Jàl’s fingers rubbed along the grained edge of the wooden chair. His hands kept busy while he perched on the edge of the seat. Bent at the waist, his upper body rocked back and forth, his eyes riveted on Roake’s face, studying the smallest quiver of her nostrils and the slight rise of her chest as she burned with fever.
The genius IQ setting him above all others created an array of fireworks inside his brain. Equations and formulas, practical thought and learned history all fought to the front of his thoughts leaving him a helpless prisoner of his own device.
The unfamiliar feelings caused by the sight of his friend suffering the dreadful illness railed against a mechanical, calculating logic. The result, in effect, a shutdown of the nervous system.
Strange visions pried his being free of its mortal vessel. His mind soared out of the dark room and floated on a phantom breeze. A strange sensation accompanied his ethereal voyage as the entrance of the store floated by underneath. The outside, welcoming in an anxious way.
A green mist mixed with the daylight greeted his arrival. Groups of game pieces populated the sidewalks, the human forms frozen in mid movement. Past the safety of the sidewalks, the paved streets cluttered with motionless cars. The vehicles static, but his mind noted the engine exhaust as it lifted on unseen wings of a breeze, climbing to meet him.
Faces in the crowds flitted by underneath. Some looking ahead, some staring across and a few, with a tinge of yellow ringing their eyes, tilted upward. Jàl’s passing captured in the frozen gaze of his enemy. The monsters unable to halt his progress, yet the large pupils of their bulbous eye tracked his movements.
The scene shifted. Buildings from past nightmares introduced a new street. One he’d never witnessed in his romp through the Mixed-Reality dimension, but by now, growing all too familiar because of the ghost of images loosed upon his thoughts from earlier in the game.
The buildings lay exposed in different stages of completion. The spirit of Jàl’s being floated close to the brick behemoths. High pitched cries and swirling whines clawed at the air and assaulted his mind. The building’s foundations sparkled and fizzled in a reality caught between alternating dimensions.
An image took form behind the veiling mist. The obstructed apparition hinted of the illusive Globe, the outline in the mist transforming into a translucent embodiment much like the avatar from a previous visit. Intrigued, Jàl studied the spirits face. Her lips moved but the words failed to span the distance between the two. The manifestation’s arm pointed down toward the forming buildings. The structures fluctuate between digital renderings and a version of reality. Jàl ’s mind soared while deciphering the meaning.
A vicious jerk yanked his trapped thoughts free. In his mind’s eye he witnessed the physical world threaten to shatter amidst the twisting and convulsing of a terrifying agony. A last, fleeting look revealed scores of Verge, large, bulbous faces pointed heaven ward, the monster’s faces gripped with disbelief as the reality of their world crumbled.
The result, in effect, the tortured cries of a nervous system on the edge of collapse. The imagined aftershocks sparked a twinkle of awareness in Jàl’s fracturing mind. The deeper Jàl sank into the trance, the faster he rocked, the tighter his grip on the wooden arms of the chair as they slid back and forth, his weight held precariously on the edge of the wooden seat.
The actions continued uninhibited by time or circumstance until the friction of gripping flesh wore past the lacquered finish of the chair’s arm. The disturbed material responded by freeing a thin sliver of wood, the loose element pressed deep into the flesh of Jàl’s finger.
The prick of pain altered the trajectory of Jàl’s downward spirall. The sliver of wood igniting nerves and wiring a response of discomfort that travelled the fibres in his arm and pinged his sensory receptors of the foreign anomaly. With a shift in paradigm, the rocking and rubbing shifted.
Jàl’s recovery started with the realization of the rough texture of the wood frame. Digital copies lacked all and any properties able to produce such a sensation. The minuscule fragment of reality stuck in his finger, a totally unrelated thought. He shook himself away from the edge of the mental abyss, straightening in his chair. With out attempting to remove the pain inducing prop, he glanced around the room.
The darkness of his mind opened to the dim lit interior, the poor lighting revealed little more than layers of shadows. Hidden along the back of the mostly deserted space, among the few pieces of sparse furnishings, Jàl glanced at the table supporting the feverish Roake.
