buildings; illuminations; banded energy; hulking, mountainlike features and rivers of brilliance; and blasted, fallow places suggesting wastelands. The whole was defined by a grid pattern resembling nothing so much as a world of circuitry. He fell feet first, arms extended upward.
The grids and the globe itself expanded before him as he plunged toward them. Interlaced luminance, soaring spires and modular structures reminiscent of cities, became better defined. A megalopolis among these rose up to meet him, set by a trackless stretch of geometric cliffs and gorges. Around him, Flynn seemed to feel a tunnel made up of the increments of his journey, as if he were dropping through an infinite series of hoops of energy.
He fell and fell, completely disoriented, amazed nearly to the point of thoughtlessness, absorbing all that he saw.
And at last the tunnel ended. He shot from its mouth; the ground flew up at him.
H E CAME TO on an open, stagelike surface atop an enormous. building, surrounded by a cylinder of light that stretched up into infinity.
When Flynn looked at himself, checking for damage, what remained of his composure nearly fled. He was costumed in strange armor that weighted his shoulders and forearms. Over it, he wore a wraparound half-tunic. He held up his hands for a better look. He was aglow, a being of light.
Wasn’t I always? he gibbered to himself. Incandescent lines, resembling circuitry, ran over his torso and limbs, reminding him of the meridian lines he’d seen on acupuncture charts. He shook his head to try to clear it—not a very helpful gesture—and felt the weight of headgear. The touch of his fingers told him he wore a close-fitting helmet.
He looked around, dazed. Beyond the cylinder of brightness were a number of . . . men? Manlike beings, anyway; big, husky-looking uglies in uniforms that accentuated their breadth and bulk. They were cowled, faces hidden but for odd devices that reminded Flynn of gas masks.
They had the air of authority, or at least of power. They carried tall staffs that shone with what Flynn regarded as a threatening inner glow, handling them with gestures evocative of menace. Beyond them, Flynn could see the walls, balconies, stages, and towers of an incredible complex, ablaze with colors, brilliant, unmatched by anything he knew. Flynn couldn’t say much for the looks of the goons, but the buildings, though bizarre and unsettling, were arresting, even gorgeous.
There stirred in him a memory of his encounter with the MCP, and the recollection, too, of a computer maxim: “It’s all a problem of software; in hardware, there are no more problems.” As far as software problems go, his mind reeled, I think I just came across a doozy!
He gaped, staring around himself, muttering, “Oh man! This isn’t happening. It only thinks it’s happening!” The Flynnism only partially helped him regain control. Then one of the brawny staff-wielders moved up to face him through the light cylinder, while the rest fanned out around him. The one before him raised his staff and the shimmering column that had surrounded Flynn winked out of existence.
His memory was fragmented; this was far too much to absorb right now. His surroundings cried out for closer inspection, and he was in a dilemma that looked unpleasantly lethal. Several possible explanations for this impossible situation crowded one another for his attention: dream, coma, or hallucination? Something somebody had slipped into a drink? Except, he couldn’t recall having had one recently. The last thing he could remember was being at ENCOM . . .
Dream or no dream, Flynn didn’t like the looks of those staffs. He shifted his weight, readied his hands, and watched them warily. The darkness of the cowls made it difficult not to be intimidated. One of those apes, unarmed, would be a pretty tough project, he judged; three or four of them with those neon quarterstaffs—bad news.
Flynn cocked his fists, despite a