Michael sighed and said "Yeah. I saw it."
"And you know what it means? What it probably means?"
"Yeah. I know what it probably means."
Michael knew as well as Christian that the flicker of Neal's avatar, if a glitch in the recording was ruled out, more than likely meant one thing; Neal had been cheating.
There were programs that could be bought, or written if you were as talented with code as Neal was, that ran a set of counter protocols that basically slowed in-game time down for the player using the program. It essentially made it possible for players to see and react to things that under ordinary circumstances they could not have. Put quite simply, for the cheater, time passed just a little bit slower than it did for all the other combatants or players in the game.
These types of cheat programs were often written with a fail safe, just in case something slipped past the player. This fail safe allowed the player to punch out of the game a split second before an in game death or loss occurred without repercussions. The game recorded an aborted session, which usually occurred because of some sort of health related issue. The problem with the fail safe is that it was picked up by the recording and could be seen upon playback. Most of the time these flickers were dismissed as playback errors, but Christian knew that wasn't the case this time around.
"Yeah, but what caused him to slip off the connection? Why can't we wake him up?"
Christian was silent for a moment as he thought about Michael's questions.
"I'm not sure. Something must have gone wrong with the delay program he was running. It's the only thing that I can think of. But I think we can still find him. Whatever caused him to leave the game, whether it was an in game death blow or a cheat program will have left a signature; a last known trajectory that should point us in the right direction. Or at least get us started on the right path. And that's actually fairly easy to check." Christian had already keyed the right file path and was into the proper directory by the time he'd finished explaining to Michael what he was doing.
He could hear Michael's shallow breathing through the speaker of the phone. After a few seconds Michael coughed to clear his throat and said, "Well? What are you seeing?"
"He's in a safe cell."
Christian could hear Michael's relief through the phone receiver.
Safe cells had been designed in the early days of Neverland to protect the consciousness from harm while inside the virtual reality world. The danger was mainly due to unintended interruptions in connection or service while freewalking in the new sim-internet. The idea was that if the connection was severed without proper warning, then the mind would be lost inside the vastness of the sim-world with no chance of the victim being revived. Some were even thought to be intentional. Defectors from the real world.
Twenty years before Christian was born, when the World Wide Web had been migrated completely over to a sim-based internet, many of these types of accidents occurred. There were still comatose patients in infirmaries all over the world whose consciousnesses had never been returned to them. They were the lost. Or The Lost Boys, a nickname that had grown out of the mythos of the new internet that was being called Neverland. Though, not all of the lost were men, and certainly not all of them boys. Some thought that the consciousnesses of these early casualties still roamed Neverland, haunting the vastness of the coded cyber-landscape until their real world bodies failed them.
Later on, the safe cells took on another purpose. Many people believed that if the body died while in game, due to something like fire, natural disaster, heart attack, brain tumor, or what-have-you the mind could be preserved in this safe cell, and implanted in a surrogate body later on. Even though no such thing had ever been accomplished, it didn't stop people from writing code for safe cells.
Michael piped in, impatient as always. "Okay. Can we go get him?"
"I'm way ahead of you, Michael." Christian's fingers flew across the keypad on his thigh. "We actually don't have to go anywhere. All we need is the code to open the safe cell, and I already have it. I'm calling it in remotely right now." Christian grinned a self satisfied grin and sat back in the chair as he punched the last keystroke. "He should be waking up there any second."
Thanks for reading. Your comments are appreciated. Good or bad.