Streamers of smoke and steam fill the barren landscape.
Jake’s jaw clenches. “I can’t help feeling everything’s an illusion—nothing we sense here is real.”
Meg, in full battle armor, remains poised for action. “Get a grip, Jake. Colonel hears that, you get retrained.”
The horizon wavers. Jake tenses and pre-charges his slammer. A sweat bead slips down his face. Seconds pass.
He draws a breath. “I mean, whoever heard of a psychic war? What is that? It’s made up.”
“Remember your training. Those doubts—did I forget something?—is this real?—should I quit?—they’re the enemy’s deliberate weapons. But they need your help. Tighten your mind. Reject those lies. Choose who you are. ”
The scene fades. A boy’s room appears.
A mother’s voice rings. “I told you not to stay in too long.”
Robby’s heart sinks. Psychic warriors are awesome. If only. But no. He’s not that. He’s Robby the freshman wimp. “My homework’s done,” he whines.
“I don’t care. It’s unhealthy to jack in that long.” She wags the input end of his hardwire cord—so much faster than wireless. “Besides, dinner’s ready.”
He peels sensors from his temple. “Aw…”
“Remember what happened to your brother,” she warns.
Robby rolls his neck. Yeah, but Derek was an idiot.
He glances at the Psychic Wars III splash screen, mumbling, “This game’s different.”
“Worse,” she scoffs. “You’re getting a full neural checkup next week.”
“I’m not hallucinating,” he protests. “No visions, no voices, nothing.”
She lowers her gaze. “We’ll see.”
“Anyway, I’m not hungry.”
“Then you’ll sit there and talk with us.”
She clears the doorway. The hallway mosaic shimmers. How unreasonable. And to think, just last year he considered her the best mom in the world.
He stands, wishing he could finish the battle with Meg. He turns, frowning. The console is on. Mom only yanked the jack. He reaches for the pause.
Jake, snap out of it.
He stiffens. He remembers his brother running from zombies, screaming. CIT arrived. They calmed him, and then they unleashed the stun. Derek crumpled like wet cardboard.
They don’t visit Derek much at that place anymore, still hiding from zombies. They used to try. But there’s really no point.
Still, Derek was a moron, and he played lousy first-gen immersion stims.
Don’t let them win. Choose who you are!
Gravity fluctuates. Robby reaches to break his fall. He’s not like his brother. He knows reality. His mind is stronger.
Remember your training.
This can’t be happening. It’s impossible. He narrows his focus.
“Robby!” he hears—a thin, panicked mother’s wail across a chasm.
Reject those lies and choose.
The smell of Meg and the battlefield rush over him. He feels her breath as she shouts and shakes him.
“They’re getting good,” he rasps.
“Tough level, soldier!” she barks. “Now tighten your mind. They’re on us!” She jumps to action.
Jake swallows. Close call. His hands find the slammer. He crouches, ready.
“Let ’em come,” he growls. He will not be dislodged again.
BIO: J. C. Conway writes science fiction and romance stories. His first novel, Hearts in Ruin, is a romantic archeological suspense published by Liquid Silver Books and is available at all major online outlets. His short stories appear in many anthologies and online magazines, including The Colored Lens, Tales of the Talisman, Perihelion Science Fiction and Untied Shoelaces of the Mind. By day, J. C. Conway is a complex litigation attorney and former teacher. Learn more at his website, http://jcconway.com.