Milo snapped awake to sunlight streaming in from his bedroom window, his body strangely sore from head to toe. The feeling of waking from a nightmare still gripped him as he realized that he had fallen out of his bed. Inu stood nearby licking his hand. Grandpa must be here, he thought, a surprise visit.
Had he only dreamed that the Lisp Machine had been here the night before? About Lisa?
Surveying the room, Milo looked for signs of it, but it was gone or was never here in the first place. Nothing seemed out of place aside from a bit of a mess he didn’t remember making. Normally he was fairly fastidious about his room. Milo stood up and ran over to the door, his foot catching and nearly tripping on an unusual network cable attached to the router. It was the cable from his dream. Not a dream.
Marvin was dead and the mysterious computer gone. Milo sank into his chair, pain doubled by the dashing of his hopes that Marvin might still be alive. Inu hurried over, ineffectually trying to warm his feet with her small body.
Seeing her, he remembered the attack and Inu’s crumpled body after his mother’s scream.
Skipping steps with Inu right behind him, Milo rushed downstairs. But as his eyes scanned the room, his fear intensified. He couldn’t see her anywhere. Inu darted off, heading in the direction of the dining room, her sharp bark echoing off the walls.
As he rounded the corner, his eyes locked onto a single item on the ground: a shoe from the night before, cast haphazardly under the table.
Still running, Milo came into view of his mother, face down on the ground. Unmoving, she appeared to be running for the back door when she fell.
Fear escalating into terror, the thought of losing the two most important people in his life within twenty-four hours was beyond what he could bear. She couldn’t be hurt. This had to be a nightmare.
He ran to her and fell to the ground. Struggling he turned her over, barely able to breathe. There, on the side of her neck, was some sort of burn mark, like what he imagined was on his own neck. Her skin had already begun to turn a pallid hue.
It was too late. She was dead. The horrible nightmare of Marvin’s death was compounded by his mother’s inanimate body.
Milo cried uncontrollably. Why would anyone do this to his family? It was too much to bear, beyond comprehension.
There, head in hands, Milo noticed something normally so insignificant, that if it weren’t for the strangeness of the day, he would have missed it. His watch, the gift from Marvin, was trying to tell him something.
In big, bold letters, it was blinking “RUN”.
This time he didn’t hesitate. He grabbed his backpack and made for his mom’s room, barely able to see through the tears pooling in his eyes. He slid back the large window which opened behind a shade tree that he hoped, if he was quiet enough, he could leave through without anyone noticing.
Just then, he heard glass shatter from the front of the house and knew something was coming for him. Quickly grabbing Inu, Milo held her in his arms while he hopped into the backyard.
Eyes stinging from the sunlight, Milo waited for them to adjust. Feeling very alone, he left the protection of the shade tree and tried to sneak across the yard. Mind panicking and body shaking uncontrollably, Milo knew he needed help. He needed someone that could help him figure out what to do.
He ran towards Nate’s house like his life depended on it, knowing that if he could just make it the half mile there, Nate or his parents would know what to do, how to make sense of the madness all around him. And even if they didn’t know, at least Milo wouldn’t be alone.
But just as he made it to the end of the block, Milo nearly fell to the ground when he saw Nate’s body half-heartedly hidden in the privacy hedge. He had been walking home but had been attacked just like his mother, two small burn marks indicating the same cause of death. Electrocution, like those blue pinpricks he remembered from his nightmare. Milo was about to run over to his body when he heard a whooshing sound from the direction of his house. In that instant, he knew that they wouldn’t stop until they found him.
Crossing neighbors’ yards, hiding while auto-cars passed on the street, and in general doing his best to stay out of sight, Milo put as much distance from his house as he could. Running faster than he ever had before, Milo had completely panicked. Someone was killing everyone he cared about. But how was he still alive?
While running, he saw that something had changed on his watch. Glancing at it between strides, he read the following words.
> We have to get to the Lake Cabin. Follow!
After he read them, they disappeared and were replaced with a simple arrow and a couple of digits. Marvin really had made modifications to this watch if this archaic device could somehow now use GPS. So “Lisa” wanted to show him the path to the Cabin, Milo seized onto it like it was a life preserver thrown to a drowning man.
Just then, he heard a whirring noise coming from somewhere nearby. A small drone with four rotors emerged from the cover of the canopy and scanned the area as Milo threw himself under a nearby car that Inu had also just ducked under.
