The Time of Rivers
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I should have told the crowd of people that I miss you, but I didn't. I was only vainly looking for traces that you've existed. I heard the person in black with a thick Bible chanted, "Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust", but I've never fallen a tear for you. There are salt in tears, salt would damage the circuit board, and liquid requires extra calculation load. The Data Layer does not need tears.

I don't know what I'm looking for.

I still remember you running clumsily on the streets when you were a child. The streets of Aerven city —— different from most of the cities of the Data Layer —— much resembles the old Earth. I saw you running along the sides of the canal that penetrates the city, turning around a corner and another on the stone brick paths, running by carved metal eaves and window lattices. You waved at the coming ferries, and people on the ferries waved back at you. And I was chasing behind you, panting, with the bright lines sprinkling down from the cyan sky above.

But the Data Layer isn't reality. Therefore after you crossed the tracks of the tram, ran by the juggler aside the road, ran past the church in the city —— you will see new blocks arise before you. The original builders of the city have stacked Western European styled buildings —— complex, cold and minimalist —— according to non-euclidean geometry, borderlessly. And when you have run too far, the complicated streets and staggered roads will, like the brilliant and dazzling world outside the city, make you feel terrified and insecure.

Then I will hurry to your side, lightly rebuking you for running too far, finally bringing you home together. Every time.

I heard the pastor in black let me come forward, and I held flowers in my hands. I'm different from them. For my whole life I've never believed in any religion, I do not believe that people go to heavens after death, whether it's Maxwellism's or Christianity's —— but you did.

So I am here, doing what I consider meaningless.

Onward from here, out of the gates of the graveyard, three minutes and it's the garment shop of the Millers. You loved their garments when you were still here, and Mrs Miller will stroke your hair, saying how fast you grew tall, and how good you did your homework, growing much faster than the other kids in town —— which was for sure. They also came here today, all dressed in black, just standing back there. Mr Miller had a bouquet of flowers, Mrs Miller was with the second kid of theirs. Their elder daughter had been in the same year with you in school —— a school where teachers were true humans. Strange, isn't it. She later got to a noisier and more urban city far away, she had work today, and didn't come.

The kids here rarely stay in this place, except for you.

I would never visit their shop again.

I heard the bells chimed. They poured soil on your coffin, shovel by shovel. Eventually the coffin was visible no more, so somebody got a piece of heavy marble, carefully placed it on the top.

Marbles don't have weight in the Data Layer, the weight was endued by us. In cities to the south I've seen people levitating marbles and made sculptures, but here we still use them as gravestones.

I remembered later when we first tasted love. I stripped off my clothes, and pushed you down on bed —— until we were both immersed in each other, breathing heavily, and you face became red. After that the night were low, and we sat there, by the bed, and looked at the stars for the whole night.

I shouldn't have done that. She said I shall brought you up as my child —— but you have made me hopelessly remember a certain world, remember a certain person with light brown eyes. Data Layer had given me a place to be immersed, and I've wrongly hoped it to be a land of tender —— but it wasn't. Only death is. Data Layer had its own laws, I were too deep in it when I became aware of it, no options to cancel or accept.

Later you asked me how many stars there were. I said I don't know —— but actually I did. The cores of the Data Layer were from the Fortran codes in the 1970s, something about a hundred years ago. The starry skies isn't something important, so they generated it with the simplest algorithm. The period for linear congruential generator were 65536, so there were sixty five thousand stars in the sky —— already enough. Looks very real, doesn't it.

After that we went for a trip to the edge of the sity. We stood on the high city walls, looking down onto the Data Layer that fluctuated like soap foam. The morning mist blurred our eyes, making the wide river flowing beneath not very real. Seldom when someone would jump down here, merging into the ocean currents since. You asked me why didn't I leave. I, smiling, asked you back why not, and you didn't answer.

I am no man of being attached to a place —— in fact this also isn't my homeland. I deceived myself that I've had enough changes, only to find out that I only wanted to shirk. But besides this, outside of our ordinary peaceful lives —— I've also lied to you, many times.

I've never told you, that in the photograph on the table, who the stranger girl that stood with me was.

I've never told you, that this world were not only the Data Layer, Data Layer isn't reality, and outside Data Layer, there were a broader, borderless world. A world plunged into the turmoil of prolonged wars.

I've never told you, that fourteen years ago, my real wife, Foundation Researcher Vivian Chan died in an air strike by GOC, and I brought her legacy, a biocomputer and the AI in the babbling stage in it, escaping to some abandoned bomb shelter, where me and it (her?) connected into the Data Layer, falling into endless sleep, we sunk, we sunk, until it's impossible to float, until it's impossible to wake up from this fond dream.

And fourteen years later, when Foundation marched into the Data Layer, when they've found their AIC capped at the theoretical limits of Turing machines and Von Neumann architectures, they started to seize all the artificial intelligence with self-consciousness, bringing them away, and tracing the network connection to their physical address, taking away their host computers for their own usage —— of course, including you.

I've never told you that I killed you. I made you sleep tight in bed, telling you the screams and flames outside were a temporary commotion, it will be calm soon, just as always. Then I logged on as root, and cut off your power with commands.

Biocomputers are like birds without feet. They don't get the chance to land in their lives, powering off equals death.

But then, when the fully armed people with the long parted triarrows on their chests bombed open the door, rushed into my room, seeing me laughing in tears before the empty bed, I would still remember a long parted scene, where in the real world, in a deep well a hundred and twenty eight metres underground, a man in the hibernation cabin, with his beard and hair long as Robinson, and a ball of organic matter in a jar, floating slowly with nerves swinging, were together in silence.

The wheels of the times will eventually crush us, be it sooner or later, just like back then, when modern screeching trains crushed the European town we referenced as Aerven's blueprint. Perhaps the scene wouldn't last for too long, perhaps. At least it's enough for the rest of my life.

And now I'm standing in front of your grave —— a piece of virtual marble, virtual soil underneath, virtual light cyan sky above, with the sky darkening, sixty five thousand virtual stars started to light up, much more, far more than on the old Earth ——

—— and put down a bouquet of small flowers.

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