Diver Creed Station

Chapter One: Secrets of the Past

No one could say for certain what had happened. The understanding was that there had been several wars in the late twenty-first century that spread rapidly and became a global conflict. Weapons long stored, were brought out towards the end and the world became ravaged as the conflicts spread out of control.
      The catastrophic events of the wars caused millions of deaths and eventually led to the massive and chaotic fall of modern civilization.
      Exact reasons for these events mattered little after the collapse.
      Those fortunate enough to survive the fall would endure the second round of death due to fallout from weapons used during the wars.
      Radiation, along with various types of biological and chemical waste caused death as well as sterility. Of those who managed to get through this danger, only a small percentage were able to produce children. Mankind drifted to the very edge of extinction.
       For many years, the rudimental struggle of humanity was a basic equation of doing whatever necessary to live from one day to the next.
      With often desperate measures, and after almost a century of questionable survival, mankind slowly began to regain a small but precious hope of future existence. Fertility had slowly returned, and the gradual repopulation of mankind began.
       During the third quarter of the twenty-second century, small groups of humanity had emerged in what was once the American mid-west. Of the dominant tribes or groups of this period; three stood out as the most significant.
       The worst of the three were the Kaberz. The bond of mutual viciousness connected a variety of blood thirsty tribes considered Kaberz.
      These were the people that cared only about surviving. They would stab anyone in the back if need be. The only thing holding these groups together was the advantage of numbers.
       Often the survival rate inside a group such as this would be almost as bad as being outside a group. Yet, upon gaining status in one of these violent tribes, the survival rate increased. To be a Kaber, one only needed to possess the ability to kill anyone or anything without regard.
      Kanzites on the other hand were organized and more dominate in numbers than the other groups. They had basic knowledge of old-world technologies and though the Kanzites were reluctant to become dependant upon the ancient devices, they would use whatever necessary to survive the hostile world. They were hunters, farmers and scavengers for the most part. Clannish but still versatile, this group would fight when need be, but preferred to avoid conflicts when the opportunity arose.
      The smallest, but perhaps most respected among the groups were the Neotecz. Of this general identifying name, many smaller, yet still connected tribes existed. These independent groups often met to trade and communicate discoveries.
      Tribes considered to be Neotecz were those that remained completely committed to salvaging and utilizing ancient technologies. Though fewer in numbers, they possessed old-world weapons and tribe designed weapons capable of extensive damage.
       No person joined a Neotecz tribe without a substantial tech offering as well as the potential to assist the tribe with knowledge of old-world technology. It was the desire of many to be in such a tribe as it meant safety and security. Yet for many years there was little hope of joining a Neotecz tribe.
      In 2195, Redstone, son of Zalto, was exiled to the lower lands. Zalto had lost the highland war and before his death sent Redstone out of the highland Kingdom to escape a tribe only described by Redstone as "Savages."
      Redstone and the remnants of his Neotecz tribe that was known as the tribe of "V," moved into the lowlands and united with a Neotecz tribe called the Bronz, which was residing in the remnants of Denver. Together these tribes became known as BVZ United and established dominance over the ruins of Denver.
      At the beginning of the twenty-third century, around 2202, rumors began to circulate of a new opportunity offered by the BVZ. Workers of all classes were being recruited.  
      The rumors also strangely mentioned that no knowledge of ancient technology was required. People were reluctant to believe these rumors as it was well known that Neotecz tribes were frugal in adopting outsiders.
       Neotecz had a more militaristic social structure than other tribes and constantly scoured the lands for their coveted old-world weapons or parts of weapons to use for repair propose. They often had energy sources and methods to repair mobile energy sources such as generators. These items always gave the Neotecz an edge over their smaller numbers and allowed them to be selective in recruitment.  
      For these reasons, few initially believed the rumors of the BVZ accepting persons into their tribe regardless of tech education or knowledge.
      Yet the rumors persisted across the vast lowlands. Rumors of a higher living standard, such as running water and heat piped into living quarters.
      Then, the recruitment papers began to appear. The list of personnel desired included laborers, security, technical and almost every respectable line of work imaginable. "Come be a part of the BVZ," the papers stated with a hope that had been unseen for many years.
      Slowly at first, people began to move in small groups towards Old Denver. The trip from the lowlands to the high country would be arduous and filled with dangers.
      The most significant danger was the Kaberz preying on these groups as they migrated to the BVZ.
      A few industrious and brave individuals formed security passages and helped those wishing to make the journey. Migration in this manner became known as traveling the “Road of Hope.” The trip would come at a price though and many couldn't afford such protection.
      Regardless of the method that one arrived at Old Denver, the sight of BVZ security outposts was joyous to the migrants.
      Though a fear of not being accepted by BVZ United persisted for the weary travelers, only those with evidence of Kaber affiliation were turned away from the complex.
      Once inside, a series of cleaning, grooming and medical phases began. The food seemed to be of gourmet quality for people who had only known basic subsistence. The housing consisted of old-world buildings and rooms that had been repaired as much as possible.
      For those with technical skills, the housing would often consist of luxuries such as the rumored running water and piped in heating.
      Altogether, the BVZ complex represented a move forward in a world that hadn't seen this type of progress in almost a century.
      The real revelation came after several weeks of orientation and classification for the recruits.  Once those accepted into the BVZ had been assigned their jobs, whether it was in food production or armed security, the secret of the BVZ facility was revealed on a basic level.
        The information amounted to this. Redstone and those of the tribe of V that survived the highland war, came to Old Denver with various technologies, but more importantly, classified access codes for the old-world government systems.
        The Bronz tribe held a fair portion of Old Denver in their possession. One facility they retained and had put a considerable amount of resources into holding onto was the Virtua-Gauge facility. This sprawling complex had been carefully sealed up and prepared for storage and non-use by the old-world government when things began to spiral out of control.
      The VG facility had been a tough nut to crack for the Bronz tribe. They had no knowledge of its exact propose but knew for certain it must be a prize to have had so much care put into sealing and securing it.
        Almost a century later, thorium powered, robotic security weapons remained functional and online at the perimeter of the facility. A host of carcasses and skeletal remains around the facility reminded all would-be trespassers of the continued danger in trying to enter the secure complex without proper access information.
      After retreating from the highlands, Redstone contacted the Bronz officials and began negotiations. Eventually, the tribe of V merged with the Bronz and became the BVZ United tribe.
      Now, the gem of the Bronz territories came within reach. With the access codes Redstone brought with him from the highlands, much time and danger were eliminated, and the complex was entered safely.
      Thousands of virtual pods were discovered in sealed hibernation states. Most all the equipment was found to be serviceable, with some care and effort. Also, a self-contained power system was found to be repairable and eventually became operational.  
      As the virtual pods came back online, Redstone moved into a commissioner position over the facility.
      The pods offered virtual life experiences in luxurious settings. When a person entered a functional pod, a series of progressive mind-altering steps brought the individual into a receptive position. Then the person would move into a virtual world and the mind perceived this to be the real world.
      Everything looked, felt, and tasted as if the person was there. The consciousness believed it, even though the person knew in the back of their mind it was a virtual sequence and their body was in a pod; the reality for the mind was what happened in this virtual sequence.
      With this technology, an average person could enter a pod and live a virtual sequence of a twenty-first-century billionaire. Or many other luxurious sequences that were available.  
      Commissioner Redstone realized he would need a vast amount of manpower to bring the complex back into its original state of operations. He began putting the word out for all those interested in a new standard of life.
      When the people struggling to survive realized this to be a genuine opportunity they increasingly moved towards Old Denver.
      The deal for most common BVZ personnel was seven days of work for seven days of virtual time. The hook was immediate as the new recruits would receive seven days virtual time first.
       After a person spent leisure time in a virtual pod, there would be no turning back. They would work hard for seven days to live a life unavailable anywhere else the following seven days.
      With this new workforce becoming available, the BVZ quickly began making repairs and establishing a functional social structure.
      Areas of Old Denver were reclaimed and by 2217 the area known as Denver BVZ had become the gem of the western territory.
      Rizette Vanson came from a lowlands Kanzite tribe. She traveled to Denver BVZ on the arduous road of hope. Her parents could only afford to send their eldest daughter, Rizette with her Aunt Leea who promised to watch over her and assist her in this new opportunity until the rest of the family could travel there.
