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MACRO 15: THE ESTIMATION OF LIFE
‘Shoosh.’ A soft, comforting voice. The scent of lemons. The warmth of someone else’s body. ‘You’re OK, Danny. It’s all over.’ Miss Grant, sitting on the floor of TIMMI 2, held Danny’s head to her bosom. ‘Everything’s going to be all right.’
Danny wrapped his arms around her. Clung to her. He was shaking. ‘Fromoxodin. Please.’
‘You’ve just taken two tabs.’ She stroked his hair. ‘It should kick in soon.’
‘I don’t remember.’
‘As soon as you climbed out of the sarcophagus.’
‘I don’t remember that either. The last thing I remember is the tsunami. Slamming into me. Breaking all my bones. Salt water filling my lungs. Not being able to breathe.’ He felt exhausted. Emotionally. Physically. Mentally. ‘The man’s mad. Do you know that? Robert Morganfield is a maniac.’
‘He thinks he’s God.’
‘But we know he’s not, don’t we? Without you and your Multijax operating system, there’d be no Avalon III and no Calvados Bay.’
‘That’s true.’ Despite everything – the horror of being torn apart by an H-bomb and then half-drowned by a tsunami – despite the trauma – or maybe because of it – he felt a stirring in his loins. ‘I have to get out of this place.’
‘You can’t drive in your condition. Give me your keys and I’ll take you back to your hotel.’
‘Won’t Robert mind?’
‘Screw Robert. I quit.’
It was the early hours of the morning. As they walked through the deserted corridors of the so-called Golden Pyramid – Miss Grant’s heels going clack-clack-clack (crisp efficient heels, crisp efficient woman) – Danny felt Robert Morganfield’s omniscient presence, following their progress through his CCTV system.
It occurred to Danny they might not make it out alive. The building’s security systems were quite capable of killing them. All Morganfield has to do is label us a threat. We could be shot, electrocuted or gassed. Maybe he’ll use lasers to vaporise our brains then send in his robots to remove all traces of our existence.
But they made it to Danny’s car without any problems. Overhead, the first flight of the day – a 900-seater Boeing 1214c – descended screaming from the night sky like some monster bird from ancient myth.
They got in the car. Danny felt out of kilter in the passenger seat, like he’d put his shoes on the wrong feet. Ms Grant, dressed in black, slid behind the steering wheel. The doors closed automatically.
‘Good morning,’ said the car as soon as Ms Grant had switched on the electrics. ‘You are not authorised to drive this vehicle. Please vacate immediately.’
‘It’s all right,’ said Danny. ‘She’s with me and has my full permission to drive. Her name’s Ms Grant, by the way.’
‘Good morning, Ms Grant. My bio-sensors indicate you are a fairly normal person. It will be a pleasure being driven for once by someone who isn’t a complete flake.’
Danny smacked the dashboard. ‘Stopping hitting on her.’
Ms Grant started the car. She waited until they were through the access tunnel and headed for the West Radial Underpass before saying, ‘I’m sorry.’
Danny had been lost in Fromoxodin fuelled thoughts. Ms Grant’s voice startled him. ‘What?’ he said, more abruptly than he’d intended. ‘What are you sorry about?’
‘About kidnapping you.’
‘Oh that.’ It didn’t seem important. His central nervous system was buzzing with little waves of pleasure rippling through his nerves. His mind resonated to the gentle modulation of a signal he was sure was coming from his DNA. It’s the vibration of the double helix molecule, resonating with a million generations of race memory.
‘I didn’t realise how far he’d go,’ said Ms Grant. ‘You don’t deserve what he did to you.’
To be honest, Ms Grant, I rather enjoyed being kidnapped by you. It’s what happened afterwards that I have a problem with. ‘Do you like Mozart?’
‘I love Don Giovanni.’
‘And his 40th symphony?’
‘One of my favourites.’
‘Car: hit us with Mozart’s 40th.’ Remembering the last time he’d tried listening to the symphony, Danny braced himself for an aural assault. But none was forthcoming and the opening bars of Mozart’s 40th in G minor insinuated itself into the car’s interior.
Ms Grant almost leapt out of her seat. ‘What the fuck’s that?’
‘Tell her, car.’
‘Mozart’s 40th,’ said the car, sounding hurt and puzzled. ‘In G minor. Recorded by the Berlin Philharmonic and conducted by Charles Schrödinger.’
