Chapter 1 - Mindscape

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CAL STOOD ON THE edge of the cliff. His shoes displaced a few pebbles that tumbled soundlessly into the void below him and he looked down, immediately wishing he hadn't as a surge of vertigo swamped him. Waves smashed against the bottom of the cliffs, and the vibrations carried through the stone to his trembling legs. Salty air pummelled him where he stood on the edge.

"Jump!" screamed Helena over the noise. "Just do it."

She hung a few meters away, the wings of her parasuit fluttering in the updraft. Deftly she controlled her position with quick adjustments of her arms and legs. She grinned at Cal.

Do you trust me? Helena's voice whispered into his mind and he nodded at her.

Then jump. I will be here. You cannot hurt yourself seriously.

It's the 'seriously' bit that worries me. He threw back at her.

"Just jump you numpty!" she screamed at him again. Gathering his failing willpower, he leapt into the sky.


~~~


A few minutes later, he lay on his back in the rabbit cropped grass at the top of the cliff. Helena ran around him in circles, whooping with delight. "You did it, you actually did it!"

He propped himself up on one elbow, and smiled shyly. "I did, didn't I? I'm not sure I enjoyed it, but I did do it."

Laughing, she threw herself on the ground next to him and punched him in the shoulder. "Well done, Cal. You've got to remember it's all simulated though. There's no way you could've fallen."

"I know, but it seems real."

"It's meant to, that's why people spend so long plugged in."

"Well, we ought to get started on those calculations for Dr Takei."

"Party pooper," she pouted.

He stood and proffered a hand, which she took, and hauled her to her feet. "Thank you for making me do that Hel, you always seem to know when I need to do something daft."

"That's what friends are for. After fifteen years together on The Mind's mathematics programme, I should know when you need a kick in the seat of your adventure." She grinned at him again, and brushed the hair away from his eyes with one hand. "Besides, tomorrow we're going to do it over a live volcano. You keep saying you'd like to know more about geology."

Shaking his head at her as she laughed at him, he focussed inwards.

Mind?

- Yes Cal.

Run program Beta 3 please.

- On its way Cal, prepare for transition.

"Party pooper," said Helena again as the scene around them dissolved. Their parasuits disappeared leaving them both in simple jumpsuits. Surrounding them was a room covered in blackboards, various mathematical formulae scrawled on the surfaces.

"Hang on, one minor improvement." Helena cocked her head to one side, as she always did when she communicated with the Mind. Then she looked up, prompting Cal to do the same.

The ceiling disappeared as they watched, replaced by a myriad stars.

"Nice," murmured Cal approvingly. "The skies above Australia?"

"Yes. I've always loved the Southern Cross. We can do the Northern Lights when we've finished perhaps."

She sighed. "It's a shame we can't see them."

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