      Though the road of hope had been traversed safely many times previously, Rizette and her Aunt would have the unfortunate luck of traveling the rugged old highways during the ‘Battle of Hope’, as it later became known.
       Rizette seldom spoke of this harrowing experience afterwards, but it made an indelible impression on the girl who was a teenager at the time.
       One thing she would tell from time to time, concerned the darkest moments of the battle, when no one was sure how it would end. She would relay this story with a few tears when others asked her about the event.
       “I lay under equipment, on the ground, watching as the Kaberz attacked again and again. Then, when it seemed the savages would surely break through, I saw a young Neotecz Captain draw his sword. He turned and looked back to his men with a face of courage. He yelled out, “For Hope!” He then ran out into the mass of Kaber forces. It was the bravest thing I’ve ever seen. I laid my face into the ground and cried as I've never cried before.”
        Oray Locke and his family lived close to Old Denver and moved there without much trouble when the BVZ began recruiting personnel.
        Though his life was in no sense an easy thing, living near the Bronz tribe meant reasonable security. As the BVZ began to grow and thrive, Oray’s family realized this to be a great opportunity and eventually moved into the BVZ when Oray was also a teenager and around the same time that Rizette and her aunt arrived.
        Both Rizette and Oray qualified as second level educated personnel, which placed them in proximity of each other during their latter teen years.
      The two began dating and by 2216 were married. Rizette moved into her position as Regulation Maintenance Officer in early 2217 and after a year of actual and virtual training, Oray embarked on his somewhat elite position as a System Diver Technician later that same year. By 2218 both had settled comfortably into their jobs and marriage.
        As an RM officer, Rizette policed the virtual zone. When a regulation was broken or abused Rizette or another RM officer would respond and initiate the procedures for punishment.
       Although punishment for virtual zone infractions were not nearly as severe as one would receive for the same crime in the real world; it did help prevent living personnel that used the virtual zone from getting completely out of hand.
      Oray also thrived in his position as a Diver Technician. Critical repairs could only be made in the virtual zone by living people. This came about as a security measure by the developers. The job had inherent dangers but Oray spoke little of these to Rizette as he didn’t want her to worry.
       Having been given better living conditions than the base labor force due to their positions; Oray and Rizette relished their new lives together. Their apartment was of a higher standard than either remembered growing up as children.
       All the workers living standards were raised in the BVZ zone and regardless if you were a second level technician or basic food preparations personnel, life improved significantly once becoming a part of the BVZ.
       But there was something unseen. Something that neither Oray nor Rizette had an awareness of.  
      On a typical day of work, Rizette and her Regulation Maintenance assistant walked through a virtual light door and into a 1970s Beverly Hills, California virtual sequence.
      An unfamiliar sound of rock and roll blared as they spotted a shaggy looking man standing beside a swimming pool.
      The man didn't notice the silent entry of Rizette at first, as he stood gazing at a bikini clad woman floating face down in the water.
      "Serri, Serri, what have you done?" Rizette asked as she walked up to him and gazed down at the woman in the pool.
      Serri immediately became startled as he realized he was no longer alone.
      "I only hit her once. I swear." He replied nervously, appearing upset but not remorseful.
      Rizette pulled a virtual tablet up that hovered in front of her. As she walked around the area she began entering data into it.
      "There's a Non-living personnel floating face down in your pool, Serri. Once appears to be enough. You know I'm growing a bit weary of seeing your face. What was it, last month you killed another scantily dressed woman with a beverage container?”
      Serri began pacing around and seemed nervous.
       “Why do you RM officers always call them Non-living personnel? Why don’t you just call them Nonors like everyone else? It’s not like they’re real.”
      He paced some more and then continued as Rizette moved around him, busily working.
      "And it was a beer bottle." He added as he began following behind her.
      She glanced back at him.
      "Yeah that's what it was called, a 'beer' bottle. I hope you've been staying away from the old-world tonics and potions. Like I told you they were known to have side effects."
      "Side effects, what kind of side effects?"
      Rizette stopped her data entry and turned to the man with a puzzled expression.
      "How about, it has the effect of you throwing the bottle and killing a woman?"
      "Begging your pardon officer but both are Nonors, you know ‘non-living personnel.’ They're not alive. They’re system generated people. What's the problem anyway?"
       He ran his hands through his shaggy hair and continued pacing around nervously.
      "And I didn't mean for that bottle to hit that dancer on the head. Why do they always fall like that? This one just fell into the pool after I hit her. And that dancer, she just fell off the stage. Why do they fall that way?"
        Rizette walked around the pool again as she looked over the data. Serri continued following her around as he pleaded his case. She stopped and looked at him again.
      "Serri, if you hit a living person out there the way you hit a Nonor in here, there's the same chance they will fall and die. You may think this is all controlled by someone at a data entry point somewhere, but it's not; the situations are controlled by calculated odds."
      He appeared confused by this statement. Rizette pulled a small pen-like device from her pocket. She pointed the device at the woman floating in the pool and a small light shined on her back. The woman seemed to come back to life. She swam to the edge of the pool and began climbing out.
      "Odds Serri, that's all, calculated odds. Meaning, if you hit a, what did you call her, a ‘danzer,’ here and she dies from that hit; the same thing could happen in real life."
      The man still seemed puzzled.
      Rizette began to speak towards her tablet as the woman from the pool picked up a towel and started drying off. She was an attractive blonde woman with large breasts. The bikini barely covered her, and she had a tan indicating she likely wore the bikini more than any other article of clothing.
      "Subject, Serri 445. Regulation infraction is violent action to Non-living personnel resulting in non-intended death. Noted, this is the second violent infraction resulting in an NLP death. Rizette 557 requesting punishment proceedings."
       As she said this, Serri stood beside the woman from the pool and appeared to be trying to apologize.
      From an unknown location above them, a female voice announced.
      "Request from Rizette 557 is accepted. Processing data, please stand by."
      Then, the blonde woman threw the towel on the ground, walked away from Serri, seeming very angry and spoke as if also talking to the voice.
      "NLP 25677 Class B companion Cherri Lane requesting transfer."    After she said this, the voice replied quickly.
      "State reason for transfer request?"
      "Violence and abuse," replied the busty blonde.
      "Request granted."
      With this reply from the voice the blonde woman seemed to turn into light and immediately disappeared.
      "Oh, hey, come on now. Don't... Oh, man!" Serri held his hands up and whined about the disappearance of the blonde.
      Another infusion of light brought the presence of a pretty, brunette woman in a small bikini. This woman's breasts were not nearly as large as the blonde woman. After inspecting the new woman Serri again began to whine.
      "Come on! Are you serious? She doesn't have any boobs." He pointed at the woman's chest in despair.
      Rizette glanced over at the brunette but continued her work and made no comment. The brunette stared at Serri with contempt and then quickly replied.
      "NLP 27334 Class B companion Lesley Rose requesting transfer,” and once again the voice asked.
      "State reason for request?"
      "Verbal abuse," the brunette replied quickly.
      "Hey... wait, I was just kidding!" Serri went to the brunette with his arms out in a pleading fashion.
      "Request granted."
      The brunette appeared to become light and disappeared. In her place, a plump woman appeared. She wore a bikini also but was not nearly as pleasing to the eyes in the bikini as the previous two women.
      "Oh no... Awww no...." Serri now held his hands to his head in despair. Rizette laughed a little at this new development.
      "You should keep your mouth shut, Serri."
      The voice now continued, "Punishment calculations for Serri 445; Six hours jail time; eight hours public service."
       Serri appeared to pay little attention to this as he continued to examine the plump new woman with obvious disappointment.
      When the voice finished stating Serri's punishment, a bright light appeared and suddenly a Ford, Model T rolled out from the light and onto the swimming pool. Rather than fall into the water the antique automobile hovered over the water in mid-air.
      "I can not believe it." Rizette stared at the old car in frustration.
      Serri, noticing the car hovering over his swimming pool, began to whine about this.
      "What's that? Is that part of my punishment?"
      Rizette turned to Serri in disbelief.
      "Yeah Serri, as soon as we get some utensils over here, you're going to have to eat that."
       Rizette's assistant laughed about this, but Serri appeared to believe her.
