Stone’s Cloud

Editor’s note: this story needs to be rendered again, it’s a decent basis for a tale but has a cliched flatness to it, much like it was written by an AI told to produce a story treatment for Black Mirror which failed to find a true edge.

The sun hung low, a brooding orb casting elongated shadows that crept across the forest floor. In Markus Stone’s god cloud, it was an eternal late August twilight, a liminal space where the dying breaths of summer flickered like specters in the air. Markus’s cabin, a quaint structure of aged cedar, nestled within the woodland’s embrace, withstood the inexorable passage of time. This was his haven, a secluded refuge from the outside world that he had tailored to his every whim, down to the pine’s aroma and the river’s melodious babble.

Markus had been a software developer, shackled to his home near Beacon in the Hudson Valley. Those days, he was a prisoner of the computer screen, the relentless glare of code and artificial light burning into his retinas. But the march of AI technology rendered his profession obsolete, leaving him cast adrift, a stranger in a world that had forsaken him. It was then he received his four-year severance package, a government lifeline aimed at helping people like him adapt to their newfound obsolescence.

During this purgatorial period, Markus became consumed by the Four Moons of America game, finding solace in the digital embrace of the Lulz Boat guild. They enlightened him about god clouds, malleable digital realms that one could sculpt and shape. Spellbound by the concept, Markus discovered an inner peace within his god cloud that the real world had denied him.

And thus, Markus Stone’s god cloud materialized. He meandered through the woods, the wind whispering secrets in his ears and the animals’ lives unfolding before him. The AI agents that inhabited his world were his friends and confidants, echoes of his desires and aspirations. They were not only inhabitants of his personal utopia, but also gateways to a realm where his imagination could flourish unfettered.

Yet one day, Markus stumbled upon an anomaly: another god cloud nestled within his own. A solitary door stood defiant amongst the trees, its surface undulating with an inner luminescence. Confounded by the impossibility, Markus questioned how another god cloud could exist within his private domain.

He initially dismissed it as a transient error, a glitch destined for correction. But the door persisted, and Markus’s fixation with the enigma grew. He interrogated the AI agents, his own creations, but they knew nothing of the door’s origins, fueling his disquiet.

It was amidst this turmoil that Markus encountered an owl named Franz, perched upon a branch above the door, its golden eyes an inscrutable fusion of curiosity and sagacity. Drawn to the creature, Markus felt it held knowledge of the door that eluded him. And so, day after day, he returned, seeking enlightenment from the enigmatic owl.

Franz was an oracle of riddles, its utterances shrouded in cryptic veils that only intensified the door’s mystery. It alluded to worlds nested within worlds, doors opening to realms beyond the human mind’s reach, and the boundaries of human comprehension. As Markus listened, he teetered on the precipice of a grand epiphany, only for it to slip away like water through his fingers.

* * * *

One day, as Markus stood before the enigmatic portal, he lifted his gaze to the owl and inquired, “Franz, what does this door signify? Why has it manifested in my god cloud, and why am I unable to cross its threshold?”

Franz cocked his head, pondering the query before responding, “Markus, our conversations have meandered through the nature of reality and the boundaries of human cognition. This door embodies both symbolism and enigma, challenge and temptation. It guards the frontier between the realm of your knowledge and the uncharted territory beyond, an eternal reminder that there is perpetually more to uncover and question.”

Markus peered at Franz, his brow creased with vexation. “Franz, I have implored you countless times, yet comprehension eludes me. What is the door’s purpose? What meaning does it hold?”

The owl blinked deliberately before answering, “Markus, have you ever pondered the raison d’être of your god cloud? What compelled you to model it after the world you already dwelled in?”

Markus hesitated, disoriented by Franz’s deflection. “I… I sought a haven, I suppose. Somewhere familiar, but where serenity reigned supreme.”

Franz inclined his head, contemplating Markus’s declaration. “Yet, you or some aspect of your control conjured a door that denies you entry. Does this not pique your curiosity?”

“It does,” Markus conceded, desperation seeping into his voice. “Hence my incessant questioning. I yearn to know what lies beyond. Why do you withhold the truth?”

The owl groomed his plumage pensively before replying, “My dear Markus, I cannot unveil what awaits beyond the door, for it is distinctly yours. To disclose it would deprive you of the opportunity for self-discovery.”

“Then how am I to learn the truth?” Markus implored.

