“I’m not going anywhere.” I said. “None of that matters if everyone in my family dies in the plague. The one I could have stopped!”
“Mechal, listen, this plague might kill them or the next or the one after that. The only real solution is to end the plagues. You are the only person that can do that.” Ashlyn said.
“How? How am I supposed to go through this door. Don’t you think they had Tows when the village was founded?” I said.
This actually took Ashlyn back a bit she seemed rattled by it.
“I see. You really haven’t thought this through. You just hope it will work.” I taunted.
“You think you’ve got things figured out? Turn off your pet and I’ll tell you what you really are.” Ashlyn said.
“Melsa, shut down.” I said.
“Understood. Shutting down.” Melsa answered.
“There, tell me.” I said.
“Why do you think this animal follows you around?” Ashlyn asked.
“I thought you were going to tell me.” I answered.
“Just answer the question. What do you think this animal does?” She insisted.
“I don’t know. She knows about animals but expects me to know as much as she does. Sometimes she asks me what I think of an animal.” I said.
“What did you tell her?” Ashlyn asked.
“I usually just make something up.” I said.
“You should be careful with what you say. Your father objected to the size of the Alk he was about to kill. He said it was too small. I haven’t seen a small Alk since. They used to be different sizes but they’ve all been enormous since then.” Ashlyn said.
“Why? What does that mean?” I asked.
“That’s not all though, your brother tried some pretty silly things that his pet objected to. When he tried to improve the quality of an animal, it listened.” Ashlyn said.
“So I can make an animal bigger and tougher? What good does that do?” I objected.
“Not,” She paused for a moment, “exactly. At the world door, there is a creature that cannot be hurt. My sister and I have talked for a long time about what we know about this world. We think that it’s breaking the rules. It is not huntable and every other creature here can be hunted.” she said.
“So I make it so this creature can be killed, who is going to kill it? I’m sure you expected your sister to do it but now, well, she won’t be able to. If I do, I’m not a TOW anymore. If you do, you’re not invisible to the animals anymore.” I said.
“At that point it doesn’t matter. Once the creature is dead, we can enter the world door and end the need for all that.” She said.
“How? Why does going through this door fix things? Usually going through a door just brings you to another place.” I said.
“My Grandmother said that when the world doors open up, we should go through them, to not be afraid. She also talked about fixing this world once the doors opened up.” She said.
“If I’m going to do this, I want answers. I want to know what you know about my father and Jash.” I said.
“Well, most of that should be easy to guess at this point. Jash wanted another Tow, he always looked at it like free meal. He always did think small. He came to us to give this little jaunt credibility. He’d bragged to us about your father and brother for years, we knew all his stories.” she said.
“But that doesn’t explain why my father killed him.” I said.
“Did your father say anything to you after he killed Jash?” she asked.
“He told me to to go on the hunt. Then something about his vows being fulfilled.” I said.
“Jash saved you father’s life, he may have vowed something at that point, but it wouldn’t have been to kill Jash. Tow had killed an Alk, then thought he could kill a great ibex by himself. He must have vowed to let you go on a hunt but you weren’t born yet. Jash must have somehow figured you would inherit his status and made your father vow to let his sons hunt under him.” she said.
“What about my brother? You started to tell me, but never finished.” I said.
“No, I was showing you. Melsa was the spineox, what would happen if you had killed an animal in front of her at that moment?” she said.
“I wouldn’t be a Tow anymore.” I said.
“And what would happen to Melsa?” She prompted.
“I don’t know.” I said.
“Poof! She’s gone and you’re left hanging out with a regular spineox. You’d be dead before you knew it. Only with your brother, his pet was a bladebuck.” she said.
“I wonder if I would have made the same mistake?” I said.
“Not with me helping!” she said.
I looked up at the plague moving through the forest and devouring it’s path.
“Do you think we could get to the world door before the plague gets to the village? I asked.
I realized there was a column of smoke rising from the edge of the plague swarm.
“Wait, do you see that?” I asked.
“I do, they might be in there.” Ashlyn said.
We rose and started toward the smoke. It took every bit of strength I had to move but I had to know.
“Melsa.” I said.
“Online.” Melsa responded.
Ashlyn as always walked much faster than I could. She made no effort to wait for me either.
“Melsa, do you see that smoke rising up over there?” I asked.
“I do.” She answered.
“Can you fly over and see what is happening there?” I asked.
Melsa thought about this for a moment. “Is there a construct you want me to report on in that location?” She said.
“No, I’m worried about the hunting party, I want to know if they’re still alive.” I said.
Melsa again thought for a few moments. “I don’t have anything in my protocols to prevent it but it is not my primary function.” She said.
“Can you do it as a favor to me?” I pleaded.
Again Melsa contemplated. “I can.” She waited “Yes.” she finally said and flew towards the smoke.
Ashlyn noticed Melsa flying by and looked back at me with a unpleasant expression.
