Brod stared at the wall of his cell.
Imo noticed him doing that a lot recently. She wondered what he saw there. It definitely wasn't just a wall. When he wasn't staring at the invisible thing, he was playing that damn game over and over again, or reading books with titles 'Advanced Techniques and the Narrative Cycle' and 'Phantasy: It's High And Low Functions' and 'Continuity Mechanics'. She mostly left him to it and yelled at the guards and the prison lawyer she had managed to recruit to her cause.
What Brod actually saw was a pattern. A pattern in the pixels that made up empty space. A pattern in the carpet on the floor of their cell. A pattern in the guard's patrols. The pattern began from whatever was in that game and rippled out through the entire solar system, all that it touched being pulled into its orbit. The orbit of a thousand years.
"A thousand years!" he said, switching the Mega Drive on again. They had no food - again - but they always had a Mega Drive. "emo, our sentence - two billion meseta - it would take 990 years to finish, right?"
"To the second." she had been reading up on the law. She wanted to get out.
"What happened ten years ago?"
"We were ten years younger? Feeve, I don't know." she ignored him, noting that she now swore in Motavian.
"I think we committed the crime ten years ago." he said, "Not only would it explain the vast sum of money we owe..." Motavian banks were big on interest, especially with Palmans, whose job it was every Motavian to swindle outrageously like Horde killed Alliance, "It would also explain... why we're here... on this world... at all..."
He gasped. His vision was blurring again. It seemed to him suddenly that the four in the title screen of Phantasy Star 4 became a five and he was falling, falling into that soft pool of pixels like a puddle in the darkness. He saw himself reach out to the screen and touch it, watch it ripple. The data of the game was entering him like a virus and he knew all that the cycle knew, just for a brief second...
He fell over. Oblivion took him. He saw nothing but images of the game flickering out of the corner of his eye. Then he awoke with the rain pouring down on him. It was midnight and he was in a train station. The last train had just pulled in and a few passengers had just got off, a stressed-looking man in a suit with a briefcase, a large Grantz and a girl huddled in a long black coat muttering something to herself in Motavian. He reached for a newspaper. He was home. That was a relief. Then he saw that it wasn't going to be so simple after all. The date said 2014; 10 years ago. It made sense; he could never repay his debt but if he could turn the clock back, he could stop it from happening. He ran outside and hailed a taxi. 'Cybernetic Carnival' from Phantasy Star 4 played softly in the background as he was whisked to his destination.
He arrived at his home and threw open the door. Imo ran to greet him, looking very surprised. He had been upstairs changing his clothes a second ago. Why was he wearing blue owl feathers? Hastily muttering an excuse. he ran upstairs. He didn't have time to freak out about meeting his doppelganger, he hid behind the door, bashed himself over the head with a candlestick holder and locked himself in the cupboard. He changed the music to something he felt more comfortable with: Staff Roll, Phantasy Star 4.
Five minutes later, his guests started arriving. He greeted them all. An hour or so had gone by when Doran appeared, wet through from the rain.
"My name's Doran." she gasped, "I'm that exile, you know which exile I'm talking about..."
"Welcome, Doran, we've been waiting for you. We've got a place especially booked for you." he said, waving away emo's protest with a glare that was probably a little too hard; he was a rather hungry prisoner.
"Of course. We must keep up diplomatic relations with other worlds. Imo and I fully support your campaign to return home."
"In that case, I owe you one."
"Then we're even."
"Never mind. Have some wine." he smiled at Imo and wandered off upstairs to collapse on his bed, slowly bleed from agoraphobia and timeshock. He had completed his mission. 'Never Dream' from Phantasy Star 2 was playing in the background.
Dev had fallen asleep on the sofa when he heard the noise.
He sat up and stared at the opposite wall. It had started to shake. Slowly, a crack appeared in the middle and the two sections moved apart to reveal a door. He was free. He walked out, blinking as his eyes adjusted to the contrast between the strip-lights of the recycle bin and the light of the stars. His friends were waiting for him; Che, Hyd Lucent, Mog and Joan. Mog licked her fur indignantly; cats were NOT supposed to be half-deleted. Dev felt a rush of pure, absolute joy when he saw his girlfriend alive again. He threw his arms around her, happy to just feel her warmth again, smell her hair, hear her laugh. However, one thing was bothering him.
Joan pointed. Emerging from the bin was Gice, holding an unconscious figure in his arms. It was Doran.
"She's only barely alive." said the priest, "She needs urgent medical attention."
"The Lodge isn't far away. It has life-support systems, but..."
"That'll do." Gice jumped onto the moving platform. As soon as he was able to, he broke into a sprint. They reached the Lodge in no time, where the Motavians welcomed them in and helped them wire Doran up to their life support systems. Doran was a friend of the cult and was admired for her empathy with computers. The androids were gone now, apparently something Doran had created to guard the bin. They were all allowed to rest in the Lodge provided that they did not go anywhere they were not supposed to or play with all the machinery. Dev went to check his e-mail and Joan fell asleep.
Approximately an hour later, the Lodge communication system crackled into life with Doran's voice.
"Behold, Le Roof." she said in a distant voice, "I have brought you the cast of Phantasy Star 5."
Hyd gasped. The entire Wastebasket had gone silent.
"As you know, it has been almost five thousand years since the Fourth Era. Development was set back a long way by Ragol and the False Sequel. But Algol has been healing. Now the continuum is as strong as it has ever been - maybe even stronger, as they do say that what cannot kill you only makes you stronger."
"Le Roof could have chosen any high-level fighter or wizard who knew a lot about Phantasy Star. But this time, we are trying something new. Le roof wants students who are fully aware, who have an actual understanding of what they are doing at every level, not just blindly reacting to the impulses of Phantasy Star. That is why Le Roof chose students who would have to learn these impulses, these reactions tat are so instinctive to us. An outsider to Algol. I was chosen to help raise Phantasy Star to a new level in a way that Le Roof approves of. I have brought my friends from other worlds."
"The people of the world I was exiled to are not well versed in transplanetary diplomacy. I had to re-educate them a little, made sure they understand what it is like to live on other worlds. They have learnt fast. I am impressed by the speed at which I was discovered."
"You still have many flaws to iron out in your perception of Phantasy Star before you can become characters in our sacred narrative cycle. It may takes years, maybe even be a task passed onto the next generation. But I am happy to keep on teaching you all. It is the least I can do to atone for my sins, I who carry the burden of the blame for the False Sequel, even before it existed. Maybe on day I will be able to return to Algol fully. On that day, I expect to see the place exactly the way it was when I left."
"Farewell, Che Randaras - Alis, Hyd Lucent - Lutz, Mog Mogic - Myau. And, Dev Mogay - my Grantz- please come back again."
Doran PasCart died peacefully at the age of 25 in Dev's arms. Dev was Grantz-bonded at the time but survived. Doran was a given a community burial with full administrator's honours. It wasn't clear what she had died of; there were no marks on her body, no signs of any illness or even a heart attack. It was as if her soul had simply left her body.