Previous: Chapter 5, “Raven Calling”
Everything was hard angles and cold edges.
Sand looked at the alien dream around him. It was—small.
Or rather, it felt small. It was hard to see just how large it really was. The quality of the light was flickering, almost strobing, and most of the dream was empty darkness. What substance there was gleamed white, and even that was filled with holes and gaps through which darkness showed.
Sand reached out to touch the nearest bit of substance. There was a buzz and a thrum within that reminded him suddenly of powerlines.
The strange shapes he was seeing focused, for a moment. Numbers. The whole dream was made of numbers, all tangled together and linked to form its substance.
What sort of dream was this?
A piercing, ululating noise tore across his eardrums. Sand clapped his hands to the sides of his head and looked around wildly, trying to pinpoint the source of the sound. There.
A white mask floated above him, staring down without eyes.
What are you?
The words interfaced directly with his mind, bypassing the conduits of his ears. Convenient, as he might not have heard them over the din, otherwise.
What am I? Sand mentally shouted back. What are you?
You are not part of the designated program. You are a virus, an error, or a glitch. What are you?
The ululating sound assaulting Sand’s ears increased exponentially. It was hard to focus. Hard to think. You’d have to be deaf not to—
Sand shut off his hearing. It was the logical thing to do, and, like throwing a switch, the sound was gone. Well, not gone, precisely. He could still feel it buffeting him, a vibration down to his bones, but the intensity of it was at a far remove, now that he could not hear it directly.
It had no effect on the voice in his head, however.
What have you done? How do you resist the program? The mask flew down and hovered right in front of his face, almost nose to nose.
Not that it had much of a nose.
Sand took several deep breaths before replying.
I’ll make you a deal. Sand sent the thought winging toward the mask with a bit more mental force than was strictly necessary.
The mask recoiled, slightly. Sand smiled.
I will trade you, question for question, truth for truth. Either one of us can stop the game after a round of questioning. Equitable?
The mask was silent. Sand presumed it was thinking.
Equitable, it said at last. And an acceptable parameter at this time.
What are you? it asked again.
I’m human, Sand replied. What are you?
False. The mask sounded angry. Truth was an accepted parameter, but your statement is false. You cannot be human. Humans do not exist within the Hardware. Humans do not exist within the Program. Therefore, you cannot be human. Your statement is false.
Sand felt the vibration in his bones increase. The mask was trying to attack him again.