I fixed my white headset on. The surface casing almost like a bicycle helmet and on the inside special sensors that forward feed the Avatara signal captured from Sheldrake enterprises communications pole into the brain and backward feed out of it entangled information bits to make up a simulated consciousness in avatara form. Sitting in the sofa chair with palms facing down on its arms I breathed deeply.
On my laptop, the Avatara program ran within a larger programming interface that I invented specifically for the purpose of executing the unique properties of Avatara. To enable Knightmare and Walker to do astral projection- there I said it again!- I gave them both altered copies translated into regular programming languages. With the time pressure, that Grimm would either find me or use Avatara in my absence for the purposes of mind control and the uncertainty of the friendliness in my would be accomplices, I hoped that they wouldn't be smart enough to alter the code. However, there's an old saying, 'hope is the mother of fools.' I can't remember where I read it.
'Avatara initializing,' followed by three dots, the words printed on screen and the cursor blinking. It would not be long now. Give it five seconds...
5, 4, 3, 2, 1…
And ugh, here it is, I feel it. A tingling sensation in my scalp spreading down the back of my neck through to my back, a brief moment ecstasy and a sensation of floating on air. The autonomous sensory meridian response. After this moment I disappear, I see no colours and hear no sounds; I am nothing and my idea of being an 'I' dissolves. I look at my body that is now limp in the chair separate from my avatara form. The activated charcoal dust is mostly used up in my projection. A wall mirror reveals my reflection. I still look like myself but I take on a sleek, figure space suit form, without a helmet. My hair long and flowing, I look like a comic superhero and like all avatara have a shimmer of light around my figure. One thing that is clear at this stage is that configuration of an avatara is consistent. I have done this ten times now and I always look the same.
From my tests it also seems that this projected image is dictated by the uncontrollable deep desires of the Avatara user. It is a representation of who that person wants to be.
I remember my first experience of astral projection, at six years of age. I couldn't sleep and lay awake in bed tossing and turning. My father shouting at my mum in the living room, his voice rageful and terrifying. Mum's voice in comparison to a whimper, weak and pleading for his mercy. I felt my soul leave my body and I not so much as flew but floated into the air. I passed through my bedroom wall and saw my Mum sat on a sofa chair and my father yelling and pointing at her. I floated through the living room wall and into the outside world, I looked down and saw the ground, several tens of feet below - we lived on the 11th floor of a council block. I felt fear but I realised I could fly. I flew all over my suburb, around the playground, past my school, the church, library, supermarket and even the car repair shop where father worked. Somehow, I made it back home and I saw myself hovering over my body that still breathed with its eyes closed - I didn't see my parents. I allowed myself to descend and after I entered my body I woke up.
I told Mum the next day while she washed the dishes. She smiled but insisted I was probably dreaming. As a teenager I would read that astral projection is a form of dissociation or escapism in response to negative emotional experience. Father left us a month later. I have never dared to ask Mum if he ever hit her in one of his rages. I started to remember these things after I came to work at Sheldrake.
So till now, Avatara has only been tested on two people. Barney Barton, a sheldrake intern and myself. Though effective there were still safety issues and the risk that a user of Avatara could have their mind hacked by a controller of the Avatara kernel. Knightmare and Walker would be two new users, trying out the program outside controlled experimental conditions. I did not know what to expect.
Honestly, my nerves took hold of me. Not knowing who these guys are and even as an avatara I took a big risk meeting them. I gave them my secret name, Skyclad but that's also the name I use when I'm gaming: Skyclad432. I hope they haven't discovered the link. Because of all the uncertainty stomach felt queasy, breathed heavily and my heart pounded. Yes, somehow even in avatara form you still feel bodily sensations.
I flew up the river thames, as fast as I could go, at one hundred miles per hour and there they were at Westminster Bridge, on time at eleven thirty pm.
I struggled to stop. I flew so fast, I nearly whizzed straight past them. I came to a screeching stop.
There were two of them hovering in the air with shimmering outlines on their avatara.
The guy on the left looked like a devil, with horns on his head and menacing eyes, with black makeup around them. He wore a feathered jacket and instead of hands and feet he had claws and talons, which made him look like a crow or eagle. His facial expression intense. I averted my gaze from his eyes because he made me feel so nervous.
A tall, handsome guy stood with him. He didn't look like a hacker, more like an athlete. He wore an open jacket with no shirt underneath, just the revelation of a broad chest and a rippling six pack. I reminded myself that the avatara form is a representation of how the person wanted to look. Probably this guy looked less impressive in real life. But when he smiled at me, I felt flushed. 'Oh my God Grace,' I thought; 'don't blush, not now!'