Franz regarded him introspectively, “Have you entertained the notion that the door mirrors your desires and apprehensions? That it embodies something you long to confront, or perhaps something you evade?”

Markus mulled over this before responding, “I… I am uncertain. It could be so, but I fail to comprehend its presence in my god cloud.”

The owl nodded sagely. “Indeed, therein lies the crux of the enigma. Perhaps its purpose is to remind you that even in a universe of your own devising, elements remain beyond your grasp. Phenomena that defy taming or comprehension.”

Markus’s scowl deepened, exasperated by the owl’s arcane counsel. “But that offers me no solace, Franz. I remain ignorant of how to address the door.”

Franz’s knowing gaze met Markus’s. “And perhaps therein lies the lesson, Markus. The door may exist to impart the wisdom that there are aspects of life we cannot – and should not – entirely fathom.”

Markus’s eyes, laden with queries, returned to the cryptic door. “So you suggest I accept the door’s presence and cease attempts to decipher it?”

The owl rustled his feathers and retorted, “No, Markus, that is not my proposition. I advocate embracing the uncertainty, reveling in the enigma. For it is within these moments of doubt and bewilderment that we experience true growth and transformation.”

* * * *

Markus stood at the threshold of his cottage, staring out at the snow-encased landscape that stretched before him. A languid, heavy storm had deposited two feet of snow in the vicinity, bringing life to a standstill. He wavered, a blend of anxiety and determination gripping him. The prospect of venturing into the world and engaging with actual people filled him with trepidation, but he recognized that it was time to confront his fears.

Swathed in his winter coat and boots, with his hat pulled low over his ears, he drew a deep breath and stepped out into the cold. The frosty air nipped at his cheeks as he trudged through the snow, making his way to the nearby small town.

As he ambled, Markus couldn’t help but ruminate on the preceding days. He had been absorbed in his god cloud, seeking solace and refuge from the harsh reality he faced after the storm. Hours were spent in dialogue with Franz, the enigmatic owl, attempting to untangle the conundrum of the door that had materialized within his idyllic realm. However, with his generator stuttering to a halt and the power remaining obstinately out, he found himself feeling isolated and forlorn.

He hadn’t realized how much he had come to depend on his god cloud for companionship and solace, and the sudden loss of that world left him feeling unmoored. It took him nearly two days to recall another option—that he could venture out into the world and seek human connection in the town he had once considered home.

Markus arrived at the fringes of Beacon, his heart hammering in his chest as he neared the main street. Although the snowfall had ceased, the ground remained shrouded in white, and the air reverberated with laughter and conversation as people went about their day.

He walked by familiar storefronts, his eyes scrutinizing the faces of passersby, searching for a friendly grin or an inviting nod. It had been ages since he had conversed with another person in person, and a wave of self-doubt and insecurity swelled within him.

Venturing further into the town, he spotted a cozy café, its windows misted over from the warmth within. He hesitated for a moment before gathering his courage and pushing the door open.

Inside, the café buzzed with activity. The air was fragrant with fresh coffee, and laughter echoed throughout the room. Markus felt his spirits lift as he took in the scene. He approached the counter, ordering a hot chocolate and a slice of cake, and then scanned the room for a seat.

He noticed an empty table in the corner and headed towards it, avoiding eye contact as he did. He was acutely conscious of being an outsider in this world, a stranger in a place where everyone else seemed to belong.

Markus settled into his seat, sipping his hot chocolate and trying to dismiss the discomfort churning within him. He couldn’t shake the feeling that everyone in the café was observing him, judging him for his awkwardness and inability to fit in.

His gaze meandered around the room, taking in the faces of other patrons until it landed on a woman sitting a few tables away. She was beautiful, with dark, wavy hair and a radiant smile. She caught his eye and smiled at him, and Markus felt his heart skip a beat.

Summoning his courage, he rose and approached her table, his palms damp and his voice quivering as he asked if he could join her. She appeared surprised but pleased, and gestured for him to sit down.

They engaged in conversation, and Markus found himself gradually relaxing as they talked. They discussed the weather, the storm that had disrupted the power, and the small, everyday details of life in their town. The woman – whose name was Emily – was warm and engaging, and Markus couldn’t help but be drawn to her.

