James stuck fingers in his ears to clear them out; they were still ringing. Maybe he had heard wrong.
"I only thought it," Kanade said again, looking the way a child might if a real tyrannosaurus came stomping out of the television during Barney and Friends.
James needed to sit down. The mossy carpet of the glade was cool. He crossed his legs, put his elbows on his knees, and rubbed his face into his hands.
"How can that be? Don't say magic."
Kanade sat down a few feet away. She drew her knees up and put her chin on them. "What should I say, then?"
"I don't know, but if you're telling me I read your thoughts, magic isn't a good enough explanation."
"Hmm," Kanade said, chin still resting on her knees. "Hmm."
"Don't hmm," James said. "Are you messing with me?"
"Why would I be?"
"The alternative is madness."
"This universe isn't built on normal rules, right?"
True. The game itself could read minds. James was on his couch at home, wearing a device that produced sensory inputs real enough to persuade him they were coming from his own body. Everything was indistinguishable from the real world, except for people flying on brooms and phosphorescent hexapedal amphibious lizard-mammals. But that was just a matter of belief systems; nothing was internally inconsistent.
"Even so," James said, slowly, "it can't be mind reading."
"It can't?" A slight smile twitched beneath the surface of Kanade's features.
"Not from a legal standpoint. Although the game is reading our thoughts, it can't act on that information. It's just a game. But if the information passed to a person, they could use it." James ran a hand through his hair at the enormity of the implication. "What if you were a stockbroker thinking insider information? Or a husband planning a visit to the girlfriend while the wife is in Mexico? Or a kid remembering where you hid your secret diary?"
"Kids can't play Shattered Land," Kanade said, smiling openly now. "You have to be eighteen."
James muttered under his breath for a few seconds before saying, "You get the point."
"I do, yes." Kanade started toying with the ends of her hair.
"It isn't mind reading."
"I never said it was."
"This is another test. Seeing whether I can figure out what it was."
"You wrong me," Kanade said, clutching her chest as if stabbed. "But you're right." She smiled. "It isn't mind reading, but it's still amazing. There aren't many mentalists around, so I'm limited in what I can tell you. The more you figure out for yourself, the better."
James was listening with one ear, but his brain was still grinding through explanations and lit upon one buried in a psychology textbook he had read before leaving university.
"Subvocalization," he said.
"My senses were so heightened that I could hear worms in the earth. It's not a stretch to imagine I was hearing subaudio cues you were projecting. Visualizing the words would probably cause precise enough subvocalizations to sound like speech with sensitive detection."
YOU ARE READING
No Life to LoseMystery / Thriller
James Kirkpatrick's difficult life leads him to take solace in virtual reality—a momentary peace soon shattered by mystery, intrigue, and unseen forces bent on plunging the world into chaos. An epic tale of love, loss, and the boundless influence of...