Written by L. Yap
“If you have inner peace, nobody can force you to be a slave to the outer reality.” – Sri Chinmoy
Drake stood on the island shore, his kayak parked next to him in the sand. The water before him was still. The sun disappeared into the horizon like a weightless tangerine. The clouds were pink and purple, like cotton candy castles in the sky.
Somewhere beyond the horizon, where the water met the sky, was a small relic which could make up for everything he ever lost in his life. He had searched for it since childhood, as his father before him, living by the motto shared by the explorer who he was named after: sic parvis magna.
In the metaverse, everything is beautiful, but beauty isn’t without consequence. Drake left his old life and all the promises of physical reality behind with hopes of bringing some of that beauty back. Now, after years of treasure hunting through cyberspace, he had little to show for it. Tonight, the tide would change. Tonight, he had finally reached Somnium Space and the chance at locating that ancient prize, spoken of in legend passed down from his great-great grandfather, to his grandfather, and then to him. Somewhere is this corner of web 3, The Cube was waiting for him.
The Cube didn’t just hold immeasurable power- according to the legend, the Somnium Space Cube held the answer to the ultimate question- where did the metaverse come from? Sure, it took thousands of insomniac developers from all over the physical world to build, but what they worked so hard to create only needed to be uncovered by code- it was already there.
The Cube was the oldest known piece of the metaverse- the first object uncovered by our limited codes and feeble material eyes. The legend stated that those who discovered The Cube walked away wealthy, healthy, and with new, encyclopedic knowledge on the origins of not only the metaverse, but the multiverse. This knowledge and The Cube itself were protected to this day. The only proof Drake had of the legend being true was right here in front of him- Somnium Space.
Drake walked over to his kayak and gave it a kick. The vehicle began to morph and an engine formed and roared awake where it wasn’t before. Around the engine, particles and polygons danced around each other like a jigsaw puzzle before transforming into a hover bike.
Drake waved his hand over his head, and a helmet materialized. He jumped onto the bike. The red and blue shell glinted in the growing moonlight and floated smoothly to the surface of the water. He grabbed the black, rubber handlebars. The system beeped approvingly as it scanned his palm prints. The antigravity sensors purred, illuminating the calm water with fluorescent blue and sending small waves rippling around him.
If his grandfather’s calculations were correct, The Cube wasn’t too far from where Drake was now. All he needed was darkness and speed. He revved up the engine and fast as a bullet shot across the water to where the sun had just disappeared.
Timing was key. Many hunters before him had followed the glow of The Cube from the island, but none had been fast enough, or awake enough, to catch it. Drake’s new hovercraft was state-of-the-art. The dark energy engine, though easy enough to engineer in physical reality these days, was near impossible to manufacture in virtual reality where Dark matter doesn’t exist. For Drake, it meant weeks of coding to create the swiss army vehicle, or SOV. His new hoverbike, not only zoomed above all cyber surfaces with ease, but could transform into whatever he needed – a kayak, a jet, rope, a tent, or even a pina colada, the way his grandfather used to make them. Drake was definitely fast enough to make it to the horizon in time to catch The Cube if and when he saw it.
Now, he just had to stay awake. The thing about Somnium Space, and the reason why Drake had never made it here before, was that it was easy to get stuck in the dreamscape- especially near The Cube. Many before him had succumbed to the spell and had lost their minds, forgetting the physical world entirely. Instead of riches, they abandoned everything for virtual existence. Instead of health, they drifted off into an endless dreamland until their bodies gave out. In Drake’s opinion, it wasn’t the worst way to go.
The moon was high as Drake jetted further into the blackness. The only sound was the hum of the engine and the occasional splash of water. Behind him, the antimatter flames radiated intense heat as it burned the “dark energy”. Drake’s many layered intelli-leather suit protected him from the brunt of it, but nevertheless, he could feel the sweat dripping down his forehead. Maybe it was nerves. The Cube wasn’t too far away now.