      "What? I can't eat that! That's not fair! Look, I just hit her once. You can't make me eat that! I’ll report you to Central Control!"
        Rizette paid no attention to him. She held her tablet up and spoke again to the unseen voice.
      "RM officer Rizette 557 requesting a Diver at my location," she paused a second, looked closely at the car hovering over the swimming pool, and then continued.
       "You better make it a Class A, Diver."
      A few seconds later, a light door opened and Oray stepped out.
       She looked at him and acted surprised before commenting.
      "Well, well, why is it, every time I request a Class A Diver, I get you?"
       Oray smiled and walked up close to her.
      "Well, I made a deal with the other Divers. When a beautiful RM officer needs help, I always get the call."
      "Oh yeah, so just how many 'other' beautiful RM officers are you assisting anyway?" She stared at Oray with an exaggerated look of suspicion.
      "That's confidential Diver information." He gave her a sly look.
      "Yeah well, I'm trying to work here, Lover Boy."
       Oray expressed a somewhat fake expression of shock. "I'm trying to work here too. So, what seems to be the problem?"
      Rizette nodded her head at the Model T on the pool. She appeared disappointed in needing to point it out.
      "What, that thing? Are sure that doesn't belong here?" He gazed around at the mansion and obvious opulence.
       "Where is here anyway? What is this sequence?"
      Rizette glanced at her tablet. "This is, 'late-twentieth-century rock star'."
      "What, rock star? What's that?"
      "I'm not eating that! You can't make me!" Serri now injected himself into the conversation.
      Rizette gently pushed him back and nodded as if she agreed with him. Oray looked at Serri and held out his hand in a questioning gesture.
      As Serri walked away mumbling to himself, Rizette pointed at the Model T.
      "Can you please do something about that, so we don't have to make Serri eat it?"
      "Well, that might be a decoration or something. I mean.” Oray paused and looked around. “What is that terrible noise? That must be the problem!"
       He began walking around as if trying to identify where the rock music was coming from.
      "No, I'm fairly certain that noise is supposed to be music. And Serri over there is supposed to be a musician in the musical group that plays that music, which happens to earn them a lot of financial compensation. The problem is that." She again pointed to the old car. As she pointed to it this time she drew extra attention to the fact the car was hovering over the water.
      "Oh, well it sure looked like some kind of decoration for this...what did you say it was again?"
      Rizette glanced at the tablet again. "Late-twentieth-century rock star." She then expressed some annoyance with the situation.
      Noticing she'd become tired of playing around, Oray pulled a small pen-like device from a utility belt and pointing it, shot something that stuck to the old car like bubble gum.
      Then the small blob began to glow on and off with a multi-color radiance.
      "Don't worry. We'll have this straightened right out." He then raised his wrist and spoke into a thin band.
      "Riley, are you working?"
      From the wrist-band came a reply.
      "Yes Sir. I'm working towards you as we speak."
      Oray looked at Rizette and smiled coyly. "So, while my assistant makes his way here, how about you and I do some sweet-talking?"
      She again gave Oray a look of exasperation.
      "Listen Honey, you may have a virtual assistant that you don't need to worry about. But my assistant is a living person, not a Nonor. And he's right over there. If I do any sweet-talking with you and he observes it, I'll have a hard time living it down back at headquarters."
      Oray gazed over at the man talking with a still obviously disgruntled Serri.
      "Yeah, alright I see your point… Can we at least talk about what we're having for dinner tonight?"
       Just as Rizette smiled and was about to comment on this, the door opened on the old car.
      "Well, that was certainly a learning experience."
       A well-groomed man in plain gray coveralls stepped onto the running board of the Model T. He scanned the area and then jumped the short distance to the side of the pool. Once he stood safely on solid ground, he began brushing small pieces of paper off his shoulders.
      "Did you know that in the early twentieth-century, people had parades for their heroes? In these parades the hero or heroes would walk down the streets, or rode, often in an open top vehicle like this one. Then, the people would throw their garbage out of the windows and on top of their heroes. It really is quite an astonishing event. They called them 'ticker-tape' parades."
      Oray and Rizette stared at Riley in disbelief after he'd said this. Riley returned to brushing the ticker-tape off his shoulders.
      "So, did you happen to find time to trace the problem at the… 'garbage parade'?" Oray asked a little sarcastically.
      "Yes Sir, I did in fact trace the problem." Riley then moved with enthusiasm towards the mansion with Oray following him.
      Soon he stopped beside a bush at the back of the luxurious house.
      "Right here, Sir." He pointed to the ground.
      Oray pointed the small pen-like device downwards and again shot a small blob onto the ground. The blob glowed for a few seconds as it relayed Oray's credentials to open an entrance into the main system. Then a light portal appeared, revealing steps going down. Riley and then Oray stepped down into it.
      After descending a short distance, they stepped onto a running platform that went around a large cylindrical area. Inside this circular area glimpses of scenes from the twentieth century could be viewed. For a second or two the sight of a woman in uniform talking with a man in uniform could be seen. They appeared to be from a war era that Oray knew almost nothing about.
      Then two cars could be seen speeding side by side. A second later a beautiful blonde woman was smiling with pouty red lips and photographers were taking pictures. Oray followed him down the various levels, catching glimpses of the scenes from time to time.
      Riley stopped in front of a panel and pointed to it. Oray began unlatching the large, slightly glowing box. Riley turned to him.
      "So, now that it's safe to talk, Sir, have you considered the offer yet?"
      Oray glanced at his assistant. He then opened the door on the large box, revealing a massive board with a multitude of small rectangular boxes in rows. As he began to work Oray replied.
      "Well friend. I've given it some thought. But with no more information than you've given me, it’s difficult to decide. Can't you tell me any more?"
      Riley considered his question. "I believe I’ve told you all I've been advised to tell you, at this time, Sir."
      Oray looked back at Riley with suspicion but continued to work inside the box.
      "And you're sure this isn't a glitch?"
      "Yes Sir, this isn't a glitch. But as I said, if you reveal anything I've told you top-side the system will present it as a glitch and you will likely receive a new assistant. Also, you must consider well, Sir because you'll not receive this opportunity again. If you betray the trust and communicate any of this information to anyone outside the protective lower levels, you will never get another offer."
      Oray pulled a dark rectangular piece from the panel and examined it. He then glanced at Riley again, as if his virtual assistant had a malfunction. As he searched his bag for another part he began to reply in a humoring tone.
      "Alright, so basically, since I've become a Class A Diver, I get this special offer you're speaking of? And the offer is like a group of some sort? But, you can't tell me more unless I swear to protect the information involved with this 'tribe' or whatever it is?"
      When he finished saying this he stopped working and stared at Riley expectantly.
      "Well, yes Sir, that kind of sums up the situation. I might have used a few alternate descriptions though, such as 'organization' or 'security policy,' but I suppose for the most part you are close."
      Oray went back to work and after a few minutes closed the door to the panel.
      "Riley, I don't want to lose you as an assistant. I like you and this whole thing is just a bit out of the ordinary."
      "I like you too, Sir. I realize I'm Non-living personnel, but even Nonors have basic feeling functions. I'm sorry I can't tell you anything more at this time."
      Oray re-locked the panel and slowly began to move back towards the upper level.
      "I understand why the designers placed all critical repairs into the hands of actual living personnel. I know it was a precautionary measure. I also understand the virtual level is much more extensive than I am aware of. But, this… well, it just sounds very strange to me. It doesn't sound like a designer implemented procedure. You say it's not a glitch, so what is it? And why is it so important? You don't want me to decline it, but you can't tell me exactly what it is, other than some type of oath."
      As they began to walk back to the higher levels, Riley thought for a few seconds and then replied.
      "I, in turn understand your concern, Sir. I would very much like to tell you more, but there's a strict discipline involved here. If you accept the oath I'm sure, you'll eventually find all your answers. You're correct in your assumptions of the virtual level. There are many hazards you've not come close to yet. As a Class A Diver, you'll be subjected to the massive complexities sooner or later and I feel this would greatly enhance your abilities to deal with them. Perhaps, as odd as it may seem, considering I’m Non-living-personnel, you'll just have to trust me on this."
      As they reached the portal stairs and before leaving the security of the lower level Oray stopped and reconsidered their discussion.
