I

Qix walked across the rocky terrain, knowing that it wasn't much farther to the Sea of Simulation. At least, well, the shore of it, that is. He shuffled around his collection tools some so they wouldn't fall from his grasp, considering there were so many of them. He took a deep 'breath' of the air, the simulation of his work effort taking twice the effect since he was outside the Grid.

You see, a little more then 17 cycles ago, the Creator, literally, gave his life to bring true freedom to the system. The most powerful being the Basics had ever known had literally released all of his infinite power so that he might destroy his primary creation, Clu, via reintegration.

If the reintegration hadn't taken place as far off as the portal to the Creator's world, the resulting energy release would have obliterated the Grid.

Such is, what most Basics believe nowadays, the result of the death of a God.

It was a day of glory, worship, and grieving. Sure, they had been freed from actual tyranny, but their Creator had been totally destroyed. It was both demoralizing and stimulating.

The real problem in the end, though, was that the shockwave still affected the Grid as it reached across the far reaches of the system. It didn't destroy the Grid, no sir, but it definitely… damaged it. Therefore, the Grid was left horribly wrecked with no leading government or a God to lead them. Turmoil was certainly present.

But that was 17 cycles ago. Perhaps one would think without any guidance, the Basics wouldn't be able to rebuild very fast, but they were an efficient system. Thanks to the Creator and, to a great deal, Clu. This is why for the last 16 cycles Qix has existed, he has been one of the frontrunners of rebuilding the system.

Qix was a cleanup program.

Not for trash and stray data in the Grid, not at all, but a class U cleanup program, a Universe Cleaner. His task since his resolution has been to venture out to the Sea of Simulation and collect stray data that now filled it. It was actually a very lucrative task, because some Basics called class U Cleanup programs like Qix 'Miners'. This is because, when the Creator sacrificed himself, all of the lumps of stray landscape data in the blast radius had been obliterated. What the Basics never figured until after was that maybe that stray data outside the Grid would be useful. Turned out it was. Useful for what?

Rebuilding the Grid of course.

Without the Creator, who had constructed all the structures of the Grid in the beginning, the Basics had been left to do it all themselves. So 16 cycles ago, they had a mass resolution of Class U Cleanup Programs like Qix that would 'clean' the Sea of Simulation of the pieces of data which had been reduced to a primeval form when the Creator sacrificed himself. Alongside that, they also had a great number of Class A Building programs resolute to redesign the severely damaged city.

But once again, that was 16 cycles ago. Now, Qix was the one of the last Class U Cleanup program actively on duty. And 'actively' was exaggerating it. There was a time when unarmed Carrier Ships would be sent out into the Sea and drop dozens of Class Us like Qix into it on Sea Ships and collect the stray data all over the place.

But now, Qix's job was almost unneeded. The digital water in the blast radius of the Creator's sacrifice had run out of most of its raw data a few cycles ago. That's why Qix was alone, out here, doing his job for the 53rd time this cycle. Nowadays, the Grid was mostly rebuilt, and Qix's job was barely needed.

He finished climbing up a hill, and he looked out far, gazing upon the Sea of Simulation. The shore wasn't far, and Qix sighed. He could remember the 'old' days, which weren't so old. They were so young in fact, he could individually look in specific directions of the Sea and remember key locations where he found fantastic data finds at the bottom of the Sea, or floating, or even moving around below the depths because it took on semi-intelligence as a clump of data that the Creator's pure energy touched.

He smiled at the memories. Those were the times. Now, 99% of the Class Us were confined to other jobs that they weren't good at, or worse, living out on the streets in poverty or having their intoxication simulations override while they're in a bar. Qix refused to do that. He didn't care how little materials were out there anymore, let alone the shore of the Sea of Simulation, he enjoyed his job. The best part, on the other hand, was actually how useless he was. This is because, since the various authoritarian factions of the reconstructed Grid didn't need his skills anymore, that meant that Qix now made his whole living on his cleanup finds nowadays.

