Jàl pried open his eyes. Light seeped under his fluttering lids. A throbbing pain on the side of his skull accompanied blurred vision. Ignoring muscles cramped from hours of being frozen in an uncomfortable position, he willed his joints to move, shaking free and sat upright. Numb fingers rubbed sleep away from his eyes before he passed his fingers across the side of his head. Pressing lightly, he probed at the centre of the pain radiating on the side of his head. His fingers discovering a tangle of hair matted by dried blood.
Still dazed, he lifted his head. Curiosity forced his vision to probe the strange surroundings. A world of white absorbed his probing before the void canvas melted under his gaze. As his awareness returned, he sat captivated by the hazy mirages materializing out of the re-booted digital world while it crept back into focus. The games programming refreshing and growing with detail.
Business signs flashed to being over sunken doorways. The glass of the windows tossed forward reflections of the street’s surroundings, and the concrete sidewalks bordering the buildings molded into shape. Lamp posts and garbage bins phased into existence, cars shimmered into the picture along with the curbs and medians separating the sidewalk from the road surface.
Watching the streetscape develop in conjunction of his building cognizance, confusion surrendered to a slide of images from his last waking memories. The dark alley and the calling of light. A well hidden opening that breached into existence as the darkness dissolved. How the pair broke through the opening at the alley mouth and finally the flashes in the darkness that searched for them on the other side. On this side?
The reel of memory from the previous night continued. The flash of Roake’s blaster flaring into the night. Verge lined the street, waiting. The monsters slow to return fire. The impact of Roake’s body as it crushed the air from his body at contact and the flitting of pain when his skull and the wall made contact.
He swivelled his head, stopping when he located Roake. Slight movements of her head suggested she lay awake. Her body scrunched on the sidewalk feet from where he sat. From the back of her skull, he slid his eyes along the sidewalk stopping at her side. Even from this position, he noticed her arm and the awkward angle it lay trapped beneath her body.
With the lifting fog, his mind cleared. He searched farther out. The street lay open and bright before his gaze. No Verge. In fact little of anything exciting. A line of buildings now filled the opposing sidewalk. The rendered businesses similar to the level before, except.
He strained his eyes. The exterior walls of the opposing buildings flickered with alternating details. Digital renderings blended with real world texture. From his seat against the wall, Jàl couldn’t be certain but his eyes roamed sections of the walls where the games program appeared to have broken the barrier from digital to real world properties. Could it be possible the algorithms had pieced together enough strands of information of the groundliers world that they were able to begin replicating an actual duplicate?
Excitement pried the darker thoughts from the previous evening away from Jàl’s mind until a pain evoked groan from Roake brought him back to the present. He studied the fallen soldier as she rolled onto her back and then climbed to her knees.
“What…happened?” Her voice scratchy and uncertain while her head swivelled back and forth across the barren street.
Roake’s question turned over in his mind. Other thoughts dropped while he considered different possibilities. The more he pursued the answer, the deeper he delved into the the past and present, the faster the rush of activity powering his brain sped up the re-booting of the game’s 2nd level. Human forms began repopulating the sidewalks and streets. A few here and there at first followed by larger clusters. Soon, people walked back and forth. The crowds closest, stepping around the section of sidewalk occupied by he and Roake. The game pieces followed their predetermined roles for the current level of play.
“You are doing this?” A tinge of awe and fright wrapped Roake’s words as they scraped at the edge of his being. The scene playing in the recesses of his mind consisted of lines of code while outside his head, his eyes witnessed the reawakening of the 2nd level street scene as it bloomed into digital life. Impulses sparked the enhanced neurones in his brain recreating the minute details of the preprogrammed coding fleshing out the Mixed-Reality world saved in the games memory board.
“Jàl.” Roake’s voice accompanied a shove to the shoulder. Jàl dropped the connection with the games circuits and looked up into Roake’s ashen face. She held her injured arm tight to her body.
“We have to move. We’ll talk about this later,” she said, referencing the paired awaking of the games operating system and Jàl’s conciousness. “You linked with mainframe. The Verge will be sure to follow.” Cries and shrieks whipped up the air in the distance underlining her hurried words.
“There.” She pointed. The outline of an alley showed between two lines of structures a half block down the street. The only discernible clue available to lead to the hidden stash of weaponry. Jàl shook free the cobwebs left from binding with the games electronic brain and staggered to his feet. One final gaze around before Roake’s hard grip pulled him along.
The two raced among the crowd of game pieces plugging the sidewalk and rounded the corner into the alley. Roake continued down the path. The high walls of the buildings throwing a vail of shadow to cover their movements.
Built into the side of a building. A similar niche to level one. A low concrete dock hidden in the darkest shadows supporting a host of wooden crates. Jàl leaned his back tight against a wall watching Roake run through her paces. The opening of the crate. The searching glove hand and the retrieval of fresh particle rifles.
Pushing off the wall, Jàl reached forward and grabbed the rifle extended from Roake’s hand. In the grip of his other hand, he accepted a bus of ammunition. With practiced familiarity, he jammed the spare cartridges into his belt. His actions completed without a single thought. His mind occupied with curiosity at the process that unfolded upon his waking.
The gist of his ruminations: how the electric pulse of the game’s system and his conciousness appeared locked in sync. At least from the small example of this mornings activities, that was the foundation he adopted to form his thesis.
“What happened once we exited from the alley?” He asked Roake.
“The Verge were waiting on us. Lines of them blocked the street when we crossed.”
“I seem to remember that. I must have passed out after you tackled me.” His fingers probed the welt on the side of his head. “What can you add? What happened with the Verge? How did you drive them off?”
“I don’t recall exactly.”
“Nothing? How did you stop the verge from finishing us off? We were short of ammunition?”
“I…I really don’t remember. I turned back to fight the Verge after pushing you from the line of fire. From the edge of my sight I noticed you collided with the wall and then…,” Roake paused turning away from the cache of weapons to stare into Jàl’s face. “I awoke, lying face down on the sidewalk, my arm twisted underneath my body. I think the pain woke me.” She sat back on the low concrete dock. Her good hand kneading the muscles of her injured arm.
“I don’t know what happened, but when my eyes first opened, the thought that we died crossed my mind. I remember seeing…a…a clean canvas free of all detail.” Roake struggled to put words to her unusual awaking. “I fully expected some ethereal vision to materialize.
I know I’m rambling and this sounds very unprofessional, but I was scared. Thankfully, when the landscape slowly shifted into sight, that feeling disappeared. It’s hard to explain.”
Roake studied Jàl’s face. “Is it possible that this program and your mind are fused together that when you lost conciousness, the game was forced to shut down? And if that’s true…as you woke, the program rebooted?”
“Anythings possible.” Jàl agreed. “And if we run with that theory. The update to your implant would shut you down as well.”
“So we don’t die caught inside this dimension when the game pauses. I guess that’s a plus.” Roake returned to sorting through the cache of weapons. “Allows us time to comb each level to discover the globe's whereabouts. But, we still have to track whatever is over-riding your commands and regain control of the program. Then we’ll be able to complete this part of the mission and return to our own reality.”