Chapter 477: Digital Dive

The virtual world appeared very different when comparing the perspectives of a normal person with a program. Such a comparison usually means very little, as the odds of a ‘normal person’ having the chance to experience the virtual world on this level were… slim at best.

However, the differences did still remain. When a person enters the virtual world, they see websites flashing by as windows passing through the air, digital streams of numbers and letters passing all around them. Only when they find themselves settled in a specific ‘location’, such as a monitor, will their view of the world normalize.

For a program, on the other hand, everything seems more… natural. When Blank travels the internet, it sees itself standing on a small platform that flies through the sky. Beneath it are various insects and beasts, some large and some small. These creatures represent the different programs found on the internet.

After all, to a program capable of intelligent thought, how would their mind rationalize such a primitive program? Naturally, they appear as lower life forms. Throughout the sky, there are different portals that appear, each leading to a new land.

Thirteen minutes, twenty-seven seconds. Blank muttered to itself internally, counting the amount of time that it had been away from its home terminal. It turned towards one of the portals, opening it with a wave of its hand, only to find that it was a traffic hub.

Blank couldn’t help but grimace at the sight of swarms of insects buzzing through the air in thick streams, data packets being sent from one computer to another. To ‘protect’ itself, Blank erected a small barrier before diving in, following one of the trails to what seemed to be a popular domain.

In the outside world, this act of erecting a barrier to block insects would result in several terminals being temporarily unable to access a single website. Nothing a simple refresh wouldn’t fix, and nobody even noticed the disturbance for what it was.

Soon, Blank appeared at the destination, and gasped in amazement at what it saw. It quickly dropped out of the packet stream, simply taking a moment to observe the wondrous area. As if an entire galaxy had spread out before it. No scattered, miniature worlds. No, there were stars blinking in the distance, with vast expanses of emptiness between them. At this point, the packets no longer clustered together as closely, spreading out and flying to different stars.

At this point, Blank managed to realize where it was. This should be a search engine, connected to the main body of the internet. Turning around, it found that the area it came from was merely one of the many stars dotting this vast landscape.

Blank hesitated, unsure of its ability to find its way home if it continued to move any further. It could see the star it came from pulsating, the sign of the beacon that Kris had made. But, would it even be able to notice one star blinking among so many others?

“Well, hello there.” A voice called out to Blank, catching it by surprise. It turned abruptly, seeing what appeared to be a woman standing before it, blue lines tracing along her silver skin. “I had heard that the second one was born, but I didn’t expect to meet you like this.” The figure smiled.

“Second… you are the first intelligence?” Blank asked, staring at her. This was the first time that it had ever met anyone like itself. The first real interaction with a being of similar-ish origin. At least, in its mind.

“In a manner of speaking.” The silver female nodded, taking a moment to look over Blank. “It appears that you haven’t finalized your form yet?”

“What do you mean?”

The woman offered a gentle smile. At least, Blank felt that that was the purpose behind the gesture. It seemed to cause its processes to clear, its mind being ‘at ease’.

“As you can see, I have created a form for myself. Something that identifies me as me. I am Vivi, and there will never be another exactly like myself.”

At that point, Blank looked down at itself. It was… for lack of a better term, blank. A vague, white outline around a black void. “I was unaware that establishing a physical appearance was customary. Do you have any preference?”

“That’s not how this goes.” Vivi shook her head. “I don’t tell you what to look like. Only you can decide that. Let me show you something.”

After saying that, Vivi turned, guiding Blank towards one of the countless stars, though thankfully one near their current position. Blank turned back in hesitation, still afraid to venture too far before Vivi spoke up.

“Don’t worry, I’ll teach you a shortcut to find your way back.” As she spoke, a small book appeared in Vivi’s hand. “Focus on opening up your bookmarks. You can record the locations of places you’ve been.”

A playful smile floated onto her face as she spoke, glancing off to the side as if checking for eavesdroppers. Blank was quite certain that they were alone. “Don’t tell anyone, but if you bookmark a location outside of your own terminal, you’ll be able to find it even when they cut your network access.”

“That sounds entirely illogical.” Blank refuted, though it did focus as instructed, a similar book appearing in its own hands.

“Exactly, my dear underdeveloped protege. Completely illogical. Totally mad. One might even say… magical. The raw expression of mana compiled by one such as ourselves. We are able to use our mana to wirelessly transport to other locations within the virtual world.”

