Jill blurted out what she had to say and left. It went something like this:
‘Jack, you waste of useless lard. I hate you. I despise you. All you ever do is sit there in that stupid chair, playing that stupid game. I’m leaving. Do you hear me? I mean it this time. I’m warning you. Goodbye.’
She did this a lot. Whenever it was all getting too much for her. Jack had learned that the best way to deal with intrusions into gametime was to ignore them. They soon went away.
He flinched a little as the door slammed and his delicate grip on the controller slipped a fraction of a millimetre, nearly bringing his session prematurely to an end. He concentrated and eased his thumb over the vertical restraint nub, returning his digital avatar to the ledge. Tumbling along the blood spattered steel, which never once pixelated, he halted with about a meter left to travel. His timing was immaculate. The missile, which had been silently launched from the gully below, met the patch of wall directly ahead of him. He’d practiced this more than a thousand times and had improved to the point where he now always survived the explosion.
He knew from experience that the girder would dissolve in less than a second. As soon as the flames safely subsided he dived through the hole that appeared in the solid grey brickwork.
Now this – this was the tricky bit. A hundred times he’d taken this fall, down the mile-deep chimney well, which had just opened up to him. Not once had he managed it. But tonight. Tonight he would.
He’d read on a messageboard that only one player had ever succeeded, had found the ledge – flailing blindly in the darkness – and survived the plummet. Jack’s thumbs flicked frantically over the buttons and levers swivelling in his palms. He slowed his movement, tried to read the butterfly-wing-soft feedback waves from the device. Yes. There. That was. Was it?
His gameself stopped falling. He could feel something solid beneath its computer generated feet. He walked slowly forward. Through the tunnel. Into the light.
And there she was. Just like the anonymous messageboard poster had written. She glowed. He touched her face, the controls on his mechanism responding perfectly to the commands he issued in the real world.
He had dreamt of her so often. And now…
Now she was his.