“How much do you weigh,” Roake ran her eyes over Jàl’s slight frame.
“A buck 70, maybe 180?” She guessed.
“With the equipment I carry, sure mid 170’s, I suppose.”
“These new bio suits. You said act as an exoskeleton. Correct?”
“Yesssss.” Jàl drew out the word. “What do you have in mind? You’re rather confusing.”
Roake shrugged away his query. Rising slightly, she peered past a crumpled fender. The Verge had ambled past the stack of rusted autos the pair had first used as shelter. The monsters continued marching. Particle beams of searching fire bled over the street. The herd's collective thoughts bound the creatures movements, restricting the Verge from separating and flanking their prey.
“What I need you to do is concentrate on manipulating the programming. Delete that bottom car leaving a tunnel to escape through.”
A puzzled look contorted Jàl’s face. “If I do that, I won’t be able to escape. I’m immobile while I link up, so I’m sorry, am I missing something?”
“I don’t have time to explain. You won’t be left behind, but you do have to hurry. If the Verge get any closer, our avenue of escape closes.”
Jàl glanced from Roake up the way the screams and shrills approached. “Okay.”
“One more thing. Stand up and face back down the street, first.” Roake ordered pointing in the direction of the advancing beasts.
Braced against the twinning of minds she fought free of the fingers of paralyzing light that ringed her conscious as she sensed Jàl’s conscious touch the grid. Violently shaking her head, she drove away the urge to follow him into the network. A loud roar rose from the pit of her stomach and rushed past her lips freeing her will and driving her to action. In her mind, she called forward the suit’s schematics. A few simple brain impulses adjusted the bio-skeleton, routing the power supply.
With the guttural cry dying on her lips, Roake leapt from the ground, locked her arms around Jàl and left the shelter of the dilapidated autos, running. The extra weight of her partner slowed her step. Shafts of super-heated molecules dazzled the air. Her lungs burned from the added exertion and the particle singed atmosphere.
Roake raced. Her vision fixed on the crushed junker she and Jàl had used on the previous run through the level. Each step closer she increased her prayers for Jàl’s success in altering the game’s code and giving them a slight advantage. If the algorithms, learning and creating of new layers to the coding could thwart the pair, then why couldn’t Jàl work the system to complete the mission.
These thoughts egged Roake and her cargo forward. The bulk of Jàl’s body blocked most of the view as the pair fled, but past the edge of his side, a thin sliver of the targeted car remained in a blurry focus. A loud raucousness of piercing screams and cries thundered down from behind. Maybe her calculations about the beasts was wrong. Was it possible the meeting of Jàl’s mind with the games mainframe brought forward even larger numbers of the Verge?
The racket flooding the street threatened to overwhelm her thoughts as the probing of the particle rifles grew closer and closer. A few more steps she urged her fatigued legs. Her arms protested and her back contorted with a numbing pain. Then from the corner of her eye, the target car flickered then evaporated from sight. A gaping black hole yawned back. Time slowed. She felt the even heartbeat in Jàl’s chest and the shallow relaxed breath circulating through his body.
He did it, she remembered thinking. A couple more yards and freedom. These notions jotted across her mind at the same time a flash of light stole her vision. Then in rapid fashion, her mind captured snippets of reality. Jàl exploded out of her arms. His body immobile as it lurched backward. Did her ears actually detect the sound of his skull smacking against the ground or did her mind build a soundtrack to what her eyes witnessed.
She felt her body react to the explosion, instinctively turning away to escape the force of the blast. The move left her face to face with the lumbering Verge. The bulky heads of the monsters bobbing as their slow gait brought them within reaching distance, rifles raised, searing streams of heat particles glowing from the end of the guns.
The soldier in Roake refused to accept defeat. Her chest rose as she gulped the hot air into her lungs before releasing a second, louder roar of defiance. The gaping hole created by Jàl’s will beckoned from mere feet away. Scooping Jàl’s limp body off the road, she risked a quick glance at his face. Fluttering eyelids warned of his struggle to remain coherent. Determined, her legs pumped and her arms trembled with a spike of adrenaline, the combination propelling her forward down the final stretch of barren street and into the digital tunnel.
Darkness clawed at the edges of her brain as she staggered under the arch of discarded metal. Her lungs burned with exertion and the muscles in her arms threatened to relieve themselves of their burden. One foot followed the other. Her eyes dropped to Jàl’s face. A sigh of air left his body as he submitted to the collision with the road.
The cries and wailing of the Verge suddenly ceased. Roake twisted her neck. The opening Jàl created with his mind, shimmered. The crumpled body of the car reclaimed the hole at the bottom of the junk pile.
Roake took one last stumbling step. The weight of J al’s body to much for her waning strength. She sank to her knees. The air in front of her face brightened to incredible hues. Blotches of light too intense for the human eye to register. Her arms ignored her wish to shield her eyes before an all encompassing darkness swooped in and swallowed her world.
Jàl peeked from closed eye lids. A blank screen welcomed his return to the living. Shapes began forming the blank canvas as electrical impulses stirred neurones inside his brain. The slow awakening bringing the digital world back into existence.
Roake swam into focus. She sat hunched over on her knees. Her head lulled and her eye lids fluttered before she pried them open. Her eyes focused above his head on something behind where he lay. Jàl lungs filled with shallow breaths. Mesmerized, he watched the reemergence of the digital world, a flourish of colours and properties, as it coincided with his revived awareness. The deafness of silence accompanied the reintroduction of the games programming.
“We can’t keep doing this,” Roake’s comment shattered the silence. Jàl watched her push off the ground and rise to her feet. A beam of light scorched the ground near her feet. Stunned, Jàl turned from her words lifting his eyes upward to the towering pile of scrap metal. The bulky profile of a Verge silhouetted against the digital sky.
His instincts lagged. Roake’s hand clamped onto his arm dragging him closer to the wall. She stopped at the base of a door. Her free hand gripped the knob. The door held fast.
“Huh,” a rhetorical laugh erupted from deep within Roake’s gut. “What next?” She cursed. Raising her rifle, she struck the protruding lock with the butt of the rifle. The door swung outward. Roake pulled the metal slab out of the way and motioned for Jàl to enter. She chanced one last look to the top of the scrap heap. The single Verge was joined by his mates. The air between the scrap pile and the building heated with competing blasts of energy.
Roake flung herself through the opening pulling the door shut behind.