By now, the plague was ahead of us by several hours. They may have just caught up to the hunting party or the fire could have been burning all night.
After an hour Melsa flew back to me.
“What did you see?” I asked.
“The hunting party is there. However two are missing.” Melsa said.
“Which two were missing?” I asked.
Melsa cocked her head. “I apologize, I did not pay attention to their identities.
“Oh, you were flying too high up to see?” I commented.
“No, I have never paid attention to who they are.” She said.
“Melsa, we traveled with them for days.” I said.
“I only interact with you.” She said.
“I see. If they survive, it would be a good idea to remember their names. You can do that can you?” I asked.
“Yes I can. I have abundant memory allocated to me. May I ask a question?” Melsa said.
“Yes.” I said.
“What is your name?” Melsa asked innocently.
I nearly fell over. “Mechal Hill.”
“Thank you, I’ll remember it.” Melsa said.
“Good.” I replied.
I thought for a few minutes about what Ashlyn said about the creature at the world door.
“Melsa.” I said
“Yes Mechal?” She responded.
“If an animal could not be hunted, could you change it so that it was possible to be hunted.” I asked.
“Your state of dehydration must be worse than indicated by my scans. Mechal, it is my primary function to optimize the hunting experience of the guests. This includes design parameter alterations. Although I have said it multiple times before, you act like you have no idea what being a TOW means.” Melsa said.
“That’s good to know. Or be reminded of.” I fumbled.
The plague was moving away faster than I could move toward it. I would not be able to catch up. The question was if the plague was going to pass the hunting party or if it would keep attacking them until their fires went out.
“Melsa, you can’t ‘poll’ the plague but you can poll other animals right?” I asked.
“Yes Mechal” she said.
“Can you poll the plague rodent that is also a Glyph? Because you were able to tell where it was.” I said.
Melsa thought about this, or maybe she did it before answering me. “I am able to poll the second Glyph.”she said.
“Can you lock the second Glyph?” I asked.
“I do not have permissions to lock a Glyph. In any event, glyphs don’t move.” Melsa said.
“But this Glyph does move. Try to lock it.” I insisted.
Melsa thought for a moment. “I am able to lock the second Glyph.” she said.
“If you can lock it, can you take it over?” I asked.
“I cannot take over a Glyph.” Melsa said.
I was growing frustrated with this. “You can’t lock a Glyph either but you can lock this one. Maybe it’s not a Glyph but is pretending to be one.” I said.
“That would seem to correlate with the facts of this situation. Very well, I will attempt it.” Melsa said.
“And when you do, come here to me.” I said.
“Understood.” Melsa said.
The Owlkin took off and flew toward the forest. Did that mean that Melsa was successful? Did the one plague, the Error, control the others? I’d only know if the plague turned back toward me.
I watched for some sign of the plague moving. Of course the whole mass of them churned and writhed but I hoped for them to turn as one group. The Glyph, the real one, was trying to destroy the creature at the center of the swarm, did that mean that killing it would end the rest of them?
I had heard the stories of the town fighting the plagues before. I was too young to remember the last plague with any clarity. There was a point where they would say the plague was “broken”, when they became easier to kill. I never understood why they said they became easier to kill, only that after huge fires had burned into the plague they “broke” and became less aggressive.
“Ashlyn!” I shouted. She was now well ahead of me. She didn’t react so I tried again. “Ashlyn!”
She turned with a look of annoyance that I would distract her.
“Look! The plague is turning!” I said.
She looked and turned back to retreat from the now advancing creatures.
I stood still. Melsa would come to me and keep the plague away from the others. I wasn’t looking forward to being swamped by them again, but I saw little choice.
Ashlyn approached “Why did they turn?” She asked.
“Melsa has taken over the error and is bringing it here.” I said.
“She can control the plague?” Ashlyn said.
“Apparently, and since she comes back to me in whatever form she inhabits, the plague will surround me and leave everyone else alone. Go around the swarm and find out how they’re doing.” I said.
Ashlyn looked at the approaching plague uncomfortably.
“You’re crazy for doing this.” she said.
“Probably. I’m not looking forward to this, but if it saves their lives, then that’s what I have to do. I’ll try and move the plague away from the village but I doubt I’ll make it far. If I get into trouble, I’ll transfer Melsa out of the error.” I replied.
“I can’t leave you. You’ll kill and then the plague will kill you. I need you to stay alive or we’ll never fix this world. There will be more and more plagues and the village will eventually fall to one.” she said.
I actually hadn’t thought of killing the error. I was mainly concerned with protecting the hunting party but I probably would have thought of it eventually.
“Ashlyn, I won’t kill the error, not yet. I promise.” I said.
“You’ll be tempted to.” she said.
“The plague is controllable now. I can keep it away from the village for a while. Find the others, have them start fires between plague and the village then send them back with a warning of what’s coming. If you’re right about this world door, we’ll fix this before the plague gets to them.” I said.
“No, come with me to the world door now, why wait?” Ashlyn said.
