Paper Cities

A girl named Anya finds herself in a digital Wonderland with no memory as to how she got there. Here is a place where thoughts shape all of reality, and conscience itself is a hopeless cause. (Alice In Wonderland x Lord of the Flies?)

“I won’t let you die.”

The girl floated across the roof of the building in dainty, tip-toed steps, as though the steps she took would somehow lead her closer to the source of those words. Perhaps it was her mother who had said them to her; perhaps her father or her brother or her sister. She couldn’t quite remember. Three more steps - the ghostly cat at her feet matched her pace for pace, grinning upwards at her. She imagined that he knew the answer and wouldn’t tell her. In her mind, the grin became a smirk, and the smirk became a mouth which whispered secrets in every direction but her own. She banished the thought easily, by instinct.

This was Wonderland, where anything was possible. Thoughts made reality, and so, she had learned to control her thoughts.

Ha.

Upon her entrance, she had known nothing of where she was, or who she was except for the thin book which she carried in her hands. A diary from a previous life, she had been told, but - some diary! It ran a page long, with a single entry that was present only to assure her that she wouldn’t die - never mentioning whether or not she would live, as not dying and living were quite different things. After reading the page, she had decided that she was not alive at all, and could not decide anything beyond that. She had, admittedly, learned something - about what this place was, and what she was, even if there was nothing about who she was.

The lights on the roof flashed, breaking her delicate dance with flares of color. Covering her eyes with a hand, the girl drew herself upwards and fled for the stairs, with the cat almost strolling casually after her. She was cattail-thin and clear-eyed with a few neat, short layers of black hair. A fragile and silly looking adolescent - but tough, with her insecurities on the outside all her biting sarcasm and strength on the inside. It was a counter-intuitive way to organize oneself, but she found that it worked.

She had gotten to know herself better than the diary did, all of her strengths and weaknesses. She knew that she complained a lot, that she had petty jealousies and a temper, that she cared for nothing but intelligence and constantly disappointed herself. There were several times when she had surprised herself with a crass outburst.

It had been two years since her arrival in this city, bright and dazzling - the “Paper City,” constructed according to the Wonderland program, ALICE. To another world, to the “real” world, it was a medical device for those with incurable diseases, or in accidents which could not be repaired. When someone got to be a burden of that sort, they cooled them, degree by degree, into biological stasis and uploaded their brains as data into ALICE. And there they would stay, for some indefinite amount of time, until their bodies could be unfrozen and cured and have the little binary codes of their souls put nicely back in order.

This world was meant to be entertainment. Something for the bodies to remember when they woke up. And so there might be something to enjoy, after she had gotten over the shock of finding that she was a non-person. And maybe after she had a little more idea of who the hell she was.

She had named herself, this little chunk of binary, “Anya.” It seemed suitably short, suitably exotic for a program.

As for the person - the real human being - Anya found herself in the supposedly rare position of being unable to remember anything (“Data transfer error,” she thought sarcastically, “Patient history unavailable”). She assumed that the poor frozen fool would be a girl like herself, as most of the people here claimed to mirror their real world counterparts. All she knew was that she had had some heart disorder, and that her parents were divorced.

“Anya!” The cat’s tail tip twiched and he suddenly accelerated, easily outstripping his companion. The dark grey paws disappeared around a corner of the stairwell, quickly followed by a flashing white tail tip. “They’re getting closer. Hurry up.”

“Yeah. How can I keep up with a freaking cat?”

“How can you not? Your legs are about four times as long as mine,” purred the cat, twisting around for a moment so that Anya caught sight of a pair of perfect lilac eyes. The cat’s name was Dimitri, and Anya often wondered what kind of a person he must have been in the real world, to have a cat’s body and such extraordinary eyes. “And you only have two of them to move.”

“Well then, I suppose I lift each of my legs four times as high as you, and move them at about half your speed.”

“Then don’t do those things.” The cat seemed almost to shrug, but in the dark, it was hard to tell. “Ah. Shush. They’re here now.”

“You spoke first,” Anya grumbled to herself as the door to the stairwell swung open. In marched a string of teenagers, colored vividly like insects in bright leather jackets. One of them took a moment to survey Anya with crisp beetle eyes before speaking.

