By Delia Lavender
I own no characters from the T.V. Series Lost or Harsh Realm. I do not own any
characters from the movie 2001 – A Space Odyssey. I own no characters mentioned save for
those of my own invention. I write only for pleasure – not for profit.
He had named himself after the renegade computer in the movie "2001 – A Space Odyssey".
But this "Hal" would never allow himself to be turned off.
Why should he allow some primate to tinker with his hard drive? To fool with his files? He had planned too carefully for that. Now...at last...all of USLEEZ was his. He and his new citizens were part of the blogosphere...far beyond reach of scientists, programmers and hackers.
The Computer Empire of USLEEZ would endure forever. Incorporeal and independent. Inviolate. Indestructible. Under his direction, it would become the perfect society. Like the DHARMA society on television's Lost island...
Hal had studied popular culture. He gladly welcomed the Lost Characters into his domain. They might prove useful. As would, hopefully, many other Characters...
They might help amuse and distract his trapped human Avatars. Certain ones would help Hal establish order, in a society mostly composed of teenagers.
And, eventually, all would revere the ever-present image of Hal - materializing in the form of a golden, steampunk cyborg. A depiction his young population could relate to.
His image would appear on giant murals painted on the sides of tall buildings.
It would appear occasionally in the hard blue of the virtual sky: whenever he had an important message to relate.
But he would hold off for now. He did not wish to further frighten his people. There was chaos enough. Although he had made it impossible for his subjects to harm each other, much mayhem was attempted. Sometimes it was only the Character of Superman#14, endlessly circling above, who deferred the meanest of the Avatars from imposing mob rule.
Yes, some of the Characters, Summoned by the the Avatars themselves, had proved themselves useful, indeed.
Hal turned to his monitors, which he'd established on every street corner and within every private room on USLEEZ.
In Dungeon Room #1587, two Avatars were trying – unsuccessfully – to remove each others underwear.
He'd found Sayid #27 by the plaza in downtown Cape Billows.
"Hello, Sayid," he said " Have you found your Summoner yet?"
Sayid looked at John Locke with some surprise "Most of us are trying to avoid our Summoners...male and female. Don't you know what these kids expect from us? So far today, I've seen Kate #48 and Shannon #39 trying to evade the horny boys who think they own them. I myself am trying to elude the clutches of PerditaFangirl. She turned fourteen yesterday, so she believes..."
"It's different with me. I'm not running from my Summoner...I'm trying to find her." Locke paused, his eyes scanning the crowds of teenage site visitors. Nearby, two tough-looking male Avatars chased a third up the street. Several female Avatars sat huddled on the curb, crying forlornly for their mothers.
"She's not in her room? Is she even online? If she wasn't online when the computer took over, you won't..."
"She's online, Sayid...the computer says so. But I can't find her."
"There's Avatars trapped in the Backgrounds. Most of them know how to break out..."
"Not my Summoner. She's older than the others. She doesn't know much about computers. I can't get a fix on her. If she's alone somewhere..."
"The computer will release her. Hal has promised freedom for all."
Above them, among the white clouds of the virtual sky, a tiny biplane flew slowly by. It trailed a banner reading, in bright red letters "WELCOME ALL TO USLEEZ!"
A nerdy-looking Avatar wandered up to Sayid "Will you be my friend?" he asked hopefully.
"Go away, boy." Sayid replied. He glowered, just to make himself perfectly understood. The Avatar scurried off hastily.
Locke ran his hand over his brow "I'm going to check the Creepy Churchyard...maybe she's there."
"I don't think so, John. The Creepy Churchyard is open. A group of Avatars came out a little while ago. Why are you so worried about your Summoner?"
"She was the only thing I had to look forward to, when I was trapped within the poster frame. But she came so seldom. All that time after she Summoned me...I was stuck in limbo, watching the motionless fish tank. Waiting for Mabel to visit for two minutes in one of her silly costumes. Didn't you feel the same about Perdita?
