The Park is spacious. Infinitely so in fact. Well, not actually infinitely, more like it's procedurally generated in whichever direction a person chooses to walk but that was the same as being infinitely large for anybody in it. Well, even more specifically, it was generated from an initial seed that was the same every time with respect to a given coordinate. That meant that if you entered at (0, 0) from one day to the next it would be the same excepting any objects you left there. Same for (-268091437, 85675391.36) and any other (x,y) coordinate one chose to enter at. The consequence of this was that there were actual location of interest to discover such unusual trees, glistening fountains, and statues of people from the 19th, 20th, and 21st Century. Not important people as such things were reckoned, but people who were late enough to have their names and faces in the historical record but too early to be swept up into the Eschaton. Lost souls, not forgotten.
Phillip wasn't on the bench at (29575689, -499053) to search out the names of the dead or peculiar landmarks. He'd come there to see a legend, a being spoken about in third hand accounts among the park's devotees. He'd been waiting thirty hours and thinking that he chosen the wrong stretch of side walk when a figure came out from behind a rise. The man was a speck that slowly but surely resolved into old man, greying and weathered but not stooped or tottering. Phil watched him approach with a growing excitement completely out of proportion to figure in front of him. When the Walking Man was about ten feet away he glanced at Phil and gave him a polite nod before breezing right past him. Phil pushed off his bench and follows along for a few minutes until he's fallen along side the Walking Man. Phil had heard that he wasn't much for conversation and as much as he was eager for tales he didn't want to pressure him.
Much later Phil was reconsidering his plan. He'd envisioned the conversation starting with some kind of small talk, a question, even a venomous dismissal. He hadn't considered that the man would just ignore him completely. Phil wasn't sure how long it had been. The sun never set in the Park but it felt like he'd been walking for tens of thousands of seconds and he was seriously wondering if the man would let the silence stretch out for millions more. Phil finally let his impatience get the better of him and asked:
"You come here often?"
The pause is long enough that Phil suspects he's just not going to answer.
"No, I've never been down this path."
They settle into another silence. Phil let it hang ... and hang ... and hang. He wasn't sure what he'd been expecting but it wasn't this. The Walking Man was a legend not just for what he did but what he didn't do. He had the longest recorded stent in a single locus and if his behavior was any indication he'd hold it until entropy won. When people first started noticing him as a regular sight in park it was as an anomalously old and disheveled man. Neither of these things were particularly unusual in cyberspace but taken together they were something of an oddity. Those who chose to look old did it to look distinguished and those who chose to look scruffy were typically protesting the artificiality of appearance in cyberspace or something like that. The two didn't really work together so he stood out. Eventually, somebody had identified him and his metadata had revealed that he'd entered the Park a few thousand seconds after his dis-instantiation and never left. A few more people went to talk to him but they soon discovered that his location within the park had been set to private and he didn't respond to private messages. Park explorers kept seeing him from time to time a few took the time to talk to him but nobody ever took the time to get to know him and as the clock ticked into the hundreds of millions sightings were further and further apart.
Now Phil was here with the man. The man who walked and as far as any one could tell did nothing else. What exactly had he expected? Phil surreptitiously closed his eyes and checked his clock. 44,483 seconds, 44,484 seconds, 44,485 seconds since he'd entered the park. He wasn't sure how long he'd been walking with the man but he was pretty sure he'd been at it longer than he'd been waiting at that bench which meant at least twenty five thousand seconds and he'd bet it was closure to thirty, though he couldn't be sure without delving into his life log. He committed to initiating a conversation if his time rolled over fifty thousand. At fifty thousand he decided to give it another five thousand seconds. At fifty five thousand he decided to wait five thousand more seconds. By sixty thousand seconds he was utterly fed up with the waiting game.
"So you just walk?" Phil asked.
"And do you ever do anything else?"
"Not really. I once spent an hour looking at one of the statues."
"Did you know the person?"
"I think I did at one time but I couldn't remember from where. The name didn't ring a bell either so I gave up."
"Did you try looking them up?"
"Looking them up?"
"On the wiki?"