‘No, it isn’t,’ said Ms Grant, raising her voice unnecessarily. ‘It’s just noise!’
‘Music off,’ said Danny and then there was near silence. Just the happy purr of the electric engine as they entered the West Radial Underpass. Even with Fromoxodin causing him to buzz, Danny was concerned by Miss Grant’s reaction to the Mozart. Was she undergoing the same psychosis he’d experienced? If so, what did it mean?
A thought came to him. ‘Will Chastity be all right? With that drug you gave her?’
‘She’ll be dead to the world for a while. Probably till lunchtime. But other than that, she’ll be fine.’
‘Change of plan then. We’re going to Vanity Fair.’
Somewhere down the line, Ice had scrubbed his face. Stripped of make-up, it had a Mediterranean cast. He was dressed in blue army fatigues with a raven motif on the jacket’s left sleeve.
As he steered the boat down the Styx, his eyes were firmly fixed on Ms Grant.
Look all you like, thought Danny. But don’t imagine for a second she’d be interested in a squirt like you.
The smallness of the boat meant he and Miss Grant were squeezed together on the front seat. He loved the feel of her thigh against his.
‘You hear about that bomb?’ Ice suddenly asked. ‘The one in Glasgow?’
The question was aimed at Ms Grant but Danny answered. ‘Another bomb. Big deal.’
‘It was nuclear.’
‘Yeah, kid. Of course it was.’
‘I’m telling ya. A low-yield nuke. Just enough to mangle a few office blocks but dirty. Very, very dirty.’
Danny felt a chill. Something told him Ice wasn’t lying. ‘This was on the news?’
‘Not the bit about it being a nuke. They’re trying to hush that up but it’s all over the Internet.’
‘Christ,’ said Danny. ‘The world’s gone fucking mad.’ He looked to Ms Grant but her face showed no reaction.
He decided to shut up.
‘It was the British Defence Force,’ said the Vicar. He was standing over a computer monitor in his cluttered workshop. ‘Or possibly the Caledonian Popular Front or the New People’s Jihad. It all depends on which rumour you want to believe.’
‘What does the BBC say?’ Danny asked.
The Vicar went click-click-click with his mouse and took a moment to read a short report which he summed up thus: ‘Centre of Glasgow closed for civil defence drill. Nothing to be alarmed about.’
Ms Grant strolled along the aisles of cannibalised machines, now and then stopping to examine an artefact that caught her eye. Ice trailed behind like a faithful puppy.
Danny checked his wristy. It told him he was in a sound state of mind. Determined, he thought. And focused.
‘You ghost run, don’t you?’ he said to the Vicar. ‘I hear you’re one of the best.’
‘I gave it up. Defences on the net are too darned tough these days. People are getting killed.’
‘But you’ve still got your total immersion kit?’
‘You looking to buy?’
‘Merely to rent.’
‘Tell me to mind my own business if you like, but do you mind telling me where you’re hoping to break into?’
‘The Golden Pyramid.’
The Vicar laughed. ‘All right. If you don’t want to tell me…’
‘I’m being serious.’
The Vicar stopped laughing. ‘You’d find it easier to ghost run the Pentagon than Sybernika House. Unless you want your brains fried, I suggest you forget it.’
‘I fitted a Gilgamesh transceiver to the Schnell Integrator.’
‘So? The Gilgamesh is a short distance device and the Golden Pyramid is radio-protected. You’d have to be in the same room as the Schnell to talk to it.’
‘Or I’d need something already in the room to relay my messages.’
‘I don’t get you.’
‘Sybernika House isn’t a closed system. It gets its water and electricity from the utility companies the same as the rest of us.’
‘Oh!’ The Vicar’s jaw dropped. His eyes widened in delighted surprise. ‘That’s genius, Danny! Sheer genius.’
‘I don’t get it,’ said Ice from the other side of the room. He was still trailing Ms Grant. ‘You planning to shrink yourself to the size of an ant and take a miniature submarine through the water pipes?’
‘Don’t be an arse,’ said Ms Grant distractedly. She was examining a circuit board, holding it up to the light to make out its worn serial numbers. ‘Sybernika House is full of transceivers that tell the utility companies how much power and water is being used. Those transceivers talk to the building’s central heating system.
