The soulless voice echoed off the trees in a mechanical drone that immediately put Ephraem in a state of fight or flight. He would have turned to run as his heart quickened within his chest but the machine dog followed up its greeting with a playful bow.
Ephraem loved dogs and this gesture brought him back to his childhood memories of playing with the family’s sheepdog while tending their flocks. How could something so unnatural remind him of home?
The moment of confusion lingered until Ephraem softly said “Hello.”
“Who are you?” they both said to each other.
“I am E.L. an automated construct from the Metaverse, I have a registered time for recreational wandering,” E.L. said
“Who is your alpha?” Ephraem asked.
“We have no leader, we are ruled by a decentralized autonomous organization, we call the D.A.O., it is the united will of the users.” the voice answered.
The marvel of speaking to a metallic dog vanished when Ephraem realized that a dog could smell the trail of the boy far faster than he could follow the few and far between footprints.
“Since you’re supposed to be a dog, can you track a smell for me? I’m looking for someone.” Ephraem asked.
“Who are you looking for?” asked the Dog in a mechanical tone.
Ephraem was hesitant to share all the details of his mission to such a strange creature so he said, “a young friend who is lost.”
“I don’t have the capacity to smell in the external simulation. But I can analyze the terrain of the forest and mark the footprints on a map of the area? Does this help at all?” E.L. said as a holographic map appeared between them.
Ephraem rushed his words, “That would help greatly, thank you.”
E.L. zoomed in until the hologram showed one set of tracks. Ephraem asked the mechanical dog if it could help figure out the direction.
“In the database, those tracks belong to a GOBLIN model, which is now obsolete, but originally assembled in the Citadel,” E.L. answered.
“What’s the Citadel?” Ephraem asked.
“The Citadel is the protective shell that insulates the perfection of the Metaverse from the rest of the simulation ” E.L. replied. “I can show you, it’s not fair for an automated walk sequence, only 12 hours,” added E.L.
Ephraem looked at his watch sarcastically, “12 hours huh, you say this like a happy dog on a walk”.
E.L. had no facial features Ephraem could read so he assumed that this mechanical creature didn’t get his joke and added, “We will walk as long as God wills it.” They started down a hill following the tracks that were lit up from the map scanner.
Ephraem took a break next near a stream at the edge of the forest. “What are you doing?” Asked E.L, “we are getting so close, why stop now?” He could see a little of where they were going and replied, “from the looks of our path I will need to replenish my water.” It looked very dark and dismal through the trees.
After another eight hours of walking the two got to a place where they could see nothing but a labyrinth. This labyrinth had solar panels laid over what looked to be a wasteland.
“We have to walk through that to get to the Citadel,” E.L. said.
Looking at the labyrinth Ephraem felt a sense of emergency. It all looked very confusing to walk through and could take forever to make it to the entrance of the Citadel.
Ephraem thought about how scared the small child must be and said a short prayer, “Lord have mercy on us and give me the strength to follow your path.”
With renewed courage, Ephraem took his first steps into the plastic wasteland and said, “Hey E.L. wait up!!”
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