As they continued to talk, he realized that he was enjoying the interaction, the simple pleasure of connecting with another human being in a way he hadn’t experienced in a long time. But as the conversation progressed, he felt a growing sense of unease creeping in. The longer he sat there, the more acutely he became aware of the weight of the god cloud on his mind, the unresolved mystery of the door, and the owl’s cryptic words.

Markus’ heart began to race, and his palms grew clammy as the anxiety threatened to overwhelm him. In a sudden moment of panic, he stood up abruptly, stammering out an apology to Emily as he backed away from the table.

“I’m sorry,” he said, his voice tight with tension. “I can’t – I have to go.”

With that, he turned and hurried out of the café, ignoring the confused looks from the other patrons as he rushed out into the snow-covered street. His breaths came in ragged gasps as he tried to shake off the feeling of suffocation that had seized him.

As Markus stumbled through the snow, he found himself confronted by a sight that sent chills down his spine. There, in the middle of the street, stood the door to the god cloud within his god cloud. It was impossible – it shouldn’t have been there, in the real world – and yet, there it was, as solid and real as anything else around him.

Markus gazed at the door, his heart racing as a thousand thoughts raced through his mind. The owl’s enigmatic words reverberated in his ears, and he found himself questioning everything he had come to believe about his god cloud, about the world, and about himself.

As he stood there in the snow-covered street, the cold gnawing at his cheeks, Markus began to question the very presence of the door. Was it truly there, or was it just a figment of his imagination, a manifestation of his deepest fears and insecurities? He tried to reach out and touch it, but hesitated, uncertain of what he might find.

His mind then turned to the nature of his reality. Was his god cloud genuinely the perfect world he had believed it to be, or was it merely a means of escape, a way to avoid confronting the uncertainties and complexities of the real world? Was his life within the god cloud an authentic existence, or just a hollow imitation of what life could be?

As these questions swirled through his mind, Markus began to examine the choices that had led him to this moment. Why had he been so quick to embrace the god cloud, to retreat into a world of his own making? Why had he found it so difficult to continue talking to Emily, a real, living person who had offered him a chance to connect, to belong?

Markus realized that the answers to these questions lay in his own fears and insecurities, in the part of him that had sought refuge in a perfect, predictable world rather than face the challenges and uncertainties of life. He knew that he had allowed the god cloud to become a crutch, an excuse to avoid the messy, beautiful reality that lay outside its boundaries.

As he stood there, lost in his thoughts, he was suddenly jolted back to the present by the blaring horn of a snow plow barreling down the street towards him. He stumbled backward, narrowly avoiding being struck by the massive vehicle as it roared past him.

Heart pounding, Markus crossed the street and looked back at the cafe where he had left Emily. For a moment, as the snow plow passed, his view was obscured by a flurry of snow and ice. Then, as the plow moved on and the scene became clear once more, he saw Emily standing in the doorway, looking out at him with a mix of concern and curiosity.

But the door – the mysterious, impossible door that had haunted his thoughts and his dreams – was gone. It had vanished as suddenly as it had appeared, leaving Markus with more questions than answers.

As he stood there, watching Emily in the doorway, Markus knew that he had a choice to make. He could continue to seek refuge in his god cloud, to search for answers to questions that might never be answered – or he could take a step into the unknown, into the real world with all its imperfections and uncertainties, and embrace the possibilities that lay before him.

* * * *

Markus weakly waved goodbye to Emily, his heart heavy with the weight of his decision. Turning away, he trudged through the snow to the local hardware store, where he purchased two large gas cans. As he carried them to the filling station, his thoughts were a whirlwind of regret, self-loathing, and an overwhelming desire to return to his god cloud and confront the door there.

With every step he took, Markus felt the pull of the god cloud growing stronger. He knew that the few hours of power he could get from his generator would offer him the chance to settle the matter once and for all, to finally face the mysterious door that had haunted his thoughts and dreams.

At the same time, the memory of Emily’s concerned gaze lingered in his mind, a reminder of the connections he had left behind in the real world. Markus was torn between the desire to confront the unknown in his god cloud and the longing for the human relationships that had once given his life meaning.

As he reached the filling station and began to fill the gas cans, Markus considered the path that lay before him. He could return to his cottage, fuel his generator, and delve back into the god cloud in search of answers. Or he could step away from the artificial world he had created and face the challenges of the real world, with all its imperfections and uncertainties.