"Hello Skyclad. My name is..."
Even his voice sounded smooth. It's an embarrassing situation to find yourself attracted to an avatara. It's not a real person and a reflection of my shallowness that I felt passion just because an avatara had looks and charisma. For a split second, I steadied myself to remember his name.
"My name is Walker."
"Hi Walker," I said. I restrained my emotions, to not sound too nice.
"Hey," said the other guy. "Why'd you ask for this meeting!?" He behaved as an impatient person would and sounded harsh. He wanted quick answers. I felt a bit of tightness in my throat.
"You must be Knightmare," I replied. I wished I hadn't contacted him in the place, but it was too late now. I spoke with a level tone to calm the situation as I didn't want the situation to escalate out of control.
"I am," said Knightmare. "But who cares. I'm not here to watch you two flirt. I want to see how this avatara thing works."
I blushed harder.
"Hey," said Walker. "Be easy, you're only a kid."
Only a kid, I thought. Damn, what have I done? I should have checked him out more. Now, I've got to be responsible for this kid.
"I'm not a kid," said Knightmare. "I am 28."
"I have been with you for the past five minutes and I can tell you're a little punk in real life with too much time on your hands." Walker did not hold back at that moment.
"Exactly, you have only known me for five minutes," replied Knightmare.
"If you're a child, Knightmare you should really go home. This is dangerous." I tried to be direct with my words.
"I'm not a kid and if you kick me out of this now, I will go to the police with this Avatara tech. I want to be involved and I'm in whether you like it or not. You see Skyclad I now know too much. If you want to get rid of me, you are going to have to kill me."
"Easy Knightmare, we have to be able to work together," said Walker. "The way I see it, it's only three of us that have the skill to do what is required. That's why Skyclad chose us."
Walker turned to me. "Please tell us what the situation is."
"Byron Grimm wants me to give him the kernel codes that will allow him to take control of avatara." I don't know why but I shouted these words to them.
"Byron who?" said Knightmare. Walker also looked puzzled. I could not believe they did not know the leader of the United Kingdom's premier government intelligence agency.
"Byron Grimm. He is the Director General of Q division at Sheldrake Enterprises."
"What about Sheldrake Enterprises?" said Walker. "I thought it's a financial firm."
I thought as top hackers they would know about these things. We really did not have time to be talking about all the details of the agency.
"This is going to be long if I have to start from the beginning," I said.
"If you had given us more information before this meeting, you would not have to," said Knightmare. He moved a bit closer towards me as he said this. He must have realised that I'm not comfortable being around him. Walker looked to say something but didn't.
"Fine," I said. "I'll spell it out from the start."
So I started from the beginning. I told them that Sheldrake Enterprises is a government intelligence agency known publicly to be an international business. But this is only a cover, for its real work as a secret intelligence service. Sheldrake Enterprises works in new technology to create systems and devices to stop terrorism.
I told them Byron Grimm's history as a former general in the army, who said that he left because he believed that the best way to prevent war was to stop it in the first place. I told them that his recent actions were proof he lied and evidence he used sheldrake as a means pursuing selfish ambitions of domination. I told them that I needed their help to keep England safe.
"So Grimm wants you," said Walker.
"Yes, I replied. "If he gets a hold of these codes he can unlock the kernel and release Avatara greatest ability. Mind control. All he would have to do is give everyone a free copy of the Avatara app and then use the kernel to take over everyone's mind. A country of enslaved minds ready to his bidding. He would become a dictator."
I thought my alarming story would help get both them on my side. How wrong I was.
"Nice try Skyclad," said Knightmare. We may have been hovering above the thames like superheroes but at that moment I had a feeling of my feet sinking through the ground. I had a feeling of doom. Had my eyes tricked me? No, I saw what I saw.
Crackles of static noises came from Knightmare's hands. It seemed like his energy level increased; as if he drew up electric energy from the world around him. Then it dawned on me. He manipulated the codes of his avatara. Walker must have said something at the time but I couldn't remember what. He too, focused on Knightmare, who pointed his left hand at me, with a fireball forming at the tips of his fingers.
Thank you for reading Avatara.
There will be a chapter every Monday and Thursday, with more riveting plot twists of how Grace tries to save the world from the evils of Byron Grimm!!
This is a debut novel by Domnic Obi based on a manga comic script originally created by David Thomas.
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