      "I'll tell you what, Riley. I'll have some time off after this and I'll decide during that time. When we come back to work, I'll tell you one way or the other."
      This appeared to cause Riley to relax.
      "Yes Sir. I'll be looking forward to your decision. And, please keep in mind what I told you about my concern for your safety, Sir."
      "I will Riley."
      They both climbed the stairway out of the light portal and arrived back onto the grass behind the mansion. They walked up to Rizette who stood waiting with the look of losing her patience in the matter.
      "So, can I continue with this guy’s punishment now?"
      From a few steps behind her, Serri began to almost cry and whined in a pathetic tone to her.
      "Please don't make me eat that. It's not even possible. Is it?"
      "Yeah, it should be ready now. Go ahead and hit it with your initiator."
      After he said this Rizette pulled her small device out and shined the laser-like light onto the old car. A light window opened behind it and the car rolled back into it, disappearing. In its place a jail door materialized in the style of the 1970's.
      "Alright Serri, it’s time to pay your dues." She went to the jail door and opened it up. Serri laughed a little, as if relieved it wouldn't be necessary for him to eat the old car.
       He walked into the jail and she shut the door behind him.
      "You'll leave through the virtual level exit. The door will open when your time is up. You should know the routine by now."
      Some type of remark came from Serri inside the cell, but no one paid much attention to it.
      "So, just out of curiosity, Riley, could you explain what could possibly cause a glitch like that?" She stared at Oray's assistant with obvious wonder.
      "Yes, well it's quite interesting actually. You see, the old automobile had a nickname in its day. It was fondly called a 'tin lizzy' even though it wasn't entirely made of tin."
      Riley glanced at Rizette for an instant as if awaiting her response to what he thought was funny. When she continued to stare at him with a blank expression he went on, seeming a bit embarrassed by the pause.
        "Now, the man who just entered the incarceration process for a regulation infraction is living a 'rock star' virtual sequence. Interestingly, the band he is a part of in this sequence has a name very similar to the old automobile's nickname."
      With this Rizette appeared impatient and commented.
      "Is this going to take long? I'd like to know the problem but there seems to be a lot of inter-connections."
      He expressed some discomfort and after fidgeting a little continued.
      "No, actually I'm almost finished. So, as it happens, the band had a popular song with 'jail' in the title. Now, when the man received jail time..."
      Riley held his hand out in a manner of waiting for her to make the connections.
      "So, the 'thing on the pool' was called a tin lizzy. The music group Serri is supposed to be a part of had a name very similar. And the group had a popular song with 'jail' in the title."
      When she said this Riley got excited.
      "Precisely, and then, you needed to access a late-twentieth-century jail for the man's punishment. This triggered the glitch. The complexities of this virtual level are very extensive. With so many layers of information these things are bound to happen from time to time."
      Rizette smiled a little and quickly aimed her initiator at a marble bird bath about ten feet away. When the light hit it, a virtual door opened as before.
      "Well, all I can say is, I'm glad to be in the RM department rather than technical maintenance." She and her assistant then went through the door and it disappeared behind them.
      "Did I not handle that well, Sir?" Riley asked.
      "Oh, you handled it alright. I think 'glitch facts' just don't excite her as much as she thought it might."
      "Yes, I agree. Not everyone has the mind of a Diver or his assistant." Riley smiled when he said this. Oray chuckled a little as well, indicating he understood his assistant’s intended humor.
      Later, Oray and Rizette spoke briefly before going to their exit portals.
      "You might want to take it easy on Riley. He's a little sensitive when it comes to interaction with living people, other than me."
      She looked at Oray and expressed a bit of surprise.
      "I didn't do anything to Riley. Besides that, who's the sensitive one here? Riley is a Nonor, granted he's a high level Nonor, but still a non-living person. You're the living person here, but it sounds to me like you're being a bit sensitive about Riley."
      Oray let out a deep breath. "Yeah, maybe I am. I know he's a system generated person. But as a high-level NLP he has intricate feelings and can be subject to the same discomfort we feel; at least from what I understand. Plus, he's like a friend to me."
      Rizette smiled at him.
      "Alright, big, baby boy. I'll take it easy on your virtual friend."
      He smiled back, and they parted ways into the separate exit portals.
      A wisp of mist enveloped them as they seemed to float in mid air for several seconds. Though the exit process took around ten minutes, Rizette and Oray; along with all the departing personnel only sensed a few seconds of time.
       Once they regained awareness, a heavy feeling came over them. The pods opened and now came the slightly painful experience of the outer sense actuators retracting. This was the blob of sensory enhancing material that enveloped the individual after the critical sensory actuators were in place. It accounted for the general senses of the body in the virtual world. When a breeze was felt in the virtual zone, or when anything pleasant or painful happened to the body in general, this blob provided those feelings.
      The real pain came when the critical sensory actuators were disembarked from the body. A skull cap with sensor inducers clasped tightly to the head. To the face, a mask attached firmly and was designed for breathing as well as mouthpiece inserted slightly for feeding and drinking.
      An individual entered the pod completely nude for the chest, upper and lower crotch attachments to be snugly affixed to the body. These allowed for sexual sensory enhancements as well as waste disposal. After seven days in the pod, these attachments would come off the body rather painfully.
      Various levels of cries rang out throughout the virtual disembarking floor. Rizette had by now reached the point where she didn't cry out, as much.
      When the attachments pulled from her chest and crotch she held her cries as much as possible, yet still a sound of discomfort emitted involuntarily from her mouth.
      After the removal, she always had to sit for a while to recover from the process.
      Once she had regained her composure while sitting in the open pod, she stood up and pulled her robe from a hanger on the wall. Robed, she left the small room and a cleaning crew came in behind her to begin sanitizing the pod for the embarking personnel.
      Rizette met up with Oray who also wore a robe. They walked along with the other personnel that had recently disembarked the virtual zone. These people all appeared disheartened and sad as they moved towards the BVZ central zone.
      On the other side of the long hallway the line of people who were about to embark to the virtual level moved past. These people were happy; many smiled as they spoke amongst themselves. Children laughed and jumped up and down in obvious excitement of going back to the wonderful place for seven days of heaven.
      Towards the end of the long hall they passed workers opening more pods up from their cocoons.
       From the thousands of virtual pods at the facility; less than a thousand were being used. Yet as more people arrived at the BVZ zone, more and more pods were opened up for use.
      Oray watched the workers as he walked past. He briefly wondered about this. The pods and the facility in general had been placed in a hibernation state by the people of what was considered the old-world; the world that existed before the collapse and near extinction of humans.
      Those people certainly did a great job of preparing it for a secure sleep, as the facility was in good shape altogether after almost a century in storage. He wondered what the people must have thought while putting the facility into the hibernation state. They must have thought they would return; otherwise why would they take such a precaution.
      At the end of this hall most of the people separated. Males went through a curtain on the right and females to the left. Once through the curtain they would remove their robes and place them in a container. Then they would step onto a moving walkway.
      As they moved slowly along, a sprinkling of water fell onto them and they would wash themselves. Oray had once heard from general maintenance personnel that the water would spray down when the facility was new. Now, years later, with clean water somewhat scarce and the facility having been recovered from the storage state, a dribble of water would have to suffice.
      Oray and Rizette dressed in locker rooms and moved on to their apartment after completing the disembarkation process.
      For advanced tech workers, a higher standard of existence was available. Oray and Rizette had what would be considered luxury accommodations for the time.
      Although Oray often found it necessary to plug holes and patch windows in the winter; the heat that was pumped into the room did keep the apartment reasonably warm. They also had running water available. Although it came out in a small stream as well, the ability to get clean water in one’s home was a tremendous advantage for the time.
      The day following their regular work schedule they might walk around the ruins of old Denver, within the secure BVZ zone, being sure to not venture too far as the threat of Kaberz continued to exist.  
      The two would carefully prod around the ruins to find a nice decoration for their apartment or other small treasure to carry home as this would always be a thrill for the couple.
        As more people entered the BVZ this became more difficult and they would need to walk farther to find areas that hadn't been rummaged through already. Nevertheless, life for the two skilled workers represented a quality unheard of anywhere else.
