Nolan folded her hands across the chest, head lowered, and her thin lips visibly pressing together. "In fact... I have heard the voice of the 'conscious world.' Though very, very vague, I know there is a real world outside this fake planet..."
Hao Ren could not believe what he heard. "You didn't tell me this before."
"Well, I didn't know whether I should trust you before." Nolan bit her lip. "You can only retain your previous memory, but that doesn't tell your character and will. And, I only occasionally heard 'voices,' I wasn't even sure if they came from the 'conscious world,' except for the recent one. It was obvious."
As Nolan continued to explain, Hao Ren began to figure out what that was all about. This girl was unusual in that she could not only retain the memories of her previous life but was also able to perceive the 'simulation programme' behind this world.
No wonder she dubbed the world as a bad stage, and often use 'director' and 'script' to describe what she experienced. She did not feel so just because she had experienced hundreds of reincarnation, but also because she had realized the existence of a 'fabricator.'
But her perception of the 'conscious world' was fragile, no better than hallucinations. Occasionally, she heard or saw visions that happened in the future, or felt a consciousness beyond that of humanity whispering into her ear. She was like the playful child who accidentally lifted the curtain and had a glimpse of the lightings and props in the backstage. The short but stunning vision prompted her to think the world was fake.
The occasional glimpses she had were few and far between, and most of the time, severe disturbance and trance would drown the visions. Normal humans would invariably dismiss it as an illusion, but not Nolan, she had it too many times. She heard or saw 'vision' in almost every incarnation. She was convinced of the existence of a 'conscious world' or 'real world.'
But Nolan's description of the voices and images was somewhat ambiguous as if she did not know how to put what she saw and heard in words. Hao Ren had to guide her along the way. "How did you feel when you heard or saw them? Have you seen the real world? Or is it just a subconsciousness, or intuition that makes you think you've seen something?"
"Probably the latter." Nolan nodded. "Those things are always abstract, and I couldn't remember the images or voices clearly. Sometimes I felt like I had seen 'fate' or something. Though not very specific, it was able to let me understand the future direction of this world. And, sometimes..."
Nolan's brows knit together as she tried to describe her experience. "It was like seeing things in a different perspective; I feel a consciousness beyond humanity, huge, very complex, looking down on this world. I guess that perspective is the controlling 'programme' of this world."
She suddenly looked up at Hao Ren suspiciously. "Your questions are precise. You do know something, don't you?"
Hao Ren waved his hand and said, "This is not important. I am very interested in the perspective that you've mentioned. Can you still experience it now?"
Nolan gently shook her head. "I can't. It's not something that I can control."
Hao Ren looked into Nolan's eyes. "What is the 'last dream' you mentioned earlier all about?"
"It all starts with this new stage..."
According to Nolan, she heard the voice of the 'fabricator' when the world just completed its reset. Though what the voice said was beyond her human apprehension, some inspiration had let her understand one thing—the thought of the fabricator when he reset the stage—"I am afraid this is the last time the world will reset."
"I don't know what happened in the real world, but it seems that the reincarnation cycle is coming to an end," Nolan said, her eyes erratic. She was already accustomed to the continuous reincarnation, but what happened had suddenly jolted her. Things beyond her experience made her uneasy. "The fragmented thoughts that come into my mind mean only one thing: This is the end."
Hao Ren murmured as if he was talking to himself. "What happens after the end of the cycle?"
"I don't know. Maybe the world will have long-lasting peace; the current 'script' is the final stage. If that's the case, it would be great," Nolan said. There was a subtle smile on her lips, but it quickly turned back into her usual stone face. "Probably I'm unrealistic. Maybe the world will end."
Though he did not want to admit it, Nolan's second guess was more probable.
Nolan suddenly looked up at Hao Ren. "I have answered all your questions. Can you talk about yours now?" she said.
Just when Hao Ren was about to say something, he heard the MDT's voice in his mind. "Buddy! Can you hear me? We have arrived!" The MDT said into his mind.
Hao Ren secretly felt a sense of relief; finally, there was at least one thing had gone as planned. "I got you. Loud and clear. It looks like the signal is good. What is your situation there?"
Before the MDT could utter a word, Lily suddenly chimed in. "Let's not talk about us. You've got a problem!"
The MDT took over the radio and said, "I send you the images from space."
As soon as the MDT's voice trailed off, Hao Ren received a series of images captured in the third perspective in his mind's eye. A splendidly golden red light almost occupied his entire field of vision; flames were spreading on the planet, the sky was burning, and a dazzling arc ignited one-third of the horizon. The spectacular sight startled Hao Ren. "Holy crap, what is this?"
"It's Zorm! The planet is falling towards the sun in the real universe! The global fire has been burning for a long time. The earth's crust is slowly disintegrating. It's critical!"
Hao Ren froze for a full five seconds before he forced out a few words in his throat. "This is not something that a spaceship can deal with…"
Nolan heard him talk to himself. She stared at him curiously. "What did you say?"
"This world has come to an end. The collapse has started in the real world," Hao Ren grabbed Nolan's hand. "Don't you want to know who I am? Well, believe it or not; I'm from the real world that you've been talking about all this while."
Nolan was wide-eyed. "This is not funny, man."
Hao Ren smacked his forehead; he foresaw her reaction. In a virtual space where nothing was impossible, he found himself unable to prove his real-world identity nor contact the real universe outside. All his words, even the actual proof, were merely regarded as part of a simulation. That was why he did not tell Nolan the truth earlier because he did not know how to!
When all your actions and evidence were no more believable than a few empty words, explanation became worthless.
Hao Ren waved his hands as if telling Nolan "That's all right." At the same time, he spoke to the MDT in his mind. "How long do we have?"
"About forty-eight hours. It's not yet clear where the virtual world's 'server' is. Let's assume it is deep in the earth's crust. The sun's gravity is beginning to rip Zorm's crust apart. No matter how solidly-built the underground facility is, it won't hold up for more than 48 hours."
"Holy moly!" Hao Ren almost jumped to his feet. "It's too late to do anything!"
He was shouting not only in his mind but also the mouth. Nolan could not help but stare at him suspiciously. "What the hell are you—"
"I'm sorry; I need to go. It's emergency," Hao Ren said quickly not letting Nolan finish. And, at the same time, he yanked out a small radio and shoved it in Nolan's hand. "Take this. It's a comm. Click this button, and you would be able to contact me. It's all right that you don't believe that I'm from the real universe, but if you hear the voice of the 'fabricator' again, or see anything unusual about the back-end program, contact me immediately. Do you understand? Call me directly if there are any other anomalies in this world!"
Having said this, Hao Ren instructed the hibernation pod to awaken him. His body disappeared in thin air in this world, leaving Nolan rooted to the spot.
After a long while, Nolan mumbled, "Has this man gone to the real world?"