Like the previous two attempts to emerge from the alleys and gain entrance to the front streets, the walls and road looped on the same repeating sequence. Dark hovered close overhead when Roake turned her back to the closest wall and leaned back with frustration.
“This shit is hopeless.” She protested. “Another never ending circle. Maybe we stepped through the wrong opening back at the bank.”
“Yeah. I don’t know.” Jàl conceded. He extended his arm and joined Roake, bracing his palm against the building. Through the thin layer of his glove, an unfamiliar granular composition pricked through his glove. The hardened material scratching his skin. Bending his arm, he craned his neck, bringing his head closer.
“What?” He heard Roake ask.
Jàl rubbed his hand over the rough surface. His hands travelled away and then returned to the rougher section of wall. “This area,” he patted the brick with his hand, “same composition as the bricks in the bank. They have texture unlike the indistinguishable qualities of the program rendered materials. The feel is coarse. I can’t explain.” Jàl’s fingers searched his belt before he turned to Roake.
“A light. What do we have that can light this space?”
Roake lifted her rifle and ejected the cartridge of shots. “I can ignite one of these,” she dug a single shot from the plastic holder. “It will only last a few seconds and it might signal any Verge lurking close by.” The constant muted cries of the monsters accompanied the pair as they walked the never ending alley.
“We need to chance it. Set the blast off when I say I’m ready.” Jàl placed his nose millimetres from the wall. “Okay, light it.” he called from over his shoulder. Roake set the small casing on the ground and tapped it with the butt of her rifle. A bright flash bloomed in the alley. The light flared, fizzled and then faded back to dark.
In the flicker of light, Jàl caught an unexpected result from the corner of his eye. “Come over here and try that one more time,” He requested shuffling a few yards further down the length of the alley. His voice broke the silence when the second shell burnt out.
Jàl watched the seemingly solid wall reveal the skeletal outline of a large opening with the addition of light. He edged closer in the darkness and rubbed his hands over the brick wall. “The opening disappears with the darkness. What we need is a more permanent light source to freeze the opening and allow us to pass.” his hand patting the wall he watched disintegrate under the flare of the particle flash.
“How long long do you think it remained opened?” Roake asked.
“A millisecond. Maybe two.”
“If you leaned tight to the wall, would you pass through in that short of span?”
“I’m not certain. And if not, I don’t know what would happen if one was caught in the transformation?”
“Why didn’t we spot the opening as we walked? Darkness hadn’t completely fallen when we approached this section?”
“Good question.” Jàl raised his head and looked skyward. He measured the height of the wall and the angle the light flooded the alley. His mind churned with calculations. “The light came from over there.” He pointed to the top of the building. “This side was consumed in shadow when we arrived. So, no light to trigger the opening.”
“What made you think of using light to reveal the archway?”
“I didn’t.” He confessed. “I thought that maybe with the feel of the brick, words would be inscribed into the mortar. I hoped that it was the same as the bank. A hidden pad used to open a passage.”
“If I burn many more blasts, we’ll be in trouble if the Verge find us. And they don’t offer a long enough light.”
Jàl’s fingers played a muted rhythm on the wall while he worried over the problem. Pushing off the wall, he turned and studied Roake in the near absence of light.
“I need to connect with the main frame. I can reconfigure a light source to shine on the wall.”
“The second you do that we’ll be overwhelmed with those nasty beasts. Even with their poor aim we’ll be trapped and easy targets.”
“I know. What other choice. Remain stranded? We can’t complete the course from here.”
Roake stroked her jaw. “This is what we’ll do.” Her tactical training twisted the limited options the two faced into a simple, desperate plan. Facing down the alley, away from Jàl, Roake jammed the last, full clip of ionized particle blasts into the rifle and calmly knelt on one knee.
A quick glance back at Jàl assured her that he too stood ready. His hands held waist high, his finger caressing the trigger.
“Now or never,” she called. Fringes of soft white light edged into her conciousness. Jàl stood frozen. His eyes lost focus. His mind soared, travelling on invisible wave lengths connecting to the digital pulses of the game’s operating system.
Blood curdling shrieks hammered Roake’s thoughts free of Jàl’s mind. The spritzing of colourful flashes eased. Focusing her sight on the dark alley, the growing shrieks and winning of the Verge erupted into the night. A light flared from behind.
The bumbling forms of angry monsters swarmed her vision. Roake sucked a long breath deep into her gut. Tracking the beasts movements, she pressed the rifle’s trigger. A well placed beam of charged energy sliced through the leg of the lead Verge. The action toppling the beast to the ground. Others piled into the fallen leader.
The next creature to step past the tangled pile, Roake adjusted her aim and caught the monster centre mass. The searing blast exploding on contact sending spray of red matter back over the others.
“Clear in front.” Jàl’s voice sounded. Standing quickly, Roake launched one last glance at the monsters then turned and stepped the few short yards toward the mouth of the alley. Jàl fired back across her at the rumbling monsters.
“Hurry,” he urged. “I don’t know how long the opening will remain.”
Roake dove the last few feet. Lowering her shoulder, she caught Jàl flush in the back, driving him forward. The two tumbled past the entrance in the brick. The contact with Jàl shattered his concentration. No sooner did the pair smack into the road on the other side, the alley left behind plunged back into darkness. The opening sealed quickly by the faux brick of the digital rendering.
The solid barrier cut off the shrieks and whines of the Verge from behind but the monsters calls began lifting into the air from the near distance. Roake rolled to her knees. With eyes wide, she stared into the endless darkness, watching, waiting. The change of surroundings hidden completely from view. Not a single stray strand of light available to hint at the game’s approaching dangers.
With nerves on fire, she struggled to remain still. All around she could sense the night move. The uneasy breathing of her partner audible. Anxiety tickled the edge of her being then slowly began the climb up from the base of her spine. The mournful wails of the Verge, a ominous wall of sound that threatened to overtake the pair as they knelt in the night. The helpless feeling accompanied by short spikes of adrenaline and then cooled by equal doses of dread formed the realization that her and Jàl were not alone.
Braced on one knee, Roake swept the barrel of her rifle across the dark void. As the gun came back to centre, she squeezed the trigger. The micro-second flash of the particle beam exploded into the dark. Her breath caught in her throat with the picture revealed by the short blast of light.
A wall of Verge lined the street not 20 feet from where she and Jàl burst through the wall. The monsters silent and waiting. At the trigger of her shot, she witnessed large blasters raise toward her position. Borne of instinct and multiplied by panic, she rose sideways and dove for Jàl. Her movements swam under the heated air of searing beams. The immediate area lit up like day from the impulses of the monster’s fire.
Words tore from her throat as she yelled a warning at Jàl before bowling him over. Her sight followed his movements. She gasped in horror as his head collided heavily with the brick wall. The loud thud of skull bone mashing against an unforgiving obstacle echoed over the symphony of excitement voiced by the Verge. A cry of shock sounded from his lips. Roake’s vision fell from Jàl’s crumpling form as a blinding pain bit into her brain. Her arm bent awkwardly under the weight of her body as she bounced off the ground.
Dazed, she fought through the pain of her injury, twisting her head to locate Jàl in the trailing light of enemy fire. She watched him sag against the brick wall. His head lulled then sank. His eyes losing focus before they closed. Darkness and silence erased her thoughts.