      Along with the better living conditions, they would receive additional virtual time. Since much of their time in the virtual zone was spent working rather than leisure; they always received two days leisure time during the regular seven-day shift. Along with these two days they were allowed four during their off time.
      To receive all four days however they would be encouraged to spend some time in the health facility to ensure adequate exercise. Although the virtual pods would stimulate some muscle reaction and minimal body movements, it wasn't considered enough for long term health needs.
      Later, the two were returning from one of their long walks. The ruins of old Denver loomed all around them and the sense of being in a massive graveyard seemed always present.
      "So where are we going tomorrow?" Rizette asked.
      He examined a small, silver tea pot they'd found at an old antique shop the two had discovered and were trying to keep a secret.
      They stumbled onto the small shop a month earlier and it had become their favorite spot. The ancient little store resided quietly between several larger buildings that represented no real value for scavengers. Thus, because of the distance and the location, the two had the little shop to themselves, at least for now.
      They would spend hours inside the old shop examining the articles of a time long gone. When they would leave Oray made efforts to disguise and secure the old store. Rizette would laugh a little as he searched for items to set in front of the door, making it appear insignificant. Yet she also enjoyed their time there and hoped it would remain their secret if possible.
      "Oh, maybe that beach you like so much." Oray finally answered his wife's question after some thought and further examination of their new treasure.
      "We should put this in the big room on that little corner table. Don't you think that would be a good spot?"
      She examined the tarnished tea pot in her husband’s hand as their footsteps crunched a mass of long broken glass from a store window.
      "Yeah, that'll be a good spot. I'll try to buff it up some when we get home."
      As they made their way through the ancient ruins of Denver, the sun began to set. The weather had become cooler and Rizette liked the idea of a warm beach for a few days.
      That evening they sat in their bedroom under the small light allowed by the BVZ energy board. Most of the power generated went to the virtual level functions. But due to the success of the virtual pods, more workers came to the BVZ daily. This created more manpower to clean and work on parts and various power generation devices. As more power came online the level of power available for the living quarters increased.
      Rizette briefly recalled the tiny light they had when first moving into the apartment. This newer and brighter light enabled her to clean the small silver tea pot. As she buffed the tarnished silver, she glanced over at Oray.
      He'd become very fond of the old books from the antique shop. Many of these were in a form of sealed container and still viewable after removing them from the protective cases. She admired his short brown hair and somewhat 'rugged' appearance. Oray was in his mid-twenties. He tried to stay clean cut but often the lack of decent shaving devices required him to go unshaven until right before virtual level entry. Though the pods were designed to slowly remove body hair and other bodily growths at a maintenance level; the more hair on the body the more painful disembarkation became.
      Oray would scan the old books for hours and often showed Rizette an unusual picture. Then they would try to figure out what the details were. She recalled one occasion in which they went over a sports book for an entire evening trying to determine how a game was played. The players wore what appeared to be body armor and played with an odd-looking ball. They read the article and gleaned as much information as possible from the book to understand the game.
      She loved this about him and though they enjoyed the leisure time in the virtual level, she felt he had a zeal for life that many around the BVZ lacked. Most of the people simply worked and survived for the day they would re-enter the virtual pods.
      Rizette felt the revival of the virtual pods had been a good thing. But it also meant people were using them as an escape from the real world. This concerned her, and she tried to find as many pleasures as possible in the real world. She didn't want her and Oray to become completely detached from the world they must exist in.
      The following day Oray lay on an exotic beach after entering the virtual zone.
      "Would you like another drink, Sir?" Oray looked up at the waiter holding several colorful drinks on a tray.
      "Yeah, let me try one of those. There’s no potions in these drinks, right?" He pointed to a tulip shaped glass with a red frozen mixture and a tiny umbrella hanging from the rim.
      "Splendid choice, Sir and potion free as you requested. I’ll only bring virgin drinks to you and the Missus." The waiter handed the drink to him and then took his empty glass from the table beside him.
      Oray sat up and looked out over the waves splashing on the white sand. Rizette stood in the water almost up to her bottom. She wore a bikini and Oray admired her beautiful figure. She smiled and waved at him when she realized he watched her. Then she splashed in the waves some and gazed out over the ocean.
      She was a beautiful woman in her early twenties, though not necessarily the type he'd seen in some of the old books. He thought she had more of a practical beauty. She had a nice figure and light brown hair that she wore somewhat short as everyone else did due to the virtual pods. Her face was oval and had a girlish appearance. He liked that about her though as it complimented the brilliant mind she had.
      Rizette ran back up to the beach and sat down in a beach chair beside her husband. She smiled at him and tried to catch her breath as drops of water rolled down her lightly tanned skin.
      "This is so beautiful. How could they mess up something like this?"
      Oray considered her question. This seemed to be something asked often and by everyone. Usually this question would come to mind as the remnants of mankind would pass what was left of a beautiful structure; or when they would discover something that must have been very wonderful when it worked.
      They would wonder how anyone could ruin such a great life. What caused the wars that eventually lead to the diseases and sterility, which almost lead to extinction? What could be so bad that the people of the ancient world would allow themselves to destroy this? He didn't know for certain, but he did have an answer that helped him deal with the problem. He finally replied to her.
      "I suppose it's a simple thing for us to look at it from this setting and then judge them from a distance. But we really don't know what they were up against. I remember when I was young we had some chickens that provided eggs for us. Then one winter the hens died from the cold and lack of food. We ate them one by one as they died. I'd become very fond of the rooster, but after the hens were gone, and we were starving, my father killed the rooster for food. I was mad at him, but I ate just as everyone else did."
      He paused briefly as if recalling the bitter memory.
      "That was the only year we became that desperate for food. Even though we had times when things were tight, we still came through. I think things can change and we may not see everything involved with an issue. Just as one year my father had to kill a pet to keep his family alive, and the next year we wouldn't consider such a thing."
      Rizette studied him for a few seconds after he said this.
      "You've given this more thought than other people, haven't you?  Most everyone else just likes to hate the people from the old-world and blame them for everything."
      "Yeah, I realize that. I just don't think that's necessarily the best answer; something as complex as a civilization collapse must have many different aspects. And yet we gaze out over a beautiful virtual ocean and sum it all up to them being fools. Is that really the best response? Blame our ancestors for everything, when we only have a fraction of the facts."
      Rizette lay down on the beach chair and then replied somewhat casually.
      "It seems to work for everyone but you."
      Oray laughed a little about this, and then Rizette did as well.
      After lying in the sun for a while Oray said. "I've got to make a decision about Riley before we go back to work."
      Rizette turned her head to look at her husband.
      "Is he still bringing that up?"
      "Yeah, he's still asking me about it. I told him I'd give him an answer when I returned to work."
      She turned back towards the sky, as if considering the problem.
      "He must have a glitch. What else could it be? I mean, why would he keep asking you about it, and why does he only talk about it on the lower levels?"
      "He says it's not a glitch. And I'm certain if I present it to Diver Control I'll lose him as an assistant. He even said if I present it to the control department I'd lose him as an assistant."
      Now she sat up. "So, what's the answer? You don't want another assistant, but he keeps asking you about it."
      Oray took another drink.
      "I think I'm going to go along with it. If it's a glitch, that should bring it out. If not, then I can find out what he keeps trying to say but 'can't' say."
      "Ray, if it is a glitch and you do as he wants you to do, there could be some serious consequences. You told me one time there were people in the old word that became lost in the virtual zone. I don't want you to take any chances."
      "Yeah, I've considered that possibility. But Riley has been my assistant since I was a trainee. He does good work and has never faltered. The only odd behavior I've ever seen from him is this thing. And he didn't bring it up until I became a Class A Diver. I know he's only a virtual person, but I've grown to trust him. I don't think he would lead me into any danger."
      She laid back down as several Nonors in swimming suits strolled by.
      Finally, she replied, "I just hope your right."  
      They relaxed under the virtual sunset and Oray slowly drifted off to sleep.

Chapter Two: The Vague Promise

"What did you say this sequence was?" The two walked through a massive mansion. Women with pink and white hair, as well as tiny glowing and flashing outfits strolled past them laughing amongst themselves.
      Oray watched them with interest as their outfits created quite a visual sight. Their breasts glowed with colors swirling around, and the crotch and butt area of their outfits flashed with various patterns of lights.
