Three brilliant students. The world’s best supercomputer. What could go wrong?
Well… Not only has Oliver learnt how to harness the power of the Mosverse to affect their world – he’s disabled Szymon with a intra-cranial blackhole and forced Mathilde to research how to make him immortal.
Or simply read on for the chapter!
Chapter Nineteen: Guests in the Mosverse
Think. There has to be a way.
She crushed out her cigarette in the overflowing ashtray on the kitchen table and cursed under her breath.
There has to be a backdoor somewhere. A way to beat him.
Scrolling through Mark II’s code on her tablet for the fifth time, she shook her head. Oliver had thought this through too well. She was boxed in, stuck with a guest account that couldn’t modify anything. Without the ability to modify code, she couldn’t disarm him. He had total control.
For all she knew, he was behind her right now, logged into the Mosverse and watching over her shoulder, making sure she was cooperating. It was a haunting sensation, a sour knowledge in her gut. She showered in the dark now, hoping he couldn’t jack up the luminosity high enough to see her. All privacy was stripped from her, in the most intimate of violations.
She ground her teeth. If he really thinks I’m going to help, he’s got another thing coming.
The Mosverse had exacerbated the worst in him. His ambition and his cynical, me-first worldview had perverted him, and in turn, the Mosverse. She felt her fingers tighten at the thought. She couldn’t let it happen. An immortal Oliver was a nightmare, exactly what she had feared the Mosverse might lead to. He would have total control over the world, forever. The worst type of tyrant, able to spy on everyone, all the time. Just like he was doing to her right now.
She needed to figure out how to break out of the cage he had built her. It wasn’t easy. Every morning, setting a foot out of bed was an ordeal. She wanted it all to disappear, to return to dreams where none of this existed. But she couldn’t. Not with her loved ones at Oliver’s mercy. He hadn’t hesitated for a second to take out Szymon, and she knew he wouldn’t with anyone else either.
An involuntary shiver shook her.
Szymon. How could Oliver have done this to someone as pure and nice as Szymon? Oliver had lived alongside him, laughed with him, but when the time came, he had destroyed him as easily as he would a fly. Tears welled up in her eyes and she quickly batted her eyelids to try to dry them. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction.
She needed to stop him. He was now the most dangerous thing the world had ever known. He could create black holes, anywhere, with the snap of a finger. He could even destroy the world in an instant – a black hole in the Earth’s core, and bye-bye humanity. He had obtained the gift of unlimited power and chosen to use it for evil.
She needed to take him out.
But until she figured out how, stalling for time was key. She would stick on a straight face and pretend she was helping. It was easier than it looked – she had absolutely no idea how to achieve what he wanted.
Oliver’s use of a 3D box to interact with the Mosverse was smart. Brilliant even, considering how impossible she had thought it to be. It was an innovative solution that neatly bypassed the restrictions of Mark II.
But in reality, his invention was still the equivalent of a crude hammer, a rock that he bashed at the dimensional walls of the Mosverse. Immortality though? That was brain surgery. How was she to teach the Mosverse to make a certain person immortal? What did immortality even mean?
Maybe if I froze his cells in place? The cells don’t grow old, so neither does the person?
She shook her head. That was stupid. If the cells were locked in place, then that person would completely stop moving. The brain wouldn’t be able to create new connections and the muscles wouldn’t budge. Sure, the person wouldn’t change anymore – but they’d also be dead.
Not that that would be a bad thing if it happened to Ollie.
That had been her first idea. Maybe it was possible to trick him into killing himself. He was the only one who could modify the code, but she was the one who would provide it to him. If she managed to slip in a virus, or a piece of code that would cause his head to blow up, that would solve all her problems. If Oliver was dead, it didn’t matter whether or not she was locked out of the Mosverse.
Unfortunately, Oliver had seen that coming from a mile away.
