Otherland Series #4
Hardcover, 922 pages
Otherland -- the private, multidimensional universe created and controlled by The Grail Brotherhood, an organization made up of the world's most powerful and ruthless individuals -- was crumbling. The Brotherhood's plans for immortality within the network had been shattered by the monstrous intelligence that ran the network, a presence known only as the Other, and by the even more monstrous human being who called himself John Dread. Seizing control of the network from his employer, Felix Jongleur, Dread had now made himself the god of this virtual universe and was systematically turning the network's worlds into killing grounds.
As helplessly trapped as Renie Sulaweyo, !Xabbu, Sam Fredericks, Martine, Paul Jonas, and the rest of the small band who had entered Otherland in an attempt to save the many children held captive within this virtual reality, Jongleur was now forced to make common cause with his enemies. Yet even as they struggled through the maze of invented worlds, striving to reach the true heart of Otherland, time was growing short.
"I know. I hate the bastard-I'd like to throw him off the mountain myself. But we're going to have to live with Felix Jongleur until we get some answers to what's going on. What's that old saying about keeping your friends close and your enemies closer?" Renie squeezed the girl's arm. "This is a war, Sam. Not just a single battle. Putting up with that terrible man . . . well, it's like being a spy behind foreign lines or something. We have to do it because we have a bigger purpose."
Sam looked down, unable to hold Renie's gaze. "Chizz," she said after long moments, but she sounded like death. "I'll try. But I'm not going to talk to him." pg. 16-17
She felt a brief desire for a cigarette, and realized with surprise that it had been a long time since she had thought about smoking.
Just too damned busy trying not to get killed, she decided. Effective, but there must be easier ways to quit.
Jongleur had his back against a rock some ten meters away and appeared to be sleeping himself, or at least his head was sunk on his chest and his eyes were closed. Renie could not help thinking he looked like a vulture waiting with the patience of millions of years of blind evolution for something to die. pg. 21
"I was just thinking about this place and how much like a dream it is. How nothing is quite normal, but in a dream that doesn't matter because you're waiting for something important to happen. And then I suddenly just thought, what if this place is a dream?"
!Xabbu cocked his head. "What do you mean?"
"Not a dream, really, but strange and unreal for the same reason that a dream is. Why is it that things happen all funny in dreams, things look funny? That nothing is ever quite . . . complete? Because your subconscious isn't actually very good at recreating the stuff the conscious mind usually sees, or else it just doesn't care."
Sam stirred in her sleep, disturbed by the urgency in Renie's tone, so she dropped her voice to a whisper. "I think the Other built this place. I think it meant us to come here, and it built this place out of its own mind, like a dream. What did Jonas call it? A metaphor." Spoken aloud, it did not seem as obviously true. It was hard to conceive of their own existence having any importance to that vast, suffering figure.
"Made this from its mind? But if this Other runs the system, then it has access to anything-all of those worlds, each one perfect." !Xabbu frowned, thinking. "It seems strange it should build anything so unreal."
"But that's just it," Renie said excitedly. "It didn't build those other worlds. Those were made by people-programmers, engineers, real people who know what a real world is supposed to look like, and how to make even an imaginary world look real. But what does the Other know? It's just an artificial intelligence of some kind, right? It sees patterns, but it's not a human. It doesn't know what would seem real to us and what wouldn't, just the general shape of things. It would be like giving a book to a very intelligent child who can't read, then telling him, "Now you make one of these books for yourself." The kid might have all the right letters to use from the one you gave him, but he couldn't make them into a story. So it would be a weird thing that just looked like a book. Get it?"
!Xabbu thought about it for a long moment. "But why? Why would the Other create a new world?"
"I don't know. Maybe just for us. pg. 23
Jongleur's smile stretched his lips but went no farther. "That is correct. So while you consider where your loyalties lie, take this into your counsels. That far-from-ordinary-psychopath Dread not only has control of the most powerful and complex operating system ever developed, that system itself has already managed to reach out of its Grail Project bottle and into my house network. Which means that the Other-and Dread, as its controlling force-can reach anywhere on the global net."
He stepped out of the crevice and onto the path, turned toward the downhill slope, then paused.
"The damage Dread can do here is nothing compared to what he'll do when he discovers his new reach." Jongleur spread his hands wide. "Just imagine. The whole world will be at his fingertips-air traffic control, critical industries, stockpiles of biological weapons, nuclear launch facilities. And as you have already discovered, Johnny Dread is a very, very angry young man." pg. 31