      "This sequence is, 'early twenty-first-century software tycoon,' Sir." Riley also expressed interest in the elaborately dressed women as several more strolled leisurely past.
      The two made their way up a grand staircase following the signals from a small handheld device and eventually came to a large room.
      In the room were several pool tables and an assortment of video games on large screens along the walls. A huge TV screen was also attached to the wall and showing some form of music video.
      A man stood in the middle of the room staring at the floor. He appeared to be about forty-years-old. He wore wire frame glasses and an oriental silk robe as well as sandals on his feet.
      All around the room were more of the young women in the strange glowing and flashing outfits. A few played games and others sat on the plush furniture around the room. Two stood by the man and stared at the floor as well.
      As Oray and Riley moved closer to the man they saw a portion of the floor glowing with gradient lines and every few seconds the area would flash a bit and scenes from other times and places could briefly be seen. The area appeared to be around five feet wide, though not by any means symmetrical in shape.
      "And there it is!" Oray said, indicating this to be the problem they were searching for. The man turned to Oray and Riley.
      "Are you guys here to fix this?"
      "Indeed, we are, Sir. That is a standard fabric degradation hole. We deal with these things all the time, as well as sequence information glitches among other things. In fact, the other day we had a 'major cross sequence straddle glitch'. Very interesting in fact; involved a "garbage parade" if I remember correctly."
      Oray glanced over at Riley with a slight smile after saying this and then continued.
      "We'll have it sorted out for you as soon as possible."
      "Gigi fell in the hole and disappeared. When will I get her back?" The man spoke with apparent despair as he gazed back into the hole.
      After giving the man's question some thought, Oray concluded he must be referring to one of the oddly dressed women.
      "Well Sir, when a standard level Nonor falls into one of these holes, their characteristic components are generally recycled into new NLP's. From what I have seen here you have several female companion NLPs, but they all appear to be standard level Nonors. Once we have the hole repaired and your sequence comes completely back online you will receive a replacement NLP. But it won't be the same one you lost."
      When Oray said this the man became quite distraught and on the verge of tears.
      "You mean, it killed her?"
      Now, Oray realized the man was likely nothing similar in real life to the one he portrayed in this virtual sequence. His intelligence level seemed to be quite low and yet he obviously had a high emotional level in its place. Feeling a bit of compassion for the man, Oray tried to soften his response.
      "Well, uhm, she will continue in existence, Sir, but in a number of different NLP characters."
      This eased the situation some for the man who still stared into the hole as if Gigi might suddenly pop back out, glowing breasts and all.
      "She was one of my favorites." The man replied in a very sad tone.
      Oray gazed around the room at the many other women, all in a variety of tiny glowing and flashing outfits. He had to turn his back to the man as his face became strained to avoid laughter.
      Riley looked at him and Oray smiled and nodded his head back to the man, now behind him. Riley smiled a little and immediately turned his head down and put his hand up to his forehead as if scratching it.
      "Alright Sir, we'll get to work now." Oray continued after regaining his composure.
      Riley walked out the door and into the hall with his eyes towards the floor, as if searching for something. As he searched the floor, several more of the young women strolled past them. These had bright neon-pink hair and as the others their outfits resembled a bikini, but the tops glowed multicolor and the bottoms presented something of a light show as various random displays flashed.
      As Oray watched the two women with interest, Riley found the spot he had been searching for.
      "Right here Sir."
      He pointed to an insignificant spot beside a large vase. Oray, seeming a bit upset at being distracted from the still visible young women, simply nodded and pulled out his pen device and shot a small glob onto the floor at that spot.
      The glob glowed a few seconds and then a portal opened, revealing stairs down to the lower level.
      Once they were well into the secure lower level, Riley asked Oray with anticipation.
       “So, Sir, what's your decision?"
      Due to the recent exposure to glowing breasts and neon pink hair, Oray had somewhat forgotten the matter.
      "Oh, uhm, well, I've decided to accept your offer, Riley. Even though you can't tell me much about it, I trust you. If you say it's not a glitch and it'll be beneficial for me, I guess I'll have to take your word on the matter."
      "That is fantastic Sir. I can't tell you how relieved I am. As time passes I'm sure you'll become aware that you've made the correct decision."
      Riley expressed enthusiasm as he said this.
      "Alright, I'm sure I will. So, is that it then? Are we all done?"
      Riley became very serious. "Oh no, Sir, you must take the oath. It's the only way you can have access to the benefits of the Creed."
      Oray appeared a little perplexed by this but he'd made his decision on the matter and was determined to see the thing through.
      "Well, alright then. You tell me what I need to do. It's not going to hurt is it?"
      Riley chuckled a bit. "No Sir it'll not be painful. But we do need to locate a C6 junction point."
      They walked along and passed several of the C3-6 light emitting junction points. Oray, now becoming a bit impatient pointed to the junction points.
      "Won't one of these C36’s work?"
      "No Sir. The C6 junction points have been programmed for the specific interface ability of administering the oath." After passing a few more junction points Riley found one that he deemed to be the C6 series.
      "Alright Sir, before taking the oath I must instruct you on the stipulations and warnings regarding the oath."
      He moved to directly in front of Oray and took a very serious stance.
      "If you betray the Creed you will be immediately disenfranchised from all Creed facilities and benefits. All access keys will be eliminated, and every effort will be made to turn your betrayal back onto you as an individual Diver. Do not underestimate the potential wrath of the Creed nor its ability to derail and punish any attempt of malicious exposure. If you understand these stipulations and agree to them, you will be allowed to take the oath. Do you understand and accept the stipulations?"
      "Yeah, sure I agree and understand. Let's go ahead with it."
      As Oray said this he began to second-guess his decision and wondered how long this was going to take.
      "Outstanding, Sir, please step into the junction point."
      When Riley said this and pointed to the rectangular area with lights streaming up and down, Oray really began to wonder about his decision.
      "If I step into the light streams, it'll disrupt the information flow."
      "No Sir. As I said these junction points have been programmed specifically for the oath procedure. The information flow will be moved to other points and your virtual presence code will be scanned for the Creed’s records."
      Oray hesitated for a few seconds. "Are you sure this is necessary?"
      "Sir, this is the highest-level interface for the oath. This method will not only give you access to Creed facilities but also a Class A, Creed authorization. Believe me Sir; my efforts are for the sole purpose of providing you with the most benefits available. There may be other methods of taking the oath, but this is the method designated as the official method."
      Realizing this was important to Riley; Oray moved over to the junction point and cautiously stepped into the rectangular area as the lights streamed over and around him. He was apprehensive as he looked up and around with the feeling something might fall on him. Then he turned his attention to Riley.
      "Alright then, what do I do next?"
      "Raise your left hand and place your right hand over your heart."
      Oray did as he asked.
      "Now repeat after me… I solemnly swear to protect and defend the Creed and all information and facilities designated for Creed purposes."
      Oray repeated the words but without much enthusiasm.
      "I have been instructed on the stipulations involved with the Creed and I understand and accept these as part of my oath to the Creed."
      He again repeated the words.
      "And last of all.  I swear to access the Creed assets only for Creed purposes or when necessary due to Diver related dangers."
      Again, Oray repeated the words.
      "Alright Sir, you’re all done with the oath."
      Oray stepped out of the junction point and looked himself over to make sure he didn't receive any ill effects from the process.
      "Well, I'm glad that's all settled," he said.
      "There is one more very important matter, Sir. I must give you the access information. You must memorize this information and the procedure necessary for using this information. Are you ready?"
      By the time Riley said this Oray had become quite impatient with the entire matter.
      "Yeah, I'm ready. And you did say this was the last thing, right?"
      "Yes, Sir this is the last thing. But it is vital that you memorize and protect this information."
      "Alright, just give it to me."
      "Your first keyword is 'Monitor.' You’re to use this keyword to access the turnstile as well as other minor interface functions. In the event your virtual code becomes misplaced in the system, simply locate the closest advisor and relay the key word 'Monitor'. This will allow you to access the turnstile. Once you've done so, you must choose another sequence entry point."
      Riley paused now as Oray appeared to be drifting in thought.
      "Are you getting this information, Sir?"
      Oray turned his attention back to Riley.
      "Yeah, sure, I'm getting it, Monitor, turnstile, got it."
