Ree-al led to the far end of the room. A door materialized in the blank wall. Jàl strained under the weight of the injured Roake. The avatar disappeared through the opening. Jàl hurried behind. His breath caught. He teetered on the edge of the doors threshold. Three stories of wall fell away to the street below.
Sticking his head out, he looked to the sides. The Avatar had vanished.
“Step through the door. You will be alright.” Ree-al’s voice spoke behind him.
Jàl’s head spun around. “We’re three stories up. The fall will kill us.”
“Trust me.” Ree-al assured. “You will not.” She said while stepping to Roake’s side and settling under the injured soldier’s arm.
Jàl inched his foot past the edge of the opening testing Ree-al’s theory. Slowly sliding his foot past the floor and into empty space.
The high pitched squeal of the Verge reverberated loudly, echoing off the interior walls. The excitement in their wails grew louder. A sign that the monsters were closing in on their prey.
“This had better be a dream,” Jàl cursed under his breath, closed his eyes and took a step of faith. The surface under the soles of his shoes changed from particles of space to solid. Braced for the fall, Jàl willed his feet forward. His heart raced. Peeking from behind clamped eyelids, the familiar surroundings of Manchester street greeted him.
Jàl glanced up from the base of the old bank building. They had crossed back to the starting point of the games construction. He let his eyes roam the surroundings. Several blocks south he recognized the mouth of the alley that led to the hidden door.
“Wow.” He exclaimed. A rush of pent up breath blasted from his mouth. He glanced at the ground beneath his feet then up to where the trio exited the third floor room. How in the …His head swung back and forth at the constantly transforming recreation of Manchester street.
The city scape familiar yet somewhat different. Jàl looked on in fascination. The brush with the Verge momentarily forgotten. Sections of the previously blank voids of the streets appearance shimmered as the games algorithms forged to fill in missing details. Jàl’s mind reeled, overwhelmed by the changes. Could the program be close to completing this section of the groundlier’s world. Jàl locked his mind with the games mainframe to search for new additions to the program.
Excitement changed to horror. Clusters of Verge materialized at the evolving scenery. The monsters chewing and ripping at the budding foundations, eating the digital mass, slowing the buildings growth. The creatures paused in their feeding. As a collective, the heads of the monsters turned in his direction.
“You need to hurry,” Ree-al’s words reminded him of the dire situation. The Verge stopped their frenzied destructive ways and joined in a chorus of wails and shrieks. The creatures leaping from the buildings and gathering on the sidewalks before starting a slow amble in the direction of the escaping trio.
“Down the street is the alley you seek. Find your door,” she urged, pointing away from the bank and the materializing data forming the new building. “I will hold the beasts while you save your friend.”
“How?” Jàl asked. The fabric of Ree-al’s form grew translucent becoming absorbed into a blinding flash of light. Out of the brightness she stepped. Armour coating covered her body. In her hands a large bulbous gun. As the Verge closed the distance, Ree-al fired. Single flashes of red light pulsed toward the approaching horde. The guns ray tearing digital matter from the creatures. The Verge’s cries intensified.
Jàl clamped his free hand to his ear to block the noise. He gave the Avatar a fleeting glance then straightened under Roake’s weight. With Jàl’s support, Roake limped along to keep pace. The pair hustled for the brick wall containing the keypad and back door to reality.
Rusted metal automobiles littered the street. The scene different from the duos last time in the games construct when they raced away from bank and the waiting Verge. The sidewalks in this version were bare of people, but layered with building debris and garbage.
Jàl avoided the cluttered walkways opting for the spaces among the abandoned metal cars of centuries past. The shrill cries of the Verge became unbearable. Jàl let go of Roake. Both hands clamped to his ears before he collapsed to his knees.
Seconds passed. He concentrated to push the crippling noise from his head. Gritting his teeth, he forced his legs to lift his body. His hands tight to his ears, he spun and faced in the direction he left Ree-al. The cries and shrieks of the Verge faded. The avatar stood grounded in the street. The pulses of her gun beating back the virus attempts.
“Let me help you up.” He said, bending down to lift Roake. The effects of the Verge written over the Lieutenants face. Her skin pale and clammy. Her pupils tilted back revealing the whites of her eyes. Jàl pulled Roake to her feet, shot a fleeting glance in the avatar’s direction then clambered down the street for the alley and the doorway to safety.