Drake wove a hand over his helmet and felt the sharp nip of the cold wind against his face. He reached into his real-life front pocket, pulling out a sticky green strip. He bit into the waxy weed and winced. The bitter flavor was a small price to pay to stay alert.
This was wakeweed, a foul-tasting, energizing deep sea plant. It had only been discovered a decade ago, when the sea levels had dropped to cover less than a quarter of the earth, and already, it had replaced caffeine. It didn’t taste bad if you ordered it in a drink at a Seabucks franchise, but it was doctored up with artificial coffee flavor and corn syrup. This was pure, unadulterated wakeweed, and it was disgusting.
When Drake finally guzzled it down, he felt something like an electric jolt through his body. Suddenly, the dark seemed brighter as his vision enhanced. He could hear the wind ahead of him before it hit his ears. He could almost taste the metal of the bike flying beneath him.
Then he saw something in the distance – the green grid. He adjusted his seat and a protective shield engulfed himself and the vehicle. He pushed the accelerator button, switching to lightning speed. He blinked. When he opened his eyes, he was completely surrounded by the grid. He had reached the edge of Somnium Space, where The Cube was where so many hunters had been lost. He had to stay alert now.
He took both hands off the handlebars and the hover bike crunched and morphed until it was a hoverboard under his feet. Balancing on the board would keep him on his toes. He no longer had the heat of the fire or the cold wind to stimulate his senses. He pulled out another strip of wakeweed and forced himself to take another nibble- just a little bit. Too much wakeweed would send his body hurtling through the abyss and he’d be as good as dead.
Everything was eerily quiet now. He could hear the blood pulsing in his head. He was far off the beaten path. Had anyone ever made it this far before? He didn’t want to know. He shouldn’t have been nervous- he’d trained his whole life for this moment. Based on his calculations and those of his father, grandfather, and great grandfather, he knew exactly what would happen: he would see The Cube in the distance and switch his awareness back to physical reality, where he’d download The Cube into an encrypted nano drive.
Then, he’d hastily transport it to GLXY Labs, where they’d safely dissect The Cube and extract its precious data – maybe even some good luck – while he’d high tail it to the fresh mountain air with the payment.
Only recently had the technology to reach the spot where he stood possible. He intelli-leather suit would keep his avatar from splintering into a million pieces should there be a vacuum. His SOV could safely carry him to near-light speed without kicking him out of the metaverse. His internet connection was unbreakable. The most important factor of this was all the mental preparation. All the tech in the multiverse couldn’t measure up to strength of mind. How had so many explorers lost their minds the moment they reached the grid? They let their imaginations, weakened by years of virtual living and the instant gratification that comes with it. Drake, in contrast, had never used the metaverse for frivolous personal desires. He had always only cared about one thing- The Cube and the secrets it held.
When his father had passed away when he was young, his focus dissipated quite a bit. This had been their shared mission, and without his father alongside him, inspiring his love for adventure and mystery, Drake lost his way.
He had stopped sleeping. He got disoriented in a maze of parties and system mods- basically, uppers and downers. If it weren’t for the people wearing VR glasses everywhere he looked, he might’ve totally forgot about Somnium Space and The Cube.
One day, after a days-long binge, he wandered into his attic and found his grandfather’s old stuff in a dusty box. As he picked through it all- the rusty VR goggles, the hologram books, the treasures and trinkets, the decaying diary his grandfather used on expeditions- he found a quote his father used to say written in his grandfather’s old-fashioned handwritten font:
“If you have inner peace, nobody can force you to be a slave to the outer reality.”
Then it all came rushing back: his grandfather’s tales of searching the metaverse for Somnium Space and finally finding the island… his father’s late-night mapping and study to confirm the location of The Cube. All the while he looked on in admiration and anticipation, from infancy to adolescence when it all disappeared. Until this moment, Drake had only thought about all he’d lost- not all he’d gained.
It was then that he decided to focus the rest of his life on finishing his father’s work and finding The Cube. He could think of nothing else that’d give him peace.
