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Kara walked up to the nurse station kiosk near the hospital entrance. She tried to remain calm as she scanned her ID chip. The artificial nurse smiled at her while the computer processed her ID. The nurse was an AR projection from the desk. The image was sent directly into the visual receptors of the streaming implant in her brain like it was an ad for skin cream.
Seconds passed like minutes while the system, and Kara, waited for one of the security guards in the observation room down the hall to approve her for entry. Kara tightened her grip on the backpack strap on her shoulder. Please don’t make me report for a search. She’d been coming to visit after school for two months in preparation for today. This had to work!
A pop up appeared in front of the nurse’s chest. Black text on a frosted background read:
Welcome, Kara Baker
Security check complete
Proceed to room 5402
Would you like directions?
Kara released her death grip on the strap so she could dismiss the prompt. She could find that room in her sleep. A quick ride in the elevator, two right turns, and one left turn brought her to her twin brother’s room. Outside the door was a small shelf with three helmets. Kara strapped one on and walked into the room.
Anya, her brother’s day nurse, had her back to the door. She was focused on the monitor displaying his vitals. Kara didn’t need to see her face to recognize her. She was the only nurse on this floor who wore a florescent purple helmet.
“How is he today?” Kara asked.
Anya jumped. She spun around, clutching her chest. “Don’t sneak up on me like that! You scared me half to death!”
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to.”
“I know you didn’t.” Anya turned back to the monitor. “Physically, he’s fine. His implant is still free of the virus but there’s no sign of him yet.”
The Medusa virus appeared out of nowhere six months ago. It infected the visual receptors via an automatic ad download and flooded the victim’s field of vision with pop-ups of a cartoon snake. The pop-ups would multiply until the receptors overloaded and shut down the entire system – the system in this case being the victim’s brain.
Everyone who had been infected had to be put on life support within fifteen minutes of the first pop-up to keep them from dying. The anti-virus that programmers developed worked perfectly but no one knew how to get the victims’ brains to turn back on. There was speculation that a Trojan program hidden in victims’ brains was waiting to instigate a second wave. That’s why the hospital required all visitors to wear a helmet to shield their implants from all signals.
Kyle caught Medusa at a concert. Kara was supposed to go with him but bailed at the last minute to catch up on some homework. That was four months ago. Now she could hardly recognize him. The lattice of breathing tubes, sensors, and wires hid most of his face. His body was atrophied and pale, and the “I can’t believe it’s not Soylent” nutrient solution was being pumped through a feeding tube.
“I’ll be on my way. Have a good visit,” Anya said.
Kara waited for the door to close. The second it clicked shut she removed her helmet and set it on the floor at the foot of Kyle’s bed. She sat in the chair on the far side of the room, near his head, and pulled a long thin data transfer cord from her backpack. She plugged one end into a small port behind Kyle’s right ear.
Kara stared at the other end in her hand. It’s finally here. The point of no return. This would either work and they’d both wake up or she’d be forever trapped in his mind. There was a note in her backpack explaining everything if the latter happened. Don’t think about that! It’s going to work!
Kara pushed her ebony hair aside and inserted the plug into her port. Instantly the prompt to select the data to be transferred popped up. Kara selected a modified remote viewing application. Her scalp tingled as the transfer began. Kara closed her eyes, leaned her head on Kyle’s bicep, and followed the pulses down the cord and into Kyle.
A minute later Kara found herself in a dark forest of rectangular pillars. A softly glowing silver mist at her feet was the only thing preventing her from crashing into anything as she walked between the rows. She had to work fast. The sensors might have already notified Anya to the change in his brain activity. Kara figured she had five, maybe ten minutes.
From her research she knew that every pillar around her represented one aspect of Kyle’s personality and vital functions. She just needed to find the one that would wake him up. It wasn’t going to be in this section. Everything was as cold and dead as a graveyard.
Something crossed her periphery. Kara turned and found two small ghostly figures staring at her. They reminded her of a scene from their favorite movie where two children were playing a game in a graveyard. The ghosts ran off, laughing and shouting, “wake the dead!”
Kara ran after them but they were too fast. They were gone in a blink. Kara growled in frustration. There had to be an easier way than chasing ghosts. Kara knelt and plunged her right hand into the mist. She reached out with her half of their special twin connection, focusing on locating that awake portion of Kyle.
Where are you hiding?
She instantly felt a pull coming from up ahead. Kara ran in that direction. She stopped after a few feet and did it again. This time the pull came from her left. Kara repeated the process, which led her in a zig zag path. After what had to have been the seventeenth left turn she saw a light ahead that was too bright to be another ghost. Kara ran to it.
It was another rectangular pillar but this one glowed softly. Kara placed her hands and forehead on it.
“Kyle? Can you hear me?”
The light intensified for a moment. When it faded, she was filled with a sense of fear and caution.
“Kyle, you need to wake up. The virus is gone. It’s safe now.”
The light intensified again, this time longer than the first, but it still faded. Through the pillar she got an impression of fatigue.
Kara leaned away from the pillar. How could he be tired? He’d been sleeping for months! He should be —
Oh, maybe this is like dad’s old car! It had sat in the garage for years and when he’d tried to back it out, it wouldn’t start. Turned out the battery had just needed a jump. Was that what Kyle needed? There was only one way to find out.
Kara knew that this wasn’t her real body. It was just an avatar made of ones, zeroes, and a little electricity. Kara leaned against the pillar again and pushed. Her hands sunk in. Veins of light shone blue around her hands. She pushed deeper. The electricity that powered her form leached into the pillar. More and more of those blue veins appeared across the pillar’s surface. Kara started feeling tired and her form became translucent, but she didn’t stop.
Right when she felt like she was going to pass out something pushed her away from the pillar. Kara fell backward onto another. She slid down it, too weak to stand.
The pillar glowed brightly before her, pulsing like a heartbeat. The mist solidified around her and pushed her back to her feet. When she started to sway, it created a framework to hold her up.
“I’m fine. I was off balance, that’s all.”
It was a lie and Kyle knew it, but he’d never called her on it in the past. Apparently, he wasn’t going to this time either because the mist dissipated.
Kara stared at the pulsing glow in wonder. With each thrum the light grew brighter and shone farther. Suddenly a massive surge of illumination burst forth. It flowed out across the forest, illuminating everything it touched. Kara shielded her eyes as everything went from darkness to radiance in a giant wave like downtown after a blackout. The shine was so bright she moved away from the source. It penetrated her eyelids, moving from side to side.
Kara blinked and suddenly found herself gasping for breath. She sat up and found the room packed with doctors. In the back she caught sight of Anya and her parents through the wall of white lab coats.
The doctor to her right was holding a penlight. They tried to grab her head and turn it towards them but she pushed them away.
The tubes had been removed and he was shielding his eyes from the florescent lights above with his right arm. Kara climbed onto the bed and leaned over him, blocking the lights. He slowly moved his arm aside. Kyle’s gray eyes locked with hers.
Kara burst into tears and pulled Kyle into a tight hug. When he wrapped his arms around her back, her sobs intensified. Moments later there were more hands around them. Kara looked up and found their parents standing next to the bed, hugging them both with tears streaming down their faces.
When her body ran out of tears she sat up. Kara turned to the doctors. They were too dumbfounded to speak but she knew what they were going to ask so she answered anyway.
“I knew I could do it. No one knows how to find him better than I do.”