©2023, Bryan Beal
Loaded Weapon had dragged on for days. Days fueled on Dual Caffeine Boost cola and energy drinks, the likes of which are banned in at least a hundred countries. At seventy-five levels, Doug Turner had never gotten so close. Out of six on his team, only two of them were left. Him and some dude from San Diego. Canon-fodder.
Doug leaned into the screen. He needed a better look at where he thought on of the Hissing Vipers was hiding. The Vipers had already sprung two ambushes on them. There would not be a third. He focused so hard he could see individual pixels begin to fractionate. That got his attention. He tried to shake his head and re-focus his eyes, fingers working the controller furiously as he led San Diego Dude through a confined alley between two buildings.
The concrete started lifting from the ground. The walls of the restaurants on either side of the alley began bending and merging in the middle. The sky collapsed in drops. Everything became a maelstrom of colour and light in the middle of Doug's screen. He pulled away to get a better look at the anomaly.
“You seeing this?”, he asked San Diego Dude.
There was no reply.
Doug pulled back even more, but the swirling mass of pixels moved with him. Then they came for him. It looked like a whirlpool reaching out of the screen searching for connection. It fragmented into numerous smaller tendrils that swayed in circular motions, each one reaching for something to attach to. Like a string of seeds trying to anchor themselves in a solid surface, the thin slivers of digital light and shade darted in and out.
Suddenly Doug felt the ice cold touch of something on his hand. He looked down to see a tendril had latched on to his right hand. He tried to drop the controller, but his fingers refused to obey. He felt the dizziness of panic rise as another tendril caught his other hand. More and more of the blue digital lines lunged for him and hit their marks. The cold of each touch spread through him. He tried to jump up, but he was held in a vice of steel. Somehow, they were holding him down as thousands were now leaping from the screen into the hapless player.
He tried to scream as he started to surface through his skin, like someone coming up for air in the sea. He heard a dull snapping sound. He lurched around to see red anchors breaking between him and the physical self he saw behind him. The snapping increased in speed until it became a continuous hum of Doug's psyche being torn from his flesh.
The screen was gone. The room was no more. Reality for Doug had vaporised and vanished.
From the headset on the floor came urgent cries from across the country.
“Pal! Where the hell are you? Dammit! Covering fire! Covering fire!!”, screamed San Diego Dude at increasingly high pitch.