Jàl watched the replay of the games last scenes moments before he and Roake stepped through the safety of the back door. The animation on the screen frighteningly real.
Ree-al prevailed in the fight. The threat by the Verge was pushed away. The shell of a new floor, an upper floor, Jàl judged from the layout of the structure, grew from digital matter. Fascinated, Jàl sat frozen in front of the bank of computers, his eyes glued to the monitors. His thoughts and hopes, buoyed by the mesmerizing details of the recreation. The computer’s algorithm calculated the degree of accuracy the new projection contained. The scale rose past 85 percent. This building, now the closest he’d come to replicating an actual component from the groundliers world, using the fragmented bits of information available.
His heart rate pumped. Another tool in his search for a doorway into the groundliers world was close at hand. The rate of the compilation increased. Walls shimmered then solidified, rendered windows digitally sketched into the exterior walls transformed from pixels to glass and steel. The image shimmered as the construction came together.
Seconds away from the completion of the building, the lab shook. The shock wave wormed into Jàl’s thoughts. The presence of the room’s vibrations searing his brain before his world went blank.
Roake groaned from the couch. Jàl’s eyes snapped open. His head resting on the desk of monitors. Shaking away the drowsiness, he fought to get a grasp on his surroundings. The monitors glared back at him silently. Slow recognition returned. He focused on the screens. There, he thought. The realistic 3-d rendering of a new building.
Noise from across the room grabbed his attention. The darkness outside the lofts windows registered. It had been early afternoon when he sat at the monitors. How long had he been out? He quickly glanced back at monitors. The time stamp on the computer screen told of evening. Hours had passed. Once again he had blacked out. The episodes grew in frequently. Time to have AILEN run a diagnostic on his implant.
“How you feeling?” He dismissed his problems for later, looking away from the array of computer screens. His eyes darted to the bandage covering the side of Roake’s neck. “The doc says you’ll be fine. The collision with the door rattled your brain. The resulting concussion plus the loss of blood led to your body shutting down. But, the good news. No lasting damage. Doc’s cleared you for duty.” He added.
Roake’s fingers instinctively sought out the bandage. “The implant. Was it… damaged?”
Jàl saw a flicker of fear ghost across her features. He mulled her question. She was astutely aware of the ramifications caused by a damaged implant. Days would be wasted if the faulty circuit needed to be replaced and additional time for her body to accept the foreign object. Time he projected that was growing short.
If the implant was destroyed, Roake’s help on the mission ended and no replacement waited. Rubbing his chin, Jàl regarded the young lieutenant. He choose his words carefully. Telling her the truth seemed like the less appealing option.
Yes, he said to himself, the implant had been damaged and should have been replaced but Jàl wasn’t certain he could beat the game on his own and selflessly wanted Roake by his side. So, by his own volition, he removed the option of waiting for Roake to undergo the intricate surgery and work through the adjustment period required for her brain to adapt to the new device.
While Roake lay unconscious and after the doc left, Jàl took matters into his hands. A rash decision but one clearly needed, he rationalized. With the tremors shaking the city in the clouds with increased frequency and the Verge growing more aggressive in their attempts to destroy the burgeoning program, what choice did he have. The modifications he preformed to save Roake’s implant cloned her consciousness by melding it with the computers mainframe. The changes were almost on par with the upgrades to his own circuits .
A few doubts weighed heavy. Would she suffer from the same headaches he now believed were the result of his modified implant, and what if she didn’t want to pursue the dangers of the 9-dimensional world waiting on the other side of his virtual doorway. A choice he made for her. How would she react?
“No. No damage to the implant. Everything is good,” he lied. The time for the truth could wait. Once inside the game, the changes to her programming would become obvious and he promised to come clean. Until then.
“We go back in tomorrow.” He swung back to the monitors. “You know where the good stuff is,” he said, referring to the black market soda squirrelled away in his loft, “Relax, clear your head and rest up. I’ve got to recode the programming and find a way to reverse the effects of the Verge. They have evolved past the safe limits in the games parameters. Our last skirmish proved how dangerous they have become.”
The Wolves of Satan.
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