“Looks like the gig is up for us. This little sprite had a lot of gall. He found the glitch, and we’re at a loss as what our next move should be. Certainly, we can’t bring harm to him, given he’s so young and innocent. But he knows the morbid truth and we can’t sit idly around twiddling our thumbs at such a breach.”
“They’re sprites, simulated protocols fer God’s sake!”
Xuan was only twelve, but that didn’t stop him from turning every little thing upside down to see what it was, or how it worked. He never stopped. One day, he chanced upon an old house downwind from an automobile manufacturing plant. The property belonged to the industrial park overlooking the marshes of Hải Phòng City, yet they had no use for the derelict other than allowing the workers breaking for a smoke to admire its historical significance. But plant or no plant, little Xuan was undeterred by the “No Trespassing” signs erected at ten-meter intervals on the chain-link fence surrounding the park. He knew of a more direct route on the far end, and to his convenience, it was close to the mysterious stone house. One of the sections of the fence was pried open on the bottom. He simply slid under, got a few specks of dirt he wiped off with ease, and made his way into the house. The front door was locked, but he managed to clamber up to the second story window atop one of the low-hanging gables. Sidling the dormer, he reached over with one hand and slid the window pane open. A plume of stale air blew out and he climbed in.
The house echoed, as if it had a voice of its own from the years spent with those who once occupied it. He scoured each corner and spotted the stairwell. It was narrower than he realized, and each plank creaked a warning, one that was left unheeded. Still, he was unperturbed and felt the reverb of his final step across the second floor. He looked around. Each room was empty of furnishings, except for a few flakes of paint on walls that were in dire need of primer. Loping through a hallway too cramped to aimlessly frolic in, he stumbled into a pale. He almost fell and when he regained his stance, he turned around and kicked it over. It rolled until it bumped into a doorway that was already ajar. The ensuing room was one that slipped by Xuan’s ken of sight. Curious, he entered, carefully pushing the door further open as he crept in with his eyes peeled. It was empty like all the rest; the window was even frosted over with age that gave the wooded view beyond a bleary cast.
Standing erect with arms akimbo, he spotted some kind of perturbation in the walls, as if wafting like ocean waves. Being young, he had no concept of the effects of exhaustion or vertigo, but he remembered his mother telling of her periodic spells of migraines. Could he have prematurely inherited her unpleasant traits? If so, this would have been the first time he got them. The walls rippled a second time. He knew he wasn’t delusional. His curiosity only dampened his fears, especially of the unknown.
Moments later, the entire room undulated like water before melting away into a protean blob. Nothing was recognizable anymore. Even the colors changed, and within seconds, Xuan was staring at a completely different scene. The day was brighter here, and there was no milky overcast. Houses, modular developments sprawled across the landscape. Cars and trucks raced along the busy corridors through subdivisions of a town he knew nothing about or where it was. The hills and planes were littered with tract housing and office buildings, a metropolis of mediocrity that appeared well-to-do and economically vibrant. Seconds ticked by. The scene shifted again in a kaleidoscope of colors and shapes. He was now in the midst of a giant metropolis, overlooking towering skyscrapers. The sky was misty, a deck of smog meandering through the catacombs of steel and concrete. Around the same time, another scene wafted into view, this time a desert smattered with copses of Bermuda grass across the dry lands spanning into eternity. A gust of wind even blew a few grains of sand at Xuan.
He was flummoxed. How could this happen? Was this some elaborate illusion? It looked as though some invisible onlooker was flicking the remote in his hand and changing the channel. To his knowledge, the visions were recognizable of things he knew of in the world, but it was only the beginning.
If this unusual experience was not traumatizing enough, the room became cluttered with multiple images, each one radiating the scents and sounds endemic to its environment. The room melted into a sundry amalgam of portals that Xuan could have easily jumped through had he been more foolish but restrained himself. He was overly curious, downright daring, but he wasn’t stupid. Each section was separated by a border hazed in indescribable imagery that seemed to twist and contort into each other, a uroboric representation of the collision between space and time. The world must have been glitching out, at least from his point of view, and one step out of his margin of safety might have been fatal, or at the very least, would have sent him careening into some other place, stranding him far away from home.
Everything began shifting. The world was indeed falling apart, and Xuan wondered how long he had before he would get on his knees and pray for his life. Shielding his eyes from the confusion splattered all around him, he finally regained his audacity and dropped his arm. He was paralyzed with awe. All around him stood a crowd of creatures he interpreted as giant rabbits, rabbits of impossible colors. He thought he was watching a cartoon, that whoever had control of the remote decided to have a little fun. It only further bemused his preadolescent mind. He hesitated. These cartoon beings sat in place ogling him as curious or surprised as he was standing in this house, or was it a house at this point? One looked female clad in grey fur who placed her open hands over her mouth to express astonishment. With iron courage coupled with a sense of bewitchment, Xuan reached out his hand, careful not to veer too far from his position, toward the female creature. She glanced at a few of her kinsman who were mutually scrupulous, and slowly extended her paw out from the other realm toward him. She paused, her open palm exposing its pads, all of which were limbed with those animated outlines, and clasped his hand. It was a convergence of opposites, and Xuan was the first one of his kind to establish contact with an alien race so out of the ordinary. An open smile graced his face. He was intoxicated. Imagine, encountering and knowing what a cartoon character feels like! The girl reciprocated, and her expression gave her an air of pulchritude, at least for her species. But what did he know?
The images, the undulations suddenly fizzled out and Xuan was back in the room he first entered. The creatures were gone and so were the other places. He was alone, struck with disbelief and hosting an experience everyone he knew would find incredulous. He wanted to see those crazy creatures again, to commingle with a technicolor civilization that he only experienced when watching the streams, or one of his rare visitations to a cinema.
There was a hard knock on the front door. He overheard the prattles of what must have been plant security. Waiting for several minutes before they departed in a couple of shrugs as to who was inside, he could have sworn they made the final decision to condemn the place.
Unearthly voices, rather strange parlances coming from unearthly critters, chimed through the conference pod that floated above the rim of an oceanic world.
“Very lifelike, if I do say so myself!”
“Despite the glitch. We’ll have to fix it, and fast!”
“Done. The place will be demolished in no time. At least it’ll hide our tracks.”
“Still, the Earth Engine works wonders, a game enjoyed by all!”
“You sure this is just a game?”
“Positive. But the strides we’ve made can recreate life in ways only the natural universe could muster. Hence, that little sprite down there. Too bad he has to live in a false world, but then again, what do any of them know?”
“I’d say it’s a travesty! An in-leporine method of crass entertainment.”
“You say that every time you shut off your console before heading to bed!”
Satisfied, the creature leaned back in his grav-chair and chuckled at his fuzzy rival.