Thanks for the suggestions during last week’s pause, everyone! Keep them coming! I’m more than happy to discuss the story (I’ll leave out spoilers, of course) and if we find a direction that works better, then I’m all for it! If you need to get caught up, don’t forget to check the feature hub!
Darkness. Each time Sam had used the VR pod before it had started with darkness as well. But this time, it seemed more tangible – as if he were being encased in a box and the edges were just out of reach. It felt almost oppressive at first and Sam was tempted to reach out his arms to see if he could touch those walls.
He was keenly aware of his limbs as the dive was initiated. He tried to wiggle his fingers and toes, just to ensure he was still in control of himself, but found that his senses were already dulling. His fingers twitched seconds after he had thought to move them, a wholly foreign feeling that he had no explanation for.
Panic began to well up inside his chest and gripped his heart as he wondered whether something was going wrong during the machine’s initialization. Perhaps the neural interface had malfunctioned? Was there a power surge? What would happen to him if the pod stopped working altogether? Would his mind be stuck in this inky pool of nothingness?
The voice broke through the darkness and Sam tried to look around to find its source but could not move his head at all. It’s calm command made him realize that he had stopped breathing. Pinpricks of white swam across his vision.
Sam tried to obey, strained to pull in air for his lungs, but his body would not respond. It felt as if it was too far away to receive his brain’s instructions. More white dots swam across his vision.
Am I dying? he wanted to ask. But he knew the answer.
He struggled to take in some oxygen. If he had control of his eyes, he was certain that they would be squeezed shut with the effort of it. He felt his consciousness slipping away. Terror gripped him even tighter and he struggled to force his lungs to respond. The white dots were coalescing into a singular point of light that was reaching out to him, trying to pull him in.
P..l hi… out!
As if a dam had broken somewhere inside of him, his lungs filled with sweet, sweet oxygen and he gasped from the shock of it. The light enveloped him and colors swirled about him and blurred together. Sam fell to his knees, coughing and gasping, choking on spittle.
He was having trouble deciding if that final denial had been his own or the voice. His mouth tasted of bile and he almost vomited right there in the grass. His body was shaking from the shock of the experience.
Wait… Grass? He waited for the tremors in his body to subside before getting to his feet and looking around.
He was standing in the middle of a grassy clearing about 100 meters wide. On the edges were tall, leafy trees and beyond them were imposing mountains in the distance. Flowers of various colors ringed the area, filling it with a sweet, calming aroma. Sam spun around, taking it all in, and found Lt. Cartwright standing behind him, a look of concern on her face that was quickly hidden when he turned to meet her gaze.
She started to speak and her voice caught. She cleared her throat and tried again. Her voice still held a trace of worry, “Sam, welcome to Beta.”