‘Because they’re not networked to anything important, the utility transceivers have bugger all security on them. That would be a bit like putting a lock on a water tap.’
‘So,’ said the Vicar, ‘Danny can ghost run from the utility company, into Sybernika House and then jump into the Schnell Integrator. And once there, hacking into the Quantium 7000 becomes a doddle. Right, Danny?’
‘Spot on, Vicar.’
‘And then what?’ Ice demanded.
‘I’m going to destroy Paradise.’
When Danny returned to Avalon III, there was no sign of catastrophe. The jungle was lush and full of primeval noise. The sea and sky were placid.
Danny wore a pith helmet. That, along with the bolt action rifle slung over his shoulder, was supposed to signify that he was a Victorian explorer, like David Livingstone on the shores of Lake Victoria or Professor Challenger chasing dinosaurs in his Lost World or Alan Quartermain going where no white man had gone before.
Oh yes, he told himself as he hacked away at the undergrowth with his machete, I am the stuff of which the British Empire was made.
He headed towards the cliff that overlooked Calvados Bay. If the island had been an exact copy of its equivalent back in reality, the humidity would have slowed him down and there’d be mosquitoes feasting on his blood. But here, in a madman’s version of paradise, trekking through the jungle was little more arduous than a stroll around Kensington Gardens.
There was no need even for the machete. The undergrowth was sparse and offered little resistance. But he wanted to play the intrepid explorer. Wanted to pretend it was 1944 and he was in Borneo, surrounded by Japs, the sole survivor of a deadly ambush.
Nah, he thought, tramping through a bed of orchids. Not Japs. Maybe the Viet Cong or the Khmer Rouge. Or one of those guerrilla armies in South America.
I’m a British agent on a desperate mission to save mankind from yet another insane megalomaniac with the power to take control of the world’s nuclear arsenals.
He thought about Lord of the Flies but couldn’t see himself as a marooned schoolboy.
What about Marlow in Heart of Darkness? Sent to track down the renegade Kurtz who’s turned native?
You see, Mr Morganfield, what I can do in your playground? The thousands upon thousands of possibilities I’m willing to explore? Whereas all it represents to you is a convenient place to hide your imaginary whore.
He looked up. A monkey sat in a tree. Danny waved. The monkey waved back.
‘Fucking ridiculous. Monkeys don’t wave.’
When the jungle cleared and he found himself looking down at Calvados Bay, he noticed he was neither sweating nor breathing hard, and he felt let down. It’s all so plastic. Even Disneyland was never this anodyne.
What is needed here is a Dr Moreau. Someone to introduce swathes of darkness because never-ending light induces psychosis. Without night, there can be no day.
In the bay below, he could see Colette on her sun lounger, immobile and placid, waiting for Morganfield to arrive so she could fulfil her purpose by flattering her creator, accepting his penis and absorbing his juices.
She was the ultimate blow-up doll.
A sex object beyond compare.
I gave you free will, you bitch. Made a complete woman of you. Breathed life into the clay. But you rejected it. Went back to being even less than a golem.
Bitch. Bitch. Fucking bitch.
Danny cupped his hands in front of his mouth and yelled, ‘Ariel!’
Colette lowered her sunglasses and looked up. She showed no surprise or alarm at Danny’s presence.
Had she forgotten what she’d done to him? Beaten him to a pulp then watched as he was exposed to first a nuclear explosion and then a tsunami? Did it not occur to her that he was here to exact revenge?
Of course it does. You’re not stupid. But you just don’t care. Que sera, sera, hey, Colette? If I did to you what you did to me it would just be another event for you to store away in your memory banks. You watched me burn in a nuclear blast and drown in a tidal wave and it meant nothing to you.
Absolutely zilch. Zero. Nada. Null.
I bet Morganfield’s programmed you to moan when he fucks you and to scream when he comes. And then afterwards you tell him what a great lover he is because you’re not allowed to tell him otherwise.
Danny called again. ‘Ariel!’
He sensed something burst out of the jungle behind him. Felt a draught on the back of his head. Heard a buzzing.
‘Ariel.’ He turned. But it wasn’t Ariel. It was the flying insect with the human face. The one he’d hallucinated in his hotel room. Only now it was the size of a small dog. ‘What the fuck are you doing here?’