In fact, only a few day-cycles ago, he had fished up with his equipment a little ways into the Sea an interesting find. Some… non-pixilated black sludge. It was interesting, and very strange. But then again, who knew what happened to data that the Creator touched with his life energy. After all, after his death, chunks of broken city buildings turned into demi-programs with enough life to be amusing but not enough intelligence to be anything more then pets. So the black sludge had actually gotten him a great deal of energy on the Undercircuit market. He had even used it to buy his own restoration shed, which usually was only given to public servants and the most energy-wealthy of Basics.

So in the end, no matter how 'useless' Qix was, he was happy where he was. It was a treasure hunt, and his resolution programming had hot-wired into him a great deal of pleasure in taking on this task.

Maybe today would be another lucky day!

And with that, Qix grinned widely as he took yet another familiar step onto the sand digital shores that overlooked the Sea of Simulation. He spat out his energized breath stimulant and crushed it under his boot as to put out the heat. You never know when data is randomly conductive, after all.

He set down his storage case and ambience detection device and unbuckled his belt and shoulder straps to let all of his equipment down, minus the Grid-to-energy goggles. As his first step during a cleanup sweep, he took a few steps into the shallow water, not even going past his boots, and he bent over to look at his appearance in the water. It was always his luck that if he could see himself clearly in the digital water, he'd get a good find that time. Usually.

He surprisingly found himself actually preening his appearance after a few seconds, his simulated, newly-growing beard, his tanned-looking-but-pale-ish skin, his gravity-defying-but-short hairstyle, and his dark indigo light trim that spanned from the top of his vest's collar all the way down to the bottom of his boots. After a minute, Qix lightly smiled. That HAD to be some good luck. And the water felt pretty good to. He stretched his neck to make a digital crack. He wondered if the Creator's people had to deal with spinal pain, since he created the Basic's in his image, even if Qix's was technically a simulation entirely.

He took a breath and stood straight up, then turned back around to get started. He walked over to and kneeled at the case, silently transferring from his mind through his hands into the coded lock the necessary information to quickly bypass the lock. He lifted the top and beheld the data analyzer that took up the entirety of the case's cavity. He pushed a few buttons, transfers some more information to its coded receiver, and it immediately began going over his last use of it as it powered on. Qix waited for it to finish and prepare for a new use, but he reminisced as it went over the information he gathered the last time, the last time including the black, un-pixilated sludge.

He shivered just a teensy bit again as the analyzer went over again how the sludge was of an 'Unknown' data type.

But it was no matter. It finally went to a starting screen, ready to receive any other materials Qix couldn't identify so it could identify them for him. He stood back up, leaving it in a level position, and he turned around to flip over the pack of equipment he had dropped onto the ground, when suddenly, his ambience detector began going off. It nearly had made him jump out of his boots, because it rarely went off without Qix taking it near an energized piece of data.

He glared at it for a second, and then realized that the only explanation was that the data was flowing from the Sea towards shore towards Qix's direction in a way that would allow the detector to go off. He gave it an inquisitive look, then picked it up and began pointing it down in the direction of the Sea, scanning for the exact direction it was coming from. Interestingly, it beeped the loudest just a little up the shore as opposed to down in the water. Qix smirked slightly; maybe this meant something washed up on shore just now. He set the ambience detector down and then looked back in the direction he had pointed it. He reached up and stretched his goggles down from his forehead and over his eyes. It eliminated all of the light emanating from un-energized data chunks, showing only data chunks that were full of energy, which could signify anything in between a tiny amount of usefulness to full-on life.

Surprisingly though, the goggles showed a light down the shore which was unmistakably coming from a program, a Basic… of some sorts. That was odd; did another older Class U Cleanup program like Qix find his or her way to this spot? Weird. He pulled his glasses up off his face and set them back on his forehead. Huh… why not go say hello? Qix pursed his lips and looked around, then decided to leave his gear here. It wasn't too far down the shore, and it wasn't like there was anyone else around who'd steal it or anything. After cycles of travelling out to the Sea of Simulation, Qix couldn't possibly get lost and forget this spot, so he was off then.

