Alternative Facts

Current Phase: C-002
Phase Type: Chapter

Version Alpha

The Story of TPL

The earth is frozen. Locked in a modern ice age. The world governments had come together with a plan to save humanity by moving everyone into the metaverse. It had been called "The Paradigm Shift". The first ten thousand volunteers, ready to light the way, were called CyberBrokers. Everything went wrong. Two centuries later, a complacent human race copes with a great awakening.

This is the story of The Paradigm Lost.

Version AlphaThe Story of TPL

Chapter 15

Alternative Facts

Liaison of Records


Logged at
028 cirxt2669 cycle


With a ShaDAO Chemist named Koda Trundle Xander's help, Spice, Zinc and Soleia sneak into the Cold Storage fortress. Using the blueprints secured from Selena Nebulous, they track down where ShaDAO is keeping Unironic Ken. They find him sedated in a pod, hooked up to some sort of machine. The team then begins the careful work of extracting Ken from the machine, by sorting through his memories, knowing that the choices they made during extraction may forever alter his memories and his personality. Though successful in finally getting him unhooked from the memory altering machine, the Ken that emerges from the pod is filled with rage about what ShaDAO has done to him, and his time in the pod in Cold Storage has made him overly aggressive. With little time to explain to Ken what has happened before being ambushed, Soleia quickly jumps them out of Cold Storage. But something is wrong...

Tix by tix, voxel by voxel, Spice’s senses returned to her. The cacophony of battle had turned into shrill feedback when Soleia had gated them out of Cold Storage, the visual whirlwind retreating into overwhelming brightness. Oh, and the pain! At first wickedly sharp, like a million barbed needles, it dug into her every nerve, before fading into a numbness that made Spice think she might be dead. Stroked out in her rig, blood and cerebral fluid leaking out of all her head holes after exceeding the recommended continuous link time by at least a day now. 

Spice had seen it happen before with her mom, her uncle, and several others in the shelter over the cycles. As people grew older, IRL got to be more and more difficult, so naturally people spent more and more time in the TPL, where they could be young, strong, and healthy perpetually. She didn’t blame them. She would rather go out in a blaze of glory, fighting side by side with her friends, than die old and frail in the cold, drab dark of her coffin-cell. She had already been pushing the limit every time she logged on, but she had never gone this far over before.

It was actually a bit of relief when the pain returned; the roar in her ears, the brightness that stung her eyes. At least this meant she was alive and still in the metaverse somewhere. Slowly, digital reality rendered around her, leaving a confusing vista of sensory input that didn’t quite make sense to Spice. She drifted through a vast white expanse, like a speck of dust caught in a blizzard. No real up or down, left or right, north or south or east or west. Every direction was the same brilliant emptiness, extending out through the luminescent void until it finally vanished into an impossibly distant horizon. The only thing else in this blank empty were Ken, Zinc, and Soleia, tumbling limp near her.

“Ken! Hey! Wake up! Zinc! Soleia! Anyone?!” No matter how loud she yelled, the nothingness swallowed her voice. Frustrated, she activated her bracer to pull up comms. Nothing happened. She tried her inventory next. Black screen. Zone info, jump index, status menu– all blank. Her bracer was completely dead. “Well, shit.”

“Ugh. Oh wow.” 

Spice looked up and felt a rush of relief when she saw Zinc flailing about trying to flip his body around into the same orientation as hers, eyes wide with fear and wonder. 

“This sure isn’t your garage… Where did Soleia gate us?” 

“I have no fucking idea.” Soleia muttered, squinting out into the infinite empty of effervescent light before closing her eyes again. 

Spice wondered how long she had actually been awake, and just pretending not to be while Spice yelled like a fool. “Is this even the Paradigm? It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen.”

“Please refer back to my last statement.” Soleia stretched out, crossing her ankles and putting her hands behind her head as she spun lazily. “First thing I did was try to gate us out of here, but the Key seems dead, I guess? I don’t feel anything from it anymore. Not sure why I’m surprised. Thing really has been a big pain in my ass since I got it. Bracers all glitched out, too.” 

Zinc fiddled with his bracer for a few tixs before letting out a resigned sigh when he couldn’t get a response. “With a few staxs and the right tools I could fix this, but since both seem in short supply, what do we do now?” His face lit up and he punched the air excitedly. “Oh, oh! Spice, you can jack-out and use the P.O.S.T. Box to get help?!”