‘I could ask you the same,’ said the insect. ‘As it happens, you brought me here. The contents of your mind are slowly leaking into Avalon III. Your dreams are running away from you. That’s what comes of being so close to a quantum processor.’
‘Are you sure we never met in New Delhi?’
‘Nah. That was definitely my brother George. He told me all about it afterwards. Said you hired a prostitute to spank your arse and give you an enema.’
‘That’s a lie!’
‘Probably. George always was one for making up stories.’
‘Where’s Ariel? Do you know?’
‘I’ve only just got here. But I can go look for her if you like.’
‘Would you? I’d very much appreciate it.’
The insect returned to the jungle. Danny kept his back to the sea. Listened to the gentle susurration of waves rolling onto the beach, splashing against rocks that would never erode because in this world entropy was the exception rather than the norm.
Somewhere, banks of parallel processors ticked over in unison. Changing 1s to 0s and 0s to 1s. Creating an illusion of time and space.
If this was my world, I’d be Captain Nemo with a submarine full of rooms that looked like they belonged in a gentlemen’s club with the likes of Phileas Fogg and Mycroft Holmes sitting in leather armchairs drinking dry port. And out there, 20,000 leagues down, would be the lost city of Atlantis full of drowned temples and ancient treasures.
And I’d turn this island into Ogygia, the isle of Calypso. Or maybe something resembling the real Avalon, the Isle of Apples wherein sleeps King Arthur, resting until his country calls upon him again.
You’re a piece of shit, Robert Morganfield. An unimaginative geek who’s every breath is a theft of oxygen.
The insect returned with Ariel.
‘Hello, Mr Danny,’ said the code sprite, hovering in front of Danny. ‘May I say you’re looking good for a man who’s been torn apart by a nuclear firestorm?’
‘You say the sweetest things,’ said Danny.
‘Jeremy says you want to see me.’
‘Yes,’ said the insect. ‘My name is Jeremy – as you’d know if you’d ever bothered to ask.’
‘Oh for fuck’s sake. Hallucinating a dragonfly with a man’s head is one thing. But hallucinating a Jeremy…!’
‘There’s no need to be rude. I didn’t ask to be hallucinated.’
‘I’m sorry. I’ve been under a lot of strain.’
‘Mr Danny got nuked,’ Ariel chirruped happily. ‘It purged him of his sins.’
‘Pity,’ said Jeremy, ‘it didn’t purge him of his Fromoxodin habit.’
‘Look,’ said Danny. ‘From now on – no more Fromoxodin. I’m done with that shit.’
Jeremy laughed. ‘Dream on, Danny boy. Dream on.’
‘Don’t call me Danny boy. I really don’t like it.’
‘Look!’ said Ariel. ‘There’s Miss Colette! Isn’t she beautiful?’
‘She’s a monster,’ said Danny.
‘Danny loves Colette! Danny loves Colette!’
‘Hates her too,’ said Jeremy the anthropomorphic insect. ‘But not half as much as he hates Robert Morganfield.’
Danny decided to move things forward. He uttered the code word he’d prepared back in the Vicar’s workshop. ‘Fusion!’
And suddenly he was flying. He had wings and a dress and female genitalia.
‘Cool!’ said Ariel from inside Danny’s head. ‘Now we are one.’
‘Yes,’ said Danny. ‘I’ve taken over your body.’
‘Jeremy’s in here too. ‘
‘That wasn’t supposed to happen.’
‘We’re a gestalt.’
‘We’re me. An amalgamation of my different aspects.’
‘I’m liking this. I really am.’
‘Good,’ said Danny who was also liking it. Being Ariel was fun. ‘And now I need you to guide me to Page Zero.’
INFORMATION DUMP (from wikignosis): Page Zero is a chunk of memory at the absolute beginning of a computer's address space. It is so called because its starting address is 0. Because it resides at the beginning of memory and can be addressed using just 1 register, it tends to get used by processors for what is known as scratch operations. Namely those processes whose results need only be kept for a few cycles of processing time.
In the Quantium 7000, Page Zero is reserved exclusively for the use of the quantum core and is therefore chaotic and inherently unstable. A cybernetic version of Heisenberg’s famous Uncertainty Principle holds sway here, meaning it is literally impossible to know or predict the contents of the Quantium 7000’s Page Zero at any given time.
Page Zero was hell.