He began his trip down as a leisurely stroll, but after a little bit, Qix was concerned. He couldn't see anything, anyone. He should at least be able to see a figure or silhouette. His gear had never been off; he got Class E building programs to give it a check up once a cycle, and it was never in bad shape. After another minute, Qix didn't know what to think. He should be able to spot the program, now that he was practically as its place of detection. So he stopped and put his hands to his hips. He squinted his eyes and looked all around, everywhere, even in the direction of the ocean.

He stopped after a few circles, and he made an outward shrug with his arms in slight frustration. He scoffed, but then out of the corner of his eyes, he saw something. He quickly turned his head and concentrated. He could swear he could make out some… light trim… blue? Wait no… white, maybe? Qix then gasped, as he realized that not too far away, there was a program dragging itself by the arms up the coast, almost already onto the rock, as if trying to force itself beyond it's energy levels just to get to the Grid.

Qix jogged quickly after it, still exhausted from the long stroll and carrying of gear, but he still went as fast as he could push his electrons. He skidded to a stop at the program. It was male, in black battle-uniform and armor, white-bluish circuitry spanning its form here and there, a very warrior-looking, and shiny, black-battle helmet spanning its entire head.

Qix had no idea what he was supposed to do. At first he just stood there, beginning to panic with his mouth hanging open, but he grabbed his head with his hands to try and stop the panic. He had never had to perform program maintenance before! What was he supposed to do? In all of his shock, he took control of himself and mustered the will to take his right boot and gently tap the program on the side.

"D-dude…" he sputtered, "A-are you okay? Are you there? Are you… conscious?" even stranger was that he suspected that the program was inactivated. That was another thing Qix had never seen: a deactivated program. Most never powered down and instead carried on life every moment of every cycle, refreshing themselves and their power with digital nutrient supplements and energy fluid. Qix supposed that if a program didn't replenish its energy like that on a regular basis, they'd end up powering down like this and not rebooting until they naturally regained the power to do so. This guy… used all of his remaining power after what? Drifting around in the Sea of Simulation for Flynn knows how long? He used all that remained to try and hand crawl to the Grid…

Qix wondered why he had been so desperate to get there then.

He then decided to skip trying to keep talking to the guy and instead crouched down to flip him over onto his backside. It wasn't too hard, and after taking a good look at him, he took a knuckle and tapped twice on the dude's battle helmet. No reaction, at all. No movement, no sound, no nothing. But hey… his circuitry hadn't powered down for long, if at all, so maybe he'd reboot pretty soon.

But Qix was still confused. Why would some sort of warrior program be drifted out and about the Sea of Simulation? Not only that, but the guy looked fairly strange, like an elite or something. The veteran Class U also couldn't help but take notice of the odd circuit markings just below the program's neck. Symmetrically, there were 3 glowing squares with a 4th directly below the middle of the top 3. Weird.

Qix took a breath and stood up straight and put his hands to his hips. What was he supposed to do? Drag him to the Grid? Right, because his huge payload of equipment wasn't nearly enough stuff already. How heavy was this guy? The way from here to the equipment and then to the Grid was pretty far off…

But it was the right thing to do.

Qix sighed and put his face in his palm for a second, then looked down at the guy. He made the decision that he'd drag the guy to his equipment, get only his pack, and then come back for the rest later after he gets the guy to the Grid. If lucky, he'll wake up and be able to walk on his own. But what's Qix's luck that he'll do that? Even if the guy's circuitry is still lit?

Qix grunted and stooped down, taking the guy's arms in his hands and trying to pull him up. Qix immediately couldn't help but exclaim in pain, "HOLY FLYNN, you're so heavy, gack! By the Users!"

And so Qix slowly began to drag the inactive program down the shore. He couldn't help but feel that this was going to take a while.