too, but it was strongest in this building, by far.”
Farker scowled. “I don't like it. It feels like we are being targeted. First the original anomaly, then this power surge.”
“Do you want me to take you to the present anomaly?”
“Is it still on Pelion?” he asked.
“Then no,” he decided. “I tried to catch the first one and it apparently detected me and vanished. Perhaps a less hasty approach will be more successful this time. Did you trace the woman, Darla, that I spoke with when I logged in there?”
“Yes. Do you need to now more about her?”
“Not at the moment,” he decided, even though technically as a Game Manager the privacy laws did not apply to user accounts under his purview. “But I want to know when she logs back in...and where.”
“Do you wish to be notified even if she logs in while you are asleep?”
“Even if I fall asleep,” he said firmly, smiling thinly as he used his personal override code: “So let it be written. So let it be done.”
“It shall be done,” the Finder agreed.
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