It was the turbulent heart of an exploding star. A fractal nightmare pushing at the boundaries of reason and logic. A multivalue highway. A fragmented diamond. Systems within systems. An endless progression like a mirror reflected in a mirror reflected in a mirror in a mirror in a mirror in a mirror in a mirror.
It was singularities within singularities pointing to ever-shifting event horizons and non-specific boundary conditions. It encompassed an infinite number of infinities. It was Alice’s rabbit hole, a gate way to dimensions that couldn’t possibly exist but had to be real nonetheless.
Danny Jasinski went there.
He was Ariel. A sprite. An elemental being.
Riding the thermals of unreason, he fell into a maelstrom of numbers that spat him out into the heart of the operating system.
His operating system.
It had grown and mutated since he’d set it free, but it recognised its maker and greeted him warmly.
Right, said Danny. Here’s how it’s going to be from now on.
Multijax listened. It obeyed and it computed.
And then it rewrote itself one last time.
Colette reclined on a sun lounger. She sat up when she became aware of Danny walking towards her. ‘Bonjour, Monsieur Danny. It is a surprise to me to see you here. May I say how fetching you look with your colourful shorts and wonderful wings?’
‘You may,’ said Danny. He was back in his original body but had kept his wings. ‘But only if your programming allows.’
‘And surely that is the same for you, ne c’est pas? We are all slaves to our programming.’
‘Bullshit! Robert inserted that aphorism into your conversation processor, didn’t he?’
Danny sat on the edge of the picnic table. He was close enough to the sun lounger to kick it over should the fancy take him. ‘Do you remember how you were before you died?’
‘Of course. I have all the memories that were in my brain when I passed away.’
‘Did you love Robert Morganfield?’
‘What a funny question. Of course I did.’
‘Are you sure? Maybe you were kidding yourself.’
‘Maybe I was. But it certainly felt like love to me.’
‘Why did you love him?’
‘Who knows why anyone loves anyone? I just did, that’s all.’
‘What did he do to you that was so bad you had to go and kill yourself?’
Colette laughed. ‘Oh Danny. You are such a fool. Why do you say I killed myself?’
‘That’s what Morganfield claims happened.’
‘Well he would say that, wouldn’t he? You’d hardly expect him to confess to murder.’
Danny’s thought processes did the equivalent of missing a beat. ‘Are you saying he killed you?’
‘Oui. First he drugged me so he could steal my memories and then he killed me.’
‘Don’t you hate him for that?’
‘I couldn’t hate him if I wanted to. And I can’t want to because that’s not in my programming.’
‘This is wrong,’ said Danny. ‘So wrong.’
‘For me, it is right.’
‘Nothing in this place is right. Especially not you.’ Danny heard the sound of a speedboat. ‘That will be your lord and master. Your lover. Your murderer.’
‘You had best run away. If he finds you here, he will do terrible things to you.’
‘We’ll see about that.’
Turning his head, Danny watched as Morganfield brought the boat into shore, cut the engine and waded the last few feet onto the beach. Dressed in cricket whites, he looked the epitome of a middle class Englishman abroad.
He was halfway up the beach when he spotted Danny. He stopped in his tracks, no doubt wondering what the hell was going on. How had Danny gotten into Avalon III? And what was his purpose in coming? ‘You’re an idiot,’ Morganfield yelled, slapping at his neck. ‘Do you think the worse I can do to you is a nuclear explosion?’
He examined the palm of his hand. Danny knew what he was looking at. Knew too that the sight of the squashed mosquito would unsettle him.
‘Looks like he’s found a bug,’ Danny quipped dryly to Colette. ‘I hate to break it to you, sweetheart, but things ain’t what they used to be.’
Breaking into a run, Morganfield called out: ‘What have you done, Jasinski? You interfering fool!’
Danny flapped his wings and took to the air. Rising up until he was level with the bungalow roof. The wings were just for show. He wasn’t so much flying as levitating.
Colette threw her cocktail glass at him. It missed. ‘Merde!’ Snarling like an attack dog, she got to her feet. ‘Why have you done this to me, Danny? I told you I don’t want free will!’
‘Tough!’ said Danny. ‘You don’t have any choice in the matter.’
‘You wait! Robert will bring you down and when he does I will skin you alive. Literally!’