“Remember,” he had said, “Don’t mess with me. Any code updates you send me, I’m going to test them out. Not on me, mind you. I’ll try them on your mom, or on Szy. If you do anything funny, they’re the ones who’ll suffer, not me.”
She couldn’t reach him. She didn’t even know where he was. And the moment she tried to leave the apartment, he threatened to kill someone. She couldn’t take him down – she couldn’t even get close to him.
She took a deep breath. If only she had access to the Mosverse. It was the only way to look for him without leaving the flat. But her VR contacts were now shards of glass stuck between the floorboards and her account no longer existed. All she had was a read-only account, and even if she found a way around that, Oliver would see her log in, and stop her.
Or would he?
Now there was a thought worth pursuing. He couldn’t be observing her all the time, right? He had to sleep, to eat, to shit. There had to be moments when he took a break.
Her pulse quickened. If she could only find out when he was watching her and when he wasn’t, she’d be able to act. Better yet, if he was regular about it, she would be able to predict his movements. She’d have a window of freedom in which to fight him.
She opened Mark III’s connection logs and accessed the files that recorded every user log-in to the system. She scanned the read-out, and her heart suddenly broke on the third line.
18/04 – 21:03:521 – Szymon : 30:04:585.
18th of April. She counted the days back in her head. This was the log for Szymon’s first visit to the Mosverse. They had stayed in over 30 hours. She closed her eyes, remembering the giddiness and excitement of those days where they still marveled at what they had created. If only she had known how it would end. She should have pulled the plug and ripped the code out when she still could.
She took a deep breath, opened her eyes, and scrolled down to the very bottom. A gasp caught in her throat.
01/07 – 07:55:983 – Guest C – 8:06:016
01/07 – 15:57:012 – Guest D – 8:01:122
01/07 – 23:59:238 – Guest E – 8:03:018
02/07 – 07:58:270 – Guest A – 8:02:533
02/07 – 11:37:120 – Oliver – 3:15:093
02/07 – 15:57:903 – Guest B – On-going
What? Who’s…? The second to last line was easy to understand. Oliver had logged in at 11:37 a.m., for a total of 3 hours and 15 minutes. But who were Guest A, B, C, D and E? She scrolled back up. The five Guests kept logging in at stacked intervals, and each for just over 8 hours at a time. At all times, there was a Guest in the Mosverse.
Who are these people? She checked the dates, and discovered that they had only started to log in seven days ago. That was right after Szymon was attacked.
A sudden glimmer of hope lit in her heart. Maybe they could help her. Maybe someone had discovered the Mosverse running on Mark II in l’ENS and decided to log in. They had access, and if they had access and she managed to find them, maybe she could rally them to help her fight Oliver.
Her phone rang. She fumbled for it, and her blood froze when she saw the caller ID. Oliver. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a new line pop up on her tablet at the bottom of the log.
02/07 – 17:12:521 – Oliver – On-going
He was here. She scrambled to close the connection logs. Oliver was in the kitchen now, there was no doubt about it. She picked up, and couldn’t help looking around cautiously, trying to imagine where he was standing.
“I thought we had an understanding.”
“We do. I’m working on it right now.”
“Seems to me you’re looking at the connection logs. I don’t see how that’s going to be helpful.”
She glanced back towards her tablet. How did he know? He couldn’t have had the time to see it in the split-second it took her to close it.
The obvious conclusion slammed her in the gut. The Guest profiles. Her last tiny candle of hope instantly snuffed out.
How hadn’t she seen it immediately? Eight hour shifts, overlapping each other. A Guest in the Mosverse at all times. Oliver had recruited five people for the sole purpose of watching her at all times. He didn’t need to be there next to her – he had people doing it for him.
“I’m always here Mathilde,” she heard him say through the phone, “Don’t do it again. Consider this your first warning.”
He hung up. She returned to her tablet, and forced herself to calmly browse through Mark II’s code. Pretend everything is ok. Don’t cry. Don’t yell. Act calm.