The green grid began to look more like a spider web the longer he rode. How long had he been in Somnium Space? Hours? Days? A week? It was difficult to tell time here. He checked his watch: 30 hours. Drake wondered what his physical body looked like behind the VR goggles, hooked up to a hydrating IV, sitting rigidly in his worn office chair and digging his fingernails into the armrest.
Up ahead, he heard a faint ringing. He sped up. The ringing got louder as he got closer. It sounded like a high-pitched violin string. The closer he got, the deeper the sound got, until it sounded like a bass synth.
The grid became less vivid, and a dark fog rose up around him. The sound got louder and louder, and the fog got thicker. Drake squinted. In the distance, he could just make out the origin of the sound. He could faintly see hints of blue, yellow and red. He sped up. It looked like a windmill.
He heard a familiar voice,
“The Cube won’t look how you think it will.”
Drake looked over his shoulder. All he could see, besides the
windmill ahead, was the thickening black fog all around him.
“You might think it’s in one place, and it’ll be altogether somewhere else!”
A familiar laugh echoed in the emptiness. Drake gasped,
The bass sound grew into an uncomfortable buzz. The windmill ahead brightened. It was attached to something – a shadow?
“No one can make you a slave, Drakey.”
“Dad!” Drake shouted. He was beginning to feel desperate.
The windmill looked just ahead. The shadow, like the fog, was moving slowly. Black, shapeless globs of shadow oscillated. It made him dizzy. He looked away and repositioned his stance on the board.
“Just don’t stop, Drake,” his grandfather’s voice called from up ahead, “Timing is the key. When the sun sets in Somnium, just keep going.”
Drake had almost forgotten what his grandfather’s voice had sounded like, but that was it.
The windmill became clearer, only it wasn’t a windmill: they were sides- sides connecting giant black squares to form a cube.
Drake tapped the back of his board, and it started morphing. It dropped away, and for a moment, his body suspended in midair. Then, the SOV attached to the intelli-leather on his back, transforming into a jet pack and propelling him forward violently with a blast of blue flame.
“Let’s take a trip to the mountains, son,” his dad said, just the way he always used to on the weekends when Drake was a kid.
The Cube looked larger in the distance. Drake shot through the fog like a dart, ready to grab ahold of The Cube and tear off his VR goggles in the physical world. The sound was ear-piercing now, like someone drumming on his eardrums. He focused on his breathing. In. Out. In and out.
Suddenly, he saw them- his dad and his grandfather, standing in The Cube.
They opened their arms, welcoming him. Was it really them?
“We miss you,” they shouted in unison.
They looked so happy to see him- and so alive.
Drake reached out for them. He knew that if he got close enough to touch them, he’d be lost in the grid forever. These were only holograms- projections from his own memory. Even so, just one touch couldn’t hurt, could it? He was so close.
Drake closed his eyes. He had to let go- now. The realest way to reach his grandfather and father would be to finish their work- the work they instilled in him- and make it out of there alive.
Drake pulled of his headset and there, on his computer screen, his saw the code for The Cube.
As fast as he could, he typed up a jumble of characters that sent The Cube to its rightful home – in his nano-disk.
On his screen, he saw the dreamy landscape of Somnium Space – the island, the water, the night sky. No more would people be swallowed by their dreams. Now, they could live them. Maybe that made him sort of a hero.
As for Drake, he had a couple trips planned. The first was to GLXY Labs with The Cube. He had no idea what was actually in there, but he knew that its hypnotic power was better harnessed by scientists than a cannibalistic, cyberspace vacuum. If it did hold secrets on the origin of the multiverse – and the metaverse – life and the future of life could change. If it didn’t, at least he found some valuable intel.
The second trip would be to the mountains where his father used to take him. He needed some nature and fresh air after being locked in his room the last couple of days, and he wanted to test out his new anti-gravity engine design on his real life SOV in the altitude.
Before leaving home, he’d make himself a pina colada to celebrate.