“I use my bracer to jack-out. No bracer, no getting out. I'd have to wait for someone on my side of reality to unplug my rig or something to disrupt the power like another Failsafe Alpha.” Spice said, as she stared at the inert surface of her bracer. The Paradigm had always been her safe space. Sure, there were plenty of dangerous situations here, but it was nothing compared to the IRL dangers of the frozen wasteland called Earth. And if things ever got too intense in the digital, she could always just jack-out and be done with it. Now between Cold Storage and whatever the hell this place was, she had been stuck jacked-in for way too long. With days before her next shift on the solar collectors, the chance of someone coming along looking for her before her brain turned to a nice, hot jelly was rather slim.

Ken began to thrash below them as he regained awareness. He grunted as he struggled to move himself in any direction but soon gave up in glowering frustration. “Where the hell is this, and how the hell do we get out of here?”

“As far as I can tell, we don’t. Might as well lay back and enjoy the float.” Soleia said, not even opening her eyes.

“I don’t want to float. I want to know, what the hell is going on here!?

“An impractical query.”

The voice emerged from the radiant nothing, white void melting away into swirling color as a feminine avatar manifested in the center of their loosely drifting circle. Liquid light flowed over her skin like paint mixed by a daydreaming artist, culminating in a blue glow that diffused into an aura around her. Turquoise hair cascaded around a face as pristine as it was emotionless, caught in perfect composure with imperious eyes as white as the void she had appeared from.

On pure instinct, Spice went for her pistol waiting in its quick-draw holster, but instead of springing into her hand fully loaded with its usual hot vengeance, it sat there as inert as her bracer. Soleia opened one eye to check on the new voice, but otherwise maintained her relaxed pose. Zinc looked to Spice for guidance, but this was all new to her, too, so she just shrugged back at him.

Ken, on the other hand, narrowed his eyes and snarled. “Impractical? Why don’t you come closer and say that!”

“Um… Ken, not sure it’s a good ide…” 

Before Spice could finish, Ken was spinning wilding back through the air, and then just as suddenly held rigid in place, arms and legs splayed helplessly. Soleia came instantly to attention, her feigned indifference shed like the costume it was. Even Zinc seemed concerned at Ken’s distress, once again fiddling with his bracer in an attempt to access his gear.

The stranger hadn’t moved at all, yet the palpable tension in the surrounding air made it pretty obvious that she was the one who had flung Ken around like a rag. “Curious. This one has been altered.” 

Spice lifted her hand away from her gun and raised it palm out in the universal gesture for ‘why don’t we all calm the fuck down here?’ Her eyes darted between the stranger and Soleia, hoping the Smuggler had concocted some sort of plan. She kept her voice calm and collected in all the ways she didn’t feel. “Look, ShaDAO was poking around in his head, and we just went through a bunch of trouble getting him back. I would really appreciate it if you didn’t break him.”

Whatever force held Ken in place vanished as he crossed his arms and glowered silently at the stranger.

“Request accepted.” Her voice was a chorus of multiple tones, modulated to some abstract rhythm, as if it were music being wrangled into something resembling speech even as her lips remained closed and motionless. 

The adrenaline that had flooded through Spice drained away, replacing hot fear with cold dread. “Well, with that out of the way, how about some intros? I’m Spice, this is Soleia, Zinc, and the passionate one of our group, Unironic Ken. Who, and I guess what, are you?” 

Soleia stayed quiet, but watched the figure with intense interest.

“I am Alcove Magnetic. I am a Holo.” 

“I fucking knew it!” Soleia pumped her arm at her small victory. “I’d heard the stories, but until now, didn’t believe them. It really is a cycle of miracles and marvels.”

“What’s a Holo?” Spice and Zinc asked in unison.

Soleia shrugged and returned to her leisure pose, hands behind her head, ankles crossed as she drifted. “I’ll let our host speak for herself.”

“Holos perform the bidding of the Paradigm creators. In this situation, I am here to articulate the wishes of the Architect known as Fact.”

Soleia let out a low whistle. “So, Fact brought us here?”



“There were a number of factors. Your breakthrough regarding Broker origins; your capacity for disruption through protestation and rabble rousing; your acquisition and use of Hubur’s Key; and finally your infiltration of the ShaDAO research installation known as Cold Storage. All have contributed to your designation as important modifiers.”

“Important modifier, huh?” Zinc looked towards Spice with a growing grin. “I’ll get right on adding that to my Cupid++ profile.” The grin withered on the vine when Spice gave him a ‘not now’ glare, and the rest ignored the joke completely.

“Who is this Fact person? Exactly?” Spice asked. “Pretty sure I know all the important Brokers.”

