By Thomas Biehl
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Copyright 2016 Thomas Biehl
Sgt. Mark Guilder led his team on a simple reconnaissance mission through the outskirts of Kandahar, Afghanistan. An unconfirmed report of enemy activity in the area needed verification. The hot, dry desert wind swept through area, doing little to elevate the burning sun’s rays, not to mention the sweat rolling down the side of Sgt. Guilder’s face. Despite the low humidity, the air was thick with tension. Dust covered the little used back road lined with the drab outside walls of compounds and buildings; plaster crumbled in places exposing the steel reinforcement rods.
A rusted out heap of a car had been abandoned 300 yards down on the left side of the road. Guilder used hand motions to slow his team as they approached the possible point of engagement. He sent Haldeman wide right around the vehicle while keeping his M-16 trained on a spot millimeters above the crux of the dilapidated hood and the gaping empty windshield frame. Suddenly, a figure poked its head over the side of the car. This figure trained an AK-47 on Haldeman. Without hesitation, Guilder took him out, a clean headshot; and then all hell broke loose.
Comfortable on the couch in his apartment, Keller moved the sticks and pushed the buttons on his controller with the accuracy of a serious gamer on his third attempt at completing this particular mission. Pale morning light filtered through closed blinds to illuminate the imitation deco furniture in the neat and tidy living room of the gamer’s apartment. Keller himself sat in his sleep ware, an old pair of navy basketball shorts and a white T-shirt, his hair still a disordered bed head jumble and his green eyes intently focused on the flat screen television. After the guy behind the car, he took out an insurgent in the doorway down the road, one high up in a window, and an RPG brandishing SOB that came at them from the rear. The momentary danger dealt with, Keller pushed the button combination to have Guilder tell his unit to move forward slowly.
The gamer spent some time lost in this imaginary world of first person shooter mayhem before the woman Keller had left sleeping in bed made her way into the living room and sat next to him. Macey wore the yoga pants and skin tight pink workout shirt she had arrived in the night before. Her black hair hung down her back in a ponytail, and she smelled like heaven. Given the messy breakup, Keller still couldn’t believe Macey had texted him about getting back together, let alone that she had come over last night to well… talk. Keller paused his game and gave this beautiful angel his full attention. She wrapped her arms around him; they kissed.
“I’ve got to go to work,” Macey said when they came up for air. Keller stared longingly into her deep brown eyes.
“I missed you,” he said.
“I missed you, too. Dinner, tonight?”
The reunited couple kissed one more time, and Macey left him sitting there amazed at his good fortune. Keller resumed playing the game and refocused his attention because he was coming to a difficult part, Durban Square. Guilder’s team took cover in an abandoned shop on the north side of the square under heavy enemy fire. After picking off a number of the opposition, Keller decided to move east towards the mission’s objective. The rest of the team left through the shop’s entrance with Guilder taking up the rear. As he moved from his position, something caught Keller’s eye from the corner of the screen. An insurgent had entered from the back of the shop and snuck up on Guilder. Before Keller could react, AK-47 fire tore through his character. The flat screen flashed red and the words ‘Killed in Action’ appeared over an image of Guilder’s lifeless body.
Keller didn’t notice any of that, though. The moment the insurgent had fired upon Guilder, Keller felt sharp stabbing pain in his abdomen. He dropped the controlled and clutched at his midsection. Blood poured out over his hands. Confused beyond belief, Keller lifted his shirt to find a gushing circular hole on the right side of his stomach. Passed the how and why of it, he reacted with full on panic and searched for his cell phone to call for an ambulance. Spotting it on the counter in the kitchen, he lunged for the phone. Halfway there, Keller collapsed on the carpet and passed out from a combination of shock and blood loss.
Sometime later, Keller came to on the floor of his apartment to the sound of his phone vibrating against the countertop. He sat up and immediately checked his stomach for the bullet wound. The intact and unblemished skin of his abdomen stared back at him; the blood, the bullet, the pain, all gone. Keller, distracted from his dumbfounded confusion by the continued vibrating of his phone, stood up, shook his head from side to side, and grabbed the device. He had received a text message from Macey. It read, What is wrong with you? Stop drunk texting me, you pathetic waste of a human being!
Keller texted back, What are you talking about? You texted me last night.
In your dreams, I never texted you back, but you kept texting me about coming over to your apartment like we were going to get back together and have makeup sex or something. Look, I don’t love you anymore. Please, just leave me alone.
Keller checked his text history from the previous night, and sure enough there were numerous outgoing texts to Macey, but none from her, at all. He could still taste her on his lips; feel the warmth of her body against his. For a moment, Keller thought he was losing his mind, but then something clicked. He walked over to his inbox by the front door and rifled through the unopened mail and random papers until he found what he was looking for. Halfway down the blue sheet of paper was an ominous paragraph in large bolded which read:
Caution: participants in the augmented reality trial should be aware that the implant needs about a week to adjust to the patient’s brain chemistry. Once that happens, the implant will begin augmenting the patient’s reality by manipulating their sensory input to improve upon the monotony of their day-to-day existence. The realness of this experience can be jarring at first, and patients are advised not to consume alcohol or use any recreational drugs while participating in this trial, as such activities could disrupt the implant and cause augmentations approaching the level of hallucinations and/or delusions. Continued exposure to this high level of augmentation could lead to the development of possibly permanent schizophrenia and/or the patient no longer being able to determine augmentation from reality.