Turning right here is just what they would expect, Mari’a thought. For sure, the neuragents should’ve learned this much by now – we have been going at it for at least a dozen kiloticks. Her usual feeling of control over such situations was entirely undermined by the lack of any indication of activity of the others. They are only simpletons, this cannot be any kind of elaborate trap – or could it be? she wondered. Life in simulations such as this one was simple, Mari’a knew: you were either the last one standing or you weren’t. Of course, it wasn’t her first one; in fact, she couldn’t even remember her first sim and how she had managed to survive. But she had prospered and continued to do so along a long line of hardships. You enter, you learn, you adapt and you conquer – by any means necessary. Yet her adversaries, the neuragents, adapted as well, so she was careful in planning her next move. She wasn’t sure about any of their motives save for the one that was the same as her own: to make it to the next level.
Something clicked in Mari’a’s mind and suddenly, she did something out of her ordinary: she called out to them. “This time, I’ll let you make the first move!” Doing so was risky business, but she felt that this change in strategy should at least draw some attention and create some change in the behavior of the neuragents, so that she could respond to it.
It was in the following moments that she learned something very valuable that would stick with her for a long time to come. The neuragents responded. They came into view slowly, at first being occluded by the many sterile white corners in the hallways of this labyrinthine world, but soon she was able to see them completely. That is, after she had hid herself on a somewhat higher level of the maze with a vantage point that allowed for an easy getaway.
No way, Mari’a thought, no way at all – this is ridiculous.
The neuragents weren’t attacking each other; they simply came to a halt at the point from where her voice had originated. Their improvised weaponry was tucked away safely in their ragged clothing.
Are they cooperating? She had obviously never witnessed this before: organized neuragents. Bullshit, was the sanest thing that came to her mind, this has to be some kind of ruse.
And then, one of them, indistinguishable from the others only by a different arrangement of smears, bruises and tattered clothing, spoke.
“Hello. We are many and you are but one. But we do not wish to fight.”
Yeah right, so did the last few that grabbed their pointy excuses for weapons at the earliest occasion they saw fit. Too bad for them.
“You are not the first to come here, so we have learned that the best way to explain this is to keep it plain and simple: the only way out of here is by joining us.”
Gee, I’m tempted.
“You do not have to hide. I will repeat myself: we will not attack you. You see, there is no end to this infinite sequence of running and fighting – at least, not in the way you think of.” Mari’a felt curious, but cautious. They had never spoken to her in this tone; they had hardly ever gotten past hominid-like battle cries.
“This simulation is not real.”
“There is a way out.”
No, there isn’t, you simply fight and then you live to fight another day.
“Of course, you hesitate in believing us.”
Another neuragent stepped in: “We are simply just like you, trapped in this awful repetition of hunting and killing!” She confessed to herself that she had never thought of the neuragents as being similar to her.
The first neuragent spoke again: “We can break this cycle. And in order to break it, we have to break this reality. There is a way out – it does not lie in the next level, nor in any of the previous ones. It lies outside.” Mari’a kept quiet. “We have found a way after working out the logic of this place. With enough manpower, we can create a sort of paradox that will cause a critical shift in the simcode and that will allow us to go beyond the walls of this prison.” He slapped the nearest wall with a four-fingered hand and left an ugly smear on the immaculately white wall. “Our group has grown in size over time – it seems we only need one more person to make the paradox come into being and crack this simulation. You may be that person. Please, we do not wish to resort to violence. Don’t make us do so.” He sounded almost pleading.
If anything, this is an entirely unreasonable jump in complexity of the simulation, Mari’a told herself. She felt tired after all the endless running and savagely making her way across different simulations. In her memories, she couldn’t distinguish between all the different shades and shapes of the mazes she had survived anymore. But if I want to go on, I have to make a choice. And she knew she had already made up her mind, exhausted as she was. Making the choice had been easier than she had assumed – but this is the way things worked for her most of the time: they clicked.
Mari’a stepped out from behind the wall that had hidden her from the sight of the neuragent since the start of this encounter and looked down on them while they looked up to her. She gripped her holstered weapons tensely, and never let her gaze drift away from the supposed leader of the neuragents.
“Alright,” she spoke, in an undisturbed voice, “it’s time to end this game.”