I’m running headlong and heedlessly through a crowd, a sea of faces that I can’t see in my panicked flight. I shove and old woman back as I try to get past her and in the periphery of my vision I swear I can see her burst into tiny fragments as she collides with the ground – but I don’t care.
Behind me there is something coming, something that wants me. I don’t know how I know this, it’s just a feeling that I got while strolling in the beautiful village square on my way to market. I was in the market now, but the people and wares concerned me not – merely survival. I can feel it closing in, this crowd is slowing me down. But there is no screaming, no panic behind me, how is no one else reacting? I don’t dare turn around to face my pursuer, some part of my instinct is keeping me galloping straight ahead like a harnessed horse.
I could be imagining all this, panicking for no real reason. Perhaps there really is nothing there, it’s all in my head. But no, I can’t take the chance, I have to get away from here and fast. Faster would be better!
At last! I burst through the edge of the faceless mass of people and am heading up the path to the Keep. Yes! There will be guards there, safety and a chance to breath! My legs, my arms, my entire body is shaking and heaving as the strain is building on the uphill run – but I must keep running!
Finally I can see the draw-bridge just ahead and with renewed energy I lean forward and push harder. I can see the guards on the other side of the moat at the closed doors and start to wave, I want to shout but somewhere between my aching lungs and fear I cannot make even a sound, there is nothing but the heaving pant of my breathing.
Never have I felt the kind of relief I feel as my feet hit the wood of the bridge! Before me the guards take a defensive stance and I urgently gesticulate toward the path behind me as I run toward them, stumbling as I go and still cannot look back. They look past me and their faces turn grim. I’m not crazy, there is something there – I don’t care what, just so long as I can get away from it, the dread it fills me just by being near me is unbearable. This will work, I will be safe!
Just as I’m passing the guards, I see dark shapes flying at the guards out of the corner of my eyes and the next thing I know, their bloody, severed heads are following me into the courtyard beyond the great doors. Something large slams into the gates with force enough to send reverberations all through the courtyard – butt the doors hold.
Behind me the inner guards react to the panic and their companions bodiless remains and slam the gates shut and I just crash to the floor mid-run as my feet give-way, just for a moment of rest, to stop running. I’m inside now, it can’t reach me. I’m safe. The Keep is full of heavily armed guards and the walls are thick enough to stop a catapult – nothing can reach me in here. Nothing.
I can feel my breath returning, the gasps slowing and the cramping in my muscles abating as my mind and body try to slow down and step away from the panic that had until moments ago so overwhelmed them.
The guards are scurrying around the yard, arming themselves, some heading up to the top of the walls and others preparing inner defenses, just in case. A couple of them are headed towards me with concern etched on their faces when suddenly there is a terrible banging on the doors and it goes on and on and all the guards now are busy preparing for battle. From the walls above, I can hear the shouts of those on the wall as they attack from above, until suddenly I hear a series of gasps and half-screams and before anyone knows what has happened, a dozen lifeless bodies come tumbling down into the yard.
Suddenly my heart and mind begin to race again, it’s nowhere near over.
I didn’t get away, I’m trapped.
The doors are groaning and creaking now, I want to get up and run again – but can’t think of where to run even if my body had the energy to obey my minds screaming orders. With some effort I manage to pull myself upright and on my feet….
The gates are gone! Oh my stars and garters! What is that thing!??
I’m frozen in place as a huge black and silver cloud blows in through the shattered gates. It looks more liquid than gas but moves with a life of its own and begins to brutally but systematically decimate all the guards and defenses. The ones hurting it go first and the rest all follow and in what couldn’t have been more than a minute or two, it’s over.
There is nothing alive in the yard anymore, except me.
I don’t know if that… thing is alive, but it sees me. I see no eyes but I see it stop and feel something in it looking at me. Finally I see a pair of glowing green orbs somewhere in the black and silver and I can feel them focus squarely on me.
I can feel a voice in my mind, shouting at me to run. The vault below, the secret reserve kept for the good of us all, that’s the last place I might be safe. I can make it if I start running right now. I start to slowly slide along the wall I had been leaning on and start to head for the entry to the Keep. The creature does not move, it is still except for ripples of silver moving through the blackness of it.
Almost there, almost… once I’m through the door it’s just a short distance and if I can get the vault open quick enough I can…
What is this? My feet can’t move! I look down and I can’t believe what is happening. My feet have fused to the stone of the courtyard and it is moving up my legs, with every heartbeat I can literally feel my body dying from my feet up. I struggle but it is no use. It is now above my waist and rising and I can feel terror filling every part of me – I don’t want to die!
The creature, a scream comes from it. Those green orbs lock onto me again and I can feel anger coming from it in waves.
I can feel that it wanted me to go into the vault but I can’t!
Once more it screams a scream of pure rage.
All but my head is now stone, I can feel it moving up my neck. It will be over soon.
Get me out. Get me out now!
The H.U.D comes back online as everything goes to black and signals the sequence is at an end. Bright lights momentarily blind Inspector Jiro as the V.R helmet is removed and he blinks back into reality.
“So, what do you make of it Jiro?” comes his partner, Detective Arkers voice from his left.
“We were on the right track with our first assessment.”
“Then it was a dream invasion – someone managed to remotely reconnect our victim to the Ubernet while he was asleep and tried to enter his mind through his dreams. Proof?”
“Plenty.” Jiro says as he strolls over and takes the flask from Arker. Re-entering recovered memories is always a nerve-shaking experience even for the best. But dreams – bad dreams in particular – are always especially jarring. After knocking back a couple of swigs, Jiro continues, “There’s visible cyber prints all over the creature chasing down the good doctor and you can literally see the electrical data signals flowing through it – no dream construct looks that way. Plus the eyes or whatever they were, there was a will and a definite awareness behind them that can only come from a sentient, someone was definitely driving it.”
“Hmm… I’m going to assume based on your in-dream testimonial that the ‘vault’ the vic referred to was the intended target.”
“I’d make the same guess.” said Jiro. “And it was working too, that voice in the end, that was not any of the doctors own inner voices that I’d been hearing before, it was… different. Definitely felt like it belonged to someone else. They were directing him and using his fear to push him to open that vault.”
“We can only assume what kind of information he would have access to, given the nature of his work in extraterrestrial weapons research, but that turning-to-stone bit, sounds like a fail-safe of some kind.”
Jiro nodded his agreement, “Good guess, I’ve heard of similar systems being psychically implanted in key people in the Government and the Super-National Corporations. They’re not infallible, but getting around them is considered near impossible.”
“Well…” said Arker as he looked over at the dead researcher on the slab nearby, wires inserted into his skull, “It worked this time, whoever it was, didn’t get what they came for – but they found a damn good way to almost get around it. They were literally at the final door and he was about to let them in.”
“So what now?”
“Now? Nothing. We bump this up to cyber-sleuths and let them try and find the source of the attack over the webs. We’re never getting access to the high-ups enough to solve this thing ourselves anyway, given the kind of work the man did and the possible secrets at stake. I don’t like leaving a murder, but this is out of our hands and out of our league. Let’s go get lunch.”
– THE END –