I don’t know how long I’ve been playing. Nor do I care.
Draw back. Reload. Pause. Peek out. Fire.
“Perimeter secured; let’s move!”
Yes. I talk out loud when I play video games. You would too if you got into something as intense as Blitzkrieg: World at War. The first-person shooters of yesteryear are antiques compared to this, the MMOs obsolete. And the effects? It’s like living in a whole new world right in the comforts your bedroom. Even the uniform that comes with the game adds to virtual reality by stimulating the body to sense what isn’t really there.
Advancing. Keep the gun up. Try the door. Figures: it’s locked. “Break it down!”
A few from my troop obey while the others keep their guns trained on the windows. I step aside to rifle through the pockets of a fallen sentry.
Technically, I should wait till after the mission to loot, since this game runs on real-time and neither my fellow PCs nor the system’s NPCs are going to wait for me. But I’ve got a quick moment now, so why not?
I pull out a wallet and flip through it. A hundred-some dollars. Should help me upgrade to a new gun.
A gravelly voice growls through the radio in my ear. “Sergeant.”
I almost salute out of habit.
“Wait for backup. We’ll be there in five.”
“Yes, sir, Major Stone, sir!” I pocket the cash and look at the doors. Merely dented. Pathetic. “Blast it down, Jack!”
Don’t look at me like that. Five minutes is a long time to wait.
“Get clear!” my corporal warns.
I scramble back, boots scraping against the gravel, and take cover. I watch him swing his arm over his head, then duck down. The boom that follows is deafening and the explosion’s heat flashes through my uniform.
That’s right. Be impressed. Virtual reality is that realistic now.
I ready my rifle. “Let’s go get ‘em!” I kick in a remaining bit of door and we surge in. Enemy troops everywhere. I almost wish I’d waited for backup after all, but whatever. If we can take over this building ourselves, we’ll get more points, a higher ranking, and more loot.
“Open fire!” I command, but my goggles already struggle to compensate for the bright flashes that erupt from our ranks. As helpful as the interactive goggles can be in pinpointing targets, it still helps to actually see. My precision flies out the shattered windows and I just shoot. Sounds of resistance die and I lead the charge up a flight of old wooden stairs. Round the corner, duck the gun, and let the next guy deal with him. Grab the civilian and toss him to the floor. Kneel. Pick a target.
I hear my squadron’s fire as they shoot over my head. “Not the civilians!” I shout at them.
Too late. One civilian – no, a hostage – goes down. I grit my teeth as a significantly large red number hovers, representing a heavy loss to the squad’s accumulated points. Regular civvies are just NPCs that pretty much spawn as you approach. Hostages, on the other hand… that dumb noob will regret it, I’ll make certain!
Clear the floor. Ascend the stairs. The steel door at the top is shut. Ease a grenade into my hand. Bite down on the pin and hurl the explosive. Too close, too–!
I throw my arms up but not soon enough. Something slices through the left side of my goggles and causes them to glitch before it bites down into the bone just below my eyebrow.
Seriously, whatever they put into these Blitzkrieg uniforms is amazing. I can’t begin to describe the effects. Or the artificially-induced pain.
I peer through the goggles between glitches and make out the insignia of the Special Forces waiting for us beyond the smoke. With a whoop, I push forward. My eyelid begins to itch, but there’s no way I’m stopping now. Not this close to the mission’s conclusion.
My goggles aren’t adjusting at all: one moment, they’re too bright; the next, completely dark. My eye feels oddly heavy. I throw out all care for an accuracy score and just keep right on firing. HQ, prepare for a party ‘cause this mission is so accomplished! For the fleetest of moments, my goggles reveal the scene and my heart leaps. Then it disappears as the itch turns into a sudden sting so terrible that I stumble and fall to my knees. All gunfire has ceased completely and I hear the boots of the reinforcement squad, but my eye hurts too much to care. I pull off the goggles….
Oppressively bright, blanched light. A sharp piece of metal and something warm on my hand. The same stuff, apparently, as what I kneel in. A long hunk of warm metal by my side. Blurs of multiple irregular shapes on the floor around me, each marked with red. Like my hand. Upright towers wearing boots scattered about the room. Scrutinizing eyes, watching, daring me to crawl closer to one of the reddened things. A shout fills my lungs, but not the air. My stomach churns, but not from thrill. My heart pounds, but not with adrenaline. Eyes. Cold eyes, startling eyes. Everywhere, eyes staring. Waiting for me to wake up from this nightmare. Or to sink into the darkness that threatens to block out this light. I wish it would. Anything but this….
The darkness takes shape: the shadow of a man, strangely familiar and massively muscular. Sharp, chiseled features and a grim visage. A beefy hand and a pistol.
“Mission accomplished,” a voice, familiar and gravelly, intones. Two dark eyes fixate on me. “As for you, Sergeant….”
An arm – my arm – shielding my face. And stripes on my sleeve. Three of them. My heart stops. A bang and something burning into my chest. A cry thrusts itself from my lungs and leaves me breathless.
The boots spin away from me, taking the world along for the ride. “Move out!” the voice barks. Feet tramp out and away into foggy silence. All is still. Too still.
As a serpent crushes its prey, so I clutch my damaged goggles and somehow find the energy to curse them.
I don’t know how long I’ve been playing. Or how I got here or how this scene came to be. But lying here in pain too great for the effects-inducing wires of my uniform, I know only one thing.
This is for real.