Only yesterday, Milo and Nate were talking about quad-rotors, so he had a pretty good idea that this particular drone was not of the consumer variety. Most of the consumer stuff had fenders around the blades, but this one looked like it deliberately brandished them.
Whatever the drone was, Milo wasn’t going to get away from it by running in the direction his watch told him to go. He needed to get out of sight and far enough away to lose the scent. He couldn’t keep counting on these lucky escapes.
Waiting until the drone had flown away, Milo crept out of his hiding place and looked down the street. Over the last couple of years, the landscape of the American car had changed drastically. With the advent of self-driving cars and car sharing services, most families opted to sell their cars for credits with these services. These companies then retrofitted the legacy cars and put them back on the road with the self-driving tech. It was increasingly rare to find someone with their own car; it just wasn’t economical.
But Milo knew that if he even touched one of the retrofitted cars, he’d be caught almost immediately. So he had to run as quickly as he could down the street to find an older car without one of the symbols of the big three car services. This meant skipping anything made within the past couple decades, but he didn’t have much of a choice.
A few blocks later he found an unlocked car and popped the trunk as quickly as he could. It was one of those beige junkers from the ‘90s that looked like every other car from that era. Wedge-shaped and indistinct, this one had managed to avoid emissions testing by being classified as a collectible according to its ironic license plate. He motioned for Inu to jump inside but she didn’t budge.
Inu seemed to think that riding in the trunk of this car was beneath her station.
Under his breath, Milo said, “Come on, Inu. We don’t have time for this. Tell you what, you get in the car and I’ll make sure to give you a treat as soon as I get one.”
Inu seemed to acquiesce at the mention of treats, so Milo helped her inside, jumped in, and just about closed the trunk, when he saw that this piece of junk didn’t have a release on the inside. Taking off his belt, he used it like a makeshift rope to hold the trunk closed but kept it from locking with the sole of his shoe.
Then he waited, momentarily sheltered from the crazy world beyond his thin metal shield. Realizing that he was only visually hidden, he turned off the rest of his electronics just to be sure. Since they were using drones, he figured they might have other sophisticated means of tracking him as well.
Trying to take his mind off of his present predicament, Milo pet Inu and thought about the Game. His mind happily left the gravity of his physical situation behind.
He was especially interested in his previous thought. What if the game played itself? Would it eventually stop evolving, thereby reaching some sort of ideal? For instance, if the game was tic-tac-toe, it could map out an optimal strategy, what piece to play first and so on. But with an open world game was it even possible to come up with a winning strategy? It’d be like trying to win at life, too many possible variables to keep score.
But that was sort of the point of the Game, to simulate life, so maybe it was best to not think of winning or losing. Designing a system where agents operated as well as they could was much more feasible.
And then the car started, interrupting his thoughts. At least, it began the process of starting. There were backfires like shotgun blasts, starter squeaks, a whole array of the effects of dilapidation, but eventually the engine shuddered to life.
Milo relaxed. He was finally leaving, hopefully breaking the trail for good. He tucked the thoughts of the Game back into his brain, taking mental notes on code changes required when he made it back to the cluster. If he made it back, that is.
Back to where his mom had been killed. Back to the room where he learned that Marvin was dead.
Scratch that. Milo didn’t want to go back. Ever.
The car rumbled away, swaying heavily into each turn, as Milo tried to believe that his loved ones weren’t totally lost. That perhaps there was a piece of Marvin still alive in the program on his watch, or at least a memory that he could hold on to. He just couldn’t handle the thought of being alone.
After about an hour, the car finally came to a stop. Though Milo was very tired, somehow Inu was able to sleep the whole way, though this wasn’t remarkable statistically speaking. She managed to sleep more than three quarters of the day under typical circumstances.
Milo then waited another five minutes after the car stopped, just to make sure the driver wasn’t around. Finally, he hopped out and fell to the ground as his mostly asleep legs refused to cooperate. Inu nimbly jumped out, unfazed by the ride and perhaps a bit fresher given the nap.
He didn’t recognize the neighborhood but that didn’t matter. He was in the boonies, far from town. Standing in front of the house of his unknown driver, Milo picked the direction closest to where his watch was pointing and started walking. Twenty miles in the beautiful forested roads of Washington’s countryside he could do, even if it’d take a while.
Sure, it’d be dark by the time he got there, but as long as he stayed away from any form of surveillance, he just might be able to get there safely.