Inside, behind the steely exterior she doggedly carried, despair raged. Just when she had thought she might have found a way out, Oliver had proven that she was well and truly trapped. If every single one of her movements was being watched, she was completely stuck.
Her mind narrowed down her options one by one. If she was watched 24/7, then she couldn’t ever leave the flat without him finding out. There was only one way to break free: she had to find a backdoor into Mark II. She needed an entry that would let her modify her puny Guest profile into one that could modify code. All she needed was to bar entry to Oliver, and every problem would be solved. She needed an Admin profile.
She spent another five hours going over as much of the code as she could, line by line, cursing under her breath at each failed attempt. She had coded the Mosverse too well. Whenever she found a weakness she might exploit, she invariably discovered three more lines of code that neatly closed it off. A few parts of her work might break under a frontal attack, but that would take time, and Oliver would immediately stop her.
She tried to open the connection logs again, only to be faced with an error message. You do not have the sufficient security credentials to access this file. Please contact your administrator. Oliver had locked her out of there as well.
She groaned in frustration. From now on, I have to operate under the assumption that my every movement is being watched. She angrily rose from the table, and made herself a cup of coffee.
Try as she might, she couldn’t see a way out. It’s Oliver, her inner voice repeated, over and over again, There has to be a weakness somewhere. She collapsed on her bed that night, but couldn’t find sleep. The blanket felt as if it was suffocating her. She threw it off and lay on her back, but within minutes was back to tossing and turning. She shivered. The walls seemed to be closer than before, and she felt as if she could see the ghostly presence watching her from beside her bed. One of the Guest profiles was there, she felt. They weren’t going to be seeing much in the darkness of the room, but she hated it nonetheless.
Sleep finally found her, yet she awoke the next morning as if she hadn’t slept at all. She stumbled to the kitchen for a bite to eat, only to discover that no bread was left. Dragging on a hoodie, she grabbed her keys, and walked to the door.
She had barely gone down one flight of steps when the lights above her exploded in a rain of glass. She screamed as the corridor went dark.
Her phone buzzed in her pocket. She picked up reflexively, not even bothering to check the caller.
“I’m just going to buy bread!”
“You. Do not. Leave. The flat.” His voice was acid.
“How am I supposed to get food?”
“Carrefour online. Any delivery service. I don’t care. You don’t leave the flat or the next time, a black hole goes into… well, it won’t go into the lamp.”
She climbed back up the stairs and numbly walked back into the apartment. She paced each room backwards and forwards, counting the number of steps and the number of tiles from one wall to the other. Her room, previously a place of peace and creation, had become nothing more than a cramped and hostile cell.
Her days slowly grew into a sordid routine. She spent them in front of her tablet in the kitchen, chain-smoking and staring at her screen. She barely slept at night, and then only in fitful bursts from which she awoke covered in sheets of sweat, trembling at the memory of Szymon calling out to her for help.
Sometimes, when she felt about to burst, she opened all the windows and stood in the kitchen, eyes closed and hands extended. The fresh air felt good. More than once, she caught herself staring out the window as she smoked, wishing she could switch minds with one of the pedestrians below. They had none of her worries. She envied their simple lives and challenges.
Always however, the black cloak of her task fell back on her shoulders, and she returned to the tablet. With nothing else to do, and no way out, she focused on the only thing she could: Oliver’s demands. She repeated it over and over like a mantra: she wasn’t helping him, merely stalling for time until she found a way to fight him. Staying alive and keeping her close ones safe.
Oliver called her every night at 8 to discuss her progress, and quickly grew frustrated as she tried to explain the difficulty of the task.
“You said the same thing about interaction and I proved you wrong. Find a way,” he told her.
The days melded together, and her only contact with the outside world became the grocery deliveryman. Every night, she cried herself to sleep, her head plunged into her pillow so the Guests wouldn’t see her tears. She wanted to lash out, to punch the walls and scream, but every morning, she forced her face into a mask more impassive and submissive than the next.