“Because I don’t have Melsa. I can’t do anything without her and she can’t hear me from here.” I said.
Ashlyn’s face grew stern. “Curse you! Fine, but I hold you to your promise. If you don’t keep it I’ll kill the others myself.” she said.
I nodded in agreement. Ashlyn left and I watched as the plague slowly approached. First there were a few dozen that ran about at my feet, then a hundred. After a while they covered the ground, no soil was visible. They stacked up on top of each other two deep then three and four.
The Glyph was still trying to find and kill the error. A grehawk flew overhead. I could feel a breeze from it’s huge wing flaps.
What would Melsa do? She seemed unable to defend herself when the plague was attacking the tigerwolf. Can she actually die? Maybe it would be for the best if the grehawk killed the error even if she was controlling it.
The grehawk soared over the middle of the oncoming tide of plague. As it dove down low, a mound formed in the middle, they were protecting her even if she wouldn’t protect herself.
I could barely see it but the hundreds of plague were jumping up, trying to attack the grehawk. It would only get one strike. If it missed the error, they would swarm over it and kill it.
Eventually the grehawk just circled overhead, giving up on killing the error.
Hours later, as the swarm finally centered around me, as they pissed all over and left their droppings in my cloths and climbed up my arms with their claws, I heard Melsa again.
“I will not be able to maintain this indefinitely. Although I was able to take control of this construct, something ‘other’ is trying to gain access.” Melsa said.
“I don’t understand.” I said.
“Neither do I, there are no humans in this area that I can detect that would have an interface to do this. The Glyph, or rather a Glyph should automatically supersede my control. The only thing I can surmise is that the construct itself is fighting me for control.” she said.
“Considering the Glyph isn’t able to control it, I’d have to guess it has a mind of it’s own.” I offered.
“Although the constructs do indeed have minds of their own, this exceeds their system permissions.” Melsa said.
“Did you notice that they were protecting you from the grehawk flying overhead?” I asked.
“Which would indicate they communicate and strategize.” Melsa said.
“Do you know how long you can hold on?” I asked.
“It’s difficult to tell, but I have the advantage at the moment. I should be able to maintain control for two days.” She said.
That was longer than I was expecting. “What about a lock? Will that last as long?” I asked.
“The permissions are similar, they should maintain the same resistance to alteration.” Melsa said.
“If you took control of the grehawk could you pick me up?” I asked.
“That would be unsafe, the grehawk is not intended as a transport.” Melsa said.
“Melsa, I’m not going to be able to walk out of here.” I said.
“Yes, your physical condition is worrying.” Melsa responded.
“So I can die here or you can try and carry me.” I said.
“If you die, you should contact someone to have the Glyph revive you.” Melsa said.
“Melsa, the Glyph doesn’t revive people anymore. If I die, no one can revive me. What would happen to you if I die?” I said.
“I would no longer be needed. I would be deactivated.” Melsa said.
“Would you be reactivated when another Tow showed up?” I asked.
“No, my memory would be stored in archive. Another interface instance would be generated for another Tow, but there are no other TOW in this world, you are the last to have the genetic profile.” She said.
“So there will be no more interfaces, no more Tows. Is that what you want?” I asked.
“My desires are irrelevant.” Melsa answered.
The weight of all the plague was pulling me down. I was having a hard time keeping my head above them.
“Is it proper for there to be no more Tows?” I pushed.
“The Glyph protocols are designed for a TOW to review the world.” She answered.
“So it would violate protocol for there to be no more Tows.” I said.
“Correct.” Melsa replied.
“Then it would violate protocols if you don’t use the grehawk to carry me out of here.” I reasoned.
“Apparently so.” Melsa responded.
“Then lock the error, transfer to the grehawk and come pick me up.” I demanded.
“Confirmed.” the error said.
I looked up and watched the grehawk dive down. I struggled to my feet and raised my arms.
As the grehawk flew down low, plague leapt onto it. It’s huge talons swung forward and it’s wings flapped once to bring it to a near standstill while hovering above me. It was bigger than I expected, it’s huge claw wrapped completely around my torso. The wind was forced out of me as it flapped it’s wings repeatedly, trying to lift us from the ground. With each moment, more plague leapt onto it.
I blacked out and when I came to, we were flying high above the plague.
“What direction should I take you? I’m unaccustomed to serving as a conveyance.” Melsa said.
I strained to answer. The claw that held me was like a vice around my chest.
“Hunting. . .party.” I managed.
“Understood. I may not make it the full distance, these constructs are damaging the grehawk’s wings with alarming efficiency.” Melsa stated.
True to her word, I watched the huge feathers of the grehawk’s wings drop off four or five at a time. Melsa’s flight became more and more unsteady until we were falling more than flying.
Melsa dropped me and I landed poorly. Her landing was even worse. I crawled over to her.
“Melsa are you ok?” I asked.
“I am going to have to abandon this construct.” She said.
“I understand.” I said.