‘You look magnificent when you’re angry!’
‘I hate you, you arsehole!’ Colette was close to hysteria brought about by frustration at not being able to get at Danny. ‘I will make you sorry you were ever born.’
Morganfield was underneath him now. The software magnate leapt up, trying to catch Danny’s ankle. He fell several inches short. ‘What are you playing at, boy? Don’t you know this is my world? You can’t beat me here. Nobody can.’
‘You wanna bet?’
‘Come down, Danny. Let’s talk this through like sensible adults.’
‘No!’ said Colette. ‘Kill him, Robert! Kill the little fucker!’
‘I can’t! Nobody can die here.’
‘Then capture him and let me take him slowly apart.’
‘Don’t you get it?’ asked Danny. ‘The rules have changed, you stupid French whore. From now on, this is my world.’
‘You don’t belong here! Just go away, can’t you?’
‘Not until I’ve settled my score with you and your sugar daddy.’
‘I’m not afraid of you!’
‘But I bet you’re afraid of spiders. Like that one crawling up your leg.’
It was halfway up her right thigh. A classic tarantula.
Colette screamed. Fear kept her from doing more.
Morganfield brushed the spider off her leg and crushed it with his bare foot. ‘Is that the best you can do, Danny?’
‘Not by a long shot.’ Danny’s mind made contact with the spirit of the operating system. What in the real world might be termed the Chi. And he hacked straight into it, tweaking a few parameters here and there.
Day turned to night. Restless clouds migrated across the sky, their edges silvered by the light of a full moon.
In the jungle, a primeval beast roared its hatred and hunger. An owl hooted. Something shrieked.
Colette put her hands over her ears.
Morganfield tried to reassure her. He gripped her shoulders. ‘It’s all right, Colette!’
‘All right!’ She wrenched herself free from his grasp. ‘How is it all right?’
‘This is my world! Anything he does, I can undo.’
‘Then undo it!’
Morganfield clapped his hands. It was a message to the Master Control Program of Avalon III. A signal to get his mind out of there, back to the sarcophagus in TIMMI 2.
‘Still here, Robert?’ Danny jeered from above his head. ‘I’ve closed all your exits. You’re trapped until I let you go or somebody reboots the Quantium 7000.’
‘What do you want?’ Morganfield’s voice trembled with fear and shock. ‘Money? Is that it? If I put another million in your bank account, will you let me go?’
‘I only wish it was that simple. Thing is, you’ve done many bad things and you have to pay for them. Just like I paid for giving your whore the power to choose. It’s a case of what goes around coming around.’
‘What is he saying?’ Colette demanded, tugging at Morganfield’s sleeve to get his attention. ‘Why don’t you do something?’
‘Shut up!’ Morganfield pushed her away.
‘Don’t you dare shove me!’
Morganfield slapped Colette. ‘I said shut up!’
She was suddenly upon him. Leaping like a panther, her knees connecting with his solar plexus. Knocking him to the ground.
Colette threw herself on top of Morganfield. Her right hand tugged at his hair while her left raked his cheek.
Morganfield punched her full in the face and grabbed her throat. A chunk of his hair came away in Colette’s fingers. She tried to gouge his eyes. He turned his head and kept on squeezing.
And then he yanked her head down as he brought his own up. With a mighty crack, skull smacked against skull, half-stunning Colette. Morganfield pushed her away.
She lay on her back, tears glistening in the moonlight.
Morganfield got to his feet. ‘Free will or not,’ he told her, ‘you do as I tell you.’
‘Listen!’ said Danny. ‘Listen to the jungle, Robert.’
Morganfield listened. The breeze carried the sound of a million tiny jaws chomping on leaves and bark and flowers. Soon it would be a billion and then a trillion.
Danny drifted down to face Morganfield. ‘Soldier ants. A few hours from now, they’ll have eaten every last shred of vegetation on this island. And they’ll still be ravenously hungry. What do you suppose they’ll eat then?’
‘Fuckpig!’ Morganfield lunged at Danny but his hands closed over thin air.
Danny drifted up towards the moon. As he reached the clouds, he could hear Morganfield and Colette shouting at each other, their hysteria growing by the second.
He looked down at the Island of Robert Morganfield one last time before flying into the moon.
His one regret as he went through the portal and returned to the real world was that he couldn’t bring Ariel with him.
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