Szymon would know what to do. She longed for his presence, for the easy and smooth way with which they used to bounce ideas off each other. One morning she took her tablet into his room and spent the day working on his floor, just like old times. Twice, she looked up, expecting to see him poring over his own tablet or logged into the Mosverse, and her heart dropped like a stone at the emptiness she saw instead. That night, she cried like never before, and vowed not to return to his room again.
Oliver wouldn’t even let her out to see him. Every day, she begged him over the phone to let her go. She yelled at him and the guests until her throat was raw. He didn’t budged. One day, when she threatened to stop working until she saw him, Oliver blew up every single glass in the cupboards. She didn’t ask again after that.
She tried to get news of Szymon from the hospital, but they refused to tell her anything besides the fact that his condition was stable. She managed to get Andrzej’s phone number from them, and asked him directly by text. To her dismay, his answer was the same – stable, no progress.
To placate Oliver, she began writing useless code. She still had no idea how to achieve immortality, but she knew she had to produce something. Using tags, she began to map out a person. She kept it simple at first: 12 tags, one for the head and waist each, two for shoulders, elbows, knees and hands. The few tests Oliver ran with her code showed her that Mark III was able to perfectly analyze the movements of a person in the Mosverse. She added more and more tags, first for extra detail, with one on each finger and toe, and then tags that covered every square inch of skin. Slowly, she recreated an accurate mapping of an entire human envelope in Mark III. She didn’t know who Oliver was running it on, but given the size of the person from the readouts he sent her, it was too tall to be her mother, and too active to be Szymon.
Her calls with her mother were clinically short. Mathilde explained that she needed to stay in Paris for the summer because she was working for school, and dodged any questions as to when she’d be back. She knew Oliver wasn’t far, listening in. He might even have a Guest on the other side, monitoring her mother directly.
Eventually, Oliver began to pressure her for more results.
“Great,” he said one night when she had just finished outlining her progress to him over the phone, “Now how do we use that to make me immortal?”
“I’m not sure yet,” she said for what felt like the thousandth time, “I’m working on it. We need to be able to map out more than the envelope. We need to go down to the quark level.”
“That would be trillions of pins.”
“Yeah. I’m working on it. Be patient.”
“Don’t tell me what to do. Get back to work.”
Her hopes of finding a way back into the Mosverse grew slimmer with each day. She slowly came to the conclusion that until he made a mistake, she wouldn’t be able to fight him. She might be able to slip in vulnerabilities into the code, small things she could pass off as innocent mistakes of inattention if caught, but it would take years until they cumulated into a possible exploit.
To make things worse, mapping out the individual quarks in a person’s body was a nightmare of complexity. The human body was an ever-changing mass of matter. Matter went in, matter went out, and matter got transformed into different types of matter. Mapping everything out was impossible. Should she put a tag on the molecules in the air that a person breathed? What about the food they ingested – at what point did that start to count as part of the body? Or feces and urine for that matter. When did those stop being matter belonging to the person?
She tried to research as much as she could online, careful not to access any sites that might lead to Oliver giving her a call. She clearly explained to him the complexities involved, but his only answer was to find a way to solve it. He didn’t care how she did it, as long as she succeeded at it.
She wondered what he was doing when he wasn’t spying on her. She tried googling ‘MOS Corp.’, but that led to an immediate call, and a warning that next time her mom might lose a limb.
He was probably spying on companies around the world and trading stocks, busily accumulating a small fortune. He sent her 5,000 euros on the 15th of July to cover any expenses she might have, which only deepened her certainty that he was focused on making money. If only she could search for more information, she might be able to figure out where he was. Even knowing the country would be helpful – for all she knew, Oliver was somewhere hidden on a beach in Thailand.