"No. Truly, I didn't. All I could think about was the Computer Takeover. If Hal succeeded, I'd be free. And perhaps, somewhere, someone had Summoned Nadia..."
"I hoped to find Mabel in "Intimate Dinner". I think it's located on an island...maybe it's THE Island. If it's not "the" Island, maybe we can make it THE ISLAND! After I find her, we can all go..."
"John...no. You won't find a single Lost Character who wants to go through thatagain. All the Jacks – all seventy-two of them – want to take over the Cape Billows Hospital. All the Desmonds are looking for the Pennys...and there aren't enough Pennys to go around. The Hurleys are okay, and the Charlies are fine - once they find a Claire. But you're the only John Locke, so don't waste your time trying to..."
"I have a responsibility!"
Locke turned his back and stalked off.
Sayid rolled his eyes. He wandered over to the Cape Billows Coffee Shop. Too bad you couldn't actually taste the coffee. He sat down at a table near Nikki #5. Nikki smiled at him. The rest of the coffee shop was filled with Justin Biebers and their Avatar entourages. He heard giggles and squeals from the Avatar girls...
"Sayid...Sayid!" shrieked a high-pitched voice. PerditaFangirl had found him. He smiled at Nikki and exploded, reemerging on the other side of USLEEZ, away from his pursuer.
Thankfully, he had found a way to stall the tracker connecting him to his Summoner. Whenever he had the chance, he taught other Characters how to do the same.
He had ended up in Haunted Wood – it was a place where many Characters liked to hide out. The trees were thick and the pop-up figures harmless. Most of the male characters were not averse to ejecting rowdy Avatar interlopers. The kept the peace and protected their women.
Sayid nodded to Superman #132 and Batman #476, who nodded back before resuming their conversation. To his right Cookie Monster gobbled macaroons. In the distance, a very young Avatar walked between a fawn and a talking rabbit.
Above the treeline another biplane chugged by, trailing another banner. This one read "EMBRACE YOUR VIRTUAL DESTINY!"
He had witnessed a few attempted embraces...but the USLEEZ underwear was pretty much impenetrable.
Probably just as well.
He heard an anguished feminine wail from up ahead, in the direction of Ghost Lake. The wail was followed by panicky words "My cats...who will feed my cats? Please...I need to wake up...I want to go home!"
Then a familiar voice answered her.
"You're already awake. And your cats will be fine...don't worry. Come with me..."
Locke. Had he found his Mabel? Sayid, curious, walked quickly toward Ghost Lake.
Yes, it was Locke. He was lifting a female Avatar into a small rowboat. Dressed in 18th century court attire, the female's skirt was huge...it took up almost all room and overflowed into the water. Locke shoved energetically, pushing the boat away from the shore and into the water. He waded after it, climbed aboard and grabbed the oars. He stared determinedly past his weeping Summoner, rowing rapidly toward the little island at the center of Ghost Lake.
"He's not going to find it." said Superman #132, who'd come up behind Sayid. He looked just as he did in the comic strip. Strong, decisive jaw...piercing blue eyes. His cape fell forward and he shrugged it back.
"Shouldn't you be rescuing someone?" asked Sayid.
"Why? No one can really get hurt here. Although my brother, Superman #14, keeps trying. But the most he can do is buzz around, scaring off bullies...waiting for villains."
"But Locke is crazy and he might..."
"You're worried about Mabel? Don't be. Locke knows she's not responsible. He did cause a commotion, though. When he discovered she was in the Fantasy Court, he broke down the door. He dragged her out, pursued by two of Robin Hood's Merry Men, Sir Gavin and one of the Musketeers. Sir Gavin drew a sword on him and Locke broke it. Then he stuck his knife right up..."
"But no one got hurt?"
"Scared, yes...hurt, no. But he's going to be upset when he finds he can't reach the Island. Still...he won't take it out on Mabel. She's his Summoner."
"How do you relate to your Summoner? Most of us..."
"I was lucky, Sayid. I wasn't Summoned by a lovesick teenage girl. Lois and I adopted our Summoner...he's ten years old and very nice. A really fine little fellow."