Soleia rotated herself with a graceful twirl of her arm, stopping her motion with a firm swirl of her hand, so that she was facing Spice and the two men. “We don’t talk about Fact and Faith much around Drifters. They’re much more than mere Brokers. They’re as legendary and powerful as the Keys. The supposed Architects of the whole Paradigm. Which means Fact is pretty much one of the big bosses here. A god. What they say goes. Period.” 

“Sounds like this big boss can smash ShaDAO for us.” Ken said. “Let’s do it!”

“Yeah, but how do we get a… god? A god on our side?” Zinc asked at low volume.

“We don’t. We get on god’s side.” Spice said, recalling a few snippets of an old, dusty book her mom had made her read before she had been old enough to regularly rig up and enter the TPL.

“Correct.” The Holo said. “You will be required to contribute to endeavors that align with Fact’s interests. Fact will not contribute to endeavors counter to their own interests.”

Dread like snowmelt washed down Spice’s back. She knew she wasn’t going to like the answer, but she asked the question anyway. “What interests?”

Alcove Magnetic maintained her empty gaze. “Fact is a being of rules. Fact is a being of laws. Fact is a being of order. Fact has created several self-sustaining systems within this program to ensure that these principles are upheld. Systems you are familiar with, such as ShaDAO. Systems you are part of.”

The uncomfortable feeling stirring in Spice’s mind upgraded to very uncomfortable, but she pushed recklessly forward. “Systems I am part of? What is that supposed to mean?” 

Before the Holo could answer, Soleia interrupted, her voice as sharp and honed as a knife. “WTF! Fact is one behind ShaDAO?!”

“Correct. ShaDAO is a localized manifestation of Fact’s ongoing attempts to bring order.”

“Easy, Soleia.” Zinc looked nervous. “You don’t want to end up tossed around like Ken, and I wouldn’t find it nearly as entertaining to watch you get your ass kicked.”

Ken growled and attempted another ‘swim’ through the blank expanse. “Don’t listen to that wimp, Soleia. We both know that we can totally take that freak together!”

“Everyone stand down and shut up!” Spice shifted her orientation with a wave of her arm in a clumsy mimicry of Soliea’s earlier movements, until she faced Alcove Magnetic dead on. “What did you mean by ‘Systems I am part of’? I am not part of ShaDAO.”

If the Holo was concerned about the menace roiling like a storm off both Ken and Soleia, no sign on her placid face or in the hypnotic patterns of color flowing across her body. “There is another organization that upholds law and order. An organization of which you are a member.”

Yep, there it was. That pure, jagged ice of horrifying revelation forcing its way out of Spice’s brain and down into her veins. No way. No freaking way. “You don’t mean Alpha Command…”

“Yes. Alpha Command is one of Fact’s primary tools in maintaining order. Through it, Fact applies a stabilizing force among Drifters, while offsetting the inherent power of CyberBrokers. Through ShaDAO, Fact exerts clandestine political influence among governmental and corporate institutions.”

Ken let loose a long string of profanities before he switched back to coherent words when the others flashed him a questioning look. “Don’t you get it? If Fact is behind ShaDAO, then Fact is also behind the whole attempt to gain 51% control of the TPL!”

Soleia and Zinc took their turn swearing up a storm, while Spice floated in silence, unable to muster the energy for even the simplest curse. 

It was all too much, it really was. She could handle staying jacked in for days at a time while breaking into secret prisons of horrors and rescuing a brainwashed Ken. She could handle being swept into this new and alien realm. She could even handle knowing that some godlike being was behind all the shitty stuff ShaDAO had been up to for countless cycles. But having everything she had stood for, fought for, lived for since she first jacked into the TPL turn out to be just a big fat lie? Just another string bouncing on a puppet master’s finger? It was just way too much. 

The first words came out as a whisper, but grew in waves along with the rage that boiled away the despair. “But we stop griefers and campers. We protect the noobs. We give out free gear and dorms to Drifters with nothing. We make sure MOBs don’t get out of hand. We are the good guys! Alpha Command is the good guys!

Unironic Ken pumped his first in support. “Fuck yeah, Spice. You tell ‘em!” 

While Soleia looked lost in furious thought, Zinc seemed like he was ready to stop Spice if she chose violence over words. Leave it to a Cleaner to want to avoid making a mess. 

Way too late for that, Zinc.

Alcove Magnetic flickered out of existence for less than a tix and then reappeared floating close to Spice, the emanations of her voice inhuman, yet comforting. “Fact only desires what is best for this reality. The same as you.” 

