Roake crouched close to the base of the brick wall and studied the deserted lane. The awkward caress of cloth rubbed against her shoulder as Jàl entered the game, stepping into the Mixed-Reality dimension close on her heals. His breathing harsh as he knelt by her side. A static charge caused the air to shimmered behind them. The digital closing of the doorway accompanied by a sucking vacuum sound, the noise created when the gateway morphed back into the brick façade.
Focused eyes peered between narrowed eyelids, shifting in grids, scanning the exposed walls of the quiet alley. She soothed the quicken pace of her heart adjusting to the heightened adrenaline coursing through her veins. Her fingers gently touched the bandage on her neck. A reminder of what can be.
Fighting to steady her nerves, she sucked in the heavy, stale air. Her lungs expanding, the slow rise of her chest stretching the pliable synthetic fibres of her drab, olive jump suit. Lungs filled to capacity, she began the practiced release of tension. The faint warm breeze ruffled the hairs on her arm as she slowly expelled the long, whispered breath. Her nerves settled. The apprehension of returning through the gateway and reengaging with the Verge, clawed at the back of her scalp, the memories faded but not forgotten.
Assuring that no danger waited their return to the game, her eyes retraced their circuitous route and stopped on the shadowed opening at the back of a building near the alleys mouth. The comforting square edges and smooth shapes of stacked boxes and assorted metal crates swam into focus. The merchandise appeared randomly stacked on the lip of a wooden shipping dock. The familiar pattern of the waiting packages eased her nerves further.
Roake flashed a hand signal and raised on her haunches. Keeping low to the ground, she left the relative security of the entrance and wormed across the barren, dusty alley for the boxes in the shadowed opening. Alert and focused, she took small comfort in the scrapes of Jàl’s footsteps as he crunched close behind. The noise of his movements mixed with the strange sounds emanating from the street on the front side of the buildings. The beginning of level one.
Pulling up tight into the dock’s shadows, Roake straightened along side the random crates. Her hands pushed the smaller boxes aside searching for the welcoming feel of the metal handles of a larger trunk. She pulled the heavy box closer, her fingers rushing to the clasps clamping the lid tight. The snap of the locks sounded frighteningly loud in her ears.
Relief swept across her face as she raised the lid. Particle rifles lay nestled in straw packing. The weapons lying in same configuration as every other time she’d opened the crate upon entering the game. Removing a rifle, she studied the contents in the bottom of the box. Smoke grenades snuggled in nests dug in the straw rested next to canvas cartridge belts and extra ammo clips for the rifles.
Roake passed one rifle behind her back then removed the secon. She laid it aside before digging back into the box for the belts. Sliding one to Jàl, she strapped a belt around her waist. Her fingers lifted the grenades from the straw. Fitting the small explosives in the loops on the canvas, her hands dove back into the box. She raised the slim plastic magazines, each carrying volatile charges of particle energy and stashed those in the pouch hanging on the side of the belt. Snapping the pouch closed, she turned and eyed Jàl.
The experience was new to him. On the previous trips to the Horizon she had been the one to carry the weapons. He, in his words, “was only along to explore and learn. She was the military expert.” This trip though, the situation required a concentrated armed presence. To exit the game without retrieving the Globe, downloading the stored information and then resolving the internal malfunction was not an option.
Two players meant two warriors ready to battle. Today, the novelty of scouring the Horizon for sport ended. Today, the game in 9-Dimension became a live version battlefield.
A chill ran the length of Roake’s spine as she considered the concept. Twitching against the curing bio-armour, she prayed that Jàl’s formula for the thin, transparent protective coating lived up to his expectations.
The memory of standing naked in the lab’s heated booth while jets of the sweet odoured, latex mist sprayed from the machine made her skin crawl.
The ring of nozzles rotated, spiralling from the floor to her chin and then reversed the pattern. Repeated applications, each with a short drying period in between, adhered to her skin, thickening with each pass. The final product only millimetres thick and translucent. The rubbery substance chafed and itched as it dried. The final cured product able to withstand short bursts of the Verge’s particle weapons before the molecules began breaking down. Or so Jàl calculated.
She tugged at her short red hair subconsciously. A red blush climbed her neck as she remember the shock of the cool spray on her bare skin, rising upward from her feet and then the involuntary sag of her body unused to the application of the slick substance. Her head and hair bowing below the cut off line for the spray nozzles. The first pass of the jets wet against her chin and clinging to the ends of the hair. She tugged at the few matted strands she was unable to free of the mixture.
Her vision traveled over the crates, the interior of the warehouse and the brick structure then 360 degrees back down to the wooden dock where the weapons crate rested. The games composite make-up hardened under her gaze. The building materials sharper, more defined beneath the grey luminescence of the games light.
Curious, she let her fingers slide along the platform of the loading dock. Her brain told her that the properties of the games components were merely faux renderings mimicking reality. But yet under her finger tips the surface felt rough and real.
She rubbed the edge of the weapons box. The metal cool to her touch. What was happening. Was her mind tricked or was the game morphing into reality.
A tap on her shoulder brought her focus back to the present.
“Are you alright?” Jàl queried.
“Yeah. I’m fine,” she glanced at Jàl and then back at the metal box on the wooden dock. “Am I going crazy or are these objects adopting the properties of our world?”
Jàl’s eyes followed Roake’s stare. “The algorithms are programmed to create. The better they understand the groundliers world, the closer to reality the mock-ups. The detail is so fine that our minds have difficulty differentiating between the 3D renderings contained in this dimension and reality.” He shrugged. “Or something along those lines. I could delve into long complex scientific jargon but actually I’m not certain how the transformation is taking place.
He stopped, scratching the back of his head and looked over the contents in the warehouse. “The program needs to closely replicate the groundlier’s level to find a suitable place to portal into their world.”
“What will that mean for us? And…” he paused. “I know what you’re thinking. Does this make the Verge deadlier? Well, I hope not,” Jàl stared into Roake’s face. “but none the less. We should try to avoid the beasts and their particle guns.”