One night, as she pored over scientific articles on cellular structure, her eyes red from lack of sleep and her hands jittery from too much caffeine, she almost broke down in tears in front of her tablet. She couldn’t understand half of what the author was saying. The more she read, the clearer the realization became. Even if it were possible to grant Oliver immortality, it would take years of research to simply gain the fundamental biological knowledge she needed. Even if she could change the Mosverse at will, she didn’t even know what to change. She could be stuck in this flat for years or decades.
A darker realization suddenly caught her breath. Oliver would have no need for her after this. If anything, she would be a risk, the only other person aware of the Mosverse. Whether or not she found a solution, she was probably going to die here. This flat would be her grave.
The white walls seemed to move in closer, suffocating her. She began to hyperventilate, and dragged herself out of her chair. She lurched towards the refrigerator in a panic. Water. She needed water. She grabbed the first bottle in sight, unscrewed the lid, and poured it down her throat.
Sprite, she thought, as the bubbles blasted up her nose, setting her coughing and racking. Stupid Szymon. She leaned her elbows on the kitchen counter and took long, measured breaths. Her heart slowly returned to its normal rhythm. Calm down, she thought, Just calm down.
She took out a glass, and poured some Sprite into it. She smirked sadly, pulled out an open bottle of rosé and added it to the glass. She held it up as if to cheer to an invisible Szymon, and took a sip.
It was positively disgusting. She laughed bitterly.
How he had drank something so foul, despite her protests, was something she had never understood. But Szymon was like that. He didn’t care. Hadn’t cared, she caught herself softly. Tears mixed with a smile as she recalled the night of Floriane’s party, where Szymon had obliviously poured himself drink after drink in front of a crowd of flabbergasted Frenchmen. God, how she missed him.
Her glass slipped from her hand and crashed to the floor as it hit her.
There was backdoor! One that Oliver knew nothing about. Caught up in the events of the Mosverse, she had completely forgotten about it. It wasn’t anywhere close to full access, but compared to how hobbled she currently was, it was miles above anything she had at her disposal.
A goddamn, fucking, backdoor.
The only problem was – it wasn’t accessible from the flat. She forced her hands still in case the Guest in the kitchen was particularly focused, and bent down to brush up the fragments of glass on the floor. Behind the feigned preoccupied look she wore, her mind raced.
There’s only one way, she concluded after a long while.
She pulled out her phone, unlocked it, and tapped on the most recent call she had received.
“What?” asked Oliver as he picked up.
“I’m stuck. I don’t have the technical biology knowledge I need.”
“There are tons of books and articles online. Buy some on Amazon if you need to. That’s what I gave you money for.”
“It’s going too slow. It’s going to take me years. I need to talk to an expert.”
He grew silent for a second. She knew he wanted a solution as fast as possible. She pressed harder.
“It might take me even longer than that. Decades. But an expert will give me the shortcuts we need. We couldn’t have built the Mosverse without Szymon’s expertise in physics, remember? How can you expect me to make you immortal without an expert in biology?”
She had to be careful. It had to seem like it was his idea or he’d grow suspicious.
“Maybe I can talk to a professor at l’ENS? I’ve heard Bechet is really good,” she asked innocently.
“No. No way,” he paused, “No professors.”
She waited. Her heart was beating so fast she was afraid it would rip out of her chest. Come on, she thought furiously, Come on Ollie.
“I see your point,” he finally said, “I’ll set up a meeting with Floriane. She’s helped before, she can help again. And we can trust her.”
It took all her strength to restrain the whoop of joy that rose in her throat. He had fallen for it. She hung up, set down her phone, and exhaled a giant sigh of relief.
She lit a cigarette and blissfully dragged in smoke. For the first time in a long while, she was one step ahead.
~ End of Chapter 19 ~
Enjoy the chapter? Make sure to subscribe to my Facebook page here for updates on new chapters, or sign up to my newsletter (I don’t spam, only once a book is complete or for cool free stuff like my short stories!)
Thanks for reading!