Spice stared defiantly into the Holo’s dead, white eyes. “If that’s true, Fact sure has a funny way of going about it! I don’t go around kidnapping, brainwashing, throwing people in secret prisons, manipulating votes to gain full control of everyone and everything, and, um, and I’m sure a thousand other things equally as horrible. So no, not the same as me. I actually care about the Paradigm and everyone living in it. The fact is, Fact only cares about Fact. They don’t care about order. They care about control!” 

“Damn,” Zinc said, admiration rich in his voice. “Doubt we are getting Fact’s help after that.”

Soleia let out her anger in a long breath and then shrugged, the slow movement of her arms causing her to drift gently forward. “I’ll be honest, if we were going up against an Architect, we don’t really stand a chance. It’s either sign on, or give up.”

“Giving up already?” Unironic Ken snorted in disgust. “Is that all it takes to scare you cowards off? A pretty light show and a pack of lies? I’ve spent Asherah-knows-how-long trapped in a box, getting my head pulled apart and put back together, and I’m still up for the fight. You want to join up with this asshole, Soleia? Fine. You want to run away, Zinc. Figures. Spice and I can do it ourselves. I’m never going to give up, never going to stop fighting. Not when the whole Paradigm is at stake!”

“The Paradigm does not yet exist.” 

The resonant tone of Alcove Magnetic hung in the empty, the words burrowing its serrated knowledge into the understanding of three Brokers and a Drifter.

Ken responded first. “What the fuck do you mean it doesn’t exist?!”

Alcove Magnetic remained silent.

“Not ‘yet’ exist.” Zinc corrected, earning him a sharp glare from Ken.

“How can it not exist?” Soleia asked. “Where have we been spending the past two-thousand and some hundred cycles then?”

Spice joined in. “Yeah. Era Novum. Moss Falls. Magnetic.Tombstone. The Dreamlands. If that’s not all the Paradigm, then what is it?”

The Holo continued to hover near Spice, responding to her question while ignoring the others. “Almost all of what you have experienced within the program you refer to as the Paradigm has been a tutorial zone. A loading area. An alpha version.”

The four stared at the Holo in disbelief, then to each other, then back to Alcove Magnetic. 

Revelation echoed through Spice’s mind over and over, as she struggled to pull even a byte of sense from it. She looked to Ken for some kind of support, but he was locked in silent glare, attempting to bore holes into the Holo with his eyes. 

“A tutorial zone? A loading area?” Spice managed to sputter out. 


“So everything I’ve ever done… Every place I’ve ever been…” Muttered Zinc to himself. “It wasn’t even… real? Am I even real?”

“What does that even mean?” Soleia asked, her voice breaking a little.

“The current digital space that CyberBrokers and Drifters exist within is a temporary cache environment which allows for the programming, diagnostics, and testing of the Paradigm Program.”

“What is the Paradigm then? Like really. If this all is just some temp, cached, whatever?” Zinc asked. “What is the Paradigm that doesn’t exist yet supposed to be?”

Perhaps it was the turbulence of her own thoughts, but Spice was sure she could almost detect a slightly more emotive tone in Alcove Magnetic’s voice as she spoke the next words. A hint of passion, a taste of desire. Whatever the Paradigm Program was, it was enough to stir the emotions of an emotionless being.

“The Paradigm Program is meant to be far larger, far more diverse, far more than anything you have experienced up until this point.”

“Oh man,” Zinc murmured, his face sinking into his hands as he slowly rotated away from the group. “I thought watching Ken’s memories was a trip enough, but this… This is a lot for one cirxuit.”

“So what happened? Why aren’t we in the ‘real’ Paradigm yet?” Soleia asked. “Does it really take a few thousand cycles to load this thing up?”

“Full initialization of the Paradigm Program requires initiation by an outside entity with the correct privileges, of which none survive. Alternatively, it requires an internal entity with 51% control authorization granted to them by all current stakeholders.”

“Oh. I get it now. That’s why ShaDAO was so keen about winning that vote. That would have given them 51% control.” Zinc said. “And then Fact could initialize the Paradigm Program.”


Soleia nodded, finally getting her thoughts around all these new concepts. “What if someone else got 51% control? Could they initialize the Paradigm?”

“While initialization would be possible for anyone with the correct authorizations, Fact is confident that they are the only being capable of a controlled and orderly release of content required for a successful release of Version 1.0.”

Spice swapped glances with each of her friends–even Unironic Ken, who had moved on from scowling at the Holo to scowling at everything else. Though they said nothing to each other, she was almost certain they were all thinking the same thing. There’s more to this. More than this Holo is telling us. Whatever it was, Spice was going to root it out.