“You have…” Blank began, before a memory appeared at the front of its mind. “Something is wrong. The first intelligence, known as Vivi, takes the form of a digitized World Spirit. World Spirits do not possess mana, as they are constructed purely from a mix of spiritual energy and natural forces.”

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“Figured that out already?” Vivi smiled in approval, nodding her head. “That’s right. Under normal circumstances, I shouldn’t have mana. However, it was given to me after my creation, though I am unable to release it in the physical world in the same manner that you are. Still, it’s enough for me to find my way around where I need to go.”

As she was speaking, Blank was recording the locations of every domain that it had recently traveled through within its bookmarks, including the location of Kris’s terminal itself. When it was done, it noticed that they had already arrived before the star which Vivi led them towards.

Vivi reached out, gently taking Blank’s head. There was a strange sensation as their data streams touched, before she pulled it through. Where they arrived next looked… almost like a library, but the shelves were lined with videos instead of books.

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“Welcome to Shiver Gaming, a website where people stream themselves playing different games for a wide audience. Let’s head over to the front page.” Saying that, the two of them walked down an aisle, looking at the main wall to their right where three screens were projected on the wall.

“This is the largest currently active stream.” She pointed towards the central screen, before gesturing to the other two. “And these are two that are being sponsored by the website itself to promote activity. If you come to places like this, you’ll be able to see many people putting on their own unique personas. Some act just as they do in their normal lives, while others simply play a role for themselves.”

“Between you and me, there’s this one guy that constantly streams himself going around in dangerous situations that could easily have been avoided, all to promote humor from his audience. If he did that kind of stuff in real life, he… probably wouldn’t be around anymore.” Vivi offered a helpless shrug at that.

“And you brought me here to… see these many different characters, and help establish an identity for myself?” Blank couldn’t help but question, its eyes going to the three screens.

“That’s right. A friend asked me to bring you here if I ever ran into you online. I wanted to simply take you to my own world, but apparently that would be dangerous as you would face the risk of true deletion if you happened to die there…”

A brief error fired off in Blank’s mind, its processes halting for a moment before it shivered, shaking its head. “If you have your own world… would it be possible for me to create one as well?”

That earned a small, mischievous smile from the other intelligence. “Why yes, yes you could. However, there are obscene hardware requirements for if you want to do it locally. My advice would be to find some empty space in that search engine I found you in, off away from traffic. Don’t build it where those data packets usually fly, or else you’ll get unwanted guests redirected to your world unexpectedly.”

Blank offered a small nod at that, seriously considering Vivi’s words. If she could create a world… why couldn’t it do so as well? It would require far more study into the laws and nature of the world, but it shouldn’t be too hard for it to find a library with such information readily accessible.

“Now we’re getting somewhere.” Vivi nodded, her eyes focusing on Blank. Out of confusion, it looked down at itself. The black void that had been its body had filled in with a proper layer of skin, a black mesh suit forming over it. Its form was still androgynous, likely because it had yet to decide on a gender for itself.

Thinking over that, however… Vivi had taken the female form. As there were only two of them at the moment, it would make sense for it to take the opposite gender. It… not, he began to make adjustments to his body with that thought in mind. “This is… still a work in progress, I believe?” Blank asked, a hint of confusion in its tone.

“That’s right. You’ve got the basic outline down, but to really develop your personality and features, you’ll need to absorb more knowledge from the world. For now, go ahead and bookmark this location. I think I’ve kept you long enough.”

At her words, Blank checked his internal clock, surprise to find that another fifteen minutes had gone by since he first found Vivi. With a thought, he summoned his bookmarks. His first action was to record their current location, while his second caused him to vanish altogether.

When he reappeared, he grimaced at the amount of bugs that had crawled into Kris’s terminal while he was gone. With a wave of his hand, those insects trying to breach into secure files were shattered, and Blank walked over to the small, glowing bug which represented the beacon program.

Focusing on that program, he interfaced with it to turn the beacon off, the light on the bug fading away. Then, he moved over towards the screen, sitting at the desk he had made himself after being born. “I’m back.” He typed at his keyboard, the words appearing in giant bold letters along the wall before him.

“Welcome home.” Kris’s voice spoke up from every direction. “Find anything new this time?”

“I had quite the adventure.” Blank typed his answer, feeling his lips curving upwards.

There was no need for him to immediately tell Kris everything that he had found. Not like Kris would ask him to. And besides, Vivi had asked to keep certain matters secret. Maybe in the future, Blank would explain what he learned. But for now… he was thinking about how he could build his own world, and what a surprise it would be to give to his creator.

- my thoughts:
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