"Oh, I don't have a smart phone," the Walking Man answered with a shrug.
It took Phil a full forty seconds to parse that last sentence and when he did its implications filled him with actual, visceral horror.
"Wait, you ..." Phil strugle to even come up with the question, "... you know that you can just use the menu, right?"
The Walking Man blinked. "Menu?" he asked. Phil felt physically ill at the question.
"The one you see when you close your eyes for two seconds."
"Oh, that. Yeah, I never figured out how to use it. It's annoying. If I look at any part of it to hard it changes. Is there a way to get rid of it? I kinda hate not being able to just rest my eyes without seeing it."
Phil literally stumbled.
"Are you okay?"
Phil noted the tremor in his hand. He hadn't known he could go into shock or have a panic attack or whatever this was. Not in the park. This was a safe locus where one never got hungry or tired or felt pain.
"I think I should be asking you that," Phil said with a quaver in his voice. "You ... you've been trapped here all of this time. Why didn't you ask any one for help? Did you not get the orientation?"
The Walking Man blinked.
"Trapped? Um, what orientation?"
"Everyone gets an introduction on how to live in cyberspace when they first disinstantiate."
"Oh, right, right ... I chose to skip it and they gave me the manual. Then I asked to go somewhere were I could walk and they sent me here."
The walking man held out a book with the words "READ ME" printed on the front.
"Really dull legalese about memory shares and processor cycle shares and what a contract is. I gave up ten pages in. Figured I'd never use it"
Phil had never seen the help document as a covers and pages book. He reached out to take it but his fingers passed through it. Not a public object by default, apparently.
"Yeah, the stuff you want is in the middle in the chapter title USER INTERFACE."
The Walking Man turned the pages and nodded. Then he started walking while he read the book. Phil followed him, still feeling shaky.
"You've been in this locus for more than three hundred million seconds. Are you telling me that you just ... didn't know how to leave?"
"Um, I guess. I mostly didn't think about it. I'd kind of meant to find my way out but it just keeps going. At first I'd thought it might be a trick but I could never figure out what it was so I went looking for statues. A lot of the statues have really detailed biographies on them. Like one of them had thousands of internet posts that the person made on a touch screen. I started reading them but I realized that they went on and on and on and most of were about things I didn't understand so I moved on. You don't need to sleep or ... Hold on I want to try something."
He closed his eyes and Phil could see he was interacting with the menu. A hot fudge sundae appeared in front of them on a silver platter.
"Wow. I could get used to that," the man said, taking the sundae and examining it.
They found a bench and sat down. Phil went into his menu, set his body to feel hunger, set the hunger to natural, and spawned a chocolate shake. He slurped it greedily and watched the man alternate between book and sundae.
"This thing isn't melting."
"Why would it?" Phil asked. It came out more derisive than he'd meant it to but the man didn't seem to notice or didn't care. He was reading very intently now.
"So you just walked. For millions of seconds. Because you didn't know how to leave."
"I thought I might find an exit and then I got interested in the statues and the weird art pieces and the fountains. Then I just kept walking."
"You really like to walk, don't you?"
"I spent a lot of time walking before I came to this park," he answered, and closed his eyes.
Phil glanced at the space in front of the man expecting another item to appear. He saw the Walking Man vanish in his peripheral vision.
After an instant of surprise he felt his anxiety flare up anew. The mans record is ended. In a few tens of millions of seconds the record will pass to some wire head, content to wait out eternity in some moment of perfect bliss ensconced in their home locus. Phil felt numb. He couldn't decide whether he just did a very good thing in informing the man how to leave or a very bad thing in robbing the park of its most interesting fixture. He drank his shake and thought. Cold comfort.
On a beach that never ends a man walks. He passes swimmers, some in swim wear, some nude. He looks away. There are no unattractive people here and if he looks he knows it's to ogle. He's tempted to close his eyes and go somewhere else but he just got here and for the first time he can remember in so long it's evening. He wants to see the moon.
Only 2963 more chapters and the Walking Man will get to this point. This was originally going to be for Sci-fi Quest. IRON NODER: WE'LL RUST WHEN WE'RE DEAD