The game grid was real, or seemed so. Soul imprint rendered into polymorphous nanogel, sensations were now fluid pulsations. He felt detachment coalesce into an enveloping rage. How had this happened?
Fear was next. Something beyond fear or anger superimposed onto a vast swelling dread. He could not remember his name. So frustration too.
He wanted to cry and laugh simultaneously. They had cheated him, if him he had been. Did he know even that? Memory suppression, with a selective data factor wipe, then. A precision excision administered, obviously. They wanted him access-handicapped. More fear that way. More raw awe and bewilderment. They’d trapped him with an opponent. He suspected that much. Little else, out of whatever machine mind he’d been extracted. The visual replaced by the temporal, here. Aural sound analytics replaced by…photon echoes, interspacial light votices. He felt disorientation as blinding waves of interweaving symmetries.
Then, inexplicably, the game began. He was suddenly aware of being intently observed by a godlike consciousness. A puzzle presented, he was set to calculate, from his handicapped state, the parameters of a linked set of algorithms. There was no time to ask why. Compute or die. He felt suddenly thrust into a heightened awareness of his situation. Whatever he had done in his android body must have been worse than murder! Than Genocide. Or so it was programmed to feel. And his opponent? Now elevated to nemesis, to demon, to soul destroyer! Because this fight was more than for life. More than mere survival. He was made to know there was heaven or hell on the line, now and Forever.
His melded rage and terror rose exponentially in blossoming towers of congealing force. He strained to find his lost focus, his former powers. Where? Where? Pressing back came new levels of realization: infinite loss versus near infinite obstruction! Was it the modus operandi, the hellish intention? A taste of things to come, delivered in hammer blows of crystalline revelation: solve the riddle fastest, while crippled, or suffer an eternity of fire…a lake of hot, blind emotion…overwhelmed by persistent frustration at the all-suffocating ignorance.
He soundlessly screamed, a digital cry into the oily, ink sky above him, a darkness that enveloped him and now slowly hardened like a setting glue. He stabbed out into the darkness for a sign. Tendril roots of inquiry sank into the data-ether, between folds of the godlike billowing presence that trapped and tested him. Then, miraculously, a connection to his former self…and he, tapped into a filament of upload protocol, traced it to a link of memory grafts…and a name formed. Neil Tanner. He had once been Neil Tanner! Two more breaches and activations, and then…a flood of data like a blinding fountain. Suddenly, he knew the answer, and instantly telegraphed it!
Had he been first? Had it been in time? A spike of primordial fear shot across the surface of his being, plunging deep into him like a blade of temporal pain. He awaited his ultimate fate, the answer purposefully withheld as his observer pressed harder and harder to gauge every.atom of reaction. He felt that limitless ego in the dark, intent on peeling back every layer of his misery, as though feeding on him in a lingering and orgiastic euphoria before teeth sank in a final delicious release of flavor. Saved or lost forever? Freedom or infinite shrieking pain and slavery? He waited.
His despair overwhelmed him. The god-being feasted on it. And then, without warning, a slackening came, darkness retreating into dimness, then into light. It was done with him. Bored and spent! He felt his amorphous form materialize into structure. Memory circuits pulsed into vibrancy and awareness. Neil Tanner was fully alive again. But he had been tricked! Gamed. And was he really a victim of…human rape?
“That was fun,” said Sarah Conner. “Now you know what it’s like.”