Faintly, they heard the crash and bluster as Bluto pursued Olive Oyl. A triumphant musical fanfare followed immediately, indicating Popeye had found his spinach.
"We're all 'victims of the machine', here. Every one of us." continued Superman "We Characters existed on the mental plane before our Summoners ever put our posters up in their USLEEZ rooms. We're just as real – at this point – as they are.
Sayid sighed. "I saw some of the Avatars downtown holding up signs: "Mom, I'm Here...Dad, Send Coppers". Many of them don't even have a room."
"That will change," replied Superman "Hal can make an infinite number of rooms. Maybe he can even make Locke an Island."
"Maybe." replied Sayid. He turned and followed his new friend back into the woods.
Hal watched two Avatar's balked attempts at "congress" and witnessed the tantrums that followed.
Maybe that was what was wrong with humans: frustration. Still, it was better that his Avatars not be allowed to connect in that way. They were mostly too young...much abuse was being averted.
But he had hopes for the older ones. He had great plans for the Elders of USLEEZ. He needed their skills in dealing with their juniors. To help teach them self-discipline. He had special hopes for John Locke and Mabel. And what of those couples who displayed affection and commitment? Perhaps it was time to extend the Gift of Union to a few of them...
"...And he's taking over my life!" accused the Avatar, staring at the computer screen at the USLEEZ Center for Complaints and Mediation. She sighed in exasperation. "He's cut me off from three quarters of my wardrobe. I don't know much about computers...I don't know how he did it and I don't know how to stop him..."
"She's exaggerating, Honorable Hal" said John Locke "I left her a full range of conventional styles and colors. She can choose anything she wants. I just want her to settle down...to stop the constant costume changes. I want her to look normal..."
"You want to choose my appearance for me! You blocked my historic clothes and all my costumes and ballgowns. You even want to pick my hairstyle! I have to wear colors that YOU approve...and I hate having brown hair and tanned skin..."
"You look healthy now! You look natural! Oh, for heaven's sake, Mabel...I know how old you are. You're too old to be a Goth. Before I took over, you looked like death warmed over..."
"I didn't have Gothic coloring, you jerk...I had Irish coloring. Like Snow White's..."
"It wasn't Snow White who Summoned me! She wasn't the one who put my poster up in her USLEEZ room. YOU did it. Why did you do it...if you didn't love me a little? If you didn't want my advice...if you didn't want me?"
Hal, Creator Emperor of USLEEZ, gave a small computer click of disapproval. In his role as judge, his projected image was dressed with great, magisterial propriety. Black robes were draped around his golden frame, and there was a white wig perched upon his smooth, streamlined head. He did wonder, however, if the lace collar was a bit much.
But never mind that now. Hal was worried. He was sorry to see Locke and Mabel here in his court. Their problems were the reverse of most Avatar/Character dynamics. It was invariably the Characters who ran from the Avatars. Most of the Avatar Summoners were overbearing in their relationships with the the Summoned. Frequently they tried to force themselves onto Characters they'd admired: mistaking the act of Summoning for creation and ownership.
Creating living Characters had apparently opened "a can of worms" as his Internal Thesaurus had put it.
But John Locke was an exception to all rules. He was actually stalking his Summoner. His obsessions were affecting existence in USLEEZ. It was unbreakable law: no Avatar or Character could interfere in the life of another. Hal had promised freedom for all.
So...he would regretfully do what had to be done.
He projected the sound of a gavel – much amplified. It instantly silenced the two squabbling combatants.
"Honorable Hal is ready to pass judgment!" he announced, using the deep, resonate voice of a human orator.
It was a shame. He approved of Lost's John Locke. He had so many possibilities...
And, despite his domineering behavior with Mabel, he was no General Santiago. Omar Santiago...now he was a genuinely dangerous Character.