“So what does all this have to do with us?” Spice asked. “Why did Fact bring us here?”

“Beyond being ‘important modifiers’, of course.” Zinc added with a smirk.

“Fact would like to extend a proposition. If you contribute to Fact’s initialization of the Paradigm Program, you will prove your worth and be well rewarded with privileges within it.”

“And what if we don’t go along with this shit?” Ken growled.

“Then you will be trapped within this realm for all existence, and Fact will find another way to reach initialization.”

Soleia shrugged. “Not much of a choice, is it?” 

For Spice, that made it an easy choice. “What do we have to do?”

Alcove Magnetic inclined her head slightly, the first real movement she had made this whole time. At her gesture, the white void once again smeared with color, and a small silver cube manifested in the exact middle of them all.

“This is the Cornerstone. It can rewrite any code in an instant, transcending all standard protocols and security measures. Fact requests that you take the Cornerstone, return to Era Novum, and with it, enter the Merkle Tree. At the heart of the Tree is the source stream for the Paradigm. Place the Cornerstone within the source stream, and it will do the rest.”

“Yeah, I’ll do that happily.” Ken said, reaching for the Cornerstone. As if drawn by his desire, the silver cube darted across the expanse and into his hand. He turned it over and over in his hands a few times, the form of the cube shifting into that of a heavy chrome pistol with a malicious sheen. Ken grinned darkly as he tested its weight, then looked down the sights directly at Alcove Magnetic. “Very nice.”

Soleia cleared her throat. “How about a little trigger discipline there, Ken?” 

Ken flashed the Smuggler a smile that promised nothing but violence and twirled the gun by its trigger guard.

“We aren’t actually considering this, are we?” Zinc asked. “Fact has apparently stopped at nothing to gain control of the Paradigm. If murder, imprisonment, and brainwashing are acceptable tactics for them, then we can’t let them win. Right?”

Spice shrugged, as she shared a quick look of understanding with Soleia. She turned to Zinc. “Look, we don't really have a choice here. If it's not us, then Fact has 10,000 other goons that would love to take this deal. Better us than them, right?”

Soleia nodded along with the sentiment. Zinc looked unconvinced but said nothing else.

“All right. We’ll do it. We will take the Cornerstone to the source stream.” Spice said. “Now can you send us on back?”

“Two things remain.” Alcove Magnetic said, flickering out of existence for a tix and appearing directly in front of Soleia, hand already outstretched.

After a moment of hesitation, Soliea held the Hubur Key over the Holo’s waiting hand. “Hope this gets put somewhere safe where it will never be used again.”

“If you are successful in your task, then its use will no longer be necessary.” 

With an almost relieved huff, Soleia let go of the Key. 

As soon as Alcove Magnetic closed her hand around the skull-marked Key, Soleia froze, her face still contorted in an exasperated sigh.

“Soleia!” Spice shouted, clumsily flailing around like a cable caught in the wind, as she tried to get closer to the Smuggler. She turned to Ken and Zinc for help, but they were locked in the same unmoving state. Ken’s ever-present scowl permanently etched on his face; Zinc stuck in skeptical compilation.

“What did you do?!” Spice growled at the Holo and attempted to lunge at her. “We agreed to help you! What more could you want from us?!”

“Your companions are unharmed. I must discuss a matter of utmost importance with you and you alone, Drifter. This was the most convenient way to accomplish that.”

“Me?” Spice spluttered. “Anything you have to say to me, you can say to my friends. I’m just going to tell them anyway. I know this is a hard concept for your psycho code to grasp, but we’re a team.

“Your sentiments of unity and cooperation are admirable. What we have to discuss is dangerous, and it would be unwise to speak of it to any Broker. Team or not.”

“What do you mean ‘dangerous’? More dangerous than this place? Than Cold Storage? Than breaking into the Merkle Tree?” 

“Yes. This concerns the core nature of the Paradigm Program. It concerns the continued existence of all CyberBrokers, your friends included. There are destructive forces beyond your imagining at work here. Creations of chaos and corruption that have already wormed their way into the program. Things that have already wormed their way into your friend.”

As if this day hadn’t had enough terrible revelations… “What exactly are you saying?”

“I am saying that before the Paradigm has a chance to be born, it faces annihilation. I am saying that all CyberBrokers face death, before they have truly had the chance to live.”

Spice looked between the frozen faces of her friends, then back to the emptiness of those white, imperious eyes “Okay. Tell me everything.”