      "Very good, this is vital information." Riley then continued.
      "The turnstile is necessary to keep the Creed Station in an undisclosed and secure position. The turnstile will, however enable you to access the Creed Station entry position. When you have entered the second sequence from the turnstile you must again locate the closest advisor and give them the second keyword, which is 'Merrimack'. At this point you will gain access to the Creed facilities. Do you have this information memorized and secured Sir?"
      "Yeah, yeah, I've got it. So, are we done now?" Oray now began to slowly move in the direction necessary for resolving the fabric degradation problem.
      "Yes Sir, we're done, and I just want to say I am so glad about this development. I have been very concerned about your well being and now I am relieved of that concern."
      Riley strolled quickly to catch up to Oray.
      "That's great. I'm happy that you're no longer concerned. Now let's get this problem resolved. We've messed around for too long." Oray found the point of degradation and quickly went to work.
      Once Oray took the oath, Riley said nothing more about it. Oray became less concerned about the event and as the days passed, he thought little about it.
      A week later Oray and Rizette strolled along a trail in the mountains. A stream ran off to their right and a log cabin could be seen farther up the trail. It was another place the two enjoyed during their leisure virtual time.
      "So, I've been meaning to ask you about the, you know, the situation with Riley. What ever happened with that?" Rizette tapped a stick on some brush beside the trail as she asked her question. She liked to find a long stick at this location and tap objects as they walked. This somehow made the experience seem even more real.  
      "Oh, that's all over. I took care of that first thing last week. It’s no longer an issue."
      Rizette stared at Oray with suspicion.
      "Really, so how did you manage to resolve it so effectively?"
      "I just did as Riley asked. It was some crazy oath thing that made absolutely no sense whatsoever. It was a glitch, it had to be. I suspect Riley just couldn't identify it. But once I followed through the process, everything went back to normal. He's not said another word about it. I felt pretty sure that was all I needed to do. I'm just glad I didn't bring it up to Diver Control. I really like Riley. It would have been a shame to lose him over such an insignificant little glitch."
      Rizette smiled and then let Oray get a little ahead of her. She then tapped him on the behind with her stick.
      "Hey, you better watch out!" Oray said as he turned and tried to catch her. She ran around him and moving quickly, entered the cabin. Once inside they made love and afterwards lay in bed holding each other.
      "That seems odd though." Rizette said. Oray looked down at his wife. Her head laying on his chest.
      "What seems odd?"  
      "The glitch, I mean, why would Riley only show signs of the glitch in the lower levels, where the controllers don't have access."
      He considered this a few seconds.
      "I don't know. But the system has some very strange complexities. I think it may have something to do with him being a Diver assistant. Who knows? At any rate the problem appears to be resolved."
      She lightly rubbed her husband's chest but didn't reply.
      Oray sensed his answer didn't really satisfy her. He brushed her short brown hair with his fingers as he tried to think of a way to put her mind at ease.
      "I think what I'll do though, is when a good opportunity arises next week I'll bring it up casually to Riley. My guess is the glitch has worked itself out and he'll have no idea what I'm referring to."
      After some additional thought Rizette finally replied.
      "Yeah, I guess so. That might work"
      They slowly fell asleep in each other’s arms.
      As their time off went by Oray became more confident the odd procedure endured with Riley was just a glitch. He reassured himself on several occasions that all he needed to do was casually mention the procedure to his virtual assistant. Feeling that the glitch had worked itself out after he followed through with the oath process, Riley would have no knowledge of it any longer.
      The following week Oray found himself in the lower level with Riley and decided the time was right to confirm his suspicions about the glitch. As they stood in front of a control panel Oray brought the subject up as nonchalantly as possible.
      "You know, Riley, I've been thinking about it and I'm glad I went ahead with that Creed thing."
      Riley stared at Oray with a puzzled look for a second. Oray now felt his assumption was correct and Riley had no idea what he spoke about. But then Riley replied.
      "You should have no doubt about the decision, Sir."
      When Riley said this, Oray felt his entire body shudder slightly. What had been a slight smile fell from his face. His heart also seemed to slow down in his chest. But the anxiety became increasingly worse as Riley continued.
      "In fact, if those other three Divers had taken the oath, they might not be drifters as we speak. This is one reason I remained so adamant about you taking the oath, Sir. As I said before, I realize I'm not a living person but as a Class B NLP I have been programmed with a moderate level of synthetic codes for emotion. I felt quite concerned for your safety. With three Divers becoming drifters in such a short time I knew the danger was real."
      Oray struggled for something to say. His mind grappled with the new information and the complete lack of preparation for such an answer became painfully apparent as no response presented itself. After a few seconds he clumsily moved forward with an awkward response.
      "Three other Divers, you said three Divers have become drifters? Do you mean before the restart? Are you talking about before the long sleep?"
      Riley now stared at Oray, seeming even more puzzled than before.
      "No Sir. I said they are drifters as we speak. Did you not hear me?"
      "Yes, yes, I heard you, I, just, wanted confirmation." Oray rubbed his head to find another angle. He could see Riley was at a loss to his apparent lack of knowledge on the matter.
      "I just want to be sure we're speaking about the same Divers. Do you have their names by chance?"
      Riley's expression changed now, and he became a little more at ease; but continued to express some surprise at Oray’s responses.
      "No Sir. I'm sure I knew their names before they became drifters. But since they've dropped from the grid, I'm only aware of their absence. I would have thought you knew them Sir; or at least heard about them becoming drifters. Do you not speak of such things with your fellow Divers in the real world?"
      Oray now realized he needed to find an exit to the conversation before things got any worse.
      "Yes well, there are some things we don't speak much about, Riley."
      "I understand Sir. I would normally not say anything about such sad events, but now that you're a member of the Creed there are liberties available to you, as long as you only speak on the lower levels."
      "Alright Riley, we'll talk about this later. I believe we should get some work done now."
      "Yes Sir."
      After disembarking from the virtual zone Oray moved quickly to find Rizette. When he spotted her, she was rubbing her head, which occurred often and by most people after exiting the pods as the sharp stimulators on the skullcap would cause discomfort after their time in the pods.
      "We need to go to our secret place as soon as possible."
      She looked at her husband oddly while continuing to rub her head.
      "Alright, we can go after we get cleaned up. I'll pack a lunch; but why the urgency?" As she said this they moved past a hologram of commissioner Redstone. The old holographic equipment caused the image to flicker on and off as he spoke of new power generators coming online and the expansion of territory in old Denver.
      "I'll tell you when we get there."
      "Okay, I'll wait until then." She then looked at him again with a puzzled expression as they moved into the separate cleaning stations.
      They quickly went to their apartment after getting cleaned up. Rizette packed a lunch and they put warm clothing on as the weather had become increasingly cooler.
      On the way to the old antique shop, they fondly called their secret place, Oray and Rizette passed by a squad of BVZ security forces. Rizette liked seeing these security forces as they made her feel safer.
      Oray picked up scraps of wood from inside and around the old buildings as they got closer to the shop.
      He was very proud of the fact he'd put an antique wood stove from the store back into service. He cleverly ran the stovepipe through the adjoining wall and into a large open area of the building beside the antique shop.
      After lighting a small fire and checking for tell-tale smoke signs he confirmed his hopes that by running the pipe into the old building next to the shop there was very little evidence of smoke to be seen. In this way they could have a small fire to warm themselves and not be too concerned about others spotting their special spot.
      Oray pulled a large piece of debris away from the door so Rizette could enter. He quickly put the wood he’d gathered inside the door. Then he pulled the debris back up to the door to make the place appear of no worth.
      Once inside he started a small fire and they settled in for a few hours of quiet time.
      Rizette always enjoyed the many small decorative items around the old shop and Oray would often examine the thousands of old books and magazines that had been sealed for protective purposes. Once he found one that interested him he would carefully take it from the package and go through it page by page with a keen interest. Today however their routine would not be the same.
      "So, what's all of this about?" She sat down in an old chair that she'd done some work on to make it usable again.
      Oray paced about somewhat nervously in front of the wood stove as he considered where to start. He put his hands over it and rubbed them together.
      "I spoke with Riley about that oath thing. You know the thing we thought was a glitch."
      When he said this Rizette immediately took on a serious expression.