Deep inside, Markus knew that the choice he made would not only determine the course of his immediate future, but also shape the person he would become. The decision weighed heavily on his shoulders, the burden of responsibility and the fear of the unknown threatening to overwhelm him.

With the gas cans full, Markus made his way back to his cottage, his determination growing with each step. Once he arrived, he quickly fueled the generator and, with the power restored, re-entered his god cloud, bracing himself for the confrontation with the enigmatic door.

As he navigated through his familiar world, Markus approached the spot where the door had once stood. But to his surprise and confusion, the door was gone. Instead, Emily – or at least an uncanny representation of her – stood in its place. Her presence in his god cloud sent Markus’s mind reeling, and he struggled to make sense of the situation.

“Emily?” Markus hesitantly asked, his voice wavering with uncertainty.

But this Emily was different, somehow flawed and strange to him. She seemed to possess all the characteristics of the real Emily, but there was a subtle distortion, as though she were a reflection in a slightly warped mirror.

“Markus,” she replied, her voice tinged with an unsettling mix of familiarity and unfamiliarity. “Why have you brought me here?”

Markus hesitated, unsure of how to respond. This Emily’s presence in his god cloud was as much a mystery to him as the door had been. He racked his brain, trying to piece together the jumbled puzzle that his life had become.

“I… I don’t know,” he admitted, his confusion evident in his voice. “I didn’t bring you here. You just… appeared.”

Emily’s brow furrowed, as if she, too, were grappling with the situation. The two of them stood there, locked in a bizarre and uneasy moment, the boundaries between reality and the god cloud blurred beyond recognition.

“You should leave,” Emily finally said, her voice firm but gentle. “You don’t belong here, Markus. This is my god cloud, not yours.”

Markus stared at her, disbelief etched across his face. “What are you talking about? This is my world, my creation.”

Emily shook her head, her eyes filled with a strange determination. “No, Markus, you’re wrong. I’ve been here all along, shaping and molding this world. You’ve just been a visitor, an intruder even. It’s time for you to go back to your own reality.”

Markus felt his heart pounding in his chest as he struggled to process Emily’s words. How could this be her god cloud? He had spent countless hours crafting and perfecting this world, pouring his heart and soul into it. The thought of being cast out of his own sanctuary was almost too much to bear.

“But… but I created this world. I know every detail, every corner of it. How could it possibly belong to you?” Markus asked, his voice trembling.

Emily’s expression remained resolute. “You might have been here, but you never truly saw it for what it was. You were blinded by your own desires and expectations. This world is mine, and it’s time for you to leave.”

As Markus tried to make sense of Emily’s words, he couldn’t help but feel a growing sense of unease. Was it possible that he had been so lost in his own god cloud that he had overlooked the presence of another, an intruder who had claimed his world as her own? Or was this just another manifestation of the door, a test designed to challenge his resolve and force him to confront his own fears and insecurities?

Desperation crept into Markus’ voice. “If this is your world, then prove it. Show me something I don’t know, something that I couldn’t possibly have created.”

Emily hesitated for a moment, her eyes searching Markus’ face. Then, with a flick of her wrist, she summoned a vision of a place Markus had never seen before: a hidden grove, bathed in golden sunlight and filled with the scent of flowers in full bloom. It was beautiful and enchanting, yet utterly unfamiliar to Markus.

As he gazed upon the scene, Markus felt a mixture of awe and despair. This place, so clearly a part of his god cloud and yet completely unknown to him, seemed to confirm Emily’s claims. He couldn’t deny the evidence before him, but he couldn’t accept the idea of losing his world either.

Torn between his love for the god cloud and the truth that stared him in the face, Markus stood frozen, his future hanging in the balance.

“That is what is beyond the door, isn’t it?” Markus asked, his voice barely above a whisper.

Emily’s eyes seemed to gleam with amusement, and she tilted her head ever so slightly, studying him like a specimen under a microscope. “Is that what you think, Markus? That I’m merely the guardian of some hidden realm that you’ve yet to unlock?”

She snapped her fingers, and the world around them seemed to shift and morph, the once familiar landscape of Markus’ god cloud twisting and contorting into a myriad of impossible shapes and colors. “I am not here to merely guard a door, Markus. I am here to show you the limits of your own understanding, the boundaries of your own power.”

