“About that,” Jonas said with a sheepish expression on his face. “I’m really sorry. As I said, I am not supposed to be playing during working hours, but I just enjoy the game so much that I can’t help myself at times. It’s so cool to go back to the days of old, a time when men settled their differences with swords and...”

“You’re beginning to sound like a commercial,” Zak said impatiently. “Are you going to get to the point anytime soon?”

He noted a sudden unfriendliness that came over the group next to him. Their previously curious stares now transformed into something only a shade less than hostile. Evidently, these machines were sensitive to Human attitudes toward their kind. As the elevator doors opened and they all stepped into the car, Zak became more tense and alert. He prepared for trouble, just in case there was any sudden overt action from the group.

“Oh yes, sorry.” Jonas continued on without any indication that he’d noticed the sudden chill from his counterparts. “I do get carried away at times. I know I also tend to talk too much on occasion. Anyway, the game is a network game that’s interactive across Comm Net. I play with people from all over the world. It really is quite enjoyable meeting players from such varied backgrounds...

“There I go again, off on another tangent. Anyway, back to the point. A few weeks ago I was on an expedition with several of my fellow players. We were travelling through a new territory. You know, in the virtual world, when we came to a lake. It was really strange. The lake was huge, or at least I think it was a lake. I couldn’t see the far shore. Neither could any of my companions. I suppose it could have been an ocean.”

“And this is a mystery, why?”

“Well, like I said, I couldn’t see the far side of the lake. But there was an island some distance off shore and there was a dock with a barge tied to its posts. There was also a sign that said Tahmore Ferry.” Jonas looked toward the floor, his lips puckered in thought, before looking up at Zak again and continuing his story. “This may sound rather foolish. I know it probably doesn’t seem like such a big mystery to you. But I was the only one who could see it. The dock, the barge, the sign, even the island. None of the other players could see them in their game. Isn’t that kind of strange?”

“Not really.” Zak raked his hand through his hair, impatient for the elevator to reach their designated floor. “You probably have a different version of the game than they do.”

“No, I checked that” Jonas said. “We all have the same version. Besides, all the game modules are run from the server. Only the player’s characters and possessions are stored on the local machines. It just seems really bizarre, having all that stuff in my game and no one else has them in theirs. Tahmore Ferry. It could be another whole module or something, but how can my world be different than theirs if we are all running the same game module?”

“Look, I got more to do than worry about somebody’s sloppy game coding.” Zak told him. “It’s probably just some sort of error. You may have somehow triggered some forgotten code left over from an earlier version of the game that was never deleted. It happens more often than you might think.”

Jonas seemed to finally pick up on the fact that Zak wasn’t much interested in helping him with his gaming mystery. He stood silently studying Zak for a moment. “You don’t like us very much, do you? SHIAM, I mean.”

“About as much as I like my toaster,” Zak said.

The door of the elevator opened onto the two hundred and tenth floor. The half-dozen SHIAM remaining in the lift made no attempt to allow Zak an easy exit, their expressions fixed in hostile glares as he pushed past them and out the door.