I had finished bandaging Aurora’s wound when I noticed it; the pillar of smoke that rose to the north. It climbed endlessly into the overcast as if it were a column holding up the sky itself. As if on queue, the smell of soot and smoke hit me immediately.
As my mind raced to understand the situation I noticed something far more alarming. The trees; they were disappearing! Like a bad magician from a forties sideshow they would simply be replaced with a puff of smoke as they vanished into thin air. “Something’s wrong.” I said as the ground around us began to shift. “Something’s changing."
Kendal rose from her sitting position as her eyes locked on the horizon.
Even Aurora attempted feebly to turn her head, despite the pain it caused.
“We have to go.” I said, taking Aurora up.
“Who died and put you in charge?” Kendal barked.
I snarled in return “Listen girl –“
She interrupted “Just don’t assume I’m going to listen to any of your ‘commands’” she said, raising her hands and making a quotation gesture with her fingers.
I held my words, it was better to avoid argument. “I’m leaving, and I’m taking Aurora, you’re welcome to come with me if you so choose.”
Kendal smirked. “I might just do that.”
I turned and helped Aurora to her feet, she was weak, and it became obvious that to make any headway I would be forced to lift her completely, and so I did.
That’s when it happened. I had seen this before, but this time it was different. It looked at first like a heat wave, but became more tangible in appearance as it raced toward us. It was as if an unseen ocean just beyond the horizon had swelled and sent a colossal tsunami racing across the landscape. There was no wind, there was no rush of sound or crackling of trees as they were overtaken by the shockwave. Silence ensued as it engulfed us, my vision became pixelated in every sense of the word, and static raised the hair on my arms and the back of my neck.
For a fleeting moment, barely noticeable to the human mind, I was free of the system. I could feel my clammy skin, the hoses in my nose and mouth and the intervenes’ lodged indefinitely in my wrists and ankles, the restraints, the cold steel of the helmet that I had once put on myself, at a time which seems millennia ago. As soon as it had come, it was gone and I fell to my knees, Aurora dropping with a groan to the forest floor.
It was a hard reset. The system had been rebooted with all users still connected. I vaguely remember it having been done when we were training in the first weeks of our contract. I vaguely remembered the medical team rise up in opposition as much as they could while the technicians rebooted the system with us still inside. It was dangerous, in our original contract we were to be removed for every update. This was amended, for reasons not known.
The changes were felt immediately. I saw Kendal fold over herself and assumed she too had felt it.
Hunger, pain, an unimaginable exhaustion as though I had not slept for years; which I hadn’t.
Although I have no way to tell how it came to me, I also felt something utterly terrifying.
The fear slithering up my spine and into my mind.
The sudden realization of mortality scratching at my back.
There would be no resurrections anymore.
Aurora’s eyes locked with mine, and for an instant it was as if we could read each others mind. What she saw in mine made her cringe in fear and pain as blood continued to flow from her wound.
I had to save her, if it would be the last thing I did in this hell.
I would save her.