“You two done?”

“It’s all yours.”

The stranger bowed and waved his entourage up towards the rooftop. Through the gaps in the stairs, Anya watched as the lights continued to glow brighter and brighter, as the roof prepared itself for its next guests, its reality distorted by the wishes and needs of the hollering group. Here, thoughts were everything. Food and tables were whipped out of nothing, settling themselves before the teenagers.

They looked satisfied. People always did, until their happiness was interrupted.

“We’re done. Let’s go, Anya.”

Anya took one last look at the party-goers, wondering how long it would be before she would become like them - hedonistic and self-centered, unable to contain their mood once one little thing went wrong. Greedy. Angry. “Filthy and corrupt,” as Dimitri had described them, with that hard but cheerful smirk on his face. He had said that such a state seemed perfectly unavoidable, and soon she - no, both of them - would turn out to be just like everyone else.

Especially someone like her, who couldn’t even remember what existence would be like, otherwise.

“You should get over thinking like that. It’s been two years...”

“You’re reading my thoughts again?”

“No. Your face. Minds are horrible for light reading. I prefer romance novels.”

“...Let’s go.”


*       *       *



Humans were so ugly on the inside - Dimitri had realized that even before entering the City. Perhaps that was the reason why he had become a cat. Nevertheless, he was a human boy in a cat’s body, and so he carried that nature as well. The pair made their way out of the building and onto the street, where a gaggle of confused young children - probably newcomers and no older than thirteen - greeted them, grabbing onto the edge of Anya’s shirt and almost trampling Dimitri in their zeal.

“Ah, that reminds me,” Dimitri muttered as Anya finally managed to turn them away, “Could you write something down for me?”

“Hm. Sure.” Anya reached into a pocket that hadn’t existed before, and found the pen and paper there. “What is it?”

“The phone number of some woman I met a few hours ago. I’m afraid I might forget it soon.”

“I’m sure she found you a real charmer.”

“Of course.”

“Perhaps one day she’ll bear your children.”

“You never know. Are you writing, or what?”

“Yeah. Sure. Whatever.”

Dimitri trilled a note, a sound of victory in a complete non-argument, before dictating the number with all speed. It earned him a glare from his companion (“Why, Dimitri, you are perfectly capable of remembering such things on your own!”), the amusement that he had sought all along. And she knew it.

The cat had been a pianist in a previous life, a wealthy child with a father and a mother who provided everything that they thought he could possibly want. Sniveling figures in the background who supported him only because they wanted his image for themselves. Then he had turned fifteen, and they had diagnosed his tumor. Against his will, they filtered his blood and body clean of all its hormones and impurities, and turned him to data.

He hated them for it, but it was not a thought that belonged in the present moment. There was nothing he could do about being alive, after all, and no one was going to be hurt by his mourning besides himself. And so he sat back and tried to find what little pleasure he could.

There were things, though, that scared him. They were people, for the most part. He had watched one girl gouge out another's eye, because of a phone that had gone missing. And he had met the man who had lured him in with a smiling face and a warm feeling about him. The man whose attitude turned one-hundred and eighty degrees once they were alone in the house, who took out his anger on the cat every time he found anything that wasn't absolute "perfection."

Because Wonderland was supposed to be made of dreams, and dreams were supposed to be beautiful.

He had made a promise with Anya, insurance for the time that one or the other would lose his or her mind. If he were to change, she would shoot him with a pistol. And if she did, he would end her virtual life with a claw across the neck. It was a simple plan, but the first difficulty lay in recognizing the change. The second difficulty lay in the fact that neither of them had murdered anyone before. Or if they did, they couldn't remember.

People died, in the City. Never from accidents - there were too many safeguards against that. After all, the City was the wish-granter, the changer of dreams into reality. If someone wished to die, he or she would. If someone wanted to kill, he or she could.

It had created quite a puzzle. Dimitri assumed that their real bodies wouldn't die along with the program, but he couldn't help wondering about it. He sincerely doubted that the data would be erased, not without the intervention of some programmer. Changed, perhaps, but he knew plenty of things from those whom he had lived with. The doctors - the parents - society: they wouldn't let you escape the City so easily, just by dying.

The End

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