      "What do you mean, 'the thing we thought was a glitch?’ Is that supposed to mean it’s not a glitch?"
      He didn't look at his wife but instead stared at his hands as he rubbed them over the stove.
      "Something is very wrong, Riz. Not only did he remember the oath thing. He also spoke more about it. He indicated there were three Divers lost in the system somewhere. He specifically indicated there were three divers who were drifters, at this time."
      "What exactly does that mean ‘drifters’?"
      "It means they've become lost in the virtual fabric and have no exit available to disengage from the system."
      "So, what happens to the person in the pod?" She obviously struggled to understand.
      "Well, it's not talked about much outside the Diver department, but when a Diver becomes a drifter the pod is disconnected from the main virtual deck. Then it's moved to an isolated area and reconnected. The thought is, no one knows whether the Diver is in a good place or bad place, so hopefully they're drifting in a reasonably comfortable sequence."
      Rizette thought of this as the fire crackled in the old stove.
      "You never told me that was still a danger. When you mentioned it before you said it happened in the old world." Rizette sat back in her chair with a concerned expression.
      "It's always been a risk of the job. I didn't want to worry you. Until now I thought the risk was relatively small." He also expressed concern after saying this.
      "Maybe that's just part of the glitch. If the glitch is still active he could be talking gibberish, right?"
      Oray paused before answering. He then went to an old chair beside Rizette. He'd previously put some material over the exposed framework to make it usable again. He sat down and stared out into the aged shop. Then he finally replied.
      "At first I thought that might be the case. Maybe it still is. But then I remembered something; when I first came to the Diver department, after I'd finished my initial training, I remembered a Diver suddenly being gone. I didn't know him very well, but his name was Layton. I didn't think much about it and the word around the department was that he had transferred.
      "Then about a year ago, a class A Diver by the name of Vance seemed to disappear also. I knew Vance a little better, though not well. I asked around and the other Divers said he'd transferred out. No one seemed to know where he transferred to so one day I asked a control officer about him. He checked some records and said it was classified. He then said it wasn't the first time the BVZ council had raided the Diver department. He thought Vance was likely involved in some secret BVZ project and living a few doors down from Redstone, or one of the council members."
      She studied Oray as he told her this and tried to make sense of the new development. He continued to stare out into the shop at an old-world artifact on the wall.
      After a long silence and some thought on the matter, Rizette attempted a comment, if only to ease the tension of a silent room.
      "Just because a couple Divers transferred out of the department doesn't mean it has anything to do with this thing. Besides, how could anything in the virtual level have that effect on a real person? I mean, the whole reason for the lower level is to protect the real world from the virtual world, right?"
      Oray sat silent after his wife asked this. Then he took a deep breath and replied.
      "Yes, the old-world designers put the lower level into the system as a barrier. Their concern was mainly the NLPs. All Nonors have basic levels of emotion and intelligence. The designers felt this allowed for the possibility of mutiny by the NLPs. So, the solution was to separate the two worlds and not allow the NLPs to make critical repairs necessary in the void of the lower level. This is where the Diver came into existence. What really concerns me about this situation is, if NLPs desired to take control of even a segment of their world; the Divers would be the bridge needed to do that."
      As if a light inside her head went off, Rizette suddenly sat up indicating she had seen what Oray was getting at. She stared at the floor and thought about her revelation a few seconds.
      "So, what you're saying is..." She paused again as if trying to capture her thoughts and put them into words.
      "If NLPs wanted to, for some reason, take over control of the virtual level, or even part of it they would need to recruit a Diver in order to bridge the gap." She then sat back in her chair trying to sort out the possibilities of the situation.
      Oray rubbed his chin as if also trying to determine where the various pieces of a puzzle went. Finally, Rizette again felt compelled to comment.
      "I just can't understand what the purpose would be or how this could be. I mean, I understand the connection, but wouldn't Diver Control be aware of something?"
      "I don't have it all figured out either but here is some of what I'm considering right now. Around ninety percent of the virtual personnel have no real awareness of their actual situation. A, Class C companion NLP can stare at a huge fabric degradation hole and have no idea what it is.
      "Yet by necessity, around ten percent do have a higher awareness of what they are and where they are. These are the Control counterparts in the virtual world. Just like Riley is my counterpart, there are various Control counterparts in the system. For example, a Class A virtual mayor of a city has a very high awareness of what he is and where he is. He also has high levels of feelings and emotions. He knows he can only exist in the virtual world, and he's programmed to maintain various aspects of the sequence that he is a part of. The reason for this is to help Control identify and deal with a virtual situation when a problem develops. These high-level NLPs are Diver Control’s virtual contact elements."
      "It's like the two Class B companions you told me about in that 'rock star' sequence. You said they requested a transfer and the system granted one due to abuse by a living person. I believe Riley has the same option if I were to be abusive to him. So apparently there are several classes of NLPs that understand pain, abuse, joy, happiness. In fact, Riley stated he was 'concerned' for me."
      Oray stood up and went to the stove again. As he rubbed his hands over it he continued.
      "Now, if you were a virtual person with the ability to understand your situation and the situation of the world you're in, you might think along these lines: 'If I make a deal with a few Divers to input the necessary information on the living side of things, we could both have almost unlimited possibilities; because from the lower level almost anything can be done if the right program is downloaded on the Control side of the equation. So, the higher classes of virtual personnel could create their own worlds in cyberspace and no one would ever know."
      Rizette strained to comprehend this theory.
      "Are the virtual personnel even capable of desiring such a thing? I mean does Riley ever think anything like that?"
      He considered Rizette's question before answering. Then he rubbed his hands over the stove again before replying.
      "Theoretically, all virtual personnel with a higher understanding of their situation are designed to be content in their position. Riley never expresses any unhappiness in his position. But he does express the higher levels of emotion and intelligence."
      Now he turned to his wife and spoke as if realizing something.
      "Just think about this though, Riz. In the virtual zone there is almost an infinite space for anything; if the information is inserted in the correct manner. The designers were obviously concerned about a potential growth occurring without their awareness; otherwise the lower level wouldn't exist. So, Riley wouldn't need to express anything other than what he is expected to express when he is expected to express it. Because when he's not being my assistant he could be the king of some long-forgotten country. He could be doing anything he wants while I'm not around."
      She stood up and walked over beside him.
      "Are you saying there could be virtual people doing the same thing we're doing; living completely different lives in some corner of the virtual level, completely out of our sight or knowledge?"
      He strained at this question.
      "I guess that's what I'm saying. I don't know. But I remember Riley saying something about punishment and Creed facilities. I didn't pay much attention at the time but now I'm seeing all sorts of possibilities. He may have been genuinely concerned about my welfare, but the danger may be from some, renegade virtual faction that has somehow breached the security blocks. If this is the case, they may either recruit new Divers to assist them or cast them out into the virtual wasteland with no hope of returning to the real world. He may have seen my taking the oath as a measure of safety, but now I may be in the middle of a virtual world crime gang. From some of the things Riley said there seems to be an entire area set aside for this Creed, whatever it is."
      Oray reached down and put another scrap of wood into the stove. Rizette stood motionless, seeming to be in a mild state of shock. Neither one spoke for a while as both searched for an answer. Then Rizette said what she often did when trying to solve a problem.
      "So, what are our options?"
      He moved over to a broken-down counter and picked up a oddly shaped antique and began to examine it. Then he replied.
      "Right now, there doesn't appear to be many. If I report anything to Control, I may be punished by this 'Creed' entity, what ever it is. If I manage to expose it somehow, my code is sure to show up in their database. Or, if by some chance this is just a glitch we may be worried about nothing."
      Rizette replied with concern, "But if it's not a glitch, there could be three Divers trapped in cyberspace, with you and me being the only ones that might be able to help them."
      When she said this Oray became obviously distraught and quickly sat the antique back on the old counter.
      "Yeah, you're right. That makes this more complicated."
      They both walked over to the rough chairs and sat back down. They both stared blankly into the small shop, as if the ancient artifacts might somehow work their magic again and make them feel better.
      After eating some of the lunch and talking it over again, they decided to do some probing to gather more information.
      Rizette's aunt was a council member and though Rizette didn't speak with her very often, she decided to try and visit her. If she could casually ask some questions, perhaps they could get enough information together to make some type of move.