The bulky heads of the monsters floated above. His mind screamed move, but his body lay still, locked in a horizontal position, his arms pinned, his legs immobile. Details rushed unobstructed into his head assaulting his senses as the fog covering his eyes cleared.
The room glowed bright. A brightness he’d never witnessed before. Harsh but yet unyielding. And the monsters. A quick flick of his eyes revealed the awkward shells of the Verge crowed close. Too close. The beasts bulbous snouts bent low in his direction and their bulging eyes pinning him to who knew what.
An extra beat of his heart began his heart rate escalating. A film of sweat coated his skin. The beads of water from the warmth in the room…or from fear. Jàl analyses the feelings racing through his veins. Maybe not so much fear as an innate curiosity.
The lumbering beasts stood placidly along side the bench he lay secured. Not a word or yet…a shriek, broke the silence, the guttural screams known of the Verge as a usual means of communication. Could he not summon the grid from such a position, the thought rolled amongst the myriad of theories his mind rallied up to normalize his predicament.
The constraints clamping his head refused to ease. His face blushing red from exertion but failed to connect with the programs mainframe.
“Clear the room.” The soft spoken words drove like a hammer into Jàl’s busy mind. I can understand the Verge, he thought. Since when or why not before? The words wrenched his world of reasoning askew. The whole game and not a clue as to the monsters way of reasoning and now…
The sagging brownish skinned beasts pulled from his sight while another entered into his limited vision. The eyes of the monster, an opaque black as they stared down into his face. A flinch of fear shivered through his curiosity as the beast raised its hands and gripped its bulky head. Then the unexpected. The monster’s transformation swooned in reverse. Instead of a human form evolving into the crumpled skinned beast, the bulky head lifted, revealing…
“You gave us quite the fright,” the beast lowered one hand in a friendly fashion. “How do you feel?”
“I..I…” Jàl stuttered. His eyes drank in the altered actions of the beast, his mind numbed, taken aback by the words and manner of his nemesis.
“Conners Lee,” the monster continued its diatribe. “When the wall glowed and you came through, we knew little of what to expect. The good news is you’re cleared. No known contagions.” The beast continued removing its outer skin.
His head held tight by constraints, Jàl shifted his eyes to the side to watch the beasts movements. “I…you…speak…in English?” The question tripped across his lips.
“Yes, as do you, it appears.” The beast replied.
“Where are we? What level? Well, this is new.” Jàl jabbered. His mind raced to update and rationalize his thought process. The threat by the Globe, the scrubbing of the digital alley and the reveal of the doorway on the rebuild. He sighed. He truly believed the doorway to the groundliers lay within his grasp…but instead, some perverted version of a new level.
Disappointment sapped his hope. Poor Roake, his mind touched upon “What do we do now? Where does this go?” The muscles in his neck grew taut and his arms tugged against the table straps holding him prone. Relaxing, he tore his eyes away from the monster and shifted them to capture the interior of the bright room. The silence was interrupted when he realized the monster spoke a name.
“How is it you are called by name? You are but a digital reproduction, a figment of my programming.” Jàl returned his gaze to the exposed face of his captor. Under the glaring lights, the beasts feature were awash with reality. How, what…Jàl closed his eyes and his mind scrubbed the latest images imprinted on his brain before he slowly peeled open his eyelids. The monster remained and the room sat bathed in the same harsh lighting.
Conners Lee scrubbed the stubble on his chin. “What game? What exactly do you believe happened?”
“The game. My Mixed-Reality dimension. You must know, you’re a part of it.” Then Jàl fell silent. He was trying to communicate with a pre-programmed entity. Did the Verge disrupt his escape with their blasters? Was he now seriously injured and his mind brought him to this place as a form of safety?
Then a second more abrupt thought seized his thoughts. Was this the Globe’s way of dealing with him. Did she not say that his journey ended in the alley? Could she be in his mind at this time dishing out her own version of reality to keep him off balance?
Jàl squeezed his lids shut once more. He released all stray thoughts and freed his mind to soar and connect with the main-frame. Nothing. Nervous shivers ran the length of his body as he tried harder. Finally exhausted, he blinked open his eyes. The Verge remained posted as before.
“Is this the Globe’s doing?” he asked, near defeat.
“You don’t make a lot of sense, buddy.” The monster replied.
“How is it you can remove your head?” Jàl wondered through his building trepidation.
“What. This?” The monster lifted the bulky covering with the bulging eyes and flat, protruding snout. “This is simply a part of my suit. For the past few days your body has been fighting off a very deadly strain of disease. That, I am happy to report, is no longer the case. The suit is no longer needed. Looks like you’ll be fine.”
“Seriously, Verge, what level is this. How advanced has the program evolved? Oh,” as an after thought, Jàl tugged again at his restraints. “If everything is as you say, why am I held prisoner?”
“What exactly do you recall?” The monster quizzed.
Jàl stared at the Verge, “Alright I’ll play along. The alley where you attacked. I rebuilt it and found the door to…” Jàl pictured in his mind the appearance of the doorway in the brick wall and his hand pulling the door open, then the powerful light.
“I made it through, didn’t I? This is the Groundlier’s lair?”
The monster scrunched its face. “We like to call it Earth or home or…well, I’m sure you get it. What door did you make it through? You burst through a wall in an obscure alley. Lucky too, the disease had ravaged your system. Much longer and I think we would not be having this conversation.”
Fear and doubt slipped from Jàl’s body. “How long have I been like this?”
“Since Monday at least. And the restraints. They were for your safety. The disease, it had you in its grasp. At first, we didn’t think you’d make it. For endless hours you tossed so violently that we feared you’d breathed your last, but here you are.”
‘Where I was found…can you tell me?”
The monster raised a finger to his lips then nodded toward a camera in the back corner of the room with a tilt of his head. “I think delirium may have gotten the better of you, friend. There is no game or secret doorway. No, probably just the hangover of a deadly virus. Don’t you worry, all will be fine now.”
The monster bent low. Busy fingers loosening the straps tightly secured to Jàl’s arms and legs. For the first time, Jàl noticed the monster’s hands. Fingers of flesh, long and slender not the stubby appendages he’d associated with the Verge of earlier. Maybe, he thought…
“Where are we? You aren’t…” he let the sentence hang as the monster swept around the table. The last of the restrictions holding him to the table loosened and Jàl stretched his neck. A quick glance snuck back up at the Verge. Conners Lee stepped next to a metal door motioning Jàl to follow.