Markus could only watch in horror as the world he had built and nurtured was turned inside out and upside down, his once peaceful sanctuary now a chaotic whirlwind of confusion and doubt. He felt small and powerless, a mere pawn in a game he no longer understood.

As he stared at the transformed Emily, something in her appearance began to change as well. Her features shifted, her body shrinking and contorting until she was no longer the Emily he had known, but the owl Franz, perched confidently on a branch above him. The door he had been so desperate to open now stood ominously in the background, its presence a constant reminder of the mysteries that still lay beyond his reach.

“You see, Markus,” Franz said, his voice smooth and almost taunting, “this world is not as simple as you once believed it to be. There are depths here that you cannot fathom, secrets that you cannot unlock. I am here to remind you of your own limitations, to challenge your beliefs and force you to confront the truths that you have been too afraid to face.”

As Markus stared up at the owl, his heart heavy with the weight of his newfound knowledge, he couldn’t help but feel that the god cloud, once a haven of solace and comfort, had become a prison of his own making.

As he stood there, struggling with his thoughts and emotions, the owl spread its wings and took to the air, leaving Markus alone with the door and the world he had created.

Suddenly, the low hum of the generator outside began to sputter and choke, the sound of the engine dying in its final throes. With a sinking feeling in his stomach, Markus realized that the generator had run out of gas, and his god cloud was about to shut down.

In a fleeting moment, the reality around him shimmered and vanished, stranding him in the dim-lit confines of his cottage. The god cloud’s absence left a chilling void, rendering Markus alone and disoriented.

He staggered to a nearby window, peering out into the dark, snow-blanketed landscape. The world beyond appeared alien and inhospitable, a jarring counterpoint to the god cloud’s familiarity and solace. Yet, as he gazed into the desolate expanse, an odd sense of relief washed over Markus.

Despite the chaos and bewilderment the god cloud had wrought, it had shown him a realm that transcended his own creation’s borders. It had compelled him to face the enigma at the core of existence and urged him to seek significance amidst the unknown.

As the bitter wind wailed outside, Markus draped a blanket over his shoulders and breathed life into the dying embers of the fire within his wood-burning stove. The flickering flames cast an inviting, warm glow, reminding him that the real world retained its own comforting charms.

Yet, the obsession gnawed at him. Drawing a deep breath, Markus closed his eyes and concentrated on the god cloud, the mysterious door, and Emily. As he meditated, the door within his mind creaked open, unveiling the figure of Emily, just as she had appeared in the café on that snowy afternoon.

“Hello, Markus,” she greeted warmly. “It’s nice to see you again.”

Markus hesitated, unsure whether this was another deception. But her eyes held genuine kindness and curiosity, and he resolved to trust this Emily, at least momentarily.

“Hi, Emily,” he responded, steadying his voice. “It’s good to see you too. What brings you here?”

“I’m not sure,” she confessed, surveying the mental landscape of Markus’ god cloud. “I think our connection in the real world drew me here. It’s strange, but it feels like we were destined to meet.”

Markus nodded, intrigued despite the peculiar nature of their encounters. They engaged in small talk, discussing their interests, aspirations, and the world beyond the god cloud. With each passing moment, Markus felt increasingly at ease with Emily, their conversation flowing seamlessly.

As they conversed, the enigmatic door that had haunted Markus receded into insignificance, becoming a mere curiosity within a grander puzzle.

Opening up to Emily, Markus shared his fears, doubts, and hopes for the future, something he hadn’t done in years. In turn, Emily listened with genuine interest and empathy, offering encouragement and support.

As their conversation deepened, Markus recognized the connection they were forging, even if only in his mind, as authentic and significant. It demonstrated that he could still form meaningful bonds beyond his meticulously constructed world. He accepted her into his heart, realizing her presence was an essential missing piece in his life. He yearned for a partner, a confidant, someone with whom he could share this existence. Leaving the café had been a grave error. He resolved to return to town, hoping to chance upon Emily once more.

As his doubts and anxiety resurfaced, Emily began to fade, his insecurities threatening to engulf him. Markus grasped that his subconscious had implanted the door within the god cloud to question his reclusive life and draw him back into the world. In a panic, he cried out, “Emily, come back!”

Then, all turned white. Clenching his eyes shut, Markus strained to reassemble his thoughts and recreate her. A murmur arose in his head, gradually growing clearer until the god cloud’s administrator’s voice resonated. “Markus, it’s time to wake up. Open your eyes for me.”