Curiosity moved his hand. With the aid of the sensitive skin wrapping the tips of his fingers, he contemplated the unusual texture of the piece. The actual feel of wood not overly unusual, nor the arm of a chair, but put the two together in a world borne of digital reproductions and…
Jàl rubbed his finger tips together. The spark that flickered in his conscious sputtered. What had broke the trance? Like a great awakening waited just out of grasp. The haunting feeling of knowing something very important beckoned but a firewall surrounded his dulled mind and refused to take the final step to understanding.
The sharp throb of pain pulled his attention back to the sliver. Jàl raised his hand close to his face. The light left little hope of his eyes narrowing his search. Jàl placed the stuck finger in his mouth and ran his tongue over the hurt. The nub scratched across the nerves. Trial and error and minutes of probing, his teeth gripped the sliver as he pulled his finger away. Careful not to drop the minute piece of stray wood, he brought his hand close to his eye. The sliver melded with the light hiding the object from his brain but the action proved advantageous. Digital renderings lacked the composition to produce stray chunks of wood.
From the sliver trapped in his finger tips, Jàl pressed his other hand tight to the table top. The texture easily distinguished from a simple, one dimensional rendering. The two pieces radiated with a quality lacking in the digital frame work. Jàl’s fingers played across the surfaces, his brain trying for a conclusion it knew existed but remained just beyond reach.
Pushing away from the chair, he stumbled to his feet and walked the few steps toward a pile of furniture draped in thick plastic. Drawing the cover away, he bent low, tilting his head to take advantage of the weak light available.
Again his fingers relayed messages to his brain that his eyes were slow to detect. These pieces also reflected the multiple textures one would expect of products created in the real world. Jàl knelt and touched the floor. The concrete cold and coarse. Curiosity burned. The lack of light frustrating.
He glanced back where Roake lay. He picked out dull reflections where light highlighted small samples of her silhouette. They were still inside the Mixed-Reality dimension, of that he was certain, but his short reconnaissance of the room’s interior convinced him that the space would fit comfortably outside the games parameters. The pieces of furniture, with their cloth and wood finishes, obviously marked them as ancient artifacts but still…
Could the algorithms have reached the point where they were able to decipher the reality of the groundliers world? Jàl felt his heartbeat increase with anticipation. He was close to finding a portal to the earth’s surface? Perhaps the dreams and images that rocked his brain during the tremors were a map to follow? He needed more information then the few samples that sat close by. The blinding darkness annoyed him. A scan of the room might reveal more clues but he feared bringing a light source to bare. Touching the grid meant a visit by the Verge.
Jàl worked his way back to the chair. His eyes searched the shadows around Roake’s sleeping body as if an answer would appear. In his search, his eyes tripped upon the cartridge belt wrapped around her waist. Jàl stood in such a hurry his chair tipped back and banged off the floor.
Grabbing the stock of his rifle left leaning against the table, he moved into a cleared section of the room and dug a particle cartridge free of his belt. Placing the plastic capsule on the floor, he lined the butt of his rifle with the bullet, readied his arms, then lifted his face, staring past the dark toward a wall. A breath leaked from his lips as he steadied his rapidly beating heart and with a quick strike, slammed the butt of the gun down.
His breath froze in his throat. The brief light filled the room. The wall where he locked his gaze exploded into a vision that challenged his brain. Jàl gasped at the image. Even with the lack of time to capture more of the reveal, a conclusion settled on him. The level he and Roake had stepped into no longer resembled the game he had created all those years ago.
By no means could he have imagined the spectacle he witnessed. A second cartridge met the butt of his rifle. His eyes focused in a different direction. The flash of light returned the same result. The interior no longer favoured the digital world.
Excitement fuelled his growing curiosity. How did the program accomplish the realism? Could a possible gateway to the groundliers world be in sight? Jàl considered the snatches of proof he sat amongst, careful to restrain the threads of hope. The changes to the algorithms may confirm his theory but finding the globe remained crucial. The collected information gathered inside the memory banks would be paramount to the completion of the mission. How could he use this information to complete the game? A mission that became increasingly difficult by the illness consuming Roake.