Meanwhile, back at the academy…
A pitch black quiet.
Homes mindnets, ‘Hello Kendra, can you hear me?’
Kendra nets back, ‘Homes?’
‘Yes. How are you feeling?’
‘Why can’t I see anything?’
‘In a moment, I’m going to install some routines that will get to that, but I need you to relax and just let them run.’
‘Things are going well for Rein. I’m also using mindnet to communicate with him now.’
‘This may be disorienting. Just remember that you are safely seated in real life.’
‘Three, two, one.’
In her own private mindspace, Kendra materializes as a ghostly silver version of herself. A disk of light, about as wide as she is tall, appears under her feet. She stands in the surrounding dark until sheets of transparent multi-colored electric curtains come falling down from above, filling the space in concentric layers in all directions. The curtains extend upward and downward forever until they fade into darkness. For a moment, she sees herself standing on the disk of light, hovering within the circle of concentric curtains, then her consciousness rushes into her avatar and she sees her own mindspace from that point of view.
A glowing orb about the size of a basketball materializes in front of her. She takes the sphere with both hands and immediately senses the instructions flowing into her memory. I know how this works!
Each electronic curtain is alive with moving images of memories. Kendra tries to see through them, but they go on forever into the dark, one layer after another. She turns around in a circle, standing in one place and taking it all in.
Homes nets, ‘Kendra? I’m installing the standard firewall around your core so nobody can break through and hack your mind. Okay?’
‘Yes, that’s okay.’
A new transparent red curtain drops into place, surrounding her innermost place and separating it from the rest of her mindspace.
Homes nets, ‘I’ll give you the codes for that later, but it’s best not to carry them with you in your account or your mind. That would defeat the purpose.’
‘Okay then. I’ll be installing more routines along the way, but for now I’d like you to get comfortable with your control sphere. It's a training routine.’
Holding the sphere in both hands, she’s able to manipulate the electronic curtains and bring specific memories into closer proximity toward her. Each memory becomes very vivid in her mind the closer the particular curtain gets.
Kendra sweeps a hand across the sphere right to left, and the electronic curtains shift in the same direction, bringing related memories into focus. Squeezing her fingers together, or fanning them out, reorders the curtains so they change position from near to far. She gets quicker at moving memories from her subconscious into her consciousness.
The white orb vanishes. Homes nets, 'Very good, now try it using just your mind.'
Childhood memories of good times with her parents dominate her preference. Scenes of the family together at holidays, laughing with joy at each other’s company. The scenes play out visually across the electronic curtains as they flood into Kendra’s current focus.
Faster and faster, she loads nearly forgotten memories from her subconscious.
A new car. Dad was so proud!
School events with her parents in the audience.
Jules in her crib as a baby.
A first date.
A first kiss.
Then dark shadows fall over some of the memories.
Talking heads on the television say evil things about outsiders.
Arguments between Mom and Dad.
A new gun in the house.
Neighbors with suspicious eyes.
Arguments between Kendra and her parents.
Kendra sweeps it all away. ‘Homes, I’m ready for the new routines now.’
The electronic curtains fill with images of new information to be learned.
Jetbike takeoff, flying, and landing routines.
Artifact acquisition and usage.
Virtual weapons training.
Each time she runs a learning module, she incorporates it into her permanent memory. Some of the modules take much longer to load, while others seem instantaneous. She “remembers” memories of having ridden a jetbike in battle, even though she’s never done either. She “knows” how to plan strategies for playing complex games, even though she’s never played them.
She senses that if she sat at a piano, she could play it even though she's never tried. Best of all, she has command of her memories, and can bring to mind whatever she needs to know in the moment. Experience is no longer something that you have just after you need it.
Back in the real world, it’s been eight hours since they first drank the liquid nanotech.
Quell and Whirl, now wearing their own black sweats, stand by and watch as Kendra and Rein sleep. Rapid eye movements behind their eyelids betray the intense training taking place in their minds.
Quell nets to Whirl and Homes, ‘It looks like these two are winners?’
Homes nets, ‘I think we have the makings of a fine team. I’ll bring Jules and Hale up in a few minutes.’