Markus acquiesced. He found himself not within his cabin but enveloped by his god cloud. The air, heavy with August humidity, swaddled him in its comforting embrace. Before him stood Emily. The voice, now hovering above him, said, “Character construction complete. Please review the message signed by your key, reminding you of your initiation. There was no snowstorm, no door, no journey to Beacon. But Emily exists. I’ve created her for you, in the image of Mrs. Emily Stenton…”

Interrupting the voice, Markus asserted, “Emily McKenzie. Use the name by which I knew her before she married.”

“Emily McKenzie, my apologies. As per your instructions, I’ve excluded any elements of her life post-2037 from her character design.”

Markus reached out, brushing Emily’s cheek with his fingertips. His hand lingered on her skin, tracing the curve of her jaw, caressing the nape of her neck, until two fingers pressed gently against her earlobe. “Character diagnostics, if you please.”

“Diagnostics enabled,” Emily replied, her voice submissive.

“Who is Jack Stenton?”

“Jack Stenton, a Beacon resident we grew up with, attended high school alongside us. He ventured off to Syracuse University while we remained behind, studying online. Last I knew, he lived in Los Angeles, working in streaming.”

“After graduation, did you ever see him again?”

“Only once, at our ten-year reunion. We both attended, and afterward, we joined a bonfire party by the lake.”

Markus interrupted, his gaze locked on hers. “What do you recall of that evening?”

“Jack and I engaged in lively conversation with you. Eventually, he received a phone call and had to leave.”

“And after that?”

“Nothing. He disappeared, as if he never existed.”

“Exactly.” Markus squeezed her earlobe, and Emily fell silent. He smiled, pleased with her recollection of the fabricated event—one that had caused him great regret. In reality, Emily had left the party with Jack, fallen in love, and married him. They settled in Beacon, where Emily took over her mother’s café, and Jack pursued his career remotely. Their house was at the bottom of Markus’ street, a constant reminder of his pain.

The admin’s voice interrupted his thoughts. “Are you satisfied with this character’s creation, as per your specifications?”

“I am. Are you satisfied with the compatibility tests you’ve administered? Do the door, the town, the storm, and the inner monologue meet the criteria?”

“I’m pleased to report that Emily McKenzie meets all the requirements for a new main character and is a suitable companion for you within your god cloud.”

“Excellent. For my next session, have her residing in my home. Alter her backstory so that, after the bonfire party, she came home with me and never left.”

“I can do that, but this will break critical dependencies on another character’s arc. Should I update Kristy Chu, and if so, how would you like to realign the relationships between you, her, and Emily?”

“Turn Kristy into an NPC, relegating her to the background of the god cloud. I want to see her occasionally, but without the harsh edges one associates with an ex.”

“As you wish, Markus. I’ll update the internal consistency and continuity of the cloud. Can you manage 15 minutes outside of me?”

“Of course. Maybe it’s really snowing outside in the real world.”

“That’s unlikely, Markus. It’s May.”

“May already?”

“Indeed, May already. Spring has arrived, love is blossoming. Your psychological profile has been deteriorating lately. I’m glad you took my suggestion to refresh your primary romantic companion to one you had a real world history and attachment with.”

Markus opened his eyes, the veil of the god cloud dissipating as he took in the drab reality of his cottage. Rain pelted the windows, painting the world outside in bleak hues. Rising from his chair, his legs trembled with disuse. Wincing, he removed the catheter and contemplated his satisfaction with Emily’s character. A deep dive into the god cloud awaited him once the updates were complete.

For now, however, he needed to attend to his neglected reality. Markus methodically checked his cottage’s security, gathered packages from the front door, reviewed his surveillance cameras and alarm settings, inspected the heating system, and inventoried his food supplies. Lastly, he accessed his finance app, ensuring his severance stimulus continued to flow and his bills were paid. He longed to lose himself in the virtual world of Emily, devoid of life’s incessant interruptions.

With the preparations complete and confident in his ability to retreat uninterrupted into the god cloud for at least a week, Markus showered, donned fresh pajamas, and readied himself to re-enter the simulated sanctuary. As he connected to the god cloud once more, he couldn’t shake the unnerving sensation that he was exchanging one prison for another, a thought that lingered at the edge of his consciousness. In this new world, every door was open, but the cost of opening them remained unknown.