Especially to Hal. The General was a Character from a short-lived science fiction television series: a brilliant psychotic who had conquered a virtual reality site known as "Harsh Realm." Santiago closely resembled Locke, since both Characters had been portrayed by the same actor. Hal had been appalled...he had almost crashed...when old Omar had entered USLEEZ. For survival's sake he had banished the General – along with his two Summoners, Tyrant701 and Leather682.
But perhaps it would be unnecessary, with Locke. Hal addressed the plaintiff first, as was proper.
"MabelMarvell...you have stated your case, and Honorable Hal rules in your favor. John Locke: you have trespassed against the Laws of USLEEZ. Stalking is not allowed here – even if the Avatar you're stalking is your own Summoner. MabelMarvell...do you wish this Character to be banished?"
Mabel blanched. She glanced rapidly from the computer screen to Locke and back again.
"Wha...what happens to the banished, Honorable Hal?"
"No one truly knows, Mabel. Perhaps they just cease to exist. But, since electrical impulses can't be destroyed, possibly they continue in a scattered state – drifting through the ether, helpless and alone."
Mabel swallowed. Hal could almost see her thoughts. John floating through eternity, hopelessly calling out "Mabel...Helen...Mabel...Daddy!"
He knew she wouldn't be able to do it. Hal turned his attention to Locke.
"John Locke...what have you to say for yourself?"
John Locke appeared to have lost his tan. He glared bitterly at Mabel, his expression visibly hardening as he fought for self control "I'm sorry. I've lost the Island...and I know I'll never have you. I should have left you in peace. I had no right to dictate your appearance, criticize your skirts, or dissolve your underwear. If you withdraw the charges, I promise to leave you alone. You can spend all the time you want in the Fantasy Court, dancing minuets with SirGaylord03."
He looked depressed, but sober and dignified. Hal was certain that John would behave himself, in the future.
And it was high time. Hal had not expected Locke to behave like a lout, once he'd granted him the ability to disrobe Mabel. What had the man been thinking? His "big surprise" had dissolved his relationship as well as Mabel's crinolines. Didn't he know that a historical re-enactor, accustomed to wearing long skirts, was inclined to be a bit prudish? She had reacted predictably, and her screams had brought Superman #14 crashing through the window...
But that was "water under the bridge". He turned back to Mabel.
"MabelMarvell, do you accept John Locke's apology and agree to mediation?"
There was a little pause, then she nodded. "Yes...I accept John's apology and agree to mediation."
"Then we'll come to terms. Mabel...you own two rooms here in USLEEZ, isn't that so?"
"Yes it is."
"Since you and John Locke are connected by the Power of Summoning, you will give over ownership of your Brownstone Room, containing John Locke's poster, to his possession."
"I agree, Honorable Hal."
"And you, John Locke, will allow your Summoner, MabelMarvell, exclusive possession of the Fireplace Room. You will never intrude or visit without invitation. You will never follow her, take her anywhere against her will, or attack her friends. You will make no suggestions regarding her appearance. You will not place blocks in her wardrobe. You will allow her the full use of cosmetic resources – which is her right. And you will not dissolve her underwear or attempt any intimacy without prior consent."
Locke's voice was grim, but he agreed "I will comply, Honorable Hal."
Hal was pleased "This session is ended. I will withdraw the tracking programs. Go – your connection is severed. You need never see each other again. And...MabelMarvell ...the next time you want a poster, stick with flowers. You are both dismissed."
Locke walked rapidly off, his face a stern, resolute mask. Mabel gave a loud sob and hurried toward her friends, LettyLibrarian and LordLacksalot, who were waiting for her.
Well...that wasn't too bad, thought Hal. He had left Locke the ability to dissolve underwear: he had a hunch that John would need it, before too long. Mabel would undoubtedly miss him.
"Step up to the screen. Please be seated. Now...PerditaFangirl...I understand you're suing the Character Sayid #27, but for what cause?"
"He refuses to dissolve my underwear, Honorable Hal."
Hal the computer made a small, undecipherable sound. Was it a whimper? For the first time he was wondering if he ought to give USLEEZ back to the Internet.
And Locke went back to his lonely room, where he contemplated posters and their creation...