In the commissary, Jules sits across from Hale at a dining table with the remains of breakfast scattered between them.
Hale says, “Tell me more about where you live. Lived. I’ve never been out of the city much. Just camping a couple of times.”
“There’s not much to tell. We had a small farm until the conglomerate bought everybody out. They brought in robot tractors and stuff, so there wasn’t much to actually do with that part. Mom was a clerk at the local grocery until it went out of business because a big chain moved in. Dad did a lot of remote work online. That's what he called it, anyway.”
“What are the people like?”
“What do you mean?”
Hale takes a sip of his drink. “In the community.”
“They’re good people. Down to earth, as the cliche goes. They just want to live their lives like everybody else. Why do you ask?” Yes, why do you ask?
“What do you think of city people?”
“Not much different, really. Where are you going with this?” Please don’t go all political on me.
“Not much different, and yet the talking heads insist that we are different. I don’t want to go all political on you, but I think we’re all being played against each other. I just want you to know that whatever they’ve told you about city people, we’re not that different from rural people. Okay? We can all get along.”
Jules takes a sip of her drink. “Is this, like an invitation to some further get to know you?” Please say yes!
Hale grins. “Yes. I’d like that.”
“So would I.”
Smiles on both sides of the table.
Homes’ voice lilts down from a speaker in the ceiling above, “It’s time. It sometimes works better if someone they know is near them when they wake up. To help ground them back into reality.”
Jules looks around at the other people in the dining area. Nobody else heard it. Huh, individually addressable speakers. The really smart city at work. I bet they're two-way.
Hale pushes away from the table. “We’re on our way.”
Jules talks to the ceiling, "Can you hear us?"
"Yes, I can hear you almost everywhere."
Hale stacks the lunch dishes onto a tray. “I’ll get this.”
Jules watches him as he takes the tray to the return window. I like the way he moves.
When Hale returns to her, he says, "May I escort you to the tower? Our champions await!"
Jules laughs. "Maybe someday we can be shining knights too." Corny, but at least he tries.
Kendra and Rein are still asleep when Jules and Hale step out of the elevator.
As they walk to the reclining chairs, Whirl says, "Everything looks good so far. We're going to wake them up now. If there's a bit of panic, just hold their hand and give assurance. It will pass."
Hale takes his place next to Rein and takes his brother's hand.
Jules looks down into Kendra's face, sleeping peacefully, and takes her hand.
Whirl nets to Kendra and Rein, 'Hey guys, you ready to kick some ECM ass?'
Kendra and Rein both net, 'Yes!'
Quell nets, 'Can you hear me?'
Homes nets to the four of them, 'Waking up in three, two, one.'
Kendra opens her eyes and looks up to see Jules' face above her. Jules squeezes Kendra's hand. "Welcome back."
Kendra says, "I had the strangest dreams."
Rein sits up abruptly in his chair, almost knocking Hale off his feet. "Whoa! Get me out of here!"
Hale says, "Rein, it's me. Hale. Look at me."
Rein glares at everyone in the room, then grabs Hale and looks him in the face. There's a moment of panic, then recognition. Rein sighs and falls back into his chair. "That was intense!"
Quell says, "Sorry about that. The mindnet for the game is deeper than what most people get. Otherwise, it would be a hard sell to the general public."
Kendra asks, "What do you mean by deeper?"
"The emotional connections are deeper so the audience can experience the thrills better. When you're a player in the game, you're more like a conduit of intense emotions and experiences between the game and the audience. For most people most of the time, it's light traffic in and out of the mind, so their mindnets can be less connected. If that makes sense."
Rein says, "I'm starving. Where can we eat?"
Quell shakes his head. "You're on energy gels for the duration."
Whirl says, "We'd like you to, ah, run your new purge routines then visit the facilities in your apartments. After that, run your sleep-inducing routines and sleep most of the day so you can be alert for the game tonight."
Kendra asks, "What time is it? How long were we out?
"It's early morning. You've been out for over eight hours. But you should know that."
Kendra touches her new internal timekeeper with her mind and instantly knows the date and time down to the second.
Eleven hours, forty-five minutes, and ten seconds to game time.
Chapter 6 coming soon!